After 31 years as a broker, David Whittaker is ready to ‘put up or shut up’ as he takes the helm of buy-to-let lender Keystone Property Finance.
David Whittaker, one of the buy-to-let industry’s best-know figures has stepped away from Mortgages for Business — the brokerage with which he has long been associated — to oversee the regeneration of lender Keystone Property Finance.
Both firms are owned by the Property Business Group, but Keystone has now moved to new premises and expanded its team with further plans for growth afoot, including an in-house platform and APIs.
Meanwhile, Steve Olejnik, who has been with Mortgages for Business for 16 years, will take over the lead role at the brokerage.
Never shy at voicing his thoughts on the performance of other lenders in the sector, Whittaker, says it is now time time to “put up or shut up”.
“I will miss the brokerage bit,” he tells Mortgage Strategy. “I’m still a broker at heart — I started at John Charcol in 1987 — and hopefully I’ll bring that to the role, but this is about delivery and the art of the possible.
“Over the past 20 years I’ve seen a lot that I like about the market and a lot that could be done better. Our endeavour is to make outcomes better for brokers and landlords.”
Keystone came into existence in January 2006 in partnership with Bradford & Bingley. When the credit crunch hit, it was “put on the shelf” and re-emerged with funding partner Aldermore in April 2012, before being taken on by Paratus AMC, owner of Foundation Home Loans, in 2015.
“You may say ‘people can only tolerate Whittaker for 36 months’,” he jokes, “but we had a great run with Aldermore and Paratus. In our three years with Paratus we completed over £200m and were really pleased to contribute to their securitisation programme and our numbers are included in that.
“But you get to a point where they’re a retail brand and we’re a retail brand; you start off with clear water between you but you start getting closer together as the market evolves.”
Now, the lender has a new funding partner and has moved into a 6,750 sq ft building fitted out to the same spec as MFB. At launch today (10 September) it will have a head count of 28, an increase of 35 per cent since January, and intends to double staff numbers over the next 18 months.
“Phil Riches will be the profile staying on the sales side and we’ve recruited a very experienced operations director from one of the commercial banks [Commerzbank], Elise Coole.”
Whittaker says: “We are now a full in-house lender with room to expand. When you’re in a partnership arrangement you don’t have to have certain functions, so we will have functions we haven’t had before.
“By bringing everything in house you can only blame yourself if things go wrong but you’re also more likely to address issues more quickly. We’ve looked at industry systems and we know what we like and where there are opportunities to do it better.
“We’ve also looked at the five-year cost of running a computer platform and thought ‘we can do this ourselves’, so we’ve built an in-house platform from the ground up. We’ve been testing it for weeks but the real acid test is when it goes live.”
The cloud-based platform is called MyKeystone.
“Our big focus is to try to ensure that our platform does what brokers would like it to do rather than what lenders tell brokers they have to do, so we’ve integrated the Buy to Let Hub into it,” says Whittaker.
The Buy to Let Hub is the eTech software first integrated by OneSavingsBank, working with MFB, to help assess applications from portfolio landlords in light of PRA changes.
As a lender, Whittaker has an advantage that many do not: first-hand experience of the issues facing brokers.
When it comes to APIs, Whittaker says these will be launched in spring 2019 to allow time to complete “several evolutionary spins and enhancements” that will allow them to be “rock solid” when introduced.
“Buy-to-let lends itself to API because of the repeat order nature of so many of our customers,” he says. “Anything we can do to make life easier for landlords, via the broker, is worth it.”
From the helm of Keystone, Whittaker’s message to brokers is: “We’re genuinely here to help and we want engagement; if you don’t like the way we do it, ring us up and we can probably change it.”
And the main difference in moving from a brokerage to a lender?
“I’m told I have to behave; the jury’s out!”