One to One: Liz Syms Founder and director, Connect for Intermediaries

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A new online portal for researching unsecured loans, a soon-to-be-launched commercial mortgage sourcing system – and an early acting role in Puss in Boots

Connect for Intermediaries recently launched an online portal to enable members to research unsecured loans. What was the motivation behind this and how has the portal been received so far?

After the introduction of the MCD, we brought unsecured loans into our offering so that our advisers could continue to describe themselves as independent should they choose to.We had a chance meeting with the developer, Dot Broker, and a few months later we were launching our offering. We have already registered 112 brokers and submitted 50 applications. Now we are ready to open the offering to the wider broker market.

What other plans does Connect have for the near future?

We are about to formally launch our commercial mortgage sourcing system. Unlike others, ours will show who the commercial lender is. Our ARs get the sourcing system free as part of our offering and we are also able to offer the system free to DAs and ARs of other networks that use our packaging services. Over the coming months, we will be launching even more exciting enhancements to sourcing, so watch this space.

What is the best thing about your job?

I love the variety. One minute I am advising a client on how to refinance their buy-to-let portfolio, the next minute coaching a new member of staff and the next minute helping to draft a marketing campaign. I never get bored.  I have, however, recognised that in order to grow the company further I need to appoint some key staff to help me achieve our goals.

How long have you been at Connect and where did your career in the industry begin?

I have been at Connect since the start because I founded the company in 1998. I fell into the industry by accident by landing an adviser role with Prudential. I think I got the job only because I held a part-time role as a party plan sales agent and was good at getting client referrals. After around eight years I left to work for myself inside a letting agent. Although I wasarranging all types of mortgage, and even pensions and investments, being inside the letting agent was the foundation of my special­ism in buy-to-let, hence our offerings today.

If you were not in your current role, what other career path would interest you?

At school, I was into acting and dancing. I played the cat in Puss in Boots at our local theatre and even went to Saturday stage school in London. Unfortunately, as I got older the stage school clashed with my social life and my social life won.

Who is your all-time hero, and why?

I do not have a specific hero but I admire strong women in business.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am a bit of a work fanatic and you can often find me answering emails late into the night and at weekends. The time I do get I like to spend with my family, and with my partner, as we have a common interest in good food and wine.

Do you have any secret talents?

My secret talent is to remain positive even when faced with big challenges. I annoy those close to me when I point out that they are not looking at things in the best way and that their negativity can make things worse. It has in the past caused me to be a bit naive but, without my positivity, I don’t think I could have kept going through some of the tougher times around the credit crunch.

What is the best advice you have received?

‘Ask for the sale’. As a young adviser training with Prudential, I was accompanied on a client appointment by my line manager. I came away feeling good but I hadn’t made a sale. My line manager was very complimentary about my fact-finding and presenting of solutions, but pointed out I had made the classic mistake of not asking the clients if they wanted to proceed and expecting them to know what happened next. It made the difference in my early sales career and I now pass on that simple but essential advice.

What is the toughest decision you have made?

Letting people go. Because of my positive nature, I believe that a poor performer can improve if they are in the right role or given the right training and support. During the credit crunch I didn’t have the luxury of applying that belief and ended up completing three rounds of redundancies. That was a very difficult period.

If you were Chancellor for a day, what would you do?

Budget for a programme to improve school education in finance.