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One to One: Nicola Firth, chief executive, Knowledge Bank

The challenge of changing the industry’s mind-set, the need for 360o vision, and removing the sticking points of house-buying.

What’s the most important lesson you have learned since establishing Knowledge Bank?

That it takes time to change the way that an industry thinks, even when you have the solution to a problem. I think our industry has been slow to develop and react to technology, and has a tendency to “always do what we’ve always done”.

That said, I have been extremely encouraged by some forward-thinking networks, clubs and brokers who not only embrace technology but run with it.

What has been your biggest challenge in the role so far?

In a start-up you have to wear every hat. You have to very quickly identify your own strengths, be brutally honest and not shy away from your weaknesses. Building a team around you with the right skill set is key.

When you’re doing something ground-breaking and different you need 360o vision. You have to clearly be able to see where you are going, what is being thrown at you from both sides, drop the ideas that are no good, and keep hold and run with those that are working. And, as always in business, keep one eye on your back!

As a woman in the finance industry, where do you feel we currently stand on achieving gender equality?

We’ve come a long way, but there is a long way to go.
Stereotypes and gender bias take generations to change but I’m positive that we are the right side of that change.

It’s up to women now; run with it and aim high. Sometimes barriers are in the minds of women and there is as much work needed here as in the wider context. I have personally never been held back or overlooked, and gender has never played any part when I recruit; it’s all about the right person for the job.

If there was one thing you would change about the industry, what would it be?

I would love to see the broker’s working day be more about advising clients than sorting problems. There is such a drain on brokers’ time: speaking with lenders, trying to get cases through that are stuck for reasons that often defy common sense, chasing up solicitors, sorting conveyancing problems.

I would love to see an end-to-end study of the house-buying process to really understand the sticking points and work with all parties to resolve them. I think, as an industry, we have a tendency to bat away the problem.

As a child, what was your dream job?

I wanted to be a teacher. For years I harboured the dream of teaching a primary school class. Then I did work experience for two weeks and it changed my mind!

Do you have any secret talents?

I’m good to have on a quiz team. I retain a lot of seemingly useless information, which comes into its own in a general knowledge or music quiz.

What is the best advice you have received?

It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission; any entrepreneur will tell you this is fundamental in business. So many times you know what you need to do and how you need to do it, but other people don’t have the same vision. Often you have to take a risk to demonstrate that vision so that others can join you.

Who is your all-time hero, and why?

I have many heroes and people I admire – too many to name. People are fascinating and I have the utmost respect for those who have faced challenges and adversity and fought to overcome them.

What is the toughest decision you’ve made?

Professionally, there have been two. The first was leaving an employed position and setting up my own brokerage in 2010, which was tough but ultimately rewarding. The second was to leave the brokerage to concentrate on Know-ledge Bank, with no guarantees of success or that anyone other than me would think that it was a good idea!

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

There are many things needed to support our industry such as changes to buy-to-let taxation, but my focus would be on the NHS and ensuring the funding so we don’t lose an amazing institution.

Knowledge BankCompany profile 

Year established: 2015

Headcount: 8

Address: BBIC, Innovation Way, Barnsley, S75 1JL

Tel: 01226 107077

History

Knowledge Bank was founded and went live in June 2016 by a mortgage broker frustrated at the amount of time it took to find the right lending criteria. Launched officially September 2017 it enables brokers to search mortgage criteria in seconds across residential, buy-to-let, second charges, new build, equity release and overseas mortgages. It contains over 60,000 different criteria from most main UK lenders

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