Alex Searle

An interview with Alex Searle: 'It's no use training and developing people if you don't provide a culture where the team feel empowered'

In an interview with Bridging & Commercial, Alex Searle, sales director of specialist mortgages at Hampshire Trust Bank (pictured above), talks about broadening broker distribution, educating brokers and retaining staff.

You’ve set your sights on widening distribution at HTB. How many brokers are now on your panel and has this been successful for you?

We have sought to bring additional brokers into the fold, based on demand for the types of lending we are able to facilitate. What we don’t want to do is in any way diminish our service to our existing base and so we are careful in selecting new partners who understand our proposition, embrace our high standards and maintain the required standards of due diligence. And yes, this has been successful — we are seeing record figures and had excellent feedback on our service. 

Do you think the industry can do more to educate brokers on bridging finance?

Education is key. It is investment in knowledge, not property, that ultimately delivers the best and sustainable yields for brokers and lenders alike. Bridging finance (short-term lending) is a constantly changing market both in terms of borrower’s needs and what lenders are able to offer. Through better understanding, brokers can really add value to their clients by aligning their specific needs to the solutions on offer. Lenders should ensure they are transparent with the market in terms of their lending appetites, but equally brokers need to engage with lenders to ensure they are up to date.

What advice would you give to brokers who are new to the specialist finance market?

Engage with the right lender. There has been a proliferation of lenders offering an increasingly diverse range of solutions for their clients. I would advise them to look at how the lender is funded as well as taking the time to understand an individual lender’s particular specialisms. Be selective with which BDMs you invite into your offices — a good BDM will partner with you to help facilitate the deal as well as make sure you have all the ammunition you need to open up new lending opportunities for your clients. There are lots of brilliant BDMs out there from fantastic specialist lenders — invite a few of them in and learn what those lenders have to offer.

In a challenging market for talent, how do you look to retain staff?

Like every top team (whether you’re Arsenal, Mercedes F1, HTB or a top brokerage), finding and retaining talent is the holy grail. First there’s the hygiene factors: you need to pay the going rate; and ensure alignment of personal rewards with the business values and objectives. Then you need to develop and train your team. This benefits everyone from the individuals to the team to the business. Providing our people with access to both formal and informal professional development opportunities creates an environment where education and learning is valued. I think it was that beardy Branson who said: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to.” Lastly, you need to empower your team — it’s no use training and developing people if you don’t provide a culture where the team feel empowered to get on and do the right thing for their clients.  

What will be the biggest challenge for the bridging market this year?

Sensible growth. Funding costs are low, and lenders are bursting to do the deals, however, there is significant economic uncertainty around the corner. In the wrong hands, this is a dangerous cocktail. At HTB, we are confident the UK property market is resilient, and our expert underwriters make sure that we continue to make sensible lending decisions that will stand up even in uncertain times.

How did you get into the industry?

I actually took a summer job working as a temp at what was Abbey National at the time. It was only supposed to be for four weeks, however, that four weeks turned into 12 years!

If you didn’t work in finance, what would you be doing?

Randomly, all through my childhood and teenage years, I devoted my life to ballroom and Latin dancing, so I would like to think that I would be travelling the world as a professional dancer — a girl can dream can’t she?


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    Alan Dring

    A fine article enjoyed reading it. I hope more brokers as a result get the message that education is a two way process. Lenders can only go so far brokers have to remember knowledge is 25 % taught and 75% sought

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