"It’s important not to take our markets or the opportunities that may present themselves for granted."
We spoke to Emma Cox, sales director for property finance at Shawbrook Bank, about the importance of consistent decisions and what a 'new normal' might look like for the property market.
FR: What does your role involve and what does a typical day look like?
My role as sales director broadly involves overseeing the strategic direction of the external and internal sales function. It covers how we work with the other Shawbrook teams and the broker community to achieve our collective goals, as well as looking to identify new opportunities that exist within the market and bringing them to life within the Shawbrook proposition.
In terms of the ‘typical day’, it’s markedly different from what it was 7 weeks ago as I’m sure is the case for all of us. Working from home might cut out the commute but it presents its own challenges in terms of staying connected enough to our teams and brokers to ensure we are being as supportive as possible. For me this is still a relationship business, and as fortunate as we are in terms of the technology that allows us to stay in touch, not being able to get into the office and physically see people isn’t the same. I even miss chatting to the teams while making a cup of tea!
RR: What is Shawbrook doing to support intermediaries and their clients through this unprecedented period?
IT never really featured in my day to day unless I had a problem, but I find myself now saying “thank you IT department”! We seamlessly moved into a full remote environment practically overnight, with access to all systems, platforms and communication tools necessary to continue to operate as close to normal as is possible. This was no small undertaking for an organisation of our size and was hugely important for our brokers, as it meant they could continue to support their clients with Shawbrook business throughout the early stages of the crisis, right up to the present day.
Following this transition, we focused on the proposition and how we needed to adjust to remain resilient as a business, supportive of our broker partners, and sustainable in the long term. Whilst other lenders had to pull back, we continue to press on, and although we have - rightly - tightened our belts a notch, we retain a heathy appetite to lend in all our specialist markets.
Valuation was a big deal given the challenges around physical inspections and building desktop commentary to support AVM applications for more complex properties seemed like a straightforward and elegant solution to cater for this short-term situation. The broker can instruct the desktop on day 1 with the comfort of one set fee inclusive of the reinspection, helping to manage expectations and progress cases at what remains a very challenging time.
We have more exciting initiatives like this in the pipeline, but without an open line of communication to our brokers we may as well be talking to ourselves. In addition to our standard comms, we are rolling out a regional video communications programme, a podcast series asking for the broker view on the market and the challenges we are facing, as well as providing some external support from a leadership perspective to assist brokers having to make tough decisions for their businesses. Support doesn’t have to take the shape of product initiatives or system enhancements, it can simply be staying focused on being that safe pair of hands for our friends and colleagues in the broker community, and listening closely to what they need in these complex and unprecedented times.
FR: What have been your learnings when thinking about Shawbrook’s response to the current crisis?
Hindsight is a wonderful thing and there are always things you would perhaps do slightly differently the second time around. However, the one thing we never lost sight of is that people matter, and it continues to remain at the forefront of everything we do. Putting our teams, brokers, partners and customers safety first continues to be our number one priority. In doing so, it has naturally challenged our thinking on what is the art of the possible to meet the needs of our brokers and customers in a way that was unimaginable just a few months ago. It’s important not to take our markets or the opportunities that may present themselves for granted. With some sectors and or operators more vulnerable than others we recognise that the challenges faced by some could be impacted both negatively and positively by how we act now.
Therefore, it’s been key for us to be clear on our stance throughout. We communicate regularly with as much information as we are able to give, focusing on supporting not only our broker partners and their clients, but our existing book of customers and, perhaps most importantly, we remain relentless in our efforts to deliver consistent decisions. Sometimes, the right decisions are the harder ones to make especially when considering the balance between remaining commercial in our appetite and sustainable given the current climate. However, I have also been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement we have had from our broker community which spurs us on to keep doing what we’re doing for all the right reasons. Let’s face it, no one really knows what the property market will look like over the next few months, but purely from a people, process and proposition perspective, I do believe that we will come through these unique times stronger for it. From what I’ve seen so far, the learnings and the partnerships cemented during this time will be long-lasting.
FR: The property market is likely to look quite different once things slowly return to normal, what changes do you think we can expect to see?
This is a difficult one to answer as there are so many variables that depend on the length of time we remain in lockdown and the assumed gradual phased return of certain sectors. It’s fair to say that the need for a roof over our heads doesn’t go away and certain industries have responded well by adapting to the current environment and will continue to prosper as a result. We can’t and shouldn’t rule out ‘sentiment’ or the desire to get back to ‘normal’ which may drive a faster recovery in some aspects of trade and commerce. As we know the property market is essentially underpinned by demand and enough choice to satisfy need. Subdued purchase activity for both owner occupied and investment purposes will of course be compounded further given the recent events. As for investors, the fundamental principles of driving a return remain the same, but the strategies they use to realise income or profit may change. This will place more emphasis on those types of property that investors will look to, with the tenant profile in both residential and commercial investments coming into sharp focus for many.
FR: If you could see one headline about the property market during the rest of the year, what would it be?
'Property values rise as consumer confidence returns following dramatic economic recovery and the end of Covid-19' - What can I say, I’m a hopeful optimist.