"Developing a comprehensive network offering is no easy task and this is something we have not entered into lightly."
We spoke to Steve Swyny, commercial director at First 4 Bridging, about the firm's new network, the issue of rising PI premiums, and whether specialist lending will ever become truly mainstream.
FR: First 4 Bridging recently launched the F4B network – tell us a bit about it and what it can offer to intermediaries.
Developing a comprehensive network offering is no easy task and this is something we have not entered into lightly. Our core proposition has been put together in line with constant dialogue from intermediary partners and introducers who have expressed a strong interest in working with us on such a basis. Our aim is to provide advisers with the tools and support to meet their clients ever-changing needs. In addition, our experience and strength of relationships across the specialist markets means we can open more doors to this type of business, as well as ensuring that all mainstream lending bases are covered.
As such, we’ve assembled an extensive lending panel consisting of mainstream, buy-to-let, specialist and short-term finance providers plus access to a life assurance panel. We also offer full compliance support and a tech package consisting of features such as remote file checking, research tools and access to a CRM system. The inclusion of PI cover has also proved hugely attractive.
FR: PI has been a major issue for many intermediary firms this year, as this is part of your offering how have you found this market?
PI premiums have increased significantly over the past two to three years due to rising claims experienced by some insurers following major events such as the Grenfell tragedy, the fire at Bolton University and the collapse of Carillion. This left insurers to pay the hefty price tag of more claims with a limited financial supply. As a result, the PI market has lost half a dozen insurers in the past year.
With a number of advisers and firms leaving the market, run off insurance has also had an impact on escalating premiums. Run off cover insures against claims of professional negligence and it is particularly important for retired business owners to consider; without run off cover in place, how they would fund the defence of a claim.
In short, sourcing PI has become a huge issue for intermediary firms and with confidence falling around the ability to secure affordable PI in the future, then it is little wonder why a greater number of advisers are attracted to robust network offerings with strong PI cover in place.
FR: How have you integrated technology into your offering and will it continue to help advisers work remotely?
Technology plays a crucial role in any business and as a new entrant into the network arena it was important for us to test a variety of systems to ensure we are best placed to offer a comprehensive solution to our members. The tech conversation is an ongoing one as the market is constantly searching for ways to engage better with clients, generate and collate information plus explore opportunities to maximise efficiencies and increase revenue streams.
We opted for OMS because the platform is highly customisable and has been built with the advice process firmly in mind. This is evident not only in the tech journey but also from the experience and market knowledge of the support team which will provide a robust platform for advisers to streamline their front/back-office processes and generate more business.
FR: Has specialist lending finally become mainstream?
The financial crisis was a catalyst for many smaller and more specialist lenders to join the market, and this trend has continued as borrowing requirements are changing. This has resulted in a more competitive market with a greater choice of funders and options becoming available across a whole range of scenarios to really challenge the perception of what is ‘mainstream’.
Mainstream lenders do not have the infrastructure, know-how or flexibility to service many modern-day borrowers, especially when considering the effects of the pandemic. The nature of the specialist lending market means that it can provide more choice for a wider range of clients and the ability for advisers to explore new avenues, although it remains a complex arena.
That’s why the F4B Network is the brokers choice. We have access to some innovate specialist products and services, and these types of products have always been our mainstream. Specialist lending is leading the way and it’s time that brokers fully embraced it.
FR: If you could see one headline around networks in 2021, what would it be?
'F4B Network reaches 100 ARs in less than a year'.
Having said that, it’s important to get the balance right between quality and quantity as we’re not just focused on working with individuals who are performance oriented, we’re also heavily invested in the development process and growing with our members.