Specialist Lending is a fast-growing, technology-driven sector. Despite the innovations that differentiate Specialist Lending companies – whether 1st or 2nd charge mortgages, bridging or development finance – from the more established lenders, there are still familiar departments and roles, although the culture tends to be less conservative. The expansion in the sector means that some roles are challenging to fill and remuneration has become inflated in some areas. Healy Hunt has focused on Specialist Lending for quite some time, understanding the key requirements and building up an impressive network that is supplemented by our functional expertise in areas like Sales, Risk, Finance and Operations.
Our relationship with this started when its private equity owners recommended us as executive search specialists for London, but things didn’t take off straight away. The client’s head office is based in a commuter town and it continued to perform its recruitment on a more local basis. It used a different agency for each functional area but, without realising it, was suffering from the limitations of a relatively small talent pool. Our opportunity came when the client realised its agency for origination roles was steering the best candidates away to other opportunities.
In light of the revelation about the other agency, the first mandate we were asked to work on was for a Commercial Director who needed a National Account Manager to work with mortgage clubs and networks. Thanks to our existing network, we were able to immediately present a large list of candidates. The client was surprised by the breadth of suitable applicants that we had sourced at such short notice. The Commercial Director liked one candidate in particular and they were soon hired. In a follow-up meeting with the director and manager we were pleased to find that both were very happy.
The client soon came back with another two mandates, this time they were for a National Account Manager and a Regional Account Manager to focus on The Midlands. At this point, we adopted a process that has become familiar when working with this company on commercial placements. We assembled a group of candidates at a convenient venue, performed interviews, and the two positions were filled from the cohort there and then. The client was especially impressed with the level of preparation demonstrated by our candidates. This is something our clients can expect as a fundamental part of the service we offer.
It can be challenging to find appropriate staff in a fast-growing industry and this remains the case with Specialist Lending. Regardless of which Financial Services vertical, it is also difficult to recruit for senior risk positions as the typical profile tends to be a cautious person who is happy to stay with their current employer, secure and comfortable with the infrastructure they have created for themselves. So, when the client told us they needed a new Director of Risk and Compliance, and needed a solution quickly, we knew speed was a priority but we were confident in our capability to fill such a key role. Healy Hunt has consultants with different areas of functional expertise so our risk specialist was engaged to help. He was able to propose a well-qualified individual, with the exact product skillset required for this specialist industry. He was placed on a short-term contract – Interim Management is a key Healy Hunt service – until a permanent candidate could be found. This placement also identified some areas within credit risk that could benefit from a short-term modelling specialist and we were able to find a well-skilled candidate to join the team.
Our relationship with the client has developed into a mutually beneficial partnership. Our commercial arrangement means that we are able to respond immediately when the client needs us. Another urgent, interim requirement arose when the finance team were looking for a new reporting specialist. Once again, we had an interim manager in situ within a very short turnaround time, this time placed by our finance specialist. Our contractor went on to be hired on a permanent basis, a transition that we aim to make as seamless as possible.
In a relationship as strong as this one, we are able to go beyond our normal remit in support of our client partner. Once the sales team was functioning at its best, the Commercial Director explained that the next step was to focus on optimising the underwriting function. In a very competitive marketplace, we advised the client about the pace of steadily increasing salaries for those with the right skills in the relevant geographic area for a number of competitors. Following this discussion, we agreed to perform a benchmarking research project. We looked at a number of regional competitors and detailed parameters such as team size, headcount, management structure, salaries, other rewards and career background trends. We found issues with staff turnover to be prevalent, although there were big discrepancies between companies on the levels of experience and training of underwriting staff. Based on our findings, we recommended the introduction of an underwriting training manager with profile and reward progression guidelines for new and existing staff. The client agreed and we were able to source an ideal Technical Training Manager. Since then the programme has developed well, turnover has reduced dramatically and salary costs have become more predictable.
Our clients often come to us for one specific mandate before realising the range of expertise and recruitment styles we have to offer. This valued client came to understand and rely on the full scope of what we can do and the partnership arrangement that has emerged has been valuable to all parties. Our client trusts us to respond quickly, with relevant expertise as required and to always act in their best interests. In a high turnover sector like Specialist Lending, we have been able to help build up coherent and stable teams. The company continues to perform very well in a competitive marketplace.