Astrid Michael, Head of Sales and Louise McIntosh, Head of Operations in UTB’s Asset Finance division spoke to Broker World about UTB’s recent success and what the future holds for the fast-growing division.

Broker World (BW) – What are brokers specifically looking for that they find in UTB?

Astrid – Three things.  A partnership with a lender that listens.  The ability to influence outcomes for their customers by leveraging their relationship with us.  And finally, a long-term partnership with a lender that’s here to stay.

We encourage brokers to speak directly to our underwriters. In fact, many of our most productive brokers spend more time talking to our Credit team than they do their BDMs. This approach removes friction from the process and enable brokers to convey important factors regarding the deal or the customer that may not translate so clearly on paper.

These days most lenders like to keep their underwriters well away from brokers, but we’ve never understood why, especially on more complex deals where a strong broker/underwriter relationship is key to getting a deal agreed.

I also think that brokers are fed up with some lenders entering the market, trading at an unsustainable price point, and then having to exit as quickly as they appeared.  There’s a growing acceptance that chasing the lowest rate on every deal doesn’t help in the long term.  UTB are a very well-managed bank, fully committed to the broker market, and here for the long run.

BW – What unexpected lessons has UTB learned from the last two years?

Astrid – Definitely that encouraging direct broker access to underwriters was a winner. It has been a strong UTB USP since the Asset Finance division was launched, but it has become an even more sought-after and well utilised part of the UTB service since the pandemic started. Throughout the disruption created by Covid-19, brokers have been able to talk directly to underwriters about the threats and opportunities facing their clients and we were able to provide pragmatic and commercial decisions based on the full facts of the case. This has helped us to keep our approval levels high throughout. 

BW – What new challenges do you think the industry will face in the next 1-2 years?

Astrid – The industry is going to have to adapt to increased regulation and financial crime prevention requirements. Both are worthwhile endeavours but will require some change by brokers and funders. Credit teams will have to figure out how to see through poor customer financials where business performance has been impacted by the disruption of the pandemic. It’s going to be tough to do this if you only have a “computer says no” approach to risk assessment. I think we’ll see an increase in ‘story’ deals where the situation isn’t best reflected in the numbers.

Finally, lenders will have to price deals sensibly with the backdrop of rising interest rates and an expected increase in cost of risk too.

BW – In what new ways has UTB supported brokers over past two years?

Louise – We have worked closely with our brokers during the pandemic to understand their customer’s needs, the pinch points in their processes and how we can help them to overcome delays which may cost them business to competitors such as direct and vendor sales. We have streamlined and simplified our requirements and increased the size of the Operations team considerably. As a result, we are often able to deliver 24-hour pay outs when a speedy turnaround is required.

BW – Have you found it difficult finding and hiring new asset experts in specialist areas both during lockdown and today? how can you have a truly nationwide approach?

Louise – I don’t think we’ve had a problem finding and hiring great people for the team. 14 people have joined the AF team since the start of 2021. We’ve appointed 4 new underwriters, 2 new experienced BDMs, 5 experienced staff in Operations, Jon Mote is heading up specialist business development and the push into larger deals and Astrid and I both joined UTB in the last 12 months too. I think the industry is taking notice of what we do and how we do it and that’s attracting some great AF professionals to the Bank. We have one of the strongest, most experienced teams in the business.

We’ve recently appointed an underwriter based in the North-West to provide a more hands-on service to brokers in that region.  We wouldn’t necessarily have considered this 2 years ago, but the pandemic has shown all businesses what is possible with remote work.  We’re no longer restricted to London and the home counties when recruiting and this makes nationwide coverage and local relationships easier to achieve.  You should expect to see us do more of this in the future as our model is based on service and relationship.

BW – Do you intend to take on more staff in 2022? Or are you looking to achieve greater efficiencies from your existing team?

Astrid – As Louise said, we grew the team substantially in 2021 and I expect we’ll continue to recruit as our volume increases. Our Asset Finance loan book exceeded £200m for the first time at the end of 2021 and we’re not taking our foot off the gas. We’ll continue to focus on recruiting the highest quality people and certainly expect to add a few more to the team this year so watch this space.  In addition, we’ve had investment signed off to develop our tech proposition too which is a big focus for Louise this year.

Louise – We are exploring some really exciting technology which will automate and accelerate the processes that often cause pain points for our brokers, such as customer due diligence for example. We will always be a relationship focussed lender, so this is very much about people powered technology rather than the technology reducing customer access to our team. It will further streamline our processes and free the team from time consuming admin tasks, allowing them to focus on providing an industry leading service to our brokers.