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Know Your BDM: Simon O’Donnell, Saffron Building Society

  • 29/01/2024
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Know Your BDM: Simon O’Donnell, Saffron Building Society
This week, Mortgage Solutions is speaking with Simon O’Donnell, business development manager (BDM) at Saffron Building Society.

What locations and how many advisers and broker firms do you cover in your role? 

I cover quite a wide patch including Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent, London, part of Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Within this area, we have over 4,200 registered brokers. This means I get to work with a really broad and diverse range of people, ensuring that no two days are the same and I am constantly challenged with different cases.  


What personal talent/skill is most valuable in doing your job? 

At Saffron, we value a close relationship with brokers, so strong communication skills are required. This is something I naturally love about the role, and it is always great to catch up with our brokers on both a professional and personal level. Beyond this, I think it is also important to be able to take ownership and responsibility over what we do. Buying a home is usually one of the largest and most important financial decisions that individuals make, so it is especially important that everyone in the industry is producing work of the highest quality. Taking ownership and responsibility ties in to this, as it ensures that services are always meeting high standards. 


What personal talent/skill would you most like to improve on? 

I have definitely improved over the past few years, but as Saffron for Intermediaries gets busier and we work with more brokers, I would love to improve my time management and organisation skills further. Naturally, as a BDM, I spend a lot of my time on the road and in between different meetings. After 11 years in the industry, I have almost got my organisation down to a fine art, but there is always room for improvement.  


What’s the hardest part of your job? 

A big part of my role is travelling to visit our broker partners. I feel incredibly lucky to be in an industry that still values face-to-face meetings, and I love going to meet brokers across the country. However, the hardest part of my role is probably catching up on emails after a day on the road – my inbox can be a bit of an avalanche at times. 


What do you love most about your job? 

I love a challenge and pushing myself to develop new skills, so it’s always really rewarding to get a challenging or complex case over the line. Ultimately, we are helping people to achieve huge life goals in buying a home, so it’s great to know that I play a part in that. 


What’s the best bit of career-related advice you’ve ever been given? Who gave it to you? 

A previous manager told me that you cannot please everyone all the time, and this has definitely proved true. Good business is all about compromise and flexibility, particularly when it comes to the kind of complex cases we support, so I am glad I learnt that early on in my career. 


How do you keep up to date with developments in the market? 

I like to read news in the trade press as well as the general mainstream media. It is also really useful to speak to brokers in the field, who are often able to tell us trends and developments before news publications catch on. 


What is the most quirky/unique property deal you’ve been involved in? 

We recently refurbished a former church into a residential dwelling, which was definitely a different one. An intricate but incredibly rewarding case, as the end result was stunning. 


Tell us about your trickiest case – what happened and how did you resolve the problem(s)? 

We had a scenario where an applicant had a large plot of land and wanted to split the title into two, build one out and leave one for a later date. The applicant’s pension fund owned half of the land, so we had to facilitate both the purchase of the full plot, as well as the eventual build. We worked closely with the broker to understand the client’s individual financial situation, and were able to provide support throughout the entire process.  


What was your motivation for choosing this career? 

I started at Saffron back in 2012 and have spent the majority of my career working on the savings side of the business. I remember looking at the different teams who were more closely involved with our mortgage offerings, and after some chats with the team, I realised I may be more suited to a mortgage-focused position. When an opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance and have never looked back.  


If you could do any other job in the property sector, what would it be and why? 

I really do love my job but if I had to move, I would probably opt for property surveying – a job which has always interested me. As a surveyor I would still be helping individuals buy homes, and would be able to add real value by making buyers aware of any hidden issues to potentially save them money in the long run. 


What did you want to be growing up? 

Something you probably hear from quite a lot of people, but I would have loved to have been a footballer. I actually studied sport and exercise performance at university, but ultimately realised I could add more value in the financial services sector. I will always have a love for sports and use my spare time to play and watch whenever I can.  


If you could have one superpower, what would it be? 

I would want to be able to travel anywhere instantly. As a BDM, I have to attend a lot of in-person broker meetings and travelling takes up a lot of my time. It would also be very handy to get me to exotic destinations every weekend. 


What is your strategy for tackling challenges? 

Tackling challenges is something that you have to do a lot as a BDM. You need to manage the relationships and expectations of brokers whilst also maintaining good relationships with various internal teams. When trying to find a solution to a challenge, I think it’s important to get as much information as possible about the borrower’s situation before making a decision or committing to anything. It is also important to conduct your own research into what has happened, getting both sides of the story before problem solving and providing a response. 


And finally, what’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked? 

How much will the house value decrease if a member of the family is buried in the garden? 


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