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Rising Star: Katie Court, Paragon Bank

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  • 17/06/2024
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Rising Star: Katie Court, Paragon Bank
The Mortgage Solutions Rising Star feature spotlights people who have been working in the mortgage sector for less than three years.

This week, Mortgage Solutions is speaking with Katie Court, mortgage underwriter at Paragon Bank. 

 

What does your role entail and how long have you been doing it?

My role as an underwriter entails assessing and analysing buy-to-let (BTL) mortgage applications; I normally have a caseload of 60-80 cases at any one time.

We review every application and have a tailored approach to each case, reviewing every element of the application to give us a holistic view of the proposal. This risk-based approach to all our applications enables us to lend on some of the most complex cases.

Another key aspect of my role is managing the stakeholders involved in the application. We understand how important it is for brokers to have good visibility of their cases, so I liaise with them to keep them informed of the progress of the application, updating them of any queries and documents we need, where necessary.

I have been in underwriting for almost four years.

 

What attracted you to working in the mortgage/property/finance sector?

When I graduated from university, I was terrified of not getting a job and thought I would have to go back to university and do a Master’s degree, which I didn’t want to do. My brother referred me to work for Paragon within our in-house surveyors team and I got the job.

Although I enjoyed my time in surveyors, I knew I wanted to move to underwriting. I enjoy the variance between days and the endless proposals we receive. I appreciate a job where I can get my teeth into something and manage my workload and cases.

 

What were you doing in the five years before starting here?

Five years ago, I would have been 20 and studying politics, philosophy and economics at the University of Leeds. I loved my time in Leeds and learned lots, mostly about myself and what I wanted to do. I knew I didn’t want to work 100-hour weeks for one of the big four and I wanted an employer that valued me as a person and encouraged work/life balance.

I then moved to the surveyors team at Paragon and reviewed properties for the bank, booking in valuation appointments for 4-5 valuers across the country. I loved this job as it gave me my first exposure to a ‘proper’ job and the team was so supportive. I made lots of friends but knew, ultimately, I wanted to move to a job more suited to me, where I could develop myself, do further training and learn more about the wider financial market.

 

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

There are a lot of things that can be valuable for doing my job. We have to make decisions that have a real impact on people, so for me, it is important to have sound judgement and confidence in my conviction. For others, it is their technical skills that help them to understand accounts or complicated limited company structures.

This year, we are focusing on ‘Think Customer’, whereby the customer is at the front of everything we do. In practice, this could mean minimising documentation we ask for, and making sure we call the brokers to advise them of accurate time frames and keep them as up-to-date as possible. I try my best to call each broker at least once during the process so they know I am their underwriter, and they can reach me directly any time they need (within my working hours) to discuss requirements or queries they have.

I think (luckily) my skills are important to the business as I am able to build sincere relationships with our brokers and customers, and they return to Paragon for the high level of customer service we provide. 

 

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

I’d really like to work on my technical skills. I think part of that comes from experience; the more responses and sets of accounts and structures you see, the more you can see what is normal and what isn’t, but I would love to be a whizz at interpreting accounts. The great thing about Paragon is that we have such a wealth of experience, there is always someone to refer things to, and we all bounce off each other.

 

How has the pandemic changed the way you approach your job?

The biggest thing is working from home a lot more. We still go into the office regularly, but we’ve embraced Teams and use it for most of our meetings. This makes it easier to refer to multiple people, and share screens so they can see exactly what you are seeing.

I do like working from home as I value a great work/life balance; cutting out the daily commute means I have more time to do things like walk the dog or work out, benefitting both my physical and mental health.

That said, I really enjoy our team days too as I feel like everyone makes more of an effort to be present, discuss cases and enjoy each other’s company.

 

What is the most interesting/memorable property deal/case you’ve been involved in?

One of the most rewarding cases I have had recently was an application from a landlord who owned five properties.

What was interesting about it was the use of our forward funding facility and how that enabled the landlord to almost double the size of their portfolio in a relatively short time, taking it to nine properties. The benefit of the forward funding facility lies in the borrower knowing the loan is secured, having been underwritten already, so they can move quickly when an opportunity presents.

 

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I see myself still here (hopefully). I love my job and Paragon has a great culture and community.

I plan to be more involved with the relationship-building side of underwriting, as this is what I love doing and maybe this will lead me onto something new, but really, I don’t know where I will end up specifically – five years sounds like a very long time away. 

 

If present-day you could go back in time and tell yourself something five years ago, what would it be?

I would say don’t say no to yourself. I consider this to be the best advice I have received as I think we say no to ourselves constantly, and rarely ask the question or put ourselves forward for things – what’s the worst that can happen? 

 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve tackled so far in your career?

I would say suffering from imposter syndrome.

I did well at school, always getting good grades and, as a result, got into my first-choice university and got the first ‘proper’ job I interviewed for. When I moved to underwriting, the change was so great that I felt like I was failing for a good few months. Our applications can be complex and there is a lot to learn, and you genuinely do learn something new every day – something I have confirmed with other colleagues who have been in underwriting a lot longer than me. 

My colleagues were so supportive, as were management, but I put so much pressure on myself to succeed I felt like I was letting everyone down. Over the past four years, I have become more comfortable with the fact that it’s okay not to have the answer to every question, and without sounding too cliche, it’s way more important to ask for help.

 

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

Teleportation – I love to travel and would do it full time if I could. If I could teleport, I could go anywhere I like on the weekends and be back at work on Monday morning. 

 

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

I’m not sure if this counts but my partner and I always ask what we would rather be – a giraffe or hippo and why – or something silly like that. 

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