Roma Finance is a Manchester-based bridging lender with less than £50m on its books but bags of ambition. At its helm sits founder and managing director Scott Marshall, a former underwriter, who decided to open his own firm so he could continue his job in his hometown.
Marshall had worked with London-based Jonathan Samuels, who later founded Dragonfly but geographical differences meant they eventually had to part ways.
Roma Finance has big plans, it wants to be among the top 10 in the country based on size and among the best on quality. “We are different,” says Marshall.“We don’t write bad business. And we lend in a very different way from the majority of other lenders in the space.”
He explains: “First and foremost we look at the borrower, while most people in the industry are equity lenders – they focus on the asset. We say who are we lending to, what is their background, what do they want to achieve? And then, how can we structure a deal that works for the borrower and ourselves.
“Credibility of the borrower is everything,” he says. According to Marshall, in the firm’s six-year history it has only ever had one repossession – where the client could not keep up with payments – but managed to recover all its money even then.
Roma was the third bridging business RBS backed with a funding line, when it released £50m in July, Marshall says. The firm had been introduced to RBS by one of its directors about nine months ago, before agreeing a deal in May and receiving the funding a few weeks later. The speed of the deal was an attribute to the firm’s people-based business model, which RBS endorsed, Marshall says.
The money has already been put to use. In early September Roma announced it was cutting the rates across its entire product range by as much as 0.25%. The firm also removed the exit fees on all non-commercial products.
Marshall says: “The products we have launched today mean we are now one of the most competitive bridging firms in the market. Our rates only get beaten by Precise.”
The firm has made a number of high profile hires in recent months and plans to grow the team further over the coming weeks. For instance, it has appointed previous Together Money managing director Steve Baker as non-executive director, and HSBC’s Simon Micklethwaite as relationship manager.
Marshall says: “When Brexit happened it was quiet for maybe a week and then it just took off again, particularly because of our funding lines. Now with the quality of people we expect our market share to increase significantly within the sector.”
People come to Roma for three reasons: they need the money quickly; they are a good bridging proposition but the property isn’t; or they are in trouble with their existing lender.
The last is the scenario Roma does not like to engage in because of its focus on the borrower’s credibility. The state of the property, on the other hand, is secondary. Roma also ensures they meet the client before agreeing to fund their purchase as a way to mitigate risk. That approach has allowed it to reach conversion rates of about 30%.
About a quarter of the firm’s clients are repeat customers, many coming back as many as seven or eight times, Marshall says. He expects this to remain in place but says he wants to reach a wider audience at the same time. Roma currently has 10 exclusive deals with firms and plans to double that number in the coming months, alongside building on its pool of non exclusives. The firm also wants to launch five year plans by the end of the year.
But one thing is sure, whatever the growth, the firm will not lose sight of its main focus, says Marshall. “We want to be the best we can be in the sector we are in. There are a number of firms that look to diversify and take the focus away from what they are good at. Within the next 18 months we will be within the top 10 by size of loan book and we will still be one of the best no matter how big we get.”
Quick-fire question round
Proudest career moment?
Most definitely completing the recent transaction with RBS just two weeks after Brexit. RBS frequently gets approached by bridging lenders and declines most of the firms which contact them. It was a very proud moment when one of the UK’s largest financial institutions bought into our proposition.
Biggest challenge ahead?
Our biggest challenge will be maintaining our service levels as we grow. In order to mitigate this risk we have recruited some fantastic talent.
If you were Prime Minister for the day, what would be your first policy change?
Over the past few years we’ve seen a lack of investment in front line public services. I would reverse this lack of investment and cut back on much of the other waste within government.
What’s the best present you’ve ever given?
After years of nagging I finally succumbed to pressure and I bought a dog. It’s a black miniature poodle and he’s an integral part of the family.