Know Your BDM: Karen McGrath, Atom Bank

  • 02/04/2024
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Know Your BDM: Karen McGrath, Atom Bank
This week, Specialist Lending Solutions is speaking with Karen McGrath (pictured), business development manager (BDM) for Atom Bank.

Which locations and how many advisers and broker firms do you cover in your role at Atom Bank?

In my job at Atom Bank, I cover the North West of England, Yorkshire and Wales. It means I look after around 35 broker businesses, and within those firms, around 160 individual advisers who are regularly active.


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

Multi-tasking is absolutely vital. There’s always so many different aspects of cases competing for your attention, and in order to be an effective business development manager, it’s crucial that you can keep on top of all of those different elements.


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

It’s not so much a personal thing, but I’d love to see better tools in place to support brokers when sending in cases. It could help steer them on what sort of information and supporting evidence is needed for that application, and would mean that we can get the funding delivered to the client much more quickly.

Technology has a huge role to play when it comes to speeding up the commercial mortgage process. On the residential side of our business, for example, greater use of automation has seen us reach the point where one in four applications now go through on the same day. Our next aim is to deliver technology that replicates this success for our business customers as well. We are actively introducing technology that will mean our business customers can enjoy such speedy responses too, having made more than 60 changes last year, which are already delivering tangible results to our turnaround times.


What is the hardest part of your job?

There are only so many hours of the day, and it can be a challenge to determine where the focus needs to be. For example, it’s important to support the pipeline cases, and help them complete as quickly as possible. This is crucial for all customers, but particularly those SME borrowers who are underserved by other lenders.

But being a BDM also means raising awareness of Atom Bank and how we can help future clients, so time also needs to be devoted towards staying in the forefront of brokers’ minds when they have cases to place that could fit at Atom.


What do you love most about your job?

This industry is built on relationships, and it’s something I really enjoy. Getting to know brokers, the sorts of clients they are working with, and finding ways to support them. My job can be particularly rewarding when it comes to helping SMEs achieve their goals. Some lenders have retreated from this area of the market, preferring to focus their efforts on high-value borrowers, but lenders like Atom Bank are well-placed to support these smaller, underserved clients. We strive to help them secure their funds as quickly and competitively as possible, and I take real pride in seeing the businesses we lend to flourish.


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

I’m a big believer in treating everyone equally. It doesn’t matter if they are the owner of the business or someone just starting out; every wheel and cog in the machine is important, and they deserve to be treated as such. At Atom Bank, we try to live and breathe this principle when working with brokers and their clients, whether it’s through our service, communications, or products.


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

Communication is so crucial in the property market, and having a good relationship with brokers makes it easier to keep on top of what’s going on out in the field. It’s also useful to stay connected on social media, as well as reading the trade press, to ensure that I am well-informed and don’t miss anything critical.


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

There have been so many. I have looked at everything from funeral parlours to stables and race horse tracks. I love the variety, and with a little creativity you may be able to find a way to package a deal that works for everyone.


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

I once had a care home deal where, on the morning of completion, we discovered that a conditions precedent (CP) had been missed. We were at the point of the whole chain juddering to a halt, so I hopped into the car and did a 400-mile round trip in order to meet the client at the site, check that it was ok and get the documents signed.

Once we confirmed with legal that the documents were physically in the possession of a member of staff, we could release the funds and get the deal over the line.

As a BDM, it is sometimes not just about agreeing to and funding the case, but sometimes you have to go the extra mile – or quite literally 400 in this instance – to help the client.


What was your motivation for choosing this career?

I have always liked property, but ultimately, it all comes down to the fact that I enjoy solving problems. It’s always fantastic to see the end results and know that the funding provided by Atom Bank has helped the borrower run their business and hopefully set up solid foundations for the future – especially for SME borrowers.


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

If I had the choice, I would still be a regional BDM, but maybe I’d do it somewhere nice and sunny instead.

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