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‘Marmite’ man takes flight

‘Marmite’ man takes flight

One of the biggest figures in the mortgage industry fell to earth two weeks ago, representing the final nail in the coffin of the exuberance – and extravagance – of the mortgage boom pre-financial crisis.

Michael Bolton, who made his name as managing director of BM Solutions and head of specialist lending at HBOS, before setting up his own business, Edeus, was sentenced in his absence to two years in jail after being convicted of VAT fraud.

He had attempted to hang on to £125,000 of VAT payable to HMRC, citing incorrect VAT numbers on his invoices to Clayton Euro Risk.

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Rather than face jail, he decided to make a run for it. He had been out on bail, and did not turn up to his trial. Now a UK arrest warrant has been imposed, and the authorities may issue a European arrest warrant.

Judge Graham Cottle speculated that he may have gone to Spain. Others suggest he has gone to Brazil, due to close family connections there.

One industry source said: “The big problem seems to be he’s going to have to be permanently on the run, and not doing things he’s used to.

“You’ve got a choice to stay and take the medicine – he would probably be out in less than a year – but for him to be in prison, he would probably find it more difficult than most. I’m not sure his decision is the most sensible choice.”

The sentencing marks the end of a remarkable career for someone who appeared to be loved and loathed in equal measure.

To many, he transformed the industry in specialist lending, introducing technology to speed up approvals. But he was also known as much for his extravagance, extreme self-belief and seemingly unlimited expense account.

John Wriglesworth, chief executive of Wriglesworth, a public relations consultancy, who knows Bolton well, said: “He is a larger-than-life, Marmite character. Something he once mentioned to me was that you either loved him or hated him. Very few people had average views about him.”

Bolton made his name at Birmingham Midshires, initially owned by Halifax, and then HBOS. Joining in 2001 from a marketing role at Future Mortgages – his career started out as a bond trader – he was part of a drive by the business to shake up the specialist lending market, and offer mortgages to borrowers with a poor credit history.

Ambitions

In an interview in 2005, Bolton’s career ambition was to “run the biggest specialist lender in the UK, perhaps the biggest in Europe”, and he worked hard to achieve this.

He launched an aggressive marketing campaign, excluding unhelpful intermediaries, such as packagers, from the frame, and introducing advanced technology, helping it to produce more accurate key facts illustrations (KFIs) than the sourcing systems.

The strategy worked. Lending rocketed under his leadership. In 2001, when he joined as head of mortgage marketing at Birmingham Midshires, the business was lending £11bn. By 2005, when he was HBoS head of specialist lending, this had more than doubled, to £28bn.