The ongoing uncertainty around the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU has epitomised an environment in which we have had to learn to expect the unexpected, which is not an ideal situation for lenders or advisers.
As we approached the end of last year, in the short-term lending market we were greeted with the news that Amicus Finance had entered administration, which, combined with the environment of uncertainty, has led to questions in some quarters about the future health of the sector.
With this in mind, it is useful to take a step back from the noise, to review the role the market has played in the past and to take an objective view of current challenges.
Evolution of sector
When the 2008 credit crisis hit the UK property market it was important for alternative finance to fill the gap left by the mainstream mortgage sector, and short-term lending became more significant for customers as it provided the flexibility they needed to achieve their objectives.
The Association of Short Term Lenders was set up in March 2008, initially with 19 members, with the dual objectives of protecting the reputation of the sector and providing a voice for lenders involved in bridging and secured lending for terms of between six months and two years.
The role of the ASTL has been to promote responsible lending, transparency and professionalism in the bridging finance sector, with members subscribing to our code of conduct, membership rules and value charter.
And we have achieved a lot over the past decade, growing our membership to more than 60 and developing an increasing influence with various bodies including the Financial Conduct Authority, the National Association of Commercial Finance Brokers, Association of Bridging Finance Professionals and HM Treasury.
The lending landscape has also changed significantly over this decade. More institutions have spotted the opportunity and new lenders have entered the market, increasing the options available for borrowers.
Competition is important for any market. Not only does it provide customer choice, but a larger number of players can raise awareness of the product and stimulate demand.
We have certainly seen new entrants into the bridging sector helping to spread the message about short-term lending as a flexible funding solution and there has been increased understanding about uses for bridging among intermediaries and consumers.
Those consumers have also benefited from another consequence of increased competition, with greater availability and lower pricing. But these benefits for consumers also provide a challenge to lenders.
A report by EY into the bridging market found that three key trends have emerged as a result of increased competition, with lenders experiencing margin compression, stretching to higher loan-to-value ratios and introducing more flexible product terms and features.
It is important for any lender to manage these risk factors, but amidst an environment of high competition and some significant economic challenges, it is important for bridging lenders to be cognisant about balancing their appetite for market share with taking on excessive risk. Failure to appropriately manage this risk can lead to casualties, as we have seen.