Blog – Fiduciam
June 25, 2019

Funding lines: The risk of excessive risk parameter harmonisation

By Johan Groothaert - CEO of Fiduciam

Many bridging lenders are financed by a funding line provided by a bank or specialist debt fund.

Typically, these funding line providers will finance between 70–90% of the loan, with the remainder being financed by the equity of the bridging lender or through a junior funder.

While most bridging lenders use such funding lines, some are financed on a different basis. An alternative funding route is the P2P model, very popular a few years ago, but maybe less so today. The greatest risk with this is regarding investors’ money, rather than for the lender, which has increased FCA scrutinisation and the recent confirmation of new rules for P2P platforms.

Another alternative funding model is direct institutional funding, such as pension funds and institutional investors taking a direct stake in the loan book, but as there is no fixed template for this model, it takes longer to set up. Finally, there is the route of securitisation, but for such structures to be efficient, a large loan book is required. 

For that reason, many bridging and alternative lenders go for the traditional funding line model. There are many providers, it is a well-known template and it allows new bridging lenders to get out of the starting blocks easily. The problem is the funding lines are all quite similar in what they can offer, which restricts the options available to the borrower. 

In fact, many banks and credit funds have been attracted by the healthy returns of such funding lines and have been eager to find more interested bridging lenders.

The providers of the funding lines typically impose restrictions on the type of loans — for instance, the type of real estate, the loan term, loan size etc — that can be funded with the funding line and impose further risk parameters on the overall loan book. This is normal, after all, they are exposed to the risk of the loan book. Where the losses on the loan book exceed the equity buffer provided by the bridging lender, the provider of the funding line can start losing money.

Some restrictions stipulate that the lender has to buy back the loan after a period of time, say 90 days. In this case, the risk is greater for lender than for the supplier of the funding line. These restrictions mean the lender would need sufficient capital to be able to buy back the loan while continuing to support its business, as well as a robust internal process on the underwriting and servicing side.

Such risk management techniques become somewhat self-defeating, though, if all funding line providers impose similar risk parameters, creating a particular segment. This results in more money chasing bridging loans than the natural market demands in this segment, leading to an erosion of LTVs and interest rates. 

We believe that this is what we are currently witnessing in the UK market. Risk-return characteristics for bridging loans substantially improve when one moves outside of the segment that is backed by funding lines.

This article first appeared in:

June 24, 2019

Where does the name ‘Fiduciam’ come from?

By Neal Skinner

 ‘Fiduciam’ is Latin for “mortgagee” and the accusative singular of fiducia, which has as its root fido, which means “I trust/I rely upon”. 

Fiducia cum creditore (which should not be confused with fiducia cum amico) was one of the earliest types of Roman mortgage, in essence the property would have been transferred to by the borrower to the lender on trust as security in order to demonstrate good faith (bona fides). Today we might use the term bona fide to mean “genuine”, however a more technical translation might be “reliable/reliability”. 

The fiducia cum creditore created a system of mutual trust between borrower and lender because: 

  • under the pactum fiduciae the lender agreed to return the property when the debt was satisfied; 
  • the lender had possession of the property, their ownership of which would be perfected if the loan was not repaid; and 
  • there was a further clause requiring the sale of the property in the event of default from which the lender, as trustee, would deduct the debt from the proceeds of sale, so that the lender would not be able to keep property with a value of more than the debt owed. 

For this to work there had to be a trustworthy borrower and a trustworthy lender. 

So successful was fiducia cum creditore that despite the advent of pignus (a “pledge”) it not only survived until the late Roman Empire, but it has more or less survived into the modern Dutch law, as bewind, and German law, as treuhand, and in 2007 fiducie was reintroduced into the French Civil Code in a form which require the property to be held by an independent trustee; Fiduciam sometimes uses fiducie when lending against security in France . 

This concept of fides or “trustworthiness”, “faithfulness”, “confidence” (which itself derives from the Latin for “with faith/faithfulness”), “reliability” or “credibility”, was so essential to Roman law that it became a principle virtue of the Roman moral code (the mos maiorum/“ancestral custom”) and deified into a goddess with a temple on the Capitoline Hill, near the Temple of Jupiter right in the spiritual centre of the ancient city between the Forum and the Field of Mars. Fiduciam seeks to embed this virtue right at the very core of who we are and what we do, right in the DNA of the company. A reliable borrower will always find in us a reliable lender with whom they can deal with consistently from one transaction to the next. 

June 17, 2019

The growing need for part development funding

By Ash Kendall - UK Originator

There appears to be a growing trend of borrowers looking to refinance a development before it is completed.

This could be due to multiple reasons – the current facility is expiring and the lender does not want to carry on; there have been cost overruns which the lender is unwilling or unable to fund, or because the borrower is looking for a discounted interest rate.

Developments can be challenging even under the best of circumstances, and a ground up development carries a different set of risks to refurbishment or conversion works, while new build extensions are slightly different again. Even the best planned development undertaken by the most experienced of developers can experience issues.

On refurbishments or conversions, there can be issues with the building, including underpinning requirements, asbestos, or structural issues with the property.

On ground up developments, there is ‘in-ground’ risk including potential contamination on brownfield sites – while all developments can suffer from the need to increase specifications on developments.

Issues with developments such as these, can result in cost overruns associated with the build and also cost overruns from time delays.  Time delays can become a real issue when they extend beyond the term of the loan with the developer still building when the loan term runs out.

From a lender perspective, it is important to make sure the developer has the extra time needed to complete their development as this presents the best opportunity for a successful outcome for both the borrower and the lender.

Despite this, some lenders are unable to roll, or extend, their development loans, or may be unwilling to do so.

Across the market there is anecdotal evidence that some credit lines are tightening.  Sometimes therefore, the best solution for a borrower can be to refinance the part-complete development with a new lender.

Lenders such as Fiduciam are happy to lend on part-complete developments, and we have on multiple occasions provided funding for this type of scheme both in the UK and abroad.

However, it is important the developer can show that the works to date are in good shape and that they have the ability to complete the remaining works.

If a developer wants to take this route, the new lender will want to check that the development works to date are compliant, with both planning permission and building regulations.

If you have a client in the situation of refinancing a part-built development therefore, it is wise to advise them to have a building surveyor and their architect ready to provide this evidence.

Often, a new lender will be happy to take this advice from the current lender’s monitoring surveyor.

The role of brokers has arguably never been more important than it is currently, in understanding who the savvy lenders are: which are the ones that truly understand what is involved in a development and have the financial strength to support the borrower.

While rate is important, what is more so is for a borrower to be with a flexible lender who understands the risks, can help a borrower to complete a development if they hit difficulties and who is flexible enough to ensure that they have a loan term that really is long enough for a project to be completed, no matter what unforeseen events may befall.

This article first appeared in: Mortgage Introducer

More banks could be forced to re-weight portfolios like Metro

By Johan Groothaert - CEO of Fiduciam

Metro Bank’s share price dropped to a record low earlier this month, down 75 per cent compared to January, a consequence of an error in risk weighting its commercial buy-to-let loans which came to light earlier this year.

As an alternative lender we were in a good position to observe some interesting developments in the commercial buy-to-let market over the past three years.

For example, in 2015 the majority of the bridge loans Fiduciam provided were related to buy-to-let. But progressively during 2016 and 2017 we lost this business as the challenger banks, including Metro Bank, became more aggressive in this segment, offering substantially lower interest rates.

This was incomprehensible to us as the international banking regulation framework, Basel III, requires a substantially higher risk weighting for commercial buy-to-let loans than for residential mortgages.

Basel III increased these risk weightings following the financial crisis to ensure that banks have sufficiently strong capital buffers when they have to write down loans during recessions and continue to have the confidence of savers at all times.

Eight per cent interest needed

According to reports, Metro Bank had erroneously put a risk weighting of 35 per cent on its commercial buy-to-let mortgages, which it had to increase to 100 per cent, as required by Basel III.

Considering the Basel III risk weighting and capital requirements framework, and assuming a 70 per cent cost-income ratio, which is an average for the UK bank sector, we have calculated that a bank would have to charge interest rates of approximately 8 per cent per year on commercial buy-to-let mortgages.

This would achieve a return on equity of 20% which would be a fair expectation set by bank shareholders.

Basel III did open a window for alternative lenders such as Fiduciam, which are financed by institutional risk capital rather than bank deposits or bank funding lines, to enter the commercial buy-to-let market, thereby reducing the demand on banks to provide such commercial buy-to-let mortgages, and consequently to lessen the risk on banks’ balance sheets.

Basel III did open a window for alternative lenders such as Fiduciam, which are financed by institutional risk capital rather than bank deposits or bank funding lines, to enter the commercial buy-to-let market, thereby reducing the demand on banks to provide such commercial buy-to-let mortgages, and consequently to lessen the risk on banks’ balance sheets.

More risk re-weightings to come?

We now understand better what has happened, at least at Metro Bank, however questions remain.  Some challenger banks continue to offer very low interest rates on commercial loans, which appear to be inconsistent with Basel III.

As an international lender we also observe that Basel III is implemented differently across the E.U., which is hard to understand considering there is an EU regulatory framework.

For instance, in the Netherlands a low risk weighting for commercial buy-to-let loans is standard, fuelling a frothy real estate market.

Finally, we notice an increasing number of challenger banks are lending to alternative (non-bank) lenders at low interest rates, which raises the question how those funding lines are risk weighted.

Metro Bank has tackled its Basel III risk weighting issues and has since raised more than £375m in equity, assisting in a recovery of its share price, but based on the above observations the question arises whether we will see similar risk re-weightings in the wider challenger bank sector and even internationally.

This article first appeared in: Mortgage Solutions

March 29, 2019

The complexities and opportunities of the bridging market in Europe

By Clint White

You might be forgiven for thinking that the opportunities in Europe will be under threat given our situation with the UK’s exit from the EU.

But, as a business that has been working in Europe for the past two years, we know that this is not the case.

Lending in Europe is not always easy, and in some countries not really possible, but we have made it our business to find ways to lend whenever, and wherever, we can. In some countries, other than local banks, there are very few lenders able to help investors and developers looking to obtain leverage over real estate in continental Europe. In fact, there are some countries where we are possibly the only other option.

When lending in a new country, the first step is to work out if it is indeed possible for a UK lender to lend, and if it is, then it’s a case of working out how. There are many nuances and almost every country has different rules and regulations, which can be quite different to the way we lend in the UK. There are similarities to the UK in Ireland, as you’d expect, but elsewhere lenders have to be very sure they are working in the right way. 

For instance, we can’t lend directly to French entities because French banks have a lending monopoly, but we can assist where borrowers have corporate entities outside France, but have French assets which can be used as security. 

In Spain, we face a different challenge. Although lending follows a more standard civil law process, assessing property values is much more problematic. Previous sales data is limited and often unreliable. This makes it difficult to compare anything but the most standard of property types. We set up our Spanish arm, with a full Spanish-speaking team, to deal with exactly these types of problems. 

In continental Europe, loan transactions are often cross border, for instance the loan being provided for a finance company in one country and the security being taken in another country. In Ireland and Spain, many loans are being used for debt restructurings, assisting in cleaning up the aftermath of the financial crisis.

One area we are particularly active in is enabling the directors of UK businesses to raise equity against their European property.

It has taken us a lot of time to develop our continental European bridging capability, but now that we are fully operational in Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and France, we expect to double our lending volumes in these countries next year, with Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg coming on top of that. Most of the jurisdictions we lend in are currently experiencing rising property markets, and the opportunities are multitude. We are there for the long run.

This article first appeared in:

February 18, 2019

London brokers increasing their amount of international bridging

By Clint White

Based on observations and conversations over the past year, there appears to have been an increase in the search for international funds coming through London brokers.

A growing number of London brokers it seems, are being asked to access money by borrowers keen to do one of three things: either purchase an international property, carry out work on a property based overseas or, increasingly, release money from a property based in continental Europe in order to spend on property or business in the UK. In each of these cases there is another property that is being leveraged on a short-term basis in order to satisfy a development or business need.

There could be a number of reasons for this uplift, but it increasingly seems to be the case that if you have an international property and can’t find funds abroad then you look to London as an international finance centre. For flexible, short-term funding, London is still the place to come, even despite Brexit.

What is interesting is that the people turning to London brokers for help are not even all UK nationals, they are a number of different nationalities all of whom have property on the continent that they need to leverage on a short-term basis.

It makes sense that international brokers like Enness and Knight Frank will be approached for this business as they have international connections so may be contacted in multiple jurisdictions, but the demand seems to be wider than this with a much wider range of brokers being approached. It is not exclusive to London brokers either, but the demand does seem to be predominantly in this region.

The key reason seems to be that short-term finance is not generally available across the continent, but as awareness grows of bridging finance and how useful it is, this is increasing demand. And the key place to realise this demand is in London and the UK.

There has also been an uplift in UK business people releasing capital from properties they may own abroad in order to capitalise on business opportunities here. Many UK business people, especially developers, will have unencumbered property abroad. They are now seeing the opportunity to leverage it for their business or for property development. It is this segment of the market that is showing the greatest potential. This fast turnaround of short-term money can really make a difference to businesses needing to invest, or even needing working capital.

It is an exciting market and what that looks set to increase throughout the year as awareness of the possibilities increase, not only in the UK but across Europe.

This article first appeared in:

February 15, 2019

The importance of knowing your lender – Part II

By Clint White

In part one, we discussed why it is important to know your lender. Now, we explain why this is even more relevant today and what can be done to reduce lender risk.

In our opinion, 2019 will be a challenging year for the bridging industry — for three reasons:

Widening credit spreads:

We have benefited from a very benign credit environment for the last few years and this will inevitably change. This may dry up the funding sources for some lenders.

Falling property prices:

 We have not really had a proper real estate correction in the UK since the early 90s. We may be witnessing one in London right now. 

Brexit:

 If there is a hard Brexit, we believe the UK economy could go into recession and major dislocations and disruption in the capital markets could occur, also directly affecting the credit markets. It is also possible that the can is kicked further down the road, in which case the ongoing uncertainty could cause investment to be subdued. The ongoing Brexit situation also means that politicians may come to power who otherwise would have no chance.  

As a result of this environment, we believe that other lenders could become more conservative, making it impossible for certain borrowers to refinance. 

In good times, the choice of lender may not be that critical but, in bad times, it is. 

What can borrowers do to avoid lender risk? 

The key is to use a well experienced broker which understands the health and reputation of the different lenders, and which can lead the borrower to the right one. While as a broker, you need to really get to know the different lenders, to help establish those that will treat your client right.  

Pick a lender with stable funding

Lenders that are excessively funded by wholesale funding, hedge funds or leveraged vehicles may face serious balance sheet pressures when the going gets tough. They may therefore be more likely to trigger default as this is one way to reduce balance sheet pressures.  

Select a diligent lender

Yes, there may be a few more forms to be completed and information to be provided as part of the application, but a diligent lender’s loan book is less likely to get into trouble.  

Select a sustainable lender

Glitzy offices may be nice, but you want to make sure the lender is cash-flow positive.

Consider the reputation of the lender 

Choose a lender that truly cares about long-term client relationships. 

Resist the temptation to over leverage

It may make it more difficult or impossible to refinance if the lender which accommodated the very high leverage disappears.

Make sure the exit strategy is realistic with enough buffer embedded in the loan

Delays are normal, but you do not want to be in a situation where the loan expires before the exit has been achieved.

Have the borrower meet with the lender to develop a relationship  

Not only will this make it easier for the borrower to work out problems if they occur, it also helps to get a better feeling for who your lender really is.

Diversify across lenders

Never become too dependent on one single lender.

February 6, 2019

The importance of knowing your lender – Part I

By Clint White

Last year, we suddenly received an increase in loan applications from developers in the midst of projects who wanted a new loan.

Such applications make us wary as typically a borrower looking for a new loan in the midst of a project means something has gone wrong. We soon discovered the reason was that the borrowers could no longer make further drawdowns under their existing facilities as their lenders had funding issues.

The press has widely reported the fate of Amicus, but we have also seen other lenders which seem to have funding issues. As everybody may remember from the RBS small business loans controversy, a lender with problems can destroy a lot of businesses.

There are principally three types of lenders that can threaten a borrower: those that lose their funding, and those that are either not sustainable or not ethical.

Lenders who lose their funding

Some bridging lenders depend on bank funding lines, some on P2P funding and some on institutional funding. Bank lines can be pulled easily, while P2P funding can dry up rapidly as a consequence of negative press and herd behaviour.

This will usually happen at the worst moment for a borrower: when it is difficult to get a loan from another lender. It may leave a borrower with a half-finished development, unable to make drawdowns or with an inability to extend their loan if the exit is delayed. The consequence is enforcement with a loss of equity in the process. 

For borrowers, it’s often impossible to understand a lender’s funding model, but brokers frequently have this insight. Lenders with non-diversified funding and loan book performance problems are most at risk of losing funding. 

Non-sustainable lenders

The fintech and P2P boom meant a lot of venture capital came flowing into our sector. This meant a lot of lenders were able to pursue a cash-burn business model.

The problem arises when venture capital investors run out of patience before the lender has become cash flow positive. A lender fearing something like this happening can create a vicious circle: the lender, knowing it needs to demonstrate growth to meet its original business plan projections, grants loans it should never have granted and portrays a much rosier picture than reality — until the card house collapses.

An enormous number of bridging lenders have been established over the past few years, and not all of them will prove to be sustainable. The broker plays an important role here, as he or she knows from industry gossip who is doing well and who is in trouble.

Non-ethical lenders

Unfortunately, we believe that some lenders’ business models are based on making money out of defaults or, even worse, lend-to-own. This does not mean they break the rules. It is easy enough for a borrower to have a project or exit delay, or to fail to comply with an administrative covenant. Indeed, the loan documentation is typically drafted to protect the lender, allowing it to easily declare a default.

Ethical lenders will work with the borrower to resolve the issue; others find it hard to resist the temptation to charge default interest and hefty fees. We continue to be amazed by the number of borrowers who fall into this trap. Clearly, more education is required on an industry level, although associations such as the ASTL have done good work to improve standards.

In part two we will look at why, particularly in 2019, knowing your lender is important, and give some practical steps for avoiding lender risk.

This article first appeared in:

December 25, 2018

Trees grow on money

By Ash Kendall & Cristina Villén

In June 2018, Fiduciam granted a €1.3 million, three-year commercial loan to Hatton Farm in the Republic of Ireland.  Hatton Farm, which operates under Hatton Produce Ltd, is one of Ireland’s leading potato producers and is renowned for the high quality of its potatoes. As Hatton Farm grew and diversified over the years, it also became an important Christmas tree grower, in fact it has 150,000 of them. Like many other Irish farms, Hatton Farm was really let down badly by the traditional banks in the aftermath of the financial crisis.  Marina Hatton commented: “Fiduciam believed in us when the big banks were simply there anymore. This farm has been in our family for three generations and it’s thanks to the loan that we got from Fiduciam that we can grow our business and secure our children’s future.”  As a thank you for the loan, Hatton Farm offered Fiduciam one of its home-grown Christmas trees for their office. As a bit of fun, Fiduciam sent two of its BDMs to chop down the tree and carry it home, and filmed the whole lot.

December 7, 2018

That was the year that was

By Clint White

A year of many highs and lows, perhaps echoed in England’s journey in the World Cup, 2018 gave us much to deal with, but amazingly we have emerged into 2019 relatively unscathed.

Unemployment remains low, real wages are outpacing inflation for the first time in years, the economy is growing (slightly) and, despite being constantly threatened with rising interest rates, we only faced one quarter per cent increase in twelve months.

Storms battered the UK in January and snow covered much of the country in February and March. The inclement weather always has an impact and many were counting the cost once things started to thaw. Retailers were hit because many people just stayed at home, builders were unable to carry on building and many saw their insurance premiums rise following what was dubbed ‘The beast from the east’.

However, it wasn’t long before the UK was basking in the hottest temperatures the country has seen since records began. The heat was also rising in the political arena and fears over our fate once we leave the EU became a fierce debate, which will unfortunately continue right up until the deadline in March. This has cast quite a pall over the economy with many predicting a massive fall-out, which has filtered down into the wider community and consumer confidence took quite a knock as the year went on.

Of course, there’s nothing like a good wedding to get people out and about and spending money, and the royal wedding in May did exactly that. There were 193million credit card purchases in May, seven per cent more than the same month in 20181.

Nonetheless, it was the retail sector that took the brunt of Brexit uncertainty and the impact of increased online purchasing activity. Forcing many retailers, including some big names, to shut-up shop for the last time. Although the Treasury recognised the plight of the retail sector in the Budget announcement, the steps proposed to help our beleaguered high streets may not be enough to save some retailers.

Although uncertainty surrounds our exit from the EU, there is also an air of ‘what will be will be’ for many. Our fate is in the hands of the politicians now, so we might as well carry on, regardless. Interest rates are low, most lenders want to lend and criteria has never been so diverse or accommodating for so many borrowers. However, funding for SMEs is still an issue. Some are reluctant to invest because of Brexit, but for those that do want to grow through investment more needs to be done and that’s where specialist lenders will come into their own.

We’ve had an interesting last 12 months, and there is surely more to come, but look at it from another angle. We may be leaving the EU and we may have some difficult decisions and times ahead of us, but there is an old saying that is apt in our current circumstances: “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”

I believe 2019 will offer as many opportunities as we had in 2018, perhaps more.

This article first appeared in:

August 21, 2018

TVR Automotive – a transformational multi-tranche facility

By Fiduciam

Following the take-over and recapitalization of TVR by a group of successful British entrepreneurs, the development of a new high-performance car was commenced in close cooperation with Gordon Murray Design. Fiduciam provided the cornerstone of the second capitalization round, closely working together with the Welsh government and equity investors, in order to finance a new production facility in South Wales, a project representing £30 million of capital expenditure and creating 150 direct jobs and many more in the supply chain. This transaction demonstrates Fiduciam’s ability to successfully complete ambitious transactions. The transaction required Fiduciam to work together with the Welsh Government and a company which provided third-party security for the transaction.  The challenge was to find a financing solution that met the needs of all stakeholders.  The overall security package consisted of real estate, farmland, manufacturing assets, intellectual property, cars and parts.  The transaction was brought to Fiduciam by a corporate finance boutique in the City which simultaneously worked on an equity raising for TVR. 

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