New ASTL must smarten up industry

Sarah Davidson

March 1, 2012

The bridging market trade body is rumoured to be having a beauty parade of possible candidates next week after its chief executive Adrian Bloomfield resigned yesterday.

Duncan Kreeger, chairman of West One Loans, said: “I’m not particularly bothered who takes the lead at the ASTL – I don’t think there are any standout candidates at the moment.

“What I am passionate about is the direction the ASTL takes. Whoever gets the job, I’d like to see membership offered much more selectively.

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“At the moment, decent, honest upright lenders are being lumped in the same boat as some less reputable outfits.”

He said the ASTL should introduce specific requirements to tighten up the criteria for membership and “keep the cowboys out”.

“This is a serious problem for the industry,” Kreeger added. “When we polled brokers recently, 15% of them said new entrants are rushing into an industry they don’t understand, for short-term gain.

“I don’t want ASTL membership lending a veneer of respectability to people who offer misleading headline rates, hoard proc fees, and attract negative press to bridging as result.

“We need to make it clear there is no room for these people in the bridging market.

“Professionalisation of the industry has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years – that is partly what is driving its success. But there’s plenty more work to be done and I want to see the ASTL leading the charge.”

His call comes after Colin Sanders, chief executive at Omni Capital, said he hoped 2012 would be the year which sees the emergence of “truly effective and representative trade bodies” for the sector.

He added: “The basis for this already exists and the more mature bodies, such as NACFB, perform a sterling service for their members.

“But more can be done and as short-term lending continues to emerge from its previously ambiguous past, there is a pressing need for our trade bodies to evolve from ‘clubbiness’ to become the serious, vocal and articulate champions of the sector.”

Omni Capital said today it believes whoever steps in as the ASTL’s new chief executive the body should make an effort to set itself up with independent policy advisers.

Bob Sturges, head of communications at Omni Capital, said the precise structure of any trade body is something for its membership or the elected council to determine.

And he added: “But I think it’s important to have in place early on an impartial, paid-for secretariat to manage the essential day-to-day running of the organisation.

“Headed by a director-level figure answerable to the council, it is usually the most efficient way to run a trade body. It also helps remove the risk of conflicts of interest while providing continuity.”

Sturges said as the organisation develops he would expect the secretariat to acquire more sophisticated functionality.

“This is likely to include market research and analysis, policy planning and delivery, PR and a lobbying capability,” he added.

“The aim must be for the body to be credible and authoritative both with its membership and among law-makers and opinion formers.

“It comes with a price attached, of course, but value-for-money can be measured in a number of ways.

“The ASTL doesn’t appear to be far short of this blueprint and I suspect it will get a lot closer as it embarks on this next stage in its evolution.”

Christian Faes, director at Montello Finance, said it would make sense for the ASTL to share its administration function with an existing organisation.

He said: “Rather than spend time and money setting up a secretariat from scratch it would be useful if the ASTL could perhaps tie up this function with the NACFB or CML for example.”

Speaking for the trade association Mark Posniak, head of marketing at Dragonfly and an ASTL executive committee member, said: “The aim of the ASTL is to promote and protect the interest of its members. The astl has a strict code of conduct that all members must abide by but, as long as they do so, any lender in the short term lending industry who has been in business for at least a year is welcome to join.

“Any application for membership is voted on by all the members, therefore it is up to existing members who are concerned about the future of the astl to put themselves forward and play an active part in its future and in the decisions that are being made. The astl has made a tremendous start over the past four years and now this is the start of a positive new chapter as we embrace the changing conditions and the new challenges that present themselves to any industry.”

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