Simon Betty, head of credit at Wellesley Finance, tells us how his average day has changed since the pandemic began…
Longer days, less travelling, and fewer site visits – these are just a few of the changes that Simon Betty, head of credit at Wellesley Finance, has had to tackle since the pandemic lockdown was introduced in March. “Pre-pandemic I would normally be in the office at about half seven, and there was less structure around the day than there is now,” says Betty. “Because people were physically in the office and you could wander around and speak to people on an ad hoc basis – it made engagement that much easier.”
Now, in order to achieve that same level of engagement, Betty must schedule video calls and regular check-ins with his team – often early in the morning and into the evening. “Keeping the team motivated while they are working on their own is essential,” he says. “I contact them every morning and then again later in the day, and part of that is to encourage them to log off because otherwise they will keep working long after office hours.”
In pre-pandemic times, the first part of Betty’s day would be spent catching up with admin and housekeeping tasks, and then he would liaise with lenders and attend general internal and external meetings. “Post-pandemic, the working day has become elongated,” he says. “Firstly, because I don’t have to do the commute, and secondly because several challenges brought about by Covid-19 mean that increased oversight has been required over the loanbook.
So, there’s been a lot more work involved.” Wellesley already had robust procedures in place when it came to the management and monitoring of its loans, but now it is taking an even more meticulous approach. Every single loan is now monitored closely and Betty chairs loan review meetings every week to ensure that prompt decisions are made if necessary and issues are not allowed to slip.
But one element of his job that can’t be performed remotely is site visits. Before lockdown, Betty would spend a lot of time travelling around the country to check on the progress of borrowers in the property development space. When the lockdown restrictions were at their tightest, these were not possible and it was necessary to rely on videos and photos, supplied by the borrowers themselves.
“That was not ideal,” he says. “And to be fair the borrowers worked with us but it’s certainly not what I would normally want. Since the restrictions have been lifted some sites have started to reopen and we have started to visit again with social distancing measures, including not taking public transport.
“But obviously construction has slowed down over the past few months with supply chain difficulties and fewer contractors on site. Furthermore, new sales progress came to a halt although I have been encouraged by new enquiry levels since estate agents re-opened. We are therefore currently heavily involved in speaking to borrowers about restructuring their loans where necessary and how we do that.”
Wellesley has worked closely with their borrowers to ensure that investors are not unnecessarily affected by project delays and loan restructuring. This diligence is already paying off. In a recent chat with his team, Betty found that a lot of their loans were performing more positively than expected, and he recently signed off on a promising new loan request that should be approved soon. In fact, Betty believes that Wellesley will maintain some of its pandemic processes even after lockdown has ended.
“For the foreseeable future, I can’t see us going too far from where we are now,” he says. “I think I’ll continue to be working more remotely – I won’t be in the office as much and I won’t be travelling as much by train or via the Underground.”
Necessity is the mother of invention, and Wellesley’s experience suggests that the notion of a ‘typical’ day in property development lending could soon become a thing of the past.