Getting To Know You: Mark Abrahams, West One Loans

What do you currently do?

I’m a director at West One Loans, a peer-to-peer finance company. We match experienced investors to SMEs and individuals to arrange short-term loans secured against property for up to 12 months. With business lending by mainstream banks in terminal decline, alternative lending is now the only option available to many SMEs, offering the speed and agility to finance commercial projects at short notice.

On the other side of things, that means we can offer British investors a rare chance to make a ‘real ‘ return on their money. We’re creating an alternative asset class with great risk reward that’s rapidly becoming mainstream.

What is your inspiration in business?
Adam Smith, the father of modern economics. In 1776, he wrote of an ‘invisible hand’ at work in society, to describe the almost mystical ability of the market to meet people’s needs. These words still ring true today – in order to be successful, companies need to respond to a need in the market which doesn’t already exist, or which can be done better.

Who do you admire?
My fellow directors at West One Loans, who each have their own unique skills which make our business a success. We all have different backgrounds and levels of experience but work together to achieve our goals. It’s our differences that keeps us on our toes and keeps the ideas flowing.

Looking back, would you have done things differently?
I might have set my own business up earlier. I spent 20 years in the City as a fixed-income credit trader with Salomon Brothers and JP Morgan before starting West One Loans. I learned a lot from working in these organisations, but I also learned that I wanted to do things my own way. Nothing compares to the satisfaction that comes from working autonomously in your own, successful company.

What defines your way of doing business?
Transparency – it’s the only way to do business effectively and win your clients’ trust. We screen potential borrowers to ensure their creditworthiness, their serviceability and their intended exit strategy at the end of the loan term. We’re clear to our investors about the returns they can make, and we’re clear to our borrowers about the fees that we charge.

On a wider level, we’re also trying to increase transparency in the bridging loan market. We were one of the founding members of the Association of Bridging Professionals and a member of the Association of Short Term Lenders. There are no official, Government statistics on the size and scale of the UK bridging market. So in 2011, we launched the quarterly West One Loan Bridging Index, which shows the bigger picture by tracking net lending figures, average loan sizes, interest rate fluctuations and market predictions.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Don’t let the current economic situation put you off. It’s true that the recession made life difficult for some businesses, but it can also offer real opportunities for those who are willing to take risks. Our own business is a great example of this – the financial crisis opened up a huge opportunity for us. Despite various Government initiatives, business lending by mainstream banks has still not recovered since the crisis. As a result we’ve simply cut out the middle man and put investors directly in touch with lenders.