The Interview… Jo Breeden, managing director of Crystal Specialist Finance

In the latest instalment of The Interview, The I speaks to Jo Breeden, managing director of Crystal Specialist Finance about the firm’s ambitions, the importance of technology, and the biggest opportunities for brokers in the year ahead

Tell us a little bit about Crystal Specialist Finance to kick things off?

Crystal Specialist Finance is a specialist packager and distributor based in Tamworth. We are currently a team of 60 and continue to grow at pace.

We are a true specialist business. Our team of experts place, administer and complete bridging finance, commercial finance, complex buy-to-let, development finance, residential and second charge cases.

At Crystal, we do not charge any upfront fees and take pride delivering simple solutions for our broker and professional introducers. We are particularly skilled with complex scenarios and are always focused on delivering an excellent customer outcome. 

I believe our expertise and service set us apart from other distributors and packagers. Brokers who haven’t dealt with Crystal before are more than pleasantly surprised when they place a case with us and we pride ourselves on the many brokers who place repeat business with us.

What are your thoughts on the specialist finance market for the rest of 2022, what is running hot and do you see a cool down in some sectors?

As far as we’re concerned, bridging, commercial and buy-to-let finance are all buoyant and show no signs of slowdown as we approach the second half of 2022.

All these three areas have a large number of active lenders in them and this can only benefit borrowers. Greater competition means that even in the current increasing interest rate environment, typical pricing and fees in each market are about as low and attractive as they have ever been.

If anything is running ‘cool’ at the moment, it’s probably in terms of innovation; we are not seeing lenders looking to bring anything significantly new to the table. However, while it’s fair to say that there is not much current evidence of creative innovation, experience tells me that this will likely soon change.

What areas do you see as having the most opportunities for brokers and their customers?

The issue of Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) and the looming 2025 deadline for landlords is a key area for opportunity. Brokers need to get in touch with their landlord clients now and educate them about the EPC changes.

The current consultation will almost certainly be tweaked before the final legislation is passed later this year but that doesn’t mean brokers should wait until then. There’s a real opportunity now from securing the very best remortgage deals so costs can be fixed and effective capital raising can be completed.

Separately, bridging finance can be used as a wealth creation product if used appropriately. This type of funding is perfect to support the growing development marketplace and is always great for heavy refurb projects, often when tight deadlines apply.

Meanwhile, the nation’s shopping and leisure areas are evolving, so commercial finance is needed to help rejuvenate the UK’s rundown and unloved high streets. As we continue to recover from the pandemic, specialist lenders are helping fund the revitalisation of our local businesses, stepping into the void left by the currently ultra-cautious high street banks.

How important is technology to your proposition?

Evolving our technology is crucial to the business. For example, brokers do not want to rekey information time after time, so a slick submission process has to be a given. Additionally, certainty of decision and a requirements checklist must be shared early in the enquiry-to-application journey, so brokers have peace of mind and confidence. Finally, brokers need to be able to easily track the progress of all cases.

We have therefore invested in and continue to develop our online Crystal Hub Dashboard. This interactive and personalised portal allows our customers to engage with us throughout the lifecycle of individual cases. Importantly, it has additional features which ensure simple things like income can be tracked with ease.

You recently stated ambitions to acquire businesses to help fast-track the growth in the business, can you tell us more about this?

Our ambition is to be the most recommended distributor in the UK and although we’re confident that organic growth will get us there, there’s no doubt that acquisitions of good companies would accelerate results.

There are confidential conversations taking place but there is nothing I can specifically announce just yet. All I can say is “watch this space…” 

Have you any other plans that you can share with us for the rest of 2022?

Certainly; we never stand still at Crystal! During the rest of the year we will continue to develop our technology so that our Crystal Hub Dashboard makes it even quicker to refer, place, administer and complete deals.

In addition, our ‘We Sell it For You’ solution will expand to provide increased scale. This means even more brokers across the country can receive excellent outcomes for their customers who require bridging, commercial, buy-to-let and development finance. This also mitigates risk for brokers and our key network partners.

Finally, we’re very excited to reveal that we have a new proposition which we will announce to the market in July 2022. 

The next six months will be a very busy time at Crystal but it’s all in service of providing excellent results to our brokers and their clients.

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