I had originally written this article prior to the very sad news of the passing of Benson Hersch, who was my predecessor as CEO of the ASTL, a good friend and colleague. I titled the article “Finding strength in adversity” and, if anything that title holds more truth today than it did at the time of first writing.

On behalf of the Board, I can say that Benson is the reason why the ASTL is where it is today. He took the reins of the membership and transformed it into an association that was more representative of the industry, with a clear purpose to improve standards and encourage sustainable growth of the sector. Even after his retirement at the end of last year, he maintained a close interest in the sector and has been of amazing support to me during my tenure. To say that he will be sorely missed is an understatement. He was an incredibly warm and insightful man, and he has played a significant role in the careers of many people within the industry. Benson had been poorly for some time and our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Phileshia, and children.

It is important that we take moment to mourn the loss of Benson, but we should also celebrate the life of a man who was such a positive influence on the lending industry. And if this year has taught us anything, it is that we can find strength in adversity.

Benson handed the mantle of CEO to me at the beginning of the year. I have always been up for a new adventure, so I was delighted to accept the invitation and help to build on the fantastic work he had achieved with the Association.

I was pretty certain it would prove daunting but having been a broker, packager, , distributor, lender, choir leader, football manager and school governor, amongst many other things – I have always enjoyed turning my hand to something new and, loving the mortgage marketplace generally, I was ready for a fresh challenge.

The role started at the beginning of January and the year looked like it was starting well for everyone, with the early weeks of activity promising exciting times ahead for the whole of the mortgage market.

My plan was to get to know as many of the ASTL lenders and associate members as early as possible in my term of office and I started planning how best to incorporate members in regional gatherings where we would have the opportunity to discuss the ASTL and their aspirations for its future.

Benson had done a great job in shaping the Association as one of the most respected trade bodies in the whole of the lending industry. Our robust rules and Code of Conduct meant that membership of the ASTL was truly seen as a kitemark of quality. We now needed to review how to take the association further, grow our membership, and to establish a louder voice in dealing with urgent and contentious issues affecting our market.

So, I entered into initial dialogue with our friends at FIBA and the NACFB and also opened a dialogue with Robert Sinclair at AMI, where I had been a co-opted board member around the time of regulation.

Things were very much going to plan – and then Covid-19 arrived, bringing the business of UK Plc to its feet in a short period of weeks.

Under enormous pressure to curtail the virus, the government took the unprecedented step of  effectively closing down the economy, including the mortgage world. This put a ‘pause’ in the housing market, which was understandable, and probably necessary, and it would be unreasonable to criticise any immediate action given the deadly nature of the virus.

Lenders also faced additional burdens such as the moratorium on mortgage payments and the introduction of CIBLS and Bounce Back loans and, while it was important that we were supportive of these measures, it was also clear that there was room for education amongst policy makers about the short-term lending market, its important role in the economic recovery and the impact of a broad brush approach to measures.

And so, at the ASTL, we were proactive in engaging with both HM Treasury and the FCA to provide a voice for our members, and our sector. Establishing a channel for open dialogue has not been an easy process. We have needed to show persistence and try different avenues before eventually establishing relationships with the most relevant people at the Treasury. But now we have those relationships we have a platform from which to engage on future policy decisions, I believe that we are in a stronger position on this front than we were at the beginning of the year.

We have shown throughout the year in the bridging industry and at the ASTL, that we are able to find strength in adversity. I have every belief that we will continue to do so and that we can build on Benson’s legacy to grow the size and reputation of our sector. For now, I hope you have a restful festive season and a peaceful new year.

Vic Jannels, CEO of the ASTL
A version of this article appeared in the December digital edition of Mortgage Introducer