When the 2008 credit crisis hit the UK property market; it was important for alternative finance to fill the gap left by the mainstream mortgage sector. The ASTL was set up in March 2008, initially with 19 members, with the objective of providing a voice for bridging lenders. Our members are typically bridging and secured loan companies who provide loans and mortgages for terms of between six months and two years.

What are the benefits of ASTL membership?

The ASTL promotes responsible lending, transparency and professionalism in the bridging finance sector. Members subscribe to the ASTL’s code of conduct, membership rules and value charter and, in return, the ATSL protects the interests of its members. ASTL membership offers credibility – consumers and companies who transact with ASTL members can be confident they’re dealing with a reputable company.

We provide regular articles to several trade publications, as well as providing a magazine page on our website for our associate members to contribute articles of interest. Our meetings include updates on compliance and speakers who provide information on a wide variety of subjects of interest. Regular lunches provoke interesting discussions and insight for members and associate members.

What has the ASTL achieved in the past 10 years?

The ASTL has achieved a lot over the past decade. We’ve grown to 35 members and 28 associate members. I was appointed CEO in July 2012. After I was appointed I visited all our members to ascertain their views on how we could help them. Out of these discussions grew the current rules and ethos of the ASTL, which continues to strive for improved professionalism in the sector.

I’m proud of the regular dialogue we have with various bodies including the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the National Association of Commercial Finance Brokers (NACFB), Association of Bridging Finance Professionals (AOBP), and HM Treasury.

We have held successful conferences, providing members with presentations on the political, legal, economic and regulatory environments in the UK.

How does the ATSL help shape policy and the regulatory regime?

The ASTL helps HM Treasury, regulators and various trade bodies understand the short-term lending sector. We’ve taken part in discussions about the mortgage market review, loans regulated under the Consumer Credit Act, affordability requirements for buy-to-let mortgages, and the implementation of the EU Mortgage Directive, among other things.

How does the ASTL help tackle fraud in the short-term lending sector?

The ASTL has done a lot to reduce fraud in the sector. ASTL members now have access to HMRC’s Mortgage Verification Scheme (a joint initiative between HMRC and mortgage lenders) which allows lenders to check income information submitted by first time buyers on a mortgage application form against HMRC records, using a secure electronic platform.

The ASTL also has group membership of the SIRA anti-fraud software which provides a highly developed solution to fraud prevention. ASTL members pay an annual fee of £5,000 plus VAT for SIRA – the usual start-up cost is £10,000 plus VAT.

We also have an arrangement with National Hunter which is a not-for-profit company primarily concerned with the prevention of application fraud within the banking, finance and insurance industries.

In addition, we provide regular discussion meetings at which members’ staff can discuss matters of concern. Our solicitor associate members also give guidance and the benefit of their experience.

Does the ASTL offer networking opportunities?

Yes, members have access to meetings set up jointly with broker trade bodies as well as fraud prevention and underwriting discussion meetings. There are also regular formal meetings and informal lunches, as well as our annual conference.

What are the most important issues on the ASTL’s agenda?

Continued improvement of the sector is our main concern. Fraud prevention remains a high priority. Consultation and dialogue with various trade and regulatory bodies is also very important.

What does the ASTL hope to achieve in the next 10 years?

The next ten years will be interesting. We look forward to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Our plan is to continue supporting members and representing their interests when talking to government and regulatory bodies. We will continue to keep members up to date with what’s happening via quarterly industry statistics, sentiment surveys, and legal and regulatory updates.

I also intend to find new ways to improve our education services for both members and intermediaries, both with other trade associations; and by providing seminars.

Benson Hersch, CEO of the ASTL

A version of this article appeared in the October edition of Mortgage Solutions (web)