I hope you are well, although today I am going to talk on a subject guaranteed to make many people fell ill! Mortgages!
After the financial crash of 2008, you couldn’t get a mortgage for love nor money. The whole financial system ground to a halt as banks and institutions became horribly risk averse. The problem was that, after the sub-prime outrage in the U.S, no-one could be sure what was and wasn’t good debt. Having worked supplying the Investment Banks, I knew something was coming. I remember sitting with a Project Manager in Canary Wharf and being told his bank had made close to $1 billion on derivatives in just one month. His comment scared the willies out of me…this is what he said.
The Flip Side
“Someone must be holding the other end of the stick”.
Now what actually happened was that the original sub-prime debt was wrapped up in derivatives and futures that became ever more complex. They were then prodictised a few more times until it was pretty uch impossible to tell what the actual basic underlying loan was. The banks got in to a buying frenzy thinking the market could only go up, then as manufacturing and services slowed down…all of a sudden, those borderline mortgages in the U.S started to default.
Slowly at first, then more rapidly, once people realised that a lot of this “bad debt” was wrapped up in the derivative and furtures products traders had paid top price for, the whole system began to unravel. The price of derivatives and furtures started to go south and banks profits went with them. The knock-on effect we all now know and understand, suffice to say it was bad.
Northern Rock, Lehman Brothers, RBS to name but a few. They were all holding the wrong end of the stick, had invested heavily in the products containing the sub-prime mortgages and the whole bubble went pop. Once this happened banks refused to even lend to each other, so what chance did a mere mortal who wanted a mortgage have.
Suddenly every person applying for a mortgage was labelled “sub-prime” and the financial system ground to a halt.
So, that’s today’s financial markets history lesson!
But, what about the impact it had on the home mortgage market across the world? Mortgage expert Russell Sanders explains.
“The market for new mortgages totally collapsed, no-one was prepared to lend. It was tough getting mortgages already agreed finally signed off. Every lending was deemed high risk and many had onerous extra clauses and charges imposed on them” he said. “However, if you looked at it from the Banks point of view, every single mortgage loan on their books looked exposed at that time”.
Why was that?
“Simple, no job in the world was secure, so everyone was a risk”, his visibly winces at the thought, remembering what were awfully hard times. “I had zero chance of getting a new mortgage application through for nearly two months. It crippled my business at the time. And, as an independent mortgage advisor, I was the person people turn ed to when they had been cold shouldered by the Banks and Finance Houses”.
“I was getting two or three referrals every day”, he exclaims, “That was simply because people were desperate. They had house purchases in process and had seen mortgage offers withdrawn. There wasn’t a new mortgage offer to be got from anywhere, and, as I said, somewere even being withdrawn after most offers were re-assessed for risk”.
Were you able to help people?
“Some, but the amount of hoops that had to be jumped through were many. Every “i” had to be dotted and “t” crosssed. Compliance became far, far tighter and lending could only be authorised when it was deemed risk was negligible. I would think that on most mortgage offers in normal times there is about a 90% chance that everything will run smoothly. In 2008, the odds were changed considerably. So, banks and lenders were ub er cautious”.
What’s it like today?
“Well, amazingly we are seven years past the crash, doesn’t seem like it, does it?”
No, it certainly doesn’t.
“Risk assessment is far more relaxed now. The economy has recovered well and lending is much freer now. Obviously, money is cheap at the moment because interest rates remain very low. This means mortgages, generally are easy to pay. Rate rises would appear to be on then horizon, but I think they will be modest, which should keep the market moving freely. The only major issue now is that compliance is tighter. The sub prime debacle means banks have to properly means test and ensure affordability. Certainly when lending was very free in the 00’s affordability had become a secondary consideration. It was lend at all cost and rake in the profits. That lust though came to haunt many of the institutions”, he smiles.
Do you see a return to the bad times?
“Inevitably, the last crash melts into a faded memory and the greed takes over again and the derivatives get ever more complex and the rive for profits intensifies. It will happen again, even though regulation is tighter than ever”.
That is a sad thought.
“It’s cyclical, as are the economies of the world, but for now, it’s a good time to get a mortgage. There are some really good deals around on two year fixed rates so you are protected against the coming rise. Plus as an indpendent mortgage broker in hertfordshire I can offer you full access to the entire market – well…I had to get one plug in”, he laughs.
There is no doubt I am an absolute sucker for a beautiful picture. I can sit there and marvel for hours at a brilliant bright image. I love bright light and bright colours and the way they contrast. So, it was with great anticipation that I went along to spend some time with Michelle Wiggett of Michelle Wiggett Photography in the beautiful suburbs of Hertfordshire, just North of London.
Michelle lives and works around St Albans, the stunning Roman city 25 miles due North of the capital.
She makes a wonderful coffee and we sit down to chat.
I’d looked in some detail at Michelle’s work before I went along and I genuinely love her pictures. I first met her when she was the photographer at my friend Derek Armson’s wedding. Derek is an SEO in the same Town and was marrying long term partner Alison so I was in a psoition to see Michelle at work – close hand.
So, I ask her about her style.
“Well you saw me in action at Derek and Alison’s wedding”, she laughs, “what did you think?”
“Impressive”, I retort.
“That was a fabulous day”, she says, “the light was amazing and they were a great couple to photograph. They were so relaxed and obviously in love, they made it easy for me to look good to be fair”.
But your style was impressive nonetheless?
“Thank you,” she giggles an infectious little laugh, “you simply have to control what is going on otherwise it’s complete mayhem and you just don’t get the pictures you want or that the bride and groom want. I always have a second photograopher with me as well. I was very fortunate to have met a number of seriously good professionals over the years and we help each other out by being second lens. Paul, my hubby, was with me that day. But, my style, yes, I guess fun but firm”, she smiles again.
I can obviously see you love doing wedding photography, but what are your other favourite areas?
“I’ve got to small children of my own and they provide so much joy in our lives, so I’d have to say children’s photography. Weddings are fun and I love to see the joy in people’s faces, but when you work with children, that joy and laughter is just so amazingly special. It’s a joy borne out of a carefree world, the emotions are so string in children and when they laugh you simply have to laugh along. And, it’s incredible what they find funny. It must be wonderful to be able to find such joy in life. Shame the system sort of drums it out of us as we get older isn’t it?”
I can’t disagree there Michelle.
“Just look at this happy little fellow, not a care in the world. It makes for such a truly fabulous picture. I defy anyone to look at that particular picture and not at least raise an eyebrow. It’s just wonderful and so full of happy emotions”.
Would say that emotion is the key to a great picture?
“Oh, absolutely,” she says admanatly, “there’s no doubt that capturing the emotion in the split second is the essence of what makes a good picture truly great. There was one picture I got at Alison and Derek’s, the one during the speeches. And something quite controversial was said, and the look between the two of them was pure gold. They now have that picture on their wall because as far as they’re concenred it sums up the real essence of what their relationship is all about. Being able to capture that and save it for all time is truly priceless”.
You can actually see that picture in Michelle’s promo video below!
Thanks Michelle it was brilliant chatting and looking at some of your amazing pictures.
Today I want to talk about a recruitment company that is taking the market by storm and look at the reasons why. having spent much of my working life recruiting IT staff for the banking world, I think I know what it takes to be successful in this game. However, I was surprised by what I saw when I chatted to the Guys at Intelligent People in St Albans in the U.K. Here’s what I found!
I talked to Doug Bates who is one of the co-owners and Directors at IP. An interesting character who is “into” cycling big time. In his early 40’s he cuts a fit and dashing figure. The thing that stands out though, is his total enthusiasm for what he does.
Being The Best
“I love cycling and trying to beat my best times, I’m ultra competitive”, he enthuses. “I’m exactly the same with the business, I want to…no I have to be the best”!
So I asked Doug about the business, how it started and how it evolved. It’s an interesting story, so get a cup of tea and settle down!
“Chris Mason is the co-owner. He and I met working together at a coprporate recruitment company back in 1999. We were doing the sameas you as it happens, recruiting IT staff in to the City”.
Indeed, they were wild times. Huge bonuses and I was placing the “rocket scientist” programmers that builtthe derivatives trading systems that ended up getting us in to so much trouble. They were heady times. Indeed, I remember talking to a project manager at one major (and I mean major) Bank who told me they had made nearly $1 billion on derivatives in just one quarter. He said to me,
“If we made this much, someone else MUST be holding the other end of the stick”, and so it proved. That “stick” was full of useless sub prime mortgages and the crash duly happened.
Back to Doug,”So Chris and I were working away making all the money for someone else. One Friday after work, sitting in a pub in the West End, we decided, after a few pints, that we could do this for ourselves and keep all of the money”.
At breakfast on Monday, they decided that it wasn’t just beer talk and the concept of Intelligent People was born.
“We served our “gardening leave” and we got going. There wasn’t any pomp or ceremony. We rented a small office in St Albans (as we both lived there) and hit the phones. It took a little while to get stability but essentially we just worked really hard and built a business from the ground up”.
Having done this myself I know how viciously hard it is to build a recruitment agency from zero. At least when I started I had some investment Chris and Doug had nothing apart from some savings, so very little safety net. They had to bill from day one.
But after a couple of years, the gloss had gone a little.
“So, like you, we got a bit fed up with the City”. Doug commented. “In all honesty they were so far up their own backsides it was untrue. We were only good to them as long as we could supply and we really just didn’t like the people much. There was also the added complicaion of many of the banks moving to the RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) model which complicated our lives and made suplly so much more difficult”.
Another Friday night in the pub and a heart-to-heart that lasted until well past midnight resulted in a change of direction.
Doug takes up the story. “We wanted to enjoy our work again. There was no doubt we’d both fallen out of love with the City. So, we set out some parameters that we wanted in a new market and set about searching for it. We wanted to be able to deal directly with line management, we wanted nice people (as far as possible), we wanted something with a technical slant to it and finally something that would be a growth market”.
After much soul searching and market research, they arroved at Digital Marketing. Now it is fair to say, ten or eleven years ago, this was very much a fledgling market. Areas such as search engine optimisation was in its infancy and online product management had really not developed. PPC (pay per click advertising) was new and few companies had yet to truly embrace online marketing.
“It was a gamble that’s for sure”, smiles Doug, “we took a big gamble. But we just had this feeling that the move to eCommerce was inexorable, even if people weren’t comfortable using credit cards online at the time. I guess we felt the technology that drives the online world had reached a tipping point and we were beyond the point of no return”.
“We didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater though, we gradually transitted over to the new market. A year after making the decision we were stillplacing people with some of the Banks, so the full transition took about 18 months. And, during that time we saw incredible growth in the market which we knew then justfified our decision to change”.
“We preach to our staff that excellence of service is what stood us apart in those early days and that we should provide outstanding and outrageous service to both clients and candidates. Indeed, we have managed some of our candidate’s careers for over ten years now. Our customers like what they get from us so they keep coming back…and that is very gratifying”.
Here at FVL we like to champion things that are new and have a genuine benefit for the good people of the United Kingdom. And, I think it’s fair to say, that over the last five years or so, we have really got it “in the neck” when it comes to heating our homes.
The Cost Of Heating
It’s also fair to say we’ve had some pretty nasty winters in the last few years and…as the cost of gas and fuel generally has risen out of all proportion, keeping warm in winter has become an expensive business. Even as crude prices fall on world markets, gas prices have remained high. I mean, what are industry regulators for? O.K, I won’t get started, that’s another subject for another day!
Anyway, I was intrigued to be chatting to a friend of mine who has started a new job with a company called Hassle Free Boilers. They are part of the Ecovision group and their mantra is to provide renewables heating energy for the consumer. They do this via the provision of Biomass energy and specific new heat pump technology.
Hassle Free Boilers
That’s all well and good, but what about this new division called Hassle Free Boilers, what’s that all about?
Well, it’s a simple idea and one I believe they have “nicked” from the Canadians. I’m not sure what the population of Canada will think about this, but I visist Canada quite a lot and I think they’re quite benign. I’m sure they would see this as Canada helping the world reduce its carbon footprint!
But let’s be serious for a second because the energy conundrum is one that does genuinely threaten our home. And, with the current state of technology, if we totally mess up Planet Earth, we have nowhere else to go, despite what Interstellar might have to say about it.
So, what is this new business model?
Well, like most good ideas, it’s incredibly simple.
A New Gas Boiler?
Normally, when you finally have to buy a new gas boiler (yes, you wait for it to break down completely), you would ring a plumber or British Gas or a heating company and get quotes for a new boiler. That’s when the first shock hits home. How much? Oh, and then there is installation on top of that, yes….oh and a complete systems check and radiator system drain and check…and valve check. O.K, how much is all that?
How many thousands of pounds? Let’s face it, to replace your boiler, get a new one installed and a complete heating system health check is going to cost at least £5,000….at the very least.
Then you have your gas supply and annual maintenance agreement to pay on top. The cost is frightening.
So, what HFB have done is to firstly get an agreement with advanced boiler supplier Vaillant. They have then used their purchasing power to source gas at prices chaper than the mainstream suppliers can source in the U.K. Then, and this is really novel, they pass those savings on to their customers. Jeepers, a heating company giving value for money!!! Whatever next?
A New Way Of Doing Things
And, now comes the magic!
Having got those deals in place they offer an unbeatable package to their ever growing customer base.
What do you get?
All of the above, so new Vaillant combi boiler (system or heat only), full installation and system check for the princely sum of….nothing. Nada, Zilch, Zip. That’s right, nothing to pay up front.
All the costs are included in your monthly service agreement. So, you get a new boiler and a service agreement for just £36 per month. Amazing, no wonder the Canadians were happy. Add to this gas supplied at a discount of 40% versus British Gas, EDF Mann, Scottish Power et al and you have one incredibly cost effective deal.
In all honesty, it’s no wonder Hassle Free Boilers are gaining so much ground in the U.K heating and power supply market. And, there’s something else as well. And this is quite remarkable, their customers are happy! When was the last time you heard happy customers crow about their gas supplier? I can’t remember!
There is nothing like the shock of having a premature baby. It happened to a friend of mine.
She was the first to admit it was a complete and utter shock, especially given it was her first baby. Being pregnant was a new enough experience. But then suddenly being thrown into complete chaos by her baby arriving 12 weeks early was an experience she didn’t want to repeat. Having said that the doctors and nurses that deal with this type of situation are incredible and soon a routine was established.
The first hurdle was actually having to go home and leave the baby is an incubator in the NICU. That was emotionally very difficult. But then there were practical difficulties, like finding baby clothes that fitted a 4lb baby.
How To Find Clothes
For example, most baby clothes don’t allow for easy access for wires, feeding and breathing tubes. Most baby clothes start at around 6-7 lbs, so are just far too big for babies this small. Indeed, the smallest prem babies can “come in” at just 2lbs. That;s the size and weight of a bag of sugar.
You try getting a 2lb babygro in Mothercare!
Happily now back home with a healthy and grwoing baby, this is the experience that prompted young Mum Ngaire Cockerill to start the Dinki Dreams brand at the Premature Baby Boutique.
“It was just so difficult to get clothes that not only fitted but gave that easy access for all the inevitable wires”, she remembers. “I struggled to find clothes that fitted, they were all too big, and I ended up getting wires tangled and getting in to a right mess”.
“I look back now and I just felt so helpless. The nurses were great and pointed me in the right direction to get smaller baby clothes, but many of them were poor quality and still didn’t offer me that ease of use that I needed to keep my baby comfortable”.
“I saw other mothers struggling as well and vowed to do something about it”.
Eigtheen months later, after a lot of hard work, research and searching for the right designers and producers, Ngaire launched the Premature Baby Boutique in mid 2014.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” she recalls.”Once I’d made the decision to do I just went for it. My Dad was a great help as he had been a business owner and understood what it takes to launch a new enterprise”.
“I am just so glad we are now offering something that is genuinely helpful to people in that same stressed situation. Every little thing that takes a worry away is a massive help”. She said.
“Well, firstly, every garment is made from quality 100% cotton and has flat stiching for comfort. But all the clothing has easy poppers or zips for easy access to baby’s tubes and wiring. This is critical in making it easy forMum to cuddle, clothe and generally deal with baby’s needs”.
So, for true quality Premature Baby Clothes why not look up Ngaire and make your life just that little bit easier if you have an early baby. You can find her site here:- http://prematurebabyboutique.co.uk/
Here are some helpful hints on turning normal sized baby clothes into ones that will fit a preemie.I hope this helps.