Getting To Know Sarah Hewitt - Bank North Underwriter
What are the main functions of your role?
The role of an Underwriter is to support the Lending Directors in shaping deals, supporting businesses and to put in place suitable risk mitigants to keep the Bank safe. So we’re looking at new and existing applications and assessing whether that’s an acceptable credit risk from the Bank’s perspective.
We’re considering the character of the borrower, the performance of the business, the sector outlook, the amount, term and repayment of the facility requested, the security proposed and the risks and mitigants and making sure that this sits within our appetite and Lending parameters.
We’re also looking at the existing book and how that’s performing, ensuring that any Early Warning Indicators are addressed and that facilities remain covenant compliant.
The role also involves training and shaping the thought processes around lending policies, sector appetite the Credit Risk approach.
What has been the biggest challenge in your role at Bank North, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge in my role is that when I started I started in Credit Risk - I was the only person in Credit Risk, so being that one-stop shop for everything! You want to do everything to the best of your ability, but there may be things that you need to tweak and change, so it’s important to be open, to do your best, and accept feedback, as well as failure. Not trying to be a perfectionist all the time is what I’ve taken from that, and it’s also about remembering we’re all in the same boat. We’re not going to get everything right from day one.
How does the challenge of working at a start-up compare to working at a more established organisation?
Usually when you’re in banking you’ve got thousands of reference points and people that you can refer to. There tends to be a number of specialised departments covering all aspects of Commercial Lending that you can divert queries to and tap into many, many years of experience. So when you work in a start-up you have to be more of a jack of all trades, draw on all your own personal experience and try and know a little bit about everything. You need to be able to highlight what’s important, what you’ve got, what you’ve not got, and then prioritise any gaps that you have in your organisation and fill them out from there. It’s also key to remember that as a start-up you are in a constant stage of growth, so you won’t have everything from day one. You work out what you need to do to complete one loan, then 30 loans, and then 100 loans, and then try and build it from there.
Also recruiting well is key. When we looked to recruit further into Underwriting we sort of broke the mould a little as we’ve taken on someone who had a different background in Adam Davies as he was a registered valuer (and has a Masters in International Real Estate Investment and Finance!). It’s been a great decision, he’s got the right attitude and brings a completely different element and skill set to the team which makes us stand out as an organisation, has helped us win deals and given another string to our bow so to speak. Instead of being confined to a role profile, which says “this is what you have to be able to do, and this is what you have to be” what we did is thought out the box in terms of hiring Adam because of his valuation background to be an Underwriter.
How can SME's (small and medium-sized enterprises) borrowers make sure they put their best foot forward in an application for a loan?
Being prepared and understanding what a Bank is likely to require, the process involved, timescales, and likely costs when applying for facilities is key.
SME borrowers need to be able to provide information in relation to the business and proposal, including its management, purpose and financial performance or forecasts. As a lender we need to understand their strategy, the purpose of the loan, how the customer is looking to repay the facility and identify any risk and mitigants.
It’s also useful for customers to understand the Bank’s risk appetite and likely terms so they can make a decision quickly as to who they are looking to partner with. At Bank North, after an initial enquiry, we look to promptly send out indicative terms, which are discussed with the underwriting team, so the borrower doesn’t lose time or incur costs when they are working out who they can partner with on an application.
Outside of work, how do you like to spend your spare time?
I’d like to say I’m quite an active person, so I play netball and enjoy a good boxing session. I’ve got a season ticket at Manchester United which I’ve had for 30 years now – for my sins. I love a good holiday, skiing, city break or the sun, all good for me! I live near Rivington Pike so the walks and views on the doorstep are something I am grateful to regularly enjoy. Other than that it’s family and friends, walks, food, and drinks.