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May 1, 2008updated 12 Apr 2017 4:47pm

Broker Q&A

Crisp-Jones, managing director of the Oak Tree partnership, a brokerage based in Warwickshire

By Maryann Tan

This month Maryann Tan speaks to Stephen K. Crisp-Jones, managing director of the Oak Tree partnership, a brokerage based in Warwickshire

  Which sectors do you specialise in?

High-tech, IT, software, hardware, scientific instrumentation used by drug-discovery companies and robotics. So they are very one-off pieces of equipment.We’re also now moving into the area of providing finance for companies dealing specifically with the NHS.Those, primarily, are our areas – medical equipment, very specialised engineering equipment, IT and scientific instrumentation.

Which banks make up your principal funders?

We work with Investec, Close Brothers, ECS Soc-Gen and all the main ones, such as Barclays and Lombard.

Where do you source business from?

They come from a variety of third party sources, including mainstream accountants such as Grant Thornton and KPMG.

Do you have a book of your own?

We don’t have a book of our own. If we get an enquiry,we see the client and, if it is something we can do, we’ll get an engagement letter from the client and organise to raise the funds.

What size of deals do you specialise in? What is the average value of deals?

The size we specialise in is a minimum of £200,000 up to £3m-£5m.The average value is between £500K and £1.5m.We’re not interested in doing smaller deals. If someone wants a smaller transaction, that’s no problem, but we won’t do it ourselves, we’ll just recommend it.

Are you benefiting from the general scale-down of staff numbers at leasing companies? If so, how?

I don’t really know. I can’t answer that.

How much new business did you place in 2007?

We raised a range of about £12m.

Do you believe lenders are sufficiently innovative in their approach to finance products?The funders we deal with are. There is one thing they can improve on – underwriters in finance companies should have the right to see a potential client. If the transaction is big enough, let’s say £250,000 and upwards, a lot of the time the underwriters do not bother to meet clients. All they do is receive the financial information from ourselves. In some cases, the funders would underwrite a deal if they’d actually gone to see the client. I think it’s a fundamental mistake that they make. If they went to visit the client they can take a much better viewpoint rather than just simply on the financial information.

Are lenders sufficiently flexible to fulfil your clients’ needs? If not, why?

In my case, they are flexible, yes.

Do you structure your own deals? If so, how complex can they get?

All of our transactions tend to be structured. You might get a situation, for instance, in which an asset is being funded, the asset is £1m or £2m and the credit, on the face of it, is not strong enough. That company might be backed by institutional or private shareholders, so to allow the finance company to underwrite we might suggest to the shareholders to guarantee a percentage of the risk.

Do you believe lenders should make greater use of new technology to deliver a better service to brokers? If so how?

That doesn’t really bother me.

Do you think brokers need to inform and educate customers more about the range of products and structured deals available in the marketplace? I only inform my customers or potential customers.What other brokers do, I’m not interested in. I think most brokers are fairly weak in a lot of ways.

Are you satisfied with the level and format funders use when granting commissions?Yes.

Which structure of commission earning do you prefer (i.e. fixed commission per deal, net/gross options)?

I’m relaxed, I don’t mind.  

TINY IN SIZE BUT HITTING ABOVE ITS WEIGHT 

The Oak Tree partnership was formed in December 1995 by its sole shareholder, Stephen K. Crisp-Jones, and remains a tiny outfit to this day.

 “I work loosely with two other people – we’re a very small outfit. The money we raise is, probably, greater than the average broker,” says Crisp-Jones, who operated an IT vendor business, carrying brands such as IBM, Logica and Xerox, for about 10 years before he founded Oak Tree.

Crisp-Jones’ experience in IT financing set the tone for Oak Tree’s specialism in fast-depreciating high-tech assets. In the first year of business, Oak Tree wrote about £400,000 worth of deals. This year, it expects to write £15m in deals. “Our overheads are extremely low, which is an advantage to people seeking our services,” says Crisp-Jones, who prefers not to discuss the noteworthy deals Oak Tree has closed in the past.

At the time he spoke to Leasing Life, Crisp-Jones was working to raise £3m in funds for a client.

With deals averaging about £1m, it isn’t difficult to increase turnover each year, although new business may be harder to come by with the financial system buckling under the credit crunch.

“The current uncertainty in the marketplace is affecting us. People are becoming more risk averse. I think it will be more difficult to get funding,” Crisp-Jones says.

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