Reality Finance at 21 years: Our Story
Date: 14 September, 2021
In September 2000, James Cashmore and Jon Leslie had a vision to provide a better service to their customers and have the freedom to make a positive impact in the SME funding market. It's 21 years later and they achieved exactly what they set out to do. But it didn't come easy.
Deciding to give up their jobs, that was easy. The following six months of gardening leave where they still needed to earn a salary to pay their mortgages and bills, that was tough. James erected marquees and Jon went off to work for a family business fitting bathrooms. Not glamorous but it served a purpose and enabled them to put their hard-earned cash into their new business, the business that grew to be the success that it is today.
We asked Jon what it was like in the early days:
What challenges did you face?
When we started we used our own home PC's and a printer that James bought for £50. Back then in 2000 broadband wasn’t commonplace so for emails and the internet we relied on a dial-up modem which just took forever.
But that was just how it was back then. The real challenge was being a new entrant in an already crowded market, that was tough. It was also a struggle to secure broker funding lines due to the fact we were new in, so for the first 6 months, we had to use a tier 3 backer which cost 50% of our anticipated margin.
Do you remember your first deal?
Yep, a Recruitment company in Belfast in need of Software. We both flew over to sign it up in person. I remember we went for a Guinness (actually it was way more than one) at the Crown Hotel in the city center to celebrate!
How did you continue to generate business?
Primarily we started targeting IT software vendors and then other industries in particular the hospitality industry.
The Hay Days
Things started to fall into place as our reputation with both customers and funders grew. The team focused very hard on customer service to win more business and proposed healthy deals to Lenders. A strong lending panel soon developed which in turn allowed Reality to provide customers with more choices to satisfy their funding needs.
As the business started to grow so the team grew, first an Administrator to support the paperwork and documentation function which allowed James to focus on Sales and Development and Jon to work on Funder Relationships and overall running of the business. More broker managers followed.
In October 2005 a young Neil Whitear joined the team, focusing on establishing stronger relationships with existing Vendors and their customers, primarily in the software and IT markets. Today, he is still with Reality and is a considerable and consistent contributor to the company’s business.
In 2009 Reality established a Direct Team, soon to be headed up by Ed Barnes. This enabled Reality to establish relationships directly with SME’s and win repeat business from existing customers focusing on what at that time were not core financeable equipment for Reality. Ed has just completed 10 years of service at Reality!
Fraud, Recessions and Covid–19
No business floats through 21 years of trading without interruption. What are the challenges Reality Finance faced?
With the recession in 2008, a huge number of lenders pulled out of the market – overnight credit lines were pulled and businesses were unable to get access to funds when they needed it the most. It was a horrendous time and we had to work twice as hard to get funding for our customers.
With the smaller pool of funders available we were left with an increase in demand for funding without the banks to accommodate it – so what did we do? We took a deep breath and set up our own funding lines to lend directly to customers on our own book. This was the beginning of becoming a Lender in our own right.
In subsequent years business improved year on year up until we were hit in 2017 by a £400,000 fraud case. That hurt. Unfortunately spotting and preventing fraud is part and parcel of the job for all of us in the finance industry and anyone in the industry will tell you that you will never catch every case. Because of this incident, we have reviewed and strengthened our internal procedures which protect not only Reality as a business but our lending panel, customers, and staff. And, yes, we have spotted potential fraud cases since, stopping them in their tracks.
Oh, and COVID-19….
Like most businesses out there, COVID hit us very hard. Overnight we changed from being primarily an asset finance brokerage to providing CBILS loans and arranging payment holidays for our customers. Trying to keep a business running with everyone working from home was, as it was for everyone, a challenge to begin with. We are very sociable people at Reality Finance, and no one liked being isolated at home! However, with the use of Microsoft Teams, we got into a rhythm and swiftly adapted to our new working environments. The team now enjoys a better work life balance, with the office being open 2-3 days a week and the staff working from home the rest of the time.
So there in a nutshell is a very brief history of Reality Finance.
One final question to James: “if you could describe something about Reality Finance, that has made and the business successful for twenty-one years what would it be?
“We always have and always will continue to put customer service at the heart of everything we do. No matter the size of our customer, the size of a transaction, or the complexity and challenge of a lending proposal, making sure our customers get the best service possible will always be our priority”