Posted on Wednesday 4 December 2019 by Ulster Business
James Gibbons and Conor Devine
Conor Devine MRICS has grown his GDP Partnership business significantly in the last eight years, and is now lending around £3m each month to Northern Ireland businesses. And despite uncertainty and choppy economic waters, he’s predicting further growth ahead
In the space of just three years, Conor Devine’s businesses have facilitated more than £150m of new loans to businesses right across Northern Ireland.
GDP Partnership, formed by Conor and James Gibbons, has been on the go since 2011 and includes two businesses – GDP Equity Experts, a debt solutions team, and alternative lending business Clearpath Finance.
“In the last three years Clearpath Finance has facilitated more than £150m of new business loans into the Northern Ireland economy which is something we are very proud of,” Conor says
“Up until the summer of 2018, we didn’t really see any impact on this business from Brexit, however around that time we noticed the high street banks were starting to pull back from lending to the SME community, and certainly over more recent times, all of our lending partners in that business, would now have huge concerns around Brexit, what might happen, and what impact it might have on the ability of borrowers to honour their commitments.
“At the moment we are facilitating in the region of £2m to £3m of new business loans every month, from a wide variety of lenders, mostly from the alternative space.
“We have also seen an uplift in the amount of funding we are placing on behalf of our private family office clients, which has been another interesting development in the last 12 months.” That’s happening with the unease and uncertainty since the vote for Brexit – now more than three years ago
“I do get a sense quite a number of things are on hold right now, and when we do get a solution and some clarity around Brexit, many of these deals, will be pushed through which will hopefully be followed with quite a bit of activity in the lending market right across Ireland and the UK,” Conor says.
With debt advisory business GDP Equity Experts, Conor says over the last 18 months “business has started to become really active again”. “The uncertainty that has come with Brexit, deal or no deal, has certainly increased the workload for this part of our business,” he says.
Looking at the landscape and challenges ahead, Conor, like many in the business community, says a lack of working Executive remains the biggest obstacle.
“This is a major issue for a range of reasons and in particular from a business perspective, our ability to attract genuine foreign direct investment (FDI),” he says. “Businesses like stability and generally don’t like to invest in areas certainly where there is no working government.
“I would have real concerns at present as we have seen a number of international firms pack up and leave Northern Ireland in the last few years
“In relation to Brexit, it’s very difficult to quantify the actual impact of this but suffice to say it has been hugely negative.
“One of the other major concerns I have always had around Brexit, was that Northern Ireland firms might feel the need from a risk mitigation perspective, to invest in their operations in Europe, for example in the Republic of Ireland.
“The bottom line being we need more of our indigenous private companies investing in NI and to attract more FDI as opposed to our more successful companies deciding to invest in the Republic of Ireland. One way me might be able to stop this trend developing further is to make sure we can guarantee the business community certainty and some form of continuity, and that has to start with having a working Executive at Stormont.”
With his business Clearpath Finance, Conor says the market is opening up when it comes to lending, with companies utilising alternative sources.
“We know that the UK’s alternative finance sector continues to grow at break-neck pace, with the total value of the alternative finance market in the UK coming in at £6.2bn at year end 2017, according to data compiled by the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance,” he says.
“It is believed that the market has continued to grow given the number of new entrants including technology banks and platforms over the last 24 months.
“A perfect example of this is when we started our own business in 2016, we had one alternative lender on our books, and the concern I had at that time, was really how successful I would be in persuading other lenders to follow suit and invest in the NI economy through local SMEs.
“Fast forward three years and we now have more than 50 different lenders on our own books at our headquarters in Belfast. This is obviously very good news for our local economy and continues to provide our local businesses with the liquidity they need to grow their businesses.”
Conor Devine MRICS, is a founding partner of GDP Partnership which owns GDP Equity Experts and alternative lending platform Clearpath Finance, based in Belfast, Dublin and Manchester. For more information visit www.gdpequityexperts.co.uk and www.clearpathfinance.com