his month in the broker spotlight we interviewed Evette Orams, MD of Hilton-Baird and we’re completely gripped by her professional journey and success.
Quick fire quiz:
Loves: My son and life in general
Hates: I detest war and evil nastiness, general animosity towards other human beings or animals
I can’t live without: Work! I’m a bit of a workaholic
Favourite place: Anywhere with friends, food and wine.
How I relax: Baking, cooking but also I do sometimes sing my head off in the car to relax en route home!
Hero: My son, my late parents, my wonderful friends – I have admiration for so many people
Motto: Live life for today but don’t negate your chances of a happy tomorrow
L: Hi Evette, it’s great to have the opportunity to chat. Let’s start by hearing a bit about your current company Hilton-Baird and how you came to join them?
E: Our head office is in Southampton, I’m sitting in our Hove office at the moment and we also have a Polish subsidiary – so we’re in three locations. As a business, Hilton-Baird has been going since 1997 – so this year we are celebrating 18 years which is great – and I joined about 6 months before our tenth anniversary, so I’ve been with the business for quite some years.
L: What about you, how did you find your way into the world of invoice finance?
I studied at Sussex University but whilst I was studying full time, I was part time PA to the FD of TSB, the building society, so it was at a time pre-merger.
They made a lot of redundancies at that time; I guess they were merging roles together. I got given an opportunity to work across a list of departments.
I picked recruitment and training, so I ended up doing that in the collections call centre at Lloyds bank.
I got bored really quickly, I must say – I do have a bit of a short attention span and so I ended up applying, through fluke really, for another job.
One of my colleagues had gone to International Factors in his lunch break and grabbed an application form for a role there. He was talking to me about it and I was saying how I was a bit bored and he said, ‘Here you go, have this form, I’ll go tomorrow lunchtime and get another one for myself.’
At the same time I’d gone for a job at Legal and General, and that paid more, but somehow, for some bizarre reason I thought, do you know what, I don’t know what factoring is, but I’ll go and find out. So I did a bit of background reading about what a factoring house did and decided to take the job at International Factors.
We both applied and I got the job and he didn’t – I felt dreadful – but I ended up in invoice finance.
L: That’s amazing, so you sort of fell into it by accident?
E: I did, and then I was at International Factors for a little while. I started off there in the collections department – although it wasn’t called that, it was called ‘Client Services’. What we did was chase their debts, deal with any disputes and deal with low level prepayment, low level credit and designating credit limits through our client’s debtors.
Then Lloyds and TSB sold International Factors to The Bank of New York. When Bank of New York took over the business, they decided the department was going to be disbanded into different functions which were collections, pre-payment, a little bit of cash management, and credit.
So people got to pick which department they wanted to end up in and I put ‘credit’ down as my first and I was lucky enough to get chosen to move into the credit department.
I was also fortunate that my managers put their faith in me and gave me opportunities, and I ended up running two teams of eighteen people in that department.
I had the benefit of working on numerous projects coming up to 2000, and lots of integration projects between the old systems and the new systems and processes. It was fun and I learnt an awful lot, but it was hard work.
I was a bit young, I guess, and so now when I look at how I went about my people management, I shudder a little – because of course I’d never been taught people management – but you kind of just get on and roll your sleeves up and do it!
I think I’ve learnt so much over the years, but I guess that was a different way of doing things. I was perhaps a little bullish at times but I got the results, which was the main thing for the business at the time.
L: Absolutely, and when you’re young you need to be taken seriously; it’s quite difficult to gauge isn’t it?
E: It’s really hard, yes, particularly when you take over a team and they’re much older than you and they’re looking at you thinking, ‘Whipper Snapper’.
Some were really, really good people but they were going through so much change, and people who had had lots of stability now didn’t. People don’t always react that well to change – so it was an interesting environment to work in with lots of challenges!
I think, though, it was the making of me, on my road to my career.
L: I can imagine! So what happened next, what was next on your journey?
E: Well, I’d got to know the managers from lots of different departments and I kept being given new projects – and with each new project I got given a pay rise which was super, but I do remember one day saying to my boss:
‘It’s great that I’m working on all these projects, but eventually the projects will run out and I’d really like to be working with clients or running a portfolio of clients – do you think that’s achievable?’
She was wonderfully supportive, she helped me get to that stage and I ended up in client relations as a trainee on the factoring book and worked very closely with my colleague who ran the invoice discounting book.
Eventually, I decided I needed to learn a bit more. Whilst I’d worked in three different companies I decided it was time to go and see how other businesses outside of that building worked.
I applied for a job at NMB Heller and went to work there.
My role there was to run much larger clients, invoice discounting and asset based lending clients and again it was a great environment. I really loved it.
When you’re underwriting and you’re day-in-day-out constructing deals, reading files and thinking “Well actually that needs to be tweaked this or that way” and pulling files together, having the final meetings to close the deal you do often find yourself thinking – ‘You know what, I could do this.’
So when GE came in and there was a chance of redundancy, I thought “Do you know what? Now is the time for me to move into the world of sales.”
Being made redundant was scary but I was back and working within two weeks. Some time later I did move into my sales role – back at Lloyds TSB Commercial Finance, where I looked after South London and Kent as a region – in the external marketplace.
And that’s how I got to know the business I work for now. Hilton-Baird were one of my key introducers. Originally, Alex (Hilton-Baird) made a comment, and I actually thought he was joking, you know ‘Wouldn’t it be good if you came to run my brokerage.’
My next move actually took me from Lloyds to Xbridge (a very forward thinking and admired firm at that time), who had launched their Simply Business brand for the invoice finance market. Soon though, I realised that the commute – a whole day of your week with your face in someone’s armpit travelling (standing) from Brighton station to the City with a two year old tucked up in bed, having to kiss his little cheek goodbye at six o‘clock and trying not to wake him up when I got home – was not worth it. Life is a little bit too short.
Alex had by now asked me a few times, ‘When are you coming to work for me?’ and I eventually said ‘Actually, I just might.’ It went from there.
L: So, what is your favourite thing about being a broker?
E: Our role is supporting businesses, British and Polish SMEs, and supporting our colleagues in the industry. Evolution and the continuing changes keep me gripped and interested – it’s a vibrant environment.
L: What sort of evolutions?
E: Well, such as the one represented by you guys. MarketInvoice is a great example.
But I also enjoy educating businesses as to the options that are available to them nowadays and working with them through the process of funding, getting them the funding they need for their business to excel – that’s what keeps me interested in my role.
L: I think it’s great that you describe us as a positive evolution. The impact of alternative finance on your industry is something I was keen for us to discuss. How have you found working with MarketInvoice?
E: We haven’t always worked with MarketInvoice, even though we met with you right at the start. This is because, for us, it’s important to get to know new partners and we need to feel totally confident when it comes to us associating our brand with another company. It’s important to us that our clients have transparency and a high level of service from anyone we introduce.
L: I understand, our values are very similar around transparency and service- it’s good to have high standards!
So, tell me a bit about the clients you’ve introduced to us?
E: The last client we worked with MarketInvoice on had an annual turnover of £1.4bn, they’re a software producer providing bespoke software to companies with their tendering and procurement process. The software is delivered online so funding in a traditional sense would have been a challenge because of the pre-invoicing aspect. It’s a challenging situation, perhaps impossible. Renewals are invoiced annually and they have 30 day payment terms – often the invoices are large amounts and the client was looking for ways to access the cash tied up in them.
L: Did you enjoy working with our partnerships team?
E: Alex Kyriacou was super throughout the process, keeping us updated and supporting the client. In fact, the client rather enjoyed the entire process, seeing similarities between his own software and the auction sales process. He really liked the business model. They really wanted one transaction so single invoice funding was ideal but they also have other clients which would also be suitable for MarketInvoice when their software renewals come around – we always strive to create long term relationships and we hope that is what this is.
L: So what is the impact of alternative finance on the broker industry?
E: I’ll be totally honest and say that I was, initially, a sceptic. But we are seeing this evolution of the market, and I’ve no doubt there will be some bad debt in this type of lending – any form of lending carries risk and suffers bad debt. So it’s all about managing the risk reward – it’s nice to see structures that nowadays provide UK businesses with access to funding that they need that otherwise they may have been denied access to. It has helped provide a wider ranged offering – and actually that in turn means that we can assist more businesses and make their cashflow easier. Also, giving the economy a wider blanket of support. So alternative finance has helped with that.
L: Do you think it’s filled a gap that needed filling?
E: You know, I’m not sure if that’s how I’d put it – the market is always evolving so much. I think it’s opened up a door and also has transparency and visibility.
Has MarketInvoice improved our product offering? We love the transparency of the platform, its usability – and most importantly, our clients do too.
L: Do you think the industry needed a bit of a ‘shake up’?
E: To me ‘shake up’ has negative connotations – so I don’t think it’s that but I do think it’s a positive change. That’s how I would describe it.
Although at Hilton-Baird our area is commercial finance as a whole, not just invoice finance; anything that adds to our offering is an advantage to us. Ultimately it’s all about the client and tailoring our offering to their specific needs.
The asset based lending world continually evolves. I’ve seen so much evolution in my twenty years within it and that makes the commercial finance arena really vibrant and a fun place to work.
For more information about working with Hilton-Baird, visit their website.
Follow Evette on twitter @