Take the leap and then build my wings on the way down – by Gemma Wright

Gemma Wright is Reward Finance Group’s managing director for Yorkshire and the North East. Having joined the business five years ago as commercial director, she has been instrumental in helping the company to reach record lending levels and double the headcount.

Gemma also mentors for Leeds Beckett’s Women in Leadership programme giving female students and insight into the leadership skills they will need in the future.

Being able to make a difference is the best thing about my job! As a Regional MD in a small but fast growing business, the breadth of my role is vast and the decisions I take each and every day will make a huge difference on people – whether for the business owner that we are looking to support, the introducer we are working closely with on a deal, a new partner that we are building a relationship with or, and arguably most importantly, members of my own team. Finishing each day knowing that I have had an impact, even the smallest impact on a single person, is hugely rewarding.

The potential for growth in the next 12 months is unprecedented. I appreciate that is a very over-used word recently, and could easily be challenged in an industry that has seen so much change already over recent times, but the signs that we are on the cusp of something special are already there. As bank appetite changes, a lot of SMEs are having to look beyond their main bankers and into the alternative finance (AltFi) market for the first time in their history. And increasingly these businesses are realising that the flexibility and agility that a lender like Reward can offer is actually a much better fit for their own growing business.

Uncertainty remains  the biggest issue facing all business owners. Even advisers who once knew the market inside out are finding themselves surprised and frustrated by decisions and eleventh hour changes in appetite, and the knock-on effect is that businesses don’t have the confidence in their funding to be able to make the right strategic decisions for their business. That said, I think we are testament to the fact that there are lenders out there who are still making common-sense, commercial lending decisions and we take real pride in the fact that we remained consistent in our lending approach throughout the whole crisis. So for our business, the biggest challenge is making sure that business owners know that we exist and that’s where our network of introducers and advisers is critical in helping us to take our message to market.

The SME lending market in the UK is arguably unrecognisable from how it was just a decade ago. We have seen the shift away from a handful of traditional high street names to challenger banks, AltFi players, Fintechs, peer to peer lenders, crowdfunders… the list goes on. As new players come in, this has driven an exodus of talent away from the mainstream lenders and into the emerging markets, which in turn has seen creativity in our sector grow and new players with new ideas continue to burst on the scene. This growth means competition and that can only ever be a good thing for the consumer but it also means the market has had to evolve to be able to sign-post business owners to exactly what support is out there and with it the intermediary and adviser community has become invaluable in stepping up and helping SMEs navigate through this changing landscape.

Our business strapline is ‘Driving Business Forward’ and it’s so important for me because it was created by our own people. We went out to the team to ask them to encapsulate what we do in a single sentence and I love it, because it is spot on! Not only do we drive our own business and our people forward each day by encouraging a culture of innovation and new ideas, but we also drive our clients’ businesses forward every day by giving them the right funding structure to deliver on their own plans and ambitions.

One of the most important lessons I learnt was to take the leap and then build my wings on the way down! Or if I were to put another way, that I could and should have the confidence to believe in myself – not only in myself but in my teams too – as people thrive the most when they are stretched out of their comfort zone and it is in this space that all the creativity happens! The happiest, most fulfilled and arguably the most successful people I have encountered in my career have been the ones that have said yes to the new opportunities, even if the thought of it was terrifying at the time!

I don’t want it to come across as cliched, but I would say my Dad has been a real inspiration and influence on me. He’s a retired HR director for a very large but local business, and growing up it wasn’t unusual when out and about as a family to bump into his ex colleagues and co-workers and so many of them would volunteer up stories about the influence my Dad had had on not only their career but also their life. Giving them the role that spring-boarded their career, supporting them as they relocated with a young family or simply just being there for them with support and friendship. My Dad’s biggest advice to me has always been to remain authentic however successful you become and this is something I remember every single day… that and the desire to leave a legacy not because of what I achieved but because of how I did it.

Out of work my time is spent chauffeuring or supporting from the sidelines. As a mum of two young but very active children, I love cheering them on and seeing them both so passionate about sport, in fact it also inspired me to take up running and I love the challenge but also the headspace that running gives me! If the last 18 months and various lockdowns made me realise anything it was how much we need that balance in our lives – downtime with family and friends, keeping active, holidays to amazing new places – all hugely important to me and something I will never take for granted again.