2020 has been a difficult year for many, the first lockdown in March not only saw non-essential businesses close it also saw others scramble to change the way they work.
The housing market has also seen many changes in 2020 with it shutting down early on and then slowly reopening as restrictions eased. The industry has had to quickly adapt, with a lot of processes and customer engagement now done over the phone or online. Virtual viewings, over-the-phone applications and e-signatures have now become the norm across the industry.
The housing market has experienced a mini-boom after the UK-wide coronavirus lockdown, partly fuelled by the government's temporary cuts to stamp duty, which comes to an end in March. House prices have risen at the fastest annual rate in almost six years.
2020 has also seen a lot of peoples attitudes change with significant numbers of aspiring first-time buyers looking for more space, a garden, an office or a combination of all three.
The Cornerstone Finance Group
2020 has been a big year for The Cornerstone Finance Group. Splitting the business into six divisions allowing each specialist team to focus on what they do best.
We've brought in experienced senior executives with the relevant key skills and expertise to lead each specialist area of the group. To compliment our already experienced team, Haydn Thomas, formally a Senior Director at Natwest, joined to head up the Commercial Finance team along with Ian Pottle, former Broker Development Manager at Natwest. Jamie Ringer was also appointed as Commercial Finance Sales Director. Jamie a former Relationship Director at Pure Commercial and Former Wales rugby international, adds a further dimension to the vastly experienced team.
David Bennet, with 20 years of commercial insurance experience, came on board to head up our Commercial Insurance business. Finally, Mark Cann was the latest senior executive to become part of the group. Mark brings invaluable experience as Commercial Director of Cornerstone Protection Direct.
Our group is now driven by a highly experienced and motivated senior team who are determined to continue to support the Welsh economy and create Welsh jobs. We have a very ambitious expansion programme over the next five years that makes it an exciting and challenging time to be involved.
This year we have also launched several new products, including secured loans, pension-led funding, funeral planning, and equity release. These complement our existing suite of products to ensure we provide a comprehensive portfolio of financial and insurance services.
At the start of the pandemic, there was a lot of uncertainty in the industry. People were unsure whether house purchases would go ahead and businesses were left uncertain whether property negotiations would continue.
However, we have been able to adapt, moving staff to remote working by using online conferencing software, both for staff briefings and client meetings. Plans to expand our physical contact centre were put on hold at the start of the pandemic but later implemented as we came out of lockdown. 2020 has highlighted to us that things can be done differently.
Through our Commercial Department, we have also been able to help several businesses access much-needed finance during the pandemic by helping business access both the bounce-back and CBILS government schemes. In addition to this, funding is still available through traditional channels. Our knowledge and strong relationships with lenders have been paramount to our ability to raise finance for our clients successfully.
Building relationships is at the heart of what we do, 2020 has seen some real success stories where Cornerstone has partnered with lenders and other partner business to pull off some interesting funding projects.
In June we partnered with Monmouthshire Building society to complete a £4.26m Property Development Loan allowing X-Stream Developments Ltd to proceed with a multi-unit development in Penarth.
More recently partnered with Hope Capital to secure a bridging loan in under three weeks. The client was part of a chain which hinged on our client completing the purchase by a set deadline.
These are just two of the hundreds of deals we completed in 2020.
2021 and beyond
With 2020 nearly behind us, we're looking forward to 2021 and the challenges it brings along with it. We have some very exciting projects set to launch; we have a very ambitious expansion plan over the next five years that makes it an exciting time.
We want to say a huge thank you and Merry Christmas to all our customers and clients, and we look forward to working with you in the new year.