In an interview with Specialist Banking, Cristina Alba Ochoa, CFO at OakNorth (pictured above), discusses its progress in North America, expanding its regional presence and issues with the banking industry.
You recently raised $440m to target US expansion. How has the progress been on the launch of SME loan origination capabilities to North American banks?
The finance from SoftBank’s Vision Fund and follow-on investment from the Clermont Group has had a large impact on our ability to continue scaling our operations in the US and around the world. We now have 11 different banks across the US, Europe and Asia using the platform. We’ve only publicly announced one of these deals, which is with NIBC Bank on a five-year contract. Our platform will help NIBC enhance its efficiency and data-based insights with regard to credit analysis and monitoring, enabling the bank to better serve its clients.
The partnership sees a large portion of NIBC’s existing corporate loan book onboarded to the platform, with us also assisting the bank in exploring new possibilities in its lending to medium-sized businesses.
You recently opened a new Manchester office. Why was it important to have a regional northern presence and do you plan on expanding your regional presence further?
We are a London-headquartered business, and we have started our distribution from there. However, when we started the business, from day one, we knew we had to have a Manchester office, and we started it by having an operations centre first, and the commercial office now.
The bank’s head of IT infrastructure sits in the Manchester office alongside the support, risk and client-facing functions. We’ve expanded the office over time, and earlier this year, announced that we’re bolstering our regional presence with the appointment of debt finance directors in other parts of the UK.
Why did we do this? One of the features about our lending process is that our debt finance directors are close to the borrowers, and they can speak with a person that is available for them, not a machine or standard answer, for their particular business needs. The borrowers greatly appreciate the ability to discuss their finance needs directly with the credit committee. To ensure we can continue offering this personalised experience while providing British businesses and property developers with access to customised debt finance options, we have hired several debt finance directors in Manchester and are hiring in other important cities, such as Birmingham.
If you could change one thing about the banking industry, what would it be?
The way that both the banking and investment banking industries are viewed as the same. Banking employees are not investment bankers (far from it!), but the reputational issues, such as big bonuses paid on sales results, have been extended to both.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the banking industry?
I would give the same advice to anyone who is looking to enter a new industry sector: make sure you perform on a daily basis, but always try to go above and beyond what is expected of you. Going the extra mile is always appreciated, not just by your management team, but by those who work with you and your peers as well.
For those looking to get into the banking sector specifically, I would say, make sure that you like it and that it is an area of interest where you can keep learning. Doing work that you don’t enjoy will always be detrimental to you and others around you.
How did you get into banking?
When I started studying economics at university in Barcelona, I wanted to earn my own money and be independent, so I started working in a savings bank. Then, when I finished university, I decided to continue in banking for a while and decided to gain my masters in finance and retail banking. From there, I spent several years at GE Capital with roles relating to finance and credit risk, before becoming CFO for GE Capital — Corporate Finance Bank. In the 17 years there, I led initiatives to launch new products and companies, and later also to sell them when GE decided to exit GE Capital.
I joined OakNorth as CFO in April 2017, where I am responsible for growing the business together with the rest of my peers and, at the same time, developing and maintaining a robust control environment across the bank’s finance and treasury functions, as well as leading the day-to-day financial controllership, tax compliance, treasury and financial planning activities. I have also been part of the leadership team for our various funding rounds, which has seen the group raise over $1bn since inception.
If you didn’t work in banking, what would you be doing?
Good question. I would say that I would be an architect.
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