Sean Oldfield is revolutionizing the mortgage industry with innovative equity loans company, Castle Trust.
Sean Oldfield is a glutton for punishment. In 2002, he gave up a lucrative career in banking to pursue a grueling judo career.
He travelled around Europe on his motorbike, training in different judo clubs, with the aim of competing in the 2004 Athens Olympics.
The Australian, who has been living in the UK for the past 12 years, represented his home country at the Canadian and US opens.
After two years on the road, however, he realized he would never be a world champion.
“I started training at 19, which is very late,” he explained. “Most guys start when they are three. I realized that if I made it to the Olympics, I would probably get knocked out in the first round and end up penniless.”
Mr. Oldfield cut his losses and returned to Macquarie Bank, where he stayed for a further four years. But his desire to take on a new challenge then took him to Moscow, where a burgeoning financial services industry was taking hold.
“I was interested in the mortgage market out there,” he said. “People were trying to buy their homes out of the communist regime. Previously, people had only been able to buy their homes if they had cash. The transfers were literally made with cash, too – big briefcases of the stuff.”
Mr Oldfield set about starting a company but soon attracted heat from the local gangsters. “I ended up getting shot at,” he said. “In Moscow, you need to buy protection when you start a business. The Russian word for it is ‘krysha’, which means roof.
“If you don’t have the right protection, either you die or your business dies.”
A local cartel offered its “roof” to Mr. Oldfield in the very early days of his start-up. He refused, saying that he didn’t believe they would do the job very well. “They shot at me to prove that they would have been just fine at their job,” said Mr. Oldfield.
Rather than return to Macquarie, cap in hand, Mr. Oldfield decided to come back to the UK, take stock and work on an innovative new business model that he’d been turning around in his mind for years.
“I have a personal interest in the mortgage system,” he said. “When I was 11 years old, interest rates in Australia went from single digits to 18pc. My mum was a high school math teacher and, as a single mum, really struggled to make her interest payments every month.”
Mr Oldfield remembers sitting in his local bank manager’s office with his mother, pleading for more time to pay.
In June 2008, he began fleshing out an idea for a two-pronged business, one side of which was an equity loans provider and the other an investment product linked to the national housing index. He called the business Castle Trust.
The idea was to “recycle” money between the two businesses so that those who had money to invest could get a return based on house prices, while those who needed finance could unlock the value of their homes with minimal risk.
Mr Oldfield explained: “Unlike traditional mortgages, with equity loans there are no monthly payments. We will lend up to 20pc of the value of the house. If the house doesn’t increase in value, you just pay us back the original principle. If it goes up in value, we take a 40pc share of the growth.”
If the house depreciates in value, Castle Trust shares in the fall; on a house worth 10pc less, you pay back 10pc less.
The model doesn’t replace the old-fashioned mortgage but raises cash for those who cannot secure finance in the usual way. Castle Trust’s services have been used by divorcing couples who want to buy a second home without taking out a further mortgage on the first. Entrepreneurs also use the model, to raise cash for their start-ups, but the biggest markets are “bank-of-mum-and-dad” customers who want to help their children get on the housing ladder. The buy-to-let market is also growing fast.
Getting Castle Trust off the ground has been Mr. Oldfield’s greatest challenge to date. “It took four and a half years from creating the concept to signing our first customer,” he said. “2008 was the worst time to try to raise money for a new business with the financial crisis.”
It took more than two years for Mr. Oldfield to secure a £65m investment from private equity firm JC Flowers. “Raising that kind of money for a business that only exists on a PowerPoint presentation, when you’re working from your lounge, is really tough,” he said.
Castle Trust is the first business of its kind in the world. The investment side of the business is based on UK house prices, and the Land Registry only released comprehensive data on transactions in early 2008. It cost £15m just to get the company off the ground with all the required regulation. “You wouldn’t believe the red tape you face as a brand new financial services business,” said Mr Oldfield.
Consumers can invest through their Isa or direct with Castle Trust. The company is now one year old and employs 30 staff. It is chaired by Callum McCarthy, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority. Deirdre Hutton, former chair of the National Consumer Council, and ex-environment minister Lord Deben are also on the board. “They’ve had faith in the business from the beginning,” said Mr. Oldfield.
Castle Trust has been boosted by the Government’s Help to Buy scheme. “It has an equity loan built in just like ours,” explained Mr. Oldfield, who credits his judo training for getting him through the tough start-up of the business.
“During that time, I got married and had my first son,” he said.
“I didn’t get my first pay cheque till he was one. Once every couple of months I would think, ‘I should just go and get a job’.
“But I never gave up. I was patient through necessity. It takes a huge amount of tenacity and drive to knock down walls that seem impenetrable but now we’ve reached the tipping point.
“I was behind the curve with judo but I’m way ahead of the curve with Castle Trust.”