The experienced founding trio of ASK Partners open up real estate transactions to sophisticated high net worth investors, empower borrowers and bring it all together on an innovative fintech platform
In the wake of the pandemic, as the real estate market finds its feet and international travel begins to return, opportunities abound. Ambitious developers are looking for capital to finance a wide range of real estate projects, both residential and commercial, and ASK Partners is eager to provide it.
Stylized and pronounced aloud as “AS-K”, the name symbolizes the union forged by its three founding partners – Daniel Austin, Paul Stevens and Doug King – who each lend an initial. After five years of partnership, ASK Partners provided over £600m in the financing of 70 real estate transactions, from short-term financing for bridge loans to joint venture equity.
Accustomed to the intertwined worlds of real estate, banking and corporate finance, they have accumulated dozens of complementary experiences between them. Stevens built Investec’s property business from scratch to a £3.5billion loan book, and was joined by Austin around the turn of the millennium. King, meanwhile, earned his stripes in corporate finance at BDO. Austin then founded Capital A, which King joined, before Stevens assumed the role of chairman.
Now, as ASK Partners, they aim to inject a dose of flexibility into the real estate finance world and have so far enabled 250 sophisticated investors to select transactions for use with a fintech platform. “All of our investors are small banks unto themselves,” says Austin. “We gave HNW investors the opportunity to get into something that was not available before.
Traditionally, private banks following an investor fund model have avoided personal choice in real estate investments. Opening the industry to HNWs, family offices and private clients, Austin says ASK finds that “most of the people we hire want to have some influence over what they invest in” and want to deploy their “own intellectual capital to decide what to do with it”.
ASK Partners’ platform hosts detailed investor information tailored to each deal, while investors can keep up to date with updates on a private social media feed. By allowing members to choose their own investments, the firm avoids the pressure to lend prematurely, charge excessive fees or grow assets under management. This, in turn, has created a unique pool of capital, where investors can collectively fund a loan and opt for different levels of risk with adjusted returns.
Each transaction is underwritten internally, with due diligence processes taking four to six weeks after initial terms are agreed. Industry intelligence and data is used to assess the potential of each individual property proposal, while the title deed is combed through to unravel any loose legal threads. “There are always risks in that, but you can’t get back without it. We’re not magicians – we’re just trying to tone it down,” King says.
Company competence translates into results. “We’ve taken out a total of £800m in loans and haven’t lost any money yet,” says Austin. “But it’s a lot of work – you have to use the same rigorous process for every transaction.” The three partners represent 5% of each transaction with their own money.
For developers, Stevens says ASK’s philosophy “is to be flexible and look at what the underlying asset is, who the underlying borrower is…we’re always figuring out how to unearth that, the best offer”. Authorized development rights added a window of opportunity, while the pandemic freed up stocks as private banks unloaded assets. ASK recently financed a project to transform a former department store into a residential project in Staines, which could pave the way for 250 new homes. “We’re looking at how assets can be repositioned,” King says.
ASK is looking to fund a scheme that will end up building 650 new homes in the Midlands, and another that will create 1,000 new homes in North London. For those, he says there might be “more planning hurdles and more steps, but the point is, we’ve helped unlock that development.”
The founders hope to keep a pulse on the needs of HNW investors and are currently meeting a strong demand for low risk trades with a return of around 6%. While still catering to investors looking for higher “calculated returns,” many want investments that fall between “losing money at 1% interest” and going public.
Flexibility, meanwhile, will underpin everything. ASK Partners is currently piloting a “secondary market” where investors can trade deals early while others step in to fill their shoes. It’s something “that doesn’t really exist right now,” says Austin. You get the feeling, however, that this may not be the case for long.
To learn more, visit askpartners.co.uk