John Clifford is the Founder and Managing Director of London-based Conrad Family Office. Conrad Family Office is an independent multi-family office based in London providing HNW and UHNW clientele with a range of personal and confidential services. With a core emphasis on trust and reciprocity, the Conrad management team serves national and international clients and brings together qualified and highly-respected professionals with long-standing expertise in the provision of a wide range of professional services. Working with outstanding professionals and trusted partners globally, they provide an exemplary service across a full spectrum of private family needs, effectively becoming each family’s eyes and ears whether in London or anywhere else in the world.
Please introduce yourself, your background and tell us more about Conrad Family Office and what you do there?
My name is John Clifford and I am the Founder and Managing Director of Conrad Family Office. I have been running my own successful finance companies across a wide range of regulatory environments for over thirty years now. Starting in the 1980s I built and ran a very successful secured loan brokerage and packaging company which at its peak employed over 50 staff. During this period I never held aspirations to be the biggest, instead always striving to ensure we were simply the best in terms of our commitment to service standards, efficiency and speed of turnaround. To use an old analogy, I have always preferred to be the ‘speedboat’ rather than the ‘ocean liner’ with a wide turning circle!
Unfortunately, we operated in a sector that was dominated by funding from securitizing American banks and UK High Street Lenders and when the Credit Crunch hit in 2007/2008 liquidity pretty much disappeared overnight. As a broker with nothing to broke it was time for a re-think. Together with backing secured from three longstanding business contacts saw me launch my first lending platform focussing on the short-term bridging sector.
Now, some 10 years and almost 1,500 loans later, our average loan size has grown from less than £50K to over £1M and specialist lending and investment opportunities are at the core of what we do. Our market leading lending platform sits behind and supports our recently launched Conrad Family Office venture.
Together with a small, vastly experienced Team, all of whom I’ve known and worked with for up to 20 years, we provide bespoke family office services to meet the diverse financial and lifestyle requirements of our ever growing client base. Specifically, we have a strong focus on providing unique investment opportunities through our specialist finance platforms.
What are the top trends you have seen emerging within the family office sector in 2019? How has the market changed since you first got involved?
In truth we are newcomers to the family office sector with our platform having grown organically out of our investment and lending model at Conrad Capital. Crucially, we believe this unique background sets us apart from others in the sector.
As detailed above, we have been providing lucrative investment opportunities for many of our clients for almost 10 years and crucially, in all that time across nearly 1,500 loans, we have never lost a penny for a single backer. Our funders are regarded as ‘family’ and it would be fair to say that we strive every day to maintain our proud record. With a core emphasis on trust and reciprocity, our Team has developed privileged relationships with both national and international clients and brings together qualified and highly respected professionals with long-standing expertise in the provision of a wide range of professional services.
In addition to offering unique real estate investment opportunities and advice on the best structure to maximize these opportunities we also offer trust and estate planning, corporate and fiduciary services, UK inward investment, international tax advice, bespoke legal advice, visas for non-EU citizens, UK real estate planning and specialist legal and taxation advice to ensure the smooth transition of wealth between generations. On top of this we provide a range of personal and concierge services together with advice on philanthropy.
What do you consider the largest value add that the Conrad Family Office brings to the table when working with clients? How do you differentiate yourselves?
As mentioned previously, our background as a highly successful lending platform means that investments are at the core of our family office proposition. Our Team has more than 80 years of combined investment experience, an extensive network of contacts and an in-depth knowledge of global-financial markets. With a keen eye for detail and a refined process that has been honed and continuously improved over many years we are able to seize profitable opportunities across a diverse range of sectors, invariably with underlying security attached.
We have also learnt that there is much more to a Family Office strategy than simply managing financial risk. It is also about preserving each family’s reputation and protecting confidentiality and privacy.
The Conrad Family Office Team has over thirty years of experience working under a wide range of regulatory bodies. We remain permanently on top of all compliance, taxation and anti-money laundering regulation. Furthermore, we continually monitor all developments in the increasingly sophisticated world of cyber-crime and last, but by no means least, we keep a close watching brief on the pervasive and irresistible power of social media to safeguard against issues this can cause.
What are some trends you’ve noticed in the London/UK real estate market over the past few years?
Real Estate is an area we know intimately. The London Property market continues to offer great investment opportunities, arguably more so now than it has for several years. This is particularly the case for overseas investors. Over many years we have forged close relationships with a diverse group of leading developers, brokers and marketing agents ensuring that we can offer the widest variety of purchase and development opportunities. Furthermore, we work with some of London’s leading law firms to ensure every transaction has high level legal support.
We are seeing strong levels of activity in the high-end London property market and for every purchaser that is put off by the current Brexit chaos there seems to be at least another who is being encouraged to look for a “steal.”
Against this backdrop we are delighted that Conrad Family Office services in the areas of investment, property acquisition and legal advice are performing well above our early expectations.
In tandem with investments we also offer a comprehensive first-class property management service that is individually tailored to each client’s needs.
In short, nobody knows the London or UK property market better than us or can source better opportunities. Our families often refer to us as their “eyes and ears” in London and the UK.
What types of properties do you tend to focus on?
High quality residential, commercial and semi-commercial properties at conservative loan to values (LTVs) with no maximum property value. All properties are subject to a full internal valuation by a national RICS surveyor with full indemnity cover, irrespective of LTV.
Are there any specific criteria you evaluate when making property investments, or when lending to borrowers?
We adhere to the following strict criteria when evaluating potential property investments:
- Rigorous due diligence processes applied to every loan application.
- Robust legal infrastructure provided on every loan by leading London Law Firms to complement our own strict due diligence processes.
- A comprehensive understanding of all regulatory sectors, including The Consumer Credit Act (CCA), The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Mortgage Credit Directive (MCD, despite the fact that we operate purely in the unregulated business only lending arena.
- Full independent legal advice must be taken by each borrower.
- Risk based pricing, underpinned by a totally transparent approach to fees and interest charges, which is highlighted in all of the documentation issued to borrowers.
- The holding of security by way of a legal charge, combined with the fact that every property is valued by a national RICS surveyor with full indemnity cover.
- The need for a robust and realistic exit strategy to be detailed prior to the completion of any loan. In summary we have a deep understanding of our markets which helps us to frame and build a long-term and sustainable approach to investments.
What are some of your go-to resources to stay abreast of the latest news and investments in the family office space?
Above all else, we rely upon an extensive network of outstanding professionals and trusted partners right across the globe. These are the people that ensure we always have our fingers on the pulse. They are key to us providing the expert advice and pro-active solutions to the multiple issues that confront our family offices each day.
The FINTRX website and database is of course another invaluable resource!
Outside of the real estate space, where else do you typically allocate client capital?
Historically we have always focused strongly on the sector and jurisdiction we know best, UK real estate but having refined and developed our tri-partite lending and investment model over the past ten years we are now lending increasingly against other specialized asset classes.
These classes include bullion, gems, UK Gilts, US Treasury Bonds, fine art and much more besides.
Once again, we only work with the very best professional partners and law firms to ensure every transaction has the highest level of legal support.
Are you ever open to investments outside of your core expertise, such as private equity, venture capital, or hedge funds?
As a new family office platform our approach to investment is long term and sustainable. Crucially, we pride ourselves on knowing the precise dynamics that drive each of our clients/families. It is only by fully understanding your client and their overall objectives that you can tailor a service that manages their risk, preserves their reputation, protects confidentiality and ensures they leave a rich legacy.
Having said this sustainability shouldn’t preclude entrepreneurial opportunity so we always remain open to new opportunities. It is my strong belief that the moment you close your mind to new opportunities you certainly shouldn’t be running a family office anymore!
How do you typically go about sourcing deal flow?
We receive propositions regularly from our long standing investment and lending platforms.
It’s testament to our team that over time clients who have enjoyed long-term investment success started come to us for advice on legal representation, international structuring and taxation matters and much more besides. Simultaneously, on a personal level, we found ourselves being asked for access to luxury cars, private jets and the finest hotels amongst many other things.
Thus, in truth, we don’t have to look for deal flow. We are blessed that clients started coming to us and this was the genesis of Conrad Family Office. Provided we do a great job for our families I’m confident they will continue to come.
Do you manage on a discretionary or advisory basis?
Is there anything else you would like us to know about the Conrad Family Office?
I think we’ve just about covered everything but if you have any queries please don’t hesitate to contact me. You will have realized by now that I’m truly passionate about customer service and it’s my firm belief that only by fully understanding each client’s circumstances can you tailor a successful solution that meets their needs.
You can find out more about John Clifford and the Conrad Family Office on their website at http://www.conradfamilyoffice.com