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15 minutes with… Sam Bamert, founder of Ask If

Sam Bamert left traditional banking to focus on building a more inclusive finance sector. As her new company Ask If prepares to launch, she talks to New Start about bringing the pieces of the responsible finance jigsaw together

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On leaving the banking sector. I worked in traditional banking for 19 years and left in 2014 to set up my own business. I became an advisor on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Task Group for Responsible Credit and Savings and was involved in looking at small business lending and the availability of finance. I became aware of the enormous gap that exists in the market for small business finance, for those not served by mainstream banking providers. I’m interested in small business and enterprise – which is the powerhouse of the UK economy – and found it astonishing that for so many people access to finance is a problem.

On filling the gap in finance provision: I also became aware of the Responsible Finance sector and the great work it does lending to borrowers that have been excluded from mainstream banks. But I also got to understand the issues the sector has, especially its inability to fill the huge gap between supply and demand, the fragmentation of the sector and its need to build scale. To me, there are three issues. The first is the need to get more capital into the sector, the second is positioning the sector to attract borrowers and the third is improving the infrastructure to allow efficiency and best industry practice. I realised that if you could fix the infrastructure issue across a number of responsible finance providers you could create data integrity and consistency across the whole sector, allowing responsible finance lenders to be promoted more holistically and thus distributing capital at scale.

‘Too many decisions in banking

are assumptions made by algorithms’.

On bringing the pieces of the puzzle of responsible finance together: The Ask If platform is about bringing those pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together to make the marketplace for responsible finance work better. We are the facilitator in the middle, uniting the finance, the providers and the borrowers. We have created a website that is jargon free and easy to navigate, and that links potential borrowers to people they can talk to. We have a network of Responsible Finance partners signed up and borrowers can either fill in an application form online or arrange to meet someone face to face. We match the borrowers with a lender who will support them through the process. Another of our key objectives is to secure significant new capital for the responsible finance sector to allow it to grow. Once we build more scale and create a more mature market that will create more choice for borrowers.

On bringing a human and local element back to banking: If people have been declined by a bank they are going to be feeling pretty low so we want to make the process as supportive as possible. It’s about empowering clients to get what they need. We are using the best of technology on our platform but we are combining that with the human element so that borrowers can receive support and make decisions on the basis of real facts. Too many decisions in banking are assumptions made by algorithms. Automated decisions are made, where ‘the computer says no’ and that’s the end of the conversation. We want to go back to the kind of local banking that used to exist. Now banks are pulling away from the high street and everything is moving online but in the context of borrowing money, the online environment doesn’t always work. You need both the technological and the human element.

On helping local communities thrive: The endgame of all this is to make the responsible finance market work better so that more jobs are created, leading to greater local economic and social impact. For many people, getting turned down by mainstream banks feels like a dead end. We want to help local communities and economies to thrive by creating new employment opportunities. All people who have the ambition and drive to set up and grow their own business should be able to give it a go.

  • The Ask If platform will launch in June. Sam Bamert and her team are interested in speaking to responsible finance providers and grassroots organisations helping people to access finance.

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