Tony Salentino, director of Complete FS talks to The Mortgage Lender as part of its buy to let series of profiles on prominent industry figures.
Complete FS's Tony Salentino is one of those financial services characters that's got a great reputation in the industry and once you've spoken to him for twenty minutes it's easy to understand why.
The son of an Italian couple who emigrated to Ilfracombe in Devon in the 50's, Tony returned to Italy at 17 to fulfil his dream of playing professional football in the Italian League.
After a couple of years with US Salernitana Tony returned to the UK to pursue his career as a footballer here. "It didn't quite work out," he says.
But that didn't stop his love of the game or his involvement in it. This year he's celebrating his eighteenth season as a coach for the youth phase of the Southampton FC Academy, which has nurtured its fair share of Premiership and England players.
"There's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who plays for Liverpool, Man United's Luke Shaw, Arsenal's Callum Chambers and our own James Ward-Prowse," explains Tony, "there are a few more as well but that's a good starter."
As well as celebrating 18 years as a coach Tony is also looking forward to celebrating 25 years of Complete FS in September this year.
"It's our Silver Jubilee year and we've got about 27 lenders signed up for our Expo on 6th September, The Mortgage Lender included, and we'll have around 200 people there, many of whom we go back years with," explains Tony.
Two of the people who will be there are Tony's fellow founder Damian Cain, who set up Complete Mortgage and Loan Services Ltd with Tony in 1993 and Phil Jay, another prominent industry figure.
"I got into mortgages in 1990 after being approached by Mike Hill who was working for a small brokerage, he called and asked if I was interested in going in to have a chat about running the mortgage side of the business, I went for the chat and started soon after along with Damian Cain," says Tony.
A few years later there were some changes at the brokerage, Mike and Damian left and Tony followed soon after as the friends decided to do it their way.
"We started out as a sub-prime packager and had a good run at it, at our peak writing about 600 mortgages a month and with 55 staff. Then came 2007 and a massive wake up call, things had to change, we had to let some of the team go and we were struggling to carry on as we were.
"In 2008 we sat down and Damian and Mike decided to look at different ventures, Damian went to run a café and Mike ran Happy Homes, a buy to let management company that Damian and I both have a share in, and I carried on on my own. It was down to me and four others at our smallest."
After a couple of years on his own he was talking to his long-time friend, Phil Jay, who was being asked to relocate to Wolverhampton with his job, he didn't want to uproot his family so Tony suggested he join him and his team, which he did in 2010.
Then in 2011 Tony explains the market changed again and they needed to adapt to those new changes.
"In August 2012 we rebranded to Complete FS and we were fortunate to be approached by Kent Reliance who'd been out of the market for a while and wanted to relaunch, we were one of the companies they chose to relaunch with," explains Tony.
A period of growth followed. The company is now back up to 20 staff, it has written in excess of £100m of business with Kent Reliance alone for the last three years, Damian Cain is back as a director and Mike is still running Happy Homes.
Tony puts his success down to the strength of his relationships with his business partners. "It's easy when the money is coming in and things are going well, when it's difficult you need to have people around you that you trust. I've been lucky with Mike, Damian and Phil as we're all good friends and have our common interest in the mighty Saints."
He's also buoyant about the future of the buy to let market. "Buy to let is a massive opportunity. Sixty per cent of our business is buy to let and we're recognised as having a good understanding of the market.
"TML coming into the market is great news, the team there, Trevor, Peter, have so much experience and they know they need to carve out a niche that other lenders aren't focusing on," he explains.
He says the areas where TML stands out include the minimum loan, which at £25,001 is lower than most lenders, the maximum age at the start of the mortgage of 80, which makes the age at the end 95, and it allows family gifted equity up to 75 per cent.
But it's not just the criteria that make TML stand out from the crowd. "People buy from people," says Tony, "and we've known Laura (Sneddon) a long time, since her days at TMB, she's well respected and a great advocate for TML."