At the beginning of the year, it was suggested that we would be confronted by a cocktail of uncertainty, spanning China’s economic woes, higher interest rates in the US, historically low oil prices, Britain’s referendum on exiting the EU and increasing tensions in the Middle East.
While all of the above have certainly proved to make a mark on financial markets, investor sentiment in the property market seems to have remained positive. And with Colliers’ “Global Investment Outlook 2016” suggesting gateway cities such as London will remain the primary target for cross-border investors, we looked to Cogress CFO Paul Israel for advice in investing in the sector.
(1) What are your key roles within the company?
In my role as chief financial officer at Cogress, I am primarily responsible for managing and overseeing the finance system of the company. This encompasses financial planning, budgeting, financial control and record-keeping, looking over client funds, managing fund transfers, project completion, as well as supporting the advisory board with the key financial analysis and related information.
In addition, I am part of our investment team and responsible for reviewing new property investment opportunities. I provide financial insights to aid decision-making (and sometimes non-financial ones!) and ensure that every project is marketable and adheres to the FCA guidelines. I am also involved in the detailed monitoring of all of our on-going 25+ projects.
(2) What would you deem the most important skills to the finance function
Fuelled by a changing regulatory environment, financial roles have become more and more challenging over the last years. One of the most important skills for financial roles is the ability to multi-task, adhere to detail and task completion, while at the same time keeping a helicopter view over the big issues to ensure everything is covered. However, the ability to provide and communicate accurate and reliable information to the firm’s advisory board remains the bedrock of this function, and is crucial for them to make informed decisions.
(3) How does Cogress select property investment opportunities? And what’s your involvement?
For an investment opportunity to proceed and become part of our portfolio, there are different components that need to align. We have a property due diligence team who will naturally assess each investment’s viability from a property perspective in the first instance. Obviously, we don’t commit to a project unless we consider the developer has the right expertise, and after the project has begun we have our own monitoring team visiting each project with the developer once a month.
I look primarily from the numbers side and evaluate the risks and returns of new property developments. We do focus on investing in stable markets that have consistently been performing well and offer investors a diversified portfolio within these markets. Of course with the recent Brexit vote this offers additional challenges but also potentially many opportunities. We have already built a portfolio of more than 29 investments in residential properties across prime central London and North London, as well as student accommodations in Ealing and Greenwich.
Previously, these investment opportunities and the associated potential returns are normally restricted to large private funds. Cogress enables its network of qualified investors to access £10m+ property investments with a minimum of a £20,000 investment.
(4) Do you play a role in helping the company scale?
Cogress’ finance function is an important element of the company’s innovative business model, thus crucial to convey to potential investors. I help support the sales team, when needed, and show the model and how it works to potential new investors. Also, as an investor in several Cogress projects myself, I try to look at them from the investors’ point of view and ensure the individual project presentations and subsequent quarterly project updates, accurately reflect the project in clear language showing the results so far and numbers.
Additionally, by supporting our advisory board on all strategic matters and decision-making operations primarily from a financial point of view, I also play a fundamental role in shaping the company’s strategy for success.
(5) What should a property investor know about today’s market?
Whether you invest with Cogress or elsewhere, doing the appropriate due diligence is the key to any intelligent property investment (or indeed any investment). Once this is passed, my advice to investors would be to only go with the projects that they feel comfortable with – if in Cogress there will surely be an investment opportunity that feels appropriate for each individual investor at some point. In today’s property market, post-Brexit vote especially, you will of course find peaks and troughs and every property development needs to be assessed as a standalone one.
Elsewhere, with the hospitality industry having witnessed phenomenal growth and economic significance over the years, we discussed the sector with Smart Group finance director Christophe Tramoni – and how he ended up in his current role.
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