Gareth Graham of BCF: Banks won’t lend to SMEs and ‘that has provided an opportunity across the island of Ireland for us’

Gareth Graham’s experience of the fallout from the last financial crisis sowed the seeds for the former property player’s new venture, Belfast Commercial Funding (BCF), which has stepped into a gap left by banks’ caution at lending to small businesses.

In 2012, the Dublin-based National Asset Management Agency (Nama) took control of debts that his property business, Oakland Holdings Ltd, owed Bank of Ireland. The State body sold these three years later to a US fund, Cerberus, in a controversial deal dubbed Project Eagle.

Oakland refinanced the debt the following year and then raised the cash needed to develop Merchant’s Square in Belfast, from the Northern Ireland Investment Fund. That building is now accountants’ PwC’s largest UK base outside London and home to specialised staff focused on new technology.

It was during what Graham calls a “bruising experience” with Cerberus, and the effort involved in getting mezzanine finance for Merchant’s Square, that he realised the financial crisis had left a significant gap in the market. “We literally travelled the world to raise that funding,” he recalls.

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