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Exclusive Interview: Emma Selfridge, Solicitor and Head of Conveyancing, Bowden Jones

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Emma Selfridge, Solicitor and Head of Conveyancing at Bowden Jones Solicitors, gives Business News Wales an insight into her career history and her tips and opinions on the next generation and the future of business in Wales.

Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within Bowden Jones?

I have specialised in residential conveyancing for the last 16 years and feel my knowledge and experience help my clients to overcome the daunting challenge of buying and selling their Property.  Having worked with a diverse range of clients and firms throughout my career, I am confident that I can offer support, guidance, and legal advice that will prevent costly mistakes and long delays. I take pride in attention to detail and developing good working relationships with clients, estate agents, brokers, and financial advisors, and can readily demonstrate a history of them returning to my services time and again.

What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?

I strongly believe that Bowden Jones Solicitors is a firm that will go from strength to strength and grow enormously in the next few years.  In particular, I plan to build the Property Department to make us one of the foremost firms for Conveyancing in Cardiff.  Obviously this is a challenge in the current economic and political climate, and with the level of competition in the market place.

I must say that I feel that we bridge a gap left by others whereby we provide both excellent legal service and reasonable fees.  Clients are tired of the impersonal factory or bulk conveyancing operation and want the personal touch which we provide.

Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently? 

Of course no career plan pans out perfectly.  I perhaps spent too much time in one or two bulk conveyancing firms during my career where it was impossible to work effectively and give clients the service they deserve.  However, it is inevitable when professional relationships develop, that loyalty directs a career path.  At Bowden Jones I am enjoying the opportunity to be more entrepreneurial and forward thinking and to work in a department and a firm that really excels at providing clients with an excellent service.

What do you think are the most important qualities for success in business?

A clear focus and a disciplined approach are essential; these days this means being able to filter out white noise and distractions, such as relentless emails, to concentrate on priorities.  It is also important to challenge assumptions and conventional procedures, and to apply critical thinking to solve problems and achieve best outcomes.  It may seem obvious but hard work is an absolute essential.

What are your top three tips for success?

I would say:
1) have a clear vision of the direction the business should take;
2) develop an action plan – this should be achievable and flexible;
3) persevere in the face of obstacles.
If I were allowed a 4th tip it would be – keep a sense of humour.

Are there any innovations within your sector that you believe should be adopted by the wider Welsh market?

Well, of course, there is much talk today about offering virtual property tours, providing smart glasses for clients and the gains all round are obvious – time-saving for estate agents, exciting for buyers, providing multiple viewings in a short time-frame,  more efficient use of manpower.  There is also a new trend developing known as discreet property marketing.  This under-the-counter method of home sales flies in the face of the traditional philosophy of ensuring the highest number of website clicks and exposure in the press and media.  It works like this – an agent visits a home and prepares property photographs and particulars but instead of disseminating via all the usual channels, the listing is held by the agent who then selects potential buyers who fit the profile of the vendor’s timetable.  Another innovation gaining traction is exploiting social media information – taking info from Facebook for example – to personalise the property for each visitor in order to emphasise the fit with their own lifestyle choices.  And of course there are always innovations in the photography field whereby, on a drab, dull day a professional snapper can recreate bright conditions using special lighting techniques and even editing in a suitable ‘sky’ to set the right mood.

Do you foresee any issues that Welsh business will be facing in the short/medium/long term?

Some experts predict a slowdown in house price growth over the next couple of years with variations in market performance in different regions of the UK.    Although the property market is cyclical it is still regarded by most people as a sound investment.  As a result there have been notable pockets of expansion in the buy-to-let sector where owners expect rental income from tenants to cover mortgages and outgoings as their capital investment increases. However, evidence shows this is no long as attractive an investment, with costs such as letting fees, service charges, insurance and maintenance, exceeding or matching the rental income. In particular, we in Wales need to be ready to readjust our approach to the medium and long-term impacts of Brexit which will be difficult to predict.

Do you have any predictions in regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?

The impact on the property market caused by an initial period of uncertainty about the effects of Brexit are likely to be more immediately damaging than a stable post-Brexit period, if that is achieved.  At the same time, some experts feel there is a danger that Brexit – depending on the terms of the actual deal the UK achieves with Brussels – will result in prolonged uncertainty for investors and developers in the housing sector.  The effect of any uncertainty is that people are more likely to sit tight rather than launch major house-building programmes.  I am inclined to agree with the body of opinion that says uncertainty in the short term will result in a small drop in transactions with the effect of easing the growth in house prices but that the risk of Brexit triggering a collapse in prices is slim.

What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?

Clearly there are challenges facing the Welsh economy.  While unemployment at 4.4% is slightly lower than the UK average, the employment rate of 72.5% is two percentage points lower than the UK as a whole.  An important marker is the economic inactivity rating of 24.1% compared to 21.7% across the country.  Remaining in the gloomy column, a measure of economic output known as work place gross added value (GVA) is the lowest per head of all the UK nations and regions, behind the North of England and Northern Ireland.  Progress is being made but more needs to be done by government and business to improve Wales’ economic performance.

On the optimistic side, there are 250,000 active businesses in Wales with a combined annual turnover of £117 billion, and we can grow that success; 95% of companies are micro-businesses employing nine people or fewer; and the gender pay gap has narrowed producing the second lowest gender pay gap among the four UK nations.  Also positive is the successful tourism industry – tourists made 102.2 million day visits to Wales spending £4.1 billion last year – and of course we can boast about our agriculture: 88% of land in Wales is used for agriculture valued at £18 billion, and who can deny our world-beating Welsh lamb products.

What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?

We have an opportunity right now.  Whatever view is taken on Brexit, the falling pound has helped the country as a whole to mark its highest level of growth for more than two years.  Wales will share in the £15 billion inward investment programme announced by Westminster.  Wales needs to sharpen its image as a prime location for overseas company to locate. So if we are to take advantage of heightened interest in investing in Wales, businesses need to identify their unique selling points; the public and private sectors need to invest in website development (our most potent shop windows); we need to reduce the complexity of bureaucracy in relocating to Wales and highlight incentives; we need to think of the needs of overseas investors (e.g. provide an international number to make calling Wales easier than having to ring a UK number); we need to show investors we are interested in them and not just thinking of them as a sales statistic; we need to get out there and build relationships with potential investors, therefore building trust – the most important component in winning inward investment.

What skills should the education system be promoting to the next generation?

This is the perennial question for educators – how to equip students with the competencies to deal with changing technologies which are developing exponentially.   However, a lot of the essential skills required in 21st century are not new, such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving and communication skills.  Essentially it is about teaching young people to adapt, collaborate, learn from best practice and embrace new technology.  From an early age educators need to teach children to be enthusiastic about learning and that will inspire the next generation of innovators and stimulate the imagination of young people to think about interesting jobs they might want to do.  This needs to happen at the earliest possible stage of education to ensure those who enter higher education have developed an innovative mind-set – one that does not shrink from problems but tackles them creatively.

How important is it for there to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?

This relationship is vital.  Responsibility for funding university education has switched from the State to the individual, who now faces significant debt for the privilege of gaining a degree.  So the traditional view of the partnership that higher education institutions have the job of providing skilled workers ready to supply the needs of UK companies has changed.  Courses that are job specific are of course valuable, but university choices and places have multiplied as has the graduate population and the challenge for professors is to develop agile young minds which are curious, inventive, and visionary, and able to ‘think outside of the box’.  Industry needs to offer more graduate-level work placements assessed as part of the degree courses and undertaken throughout the time at university.  In this way the theoretical learning can be applied in practical ways to the needs of the workplace and that will lead to graduates leaving with practical skills.