The first thing to learn before you talk to Islay Robinson – the brilliant founder of Enness Global, a finance and mortgage brokerage firm with a rarefied client base – is how to pronounce his name. “It’s Isle-a,” he says, generously waving away my faulty pronunciation. “Don’t worry, it happens about a thousand times a day.”
If Robinson has had any headwinds from his difficult-to-pronounce first name then he hasn’t let them affect him. Enness Global is a remarkably successful business which handles only the very high-end mortgages, for an international client base. I say that I thought the very wealthy mightn’t need mortgages. Robinson smiles: “A lot of people think that, but it’s a misconception. The thing which really drives us is fixing problems for our clients. Often, with the kind of people who come to us, it’s not that they so much want the financial instrument that comes with the house, it’s that the mortgage enables them to do something.”
So what might that be? Robinson continues: “They might wish to buy a house, start a business, or make some investments, and the mortgage is the thing which allows them to do that.”
So how did Robinson find his way into the field? He had, he says, an unpromising education. He grew up at first in Islay in the west Hebrides – where he gets his name from – but when his parents separated when Robinson was eight, he was suddenly presented with the reality of a state school education in London. “It was quite a culture shock; I think our school was the first in London to have a metal detector,” he recalls.
It’s a testament to his resilience and his character that he found a way forward, attending a college in Kingston to do his A-Levels. “University wasn’t a concept which was ever discussed at home.” He subsequently attended Sheffield Hallam (“it was just a general business course which didn’t really have a purpose to it”), and then studied law at the University of London.
But crucially, although he was doing well, he took a job in Foxtons in Chiswick at the same time. Speaking in the aftermath of not only the Osborne tax hikes during the David Cameron administration, but the hits to London property which have attended both Brexit and Covid, you have to squint to remember what an exciting time it was for the industry. “In those days if you wanted a mortgage you just had to ask for one,” Robinson recalls.
There was little regulation, and the market was booming. Robinson had happened on his vocation. “I had the option of being a good lawyer in a good firm – or maybe something a bit less exciting like a conveyancer – or this industry which was already exciting and earning me an income.”
He chose the latter, though the law has been helpful to him since. “The law is hidden to a lot of people, but the law underpinning contract and the relations between people – that’s the framework everything sits on,” he explains.
To begin with Robinson accrued experience at Foxtons and Alexander Hall in the middle of the market. “It was bankers and professional people getting their first houses in Putney for £600,000.” But over time, Robinson and his business partner Hugh Wade-Jones decided the high end might prove interesting.
They had their timing right. London was beginning to attract exactly the kind of clients who would require Robinson’s services. “You had complex people coming in – Chinese, Americans, Russians.” These clients needed a different kind of service; Robinson and Wade-Jones saw their opportunity, founding Enness Global on the day Northern Rock went bust.
Today Enness Global remains an excellent port of call for graduates wanting an interesting experience involving client relations. “Some of our commercial brokers come in as graduates without any experience. We’ve had huge success in hiring people and giving them opportunity.” Robinson understands what young people need in their careers: not the 2am misery of photocopying which often characterises entry-level work at the PwCs and Clifford Chances of this world, but real training, and real interaction with clients.
So what does he see as the future of the property market? Robinson is betting on London. “Since the borders have reopened after Covid, it’s clear that international people want to buy and live and invest in London, and I can’t see any evidence of that changing,” he explains. “There’s ten buyers for every property,” he adds.