Friday 17 August 2018

Charlie Weston: The day the vulture funds came for me

Personal finance editor of the Irish Independent, Charlie Weston on Sir John Rogerson's Quay in Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
Personal finance editor of the Irish Independent, Charlie Weston on Sir John Rogerson's Quay in Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

A VULTURE fund has bought my mortgage.

No payment has ever been missed on the home loan.

This week the vulture fund’s agent wrote to me and my wife Emer demanding that we get a garda to certify who we are and provide it with two utility bills to prove our identities.

Yet, the letter demanding this is not signed by any individual.

It merely ends with “Yours sincerely, Pepper Financial Services”.

Our mortgage had been with Danish bank Danske. It is a tracker set at a very attractive margin of 0.5pc over the European Central Bank key rate.

Yes that is a juicy rate, and we will not be giving it up to the vulture fund. (If a personal finance writer cannot make some good financial decisions it would be a poor look out).

Days before Christmas we got a letter from Danske telling us that it had sold our mortgage.

We were taken aback by the after-the-fact nature of this.

The letter stated that Pepper Finance Corporation would have responsibility for our mortgage. Pepper is an Australian lender with an operation in Shannon where it manages mortgages on behalf of funds and also issues its own mortgages. It is registered with the Central Bank as a credit servicing firm.

Pepper is referenced a number of times in the December letter. There is one reference to a company called Proteus Funding DAC, which has actually bought the mortgage.

But you could easily get confused by the sloppy wording in the letter.

Who owns Proteus, who is behind it, and is it regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland? None of these questions was addressed.

So Proteus, the new owner of my tracker mortgage, provides no information on itself, yet it thinks it is appropriate to get its agent to send me and my wife separate letters (never mind that it is a joint mortgage) demanding that we identify ourselves.

So it was time for some digging.

Proteus, it turns out, is a company only set up last October 13, with registered offices at 32 Molesworth Street, Dublin, which is the address of corporate law fiem Maples and Calder. A search in the Companies Office reveals that the directors of Proteus Funding DAC are Gareth Rowe and Jarlath Canning, who are also employed by Maples and Calder.

A call to the offices of solicitors Maples and Calder got transferred to a company called Maples Fund Services, at Molesworth Street, Dublin.

Mr Rowe is listed on a Maples website as having experience that “covers Irish and Cayman Islands domiciled investment funds including hedge funds, multi-manager funds, private equity funds, emerging market funds and unit trusts”.

He is a director of 239 companies. He did not return calls.

Mr Canning is a director of 135 companies. He studied law and business studies at Waterford Institute of Technology, and has “extensive experience in the provision of management, company secretarial and administration services to Irish Special Purpose Vehicles across a broad range of structure types,” according to the Maples Fiduciary website.

Mr Canning was said to be on leave when his office was phoned.

The Central Bank confirmed that Proteus is not a regulated firm in this country.

However, the Companies Office information shows that Proteus Funding DAC is owned by none other than Goldman Sachs of New York. The controversial Wall Street investment bank has been described by ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine in the US as a “vampire squid”.

“The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money,” it said.

Goldman Sachs has a registered office at 70 Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, Dublin. The receptionists said they had no knowledge of the company when I called on the phone and in person.

All this means our little mortgage has become the plaything of big financiers and it is now better travelled than me. High financiers have packaged it up and are trading it without a ‘by your leave’ to us.

The merry-go-round started back in 2004, when we switched from EBS to National Irish Bank to benefit from that bank’s good value tracker offer.

The ownership of the mortgage then ended up in Denmark when National Irish Bank was bought by Danske Bank in 2005.

When Danske closed its Irish retail banking operation in 2014, Pepper in Shannon took over the management of it.

Now the ownership of the mortgage has moved to New York, via a special purpose vehicle set up in Dublin.

The mind boggles.

Pepper says it needs to confirm our identify to comply with anti-money laundering regulations.

Who do these vultures think they are, making demands on a mortgage holder who has never defaulted, while at the same time failing to provide any details about themselves?

I take exception to the mannerless, unprofessional and contemptuous nature of the letter.

Listen here Proteus/Pepper, try starting by setting out who exactly Proteus is, and who is behind it before making any demands on us.

And if you really need to confirm who we are, you know where we live. After all, you bought our mortgage.

Online Editors

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business