Interview with Dan Montagnani, Managing Director of Groundsure

Dan Montagnani, Managing Director of Groundsure, is celebrating ten years with the business. He told Jane Common at Today’s Conveyancer how the company has retained its core values, even while growing substantially to become a major player in the conveyancing searches industry.

In a nutshell, what does Groundsure do?

“Groundsure is a location intelligence business – we provide our customers with high value, property specific opinions and analysis of land use, based on the considerable depth of high quality data we collect and curate. A good analogy to what we do is Experian – we undertake checks on property in much the same way Experian undertakes credit checks on individuals.

“Groundsure was started in 2001, as a start-up formed by a handful of people with ideas and ambitions but no customers and no data. We began with a single environmental search report for residential properties, and today we provide over 100 different types of products and have hundreds of different data sets. The company has grown from being a great idea and a blank sheet of paper to the UK authority on environmental risks, operating in multiple sectors of the property market and providing insight, intelligence and risk advice that’s relied upon not just by conveyancers but also by banks, investors, chartered surveyors, developers and architects – the whole range of professionals occupying the property space.”

How long have you been with Groundsure?

“Ten years – my background is in environmental due diligence and environmental risk consultancy. I previously worked for an international firm of environmental consultants and I also spent two and a half years on secondment at Barclays Bank Environmental Risk Unit. When I started at Groundsure in 2005 it was still in its formative years but it was attractive to me as I came from a world where we provided advice, yes, but Groundsure had something different – it had information. The power of those two things combined is far greater than the sum of the parts. We now live in a world of big data. Whilst this is great, data alone does not necessarily provide us with the insight required to make the highest value decisions. Data combined with expert analysis can provide powerful understanding of trends, future outcomes, levels of risk and ultimately whether something is worth backing or investing in. That is the very essence of our business – Location Intelligence.”

What changes have you seen at Groundsure over the past decade?

“In the time I’ve been here the company has radically changed from being a start-up with ambition and ideas to a large corporate entity with over 80 members of staff. During that time many of our core values have remained constant. We are committed to always improving; getting things right first time and combining ambition with integrity.

“Obviously, our aspirations have grown and the way we operate has significantly evolved in that time. We have around ten departments managing different aspects of our business from customer service to product development and from technology innovation to environmental consultancy. We encourage a culture of innovation and collaboration between our teams to help us develop our business and meet and exceed our customers’ needs.

“As a bigger company, these days our challenge is to continue the great growth rates we have had in the past – and that comes through constant innovation, putting our customers at the heart of everything we do and ensuring we’re a well-tuned and high performance operation.”

Does Groundsure have any new products in the offing?

“We have a proven track record of delivering new and innovative products. We are currently working on the next generation of environmental searches for the conveyancing sector. I can’t say too much right now but we aim to be delivering these advancements over the next few months. The key to getting this right of course is understanding what the customer really needs and what is essential for their workflow. Our aim is to make their job easier, take away risks that may otherwise sit with them and, where risks are identified, ensure our customers know our experts are on hand to help resolve them. Great risk management is firstly about identifying the risk and secondly about identifying the appropriate resolution. Our objective is to support transactions and not hinder them.”

What are the big issues in the search market at the moment?

“One of the big issues is the sheer volume of information available. Too much information can become counter-productive so we ensure that it’s relevant and properly analysed. We synthesise huge amounts of data into powerful and meaningful products that help facilitate transactions. We are also advocates of providing searches that give definitive answers. We think that searches that recommend further additional searches can be unhelpful and not necessarily conducive to streamlining workflow.”

What about government legislation affecting the search sector?

“Well there’s the principle of open data – various government bodies are effectively opening up their data sets into the public domain. It’s a great concept but, as I said earlier, information isn’t always that valuable unless it’s synthesised into intelligence rather than simply big data.

“Then there’s the Infrastructure Bill, enabling the Land Registry to become the custodian of Local Land Charges. This is a big project and the full impact of this will take time to realise. As a technology and information business we are very interested in these developments.

“Beyond that there are many aspects of legislation and regulation that in turn have some degree of relevance for the search industry – be that to do with flood risk, invasive species, planning de-regulation, fracking and so on.”

Obviously the property market is on the up in London – are you seeing improvements across the rest of the country too?

“London has done very well over the past 24 months. We have seen that improvement in the south east over the last 12 months and that is now spreading to other parts of the country. The commercial property market is performing well too, which is good to see.

“The last few years have certainly seen a slow but steady market improvement. There have been challenges inside of that, such as the mortgage market review, that, to a degree stifled lending through the second half of 2014. However, we’ve seen a good market in the first half of 2015 which has continued through the summer and we anticipate a good market in the latter parts of 2015 and into 2016.

“From our point of view, in a market that’s returning to good times, it’s more important than ever to make the best products to help property professionals do their jobs.

“We continue to see growth in the digital media sector in the property space. The arrival of OnTheMarket and other similar portals is symptomatic of this. More interesting are the commercial models in the background trying to connect the consumer to information and where these will take the market in the future.”

Groundsure makes life easier for conveyancers – how could conveyancers make your life easier?

“Many of our search reports identify that property is free of environmental risk. We are conscious that if we produce a report saying a property requires further assessment this can hold things up for the conveyancer. We don’t do that lightly – we do it because we have a genuine belief that, based on our analysis, there’s a real issue that requires resolution or further information to confirm that it has previously been closed out. Although any hold-up can be understandably frustrating, we’ve only arrived at that conclusion after serious consideration – and we’re absolutely committed to help resolve the issues. That’s our job. Our breadth of involvement in the property market means we can often assist clients with slightly more exotic solutions to identified risks. Whilst providing further information usually assists and is often sufficient to close out a risk, sometimes we can engage with a lender or perhaps the valuer or developer and provide an alternative answer and satisfactory solution. That is the other aspect of Location Intelligence.”

For more information about Groundsure log on to www.groundsure.com.

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