Zack and Greta Hamric began offering marine loans in 2011 primarily for mid-sized boats and yachts. That was the genesis of Azul Marine Lending.
A decade later, they have built their business into a thriving marine lender specialising in securing finance for new and used yachts from $200,000 to $75 million, with a dominant presence in the Spanish speaking marketplaces of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Mexico, South America, and now Spain.
As they join forces with IGY by sponsoring the upcoming Caribbean Charter Yacht Show in St. Thomas, they are looking forward to unveiling a new value proposition for their clients while also becoming part of an exciting new charter event.
“We are very excited about the charter show,” says Zack. “Our primary emphasis at the show will be our new Fractional Yacht Ownership program, designed for charter operations. The program uses a corporation or LLC that owns the vessel. Each member can own a share of the LLC (up to four members allowed).
“We’re having conversations with some of the companies providing charter management services on large $10m – $20m superyachts. For them, it’s a very valuable program because they are already providing full management and charter services for those vessels. It gives them additional options for their clients and provides them a new revenue stream.
“What this program does is allow clients buy a quarter of the LLC or Corporation, along with up to three others. If, after a couple of years, one of the investors wants to exit the program, their share can be resold by the charter company that manages the LLC. The charter company realises additional profit by reselling it and it does not affect any of the other members.”
“For US citizens, the Fractional Yacht Ownership program can be used for yachts selling for $1m or more. For non-US citizens on larger superyachts, the minimum price is $5m and up. We are addressing both ends of the market with a flexible program that allows members to invest in yacht ownership and easily upgrade to a membership in a larger yacht later. It’s a unique program in the market. It differs from a partnership agreement on a yacht because of the flexibility if someone wants to sell their share and exit the program.”
Becoming a strategic partner with IGY in sponsoring CCYS is an opportunity for this dynamic husband and wife team – who are set to originate $100 million in marine loans this year - to give their business an even greater international slant.
“Our market is trending towards much larger yachts and more international clients,” says Zack. “The key to linking with IGY for the CCYS is they have worldwide exposure through their marina network and that exposure is something we will pursue further as this program takes off.
“Greta and I operate a very non-traditional yacht lending business that is heavily technology driven,” he continues. “We currently generate a loan volume of $100M and are growing by 50% annually. That would normally require multiple employees in a traditional office and be challenging to rapidly scale the volume. We use Loan Navigator 3.1, an automated intelligence underwriting system, which we have developed over the past three years.
“It allows our client to scan the QR code in one of our social media posts, taking them directly to our website where they can put in their details and tell us what they’re interested in. They get an auto-follow up inviting them to fill out an application and that information will go into our underwriting system, which automatically evaluates it. The solution is cloud based which is critical- this year we will be working in Cannes, Monaco, Dubai, Dusseldorf, the Caribbean, and the US.
“We tailored the system to overlay with the underwriting standards of our primary banking partner. When we send a request in for a loan, we find that 98% of the time, it’s approved.”
Adds Greta: “We knew we had to invest capital into either hiring employees or into developing technology. We went for the latter and it is working beautifully. It frees us up to do the important jobs of marketing the company and meeting new clients while streamlining the loan application and approval process.”
From a modest start, the company has blossomed, concentrating on markets that are underserved by other marine lending companies. Thanks to Greta, who is of Peruvian and Italian descent, over half of their business is conducted in Spanish. With offices in Sarasota-Fl, San Juan-Puerto Rico, and Palma de Mallorca-Spain, Azul Marine Lending has carved out a niche as a broker with a unique focus in providing financing for International Clients in the Superyacht market where the transaction and negotiations may be conducted exclusively in Spanish.
“High net worth individuals in Mexico and other South American locales are very passionate about yachting and it makes it easier for them when they can communicate in Español. We have a great relationship with our brokers who continue to trust us with their best clients and most challenging projects.”
Adds Zack: “Greta tends to do more of the direct client interface because much of that is in Spanish. Although many of our Latin clients are bilingual and can communicate in English, in a complex business conversation much of the subtle nuance of the language is lost. We are also dealing with very sensitive data for very successful clients and there is a certain trust factor when the transaction is conducted in Español. My focus is the program development and taking all the information from multiple sources and packaging that for our banking partner.
“So many of our clients find us through referrals from friends or brokers. We have clients who have used us for three different loans on different yachts. They will refer us to their friends, family, and neighbors. It’s one reason for our rapid growth in the past couple of years- we are known for our total commitment to making it a great experience for our clients.”
With a lively social media presence, entertaining videos and round the clock availability unlike a traditional bank, the couple saw their growth rate triple during the pandemic. “People wanted to be on boats with their families - it was one of the few safe places to be due to all the Covid travel restrictions,” explains Greta. “Some clients who had purchased a $5m yacht previously decided to upgrade to a $10m yacht and clients who usually would have gone to Europe on holiday for a month bought a yacht instead.”
Zack believes that trend will continue for some time to come. “A lot of people are predicting a sell off at the end of the pandemic, but we are not seeing that currently. What the pandemic has done is to introduce an enormous number of new people to yachting. A third of our catamaran clients had no previous experience and after a year or two, some may sell the boat and go back to the land having enjoyed a great experience with their friends and family.”
Both are excited about having a presence at the Caribbean Charter Yacht Show, which takes place at Yacht Haven Grande – St Thomas from 9-12 December.
“We are always looking at what’s happening in the Caribbean, which is a critical part of our market as well as being one of our favourite travel destinations,” says Zack. “When we heard about the CCYS, we realised it could be a tremendous opportunity for us and our clients. This is our first charter yacht show – we have around 20 boats currently in charter fleets – so we are absolutely looking forward to the experience.
“Our strategy since day one has been to meet new people and offer them a solution to their problem or a creative way to grow their business. Everything else falls into place and following that philosophy has always worked incredibly well for us.”