Life’s home market, the UK looms unavoidably large in this
editorial team’s perception of the world of asset finance.
This last month in particular,
however, seems to have been a particularly intense month for the
British industry – fortunate, considering this was the month set
for publication of our annual country focus feature on the UK.
First, on an anecdotal level, the
level of activity reported to me by contacts has been unusually
high. I’m used to picking up the phone to sales leaders and being
given a brave but ultimately shaky take on market conditions –
“It’s tough out there but we’re putting the work in” or “last month
was good but it’s suddenly gone quiet… I’m sure it’ll pick up
Not so in the past few weeks. Several
businesses I spoke to reported record or near-record volumes in
January, with similar results expected for February once the
numbers are tallied.
Among them was tirelessly energetic IT
funder Syscap, whose profile in this issue follows on neatly from
our January report on Aldermore, the other British lender backed by
private equity fund Anacap.
Of course, I’ll wait to see the full
picture revealed by the Finance & Leasing Association
statistics for February before celebrating it as a bumper month,
but the signs look good so far.
Another of those signs was the mood at
the FLA’s annual dinner, held at London’s Grosvenor House
hotel at the end of last month. The evening enjoyed a record
turnout of 1,400, approaching the very limits of the venue’s
capacity and exacerbating the perennial challenge of catching up
with familiar faces in a sea of tuxedos.
The evening was more celebratory an
occasion than any I have attended since joining the industry in
2008, and rightly so – it was the natural point for the UK industry
to reflect on the double-digit increase in asset finance business
(excluding £20m-plus deals) seen in 2011, and on the record
penetration of motor finance into the auto retail market.
Healthily, however, there was no
denial of economic reality either – a characteristically passionate
speech by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Ashdown delivered some home
truths about the challenges that businesses will have to face up to
during what he promised would be a decade of fundamental change for
But in the more immediate future, what
challenges are UK lessors most determined to overcome?
During the survey and interviews we
conducted in the run-up to this month’s UK feature, it became
apparent that an almost unanimous desire among British lessors is
for the public profile of leasing to be raised.
The rationale is clear – for volumes
of asset finance to grow in an economy which looks set to remain
relatively flat for the foreseeable future, increased levels of
penetration must be achieved.
It was interesting to read through
some of the responses to the question of how the industry’s profile
can be raised.
An opinion that was raised time and
time again by respondents was that leasing providers may be
overestimating the general understanding of leasing and asset
finance among the general business community.
As one reply put it, lessors must “not
accept as given that everyone knows the benefits of leasing, and go
back to basics in marketing and customer information”.
Marketing, publicity and media were
words that came up again and again in responses, with the frequency
of the latter being particularly encouraging from my own,
admittedly biased, perspective.
Needless to say, it would make my life
easier if the entirety of the leasing industry became as talkative
as those companies that currently employ an active press
Yet while more and more companies are
taking the admirable decision to be more open about their business,
this remains a very private industry, where real figures, hard
facts and straight answers are scarce in comparison with other
areas of the financial services world.
Secrecy, it’s fair to say, won’t help
build a stronger national perception of the leasing business.
So on that note, why not pick up the
phone and let us know what’s been happening at your company this
quarter? If you are proud of what you are doing, it’s worth making
some noise about.