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Scottish Referendum and asset finance

This could be the article with the shortest ever shelf life. It may be rendered obsolete on the 19th September by the result of the Referendum. Or maybe not? Whatever, the Editor has asked me to comment on issues facing the asset finance industry following a majority ‘Yes’ vote [writes Bruce Wood, Partner, Morton Fraser LLP, Edinburgh].

The biggest issues are at regulatory level. UK financiers are subject to EU regulation with a UK overlay. The Tories are committed to an in/out EU referendum and may win the next election. You thus have a bewildering range of possibilities - both countries may be in or out of the EU; Scotland may be in while the rest of the UK may be out, or vice versa. Presumably, initially Scotland would simply copy existing UK financial regulation. Might we contract in to the FCA or set up our own equivalent?

Over time, though, things would doubtless diverge, particularly if one country were in the EU and the other weren’t - or even if both were in but chose different levels of gold-plating of EU rules. Scotland might seek a lighter touch to encourage finance companies to set up here in the same way as the Scottish Government has already suggested lowering corporation tax rates to stem the outflow of capital on independence and encourage new inflow.

Heads are being kept firmly down at present. You see little comment on specific industry plans, just vague talk of contingency plans. This does not mean the heads are so far down as to be in the sand. A ‘Yes’ vote will simply give rise to negotiations - a lot of negotiations - with the SNP planning for separation in 2016 but, in reality, it would surely be considerably later. There will be several years during which the planning can be done and implemented. But this will be against a backdrop of known uncertainty (remember Mr Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns”?) which is bound to unsettle the financial markets in relation to the UK as a whole.

One thing is certain: at the day-to-day transactional level . .

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Aldermore IPO expected shortly

Talk of imminent flotation plans valuing Aldermore at up to £900 million has started leaking into the press, though there is nothing from the bank itself as yet. For the asset finance industry it is heartening to read that the asset finance segment within Aldermore plays such a large role. Asset finance’s share of the total income of the bank is £24.5 million, or 23 percent, for the financial year ending 31st December 2013, while its segment profit contribution, that’s after its own direct expenses and bad debt provision, was £12.7 million, or 20 percent of bank’s profits at that level. Looks like leasing and asset finance pays off!

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Renaissance at BLME

Hugh SigristIndustry veteran Hugh Sigrist has launched Renaissance Asset Finance (“Renaissance”), a newly formed leasing company targeting the UK’s small ticket market. Renaissance will provide asset financing services to SMEs, as well as High Net Worth Individuals. BLME, an independent wholesale challenger bank and Renaissance’s key funder, is supporting its efforts to close the current SME funding gap by providing a financing line of £35 million. This makes Renaissance well placed to service the financing needs of the SME sector following the departure of large lenders from the market after the financial crisis.

Renaissance will operate through the UK’s premier brokers. Founder Sigrist, having been the managing director for 16-years of a highly successful brokerage, Reliance Financial Contracts, is well known across the UK broker market. More recently, he also developed a highly successful lending book, predominantly through broker introductions.

Hugh Sigrist, CEO and Founder of Renaissance Asset Finance, stated, “It is important that we have a real synergy with brokers, we want to really understand their client’s businesses in detail. We believe it is this that separates us from the many centralised system-driven underwriting approaches that exist. We want show that check-list financing is not sustainable and cannot cater to many companies financing requirements.

“Despite financing pressures on the SME market having eased a little over the last 12-18 months, small businesses continue to struggle to access finance. SMEs, let down by many of the traditional asset finance providers, are now looking for funders to build long term relationship with. Renaissance Asset Finance is well placed to do just this.

“We understand our clients’ individual needs and aspirations in a way that a large company cannot, enabling us to provide knowledgeable financial support to SMEs. While other companies in the market are using centralised systems, we believe in a more personalised, one-to-one client service. We also have the advantage of being unburdened with a legacy portfolio. Fred Yue, Head of Leasing at BLME, added,

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STAR makes its move

Steve Swift & Tim TaintyIt’s almost a year ago that Leasing World spotted Tony Mallin, CEO of STAR Capital Partners (“STAR”), a leading fund manager, at the Leaseurope Annual Convention in Rome. At the time we recorded a video interview with him where he said, “I’ve decided to get back into the leasing industry . . .” Well, only ten months later, STAR has announced that it has acquired Kennet Equipment Leasing Limited via STAR Finance Partnership LP (a vehicle established to help consolidate the asset finance broker market). Initial funding allocated for this investment is in excess of £100 million. This represents a natural extension to STAR’s long-standing track record of investing in and arranging financing for asset-based businesses.

Kennet wins Funders' ChoiceKennet Equipment Leasing Limited (“Kennet”) is one of the leading equipment finance brokers to small and medium-sized enterprises (“SMEs”) in the UK. Kennet has been arranging financing for SMEs for close to 25 years. Since inception, the company has arranged over £500 million in equipment financing for small and medium-sized companies across the UK. The company has a strong reputation for customer service, and has been recognised through various industry awards (see photo receiving LeasingWorld Funders' Choice award). Kennet arranges financing for all business-essential assets throughout many industries. Individual financings range from £250 to £250,000 per transaction. The company will continue to be run by its experienced management team led by Chairman Steve Swift and Managing Director Tim Tainty (pictured at start of article)).

Tony Mallin, CEO of STAR, said, “Asset-backed financing and leasing is probably the most suitable form of financing for small and medium-sized companies. We look forward to working in partnership with Kennet’s management team and employees who have created an excellent business arranging financing for UK SMEs since 1991.”
Steve Swift, Chairman of Kennet, said, “I have built a strong working relationship with STAR over the last few months and I am looking forward to working with their investment team to continue the Kennet success story and serve our existing and new customers.”

Kennet’s last accounts filed at Companies House are abbreviated accounts for financial year ending December, 2012, when the balance sheet showed Net Worth of £3.4 million. Rumours of STAR’s involvement in Kennet have circulated in the industry for some time, while some wondered if Kennet’s recent activity in clearing block discounting charges and debentures was a sign of clearing the decks before the investment.

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£25m investment in Henry Howard Finance

Over the past year or so there has been increasing talk of private equity players reconnoitering the asset finance broker market, looking for opportunities to apply their investors’ funds to higher yielding opportunities than the wider markets currently offer. Matchmakers were employed, and came back with a list of the eligible candidates, obviously the bigger the better, and introductory lunches laid on to smooth the way. Since then, some candidates have spurned their suitors, but others have given it a whirl, and now the first of the summer “weddings” has been announced, with strong rumours of more to come.

So, Henry Howard Finance has married up with specialist financial services private equity investor Cabot Square Capital, after they were able to prove themselves good for a £25 million investment as one of Wales’ “Fast Growth 50” companies. In their financial year ending 2013, the 27 staff-strong Henry Howard Finance reported profits after tax of £232,056, and a Net Worth of £1,590,859.  Cabot Square believes that the shortage of SME financing from banks in the wake of the credit crisis has created a significant opportunity for Henry Howard, which is already established as a leading asset finance provider, to build on its experience and expertise in providing finance both directly to SMEs, and via vendor programme sales finance. The big difference is that Henry Howard can now write more business using its own capital.

Mark Crook, 50 percent shareholder of Henry Howard Finance along with Howard Ross who owns the other 50 percent, added, “It is great to be working with Cabot Square who have an excellent track record of building highly successful financial services and lending businesses. The new investment will enable us to use our expertise and funding to allow Henry Howard to write much more business in-house, and to develop the range of financing solutions that we are able to offer. The Henry Howard culture is to be responsive and flexible, and that is exactly what SMEs and vendors are crying out for.”

Richard McDougall, Investment Director at Cabot Square Capital, was appointed to the Henry Howard board in July, as was Cabot’s Edward McNeill. McDougall stated, “It has been a turbulent few years in the SME financing marketplace . . .

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FLA drinks with Cardsharps

The FLA Summer Drinks were held at the Museum of the Order of St John, located in London’s trendy Clerkenwell district, also known as the home of Cardsharps (not a reference to credit card providers, but to the famous painting by Caravaggio, see below).   

Cardsharps by CaravaggioThe event was sponsored this year by Just Cashflow, which makes cash available up to £100k to UK limited company SMEs. There was a goodly turnout of top people from the industry, excellent food and wine, and as could be expected, the conversation focused on UK leasing, and the upcoming World Cup Final in Brazil. The favourites of course are Germany, though as one who believes that Brazil made Germany look better than they are, and being fans of word-play as well as ball-play, LeasingWorld puts the odds at evens.

The Director General’s speech kicked off promptly at 7pm with good news on the market growth front:

“The industry statistics for May show that the asset finance market has continued to grow – new business was 6 percent higher than in May 2013, and across a pretty wide front. Agricultural and construction plant have done particularly well so far this year, up by 27 percent and 28 percent percent respectively.

We also saw steady growth in

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Toshiba UK and Shire Leasing’s SME innovation

Toshiba Information Systems (UK) Ltd (“Toshiba UK”) has announced the launch of an innovative online finance solution for small and medium sized businesses (“SMBs”) offering flexibility when purchasing high-end laptops. Devices available as part of the initiative include the new Z-series range, featuring the Tecra Z40 and the premium Portégé Z30. This innovative programme has been crafted using Shire Leasing’s Click2Finance platform, with Toshiba UK acting as introducer, and Shire Leasing Plc acting as principal and lessor.

Actual screenshotThe new finance solution is yet another demonstration of the UK leasing industry’s continuing record of helping vendors strive for exceptional results with tailored and innovative sales finance solutions. From the user’s point of view, Click2Finance (accessible at www.toshiba.co.uk/smb) is in essence an extra option that goes alongside the normal Buy Now button. Its power is that it will allow SMBs to easily apply for finance when leasing products online, triggering a fully automated system that performs everything from online credit approval to e-signature of leasing documents and online delivery confirmation.

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NACFB Commercial Finance Expo

EXPO visitors“Fifth year for the show and more exhibitors and visitors than ever.” This statement sums up what a fantastic day the Commercial Finance Industry had on the 25th of June at the NEC. The same morning as the show, the NACFB featured in an article in The Sun newspaper as well as being interviewed by Sky News as it’d announced that its members were now writing £1 billion of business every month.

But what about the show? The Expo had 1500 people at the Event this year with nearly 100 exhibitors in the hall. There was a rally car outside the hall, a double decker bus inside the hall, world cup themes, a stand set up as a bar, and even Eric Bristow throwing darts for the day. This was an event that said the commercial finance broking industry is coming back and lending to businesses across the UK, which tied in nicely with the interest from the national press and media.

There was a real buzz about the show and if you tried to go for a walk between 10am and 3pm you would have noticed that it was quite tricky to move at any speed through the crowds. The quality of the exhibitor stands did not disappoint and it gets higher every year, which is a sign of how seriously people take the Expo opportunities. Expos are a great way for many industries to pull their players together, meet and greet with the people you phone or email all year, and welcome new players.

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Capgemini and Alta Group to partner

The Alta Group has announced a new strategic partnership with Capgemini that expands their capabilities in providing comprehensive management, information technology, and application consulting solutions to equipment lessors and other commercial and consumer finance institutions.  The partnership will leverage the expertise of The Alta Group combined with Capgemini’s deep domain experience and delivery capabilities.

John C. DeaneCapgemini Financial Services, with Capgemini Group resources of almost 140,000, has had a market-leading practice with more than 500 people dedicated globally to leasing and lending for more than a decade, and The Alta Group, now composed of more than 100 consultants, has been exclusively dedicated to advising on best business practices in equipment leasing and financing since 1992.

John C. Deane, the CEO of Alta, said, “Capgemini is a global leader in the provision of IT and application consulting services to our industry. They have the footprint and capacity to meet our clients’ requirements, especially when combined with Alta’s strategic and subject matter expertise.”

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Is the Queen off balance sheet?

Her Majesty the Queen is leasing a luxury Agusta Westland helicopter for a year, it has been reported recently. The helicopter will bear the Royal crest and apparently will be used on a trial basis. According to the Daily Express, a spokesman for the Queen said the monarch had secured an annual lease for a helicopter, for a fixed number of hours. It represented good value for money because it will provide an alternative to chartering a number of different helicopters, the spokesman said. While everyone else consider matters such as whether this is Prince William’s birthday present, the hot topic in the leasing community is - according to Julian Rose at www.assetfinancepolicy.co.uk - the appropriate accounting treatment is for the Royal chopper.

In his blog, he wonders if some are debating whether this is really a lease or a service, given the report that it is based on a ‘fixed number of hours’ which seems to suggest it might actually be more of a service arrangement. It’s tricky however to imagine the royals sharing it with some other local families. The Royal crest also gives us a clue that this is indeed a dedicated asset. Besides, if Her Majesty is telling us that this is a lease, and that leasing represents good value, let’s not argue!   So to the heart of the issue.

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Who wants to be a millionaire?

The broker market has gone through remarkable transformations in the past four years. It has come from being a bog-standard part of the market, swinging in and out of fashion or favour with lessors, to almost the only game in town for some lessors, and a fertile hunting ground for yield hungry private equity houses. The large brokers who have developed their own-book portfolio as well, have had a boost in the past two years from the absence of low rate clearing bank competition and the virtual disappearance of the overdraft. Meanwhile the lessors that fund them have grown in strength and focus from taking up market share left free by ING Lease’s departure.

Today, many of the large broker funders are operating at a new higher level, higher levels of business, higher standards of credit underwriting, and higher standards of professionalism brought on in part by greater exposure to complex regulatory requirements and training from funders. The result has been that these large broker funders are attractive targets for private equity players, and if you are in the fortunate position of owning a stake in a large broker funder, you can at last see an exit for yourself, and the prospect of a very satisfactory payout for all your hard work.

Will these large brokers with private equity backing take business away from the existing broker funders? Carl D’Ammassa, head of Aldermore Asset Finance, isn’t worried, saying, “I’m quite positive about this and taking a mature perspective on recent activities. Firstly, these moves ensure funding gets through to SMEs who may be struggling to obtain finance. What we’ve seen recently is those brokers who have block books and transact outside of the prime/ tier 1 space gain funding via private equity to grow their operations . . 

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Leaseurope seeks new Asset Finance head

Leaseurope, based in Brussels, is the voice of the leasing and automotive rental industries in Europe and is composed of 44 Member Associations in 32 countries. It is now seeking to recruit a new Head of Asset Finance and Research, reporting directly to the Director General.

This is a challenging position that requires an extremely dedicated and motivated professional who is eager to work on topics and in an industry that are relatively technical in nature. The successful candidate will also be able to distill technical messages, and position them at the right level and within the appropriate political and/or economic context, depending on the audience. Leaseurope is looking for someone who strives for excellence in their work, with excellent hands-on organisational and multi-tasking skills.

This individual must also be able to identify and make links between industry trends and future European legislative initiatives in view of steering the Federation’s research programme. Additionally . . 

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Brits shy about their figures?

The Leaseurope Top European Leasing Companies ranking provides a yearly update on new leasing volumes and portfolios of the largest leasing firms in Europe. In the latest survey, 79 European leasing companies took part in the 2013 Leaseurope Ranking Survey. Of those, 62 parent and stand-alone companies reported total new leasing volumes of more than €130 billion, which represents 52 percent of all leasing business written in Europe in 2013. The top 20 parent leasing companies accounted for just over 42 percent of the total new volumes in Europe for 2013, and 27 companies reported new volumes of over €1 billion. 

The UK, despite being one of the top two markets for leasing new volume in Europe, the other being Germany, remains shy of revealing how much business is attributable to its lessors. Once again, the Brits refuse to bare their figures in public, and the Leaseurope lessor rankings show only Bank of America Leasing at No. 28, and plucky Asset Advantage Group at No. 61.

So, where are the rest? Well of course, many UK lessors are actually subsidiaries of European lessors, the top names like SGEF, DLL, Volkswagen, Deutsche, Siemens, etc. all have UK subsidiaries whose figures would be subsumed in their parents’ consolidated numbers, and that’s a large part of the UK’s market. As for the UK born-and-bred lessors, anecdote has it that UK lessors like to keep their figures secret, if at all possible. Why tell the world you didn’t do as well as expected, or conversely that you’ve had a bumper harvest, it will only attract unwelcome scrutiny or even unkind comment. See the 2013 rankings based on consolidated figures . .

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Segment survey “a mixed bag”

Leaseurope reports that its valuable Index Segment Survey for 2013, produced in association with Invigors EMEA LLP, represents a bit of a mixed bag, with improvements for some asset classes and some indicators between 2012 and 2013, but a deterioration in others. Of the total outstanding portfolio reported, 40 percent is attributed to equipment, 31 percent to real estate, 23 percent to passenger cars and 6 percent to commercial vehicles.

Equipment and passenger cars saw improvements in profitability between 2012 and 2013, while real estate and trucks experienced declines. Despite this annual increase, equipment leasing saw profitability ratios deteriorating over the course of 2013, whereas trucks experienced slight growth towards the end of the year . .

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Onwards & Upwards

Jacqueline MillsLeaseurope has announced that their director of Asset Finance and Research, Jacqueline Mills, will step down effective 4 July 2014 to pursue another career opportunity, after a decade with Leaseurope in which the organisation has grown and developed immeasurably. Jacqueline joined Leaseurope in 2004 and served in increasingly demanding roles culminating in Director of Asset Finance and Research.

Tanguy van de Werve, Leaseurope’s Director General declared, “On behalf of Leaseurope and the entire team, I want to thank Jacqueline for her truly exceptional contribution to the Federation over the past ten years. Jacqueline has been instrumental in our efforts to build a strong and deep pool of talent within our organisation.”

Jacqueline looks back on her time at Leaseurope fondly, and probably not without considerable pride at her own and the organisation’s transformation and achievements. In her official statement she says . .

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