Here’s a quiz question for our readers. At the start of 2018, which leading CEO told us Leasing was history? He said, “We hardly do any leasing these days. It’s thought old-fashioned in our market-place.” Food for thought, you’d think, for a magazine titled “Leasing World’.
At the time, we wondered if we might be heading for a rebranding at the very least! Yet as 2019 kicks off, Leasing World magazine is still Leasing World magazine, so has anything changed?

Well, quite a few names have been changed, in fact, you might say it’s been something of a feature of 2018. Leaseguard became Lifecycle, CivilisedBank found it preferred Allica, Leaseteam is officially LTi Technology Solutions, D&D Leasing is now DND Finance, and LDF Group turned into White Oak UK. Evidently, the right name is perceived to be paramount…perhaps as important as having the right staff?

A year of drip-fed and disputed political predictions has left our readers, by all accounts, no more or less pessimistic about Britain’s post-EU prospects than . “As far as leasing and asset finance markets are concerned,” we wrote in February, “our industry is doing what it’s always done, finding the deals, underwriting the credit risks, financing the assets, writing the lease agreements, issuing the rental invoices, and collecting the payments, which keeps us focused and busy.”
We’ve always had more of a taste for positive news stories than for negative or critical ones. One executive told us, “When I started work in the asset finance industry it was dominated by big lenders, most of whom had a Marmite view of brokers.” That has all changed now, maybe brokers are still not quite to everyone’s taste, but the increasingly professionalised brokers of today are a different breed to those of yesteryear.

A feature on Jon Maycock’s new team at Hampshire Trust Bank showed an example of what a good fit an asset finance department can prove to be in a bank, welcome news after those years of being sold off as “Not core business.” We’ve targeted the rise of Simply Asset Finance which arose from the ether seemingly fully-formed, complete with salesforce, private equity and banking lines, while keeping track of names like Hitachi Capital Business Finance, Renaissance, UTB and Hampshire Trust Bank.

Leasing World also noted what a recurrent theme training has become at the highest levels of management. Once simply a matter of having a training budget, training and the lack of it is now a subject of much hand-wringing. Our response was, “Just send them on courses!” We’ve given some coverage to the MA in Leasing and Asset Finance at Falmouth University, currently being run in collaboration with The Leasing Foundation, and now into its second academic year, but the numbers attending are a drop in the ocean, and anyway, is the answer to the problem of, “The troops need better equipment, sir,” to send top officers on post graduate courses? To be fair, the Falmouth MA is focused on training future leaders more than the regular troops, but . . we’re just saying . .

As the year drew on we commented on how the two subjects of lease taxation and lease regulation have swapped personalities. Once, there was nothing more complex, more feared, nor more subject to expert opinion than lease taxation, while lease regulation was no issue at all, leasing was unregulated. By 2018, we felt that the roles had reversed.

GDPR became the PPI mis-selling scandal of the springtime, forcing many companies to knuckle down to sending hundreds of e-mails that strongly resembled every other company’s e-mails. It came as no surprise that the recipients of these pleading messages started to react as we all do when we hear PPI adverts on the radio; by switching off. Locke Lord’s Joanne Davis provided us with a very readable and authoritative piece on the subject, quoting Lord Mitchell’s speech in the House of Lords when the Bill was still making its way through the two Houses.

Summertime brought the bicycles out of the garage and the swimsuits out of storage. Sporting highlights include Metro Bank’s staff cycling to Paris (but not wearing the red square Metro Man costume), Melanie Chell’s overnight charity Channel relay swim that was within sight of land when the last leg team member pulled out (and her no less onerous twelve-mile Windermere swim which earned her our Editor’s Choice Award at the 10th Leasing World Awards Dinner in October), plus Mike Randall’s 90ft wedge shot out of the reeds and onto the flag at Simply Asset Finance’s Golf day (no trophy for that one, though).

Towards the end of a long summer, Leasing World looked at the growing trend of funding classic and supercars in its article “Garage Queen or Track King” and learning about the HAGI Index, classic cars and future classics, “pure” models, continuation cars, competition cars and “bedroom wall” cars. This niche should grow in importance over time, and one day may become a “classic” in asset finance niches e.g. like vendor programmes, office equipment, and forklift trucks.

Then we started thinking about the role of Independent Directors, its challenges and rewards. We are at the beginning of an era when the use of non-executive directors in our industry could rise dramatically, and we’re keen to see that things are being done properly. Independent and non-executive directors are increasingly to be found on asset finance company boards, but are they acting as business advisors / consultants, rather than more strictly within the gold standard definitions of the UK Corporate Governance Code, that applies to FT350 companies?

We investigated the topic of refinance, the “penicillin” cure-all of the cash-strapped SME, because we sensed it had become a sign of clued-up financing, and is no longer a warning signal to credit underwriters as it used to be. We asked whether refinance was, as some were saying, the AirBnB of asset finance, freeing up unused capacity and turning it into cash.

Then we concluded that as an industry we need to ensure that we are refinancing assets that are more likely to hold some value in a recession, for customers that are most likely to survive a recession… on which subject our regular contributor Allan Foad wondered aloud whether the most certain things in this world are death, taxes, and recessions.There is always “the next recession” but we are very bad at predicting when it will be. Trade wars, we decided, made us slightly nervous.

Allan is excellent at asking questions and then providing informed answers. Another of his was, “Can you tell fact from fiction?”, explaining the balance between survey data and what we can infer from it. At Leasing World we try not to get carried away by surveys, since we get to see a lot of them. Surveys are the fourth certainty in life; whatever people are talking about, someone is going to present us with everything we already know, but in survey form.

We’re not above the odd questionnaire ourselves. Towards the end of the year Leasing World conducted our own poll of asset finance CEOs, asking them what their first job was, how had the industry changed in their time, were they still worried about skills gaps and attracting people to our industry, and what advice would they give to young people entering the industry. One thing that came out clearly was that now is a good time to start raising public awareness of asset finance. People can see that PCP is not toxic, the government now looks kindly on our industry, and one of the news story trends during 2018 was funders queueing up to tell us about the latest tranche of British Business Bank money appearing in their accounts.

Given that the name “asset finance” has a clean sound to it, some think we might drop the word leasing from the lexicon – but not from our magazine title. Leasing World will remain Leasing World in 2019; a touch of stability and certainty in a year that might otherwise be running a touch short of both. The Chinese proverb about “interesting times” may never have faced a sterner test, in fact in the Chinese zodiac 2019 is the Year of the Pig, for them it signifies Wealth, so for us it might mean bringing home more of the bacon? Hmm, not too sure about that last one.