The chairman of the UK Finance and Leasing Association has told the industry that investing in employee development will be vital to the continued success of the sector as it faces a challenging 2019.
Speaking at the association’s annual dinner in London, attended by more than 1,500 people, Richard Jones identified three key trends from 2018 that continue to have an impact.
Political uncertainty has worsened, the economic outlook has deteriorated across the EU, and the industry is coming under regulatory pressure from multiple sources, he said.
He pointed out that the financial services regulatory agenda is intensifying and being driven from multiple sources, including the Competition and Markets Authority, Financial Conduction Authority and Financial Ombudsman Service.
Jones, who last year took over the combined leadership of both Black Horse and Lex Autolease, said: “It feels like we are entering into an age of more interventionist regulation. This needs collective, considered thought and response at industry levels.
“Despite all of this, our customers continue to show that they need the services and financial support of FLA members more than ever before.”
FLA members provided businesses and consumers with £137 billion of new lending in 2018, 7% higher than in 2017. A total of £104 billion went to support consumer purchases, including £37 billion for car purchases, with FLA members financing more than 90% of private new car sales.
The asset finance market, which funds more than one-third of all equipment investment by UK businesses, reported a record level of new business, up 3% to almost £33 billion.
Jones told the audience that the success of FLA members depends on their “most valuable assets”, the employees within each company and added: “Investing in their development is absolutely vital to the continued success of our markets.”
He highlighted the success of the FLA’s own training courses, with 900 delegates attending programmes at its London offices, while demand for bespoke courses delivered at companies’ premises went up 50% last year.
Jones said the FLA was focused on driving a “strong professional agenda”, with successes including the graduation of the first students on its Asset Finance Diploma in August, while 109 people are currently studying for the qualification.
The FLA’s Intermediate Leasing course has also been recognised by the London Institute of Banking and Finance (LIBF), and a leasing apprenticeship standard is now under discussion.
In the motor finance market, an expanded programme for automotive finance specialists will roll out in April, while the Motor Finance Apprenticeship Standard now has its first apprentices in training.
Jones said: “Professionalisation is essential to keep improving standards and to deliver consistent outcomes for clients and customers. I think it’s above all about our mindset, a determination to make our industry the best it can be.”
He cited the example of motor finance providers, arguing they had led the way in moving the industry away from old-style intermediary remuneration models, to better, more transparent approaches that benefit customers.
He added: “We must always seek to deliver fair and clear outcomes, and deliver value. It is essential to winning and retaining trust and advocacy.”
He also urged regulators and the government to provide more support, in particular by updating the Consumer Credit Act, adding: “The FLA will continue to support progression of our markets because it is a win-win situation. We must always seek to deliver fair and clear outcomes, and deliver value. It is essential to winning and retaining trust and advocacy.”
The role the industry plays in supporting the economy was recognised in a speech at the dinner by former Conservative Party leader William Hague, who is now a member of the House of Lords.
He said there was cross-party praise for the work of the industry and was apologetic that politicians weren’t able to provide more certainty and clarity during Brexit negotiations.
He said: “The state of our politics is a bit of an embarrassment, but businesses need confidence in our economy and half a million more people are now in work than a year ago. Britain has a growing population, which housing, energy and infrastructure is all going to be needed, whoever is in power.
“Don’t let politics blind us to the positive things that are happening in our country.”
However, he warned that there may be further economic and political difficulties ahead, saying that businesses need resilience and diversity of advice to manage change.
Lord Hague said: “As we come into the next few years, in many countries, there will be I am afraid increased political populism and nationalism, so you have to prepare for that.
“A successful business will need resilience and local knowledge, because one country to another will differ more, along with long-term planning, because there will be more short-term crises along the way.
“I hope you have these attributes and qualities; you have certainly shown many of them in the last few years and I hope you will use some of them to advance and defend this successful and essential industry.”