There was a buzz of conversation and excitement at the Asset Finance Connect UK Conference & Awards (formally International Asset Finance Network), held in London on 9 November. The first physical event post-pandemic lockdown saw over 250 senior executives meet face-to-face to network and problem solve, with a broad range of international speakers from the auto, equipment and asset finance sectors. The gala dinner and awards ceremony also provided an ideal opportunity to celebrate the industry’s successes and its resilience in the face of a game-changing eighteen months.
The focus for the conference, for which Alfa Systems was the headline sponsor, was on maximising customer lifetime value through digitalisation. Key themes were navigating a post-Covid landscape; the move to digital working; and the impact of public and political pressure for a switch to green assets and sustainable operations.
Keynote speakers at the event were two titans of the industry. Bill Verhelle, CEO of QuickFi, drew on his experience as the cofounder and CEO of First American Equipment Finance to challenge delegates to be genuinely disruptive in developing new business models. Giacomo Carelli, CEO and GM FCA Bank and chairman of Leasys, explored how a strong customer-centric focus has driven the development of a new mobility solution.
Underpinning such moves is the ready availability of data which, as Gauthier Vasseur executive director, Fisher Center for Business Analytics, told delegates during his presentation, provides both the visibility and the time needed to build critical insights. He offered a masterclass on the basics of data analysis and how the three principles of regression, classification and clustering can be deployed to identify opportunities to innovate.
Murad Baig, chief product and technology officer at OTOZ Mobility and global chief innovation officer at NETSOL Technologies developed this theme, looking at how one platform can offer many customer experiences, and outlining the need for a ‘composable architecture’, based in the cloud, which allows companies to build additional functionality quickly and experimentally in response to changing needs.
In three stream sessions, delegates had the opportunity to examine critical issues facing their sector. With COP26 meeting in Glasgow, John Rees, leader of the equipment finance community of professionals, led a lively discussion examining how regulatory and public pressures around environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are shaping the industry’s future. Panel participants included Paul Jennings, managing director at JCB Finance; Richard O'Donohue senior director, partner solutions at Dell Technologies; Carmen Ene CEO at 3stepIT; Adrian Samareanu CDO & group SVP Volvo Financial Services; Ralf Steger, head of financial services, Heidelberg; and Philip Benké head of new business development QV Systems.
The second stream, led by David Betteley, auto finance professionals community head, explored the development of subscription models, looking at personalisation of subscription plans, the role of the dealer, and the customer relationship. The panel included Dr Lidija Polutnik, Professor of economics Babson College; Didier Stempak managing director, Teamwill UK; and Simon Harris, founder Motion Advisory, as well as contributions from Gauthier Vasseur and Giacomo Carelli.
In the third stream Steve Bassett, community head for UK asset finance professionals, looked at how technology can be a driver of value, and its role in a relationship-driven asset finance business. Panellists included Ben Sher, chief commercial officer Funding Xchange; David Fletcher, head of commercial credit Kudos; John Wiles managing director Simply Asset Finance; Jon Maycock, commercial director Propel Finance; Nathan Mollett, head of asset finance United Trust Bank; and Ylva Oertengren, chief operating officer Simply Asset Finance.
CGI were the sponsors for a new element for this year’s conference: a session in which the audience was tasked with assessing two potential views of the way forward for the auto finance and equipment finance sectors. Delegates moved between small groups to debate the issues and share common experiences.
One thesis was that the commercial opportunities for auto finance, and for equipment finance, that come from an increased focus on ESG will simply come from funding more environmentally friendly assets and not from mobility solutions that increase utilisation and potentially extend asset usage, or from innovation around the circular economy (like pay per use).
The second thesis looked at whether, in the auto finance world, the creation by OEMs of direct to customer platforms will have unintended consequences created by the historical, structural inability of OEM’s to service retail customers directly. For equipment finance, the question was whether the increase in online platforms to buy equipment will benefit providers who offer fast and simple asset finance transactions over those who provide bespoke and individuals services for customers.
The afternoon also saw a rapid briefing on the latest developments in regulation, legal and compliance led by specialist from Auxillias, who took delegates through an assessment of the new FCA consumer duty rules, the state of play in commission disclosure post- Pengelly, and an update on future FCA consultations. Jo Davis and her team offered opportunities for delegates to ask questions about UK legal and regulatory issues which are affecting their businesses.
The afternoon concluded with Asset Finance Connect’s very own version of a ‘Dragon’s Den’ innovation showcase. Four leading fintechs selected from over 50 nominations were given
the opportunity to pitch their company’s proposition to the audience and answer questions from a specialist panel. The three judges were led by Steve Taplin, managing director of HPD Lendscape, alongside equipment finance expert Ylva Oertengren, the COO of Simply, and Spencer Halil, auto finance expert and CEO of Alphabet
The four finalists were:
- Artesian Solutions – a new platform for funders applying configurable rules to premium data sources to offer next-generation prospecting, customer monitoring, ongoing assessment of portfolio risk and automated underwriting
- Credicar – an innovative customer journey platform which meets dealer and funder needs as regulators and OEMs change the auto finance landscape
- Findustrial – an organisation and platform enabling finance organisations and OEMs to offer pay per use style finance
- Funding Xchange PortfolioMonitoring – a new proactive portfolio monitoring
And the winner, polling the highest number of votes from the panel and also the delegates, was Findustrial.
The finale to the conference was the awards dinner, offering delegates the chance to mix and network more informally, catching up with old friends and forging new connections. Edward Peck, founder of Asset Finance Connect, also presided over the awards ceremony, the sixth to be held to identify and celebrate innovation in the auto and equipment finance sectors.
Highlights of the 17 awards given out included CEO of the Year, won by Mike Dennett in recognition of his strategic management of BMW Group Financial Services UK during the pandemic crisis. The Lifetime Achievement award went to Nathan Mollett, head of asset finance at United Trust Bank, for his contribution to the industry as a whole and his commitment to bringing on new talent to the sector.
Edward Peck said: “Asset Finance Connect provided a beacon of light for the industry, after eighteen months in which Covid-19 had a very significant impact on organisations’ operations and meant many activities, including conference sessions, moved online. We were delighted to see so many senior industry people attend our first F2F event since December 2019, and their enthusiasm for the discussions throughout the day shows how our delegates value the opportunity to meet, hear the latest expert opinions and predictions, and share their own insights. We are also very grateful, as always, to our sponsors for their support. We look forward to building on this year’s conference with more events to come in 2022.”
Asset Finance Connect was sponsored by Alfa (headline sponsor); CGI (platinum sponsor); NETSOL Technologies (gold sponsor); Odessa (silver sponsor); Sopra Banking Software (silver sponsor); Bynx (registration and refreshment sponsor); Q2 (overall innovation and development award sponsor); Teamwill (award category sponsor); VIP Apps Consulting (award category sponsor); HPD Lendscape (Fintech Innovator Showcase sponsor); Acquis (sponsor); Elevenci (sponsor); QV Systems (table host); Simply (table host); The Leasing Foundation (table host); White Oak (table host).