Technology will help reshape the asset finance industry in the coming years, but despite the dramatic impact of software and systems, it is people who remain at the heart of delivering real change.
That is the view of Andy Denton, chief executive officer of global financial software giant Alfa, as the business plots the next stage of its global growth plans.
It has just published its annual results for 2017, which saw revenues jump 20% to £87.8 million. Operating profit was up 104% to £33.8 million, while profits rose 162% to £25.9 million.
The results are the first full-year figures since the company listed on the London Stock Exchange in a £1 billion flotation.
For Denton, the foundation of that growth was increasing the talent pool within the business and retaining loyal staff who have delivered its historic performance.
Denton said: “We are a talent-based business. Our employee retention rate is 95%, which is remarkable for a technology company. People are a major part of our growth and we recognise that the best way to employ good people is recruit them young, train them and invest in them to produce the best employees.”
Over the past year, the company’s headcount has growth from 269 to around 350, to support its expansion and delivery expectations in the next few years.
The people-first approach will support the successful delivery of increasing numbers of complex, global projects that are business-critical for clients.
During 2017, the business managed five major software implementations alongside the continued expansion of its customer base.
Denton said: “We have really delivered for our customers in 2017 - never before did I think I would get two grateful calls over a single weekend from two different customers celebrating the fact that our Alfa teams delivered their implementations for them.
“By the point December closed, we had delivered five software implementations. Every one of these is a huge achievement and the result of many cumulative months of work on both the Alfa and customer side.
“Everyone in Alfa makes this possible; the sales team, the implementation and support teams, the product and technical centres and all of our internal teams around the world.”
For Denton, maintaining this growth means staying loyal to the ‘Alfa way’, the founding principles of the business since its launch.
He added: “We have taken care to protect our culture, which is rooted in our founding 20-plus years ago, whilst also embracing change. Headcount is expected to grow by a further 15-20% over the next year and our induction and training programme, which all new joiners attend, has been developed to provide our new members with the training, support and supervision required as they learn the Alfa way.”
This focus on the fundamentals of a strong business is aimed at ensuring it is ready to adapt to the changes facing its customers in the finance markets throughout the world.
Denton said he welcomes the opportunities future changes will bring, as digitalization and the growth of the ‘internet of things’ generates unparalleled levels of data that needs to be turned into insight.
“We have seen a seismic shift in the asset finance landscape in recent years and indeed months,” Denton said, “Today we are all thinking and talking about digital, artificial intelligence, internet of things and cyber security.
“The way we did things a couple of years ago will no longer be the way we do it in the future. Demographics and customer priorities are changing and we need to keep listening and changing with them.”
He added that the challenges ahead are an opportunity for the business that it will “grab with both hands”.
It has launched Alfa Digital to support thought-leadership and create new innovations and it is already in talks with customers about making use of the Internet of Things and connecting Alfa software to physical assets.
He added: “Our Cloud First approach to the market, which is a robust and comprehensive commitment to Alfa Systems being hosted in the cloud, be it public or private, has given us a major competitive advantage.”
Denton added that the company’s increasing global reach meant that it could smooth out peaks and troughs caused by the changing economic performance of different countries.
“The various global markets do not move in lock-step, so strong years in some markets can offset any difficulties with others,” he added.
For 2018, Alfa is predicting double-digit increases in revenue to continue, with growth in equipment finance markets expected in the key markets of the US and Europe.
Last year, the US made up 48% of revenues, with the UK accounting for 35%, while the rest of the world accounted for 17% of sales, up by 37% to nearly £15 million.
Denton said: “We see real opportunities because there are few players that can support multiple countries, multiple languages and different legislation on the same system.
“We have a strong stream of work from existing customers and a number of projects approaching the go-live point.”
Work includes helping customers prepare for the EU General Data Protection Regulation which comes into force in May, bringing new data security standards to bear on businesses and service providers.
Denton warned: “While Alfa customers are in a good position, in the wider industry I think there is a degree of people having their heads in the sand, waiting to be told what to do. However, it is driving people to think about their systems and what support they have in place.”
In helping customers and potential customers, Denton said Alfa is starting a journey towards modularisation of Alfa software to enable faster development and to make it more open for the style of deployments it expects to see in the future.
He added there was also a focus on simplification to increase the range of companies that could adopt its software.
Denton said: “We are also continuing to focus on the strategic projects which will move us towards the vision of delivering a fast, lower friction Alfa to any country, any vertical and to any size of company. There are real opportunities ahead.”