Leasing Professionals

As the global asset finance industry urgently seeks new entrants Amanda Childs offers tips to those seeking a successful career

Childs amanda

Recent figures released by the UK Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) show that the asset finance industry in the UK is growing from strength to strength.

New business in the asset finance market increased by 12% in November 2014, compared with the same month the previous year.  The annual total of new business passed £25 billion for the first time in more than five years.

Business equipment finance grew by 25% in November. Plant and machinery finance, and IT equipment finance were also up by 14% and 40% respectively.

A significant driver of this growth is the overall tightening of the bank lending market – the annual rate of growth in the stock of lending to private non-financial corporations remained negative in 2014 (data up to November), as revealed in the latest Trends in Lending report from the Bank of England.

As capital regulatory changes have restricted access to affordable bank credit, the asset finance industry has an increasingly important role to play in filling the funding gap. The growth prospect of the industry makes it an attractive sector for those wishing to develop a career in the financial services industry.

However, driven and ambitious professionals need to make sure that their employer is well-positioned to offer them a stimulating and nurturing environment where they can develop themselves professionally and thrive as individuals.

Whether one has already embarked a career in the asset finance sector or is currently contemplating to enter the industry, the following questions should be considered carefully in order to determine whether a current or a prospective employer has the ability to provide the right kind of support in career development and progression:

Does the organization have a long term commitment to the market?

The 2008 financial crisis has plunged many developed economies into financial turmoil. The US and Europe have been particularly hard hit, and many peripheral European countries are still feeling the strain. Looking eastwards, India was embroiled in a currency crisis last year; China’s impressive economic engine is slowing down while Russia is currently witnessing an economic slump.

The financial meltdown, and the uncertain global economic outlook that has since lingered for a good number of years, have undoubtedly had an effect on the asset finance industry, with some players having withdrawn from certain market sectors, or even from asset finance entirely.  It is therefore wise for anyone wishing to join the asset finance industry to set their sight on a company that is truly committed to the market, and does not have a history of short-termism – abandoning customers when the going gets tough.

Companies that persist and remain committed to their markets through difficult times are likely to have chosen their markets with careful considerations that are underpinned by a deep understanding of the long-term business potential in these markets.

Does the organization have a track record of profitable growth? 

A global survey conducted by LinkedIn reveals that the primary motivation for active job seekers to change jobs is the greater opportunity for advancement.  

Considering that a profitable and growing company would tend to offer greater opportunities for career and personal growth, it is worthwhile examining whether a potential employer exhibits continuous growth and strong profit margins.

A healthy financial position usually implies that a company is more likely to invest in staff training and skills development, and has a commitment to consistent application of best practice to maximise return on capital.

Furthermore, profitable companies tend to have a lower level of staff turnover, which means that employees can benefit from the stable pool of senior managers and mentors whose influence in successful career management can be vital. 

Since over-specialization could be a potential limitation to career development, it would prove advantageous to look for an employer that boasts a diversified asset portfolio.

For example, the commercial finance business of Siemens Financial Services (SFS) not only finances Siemens equipment, but also covers adjacent space technologies in core markets (healthcare, industry, energy, infrastructure and cities). It also supports investment in a variety of third party areas ranging from IT, printing and imaging, to cranes, construction and more.

Ambitious and talented people are attracted to firms that can develop and achieve a well-respected, reputation in profitable markets. Such companies tend to have a true, in-depth understanding of their customers’ needs and requirements (in terms of products and service), and a deep-seated knowledge of the market dynamics in their respective sectors.

These competitive differentiators help an asset finance company to identify niche, underserved and profitable markets as well as to achieve sustainable growth in its markets by delivering service qualities that the market truly desires.  

Does the organization have an expanding footprint across the globe and is it actively developing business?

International organizations are attractive employers as they can expose employees to a variety of projects and allow them to work with colleagues and customers in a culturally varied environment. Talented individuals working for a global asset finance company have the opportunity to develop specialism in their professional field while benefitting from the variety within that specialism across the globe.

Various studies confirm that international opportunities are a significant factor in attracting talent across all age groups, but especially Generation Y (aged 18-30).

When evaluating the global track record of an asset finance company, two key areas should be examined in particular. The first is whether the company has managed to successfully enter ‘greenfield’ foreign markets and produce stable and consistent growth in those markets. The second is if the company is developing its branch network in countries where it has already established a presence.

Successes on these two fronts give a good indicator on sustainable growth of an asset finance company, and the availability of diverse international career development opportunities.

What is the organization’s brand stature around the world and is it considered an innovator? 

An asset finance company that has a positive brand image will find it easier to develop in new markets, new sectors and new countries. So is the potential employer well respected in the market? What does the company’s brand stand for? Does it have a pioneering vision and the competency to identify opportunities and foresee trends?

Leading organizations are often thought leaders that have the ability to catalyst industry developments, giving those who work within the organisation the privilege to spearhead industry changes from the forefront. 

As important as a positive brand perception in the market place is a company’s ability to innovate. In addition to entering new markets and establishing a foothold in fast-growing economies, new product and service development is integral to sustainable growth of a company.

The main differentiator that puts market leaders ahead of the crowd is their aptitude for innovation in designing a new product or service that can develop the market and deliver sustainable margins. Innovation is also about creatively developing business processes and practices that can help improve efficiency and attract potential customers.

Does the company have an open-minded attitude towards the adoption of new technologies, either in terms of assets financed, or in terms of the technology it uses to deliver service and operational excellence?

Innovative process efficiencies remove administrative inefficiencies, thereby allowing people to focus on their assigned tasks which in turn increases work productivity and job satisfaction. Companies that fail to embrace innovation will run the risk of falling behind their competitors and losing key staff.

Does the organization have a clear process for developing talent and leadership? 

According to a survey conducted by Forbes, many early exits at companies are due to dissatisfaction with employee-development efforts.  Ambitious individuals want to be assured of development opportunities and career progression, which is why it is highly important to look for organizations that have a well-thought-out talent management structure that communicates their commitment to employee nurturing and development.     

As an example, SFS has a formal Performance Management Process – a clear and structured process that regularly accesses each employee’s potential for further career steps in the medium-term. The program allows individuals to receive feedback, be recognised and rewarded for their contribution, as well as discussing their next career movement. SFS also has an internal ‘marketplace’ facility that matches the best candidates to open positions, enabling cross-Business-Unit and cross-Function mobility.

By increasing internal transparency on global opportunities, talented employees can be deployed to the best benefit of the company which ultimately help deliver enhanced business results and increased customer satisfaction. 

Another vital aspect to consider is the availability of a senior management development program. For those with aspirations to lead their own team, a business unit, a division or even the whole company – a formal program for the development of senior leaders shows that the organisation is keen to develop its leaders from within. SFS, for example, invests in a Leadership Excellence program, which involves special training courses for a defined target group. This enables the continued development of potential leaders through a series of leadership learning modules for management, advanced management and general management. 

On the other hand, it is worth asking how many leaders the firm has attracted from other companies. A progressive asset financing firm should have a balance between internally developed and externally sourced leaders – while the former is familiar with the current business structure, processes and values, the latter can bring new perspectives, ideas and knowledge which is important for the further growth and development of the organisation.  

Does the organization actively encourage diversity?

Lastly, a very strong indicator of an organisation’s attitude to objective, performance-oriented career development is its policy on diversity. According to a recent study, women comprise nearly 60% of employees in the financial services industry, but only 19% progress through to hold more senior management roles.  How does the asset finance company you are looking at compare on this front? Does it have a published diversity policy? Are there examples of people succeeding within the company regardless of nationality, gender, age, social or ethnic background?

Being aware of a company’s attitude on the topic of diversity allows people to judge whether an asset finance firm is ahead of the curve in cultivating a heterogeneous workforce.  The more formal structures in place to ensure that gender, race or background do not get in way of employee career development, the more likely the company is to provide the best career advancement opportunities. 

My conclusion – abundant opportunities!

With the asset finance industry in the UK experiencing encouraging growth rates, this sector will no doubt offer abundant opportunities for the development of a rewarding and stimulating career – providing that the employer is able to create a supportive environment. Ambitious professionals hoping to progress and develop themselves in the sector need to ask some critical questions to determine where the best career opportunities lie. Does a company have a long-term commitment to the market? Does it have an international footprint? How much emphasis does it place on talent management and diversity at the workplace?

These questions and other important aspects addressed in this article should give talented individuals a good starting point in planning or advancing their career in the asset finance industry.

Amanda Childs is Divisional HR Business Partner at Siemens Financial Services