During the Leasing Life Awards in Barcelona earlier this year, Lauren Rhodes, strategic initiatives manager at Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing, walked away with the Young Professional of the Year gong. The recognition is for a professional under 40 years of age who “has had a positive impact on the leasing community, influencing not just the success of their company but also the wider industry.” We asked Lauren to tell us how she stumbled upon asset finance as a career path and to give us an insight into her experience with Close Brothers.
I would love to say that before joining Close Brothers I knew all about leasing and the UK asset finance industry, but that’s not the case.
The truth is that after completing my psychology degree at the University of Bath I worked in retail and coming across a team assistant role at Close Brothers Asset Finance was a happy accident.
I was lucky enough to get an interview, but I distinctly remember wondering what on earth I was letting myself in for when my then future line manager mentioned the fact the company owned the largest number of beer kegs in the country.
I got offered the job and accepted, even though I’m not a fan of beer. That was seven years ago now and I haven’t looked back especially as I’m now a big advocate of what we do as an industry to support the SME community.
I progressed onto other assistant roles, learned quickly, built relationships, and became an expert on the asset finance and leasing businesses, which led me to my current role as strategic initiatives manager.
My experience has been a very positive one. I’ve felt hugely supported by the business, having been given opportunities to learn, grow and succeed in my role, including being sponsored to complete external qualifications like the Diploma in Asset Finance and achieving a Professional Diploma in Banking and Finance, through the London Institute of Banking & Finance, as a result.
The same is also true of the wider industry. I’ve been able to meet people at the external events I attend as part of my role, and everyone is exceptionally friendly. At the Leasing Life conference in Barcelona this year I was interested to talk to my peers in other organisations about their knowledge and awareness of the industry and to find that it was surprisingly similar considering the contribution it makes to the wider economy.
I find it interesting that banks and alternative finance providers are often not promoted as a natural career path in schools, colleges, or universities in the UK. Or at least, this wasn’t my experience.
Coming from a working-class background, I was less well informed about ‘business’ in general, and I think there is an opportunity for an element of educational reform to further enhance social mobility.
There is also an opportunity for our industry to do more to attract and retain the young and diverse talent who bring with them new perspectives and ways of doing things. I’ve recently been involved in the recruitment process for Close Brothers’ latest graduate scheme and I’m incredibly excited about the individual we will be onboarding to support in the asset and leasing business and the learning opportunities this will present them with.
Close Brothers and CBILS
My biggest achievement to date has been rolling out the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) across all of the asset finance and leasing teams and delivering it to market within six weeks of inception. The scheme was a vital lifeline to SMEs during the pandemic and I feel proud to have been able to support over a billion pounds of lending through our participation.
This next period of economic recovery will be an interesting one; the lending landscape is undoubtedly very different to that of two years ago, with high levels of government guarantee-backed lending potentially challenging traditional credit assessments or models; continuing materials shortages and supply chain issues, all compounded by the war in Ukraine.
Despite this, I am confident in the ability of SMEs to adapt, which has certainly been the case during the Covid pandemic, and this will only make my role more interesting in ensuring we deliver the right products and services to our clients at the right time.