Last year saw the continuation of long-term growth in the UK asset finance sector, and despite continued uncertainty, Rory Dunn, managing director at Portman Asset Finance, expects growth to continue throughout 2019. He explores the key trends facing businesses.

There has been significant progress in the development of financial technology over recent years, and we are starting to see an ongoing change in the attitudes of lenders towards disruptive fintech businesses entering the market.

Although fintechs can offer a much higher volume of proposals, we are seeing a continued focus from lenders on actual conversion rates.

This challenge offers established firms the opportunity to refocus on the personal touch to fully understand customers’ requirements, and how best to fulfil these through dedicated and knowledgeable account managers.

That is not to say we will move away from the influence of technology. Our brokers are working behind the scenes to achieve closer integration and automation of financial and security data to improve underwriting and help to decrease the risk of fraud for lenders.

BREXIT

It is clear that no sector is safe from uncertainty over Brexit, and this has undoubtedly impacted plans for the next 12 months and beyond. However, we have seen a record start to the year, so it appears that most businesses are just getting on with it and seeking investment to get ahead of their competitors.

The reality of the asset finance sector is that, regardless of the economic landscape, there will always be a need for finance. Whether it is for consolidation or growth, the business community depends on the flexible alternatives that asset finance can provide.

Nobody knows the true outcome of Brexit, but if the worst was to happen, then out of adversity surely comes opportunity for the asset finance sector.

For example, businesses that rely on exporting goods or importing raw materials may require a financial injection to ride out the short-term uncertainty and UK,
entrepreneurs will also see an opportunity to fill any gaps and create start-up businesses to service these requirements.

If a ‘soft’ Brexit is confirmed, then I expect business as usual, with growth and investment in new equipment and technologies continuing at pace, as we have seen over the last 12 months.

WIDER DEMANDS

As ever, access to affordable, flexible finance will continue to be the main barrier to growth for most businesses, and demand is showing little sign of slowing down.

We are fortunate that our size – with more than 45 lenders – and approach enable us to offer a broad service to all market sectors, rather than focus on a select few. However, over the coming 12 months, we will continue to expand our soft asset secured lending solution, as well as increasing our work with affinities and membership groups.

This will enable a wider range of products and solutions to be provided to our customers, including secured lending, invoice finance and insurance cover. I also expect a key marker for success in the sector to be the understanding of lenders’ demands to provide finance to declining or stagnating sectors.

Amid much uncertainty, the number of sectors facing difficult circumstances could increase significantly, and lenders will be keen to offer support and intuitive solutions.

INVESTMENT IN PEOPLE

To support our continued growth, we are constantly on the lookout for quality people across both sales and support services, and we recently took on a full-time, in-house recruitment expert to focus on this.

Whereas once our location in Northampton put us at a disadvantage with City firms when competing for the best talent, we have seen a shift in emphasis among skilled brokers away from London.

While Brexit may take many jobs overseas, expect this trend to be mirrored within the UK as more desirable living costs and living standards increasingly draw people away from the capital.