By David Woodroffe

Attending both the Leaseurope and the US Equipment Leasing & Finance Association (ELFA) conferences in such quick succession provides a great snapshot of the state of the leasing industry on both sides of the Atlantic.

Each year, both conferences allow the organising associations the space and platform to present and discuss their research and views on the state of the industry. Despite a number of similarities in both themes and content, there were differences in approach and confidence levels.

The picture painted by Leaseurope was still one of concern and limited optimism.

The new volume growth in the European leasing market (excluding real estate) was just 0.6% in 2012. The macroeconomic climate in Europe has a large part to play in this restricted growth, with the overall European figures undoubtedly being drawn down by the struggles in Southern Europe. While headwinds also exist in the United States, a slightly different tone was conveyed. The 2013 State of the Equipment Finance Industry report was presented at ELFA alongside a headline of strong growth and record-setting performance in 2012.

In the US, the equivalent new volume growth through 2012 was 16.4%, driving a growth in the overall equipment finance market to $827bn in 2013.

Although it is hard to draw direct comparisons, especially with the wide variations that exist in Europe, one thing that provides colour to the statistics is the perspective of the industry participants, and there was optimism at the ELFA convention that wasn’t matched in Rome.

Both conference programmes also centred heavily on innovation within the asset finance industry. At Leaseurope, the opening address on innovation and excellence was made by Ferrari Chairman Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo.

The tagline at ELFA was "Adapt, Innovate, Win," and the keynote speeches included an address on innovation and exponential change from Peter Diamandis, the creator of the X Prize for space travel.

The question that then developed over the course of both conferences was "how innovative is the asset finance industry compared to others?" While there are certainly pockets of innovation, those comparisons are usually not favourable. So, if comparisons can be made across industries, it then can also be asked: was it clear from the two conferences that innovation is more present in one market than the other? The short answer is no.

Both conferences discussed the process and results of innovation. The sessions at ELFA leaned more towards the process to be employed and the message was more focused on the ability of organizations to create innovation after leaving the conference. Over at Leaseurope, the focus was more about the results of innovation, particularly the presentations of three new innovative ideas from the future leaders group.

Although the approaches are different, both messages clearly converged; organisations need to dig deeper on how to better apply innovation in their business. To be well positioned in an increasingly competitive market, an innovative culture alongside the right structure must be present. This is ultimately driven by people’s passion for the industry, a passion that was evident at both conferences regardless of geography or macroeconomic indicators.

David Woodroffe is product director, asset finance at SunGard