Close Leasing trio impress
Preben Prebenson at major board meeting. Brendan Malkin


Close Asset Finance is making an
impression on its parent, Close Brothers, in all sorts of ways.

First in April the news emerged that the bank’s
specialist lending elements, of which asset finance and invoice
discounting are a major part, were largely responsible for Close
Brothers’ circa 50% increase year-on-year in pretax profits for the
six months to 31 January 2010.

This was followed last month by the news,
reported exclusively on, that Mary McNamara had
replaced Mike Barley as head of Close Commercial Finance, which
includes the bank’s leasing and invoice discounting arms.

A highly-respected player within European
leasing and with 17 years at GE under her belt, McNamara’s arrival
is bound to have pleased the board of Close Brothers.

But it is Close Leasing, an arm of Close Asset
Finance, which has really raised eyebrows among the most senior
directors at Close Brothers.

Since its formation at the end of 2007, Close
Leasing has grown rapidly and this year hopes to sign £90m
(€106.4m) in new business.

This growth has been sufficiently impressive
that recently Close Leasing’s main directors – Paul Bartley, Neil
Davies and Tom Dramby – as well as Roger Stone, the head of Close
Asset Finance, were granted an opportunity to present a strategic
growth plan to members of Close Brothers’ main board, including
Preben Prebenson, the merchant bank’s CEO.

For Close Leasing, the impact of the meeting
has been significant: it now has a green light to sign deals up to
£25m, whereas prior to the meeting the ceiling was £5m.

Furthermore, according to Bartley, 27% of the
growth expected for the whole of the recently-formed Close
Commercial Finance is expected to come from Close Leasing.

The dream team (left to right): Close Leasing’s Tom Dramby, Neil Davies and Paul Bartley


New appetites

But Close Leasing also has other plans
up its sleeve.

In a significant move that reflects Close
Leasing’s entry into the large ticket market, it recently recruited
rail finance expert Tim Loy from National Australia Bank (NAB).

According to Bartley, Close Leasing has now
“got approval in principle from Close Brothers to look at acquiring
larger ticket portfolios in the syndicated markets, particularly in

He added: “Close Leasing is not looking to be a
lead arranger in the rail market, more a sub-participant with an
appetite of up to £250m.”

Furthermore, on 1 June Martin Stanley joined
Close Leasing from Five Arrows Leasing, where he was responsible
for sales and credit, to head up its expanding London-based
southern regional sales team. Prior to Five Arrows Stanley worked
for Lloyd Bowmaker and Bank of Scotland.

Also about to join its southern team as a sales
manager is another sales and credit specialist from Barclays Asset
& Sales Finance.

Both will work alongside the seasoned lessor,
Henry Harrison, who, prior to joining Close Leasing worked for the
asset finance arms of Fortis and Barclays.

Close Leasing’s Manchester-based northern
division is, according to Bartley, “already in place”. It is made
up of: Jonathan Petchell, formerly of ING Lease UK and Bank of
Scotland structured finance; Mark Walker, who also previously
worked at ING Lease UK as well as Sun Microsystems Global Financial
Services; and Martin Hammond, who previously worked with Davies at
Systems Leasing & Rentals PLC.

Alongside this growth in sales, and also to
take pressure off Close Leasing’s overworked main directors, the
company is also about to announce the appointment of a new senior
credit manager.

Due to arrive in September, the new person will
bring headcount at the company’s credit team to four.

Davies said Dramby, who heads up the division,
will focus on “the bigger deals”, while the new person will work on
“day-to-day deals on the ground in Manchester”.


Thinking ‘out of the box’

Meanwhile, Bartley said Close Leasing
is doing more “out of the box transactions”.

It recently financed the new southern stands
for Harlequins Rugby Club, and, through broker Richard Price, has
signed circa £40m of footballer transfer deals over recent months,
including with Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. It
is also about to sign a significant Olympics-related deal.

Commenting on types of deals signed by Close
Leasing, Bartley said: “We will look at softer asset from software
to IT equipment to furniture where those assets are mission
critical to the end-user and the covenants are strong.

“Renewable and waste is another area that we
are becoming more active in, but those contracts tend to be
mid-market structured finance and quasi-project finance type