This month Maryann Tan
speaks to Barrie Rawlings, managing director of Gresham Finance
Ltd, a brokerage based in Hertfordshire.

Which sectors within asset finance do you specialise
in?

We don’t actually specialise in one area because all of our
self-employed brokers have different approaches so we have a number
of specialisations. For example, one is heavily involved in
catering, one other is in security equipment, and another is
involved in shop-fits. Gresham Finance as a whole, wants to be
viable for all sectors because the aim is to have self-employed
agents with their own offices and brand them almost like a
franchise, without the additional charge.
 
Which banks make up your principal funders?

We have Lombard, ING, Bank of Scotland, Siemens, and Barclays –
those are some of your big name brands. The other names are
Weatherbys and Bibby. What we tend to do is tier them.

Where do you source business from?

From our self-employed agent force.

Do you have a book of your own?

No we don’t yet. We are looking to do that in future. What we’d
like to do is ensure our structure [is solid]. We’re looking to
incorporate a management system called BrokerNet and that’s going
to be over the next nine months. All our businesses are currently
underwritten by our panel of funders.

What size of deals do you specialise in? What is the
average value of deals?

I say it would be £8,000. But my figures can go out the window.
I’ve just done two deals with Lombard which I’ve just got agreed
for a million pounds of lending. One’s £600,000 and the other is
for £400,000 so the average figure then goes out the window.

Are you benefitting from the general scale down in staff
numbers at leasing companies? If so, how?

I felt we have, yes but you have to find the right ones. What
you’re finding now, is there are no new or young people coming into
the market who understand financing because the banks used to do
that job for everyone. People learned by working at a bank and
getting trained; that’s how I learned, but now you don’t have that
facility anymore. The number of people available is dwindling so
it’s then down to the broker to take on new people and train them.
It’s not happening yet, but I can see in the future there will be
problems.

How much new business did you place in
2007?

We placed £6.1m of new business in 2007.

Has there been a marked increase in arrears amongst lessors and
do you anticipate this to rise further this year?

I think with the current credit market it does give an increase
of people being late with payments. I think the market scared
itself into a recession, almost.

Do you believe lenders are sufficiently innovative in their
approach to finance products?
Some more than others. I’d say ING is very good, as its very
personalised and it helps one out on a one-to-one basis to
structure new and different deals for certain clients.

Are lenders sufficiently flexible to fulfil your
clients’ needs?

Everyone’s adapted. If you find the right client and the client
wants something done special, or wants to be different, they will
look at building a finance deal that will suit that client.
Everyone’s willing to do that. The people that are sort of doing
well at the moment, or looking to adapt and change with the market,
are companies like ING. They’re probably the most flexible and the
only reason for that is because they’ve made a lot of changes to
their business. In the past they went into a low then they became
very slow on returning deals and paying out deals because they made
so many large changes. Now they’ve come out of that and they’re
probably one of the first to have implemented the changes, to the
extent that they are now able to concentrate on other aspects of
funding. Bank of Scotland used to be at the top of their game but
now they are making a lot of changes to their system and are going
through the same issues that ING went through years ago. But they
should pick themselves back up and become a stronger lender.
Lombard is going through similar problems.

Do you believe lenders should make greater use of new
technology to deliver a better service to brokers? If so
how?

Most definitely,100 per cent. All lenders are looking towards
their new systems –IT internet driven proposal systems. Now this is
great, but what we’re finding is that each individual funder will
produce its own system, which may not always work. What has
happened now is you have companies like BrokerNet and Icenet that
produce and manufacture their own systems which will then work with
most funders’ own systems. So this is where most brokers are going.
They are taking on their own systems which will communicate with
the funders.

But the onus is on the broker to invest in
this?

Yes. It’s the way the market’s going. You still need human
interaction within customer service but it does help move deals a
lot quicker when its IT-driven.

Do you think brokers need to inform and educate
customers more about the range of products and structured deals
available in the marketplace?

We should because it helps us adapt our businesses and offer
more services to clients, which then prevents them from seeking
other services from other people. We can offer a one-stop financial
shop where they can come to us for any financial need.

Are you satisfied with the level and format funders use
when granting commissions?

We always want more but to be fair each broker will negotiate
its own deal with a funder and obviously the funder will look upon
how much business is produced and how long one has been in
business. So to be honest, I am happy with the structures that I
have in place.

Which structure of commission earning do you prefer (i.e. fixed
commission per deal, net/gross options)?

Per-deal commission. I try to mix a bit of everything in there.
How I like to look at doing deals with the funder is I tend to get
it to give us a fix commission rate per deal and then at the end of
the year I look for a volume bonus from it as well. We agree
figures on how much we should return on a deal-to-deal basis and
then I ask the funder to set me a target figure for the year so
that I can get a volume bonus. That way we can ensure we’re
spreading our business evenly between all our funders.

 

From portfolio manager to burgeoning broker

Gresham Financial Services Ltd (GFSL) was formed in 2002 as a
portfolio management firm by four former Lombard executives.

Responding to growing client requests for financing, GFSL added
a brokerage to its range of business activities in August 2004.

The group roped in Barrie Rawlings, a former employee of Capital
Bank with experience in asset finance to head up the division.

The brokerage severed its relationship with GFSL last October
when Rawlings engineered a management buyout with two other
investors. The business has since been renamed Gresham Finance Ltd
(GFL).

According to Rawlings, GFL has a unique structure and model
which has enabled the business to expand at minimal cost.

It operates with a self-employed network of agents who are
affiliated to GFL but appear to customers under the GFL banner.
With banks winding down their sales force in asset finance,
Rawlings found a ready pool of talent to hire from, although he
says that is shrinking with time. 

 “What we were doing is make self-employed agents into the
cheapest way of getting sales people without having to fork out
that much money,” Rawlings says.

GFL wrote £6.1m in new business last year and Rawlings expect to
double this figure in 2008.
Based in Hertfordshire with three internal staff, GFL has a network
of 10 agents working from remote sites. Most recently it set up an
office in South Wales. Plans are afoot to set up more such
satellite offices in Gatwick, Luton, and Oxford.