After a long career in leasing at companies ranging from Pitney Bowes Leasing to Five Arrows, Cassiopae and Linedata, Johnnie Halliday has taken up an honorary position as High Sheriff of Somerset – a role that he will balance with running independent consultancy Asset Finance Management Solutions. He speaks to Christopher Marchant about the state of the asset finance industry in 2019, and what has changed since he began his career in 1980.

At his new consultancy, Asset Finance Management Solutions, Johnnie Halliday is hoping to capitalise on both his established contacts and a skill set that combines areas as diverse as strategic and risk management consultancy to operational improvement.

“My ambition is to engage as an individual with some of the SME financers in the marketplace. This is where my skills are best directed, and I can bring to bear my network of expert and relevant consultancy-delivery teams,” says Halliday.

With his decades of experience, Halliday is also able to look at how asset finance has changed in this time. “It has become very transactional, very process-driven and with a focus on small- and medium-ticket leasing,” he explains. “The asset finance industry seems to have almost forgotten about the bigger-ticket items, such as trains and boats, that used to be part of the DNA of the industry.”

Supply and Demand

As to how competition itself may have changed, he says: “There are currently a lot of challenger banks out there doing excellent jobs, such as Aldermore, Metro Bank and Private and Commercial Bank. Yet with the cloud of Brexit hanging over us, there may be an issue of too much supply and perhaps too little demand.

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“In terms of systems challenges, asset finance new business and back-office teams now have a multiple choice of both niche and end-to-end solutions. This can in itself be confusing as everyone is striving for a competitive advantage.”

The status of the UK’s negotiations with the EU is forever fluctuating, and it can sometimes be difficult to determine how much leasing has been impacted; however, there have been multinational SME lenders that have taken tentative steps to increase their European footprints.

For Halliday, any trepidation regarding this topic of heated political and economic debate can be more than matched by optimism for the future. “Rather than be a direct result of Brexit, companies may have taken a five-year view dating to before the referendum [to leave the EU] and looked to expand their remit,” he notes. “As well as having too much risk in any one sector, leasing companies also need to limit geographic risk.

“There is also a lot of innovation in asset finance in the UK, and one of the strengths has been the international flavour of the city of London. It is a mix of people’s cultures which is part of the vibrancy. There is hope that this isn’t lost, that Britain is as willing to be open as a society as was in the past.”

By measure of his philanthropy, Halliday has been chair, and is currently a trustee, of the Asset Finance Professionals Association (AF-PA), an organisation formed to support the industry, the professionals working within it and wider charitable causes.

Of this role, he says: “It is down to a few people putting in the time. There is a wonderful chair in Stephen Bassett who is doing a few days a week unpaid. There are also ongoing plans to broaden the appeal of the AF-PA.

“There was an event in Birmingham in March, as well as planned further events in Leeds and Bristol. This regional expansion serves as part of the mission to raise our profile as the go-to charity fundraiser for asset finance in the UK.”

New Horizons

In March this year, Halliday became High Sheriff of his native Somerset. As part of this one-year appointment, Halliday will focus on Pathways to Apprenticeships, a charity initiative aimed at teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds and also to be supported by the AF-PA.

Halliday is a long-standing figure in the asset finance industry – influential both in terms of his contribution to the business of leasing and ongoing attempts to further connect it to the wider world.

The Asset Finance Management Solutions consultancy also promises to plant its badge on the industry for the years ahead.