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May 1, 2008updated 12 Apr 2017 4:47pm

The costs cutter

Amstel Lease has seen various changes since its parent, ABN AMRO, was acquired recently

By Brian Rogerson

Amstel Lease has seen various changes since its parent, ABN AMRO, was acquired recently. Brian Rogerson catches up with its CFO and discovers the true meaning of cost savings

kAs 2007 drew to a close, RFS Holdings, the company jointly owned by Royal Bank of Scotland, Fortis and Banco Santander, won the battle to acquire ABN AMRO. Among the orderly separation of ABN AMRO’s business units, Fortis, the Belgo-Dutch bank, assumed responsibility for the acquired company’s Dutch and Belgian operations – including Amstel Lease.

Amstel Lease has shown healthy growth figures over recent years, specialising, as it does, in funding a wide selection of assets, ranging from sea containers to tractors and from plant and equipment to vehicle fleets. In 2006, it opened a branch in the UK and brought with it a strong background in European cross-border deals from its principal base in Belgium and the Netherlands.

The company’s origins go back to 1968, when the Maatschappij van Huurkoop part of Amsterdam Rotterdam Bank (AMRO) introduced the Amstel Lease brand. Its name was inspired by its location at the time – by the Amstel river in the centre of Amsterdam.

There have been many changes over the years, including changes of location and changes of management. One constant theme, however, has been the company’s pride in its good working atmosphere and benevolent attitude towards its staff – some of whom have worked for the firm for more than 20 years. Since 2006, its chief financial officer (CFO) has been Maurice Koot.

The hunt for new systems

One early challenge for Koot as CFO was the fact Amstel Lease was comprised of a number of legacy software systems that were overdue for replacement. This, linked to the need for more flexibility in its systems, led to its newly appointed CFO to urgently to seek an update. The search for the best system, Koot stressed, was widespread and meticulous.

In November 2006, Koot finally signed a contract whereby Amstel Lease became the first Dutch company to opt for the SAP Leasing system. At the time, Koot stressed the importance of the implementation saying: “Not only will it help us to achieve our strategic objectives, but it will also help us to meet the wishes of our clients much faster.”

Dutch-born Koot spent his early professional years doing auditing work at KPMG before joining KLM and working on its planned merger with Alitalia, although this never came to fruition. The aircraft slump following 9/11 meant KLM cut staff by 30 per cent. Koot, then aged 40 and ambitious to assume chief executive responsibilities with a company, looked for new opportunities.

He had met Joris Linders, chief executive officer of Amstel Lease, and found that the two had much in common. Koot recalls: “At the time, Joris was looking for an executive with experience in cost savings and administration. I was able to make available the former, while he was able to supply the finance and banking experience.”

Small beginnings

Amstel Lease then consisted of one principal operation in the Netherlands. One of Koot’s first jobs was to establish the new UK operation. It became apparent that, to ensure expansion, the whole company’s IT systems would have to be updated.

“To achieve this,” he remarks, “I needed to really discover the essence of what made a leasing company operate successfully – and make a profit. Looking to the UK, I noticed that between 20 and 25 per cent of assets were traditionally sold on lease, whereby, in the Netherlands, the figure was only around 12 per cent. It became important to increase the penetration of leasing in the continental operation.”

The choice of the SAP Leasing system came about as a result of an intensive selection of software packages with the support of KPMG. “At the same time,” he says, “IBM helped us with the implementation of the software. One of the most important reasons for this was the fact IBM had brought together specific knowledge of leasing in a European Leasing Competence Centre in Germany.”

Merger

The news of the RFS Holdings/Fortis acquisition came, initially, as something of a disappointment. Koot explains: “2007 was proving a very good year for Amstel Lease. We were performing at five per cent better than the rest of the market and had increased our market share by 3 per cent.

“We had established and were bedding in a new management team, and the SAP implementation was proceeding to plan. My initial reaction was that we would now be unable to develop our ideas and expand elsewhere into Europe. However, Fortis is established in around 23 countries and there will be sound dividends in the merging of the two companies.”

Koot stresses the principal aim now is to keep Amstel Lease growing at the pace it had been prior to the merger. “It is also crucial,” he says, “to ensure our staff feel comfortable with any changes for the future – and it has been difficult for them having to be patient while some units are for sale.

” Koot is confident a strong new company will emerge from the merger, will benefit from the blend of the two corporate cultures. “Fortis,” he explains, “is three or four times larger than Amstel Lease in balance-sheet terms – and is historically strong in realestate leasing. Amstel Lease, however, is better established than Fortis in the Netherlands. Although we do not provide real-estate leasing, we are strong in largerticket deals and excellent at tailoring complex deals of all sizes.”

Although a time of global credit squeeze is hardly ideal for a new business enterprise, Koot is optimistic about the future. “Although we feel the same market restraints as others,” he says, “there is little loss of business confidence in the Netherlands at present. Confidence in the Dutch economy remains high.” 

A Day in the Life of Maurice Koot

Maurice Koot lives in a small village just outside of Utrecht with his wife and three sons, aged 12, nine and seven years. Since his office is in Utrecht, he does not have far to travel to work – nevertheless, he says he gets into the office “fairly early”.At present, each morning he gets an update briefing regarding the SAP Leasing implementation.

He also makes a point of accompanying account managers on their client visits on a regular basis. Often, the visit will accompany the presentation of a business proposal. “It keeps me abreast of what customers are thinking,” he says, “and how our account managers are performing.”

He receives seven direct progress reports every week with the object of “keeping up to date with how the department is working and progressing”. Once a week, he has a meeting with the treasury team at Amstel Lease,where funding and price-management issues are discussed, in addition to other topics. Once a month, he travels to London, Belgium and Germany to visit Amstel Lease operations.

Despite pressure of work, Koot admits that he always endeavours to return home “with a smile on his face”.

He plays hockey in what he terms a “veterans” team in his village and plays in a midfield position (and at the time of our interview he was nursing a sore shoulder – the result of a particularly strenuous recent contest).

Perhaps his most testing sport, however, is sailing a 40ft Banner boat and he is in training for the Schuttevaer race. This involves what he describes as a “Le Mans” start, with participants undertaking a two kilometre run to the harbour, where they jump aboard and raise sail immediately (no engine permitted after the harbour entrance).

Between 40 and 50 boats participate in Schuttevaer, and the race takes 40 to 48 hours of sailing on a course of 200 miles, cycling in two stages of 60km and running 21km and 12km at various locations. “Luckily,” Koot said, “we do this with a team of five men and we can each take a share of the burden.” It is quite clear they employ only the toughest people at Amstel Lease.

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