Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing is well known for operating successfully in niche and diverse markets. One team that has been quietly and professionally going about its business is the Wholesale Finance team – to find out more we spoke with James Comrie, who heads up the team.
James, tell me about your team and what they do…
We’re a small team of 16 and are a great mix of the young and not so young with a very tight bond. We extend in the region of £280m of funding per year to large contract hire companies who provide cars and light commercials to corporates, governments, SMEs and, more recently, to the public. The contract hire clients we deal with include the likes of Arnold Clark, JCT 600, Pendragon, Lookers, SG Fleet and Ogilvie.
The team manages the entire process, from finding a new customer to getting them setting them up, processing business to the tune of £20m-£30m per month.
In some cases we underwrite the end users as well and deal with settlements, so it’s a fully enclosed team.
What products do you offer?
Our product set has increased considerably over the last few years as we’ve become seen as the ‘go to’ funder for customers who don’t want ‘off the shelf’ products.
We provide funding for Business Contract Hire, which is, in essence, funding via the contract hire companies for company cars. We also provide extension funding, which has been very useful in the current circumstance and provides funding for company cars that have gone into informal extension and have been self-funded by the contract hire company.
Three years ago, we established Employee Car Ownership schemes (ECOS) for a few large dealer groups; this created a more cost-effective way to provide vehicles to staff in lieu of a company car, saving over £1m for our clients in the process.
More recently, we created Personal Contract Hire (PCH) funding for 20 of our clients and this has proved to be extremely popular. PCH allows unregulated businesses to provide personal contract hire, while being fully regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Interestingly, our product per customer has improved by over a third over the past five years.
Can you give me a few more details about PCH please…
Our PCH product was established two years ago and was created because the increase in company car tax was causing people to opt-out of company car schemes.
To help prevent our customers from losing business, we created a partnership allowing them to provide a car to individuals rather than lose a sale.
Every PCH contact is tailored to our customers’ needs, with the contract hire companies providing the route to market via direct to the public websites or the businesses they already deal with, known as an Affinity Scheme.
How is it different to other similar products out in the market?
PCH is a partnership scheme where we underwrite the end users and take on credit risk but also share residual and performance risk with each contract hire client, meaning they don’t need to broker PCH and thereby lose control of the assets.
Further differences include:
- The option for the end user to only pay one rental in advance
- The provision of PCH for the second-hand market - we are the only major provider who does this
- A combination of the contract hire companies’ service offering and reputation with Close Brothers’ experience of underwriting, a key reason why 90% of our partnerships are sole supply
What have customers said about PCH?
PCH has been met with immense positivity from our contract hire clients, primarily about our experience and flexibility, which allows them to provide a product that matches their own business’s beliefs. This is what SG Fleet, one of our largest clients, recently said:
‘When the going gets tough the tough get going … In times of uncertainty it’s always good to be able to rely on a funder that considers outside of the box solutions that enable our business to continue to support our customers with innovative fleet funding and management package. Close Brothers Leasing is a partner we’ve worked with for a long time and they continue to come up with innovative and flexible solutions that allows our business to continue through tough and uncertain times. They’re always willing to listen and understand the problem and work to find the solution’.
How has C19 affected you and your team?
In common with countless businesses, my team has been working from home. We’ve been having daily video calls as well as a trip to the virtual Trafford Park Tavern on Fridays where we have a quiz and weekly guests, including our CEO.
All this is done for a very serious reason – it’s about supporting one another, which has brought the team even closer together. The whole team has reacted positively and have worked together to help both our clients and each other through these uncertain times – this comment from Mark Philips, Chief Finance Officer at Zenith is typical of the sort of feedback we’ve been getting: ‘Right from the earliest days of the Covid-19 crisis Close Brothers has been offering proactive and focussed support, further cementing our view that they are a dependable and integral long-term partner for our business. They are a technically outstanding, super helpful team. When they tell me they can deliver something, I know they will not let me down’.
Even working remotely hasn’t stopped us funding over £85m during lockdown - our customers are very impressed given some funders have closed their doors or are taking their time to decide when they want to open back up.