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Q&A with Martin Stanley, CEO, Specialist Asset Finance

Martin Stanley is CEO of Close Brothers Asset Finance’s most diverse division, ‘Specialist Asset Finance’. In this Q&A he shares his views on a wide range of issues, from leasing trends to sustainability.

You look after a diverse range of teams – tell me about some of them please.

The Specialist Asset Finance division certainly covers a wide range of lending – from a dentist’s chair to a wind farm and pretty much everything in between.

The teams are set up to manage and develop lending in their areas of expertise, these now amount to….

  • Braemar Finance in the ‘professions’ world, covering dentists, vets, opticians, accountants, solicitors, funeral directors, pharmacists and medical practitioners.
  • Close Brothers Business Finance, covering the SME broker world and the numerous and various market sectors that third parties specialise in.
  • Close Brothers Leasing, which in itself has three divisions:
    • Wholesale Finance - covering the business and personal contract hire markets
    • Core - covering larger tranche bespoke funding packages, plus receivables, managed services, specialist cars and sports funding (focusing on football).   
    • Energy – covering the wind farm, solar park, battery and peaking markets along with variations on those sectors.

What have these teams been doing to help customers during the pandemic?

Since day one we’ve been listening very closely to our clients’ needs and have supported them using a number of solutions, depending on their cashflow requirements.

This may have been as simple as payment holidays, or as complex as restructuring terms via the British Business Bank support packages.

My thanks in particular go to our Braemar Finance and Close Brothers Business Finance teams who worked tirelessly to support their customers.  

The Leasing business was slightly different with less client numbers but more complex transactions, although the same duty of care was applied in that we listened first, particularly noting the deals were rarely ‘off the shelf’ when they were first written, meaning all parties needed to communicate well and understand what works.

Needless to say, we are expecting to continue to support our client base as they trade out of the effects of the pandemic, and as their different sectors allow.

Have any sectors weathered the pandemic well?

Very much so, our Energy business has had no impact and the Wholesale Finance business has had minimal requests for support, highlighting a strong relationship between end users, contract hire operators and our team.  

What trends – if any - have you seen, from a Leasing perspective?  

In the main, we’ve experienced the same trends as we do when putting new business on – which is that communication is everything. We continually talk to our clients and listen, developing a two- or three-way partnership through our brokers.

In terms of new business trends, this process has stood us in good stead, and there has never been more reason to talk!

Has the pandemic spurred innovation in any of your sectors?

No, because we are continually looking to improve our offering, and while the general product base hasn’t changed much for many years, we have been innovative in the way we’ve developed variations to a theme across the board, not least in the Wholesale Finance and Energy markets within Leasing.

Looking ahead, what are your thoughts about 2022 – do you think firms are looking to invest or will they be hoping to just tick over for now?

I believe there will be a period of consolidation, or for some clients ‘just surviving’ following such a long period of time without full trading capabilities.  

However, in common with what we’ve experienced through previous difficult trading periods, there will always be opportunities and we have our doors firmly open for business as usual.  

With sustainability being such a big focus, what role are we playing?

As an example, we are a significant funder of on-shore wind farms in the UK, funding sufficient cleaner power generation to support the equivalent of the population of Newcastle.

In addition, from proposals received every month in our Wholesale Finance personal and business contract hire markets, we can see a point in time where electric and hybrid will have overtaken diesel and petrol internal combustion vehicles in the not too distant future.