Steve Gee is CEO of Close Brothers Asset Finance’s Industrial Equipment division, comprising sectors key to the UK’s economic growth, including manufacturing and construction. In this Q&A he gives his views on the impact of the pandemic and how funding products could change according to customer demand.
Sectors like manufacturing and construction appear to have weathered the Covid pandemic better than some others – is that a fair assessment?
There is some evidence the Manufacturing and Construction sectors seem to have weathered the Covid storm acceptably; however, it does of course vary from business to business.
Without a doubt our clients have had to be very adaptable and flexible to the pandemic, and it’s a tribute to them how many seem to have coped with such unprecedented circumstances.
The Construction industry, in particular, appears to be in reasonable shape. There are, of course some large infrastructure projects, for example HS2, which will benefit the sector now and in the foreseeable future.
Clearly, they’ve not come through unscathed - what are some of the challenges they’ve faced?
As with ourselves, our clients have had to deal with the majority of their staff working remotely and the additional challenges that brings, both for the business and the individuals.
Many of our clients will have seen their own suppliers operating differently, which has had an impact on their supply chain.
From a funding perspective, we’ve been helping customers with both cashflow and asset-backed CBILs facilities at a time when cashflow and new investment is particularly important.
Has the pandemic been good for innovation in the IE sectors?
Innovation is constant in our sectors; new ways of working and production are always on the agenda. The pandemic may have slowed things down a little for some but our customer base is very resilient and I sense innovation will be firmly back on their agendas now.
Looking ahead to 2022, what can we expect in industrial equipment sectors?
Next year will be an interesting time for sure.
In Manufacturing there will be the long-awaited MACH2022 exhibition, which was of course postponed during the pandemic. This will give suppliers an opportunity to showcase their latest innovation in Manufacturing technologies, and I expect the event will be very well attended.
In Construction, we will hopefully see a continuation of companies trading well – the UK housing market has been very strong and this is anticipated to continue into 2022, so a real opportunity for many of our Construction customers.
What trends – if any - have you seen, from a funding perspective?
Funding has been very different during the pandemic - we’ve supported our customer with over £1bn of CBILs-based facilities and have been very proud to do so.
Moving forward, I see much more of a return to business as usual in terms of facilities, albeit the Recovery Loan Scheme is now live and will help us to continue to back customers where otherwise it may have been difficult.
As I mentioned earlier, cashflow will be crucial as we move forward; those businesses who can adapt to new ways of working and preserve cash at the same time will have real opportunities for growth.
Close Brothers Asset Finance has a very consistent set of finance products – is there an opportunity to adapt them to a customer’s requirements?
Its cyclical; however, many customers are starting to talk again about a flexible ‘pay as you use’ facility, with the option of terminating a contract early without penalty.
We’ve been working on some ideas in this area, as well as speaking to some of our partners to develop a product which fully meets the growing needs of the marketplace.
We are not quite there yet but good progress is being made – watch this space!!