While you can read my overview of important insights from the 2017 Alta Group conference in my earlier post, “Adapt or Business as Usual? Challenges and opportunities in equipment finance”, one of the key themes occupying equipment finance providers globally was the impact of technology.
There’s no question that all businesses have been affected by advances in technology, just as all people have, and listening to my global counterparts talk about its effects on our business, I thought about just how profound the change has been, and how far-reaching the consequences.
Not only are we and our customers online in some way, we are more and more reliant on interconnected computer networks, cloud computing and the digital storage of data to operate. Advances in equipment, robots, AI and even the software we use for loan origination have changed the asset finance landscape forever, and the hard reality is that we need to pay attention, or struggle to survive.
There is good news however. If they approach it in the right way, forward-thinking asset finance providers should be able to position themselves at the very centre of technological change. As an industry we stand to benefit profoundly from the digital revolution – but only if we can respond effectively by partnering with our clients as they change the way they do business.
Because in the end, high technology is really only a means of achieving high touch. In other words, technology has changed, but people haven’t – relationships and client service still lie at the heart of successful asset finance. And if technology can be harnessed to achieve that, then we will all win.
So how should asset finance providers seek to benefit from technological change?
Asset finance providers can themselves be drivers of growth
Far from standing on the periphery as clients’ businesses change, asset finance providers need to identify and embrace innovative financing techniques. Simply providing credit in the form of traditional asset finance is now the most basic function we perform – clients are beginning to expect more. If we can play a role in helping them solve their credit issues in new, clever ways, we can become drivers of growth.
Asset finance has always played a crucial role in enabling businesses to grow. Many businesses are now seeking asset finance to invest in the digitalisation of processes and technology, and this in turn allows them to innovate themselves. For example, the collection and analysis of real-time performance data from processes and systems has long been the holy grail of continuous improvement for businesses, yet notoriously hard to do. Advances in digitalisation means that collecting real time data, analysing it in real time, and making improvements in real time is a giant leap for companies as they seek to increase productivity and efficiency.
The bottom line is that the ability to provide tailored and specific financing methods through technology applications is crucial if we are to drive growth in the industries we serve, and put ourselves at the centre of our clients’ financing needs.
This is not without challenges – it does depend on a deep understanding of specific industries and some technological expertise. Customers looking to jump ahead of their competition, and harness
technological innovation to improve efficiency, require an asset finance provider which can work lock-step with them to achieve this.
For example, in the growth industry of healthcare, integrated technology is constantly improving outcomes for patients. From the automated production of custom-made prosthetics to the use of robots to dispense drugs, new inventions are creating better products and reducing human error. These are products which haven’t existed before, and have therefore never been financed before, so asset finance providers able to embrace and understood these innovations, sometimes before their clients have, will be perfectly positioned to forge long term relationships with clients.
There’s no question that the ability to partner with customers to help them not only access, but actually understand what they need to grow their business, will be a real competitive advantage. The availability of flexible and appropriate funding is undoubtedly a vital component in helping businesses embrace digitalisation – and one which successful asset finance providers understand.
Funding new technologies is really about investing in long-term relationships
What I took from the global asset finance conference is that asset finance providers need to change their mind-set when it comes to funding of new technologies. But more importantly, they need to see advances in technology for what they really are: a perfect opportunity to get closer to clients, rather than further away, to achieve a ‘high touch’ relationship, where the focus is on partnering with clients to grow together, rather than simply providing a service.
This means that thinking about desired outcomes (for our clients and ourselves) rather than taking a sales or product-specific focus, is now critical. Better partnerships will be forged by those willing to take the time to work with clients on how technology and/or equipment might improve performance and productivity, or increase long term return on investment, and the role that asset finance can play in achieving those outcomes.
If technology, often in the form of fintech products, can be used to do the ‘grunt’ or simple functions - to make loan origination easier, simpler and quicker - then the role that asset finance providers offer can evolve. We can focus on the bigger issues, to identify new markets and innovations before our clients do, and find better ways to allow our customers to access them, and better ways of financing what they need. We become a source of innovation not just a source of funds.
Asset finance is changing, but for the better. Far from eliminating our role, technology has given us the means of placing ourselves right at the heart of our clients’ businesses. If we can help clients navigate the choices open to them, and help them make better decisions, we will become indispensable, perhaps even their trusted adviser and partner. And by helping our customers grow, we in turn can grow our own businesses, securing the future of the industry.