First Independent Finance Limited are the 2012 and 2013 UK asset finance broker of the year, as well as being the 2012 European asset finance broker of the year.
We are also Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce Best Performing Business in 2013!
Our success has been built around the delivery of simple, easy and low cost finance to our business and personal clients every day.
Whether it's an asset finance transaction, a commercial mortgage, invoice finance, a personal car loan or a quirky finance deal that needs someone to listen to you, we are there for you, and we can help you make a confident choice in selecting the most appropriate finance for you or your business.
We were delighted to receive a visit a few weeks ago from Fred Crawley from Leasing Life.
Fred spent the afternoon in Stewarton being shown round the building and chatting to all the staff. We gave him an insight into what FIF is all about and as a result the following article has been published in the June Edition of Leasing Life.
Reaping The Rewards
UK's leading broker expects £140m annual business by 2012
by Fred Crawley
Anyone who thinks that the UK broker sector is backward-looking or in a state of decline might well form a second opinion after speaking to Allan Ross, managing director of First Independent Finance (FIF).
After Ross made the decision to increase investment in the Ayrshire broker’s staff and systems during the market’s darkest hour, FIF now has a well-developed sales support machine, and a place among the tiny pool of financial services businesses awarded gold status by business standards body Investors in People.
One of the largest brokers in the UK, FIF has grown from a spare-bedroom operation in 1999 into a business advancing just short of £100 million (€118 million) in 2008.
Due to the financial crisis, 2009 saw significant sales difficulties for all UK intermediaries, and left FIF to contend with a much lower flow of new business.
However, although its turnover last year dropped year-on-year from £10.9 million down to £4.2 million, net profits held up well at £457,480 against just under £1 million in 2008.
Continuing to invest
Yet rather than dropping staff and trying to outlast the recession on money made during boom times, Ross made the decision to keep his team intact and continue investing heavily in business development.
It was not a cheap decision – IT investments, recruitment, training and rebranding all saw the net worth of the business fall from £500,000 to £414,000 over the year.
Nevertheless, the results are clear. Volumes for 2010 look set to climb to £85 million, and Ross is convinced that the pre-recession new business target of £140 million annually by 2012 is still achievable.
Working towards this will be a network of more than 30 field personnel, whose local sales territories link up to cover almost all of the UK mainland. Their work is done almost entirely on the road, and business is brought in by a constant stream of introductory visits to local companies.
According to Ross, this hands-on approach to sales is quite a daunting task for staff moving from lenders or other types of brokerage.
“If you’re used to getting deals phoned in daily for the last 25 years, it’s really hard to get out there and knock on doors,” he said.
Indeed, for this reason, although FIF employs a good number of industry veterans, it is one of the few brokers to hire and train junior staff, having done so throughout the recession.
It does not tend to lose staff, either. FIF keeps all salespeople on a salary, and, in its 10 years of doing business, has not lost an employee capable of bringing in enough income to cover their pay.
Quality, not quantity
But while Ross is keen to rebuild FIF’s sales volumes over the coming months, he is adamant that staff should not be selling by any means necessary.
“If your answer to ‘when does your appetite to make a sale stop’ is ‘when no finance company under the sun will accept the deal’, then you don’t fit our model at all,” he said.
Responsible selling is serious business to Ross. One of FIF’s directors, Derek Money, has the secondary task of managing the business’ reputation. Thanks to his development of an extensive written best-practice policy for FIF, staff now carry a manual explaining how to sell finance to the company’s standards.
As a result, FIF’s funder panel reads like a Who’s Who of British asset finance, including several lenders who have otherwise withdrawn entirely from the broker sector.
FIF has very much taken the position that finance companies are the primary customers of a broker, and as a former manager at Highland Leasing himself, Ross feels he knows what those customers want.
“Right from the beginning, the idea was to create a business with UK-wide coverage, very IT- and process-driven, and with a big sales support function,” said Ross.
Walking through the converted Stewarton based textile factory in which FIF’s business is headquartered, the quantity of resource backing up the broker’s field staff is hard to miss.
The upper floor of the building houses a room full of support staff following up on incoming business, while a neighbouring boardroom is home to three salespeople with laptops, working on proposals using FIF’s homegrown IT system.
Downstairs, a room shared by operations director Derek Money houses the creators of FIF’s IT systems – they are putting the finishing touches on the company’s new i-Max system. This web-based offering, available at the time of going to print, will be deployed to dealers and manufacturers keen to offer finance alongside their goods.
This step up into the world of sales-aid finance will be one that makes FIF’s 2012 volume target that bit more attainable, and would not have been possible without the systems investment that Ross put above profit last year.
When the external environment becomes more forgiving overall to the bottom lines of UK brokers, one gets the feeling that Ross will be very glad indeed of the infrastructure he has put in place.
Everyone at First Independent Finance is really proud of the article and hope for all the successes it mentions.
To see the published article click here