Opinion

Diluting grey hair to create the next generation of finance leaders

7 min read

06 October 2015

Training and personal development helps companies and industries to grow. Without investing in people, businesses cannot expect employees to complete vital tasks, interact with clients at the right level or come up with great creative ideas.

This is as true in financial services as any other part of the UK economy. The Credit Crunch, which began in 2008, created a need for new skills and a better understanding of the way finance works across the board, but it also persuaded a lot of companies to cut budgets and draw money away from future-focused investments such as training.

At Close Brothers Asset Finance we have taken the opposite view. The business prioritises customer relationships over transactional ‘one-hit’ sales and we want to imbue our people with the skills to create partnerships and deliver solutions meeting customer needs on an ongoing basis.

Because of the complexity of our industry and the strict ethical code that companies like ours must follow, it takes several years of training and experience for new recruits to reach the managerial level. But, for a leading firm like Close Brothers, just getting on the first rung also takes time.

Employees at every level need to be in tune with the latest regulations affecting the finance industry, we need them to understand our specific product suite and, maybe most importantly of all, they must have a mature understanding of how those products help businesses grow.

If you can understand your customers’ pain points then you can deliver better remedies, so it’s important that our people grasp common challenges in each industry and the tools that will help businesses overcome those hurdles.

Young women globally believe financial sector can't offer career progression

Why asset finance?

For us, asset finance is not just about allowing someone to acquire a piece of equipment, it’s what that tool can do for the business.

By facilitating major purchases, we can help businesses create bigger profits, reinvest them in hiring more people and deliver new goods and services. Ultimately it contributes to economic growth and prosperity in the UK and overseas.

We are a champion of small and medium businesses, who are often owner-managed and for who an investment in a trailer, an oven, a printing press or a vehicle can create a significant upswing in sales and a faster growth trajectory.

But despite the exciting potential of asset finance to fuel growth in the UK’s businesses, it is not always a first port of call for graduates leaving university. Close Brothers has won a lot of awards and we have seen first-hand that industry events have a disproportionately high ratio of grey-haired men.

Asset finance is still a relatively niche set of solutions compared to, say, standard loans, credit cards and commercial mortgages. So the industry faces a challenge of attracting high-calibre younger people who might otherwise be heading for investment banking or a big high street firm.

Case study after case study shows that asset finance is a brilliant way to build businesses without lumping pressure on directors with large debts. Our customers are often surprised at how well it works and have pledged to go on working with us as their business grows.

To spread the message further we need the best sales people and account managers available. Because hiring can be a challenge, we recently decided to invest in growing our own talent as well as hiring from outside sources.

Continue reading on the next page to discover how Close Brothers plans to bring talented recruits into the business and change the sector – something that can be adapted for your own venture.

Creating our own crop of super stars

In September we launched the Close Brothers Training Academy, a nine-month programme incorporating workshops, on-the-job training and online learning via our specially developed portal. For the inaugural programme we selected 34 students from different backgrounds and skill-sets, to learn our vision of best practice.

Ultimately, the programme was created to grow a new generation of financial leaders. But the first milestone is to equip them with a full understanding of what asset finance can do.

The September 2015 intake sees participants active in three of our divisions: Transport, Print and Industrial Equipment. The training facility is based in our state-of-the-art new headquarters in Wimbledon.

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It will fast track their knowledge of customers, products and markets, so that on completion they will hit the ground running as trainee area sales managers. By the summer of 2016, therefore, we expect this programme will have created 34 executives with vision and serious management potential.

The Training Academy is an investment in the future of our business, but also for that of our industry, which badly needs a steady flow of gifted and qualified people to serve our customers in the best way possible.

We decided to ‘grow our own’ by investing in the future. If we continue to invest in good people they’ll spread the word and it will help to make sure asset finance remains an important part of the UK economy, boosting growth for decades to come.

Mike Randall is the CEO of Close Brothers Asset Finance. The firm offers flexible funding options including hire purchase, leasing and refinancing, and has 2,900 members of staff – most of which are in the UK. You can follow Close Brothers on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.