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Covid, Data & Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing

Neil Davies, CEO of Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing, talks through the growing role data has played, most notably during the Covid crisis, and why – despite the rise of home-working – the company’s face-to-face business model won’t be changing any time soon.

I’ve always liked data, but I prefer to see it in its raw form rather than having it interpreted for me and be told what it ‘should’ mean. 

Many businesses seem to plan by anecdote and we were no different - a great story of a won deal would gather momentum while an instance of a single loss could curtail progress.

One of the lasting effects of Covid will be a greater acceptance of the use of data; for example, what the daily R- rate is and the 14-day rolling per 100,000 infection rate. This will, in turn, hopefully lead to more questioning of the raw data instead of an acceptance of a summary report.

Used properly and effectively, data allows us to better understand our customers and expand and adapt our services to suit their changing requirements and habits.

At Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing during the initial lockdown, with significantly increased forbearance and – most notably - when we launched CBILS, we started making decisions based on dashboard information. It became very addictive - and still is - because I didn’t need to email or call 20 people to get a feel of where we are, asking ‘how many of this’ and ‘what volume of that’ – and I’m able to refresh my dashboard every 60 seconds!

It’s easier than ever for us to use online resources to communicate with companies, research products, purchase items, and even perform banking tasks. These activities are then used to develop customer profiles that can track trends, predict behaviours, but - and I know I sound like a dinosaur - I just don’t think it builds long-term relationships.

Consistent and regular analysis of our operational data paves the way for making better customer-focused decisions in the future and we can - and will - move towards a more digital offering, speeding-up and easing the customer journey. However, if we don’t meet our customers face-to -face and visit their premises, there is a chance we will make poorer credit decisions and customers will be less likely to stay with us. 

At Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing, our people returned to the offices and our sales teams to the field a little earlier than many, which I genuinely believe was the right thing to do for our staff, our customers and the business. 

If you had told me in March that our offices would be closed for 90 days, I would have been close to panic - if you had said 180 days, I would definitely have panicked. But, we managed, and we know this because of our data telling us that many of our operations staff would start working at the time they used to leave to commute to the office while typically working 30 minutes later in the afternoon. 

That said, we know most office workers gain around 70% of their knowledge though osmosis. Over the last 180 days we welcomed over 20 new recruits who haven’t met their colleagues in person. We had some staff pleading for offices to re-open and, in total, we found 11 items we didn’t do quite so well at home. That was fine for a while, but if we have restrictions for the next 90 or 180 days, some things could start being missed. I was also worried that not going to an office would become a habit and hard to break - for me as well.

Not everyone is back in the offices, and certainly not all at the same time - we are sensible, following guidelines in the five countries we operate in, and we want all our people to stay safe. It’s quite possible lockdowns will increase, at least regionally, and we need to remain nimble and flexible.

From my dashboard, I can tell you we’ve received over 3,500 applications for CBILS. We have automated the eligibility tests to ensure complete consistency, with the results automatically loaded into Salesforce; the account manager notified, and our reporting updated immediately because we have to externally report 16 BBILS data points every day - everybody wants data! 

We have more new systems going live early next year - the quest to create and get value from data is never ending.

The post-Covid world will rely more on data, be more digital, encompass hybrid models with increased home working, but for Close Brothers Asset Finance and Leasing, the future will also include shaking hands again (just not yet!).


Data facts

  • Globally, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is produced every day 
  • 1.7 megabytes of new information is created every second for every human being on the planet
  • Almost 4.57 billion people were active internet users as of July 2020 – 59% of the global population