Billing Finance has been recording consistent expansion for several years now, and has enlarged its management team to match its ambitious growth plans. Jonathan Minter speakers to Oliver Mackaness and Shannon Faulkner to get a better idea of just what these plans involve

Billing Finance has grown consistently since the recession, and 2016 was no exception.

Last year, the Northampton-based lender grew its number of accounts from 9,500 to 12,500, increased its headcount from 35 to 55, and spent £1m extending its building to accommodate up to 40 new members of staff in the future.

The company is not looking to slow its growth. According to managing director Oliver Mackaness, the business is targeting at least 20% growth in 2017, and the aim since July last year has been to double the size of the business over the next five years. In order to do this, Billing has begun laying the groundwork by building its staff levels.

This increase in headcount has been coming from two areas. The first has been in the senior management team, which has seen a number of new faces; these include Raj Ladwa, who has joined as head of finance and operations, and Shannon Faulkner who has become Billing’s head of collections.

These two names reflect the ambition Billing is aiming for. Ladwa is a member of accounting body ACCA, and previous roles include time as financial director and company secretary at Telmart, finance director designate at Ikon Finance, and interim finance director at Savile Row tailor Gieves & Hawkes.

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Faulkner’s experience is more pure motor finance, including time as collections manager at Banque PSA Finance; from 2005 she was department manager, collections and recoveries at Honda Finance until joining Billing.

Explaining her decision to move from a captive to an independent, Faulkner gave a few reasons: “It was the excitement of the growth of the company, it was everything that was happening. With Honda Finance, I’d been there for 12 years. I’d started the department on a blank piece of paper.

“Although Billing Finance has been going for a number of years, I see the same opportunities to be able to build that I had at Honda Finance, and really utilise my expertise and knowledge to come in and bring a new challenge and new chapter.”
At the time of writing, Billing is looking to recruit a new head of compliance. With the new recruit, as well as Ladwa and Faulkner, and Gary Hill, Billing’s head of sales, Mackaness says he feels as though the company will be in a good position to be ready for the growth.

Beyond the senior management team, Billings has also recruited heavily across the business. “As our book has grown, we’ve had to grow our headcount; our IT department has now three people in it, whereas before it was just one,” Mackaness explains.

“Our collections team has more collectors in, we have more people in customer care, more underwriters, and more admin support. It’s about making the foundations of the company stronger.”

Careful growth

One thing Mackaness is clear on is that this growth will not come at Billing’s USP: manual underwriting. Nonetheless, there is recognition that in order to continue manually underwriting deals while looking to grow, the company will need to automate as much as possible around that.

To that extent, Billing has been working with Experian on a Delphi project in order to decline deals that do not reach a certain grade automatically.

Mackaness says: “At the moment between 30% and 40% of all deals are automatically rejected. So we’re wasting time on these, when we could make an automatic decision.

“These bottom deals that we’re never going to write, I don’t want my underwriters looking at those when Experian can just automatically decline them.”

Billing has also been looking at areas where it can gain additional business. One example of this was in Northern Ireland, a region into which Billing began dipping its toes in 2016. Currently the Northern Irish market is just a small part of the company’s business, accounting for between 2% and 3% of its monthly lend.

Similarly, the company has started lending for caravans, a market it saw as being underserved. Explaining the rational for the move, Mackaness notes: “It’s just a small niche we’re beginning to explore. As a business, niches are where we can benefit – so Northern Ireland and caravans are areas where we can try and capture a better quality of customer with a bit less competition.”

He adds: “We’ve had more finance available during 2016, so it has meant we can lend a bit more money. As we grow, I think it’s really important we don’t write worse business, or people with worse credit history. I want to carry on in the near-prime business, but writing to better-quality customers. In order to do that, we have to explore our niches.”

Billing is not planning to enter any new markets in 2017. Instead, the plan is to ensure all its processes are as good as they can be, and make it easier for customers to make payments through the launch of a new, upgraded website and portal. This comes back to making efficiencies; if people are making fewer payments by telephone, it potentially frees up staff for other activities.

Looking ahead, Mackaness concludes: “It’s quite a crowded market, but I have complete confidence in what we do.
Although we’re growing, and we want to increase, I don’t want to double over the course of the next year. I want steady, certain growth, working with our brokers and suppliers, keeping everybody on board.

“Our website has the tagline ‘getting you where you want to go’, and that’s what I see. We’re on a continual journey of improvement. Improving our product can only be good for our customers, brokers, and the company as a whole.”