Looking back to the spring of 2020, how did Acquis initially respond to the pandemic?

Thinking back to last March, I was taken by surprise at how rapidly the crisis developed. My immediate concern was the safety of our team but at the same time I knew we needed to mobilise quickly to ensure we could continue to support our clients. Like many responsible businesses in our sector, Acquis had a robust and tested Disaster Recovery plan, which enabled us to continue providing our services in just about any event. However, what the DR plan didn’t account for was a global pandemic or, more specifically, “stay at home” orders from the Government. This rendered our DR site impotent and forced us to bring forward our plans to embrace cloud-based technologies.
Thanks to the quick thinking of our team, particularly from the HR and IT departments, we were able to implement an early response which meant that two weeks before Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown in the UK, we had issued all staff with laptops and had a tried and tested ‘remote working’ solution in place.

What impact did moving to a remote working solution have on your business?

Because we deliver outsourced insurance programmes on leased equipment for many of the biggest financial services companies in Europe, it was essential that when moving to working from home we maintained our service levels. We have a Customer Service team which supports 100+ lessors in 11 languages across 13 countries. As a result of our investing in new cloud technologies, we were able to run this function remotely with our staff spread across multiple countries without experiencing a drop in service levels: 95% of 45,000+ incoming calls were answered within 15 seconds in 2020. I am so proud of this achievement and the efforts of our Customer Services and Claims Management teams that ensured our high standards of service were maintained even during the most challenging months of 2020.

Has the last year seen a change to the way you approach your customer relationships?

Absolutely. Ours is undoubtedly a relationship business; our clients tell us they like dealing with us because of our people. Take away our Client Management team’s ability to meet with clients, discuss latest developments and chat about how we can support them, and I was concerned that our relationships would suffer. But on the contrary, and thanks in no small part to the fact that most companies across Europe were having to adopt digital conferencing technologies at the same time, we have actually found that we are having more meetings, albeit now online, more interactions and more positive conversations as a result. And our teams are travelling less so they have more time to engage with our clients.
We’re seeing more clients adopt flexible working patterns, so we’ve had to make sure we’re available outside of the normal 9-5.30 and we’re implementing several new systems to improve the way we support our clients and ensure they have 24/7 access to our services. We’ve actually launched 13 equipment insurance programmes for new clients since the pandemic began and an additional 3 with existing clients, which is a remarkable achievement given the circumstances. The fact that lessors, who themselves were facing significant challenges, have prioritised insurance shows that they value our services and what a great job our commercial team is doing.

How do you think the events of 2020 will affect the leasing industry through 2021?

The repercussions of Coronavirus are still likely to be impacting markets for much of 2021 and beyond. And of course, for the UK, there could be a perfect storm of the pandemic plus Brexit. However, the leasing industry has stood up very well to the impacts of Coronavirus during 2020. Leasing volumes in all major leasing markets in Europe dipped significantly during the first lockdown but they have shown steady recovery since then, even during the second wave of lockdowns that came after the summer.
There are many SMEs across Europe that would have failed had it not been for the fiscal support schemes offered by governments as a response to the crisis. Unfortunately, it seems likely that some of these businesses will struggle to survive once that support comes to an end. However, there are many businesses which were strong before the pandemic that will survive and will prosper as the market recovers. Furthermore, there are many that have adapted their businesses so that they can continue trading during the periods of lockdown. I have no doubt that the hard work, tenacity, and entrepreneurial spirit of the people that lead SMEs will help to boost our economic recovery. Furthermore, despite all the uncertainty ahead, the leasing industry has proven to be strong willed and resilient, and we know from speaking with our partners that they are eager – and well placed – to continue playing their part in the recovery.