I meet Benoit Dilly, Arval’s new managing director, on the top floor of the BNP Paribas building in central London, a vast metal and stone edifice housing the French giant’s considerable banking might.
If ever you wanted to create the impression of permanence, then this is it, and it’s the first subject Dilly addresses. For some time, an easy shot by competitors across the bows of the French bank-owned leasing firm was to mutter about their commitment to non-banking activities in light of the downturn in the Eurozone. But Dilly is having none of it.
‘The bank was considering three or four years ago how interesting these business were to them, and we have seen others have decided that leasing cars does not fit into their plans. But here it was decided that it is in the group, and that in fact Arval should try to create more even synergy with other areas of the bank,’ he asserts.
‘More important for all our customers and prospects to know is that when we have a commitment, it is for the long run. We’re here, we’ve been here for 40 years, and as part of BNP for 12 years in the UK, and we’re growing. We have spent a lot of money migrating onto new IT systems in the UK. It has been a major project: everyone in the fleet industry would know how expensive an IT project is and anyone that knows about these things would say “why would you spend this money when you are selling?”. Clearly you would not.’
Dilly has been with BNP Paribas for 20 years and spent 11 years at Arval starting up new business in various countries and emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, Morocco and Turkey. More recently he was MD of BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions in the UK. He took over from Bart Beckers in September, and already has plenty of plans for the business.
‘I know the UK market and I know Arval,’ he says. ‘The plan is for Arval is to grow in the UK in corporate and SMEs. We are number four in the market, with very strong competitors and having strong competitors is great because you know what they are going to do – they aren’t going to do any crazy actions.
‘Our next competitors, Alphabet and Leaseplan, are slightly bigger than us, but we would like to challenge them in the next few years in terms of size. It’s still far away and I see no reason why they should get weaker. So it will be tough. But I would not rule out acquisitions if they are right and deliver tangible benefits.
‘We are close to a 90,000 financed fleet, and we need to get to 130,000. It’s a huge amount of business to win, but we have about a 5% share of the market and 120,000 would be 7%, so it’s not a huge amount of growth in terms of overall share. But I don’t expect to have an easy life doing it, but we know what we have to offer.’
He says the Allstar fuel card business is now successfully hived off, leaving Arval to concentrate on its core activities of leasing cars, and there is a major shake-up going on of the way Arval works with its customers.
‘Three years ago we sold the fuel card business because it was necessary because it was not our core business and it was a distraction. And we are happy partners with Allstar, and that is the way it should be.
‘So we now focus 100% on the leasing business and we have now fully dedicated corporate and SME teams and we need to get better at acquiring new customers and keeping our current them. But that’s the same as any of our competitors: it is basic corporate self-sufficiency.
‘The big thing we are doing is rolling out now a new account management system for contract hire, from quotation to end-of-contract. So instead of having departments such as ordering, contracts, SMR each sitting together, they are split up into teams. So around the table, all the different actors of the contract management of a fleet work together as a team and they work for one customer, or one portfolio of customers.
‘It means that they know their customers better and can resolve problems more quickly. This is something we’ve implemented in other countries and it’s working fantastically well. To us this will be a key trigger to enhance the quality of service to our customers.’
So, a major IT project completed, a reworking of the way the company operates, and ambitions for major growth. As Dilly says: ‘Now we will show what we can do.’