John Evans joined Bank of the West in 2005 to manage its vendor finance business. This year, he became the leader of the bank’s Equipment Finance Division upon the retirement of Jerry Newell. Building on his predecessor’s success, Evans’ goal is to become one of the top five vendor finance companies in the U.S.
On March 1 John Evans assumed leadership of Bank of the West’s Equipment Finance Division, filling the role formerly occupied by Jerry Newell who retired on February 28. Under Newell’s leadership, Bank of the West expanded its equipment finance business from a $35 million California business to a nationwide, multi-channel business with $3.6 billion in lease and loan outstandings.
Bank of the West, with $62 billion in assets, offers a full range of personal, commercial, wealth management and international banking services through more than 700 locations in 19 western and midwestern states. Bank of the West is a subsidiary of Banc West Corporation, a U.S. holding company wholly owned by BNP Paribas, which has a presence in 80 countries with nearly 200,000 employees.
Evans arrived at Bank of the West in 2005 to manage the bank’s vendor finance business. He worked closely with Newell over the years, smoothing the transition from one leader to the next. Evans has a passion for working in the vendor finance sector. “I like developing relationships with manufacturers and supporting their sales efforts,” says Evans. “My mandate is to develop the Equipment Finance Division from a dealer-oriented vendor finance company to a manufacturer-oriented business. This process includes working with BNP Paribas and its leasing company, BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions, to support its international strategic partners here in the U.S.”
Evans has worked in banking for 34 years, with 33 years in the equipment leasing industry. “I started my career in a management training program at BayBanks in the Boston area and benefited from a unique opportunity when it started up an equipment leasing business. Equipment leasing was relatively new at that point, and I was interested in several of its facets, including the tax aspects and equipment residuals. When BankBoston acquired BayBanks in 1995, I saw that it had some intriguing vendor relationships, but it did not have a formal vendor finance organization. I led the development of that business inside BancBoston Leasing and have been in the vendor finance business ever since.” Evans later joined De Lage Landen, where he gained valuable experience in international vendor finance.
Bank of the West’s Equipment Finance Division has two major business areas: vendor finance and direct business. In the direct business, the company works with corporate clients and commercial banking relationships for Bank of the West and BNP Paribas in the U.S. In vendor finance, it focuses on major manufacturers of capital equipment in the agriculture, construction, material handling, healthcare, technology, production equipment and automotive segments. It also has a number of independent leasing companies and brokers as clients.
“Geographically we cover the entire U.S. with both of our businesses, and we have international capabilities through our affiliation with BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions,” states Evans. “We share a number of international manufacturing client relationships and support BNP Paribas’ clients in the U.S. as they support some of our clients in 22 countries outside the U.S.”
To truly understand and help your clients, Evans believes you need experience in the segments you serve through a full economic cycle. “We’ve weathered the ups and downs and understand what it takes to be successful in our markets and how to develop long-term relationships with clients. As an example, the ag sector is a very specialized business, and we have the experience to be competitive, manage the risks and service that sector with the right products. Bank of the West is the third largest agricultural lender in the U.S. and has been a major player in agriculture for some time.”
Evans acknowledges that today’s environment is highly competitive and encourages lenders to be efficient in terms of originations and servicing if they want to be profitable. As spreads continue to narrow, he attributes his division’s growth to its reputation. “We are known as a leading corporate relationship bank, and we built our reputation for expertise and great service by providing equipment manufacturers and commercial clients with solutions,” conveys Evans. “In the case of equipment manufacturers, we provide a full range of corporate banking products as well as a comprehensive set of sales finance products and solutions. We view ourselves as a relationship bank and, in that context, we view the vendor finance business and the direct business as another way we can serve our clients and support those relationships.”
Bank of the West’s Equipment Finance Division has set a goal to break into the top five U.S. vendor finance companies, and Evans says they expect to achieve that goal in the near future. “We have the benefit of several differentiators in the market place,” explains Evans. “We have been in the vendor finance business for more than 20 years, and we’ve been in many layers of that business, including working with dealers, distributors and large and small manufacturers. We have a great deal of expertise in the business, and we cover all the major segments.”
The company also benefits by its resources: Bank of the West is one of the largest commercial banks in the U.S., and BNP Paribas is one of the largest banks in the world. “Our relationship with BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions is another significant resource,” shares Evans. “It is the largest leasing company in the euro-zone with €31 billion (approximately US$40 billion) in assets, 3600 employees and operations in 22 countries. This means tremendous stability for our partners and customers. During the recession, we took on a number of client relationships when some of our competitors were having financial issues. Because of our size, strength and resources, those clients continued operating with minimal impact from the recession, and because of our stability and commitment to relationships, we expect to have them as customers for a very long time.”
Bank of the West prides itself on being a solutions-oriented, relationship bank. One of those relationships recently appealed to the company to provide a commercial credit card that customers could use to buy parts, maintenance, service and small equipment through their dealer channel. “Because we saw a customer need and have the nimbleness to respond quickly, we were able to develop the product and launch it,” declares Evans. “In another instance, some of our retail manufacturer relationships told us they’d like us to provide wholesale inventory floor planning. We launched that service in 2007, and today it is a significant business for us.”
When asked about his equipment finance leadership team, Evans reports that it has a strong mix of seasoned professionals. “A number of our people have been with Bank of the West more than 20 years, and they bring a continuity of knowledge to our many relationships of long standing. We also have people who joined the company more recently. They bring new perspectives, and that adds value for our clients and in developing our business.”
As we head into the second half of 2013, Evans sees both good news and challenges ahead. “I see growth opportunities in the equipment finance marketplace. Certain sectors, such as technology and construction, look more positive. Ag is a good, strong-growing area, too, but there continues to be relatively slow growth overall. We’d all like the economy to grow faster, but as always the challenge for us will be avoiding business that will cost us in a downturn.”
To meet the challenges of the economy, Bank of the West has resisted any temptation to change its go-to-market strategy by going down market. “We have always had prudent underwriting practices, and we haven’t changed our policies or other guidelines during or after the recession,” emphasizes Evans. “We have been consistent from the beginning of the recession, and we continue to be straightforward in terms of what we do and how we do it.”
Evans doesn’t foresee changes ahead that the industry cannot adapt to and recognizes that there are opportunities in how lessors may leverage new technologies to interact with customers. “At Bank of the West we are talking about how we might use social media technology to get closer to our customers. Also, there are tracking technologies and related tools that will allow the industry to provide higher levels of service that may lead to more opportunities.”
Bank of the West invests time and resources to ensure that its employees are trained and well aware of regulatory requirements but admits that everyone is in the same situation which levels the playing field. “Obviously there are more and more regulations directed at the financial services industry, and that has an impact on the requirements of manpower, systems and knowledge necessary to stay ahead of them. When we think there is going to be a change, we don’t wait for it — we address it. As a result, we have built into our business the ability to react quickly to potential regulatory changes.”
When asked about the company’s philosophy toward its clients, Evans replies matter-of-factly, “Bank of the West and BNP Paribas view themselves as relationship banks, and the Equipment Finance Division shares that approach — it is simply part of our corporate culture. We consider our clients to be clients of the overall bank rather than just clients of the Equipment Finance Division. As a large U.S. bank with global capabilities, we work to be sure we provide all the capabilities and products that Bank of the West and BNP Paribas can offer to our clients.”
Lisa A. Miller is a freelance writer who has worked in the equipment financing industry for 15 years.
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