Embracing Change & Creating Opportunity: Kelly Takes the Reins of Wells Fargo Vendor Financial Services

by Rita Garwood May/June 2016
Wells Fargo recently named GE Capital veteran Jim Kelly group head of Vendor Financial Services. In a Q&A with Monitor, Kelly discusses the process of integrating the vendor businesses of GE and Wells Fargo, his father’s contagious optimism and his hope for attracting bright and diverse talent to the equipment finance industry.

MONITOR: You spent most of your career with GE Capital. Can you share a bit about your background? How did you get into vendor finance?

I studied finance at Notre Dame and started with GE in their Financial Management Program. My first role with GE was for the Vendor Finance division as an analyst reconciling expense entries. After working in Vendor Finance for a while, I was encouraged to take on different roles that ultimately helped me build a broader base. I had the opportunity to do debt and equity financing with Energy Financial Services and asset-based financing and cash flow loans within Corporate Finance. At several points in my career, I was asked to lead the Vendor Finance business as it grew in size and during the financial crisis. I have spent half of my career working with and leading this incredible group. Vendor finance is home for me.

MONITOR: It’s been interesting to see where GE Capital executives have been landing after the divestiture announcement last year. Aside from the fact that Wells Fargo acquired GE’s Vendor Finance business, what made Wells Fargo the right next step for you?

Most important for me was the fit for customers and our team members. Wells Fargo was, and is, committed to delivering the best outcome for everyone and wants to grow the vendor business and its capabilities. In addition, Wells Fargo is the most valuable bank brand in the world. We are 100% dedicated to financial services and unparalleled in our commitment to customers and helping them succeed financially. That is an organization I am proud to represent.

MONITOR: Can you discuss the process of integrating GE Capital’s vendor finance business with Wells Fargo’s existing vendor business?

Above all, and throughout this integration, we are operating ‘business as usual’ and providing best-in-class service that our customers expect from us. Our expertise, our resources and our ability to deliver hasn’t changed. As for the organization, we are taking a thoughtful approach to how we align the new Vendor Financial Services group to best serve the needs of our customers and leverage best practices from across the business. These are two admired organizations coming together with a track record of strong results. Our team members are passionate, driven and focused on doing what is right for our customers.

MONITOR: You were recently appointed group head of Wells Fargo Vendor Financial Services. What did this appointment mean to you professionally and personally?

Professionally, I get to continue doing what I love and what I dedicated my career to do. I’ve been in this industry for 30 years, and I’m energized and excited about the capabilities and potential of this new organization. This is not only an opportunity for me to grow the business in a meaningful way, but it’s a tremendous opportunity for everyone involved to grow personally and professionally. It’s always been important to me to embrace change and never stop taking opportunities to learn, grow and make an impact.

MONITOR: In your life, who has been the most influential and why?

My father. His positive attitude was contagious. When he walked into a room and someone asked how he was doing, he’d always say, “Fantastic.” A positive attitude creates the environment for growth and breakthroughs. He also told me that everything in life is about influencing outcomes. The harder you work the luckier you get, or, as many of us have heard it, “you make your own luck.” To me this means luck has an element of chance, but the harder you work to accomplish your goals, the better prepared you are to get the outcome you’re looking for.

MONITOR: What are a few of your short-term and long-term goals for Wells Fargo Vendor Financial Services?

In the short term, with the strength and expertise of this organization, we will continue to deliver products and services that benefit our customers and help them grow. This is a time of change for many of us, but also one of great opportunity to be the best vendor finance business in the marketplace. Long term, we are eager to leverage cross-sell opportunities that Wells Fargo has to offer and make sure our customers are receiving the benefits of the full suite of products and services available.

MONITOR: What industries does Wells Fargo Vendor Financial Services serve?

We specialize in very diverse industries, including office automation and imaging, construction, agriculture, technology and telecommunications, light industrial, compact utility, material handling, healthcare, golf and turf, and manufacturing. Our team members know these industries well, and they work together to support our customers and provide the right solutions.

MONITOR: What is your go-to-market strategy?

We are relationship-focused at Wells Fargo and our customers matter most. At Vendor Financial Services, we help manufacturers, dealers and distributors manage their equipment inventory, enhance sales opportunities and serve their customers through a full range of financing programs designed for their specific business needs. From referral services and wholesale programs to integrated and customized programs, our experienced team and value-add tools help our customers succeed.

MONITOR: Where do you see the industry going in the next five years?

Advances in technology, data and the speed in which we are expected to work with our partners will continue to evolve. Lenders need to be able to integrate with customers from a technology standpoint and increase system capabilities to drive speed and ease of use. The people succeeding in five years will be adding value and helping partners strengthen customer relationships, identifying opportunities and driving operational efficiency and ultimately impacting their overall growth. From a product perspective, the market continues to move away from traditional, equipment-based transactions. This has been going on for years in the technology space with cloud-based and managed services. Now it is branching out into new industries and lenders will need to enhance product offerings to fit market needs.

MONITOR: Have you noticed any changes that could have an impact in the industry, either positive or negative?

Globally, we’re seeing the consolidation of equipment manufacturers and dealers, which continues to be a strategic advantage for many companies. This increases competition and puts more pressure on lenders to secure relationships and grow market share.

Also, the changing regulatory environment and an economic climate that remains somewhat volatile will continue to present challenges for the industry and require us to balance these changes with how we serve our customers. Interest rates will likely go up this year, but when, and by how much, remains to be seen. Wells Fargo economists are anticipating two rate hikes this year with the first potentially coming in June.
Finally, I think we’ll see the FASB standards for lease accounting change the way some of our customers evaluate financial products. While new standards won’t begin to be implemented until 2018, companies that traditionally used operating leases for off balance sheet treatment will need to address how this impacts their business model and financial reporting.

MONITOR: If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be and why?

It’s not so much a change as a shift in our thinking. I think the equipment finance industry has an opportunity to enhance its approach to diversity and attracting bright talent. I attend a lot of industry events were everyone looks like me. Wells Fargo sees differences as an asset. We strive to leverage our team members’ differences to anticipate and meet the needs of our customers and communities while tapping into the innovation and creativity that comes from diverse perspectives. We can work harder to attract and grow a diverse set of individuals who will ultimately help the industry thrive in the long term.

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