Laying Another Brick: Evans Leads FNB into the Commercial Equipment Finance Space
by Phil Neuffer January/February 2017
With 35 years of experience behind him, Tim Evans was brought in to lead the expansion of First National Bank’s leasing arm into the commercial equipment finance sector. With a strong vendor business already in place, F.N.B. Equipment Finance got off to a running start under Evans in late 2016 and is poised to keep moving up in 2017.
F.N.B. Equipment Finance, the equipment leasing arm of First National Bank, was not in the 2016 Monitor 100. In 2017, it could very well make its way into the annual ranking considering the expansion it started this past fall.
With a vendor business run by Donna Yanuzzi, director of Vendor and Small Business Banking Equipment Finance, already in place, FNB made the strategic decision to expand its equipment leasing capabilities, specifically into commercial equipment finance. The reasons were many, but it boiled down to something simple for F.N.B. Equipment Finance President and CEO Gary Cook, Sr., who says there was a vacuum to fill. “Looking at the business, we knew we did one side well and felt that there was another part of it that we could grow. That’s where we were looking for that expertise and that next level.”
To reach that level, Cook brought in industry veteran Tim Evans, who previously led FirstMerit Equipment Finance, a bank leasing company that has been a mainstay in the Monitor 100, ranking No. 69 in 2015 and No. 66 in 2016.
Evans is every bit a veteran of the bank leasing industry. In his first job out of college he entered a credit training program with PNC Bank and joined its equipment leasing group in 1981. He spent a few years in the independent sector in the 1980s, working for Equitable Life Leasing, but since then has spent the majority of time with U.S. Bank Equipment Finance and FirstMerit.
“I spent a significant amount of my career at bank leasing companies,” says Evans, who believes each position in his career provided an amalgamation of different lessons that have evolved his approach to the business. “You could say that’s the benefit of 35 years of experience.”
“Every one of my earlier positions gave me something along the way that I now use,” Evans says. “I would tell you it’s not any one thing or one organization in particular, it’s just a continued evolution and, just like our business, you’ve got to stay nimble and change with the times.”
Cook and Evans did not have a relationship before they began working together, but Cook was aware how successful Evans had been at previous positions.
“Quite frankly I’m very pleased that Tim is on board now. He’s really taken the reins on this expansion,” Cook says, adding that Evans has laid the foundation of a great commercial leasing team. “We knew each other through the industry, and I knew very well that he ran a very good shop.”
Together, Evans and Cook create a formidable duo in the commercial equipment finance space as both have a deep well of experience to draw on.
“Tim has actually worked in the field of leasing the same amount of time I have…he has specific knowledge on the side of the business that he’s developing,” Cook says, adding that F.N.B. Equipment Finance is set up to compete in the market when combined with its vendor finance division.
As F.N.B. Equipment Finance was already in the equipment finance space through its vendor finance unit, Evans’ addition and the expansion builds onto an already strong foundation.
“For me it’s been developing the procedures and starting implementation because the infrastructure is already here. The business that we’ve built and that Gary’s built on the vendor side means we have the foundation in place,” Evans says. “We’re just laying another brick on that foundation, and it’s going to give us the ability to expand even further. I can tell you right now I’m ahead of where I thought I’d be because we are part of such a solid bank.”
Evans’ wealth of experience at bank leasing companies has given him a clear vision for the way he will run this business, and it’s really staying true to what he’s been doing for 35 years. That means approaching the market as a generalist and avoiding verticals.
“We’re generalists. What we haven’t done, and I don’t see us doing, is creating vertical businesses. Instead, we’re going to continue to work within the framework of the bankers and the RMs,” Evans says. “As we all know, there’s ebb and flow in business cycles, so the more diversified your book is, the better positioned you are to react to potential downturns in the economy by not having one side of your business too heavily invested in one specific vertical. I like the bank generalist model. It’s always what I’ve worked with and tried to build anywhere I’ve been.”
Evans admires FNB for its organizational structure, which bypasses the hierarchical roadblocks that can bog down business at other firms. It’s something he thinks further separates FNB from the competition.
“First and foremost we’re what I call a flat organization where decision-making is largely at the regional level, which allows us to be much more nimble. It allows us to present ourselves uniquely because we can turn quickly. A lot of leasing companies have created so much hierarchy you can’t get anything done,” Evans says. “What’s really refreshing here is if we need to work something that has a unique structure and a deal that needs to be worked on, we get the parties in the room to make the decisions and there’s no waiting for emails and memos and all those things that might be required at a different organization.”
Such a flat structure may seem to indicate a smaller organization, but Evans is quick to remind customers that he can make decisions quickly while still having the backing of a large bank.
“We have tremendous liquidity and are able to be competitive from a pricing perspective, although we in the leasing world never like to admit that pricing is always important. We have the ability to be competitive in every aspect of the business because of the strength of FNB,” Evans says.
Now and Then
When Evans stepped into this new role at the end of the summer of 2016, he knew there were a number of important initiatives to be addressed. One of the most critical of those was building asset management capabilities. To that end, one of Evans first hires was an ASA certified appraiser. The team has grown since then.
“We build around equipment expertise because that is a value that we bring to the table every day — knowing the equipment we’re lending against and structuring leases using that expertise. The team itself is coming together nicely,” says Evans, who aimed to be fully staffed by the end of 2016. “We’re not hurrying. We’re being very thoughtful about the type of people we’re bringing in. They need to fit the culture at FNB.”
After building the team, there was (and still is) more to do. First, Evans had to get out among the bank’s relationship managers, explain his team’s value proposition and introduce the product, which now has enhanced leasing capabilities. Second, Evans wanted to create a significant back and forth with the already-established vendor business.
“What we’re trying to create is that environment to do high quality on both sides,” Cook says. “We do have that relationship going back and forth all the time. Either the customer will walk into the bank and a relationship manager will send them Tim’s way, or one of Tim’s customers will want to get a piece of equipment through a vendor part of the business. Because we are strong on both sides, we find out who that vendor is, and we try to build a relationship on an indirect basis. That’s the kind of relationship we’re looking for on both sides of the business.”
Evans’ actions have not occurred in a vacuum. The new unit has been running as close to full steam as possible since its inception, and Evans is proud that it was already doing business before the New Year. Such a quick start has allowed Evans to build high expectations for F.N.B. Equipment Finance in 2017. That sentiment meshes with Cook’s vision.
“We’ve grown every year since we’ve been part of this bank. This year is no different than the previous years, it’s just a matter of how much we’re going to grow,” Cook says. “One of the focuses we wanted to take is getting closer to a 50/50 balance between the commercial leasing business, which Tim’s heading up, and the vendor end which Donna Yanuzzi is heading up. We’re looking for that growth and are in the mode to achieve it.”
Where that growth mode will lead has yet to be seen, but Evans and Cook both believe it will lead to big things in 2017. Who are we to doubt them?