Lytle Brings a New Perspective to Equipment Finance

by Rita E. Garwood Jan/Feb 2024
As the first woman to lead the ELFA, Leigh Lytle brings a new voice and outlook to the industry. In an interview with Monitor, she identifies seven opportunities and challenges the equipment finance industry faces today and outlines the association’s goals to address them.

Leigh Lytle,
President and CEO,
Equipment Leasing and Finance Association

Leigh Lytle
President and CEO
Equipment Leasing and Finance Association

Leigh Lytle wasn’t in the market for a new role when a recruiter approached her about interviewing for the position of president and CEO of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association. Thinking back to that initial call from a recruiter, Lytle said her general curiosity drove her to learn more.

Although she had spent her entire career in financial services, Lytle had never been exposed to equipment finance. She recalls thinking, “How do I not know about this $1 trillion industry that has a huge impact on the macro economy?”
The more she learned about equipment finance, the more interested she became. As she started to meet the people of the industry during the recruitment process, she became incredibly interested in the role.

“The people were really open and generous with their time — really knowledgeable, interesting people,” Lytle says. “I felt like I could learn a lot and also add a lot.”

A Unique Opportunity

Although Lytle didn’t foresee leading an association as the next step in her career, her professional journey has provided many experiences that she plans to leverage in her new role.

Lytle entered the financial industry in 2004 when she joined the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco as a bank examiner, serving throughout the financial crisis. She spent the next 17 years climbing the ladder of policy and advocacy work at the Fed where she led a data analytics and insights operation before ending her run as group vice president in 2022. From there, Lytle became the head of North American Policy at the digital finance giant, Plaid — the role she held when ELFA came calling.

“I’ve always taken on what’s a new and exciting next challenge,” Lytle says. “I’m not afraid of something that other people maybe would shy away from or that looks hard to solve. I love problems like that. Whenever there’s been an interesting problem, I’ve run towards it instead of away from it. I think that’s given me the opportunity to have a wide variety of roles.”

Lytle also spent two and half years serving as a board member at Adventure Scientists and a year as board chair of the Financial Technology Association, a role that Lytle believes is most aligned with her new position with ELFA.

As a board member of the emerging trade association, Lytle created a true partnership with its CEO Penny Lee. “Through that experience, I learned a lot about how to run an association, how to prioritize your members’ needs and how to build consensus when there are disparate viewpoints on advocacy issues,” Lytle says. “That was a really informative experience for me and one that I’ll leverage heavily in this role.”

Finding Opportunity in Every Challenge

After one month on the job, Lytle isn’t ready to make any bold proclamations about her vision for the association. Instead, she is firmly in “listening mode” as she embarks on a mission to get to know ELFA members, visiting their offices, getting to know their teams and hearing about their needs firsthand.

But with the knowledge she has acquired, Lytle already has a good understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the industry as well as the association’s related goals:

  • Maintaining Resilience. Given the shakeups caused in 2023 by the Silicon Valley Bank collapse, Lytle says this is a dynamic time for the industry and for banking. Although some banks have been pulling back from certain segments of the market, she believes in the resilient nature of equipment finance. A key question Lytle will ask as she leads ELFA into the future is “how can we ensure that the industry continues to be resilient and continues to win?”Lytle notes that frothiness tends to bring new challenges and new players. ELFA will help members navigate this environment with the help of veterans who have lived through many cycles and by keeping a close eye on economic trends to help members predict what’s coming next.
  • Raising Awareness. Like many in the business who never heard of equipment finance until they joined its ranks, Lytle wants the industry to get the attention it truly deserves. Whether that be through the media, advocacy or leveraging contacts in adjacent industries, Lytle wants the world to know more about the impact the industry has on the economy.With her background, Lytle will always be interested in and focused on the regulations impacting the industry. She will ensure that the ELFA is advocating appropriately for members and for the industry at large at the state and federal level, including ongoing actions involving Section 1071.
  • Winning with Technology. Coming from the technology space, Lytle is interested in learning more about the role technology plays in the industry as well as at the company level. ELFA’s Board of Directors has approved a technology audit designed to help the association better serve members.While she admits that it may be tough for financial services to stay on the leading edge of technology, falling behind the curve can be dangerous as well. Lytle notes that the ELFA Technology Innovation Council and Operations and Technology Committee are key resources helping members exchange ideas and discover new approaches for tackling their innovation challenges.
  • Hearing New Voices. As the first woman to lead the ELFA, Lytle is a new voice within the space, and she plans to accelerate the work already in motion by countless volunteers to bring new voices and new faces to the table.As the graying of the industry progresses, the number of leaders announcing retirements will continue. ELFA will continue discovering how to make the industry welcoming to younger talent and how to make training, education and research more accessible and appealing to the next generation.
  • Combatting Fraud. As the world continues to shift towards real time payments and digital-first strategies, fraud is a concern for everyone. Lytle says consortium thinking usually leads to better outcomes and plans to utilize this approach.
  • Embracing Emerging Markets. The association and Equipment Leasing & Finance Foundation will continue collecting business intelligence designed to help members learn about new markets, funding models, payment mechanisms and other challenges and opportunities so they can make informed decisions.ELFA will also keep members updated as trends such as equipment as a service, climate-focused investment and new funding sources continue to unfold.
  • Furthering Strategic Goals. Lytle is committed to advancing the association’s strategic goals for 2023 to 2027, which include advocacy, business intelligence, industry awareness and impact, member engagement, and training and education.

While Lytle emphasizes that this is not a comprehensive list, all the items have a common theme. “My job is to support our membership and to equip them to be successful,” she says.

As Lytle embarks on her listening tour of the equipment finance industry, the initial curiosity that attracted her to the association will fuel her desire to make the industry a better place for ELFA members.

Rita Garwood is the editor-in-chief of Monitor .

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