Huntington Asset Finance has maintained a consistent track record in the equipment finance industry over the last few years. But consistency has not bred complacency. Mike DiCecco explains how the company is adding new products and helping with the wave of the future.
There’s something to be said for consistency. At Huntington Asset Finance, consistency was part of what led to success in 2017. On the back of a 6.4% growth rate in new business volume, Huntington ranked No. 29 in the Monitor 100, which was the exact spot it held a year earlier. On top of that, Huntington maintained its No. 16 rank in the Bank 50.
Mike DiCecco continues to lead Huntington’s Equipment Finance unit, as he has for the last five years. DiCecco has been with Huntington for nearly two decades — the bulk of his 30-year career in the equipment finance industry.
That career began back in 1990 when DiCecco entered a commercial banking training program. He was recruited by Star Bank’s equipment finance unit, and the rest was history. He eventually landed a spot at U.S. Bank Equipment Finance following a number of mergers. Not one to leave too soon, DiCecco spent 13 years at U.S. Bank in what he calls the “formative years” of his career. Even though he has worked at Huntington longer than anywhere else in his career, his time at U.S. Bank provided a large subset of his professional foundation.
“Those early years really helped create the lenses that I use every day to interact and lead my team,” DiCecco says. “I certainly learned the fundamentals of credit from some of the best risk people I’ve met in my career. I learned how to be a direct business development person and how difficult that is at times and how to appreciate what our frontline colleagues are trying to accomplish every day.”
Along with a long history in the industry, DiCecco has had a varied one. His skill set doesn’t pigeonhole him into one specific aspect of the business, which makes him a versatile leader who can speak to multiple functional capabilities, including a few years leading commercial banking for one of Huntington’s largest bank regions.
“I’ve really done most things within our business. I’ve had roles in credit, sales, sales leadership and strategy,” DiCecco says. “I’ve run single product lines and single businesses and today have the privilege to oversee several business lines for Huntington and have been doing that for the last five years.”
Since he has been in the thick of things for so long, DiCecco has worked through numerous economic cycles and can easily identify what has changed in the last three decades. Those changes are not small by any means, with some rather seismic shifts occurring in equipment finance, as they have in the technology, banking and real estate industries.
Perhaps the greatest change DiCecco has seen is an increase in specialization with the buildout of business verticals. More companies are competing for the same deal and using different strategies to win.
“When I think about the competitive landscape, I think it’s fiercer than it was in the 90s and early 2000s,” DiCecco says. “Prospects and clients have so many choices on who they can do business with, and some days the difference between winning and losing is a basis point or two. Our competition today really comes in all shapes and sizes, everything from the community banks to the regionals to the independents, who have a very strong value proposition right now, to the vendor programs that are growing significantly.”
To be a major competitor, DiCecco has prioritized crafting a customer experience which encourages repeat business and success for both sides.
“What’s going to differentiate us in the future is how much we improve the client experience, giving clients more choices on how to do business with us and making it easier for them,” DiCecco says. “That’s the wave of the future.”
Just being good at customer service isn’t enough, as DiCecco indicates when he mentions options. To that end, Huntington has enhanced its legacy offerings while expanding into other asset types and financing products. This includes the growth of its railcar, aviation and lender finance businesses and the addition of a municipal finance division (Huntington Public Capital), along with the acquisition of Macquarie Equipment Finance, a dedicated technology finance business, in 2015. Huntington isn’t stopping here.
“In 2017, we spent a lot of time investing in our renewable energy and vendor finance platforms,” DiCecco says. “Now, in 2018, those are contributing to our growth year over year, and those long-term investments will play very nicely into our base going forward.”
In addition to investments in renewable energy and vendor, DiCecco wants his team and the company as a whole to be on the cutting edge of emerging technology advancements. This will help ensure Huntington isn’t just doing a lot of business, but a lot of efficient business.
“We still need to invest in our technology systems and make it easier for both our colleagues to serve our clients as well as for our clients to work with us,” DiCecco says. “Our industry, right now, is at a pivotal point. A lot of investments are getting made in technology platforms. Here at Huntington, we’re at the beginning of a very exciting digital roadmap, which will take us well into the future.”
As responsible as DiCecco has been for Huntington’s success, he can’t do it alone. He knows this and is quick to credit his teammates for creating a business equipped to compete in so many different segments and credit types.
“We have what I refer to as our core business development team that’s out working in our bank footprint day in and day out. We surround and support them with subject matter experts (aviation, railcar, municipal, renewable) and then complement it all with a market leading technology finance platform,” DiCecco says. “We do our best at near-investment grade credit space, and because we’ve built flexible back-end systems and have colleagues with experience at different ticket sizes, we can really go from small- to large-ticket without problems. We’ve got the full bandwidth.”
Some of the team members DiCecco leans on the most are Jeffry Elliot, Dan Fluharty and Greg Goldstein. Elliot and DiCecco have been working together since the early 90s, and Elliot currently leads the Public Capital business and the renewable energy initiative. Fluharty has been with Huntington for four years and is very involved with many areas of the business including specialty finance and strategic planning. Goldstein joined Huntington through the Macquarie acquisition and is the head of Huntington Technology Finance.
DiCecco, Elliott, Fluharty and Goldstein are supported by many other talented individuals who ensure that Huntington continues to provide a constantly improving customer experience.
“Money is green across all sectors, but it’s the people on the team and the care that they have for the client that, I think, really differentiates us,” DiCecco says. “What attracts colleagues and keeps them here at Huntington is really a can-do attitude, a service heart and forward thinking.”
DiCecco is also committed to the evolving diversity of the industry, fully supporting both the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association’s Women’s Council and the Emerging Talent Advisory Council. With his team behind him, DiCecco is leading Huntington toward continued success in 2018. Fueled by investments made in the business last year, DiCecco says Huntington is on pace to do better than the 7% growth projected for the industry as a whole. DiCecco’s optimism isn’t unbridled. There are still concerns out there, specifically with trade policy and its effect on durable goods and manufacturing. While those storm clouds loom, DiCecco has strategies to fight back.
“What we can do is take care of our clients really well, be there to assist them when they need us and continue to invest in our business for the long term,” DiCecco says. “Be there when things are going well and, as our clients’ needs change, be able to be flexible and move with their change. That’s what we can do to control some of those concerns.”
While outsourcing is often more associated with call centers in the common imagination, a surprising number of equipment lessors also use third-party service providers to augment their financing business. Ron Meyer from Linedata recently had the opportunity to speak to equipment finance professionals about how and why they outsource, examining the way this could influence the future of the industry.