Four Key Takeaways from Monitor Live+ ‘EF & Technology: Where Are We Now?’

On Thursday, Dec. 3, Monitor hosted Live+ “EF & Technology: Where Are We Now?” As the end of 2020 nears, the livestream served at a pertinent time for the leaders from the equipment finance industry to discuss current and future technology trends.

Kevin Truitt, VP of product management and business development at LTi, served as moderator for the event and was joined by panelists Nick Fong, CLFP, chief technology officer at AP Equipment Financing; Frank Swann, SVP of information technology at ENGS Commercial Finance; and Paul Vecker, president and CEO of Macrolease Corporation.

Here are four valuable takeaways from the event:

1. More and more companies have begun rolling out self-service polls as a mechanism to manage business post-COVID-19-pandemic.

From the survey Monitor posted during the livestream, 41% of audience members reported their businesses were currently offering self-service portals. Another 37% reported they were either in the process of implementing the portal or plan to in the near future.

For Swann, ENGS was an early adopter of self-service portals, having developed its first portal, Propel, in 2013. Over time, ENGS has amended and appended the capabilities for vendors, including adding the ability to mitigate prices and regenerate documents.

On the customer side, ENGS offers a mobile app for customers. The app includes features that allow customers to explore offerings such as financial verticals, services, invoices and contact with ENGS’ customer service team. The most recent update provides a bilingual option, which allows for easier navigation for some customers.

Hong and his team at AP Equipment Finance use its self-service portal as a tool to stay relevant. Hong emphasized the vitality of technology in the industry, especially as millennial business owners have increased by 22% over the last year. This is a group Hong says, “Have a high expectation of communication transparency.”

Twenty-two percent of the Live+ audience reported that self-service portals were not on their near-term road map. Vecker related to the audience, as Macrolease Corporation does not have a self-service portal because it caters to small businesses that want to keep their current practices. Vecker highlighted the importance of being in touch with the customer and how they want to use technology to do business.

“My philosophy is that you can do what you can to make the mundane and repetitive routine as self-service as possible, but you want to humanize the customer experience to the extent that you can,” Vecker said.

2. The pandemic has accelerated practices of an already changing demographic.

Each panelist acknowledged the role the pandemic has played in implanting technology that now allows people to do their jobs remotely. Vecker believes this is a trend that will continue and will soon become a necessity.

For Swann, the pandemic shifted ENGS to becoming more vendor-centric and relying heavily on common practices to keep up with the current technology trends. ENGS’ salesforce capitalized off of the “wealth of data” on its customer base and used it as a foundation when strategizing how it can enhance any future transactions with customers.

Fong touched on the many ways implementing new technology has its challenges, as it usually means a large but worthwhile investment in time and resources.

3. The industry is changing its views and adopting e-doc signatures.

Although Vecker has been a long time proponent of electronic signatures, a lot of pushback has existed, particularly about whether or not electronic signatures would hold up in court.

“It always takes a while for law to catch up to technology,” Vecker said.

The law may be an issue on one side, but change in general can be another factor that needs to be overcome in adopting e-signature practices. The timing of the pandemic made this change happen rapidly, although with little enthusiasm from many customers. Vecker pointed out the many benefits of an e-signatures investment, including saved expenses in FedEx charges, paper products and closing time.

All of the panelists use DocuSign software and echoed one another in being very pleased with it. Both Swann and Fong use eOriginal for vaulting signed documents.

The panelists discussed the steps that can be taken in easing people into the switch to electronic documents and signatures. For Vecker, the Macrolease Corporation sales team has been trained to explain the process. He said after customers saw how quick, easy and secure the process is, they were a great deal more comfortable using it.

Additionally, Vecker touched on the authentication process as a substitute for obtaining a driver’s license. The panelists spoke on the importance of being sympathetic to customers that may have reservations to the trend or feel that personal questions do not belong in the corporate world. However, the panelists do try to reassure customers by taking the time to tell them they do not see the authentication question answers and that the information is in public records. If customers still show resistance, the panelists explained that it is necessary to be flexible and not let it become a barrier to closing a transaction.

4. Additional software may be necessary in order to mitigate fraud.

ENGS recently added another software, Middesk, which allows Swann and his team to know their customer by verifying business identity. ENGS is strategizing in other ways, including working with Wolters Kluwer in order to integrate UCC filings at the press of a button.

“It’s all about our vendors and seeing what we can do to make that process more streamlined, and not only internally but externally, which is where the benefits can eventually get to,” Swann said.

Fong described how words such as, “artificial intelligence,” “machine learning,” and “blockchain” can be used as a marketing ploy.

“AI and machine learning, at their core, are really just pattern recognition tools and pattern recognition tools can’t work if you don’t have a good database,” Fong said.

At AP Equipment Financing, Fong said he and his team do their best to follow what the large tech giants are using and put those same practices into play where they can.

Vecker weighed in on the topic of artificial intelligence with hopes that one day it has the capacity to do more than humans can. Vecker then used the example of credit scoring to envision one day creating a model that can show the lost opportunity when a deal is not approved vs. if it was approved.

The panelists concluded the event by summarizing the trends they expect to see grow in the near future and addressed that while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the business world upside down, it has also greatly affected our society and cannot go unrecognized.

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