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New player in finance sector

The fiercely competitive motor finance sector will have a major new player in August when Santander Consumer enters the market led by two former executives of the largely defunct First National Motor Finance operation.

Predicting “aggressive growth, both in terms of profit and business”, Vik Hill, the Spanish-owned unit’s managing director and former First National operations’ director, says: “We have learned many lessons.”

He reveals that Santander Consumer will not rely on First National’s “relatively small, mature and run down” loans ‘book’ to build up its business.

But Hill, with 24 years’ automotive finance industry experience, admits: “We are not starting with an empty room. We have the benefit of all the expertise and experience from FNMF, and the infrastructure.”

A total of 75 staff will transfer from the First National organization, which is still being run down more than two years after it stopped providing loans. Santander Consumer’s headquarters will remain in Redhill.

Neither Hill, nor former FNMF colleague Graham Prestedge, marketing director for the new lender, will volunteer sales volume targets or how many retailers they will work through. They will not have branch offices.

Before its departure from the motor loans sector in May 2003, FNMF operated through 6,500 retail outlets.

Involving a joint venture between Abbey and Santander Consumer Finance, the new company will provide loans at point of sale, an area under increasing pressure from direct lenders and internet sellers.

Hill and Prestedge say they want to keep their “powder dry” on strategy until the official summer launch but emphasize that Santander is a top three consumer finance provider in the European market.

Prestedge says: “Santander does not come second in anything and devolves responsibility to national affiliates. We will shoot as high as our strategy allows. We plan to be a long-term and stable force in the market.”

Hill maintains that Santander provides a stronger platform than most of the UK independents, partially because of its pan-European coverage. He says: “We are about being extremely profitable rather than pursuing market dominance at any cost.”

Santander annexed Abbey at the end of last year and its UK motor loans division will extend its remit to wholesale retailer funding, particularly for stock and premises, next year.

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