routeone speaks to Director of Universal Asset Finance David Tyrer to discover how it finds coach and bus operators the best deals on finance

Universal Asset Finance (UAF) is a relatively new player on the UK coach and bus funding scene, and made its entry into the sector during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic shook up traditional lending streams.

The company combines the expertise of Directors David Tyrer and William Blowfield, who bring experience from both the financial sector and the coach and bus industry respectively. With that knowledge, the pair have managed to defy many of the odds during the pandemic to secure funding arrangements that otherwise may not have happened. routeone learns more.

Working out finance on a table

Fresh approach

David, whose background is in private equity, first entered the coach and bus sector when he came together with friend, operator, and founder of Oxford-based Bus and Coach Centre William around a year ago.

The Bus and Coach Centre, founded in March 2020, provides services such as vehicle sales, remarketing, valuations, and storage of assets to operators and finance companies.

Equipped with that industry knowledge, the pair began to establish their name in the coach and bus sector and look to assist customers in finding superior rates on existing finance deals.

“Will knows about coaches and I knew about finance, and we have always been good friends,” explains David. “Together we decided to help his customers get the best rates possible.

“There’s quite a tight-knit community in this industry and customers would already have a rate from whoever their broker or lender was, and we would offer to check their rates to ensure they were getting the best value possible.

“Some were, some weren’t – the reason being that some lenders in the past would get used to putting the same customer or company with the same bank, and that bank or lender would always function in the same way it always had.

“Whereas if we took that customer and presented their case to a different bank, it could often open up new opportunities.”

Successful growth

It appears that approach has so far worked, and business turnover is growing month by month. UAF recently secured its first deal on one million pounds’ worth of lending. But that growth has been hard fought, primarily due to COVID-19.

“The most difficult area to secure lending has been within the coach and bus industry,” David says. “The industry was shut, generally. We discovered that few companies were operating in COVID-19 times and, if they were, business undertaken was very small contracts here and there. That made it hard because the banks were reluctant to lend on these companies, and a lot of lenders stopped doing business on anything which was coach and bus.”

Of the few lenders that remained willing to trade with industries considered high risk, trading policies were tightened. “Of the very few lenders that were still open to trade, things were hard going. They were looking for strong companies and strong people, and arguably no-one was really strong in COVID-19. That was always a massive struggle. Considering we started business during the pandemic, we feel we’ve been very successful.”

In a sense, it is therefore COVID-19 that has allowed the company to prosper and secure business where business had ceased to be. UAF was able to approach companies that had been rejected by other brokers and lenders and grant them access to the funds that they needed.

David puts the reason for their success down to that knowledge of the coach and bus market which ties into his own financial background. “Will’s expertise came in really handy,” he says. “We believe we are one of the only asset finance brokers out there where one of our own Directors has run a coach company before. He understands the assets.”

Equipped with that background and knowledge the company is able to explain to lenders how assets will be used, why operators are looking to invest even during difficult trading circumstances and offer comfort that any investments made will be safe. Dealing with a market where few lenders would venture risks has meant in-depth conversations with clients and thorough explanations of how assets will be used.

But the struggle has been worthwhile for those willing to approach UAF. “There are not many companies similar to us operating in our sector,” David admits, “and a lot of operators already had great relationships with their own finance providers. To allow us to check on their rates was a struggle. But once we did, nine times out of 10, we managed to find them a better rate.”

UAF has access to 35 different lending panels and conversations in that segment have revealed that there is more movement in the market. “We’ve had lenders call us and tell us they are now looking at lending on the coach and bus sector again,” David says, revealing that they are keen for any new enquiries to reach them.

For those who are undecided, David encourages operators to at least approach UAF to have existing rates checked. It also offers a buying service to its customers, by leveraging its dealer network to find vehicles for its customers.