As the equipment finance industry advances with new technologies and people, the new president of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association is keeping her sights on the role technology will play in the industry’s future.
Leigh Lytle, president and chief executive of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association (ELFA), has entered her first full year as leader of the organization with a focus on technology, education, and diversity in the industry. Lytle was named president of ELFA in October and joined the organization on Dec. 4.
“We have a strategic plan in place focused on advocacy, education, and training, [along with] ensuring members have the resources [they need],” Lytle told Equipment Finance News. “I came most recently from a fintech company, so a bit more of a technical bent than maybe some others, and I’m really excited about the opportunities that technology presents for the industry and the association.”
Lytle joins ELFA following a two-year stint with global data network fintech Plaid, where she served as the head of North American policy. As part of her more tech-focused lean, ELFA will also be conducting a tech audit this year, she said.
Lytle sat down with Equipment Finance News to discuss her outside perspective on the equipment finance industry, priorities for ELFA, and the future of equipment finance. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.
Equipment Finance News: As you begin your first full year leading the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association, what’s your perspective on the current state of the industry?
Leigh Lytle: We’re feeling more hopeful than we were a year ago about the likelihood of avoiding a recession and the possibility of a soft landing. We expect real equipment and software investment growth to be a bit over 2% this year. Slightly slower than we’ve experienced over the past year, but still strong investment activity.
Our Monthly Leasing and Finance Index is showing mixed performance. What I’ve noticed in my short time in the industry, and from talking with a bunch of people who have quite a bit more experience than I do in the industry, is that this is a resilient industry. As things ebb and flow, we always find a way.
I’m interested in learning more, and seeing that in real-time in a year where we’ve got reasonable losses and delinquencies, we’re not expecting further rate increases, and we’re expecting a soft landing. We’re also seeing a bit of a pullback in banks. It’s a mixed bag, as we think about the industry at large, but I’m excited to see the industry do what it always does: provide necessary capital to businesses.
EFN: What about the equipment finance industry attracted you following your background in other areas of financial services?
LL: I am a student of financial services, so when I got the reach out about this role, it was surprising and also a bit frustrating to me that I didn’t know more about what’s going on in equipment finance. It’s a trillion-dollar industry with a monumental impact on the economy. It made me curious and want to learn more, and I just dug right in.
I wanted to understand what makes the industry tick; how the different players intersect with each other, partner, and compete; and how that contributes to the longevity of the industry. As I’ve studied the industry in my short period of time here, the resiliency of the industry is something that I think all aspects of financial services can learn from.
At this point, you could have seen quite a bit of aggressive consolidation, and there’s some, but it’s not to the extent that you’ve seen in other segments. On the human side, people in this industry are dedicated, passionate, and excited about the type of work they do, and that’s contagious. Feeling their enthusiasm was something that rubbed off on me and made me excited about the role.
EFN: What are your priorities for ELFA going forward?
LL: I’m six weeks in, so I’m hesitant to make any sweeping proclamations about exactly what we’ll be doing, but I’m in the midst of a large-scale listening tour. Right now I’m in listen mode and trying to understand how the association can best support our members. What’s worked well? What’s lacking? I want our members to win. Our job is to position them to win, so as we look into the future, how can I ensure that they are getting the resources and support from our team so that they’re best positioned to take advantage of opportunities for their business?
We’ve made a lot of progress around bringing in new voices, women, and younger people of different backgrounds, but of course, there’s more to do there. Whatever we can do to ensure that we bring more people to the table is something I’m personally quite committed to and passionate about.
We also have an opportunity to elevate our industry and our members. As you think about the impact that the industry has on the economy, having an elevated profile can ensure that we get the appropriate attention or voice as we think about economic developments. Whether it’s from a legislative capacity, ensuring that our policymakers and regulators understand the impact that we have—or whether it’s through the media or leveraging contacts in adjacent industries, we want to make sure the industry gets the recognition it deserves
EFN: Section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act was a top advocacy priority for ELFA during 2023. With a nationwide injunction now in place, how is ELFA continuing its advocacy efforts?
LL: I spent a large part of my career working in advocacy and policy-making, the last couple of years at Plaid, a fintech company. I worked on Dodd-Frank section 1033, an adjacent issue, and I’m well aware of section 1071 and have been involved in meetings even before my time at ELFA.
That being said, the injunction was a victory for our members and common sense. We’re excited about the compliance dates being more reasonable, and from a timeframe perspective, that makes sense. This isn’t completely over, and we’ll continue to pursue avenues to try to make this rule work for our diverse industry.
EFN: What does the future of the equipment finance industry look like, and how is ELFA going to help shape it during your time at the helm?
LL: There are many different paths I could go down with this question. I’ll try to hit on a few, recognizing that they won’t be inclusive of all the things that pass through my mind daily. As I try to look in a crystal ball and think about the future of the industry, my number one priority is to make sure that our members succeed, no matter what the future holds. One thing I’ve touched on before is the next generation of industry leaders, ensuring that we’re bringing new voices in and making sure that those new voices are appropriately trained and understand the opportunities in the industry. The association has a great role to play there in terms of education and training. The way we deliver programming may be different based on some investments in technology that we’re making and to ensure that we’re speaking to a new crop of leaders.
To maintain the industry’s resiliency, we’re trying to raise awareness about the fact that this is a career path. We’re engaging in some partnerships, mainly through our Foundation’s Campus to Career Program, and we are starting a new curriculum with Arizona State’s W.P. Carey Business School. We’re excited about the visibility that will give to students who are maybe thinking about, “What do I want to do with my life?” And we’re focusing on making sure the association is diverse and inclusive.
Technology is key and a personal passion of mine. Our Technology Innovation Council and our Operations and Technology Committee are working to ensure that our members understand how to take advantage of new innovations. We’re always trying to keep an eye on what’s coming next. Do we have the right business intelligence? Are we collecting the right information to equip our members to make strong decisions for their business? Whether it’s in places like climate finance, certain trends in the equipment sector, or new types of financing products, do they understand what the opportunities are, should they wish to leverage that?
The regulatory landscape will continue to evolve. We’re seeing this generally in banking, writ large, and finance, as regulators try to keep pace with the technological and structural changes that the industry is making. It’s critically important to be ahead of those changes so that we can shape what the future looks like.
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