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The future of the ASTL…

Brian West (pictured) is a director of Central Bridging and former ASTL executive committee member 

If rumours are to be believed the ASTL is on the cusp of announcing its new CEO.

Whoever steps into the shoes of Benson Hersch there can be little doubt that they face a uniquely challenging position to maintain the relevance of a trade body that in recent years has struggled to match the dynamism, innovation, growth and added value offered by membership of both the NACFB and FIBA.

As we move into ever more uncertain macro-economic and political times the cost of maintaining ASTL membership is not insignificant and it seems likely that both patron lenders and associates will, in increasing numbers, be asking the question as to what value they are getting for their sizable annual outlay?

For a slightly higher annual membership fee NACFB Patrons and members receive an extensive list of benefits including collaborative events, induction courses for new members, compliance and regulatory support, discounted PI insurance, free leads, audit visits, data reports, documentation, daily news briefings, a monthly magazine, a market leading expo and so much more besides.

Tellingly, it is the NACFB who have pro-actively sought to drive up short-term lending standards by formulating their own bridging enquiry form.

As an organisation they are constantly focussed on driving standards and enhancing their member proposition with a virtuous circle of continued membership growth and resource allowing them to provide more and more initiatives and value to members.

Meanwhile, thanks to their relationship with the SimplyBizGroup, FIBA are able to offer a dramatically cheaper annual membership and a uniquely strong focus on compliance to include regulatory e-learning, an online compliance hub, a quarterly newsletter, regular compliance updates, a 24 hour helpline, compliance visits,  GABRIEL reporting, training days and significant assistance in helping new brokers and entrants to the industry. Further benefits even include the introduction of their own TV channel!

Now admittedly the ASTL is far more narrowly defined than either the NACFB or FIBA.

Its fee earning potential will always be much smaller but to be truly representative of the short-term lending industry, an industry that has grown at a staggeringly fast pace over recent years, it simply must grow its member base.

The harsh fact is that lender membership numbers have remained stubbornly stuck in the mid-thirties for several years against a backdrop of surging numbers of new lenders entering the short-term lending sector.

Where ASTL sentiment and data surveys were once seen as a yard stick of the industry the numbers published are now seen as unreflective of the true scale of the market.

It is sobering to think that even if the current membership levels were trebled the total would still represent only around half of the estimated 200 lenders that now inhabit the short-term lending space.

The task is immense and it’s hard to see how it can be achieved without the fulltime commitment of a new and ambitious CEO, one with considerable lending experience who is completely unhindered by outside interests.

Surging membership would of course underpin the fulltime positions that are needed to take the ASTL to exciting new levels and then there are many other opportunities to increase revenues as the NACFB has so adeptly proved.

Whoever takes on the role will need to take a holistic view of the market, drive far closer links with the other trade federations and ensure that the ASTL offers a great deal more value going forwards.

Continuity and maintenance of the current status quo is simply not an option.

It’s time that the ASTL built on its strengths, comes to the fore in driving education and qualifications and takes the lead in demonstrating to the FCA that short-term lending space is very effectively self-regulated.

Official regulators will always be far more light touch with industries that have shown cohesion, collaboration and a desire to drive the standards of consumer protection.

This is a critical juncture for the ASTL and its role in the industry. With a long and proud history, a new chairman and new ideas it can hopefully assume a pivotal industry position.

The opportunity is there, and it must be grasped.

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