The world changed rapidly and forever in 2020. For the leasing and asset finance market, as for most other sectors of the global economy, the pandemic shifted the pace and focus of change. It forced businesses to accelerate already planned updates, abandon others or adopt entirely new strategies. In this new business climate, only the nimble and agile survive. One success story is NETSOL Technologies, a provider of backend systems supporting many of the world’s largest automotive leasing and asset finance providers.
Despite the company’s success in 2020, founder and CEO Salim Ghauri is clear the immediate challenge for NETSOL and the rest of the industry, remains the pandemic. He sums up the challenges ahead for 2021 in the single word, “Covid”. It’s a reminder that, while vaccines are on their way, they will take time to roll out.
“Nobody expected this pandemic and nobody had plans for it,” he continues. “At the start of last year, we were excited because we’d had a good 2019. We had planned well and had lots of new ideas for 2020. It was an extremely exciting time and then suddenly, Covid happened. For a period, everything went very quiet. Nobody was buying cars, nobody would finance cars. Nobody was sure what might happen to the business. But before the end of last year, there were signs of life. And our customers are now selling more cars, and financing more cars, so business isn’t going anywhere.”
“We have to keep our eyes open and make sure we adapt”
This idea of solidity and the continuity of the business of leasing and asset finance is key to the NETSOL approach. Ghauri is clearly well aware of the latest trends in the car market, whether that is electrification, subscription-based ownership models or other new patterns of usage such as car sharing, but says that “ultimately whatever cars are sold, somebody will finance it”. It’s a confident stance, but even after 25 years in the business, Ghauri is far from complacent.
“We have to keep our eyes open and have the vision to see how business is changing and make sure we adapt to that. If we ignore something, if we don’t look to the future, we’ll be in serious trouble.”
In the middle of a period of sustained and heightened uncertainty, some people yearn for calm. But, says Ghauri, NETSOL is a business that thrives on chaos and is always innovating to take advantage of change. “Disruption helps our business and change creates opportunity for us. Because we are adaptable and we’re able to change our offering quickly, we benefit from it. The most important thing is to use innovation to keep the business evolving.
“The leasing and asset finance business is ever-changing. What we developed 25 years ago is totally different to what we do today. There is so much change in the way money is lent and how assets are financed, it’s ever-changing.”
“We’re lucky because we have lots of customers in many regions”
NETSOL may have launched in the US in 1996, as what Ghauri describes modestly as “a one-man company”, but today it is a huge global operator, with its latest focus being a rapid expansion in Europe.
In recent years it has signed contracts with several major European banks, as well as start-ups and some of the largest automotive finance providers. At the same time the company has built an impressive European team, consisting of some of the top names from across the industry, all with enviable CVs packed with blue-chip experience.
“We’re lucky because we have lots of customers in many regions,” explains Ghauri. “We have the best knowledge of the business. That comes in very handy when you want to improve a customer’s business. They rely on us to share best practices from across the business. They learn from us how things can be done differently. But we also want to be sure our systems are using the best and latest technology, so we keep an eye on how technology is changing and how it will develop to make it easier for customers to access their systems.”
“We only celebrate when we fulfil our promise to a customer”
Since its launch, Ghauri has insisted that customers come first. And while there are plenty of companies that claim to be customer centric, or pay lip service to customer service, for Ghauri this desire to never let a customer down has become central to the NETSOL approach and culture. It is best illustrated by the fact his very first customer, from 1996, remains a customer today.
“There is a reason we have kept customers for 25 years,” expands Ghauri. “From day one I had this belief that customers are important. I call it ‘accommodation’, going to extra lengths to accommodate the customer. All customers have unrealistic expectations, that’s normal. Somehow, we’ve built into our culture that we are able to accommodate them. We have built on that until it has become our normal way of dealing with any customer.
“We deal with every customer as if they are the first. When we make a commitment to them, we make sure we deliver. We never celebrate when we win new business, we only celebrate when we fulfil our promise to a customer. If we promise to deliver this new system in two years, then that’s what we’ll do and you can run your business on that.”
But, says Ghauri, what really marks out NETSOL as unique is that this approach runs through every level of the company. “Every one of our people working with customers has the same attitude. They all come with this mindset that we made a promise and we will deliver. We really take it to heart. Of course, there are difficulties. But the customer realizes that when problems arise we still deliver and that’s what makes the difference.”
“We often know our customers’ business better than they do”
Another key factor in NETSOL’s success has been its vast domain and market knowledge, acquired over 25 years of developing systems. Ghauri says that he entered the market at a fortuitous moment when large organisations were beginning to outsource more IT and development work.
“Our competition wasn’t other third-party vendors; it was in-house development teams. When we came in, there was a change in the market and customers were realising they weren’t IT companies. The timing was great. We started developing systems and took the business away from in-house IT shops and started building up our knowledge. I saw early on that the more knowledge we have, the more successful we are with customers, because they rely on us. Now we often know our customers’ business better than they do. That isn’t always an easy message to get across.”
Here again, loyalty has been key. “I still have people who started with the development of the software, people who have grown up with the business. We have the best knowledge of this business, globally. We have worked in all the regions of the world and accumulated so much knowledge that our systems come from this deep global understanding. This is why customers trust us with their business. If we suggest, ‘let’s change this process in this way’, they are willing to try it.
“Our success comes from our ability to keep acquiring knowledge in this one area. The secret of our success is first the simple acquiring of knowledge and then putting it together and being very strong in the domain of the business of the customer.”
“We have worked for 25 years and we haven’t reached our potential yet”
As a business with a strong sense of its heritage, NETSOL is nevertheless focused on its future. “We have worked for 25 years and we haven’t reached our potential yet. There is a maturity in our organisation today, which was has been displayed during Covid-19. And we’re able to look forward to some very exciting times. NETSOL is going to be ahead of our competition and able to thrive in a market that will give some a tough time. We are very excited about the changes happening.”