In-House Finance a Fat Advantage for Tech Vendors in Lean Times


Most observers agree that large and deep-pocketed technology vendors like IBM, Microsoft and HP will weather the current economic storm better than most, thanks to their global reach, well-established brands and hefty balance sheets, which make it possible for them to buy struggling competitors and/or interesting startups on the cheap.


I was hip to all of those. But there was one advantage enjoyed by such vendors that hadn't even occurred to me, at least not until I set out to do a story on how the down economy might be affecting the lease financing market. I thought I might find that more companies would be looking to lease, rather than buy, their tech purchases in order to conserve capital. I found no big spike in leasing, however. In fact, credit approvals by members of the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association (ELFA) reached a historic low of 65.2 percent in its January index of economic activity. Demand for credit has "fallen off a cliff," said Ralph Petta, ELFA's VP of Industry Services.


But many major tech vendors have their own internal finance arms, and they are darned glad of it. For customers that are considering extending the life of existing hardware or software instead of purchasing, a vendor's lease financing might give them an added incentive to buy. Leases also allow customers to easily swap out their assets to keep their technology up-to-date, pointed out Tom Adams, vice president and managing director for the Americas, HP Financial Services.


Unlike independent lessors, tech vendors enjoy the advantage of working with customers they know well. "They may know more about their credit than their investors do," said IDC analyst Joe Pucciarelli. Compared to other assets like manufacturing or construction gear, the risk of financing technology is pretty low anyway. While a construction company may shut down sites, stop paying on loans and return its equipment, it's pretty tough for a company to do something like that with servers.


Lease financing should be part of a package that includes hardware, software and services. Those kinds of bundles are the key to deep and lasting relationships, said Pucciarelli. They "help focus the discussion on business value, rather than just the technology."