Deloitte Indy 100: 'The secret is exceptional customer service'

Standing out in the financial services industry requires excellent market knowledge
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The Independent Online

"We don't have a secret, we don't have an unique product or steer on the market. We're just a very boring company. There's nothing special about us." So says managing director Andrew Turner of Central Trust, the financial services business he set up 1987.

"We don't have a secret, we don't have an unique product or steer on the market. We're just a very boring company. There's nothing special about us." So says managing director Andrew Turner of Central Trust, the financial services business he set up 1987.

The company specialises in personal loans - anything from £1,000 to £100,000 - and brokerage services under the banner Independent Finance. It sells both its own products and those from high-street providers such as Lloyds TSB, Barclays and HSBC.

On one level, Turner, 45, has a point. Central Trust, which is based in Watford, operates in a crowded market and credit is commonplace. After all, these days you can take out a personal loan while doing the weekly grocery shop. Nor are the company's interest rates, which range from around 6.9 per cent up to 19 per cent, anything out of the ordinary. Nor does it have the firepower to compete with its larger rivals head on over rates.

Yet Central Trust prides itself on what it sees as one crucial advantage over all the other providers - first-rate customer service.

"We're competing with the big banks and we know that. So how does a little company like ours compete with Barclays? The secret is exceptional customer service so that people want to come and deal with us," explains Turner.

"Customers pay your salary - that's the first thing people are told when they join the company. Some of the big companies just don't understand that. It's as simple as that."

That motto certainly seems to be paying dividends. Central Trust last year reported turnover of £50m and profits of £20.5m and has now made it on to all four Deloitte/Indy 100 roll calls. As befits a firm so consistently recognised as one of the country's fastest-growing companies, it now employs 430 people in four offices.

The plan for the future is more of the same. Acquisitions have not been ruled out, but on the whole, Turner prefers the model of organic growth that he has followed from day one.

"The plan is very simple - just to carry on growing. If the right acquisition came along, we would consider it. But we have never seen anything that would be worth the risk yet."

The company is also expanding into new areas and 18 months ago set up the online broker loansfortenants.com, aimed at those usually denied cheap lending because they do not have the security of property behind their application.

For anyone operating in this area, what the Bank of England does next is a crucial issue. Record low interest rates have led to record highs in personal debt over the last few years. With the economic recovery underway, the Government is now keen to curb such ready borrowing. Rates have gone up twice in recent months and no one doubts there will be more hikes over the coming months, making existing debts harder to serve and consumers more reluctant to take on any more.

Turner, however, remains unfazed. As he puts it, the company targets "middle England" and he believes there will always be a need for responsible lending in this segment of society, be it for that longed-for new car or kitchen, or a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

And even if there is a downturn in borrowing levels, so be it. In Turner's sanguine view, in fact, it would be no bad thing. "We have to be a responsible lender. Credit is too available at the moment in my view. We could do with some common sense there."

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