For many lenders, the path to ABL is filled with twists and turns. Paul Cronin, for example, the new head of Santander Bank’s ABL division started his career as a conventional commercial banker. Five years ago, he found himself driving in a new direction.
“ABL chose me, I didn’t choose it,” explains Cronin, the Irish lilt in his voice a bit of a surprise for an executive at a Spanish bank. He clearly enjoys working in the ABL platform.
“One of the great things about ABL is, there are great characters and great partners.”
It was a happy discovery for someone who did not set out to be a banker. For three years after completing university, he worked in accounting and auditing for an oil company in Ireland. Then he completed a master’s in finance at University College in Dublin and moved into banking.
Five years ago, he was working for First Niagara (now merged with KeyBank) and the bank was looking to develop its ABL group. Cronin stepped up, sharing his knowledge of commercial banking, and found himself in a leadership position.
“Someone assumed that I knew what I was talking about,” he quips.
Cronin spent two years as managing director, Capital Markets at First Niagara and then served as national director of KeyBank Business Capital after the merger.
Although he did not start out as an ABL lender, he has become a believer not only in the lending solution, but the people he works with.
Both large commercial banks and community banks have created ABL groups in recent years — Bank Leumi and Cambridge Savings for example — but there is still an issue with silos within the bank that prevent customers from learning about ABL.
Meeting Customer Needs
Cronin points out that one of the changes he has seen in the business is ABL is now treated as a product rather than a business line.
“ABL should be a product. We should be one of the solutions,” he says.
Cronin says that the goal at Santander is not to “push the client into the product du jour. We need to give the customer what they are looking for and provide a solution rather than just fitting them in.”
Santander, he says, already had an ABL group as a distinct division within the commercial bank when he came on board.
“It was completely staffed with highly trained professionals. What I need to do is help them grow the business and connect across the bank.” He adds that his team will be looking to add depth and scale and begin looking at larger companies that could benefit from an ABL solution.
Cronin is quick to reassure us that Santander is not planning to exit the ABL playing field, as it had recently sold a portion of its equipment finance portfolio to Sterling National Bank.
“We are committed to the ABL market. It is an important commercial business for Santander,” he insists.
ABL: A Solution in Troubled Times
Like many in the lending industry, he acknowledges that the 10-year economic boom is poised to end in the near future, but he notes that in troubled times, businesses seek out an ABL solution.
“ABL is ideally suited to meet our customers in those challenges. Right now, the challenge is there is a lot of liquidity in the market and pricing pressures. We just continue to support our customers. If the economic environment changes, we’ll be ready,” he adds.
He points out that Santander’s international footprint makes it an attractive competitor in a very competitive market. He explains that ABL itself is a uniquely American product that does not always transfer well to cross-border deals, but the bank can still collaborate with international partners to complete similar transactions, such as invoice discounting. And the bank is also looking at supply chain financing, where a global presence is also an advantage.
“There are going to be a lot of changes,” he predicts. “We’re bringing technology, including AI, to our clients in the future and are able to do that globally. We have a unique offering that our clients are looking for. We need to get the message out that we’re ready for the growth environment.” •