Fleet News

Face to face: Philippe Bismut, Arval PHH

WHAT'S in your wallet? The chances are, for millions of company car and van drivers, it's a little bit of Arval PHH.

In the UK, Arval PHH is a top five contract hire and leasing company with a funded fleet of 76,000 vehicles.

But what makes it unique among its leasing company rivals, and such a likely candidate for a place in your wallet, is that it owns a fuel card business.

If you include AllStar cards and the 'white label' operations it provides through sister company Overdrive, there are some 1.2 million cards in circulation, making it the most popular plastic nestling in fleet drivers' wallets.

So it's not surprising that Arval PHH wants to ensure its AllStar fuel card users know about the other services it offers. These range from contract hire and leasing to pan-European services, fleet management, full outsourcing and accident management. In total these services cover 270,000 cars in the UK.

The man tackling the challenge is chief executive officer Philippe Bismut.

He previously worked in IT in France, and it was here that he developed expertise in the service delivery processes which are now paying dividends at the UK firm. The aim is to give Arval PHH a leading position in the UK and pan-European market.

Bismut said: 'The UK is the most mature and complex market but the drivers are the same.

'Using the vast resources of its fuel card division is a way of finding new ways of expanding the firm's business and thereby tackling the relative stagnation in the UK company car market. Bismut said: 'The company car market is static and may be declining. It is not a growth market – the rest of the EU is growing much faster. In some countries there is double-digit growth. In the UK, the challenge is to increase the share in a static market.'

A supplier's size is a vital factor in securing new business, Bismut believes, as it is the only way a company can be truly competitive in such a demanding market.

He said: 'We have strong shareholders, which you need because it is a capital intensive business and thus requires capital and access to cheap funding. If you are owned by a financial institution then you have a competitive advantage.

'Also, there is the international dimension. More customers have global requirements so a pan-European presence is a must.

'From a cost and pricing point of view, there are economies of scale. The more cars you buy, the more competitive you can become. As a fixed cost business, if you want to remain competitive, you must have the volume.You can't compete if you don't have the size. You also need plenty of investment in IT.

'Looking at these pre-requisites, Arval PHH has all these assets.'

This approach is backed by many other leasing companies, which have invested millions in acquisitions and reshaped the leasing market over the past five years. Arval PHH is among the leaders and increased more in size when it purchased a relative minnow, Arma, last year.

In the UK, the deal only involved 1,100 vehicles, because the company had only recently launched in this country, but across Europe, it had 20,000 vehicles. Bismut said: 'Our group is acquisitive as the purchase of Arma has shown.

'The fuel is a unique proposition along with our fleet management business.

'When BNP Paribas acquired this business the strategy was to grow this funding arm and cross-sell to the existing customers in other divisions, because a further 30,000 businesses have fleet management services or fuel.

'We have seen huge opportunities for growth in these areas.'

Arval PHH has sites in Manchester, Swindon, Bristol and Balsall Common in Coventry.

Some of its sales and accounts staff also work from home. In total there are 1,700 employees in the UK.

There are also one million-plus fuel card customers – 8% of all fuel dispensed goes through one of its cards.

Although there is a healthy 'white label' operation for fleet management and fuel cards, there is still huge opportunity for growth.

If successful, the potential growth could see Arval PHH fulfilling an industry prediction that the first 200,000-vehicle fleet will arrive in a few years. One of the key areas that Bismut and his team will be focusing on is the small fleet market, covering sub-100 and more importantly sub-20 fleets.

Bismut said: 'It is an untapped market. In addition to the fleet sales team, we have a telesales team which channels business through dealers and brokers to win small fleet business.

'We have been successful in the past and plan to continue to grow in this area.'

He added that brokers offer a central framework, with about 20 throughout the country helping Arval PHH.

'A lot has changed in the past three years, because we have had to integrate with a pan-European group, emphasise our contract hire business with an emphasis on service and change the business structure.

'We have redesigned the structure and now have a business which is based around the customer not the product.'

Bismut is now focusing on next year's strategy.

He said: 'We are focusing on developing the relationship with our customers and with our portfolio we should ensure success.'

Arval PHH explained

  • ARVAL PHH is the European company formed by BNP Paribas and PHH Europe. The key market brands are Arval PHH, AllStar and Overdrive

  • As a combined operation, Arval PHH is a major vehicle management services provider in Europe, managing more than 500,000 vehicles

  • In the UK alone it looks after 31,000 clients ranging from new businesses with one car or fuel card to over half of the FTSE 100 companies

  • Services include every aspect of vehicle management, funding, fuel, accident management, vehicle rental, flexible rental, personal contract plans, personal leasing and breakdown recovery, not only for cars but also for vans, trucks and motorbikes

  • BNP Paribas is the second largest banking group in Europe. It has one of the world's largest international networks

  • In alliance with sister company PHH ARVAL (which manages or leases 450,000 vehicles in the U.S,) it has access to a global market place

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