The finance department is in control of more fleets than any other business department, including dedicated fleet managers, according to a new survey.
Marshall Leasing surveyed 200 of its own car-dominated customers with fleet sizes ranging from 20 vehicles to 1,600 and found that just 19% have a dedicated fleet manager.
The finance department is in charge of the car fleet for more than a quarter (27%) of businesses while 18% of respondents said a board director was responsible for company cars.
The HR department was the primary contact in 16% of companies, with a member of the admin team or procurement the key fleet decision-maker for 9% and 6% respectively.
“There are multiple reasons for this spread of responsibility,” said Jonathan Ross, sales and marketing director at Marshall Leasing.
“We’ve seen a great swing in recent years in terms of influence over policy from finance to personnel.”
Procurement takes increasing role
Pre-recession, this was originally driven by recruitment considerations, where the choice of vehicle could make a difference to staff retention and recruitment.
“Subsequently, a focus on health and safety and benefit-in-kind implications also made for a far greater level of HR involvement,” said Ross.
“In current times, as belts have been tightened, procurement has naturally been brought in. Its job has been to investigate how economies might be achieved through the tendering process.”
Now, with changes to writing down allowances and on/off balance sheet considerations, the survey suggests that it is becoming the turn again of the financial influencers to control policy.
“These considerations make the job of providing workable solutions challenging,” said Ross.
He told Fleet News that the biggest impact on the leasing provider occurs when you have multiple parties with conflicting agendas.
“HR might be concerned about motivational choice, while procurement might focus on single badge best discounts,” added Ross.
“Fleet traditionally has had to balance conflicts of interest internally.
“For an outsourced provider, challenges may come in the form of balancing the emotive interests, understanding who you are reporting to and policing the account.”
Establishing a strong internal and external car policy is essential, with consultation key to determining a solution that includes all concerned.
“Every business is different,” said Ross. “Turning conflict into something constructive takes an open mind and creative approach.
“But if departments can use the company car as an opportunity to work together, then the results can be rewarding.
“We’ve seen businesses that have been transformed by taking this approach.”
While the Marshall survey suggests the role of the fleet manager is in terminal decline, other research does not paint such a bleak picture, particularly when vans are involved.
Fleet News’s own controlled circulation figures reveal that 28% of its 15,800 readership of car and van fleet decision-makers have fleet management as their primary job function, while 16% are employed in transport management. However, how a dedicated fleet manager is perceived can split opinion.
Fewer than half of fleet managers (44.6%) believed that the role was seen as a professional position by company directors, according to a Fleet News poll earlier this year.
Organisations such as the Institute of Car Fleet Management (ICFM) and ACFO have worked hard to improve professionalism.
ICFM offers fleet decision-makers, as well as those in related industries, the chance to study for a recognised fleet qualification.
But even it recognises that today’s fleet manager often has cross-department responsibilities including procurement, HR, facilities or finance.
Fleet size has a part to play in determining whether a company employs a fleet manager.
Marshall Leasing’s data showed businesses with larger fleets were more likely to have a dedicated fleet decision-maker; responsibility for those with smaller fleets tended to fall to a board director or was covered under admin.