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Stonebriar Commercial Finance: New Muscle in the Marketplace

Date: May 21, 2015 @ 07:00 AM

In early March, the industry learned of the formation of Stonebriar Commercial Finance backed by Topeka, Kansas-based Security Benefit Corporation (Security Benefit).

The launch of Stonebriar marks the return of industry professionals from financial services giants the likes of AIG and GE Capital and includes Dave Fate, Paul Bossidy and Steve White who serve in their capacities as president, chairman of the board and senior managing director respectively. Equipment Finance Advisor caught up with Fate, who shared his vision for this new provider of commercial loans and leases to underserved markets across the credit spectrum. With a powerful backer and a highly experienced team of professionals in place, the future is bright and filled with opportunity … exactly as Fate would have it.

Putting Stonebriar Together

Photo of Dave B. Fate - President and CEO - Stonebriar Commercial Finance

We asked Stonebriar’s president to share how the entity came together. Fate recalls, “Things have fallen into place so quickly, that it’s been a bit of a blur. As you know, nine of us left AIG in March of 2014 as AIG continued to merge our business based in Plano, Texas into the private placement group in Houston. Almost immediately, we began to explore our options.”

For Fate, who is now in his 50s, the changes at his previous employer brought on by its continued move to focus primarily on its insurance businesses signaled a new era of opportunity. He states, “I’ve been in this business for 30 years. I have seen all facets of our industry operating through multiple economic cycles. So it was natural that during the months following my departure from AIG, I spent as much time thinking about what I did not want to do as I did thinking about what I might want to do in the future and particularly in this current market. I knew I did not want a job, per se; I was looking for an opportunity to assemble a world-class team and start something that would meet a need in the market. I love the finance and leasing business. The thought of an opportunity for another start-up was invigorating!”

His assessment of the commercial finance marketplace led to the rationale for a new player in the space. It also led to an interesting analogy explaining the current environment. “I like to think of the market opportunity this way,” he explains. “It’s like a barbell. One side is the lower end of the credit spectrum -- single ‘B’-rated credits that take very precise expertise to properly underwrite. On the other side of the bar are large, long-term corporate investment grade credits. The bar represents the spectrum of a tightly defined credit box in a highly regulated world.  As you move away from lower end of the credit spectrum, the pricing becomes very tight because there are many more lenders, especially the regulated banks and other institutions, competing for deals in that space." 

Fate explains, “Equipment finance is a $1.5 trillion annual market. Maybe one-third of that market is represented by cash purchases and the rest is financed or leased. With only a handful of non-bank-regulated lenders left in the single ‘B’ credit market funding transactions in the $5 million to $25 million+/- range, I see major opportunity there. The market conditions in that space are better today than I’ve seen in my 30 years in this business. So serving this market became an important part of our investment rationale.

The other end, he says, “Are longer-term opportunities in the large corporate market. They are Triple ‘B’ credits and above, and range from $50 million to $200 million with 10 to 30-plus year terms. Both ends of the barbell are very strong markets and we intend to strongly compete for business in both markets with our target deals ranging from $10 million to $200 million+/- across the credit spectrum.”

Pitching the Vision

With the help of a seasoned strategic advisor, Andy Salter, founder of Encina Capital Partners, Fate and his team began the search for a strong partner for the business. “Andy introduced us to a host of individuals who wanted to support our platform. He also introduced us to Paul Bossidy who ran GE Capital Solutions for a while. In fact, Paul was in charge when GE Capital bought our Transamerica Equipment Finance business.”

Over a four hour dinner, Salter, Fate, Bossidy and White, discussed the market opportunity and as Fate explains, “The rest just clicked.”

By the end of last November, Fate had been involved in some 30 high profile meetings. “These potential investors really understood our vision and unique opportunity to partner with the seasoned team we had assembled. They loved the team’s experience and history of success. After all, we had done this a few times; our first start up was for Transamerica. That equipment finance business was built out to more than $3 billion. When GE Capital bought that portfolio, we did the same thing for AIG with AIG Commercial Equipment Finance.

By February, the response from private equity firms, asset management firms, and family offices had been very positive. Choosing the right equity partner among a group of very qualified investors was a first class problem. “They were all strong and viable candidates as a financial partner for our vision.” Ultimately, Stonebriar leadership chose Security Benefit, an insurance holding company. “The quality of Security Benefit’s capital was very appealing to me. I wanted that patient long-term capital that we would be able to count on for ten-years plus. In terms of backers, I think we came out with exactly what we hoped for -- a like-minded and strong financial partner who will help us build a world class organization. They have been great to work with. SBC is a large organization with a lot of capital to deploy. That’s why I feel so good about this match.”

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