Marine lenders upbeat at annual conference

A relatively steady economy and boat market converged for many marine lenders during the 2015 model year.
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A relatively steady economy and boat market converged for many marine lenders during the 2015 model year.

A relatively steady economy and boat market converged for many marine lenders during the 2015 model year, yielding encouraging bookings and profitable underwriting.

Although some pockets of the country were hampered by unappealing spring weather or summer drought, broad-based lenders and companies serving them were generally sanguine about new- and used-boat loan activity in their shops.

Forecasts from marine market and lender economists indicate that the positive pattern could repeat itself next year.

This was the tone of the 36th annual conference of the National Marine Lenders Association last month in Naples, Fla., which attracted 110 participants.

Presentations at the Sept. 27-29 event centered on a current look and forecast for the boating business, compliance and regulatory issues for lenders and related firms, the state of the remarketing sector, protecting data and online transactions at work and home, product trends and short-term plans for the organization.

Dealers are feeling pressure to stock more boats — a dynamic that led, in part, to a reduction from about 5,000 dealers before the Great Recession to 3,100 afterward, according to Matt Gruhn, president of the Marine Retailers Association of the Americas.

Most have gotten quite good at controlling expenses, down to 47 percent from 52 percent since 2008-2009, with net profit up to 4 percent (2012, the latest year for which data are available).

Because a key to the recovery for sellers has been control of inventory costs, Gruhn is concerned that there is pressure on dealers to stock more brands and a wider selection among those brands.

He believes boat sales can continue to grow, perhaps for another two seasons, but cost control is paramount. Gruhn asked lenders to help his organization’s members in three ways: Educate them to understand the relationship between inventory levels and profits; find ways to partner with them in growing profits from their finance and insurance operations; and reward dealers who perform at higher levels.

The supply of boats in the remarketing arena continues to work lower, with activity now focused on 2013 and older models. This bodes well for the new and newer used boat markets, but makes business a bit more challenging for the remarketing crowd.

Karen Trostle, of Sterling Acceptance Corp., led a panel of speakers engaged in the current process and found several key issues that affect it. Participants must be aware of and follow Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations that require more disclosure — and result in more costs.

Another topic was security and computer risks. Cybertheft expert Robert Siciliano explained how hacking and phishing has changed dramatically during the past decade, moving from pranksters and hobbyists to sophisticated practitioners, some supported by countries such as North Korea and China.

To test security, Siciliano tells clients to hire their own hackers to find vulnerabilities. Networks are being hardened, but primary breaches occur through human error, generally not faults with the enterprise system.

Consumer protection laws, new- and used-boat sales trends and growing customer satisfaction also were themes at the event.


Workers Wanted

Like most people born in 1990, Justin Bennett was on a four-year college track. He and his parents took it for granted that he would attend college before moving on to a steady desk job — until a stint at sailing camp, and later as a counselor, helped Bennett discover his passion for boats.

Momentum from Boat Shows Expected to Continue

Seventy percent of boat dealers who responded to a monthly survey said they had at least “somewhat positive” momentum emerging from winter boat shows, with 38 percent saying momentum was “very strong” or “strong.”