Yacht & Company Profiles
Easing the Move from Yacht Charters to Yacht Ownership
An Interview with Michael Lynch and George Shull of First New England Financial
Feb. 19, 2006 06:45 PM
For the past 30 years, First New England Financial (FNE) has focused on small to mid-size yacht loans. When the decision was made by FNE’s parent company, North Fork Bank, to enter the superyacht financing arena, Michael Lynch, President of FNE, went to the person who wrote the book in this marketplace.
YV&C: Mr. Lynch, can you tell us something about First New England and North Fork Bank?
ML: First New England Financial has been in yacht financing for over 30 years. When North Fork Bank, a $60 Billion financial institution, acquired FNE, they soon realized that they needed to complement their existing yacht business. North Fork Bank was excited about bringing on board George Shull as Senior Vice President / Superyacht Financing. George is the man who helped create this industry over 15 years ago.
YV&C: George, people in the yacht industry tell me that before you took the reins at debis Financial’s marine division in the early 1990’s, there were no lenders doing large yacht lending. What happened that propelled your business and debis into this business?
GS: I had been engaged by Mercedes-Benz Credit Corp. to look into financing programs for sister-company products, initially in the medical industry which was my specialty. The results were so positive for the Daimler medical subsidiary that Daimler wanted to proceed with financing programs for MTU to boost their marine engine sales.
YV&C: From what I’ve heard, you were instrumental in making things happen at debis Financial regarding MTU. What exactly did you do to help MTU?
GS: It was apparent that the banking community was very negative on large yacht financing, and MTU’s products were built strictly for larger yachts. The industry was immersed in the punitive luxury tax and a lingering recession. After meeting with industry leaders and the top yacht builders, I was convinced that we could provide yacht loans for the right people buying yachts from the right builders, and the debis Board of Directors acted accordingly. I simply set the wheels in motion for the Daimler-Benz Board of Directors to embrace an aggressive yet realistic approach to supporting the MTU sales activity through yacht financing. It really wasn’t me as much as it was the timing.
YV&C: Who were some of the builders you Worked with initially?
GS: Fortunately, MTU had introduced us to some of the country’s top builders - people like Dick and Brad Lazzara who were starting the new Lazzara line. We worked closely with them and MTU on that project and financed dozens of their initial production. We also worked with David Ross at Burger when he brought back that wonderful company. We also worked closely with Westport on their Westship line, Dick Peterson at Mikelson, Dave Christensen, Mike Kelsey at Palmer Johnson, Billy Smith at Trinity and many others.
YV&C: These are builders who are still in business. Do you anticipate doing business with them again now that you’re with FNE?
GS: We certainly look forward to that opportunity. These people and their companies were leaders in the industry then and they’re still at the top of their game, building better yachts than ever. They’ve proved themselves over and over and we hope that we can serve them and their clients well.
YV&C: In addition to builders, where do your clients come from?
GS: Many are existing yachtowners, but a good
percentage come from the charter business. These are people who have chartered yachts a number of times and enjoyed it so much that they’ve finally decided that they want their own yacht. Quite often, they need guidance when making the move from chartering to ownership, so it’s important for them to know that there are experts in the fields of maritime law, yacht management and charter brokers who, along with our assistance on the financial side, will help them weave their way smoothly through the ownership process.
YV&C: What have you learned from your dealings with clients looking for financing of large yachts? Can’t most of them simply pay cash for their toys?
GS: Today’s clients are primarily looking for alternatives to paying cash for their yachts. Many yacht buyers are self-made millionaires, and they can do so much better keeping their money working for them in their own businesses compared to the low rates they’ll pay on their yacht loans. Basically, they’re looking for options to minimize their acquisition cost.
YV&C: Do the millionaires who buy these yachts require any special financial arrangements?
GS: Yes, quite often it’s the flexibility that the lender offers that makes the difference in meeting the borrower’s needs and a successful relationship is the reached. At North Fork Bank, and at First New England, our policy is to listen to our clients, respond to their needs, and perform accordingly. This proactive team approach is our corporate mantra, and our clients appreciate this as the way to meet their needs.
YV&C: What type of yacht financing is generally requested by your clients?
GS: In the eight-figure loan range, we see a lot of requests for interest-only and shorter term loans than one sees in the small-boat financing market. Program selling doesn’t apply in this market; we basically structure the loan to meet our clients’ requirements.
YV&C: Is First New England in the private banking business like some of its competitors?
GS: No. We’re in the business solely to provide our clients with the most flexible and competitive yacht financing they will find anywhere and we leave their private banking needs to specialists in that area.
YV&C: Where do you see the yacht industry going in the next five years?
GS: Continued growth of 5-10% annually in the production of 100’ + yachts, along with the related growth of the charter business. More and more people now realize that there’s really nothing quite comparable to yachting, and this, along with the baby boomers who’ve done everything else, will bode well for the industry for some time.
For more information about First New England Financial, please contact:
George Shull, Senior Vice President, at (800) 262-8562
or by email at george.s(at)fnegroup.com