1st Stop increases its maximum loan amount for 2nd Charge in Northern Ireland to £35k

Homeowners in Northern Ireland can now take out a second charge secured loan of up to £35k, with specialist loan provider, 1st Stop Home Loans. The other great benefits of a 1st Stop secured loan still remain including no first mortgage consent application required up to £35k and only 1 month’s mortgage history required.

1st Stop Group offer a range of loan products including personal loans, homeowner loans and car finance to those customers who are looking for an alternative to a high street lender.

Commenting on the decision to make this change, Head of Sales, Nigel Brookes said: “This increase is in response to a need we have seen in the market and we hope it will give our broker network more flexibility and enable us to service the important Northern Ireland market more effectively.”

Creditfix Ranks Among Top 20 Companies To Work For In Scotland

The UK’s biggest personal insolvency practice Creditfix has taken 15th spot in a major employee poll to uncover the best companies to work for.

Headquartered in Glasgow, the firm is the only debt advice specialist to appear in the 2018 “50 Best Companies to Work For in Scotland”, scoring high marks in three key areas – wellbeing, community initiatives and employee engagement.

Workplace engagement expert Best Companies, whose results are published in the Sunday Times, carried out the survey and used anonymous employee responses to generate the Regional Best Companies Index (RBCI) score.

Creditfix was praised for its positive office atmosphere, relaxing breakout areas, and its community outreach, which includes supporting mental health programmes at Motherwell Football Club.

The survey also revealed that 94 per cent of employees believe they can make ‘a valuable contribution to the success of the company’, and feel up-to-date with what is happening.

Commenting on the results, Andy Taylor, director at Creditfix, said: “We work with more than 75,000 clients across the UK, who are experiencing severe financial difficulties and all the emotional stress that brings. It’s therefore crucial that we look after our employees and ensure their own health and wellbeing is not negatively impacted.

“As well as providing health insurance and tickets for music and sport events, we have created a working environment that enables staff to take time out when needed, and also get out of the office to volunteer.”

Last month, Creditfix announced plans to expand with a second office in Salford, Greater Manchester with the creation of up to 50 new jobs in the region.

“This is a really exciting time for us, and we’re looking forward to establishing ourselves as an attractive place to work in Salford,” added Andy.

Liquid Voice Adds Real-Time Voice Analytics For Contact Centres

Liquid Voice, a leading provider of interaction recording, quality management and analytics, has announced the immediate availability of Real-Time Analytics. Developed in partnership with Speechmatics, a leading global supplier of Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) solutions, this new capability provides instant insight on interactions as they happen and will deliver significant benefits in a wide range of contact centre and compliance applications.

According to Matt Marris, Product Manager at Liquid Voice: “This new Liquid Voice analytics solution provides contact centres with real-time insight and overcomes the drawbacks of other analytics platforms which can take from 15 minutes to 24 hours to deliver the required results. Unlike previous real-time solutions, it uses deep-learning to create transcripts of the calls. This enables us to deliver more advanced features around script adherence, compliance and real-time alerting.”

The new Liquid Voice Real-Time Analytics solution transcribes interactions as they happen rather than waiting until they have finished. It enables multiple interactions to be transcribed in multiple languages simultaneously and identifies the type of call allowing agents to be provided with relevant and appropriate prompts when they need them. This helps to ensure script adherence compliance on every call as well as making it quicker and easier to identify vulnerable callers.

Enhanced stereo transcription functionality is also included which efficiently analyses each speaker channel separately. This further improves the accuracy of transcriptions and gives greater insight into sentiments expressed by each person during interactions. Up to six speaker channels can be simultaneously transcribed allowing this functionality to be extended to courtroom, interview and conference calling applications.

“Liquid Voice is focused on an ongoing programme of development that positions the company as an innovation leader in the industry,” continued Marris. “Working with world-leading technology companies such as Speechmatics enables us to provide our customers with cost effective solutions that drive the achievement of real and sustained business benefits as well as giving Liquid Voice a significant competitive advantage.”

Who wins the 2018 Economic World Cup?

By Steen Jakobsen, Chief Economist and CIO at Saxo Bank

“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that” – Bill Shankly
I am not one to argue with one of the best, if not the best, football managers ever. This is our attempt to connect the all-important world of football to the comparatively boring one of economics. Like any boy who has played football, I fancy myself as something of a connoisseur, so here is my official call for the 2018 FIFA World Cup 2018: Belgium will be the champion.

Odds-on favourites Brazil and Germany have both lost momentum, and besides, these are the consensus calls. Instead, I will go with a country small in size, but big in terms of its players’ abilities.

(The irony of pointing to Belgium and hence Brussels is not lost on me at a time where Europe is about to face a potential existential crisis!)

Here at Saxo Bank, we are both followers of the FIFA World Cup as well as active participants in the financial and economic spheres; as such, we are running a series of pieces containing our thoughts on the contests and championships taking place in these areas.

For the World Cup in economics we have constructed a matrix of factors which will predict the group stages and the ultimate winner based on the following metrics:

– Misery index: This good old index combines a country’s inflation with its unemployment (the lower, the better and its 12-month trailing stock market performance (the stock market is perceived to be a gauge for the overall performance of a country, and higher is of course better).

– CDS spreads: The “insurance premium” of hedging the downside of an economy measured as a basis-point premium (the higher, the worse).

– Gini-coefficient: This metric measures inequality and the overall equality of a country secures long-term growth. There is also an increasing understanding that education and access to education creates a more productive society (lower is better).

These four parameters are equally weighted and then ranked from one to 30: number-one performers thus win their categories, and the overall lowest combined score wins.

So what does our podium look like in the 2018 Economics World Cup?

World champion: Iceland – 6.0
Second place. Denmark – 8.0
Third place: Japan – 7.5

In fourth place we find Germany with a score of 9.5. In fact, South Korea actually ranks higher than Germany with 8.3 , but they lost in the quarter-finals to Japan with 7.5, while Japan then – despite a higher score than Denmark – failed to win the semi-final versus Iceland, hence the result above.

In economics as in football, every match matters!


Economic commentary

So: Iceland wins by having the best Gini coeffient plus a low Misery Index score, while Denmark failed to score enough goals (stock market performance over the last 12 months) to beat its Scandinavian kid brothers.

Rest assured that this is no “reverse engineering” process employed to make our native Denmark outperform! We simply ex ante decided which four components make up not only a strong economy, but also one with forward momentum.

What I find interesting is that the actual favourites of the 2018 FIFA World Cup all rank extremely low in economic terms. Is this the story of football often being the only road away from no hope, no future, and no education? Or is it more that it is the culture of football that prevails?

Probably a little bit of both, but as for our chosen economic measurements, I suggest you think like a football manager:

The stock market is the attack. Flashy, headline-grabbing, but often a function of self-confidence and momentum more than actual long-term strength. There will be period of goal drought for even the best frontline players. The table of the strongest stock markets over the last 12 months is quite surprising:

Note: Iran is represented by the Brent crude oil contract as access to the Tehran Stock Exchange is disabled by sanctions, but note the performance of Tunisia and Peru: +51.5% and 38.2%. Great flair, clearly!

The Gini coefficient is the midfield. Any economy needs equality as a fuel to drive growth higher. We perceive equal access to education to be the number one differentiator of productive versus non-productive societies. If you rank the world according to GDP per capita, the “richest countries” really only have one thing in common: a universal broad educational system that is often free and accessible to all of society.

The top three Gini coefficent countries are:

Classic Northern Europe-ish countries win the day while Latin America and the Middle East come up very short.

Credit default spreads represent the goalkeeper: protection against mistakes and the ability to pull off a difficult save and still play offensive football.

The strongest goalie is perceived by many as the one key differentiator at the very top level. There are many defenders, many midfield players, and few attack players… but there are extremely few good goalkeepers.

We see great goalkeeping from:

The Misery Index represents defence. Defence is about making the least of amount of mistakes, and closing down space for the opposition. Any economy with a balanced mix of unemployment and low inflation is off to a good start. Pricing power is visible and stable and the burden of unused resources is minimised. It’s not enough to drive the game forward, or set up a goal, but it’s an excellent start.

Here is the breakdown by group and then the knock-out stages (number one is the winner; four is the loser:

Bill Shankly was right: the fact that all banks, including Saxo Bank, need to engage with the 2018 FIFA World Cup not only shows how important it is, it also demonstrates its impact on everything from a country’s confidence to its economic performance.

There are probably many links/correlations which can be discovered by Artificial Intelligence, but having been on the losing team one too many times, I can tell you: there is no bigger pain than losing in football – not even in trading!

(Mind you, as an economist you are always losing!)

Football remains the world’s biggest sport for a reason. It is a game everyone can play without any economic resources required: you can play in the streets, in your apartment, with a ball, with a sock, or with an orange!

On the field you are only measured by your contribution, not by your social status or your job; if anything, the higher your ranking in these areas, the more you need to give to the team. Football, or the football team, is the precise model on which societies should be built.

There are fundamental rules that need to be understood. The team is always bigger than the man (yes, even Ronaldo). There is room for a star, but only if he delivers. Should he fail, he’s gone (out). The winningest teams in the world win because they are teams, not 11 individual players.

As the world greatest goalkeeper (CDS!) once said:

“In football, you win as a group, you lose as a group; you divide the credit and the blame” – Gianluigi Buffon

First and foremost, you need to accept, like, work with, and subordinate yourself to the team in order to win. This is something that popular contemporary concepts and buzzwords – social media, AI, robots, nationalism, individualism – neither contain nor reflect.

Maybe that’s the overall lesson: as the world moves to dehumanize work and private life more and more, the thirst for being part of something like a team increases – there is nothing like the camaraderie, the post-game beer, and the self-congratulation with people you have played with for 10, 20, or in my case 30 years.

I wish everyone an amazing 2018 FIFA World Cup and again, congratulations to Iceland on winning the World Cup in economics: a truly phoenix-like recovery on the part of our Nordic brother.

New artificial intelligence-driven software has potential to change the customer experience delivered by call centres forever

CallMiner, the leading platform provider of award-winning speech and customer engagement analytics, announced today at Customer Contact Week 2018 the launch of its comprehensive CallMiner Eureka platform and new analytics modules: Analyze, Coach, API, Redact, and Alert. Powered by the Eureka data mining engine, the new modules are built to meet the full range of customer intelligence needs from real-time to post-contact analysis.

Each of the AI-driven analytics modules now leverages the core Eureka data processing engine that was enhanced earlier this year. By consolidating all modules onto a single platform, customers benefit from faster improvements, shared administration, and greater interoperability across the entire product suite.

“Our new analytics modules were aptly named to focus on the key pillars of engagement analytics – Analyze, Coach and Alert, plus API for data integration and Redact for security,” said Bruce McMahon, Director of Product Management at CallMiner. “Deploying all of these modules on the scalable and elastic Eureka mining platform is the culmination of our 2018 goal of a true cohesive platform concept with full product and data integration.”

With the consolidated platform, customer interaction data can now seamlessly transfer from real-time analysis in Alert to post-contact categorization and scoring in Analyze as calls are mined through a single data processing engine, saving both time and cost. In addition to speed, the scalability of the single Eureka engine provides the ability to mine data from tens of agents up to tens of thousands of agents at any given time. Data can also be extracted from or pushed to any of the modules with the real-time ingestion API, a core pillar of the CallMiner SaaS platform model.

Aman Gill joins Bibby Financial Services as Head of Trade Services

Bibby Financial Services (BFS) has appointed Aman Gill as Head of Trade Services as it looks to offer additional support to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) trading domestically and overseas.

Joining BFS with almost 11 years’ experience in the financial services sector, Aman has held a range of senior positions in financial services, supporting SMEs, middle market and corporate businesses.

Mostly recently, he held the position of Regional Sales Director at IGF Group. Aman’s role as Head of Trade Services is his third at BFS – with previous experience garnered as a Technical Manager and Relationship Manager. He started his career as a Relationship Support Manager at Barclays Corporate.

In his new role at BFS, Aman will focus on supporting the Trade Finance team with structuring bespoke funding arrangements to provide SMEs with the working capital they need. Aman will also work to develop BFS’s product range, to provide SMEs with more choice.

Speaking of his appointment, Aman said: “BFS is a market leading independent funder. It is innovative in its approach, and has a high calibre of professionals within the business that I look forward to working with.

“As Head of Trade Services, I am keen to develop BFS’s Trade Finance offering and support more businesses as they expand internationally.”

Phil Tobin, Managing Director of Trade Finance at Bibby Financial Services, said: “Now, more than ever, importing and exporting businesses have an important role to play in the UK’s future economic success. Having access to funding, as well as the right global expertise and experience, is crucial to this.

“We’re pleased that Aman is joining our expanding Trade Finance team as we grow our support for businesses trading overseas.”

TransUnion Completes Acquisition of Callcredit

TransUnion (NYSE: TRU) announced today that it has completed the acquisition of Callcredit Information Group, Ltd., the second largest and fastest growing consumer credit bureau in the U.K., for approximately £1 billion, or approximately $1.4 billion.

Founded in 2000, Callcredit is a U.K.-based information solutions company that, like TransUnion, provides data, analytics and technology solutions to help businesses and consumers make informed decisions. With a strong record of growth and innovation in both core credit and emerging solutions, Callcredit has achieved strong market success in the U.K.

“We are pleased to have received regulatory approval to acquire Callcredit, and we look forward to beginning the integration of the two businesses,” said Jim Peck, TransUnion’s president and chief executive officer. “It’s clear that the combination of our respective assets will drive value to our investors, customers and consumers in both the United Kingdom and across global markets TransUnion serves.”

TransUnion will provide updated full year 2018 guidance, including Callcredit and other recently completed acquisitions, as part of its second quarter 2018 earnings release. Given the size of the Callcredit acquisition, certain of the non-GAAP supplemental financial measures we provide as a basis for comparing operating results across periods, such as adjusted net income and adjusted diluted EPS, will exclude Callcredit’s integration-related costs going forward.

TransUnion previously announced that it had agreed to acquire Callcredit on April 20, 2018, and received regulatory approval from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the U.K. on June 12, 2018. RBC Capital Markets acted as lead M&A advisor. Deutsche Bank acted as lead financing arranger along with RBC Capital Markets, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Capital One who acted as joint arrangers. Citigroup and Deutsche Bank also advised on the transaction. Legal advisor was Sidley Austin, LLP.

Leading anti-money laundering firm SmartSearch launches fully integrated app

Anti-money laundering (AML) pioneers SmartSearch has launched a fully integrated app to allow AML checks to be carried out remotely.

SmartSearch’s world-leading AML verification platform is used by more than 3,000 businesses across the world. Now, thanks to the new app, all registered users have access to the same system on their iPhone, Android or tablets at no extra cost.

SmartAML is able to electronically verify all documents remotely, with the same capabilities as the full SmartSearch verification platform. This means users can carry out instant AML checks when they are in a client’s home or office and receive the results to their handheld device in seconds.

The app reads the name, full address and date of birth from the driving license, all the user has to add is their title (Mr, Mrs, Miss, etc) and press send. SmartAML then validates the information against the credit reference databases and automatically screens the person against worldwide sanction and PEP watch-lists which contain around 2.5 million data subjects.

The results are delivered back to the user in seconds with a green tick or a red cross. The search outcome details are then automatically uploaded into the full SmartSearch system back at the office for the rare occasions that enhanced due diligence needs to be performed.

The new client’s customer record will then be monitored either daily, weekly or monthly dependent on the client’s risk policies, for any changes to sanction and PEP watch-lists.

If the individual that the user wants to check has no driving license, they can input their name and address into their mobile device for the same checks to be carried out.

This latest development in SmartSearch’s award-winning AML platform comes at no additional costs – all current and future users will automatically have access to SmartAML.

Martin Cheek, Managing Director at SmartSearch said: “With the ever-increasing presence and risk of forged identity documents the introduction of electronic verification has brought with it confidence and certainty to AML compliance.

“We have been offering clients our award-winning automated system for seven years now, and are really pleased to be able to take our technology to the next level with SmartAML.

“By enabling our clients to perform exactly the same comprehensive checks on their customers whether they are in the office or out in the marketplace, we have given them much more freedom and flexibility, so they can concentrate on spending more time serving their clients rather than being caught up in compliance red tape.”

Why should being vulnerable have to mean being worse off?

In 2017, one in five clients of StepChange Debt Charity had an additional vulnerability (such as illness), on top of their problem debt. New analysis from the charity now shows that they tend to be in a notably worse financial position than other clients. This underpins the importance of the financial sector’s current focus on vulnerability, and cements the charity’s view that better safety nets are needed to prevent vulnerable people from suffering disproportionate difficulty.

There are many reasons for vulnerability, according to the new analysis in Breaking the Link: a closer look at vulnerable people in debt. Among the charity’s vulnerable clients, the overwhelmingly most common reason was mental health difficulty (43%), followed by physical disability (4.7%), cancer (4.6%), and poor health (4.1%).

Debt problems are closely associated with certain forms of vulnerability, especially illness. 77% of clients with a terminal illness, and 68% of clients with cancer, cited illness as the main cause of their debt problems. Among those with mental health issues, 40% said illness was the main reason for their debt. Two in five vulnerable clients overall said that the main reason for them falling into debt was illness.

However, vulnerability can derive from situations, as well as personal characteristics – bereavement, relationship breakdown, poor treatment by firms and many other features could all make someone vulnerable at certain times, even if the vulnerability is temporary.

Vulnerable clients were significantly more likely than other clients to have a net household income of under £10,000, and significantly less likely to have a net household income over £20,000. 45% of vulnerable clients had a deficit budget (with less money coming in than going out), even after budgeting advice, compared with 30% of clients as a whole.

Over two thirds of vulnerable clients were receiving benefits, compared with half of those clients without a vulnerability. Yet their benefits were less likely to prevent them facing a budget shortfall, with 40% facing a deficit budget compared with 37% of those clients without a vulnerability in receipt of benefits.

Vulnerable clients were more likely than other clients to be in arrears on household bills such as rent, utilities, or council tax. And they spent an average of 70% of their income on essential household bills and food, compared with 65% among other clients.

Commenting on the findings, StepChange Debt Charity chief executive Phil Andrew said: “Among our clients, those who are vulnerable typically show higher levels of financial distress – but that shouldn’t be inevitable. While there has been progress, it’s clear that the finance sector, regulators and the debt advice sector could all still do more to help break the link between being vulnerable and being significantly worse off. There are questions, too, for Government. With mounting evidence that vulnerable people are not always being adequately supported in their times of need – including the DWP’s own recent survey on the impact on claimants of Universal Credit – it is only reasonable to ask whether changes to the welfare system are creating too many negative and stressful impacts on people who are least in a position to deal with them.”

New report reveals where personal data is compromised online

A new collaborative report, released today (Tuesday 19 June) by Cifas, the UK’s leading fraud prevention service, and Forensic Pathways, an internationally recognised organisation operating at the forefront of digital forensics, highlights that alongside the dark web, the surface web plays an integral role in the selling of personal information.

The new research reveals that personal data is being sold on the surface web via forums and is available through online shops, which are accessible via normal search engines. Furthermore, the findings also show that those selling the data give some individuals’ data away for free by using it as an advert to display what information can be purchased.

In a sample of 30,000 victims of identity fraud, almost a third (8,646) were found on the surface web using name, date of birth, email and/or telephone number, with the majority of those identified on a social media platform. Over two-thirds (69%) of individuals were found on Facebook, with 38% on both Facebook and LinkedIn. Individuals aged 61 years and over were found to have a smaller social media presence; they were, however, more likely to have had an account compromised through a data breach.

Once again, as highlighted by last year’s Who are the victims of identity fraud? report, launched jointly with LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, victims that are company directors are more likely to be identifiable from their social media presence and public director registers. This is particularly the case when the correspondence address is the same as a company director’s home address. 76% of company directors had their home address as their correspondence address and in some cases this related to dissolved companies.

Based on the findings in this report, Cifas and Forensic Pathways have put forward a number of recommendations, including:

· Deactivate and delete old profiles on social media sites that you no longer use. Keep track of your digital footprints. If a profile was created ten years ago, there may be personal information currently available for a fraudster to use that you’re are not aware of or you have forgotten about.
· Social media platforms should consider automatically setting a profile to the highest security settings available. It should be an ‘opt-in’ approach for individuals to share personal information, giving them the ability to select what information they choose to reveal.
· Minimise the data you display publicly online. Take a second before adding information to your profile and question how necessary it is to make this information public. The more personal information you reveal, the more comprehensive a picture a fraudster can create to impersonate you.
· Owners of forums should monitor and manage them more strictly. This report shows that forums are being used, not for their intended purpose, but for the selling of personal data. Creators of forums should monitor them regularly and there should be sufficient channels to report abuse.
· Organisations should consider the transparency and proportionality of publicly available data. Further research should be conducted into the balance between transparency and proportionality of publicly available data.

Deborah Leary, CEO Forensic Pathways, said: “The findings are eye-opening. This report not only demonstrates the vulnerabilities of personal data held on surface web platforms, but also highlights the pressing need to monitor these with more vigour. It also reminds us that although illegal activity occurs on the dark web, it is also prevalent on the surface web, where the selling of personal data through forums and online shops is clearly evident. We welcome further collaboration from all industries and sectors in the fight against identity fraud.”

Sandra Peaston, Director of Insight, Cifas, said: “As individuals, we can take steps to protect our identities online, including deleting old profiles and minimising the data we publicly reveal online. For those who want to promote themselves, either professionally or personally, the real dilemma is whether this promotion outweighs the risks of revealing personal sensitive data.

“With identity fraud reaching record levels in recent years, more personal information available online, and increasing numbers of data breaches, the protection of personal data must be viewed as a collective responsibility. Everyone should play their part, from social media platforms taking more responsibility around security settings, to organisations prioritising the security of personal data.”