UK businesses show signs of distress as Brexit uncertainty continues, Creditsafe Watchdog Report finds

The number of failures of UK companies has risen 30.0% to 4,827 in the second quarter of the year, compared to the same period a year ago, according to the latest figures from Creditsafe’s Watchdog Report.

The quarterly Watchdog report, which analyses financial data across 12* UK business sectors, showed that high profile high street retail insolvencies, such as Poundworld and Bargain Booze, have added to the malaise, while 10 of the 12 sectors analysed by Creditsafe showed year-on-year increases in company failures.

This, in turn, had a knock-on effect on the volume of bad debt owed to suppliers of the 12 sectors, which increased by a staggering 307.0% to £2bn, compared to the same period a year ago. Large company failures leaving bad debt behind contributed to this alarming jump; as an example Maplin Electronics left £50m in bad debt to suppliers after becoming insolvent along with Café Pasta and Pandoraexpress both leaving £11m after closing their doors. The number of companies placed in the ‘very high’ and ‘high’ risk bands has also risen significantly by 16.1% and 30.1%, respectively. This is taking place in the context of reduced total sales, which have dropped across the sectors by 6.4% in the last three months to £6.9tn.

While the overall outlook is concerning, there are some positive indicators as the number of active companies across the 12 sectors rose by 14.7% over the last year to a total of 3.3m. Employment is also up by 13.1% across the 12 sectors to approximately 29.2m employees, despite the high business failure rates.

“The company failures we were discussing three months ago seem to have continued and set a worrying trend for the UK economy,” said Chris Robertson, UK CEO at Creditsafe. “Despite a few green shoots of growth in the first quarter of the year, it’s disappointing to see that across our 12 key sectors the UK is moving in the wrong direction yet again and continuing to add to levels of supplier bad debt.

“In the shadow of major collapses like Carillion and the uncertainty of ongoing Brexit negotiations, it seems that these economic traumas are having a significant effect on all corners of British industry. A 30.0% jump in company failures is certainly a cause for concern and companies need to be future-proofing their operations and protecting themselves from potentially damaging business endeavours.”

* Farming and Agriculture, Construction, Banking and Financial, Hospitality, IT, Manufacturing, Professional Services, Retail, Sports & Entertainment, Utilities, Transport and Wholesale.

FSB: Boosting jobs while delivering growth should be national priority

Both Scotland’s employment and unemployment rate rose slightly between March and May 2018, according to new figures published today.

Andrew McRae, the Federation of Small Businesses’ (FSB) Scotland policy chair, said: “A boost in Scottish employment is welcome news, despite the increase in those registered unemployed. Ensuring both of these numbers move in the right direction, while boosting local growth, must be a national priority

“Smaller Scottish firms are now more confident about trading conditions than they have been for some time. Policymakers need to build on this optimism by tackling issues like the scourge of late payment and ensuring smaller firms get a fair share of public contracts. While everyone wants clarity about our future relationship with Europe, there’s action that could be taken at home to boost growth.”

FCA’s decision to retain existing definition of vulnerability is ‘the right approach’

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has today announced it is retaining its existing definition of vulnerable consumers in response to its Consumer Approach consultation, with new guidance on vulnerability set to be published next year.

The consultation, which was launched in November last year, proposed a new definition for vulnerable consumers. A range of organisations including the Money Advice Trust raised concerns that the proposed new definition presented a potential step backwards for the vulnerability agenda, with a shift in focus towards the consumer and away from the actions of financial services firms.

The regulator will also now publish new guidance for firms on identifying and supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances next year.

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said: “The FCA’s decision to retain its existing definition of vulnerable consumers is the right approach and shows that vulnerability remains an important priority for the regulator. I am pleased that the FCA has listened to the concerns we raised as a sector about the proposed change.

“From our work training creditors in this area we know there is a growing appetite from many organisations to further improve their processes and training of frontline staff to better support vulnerable customers.

“With this continued commitment to vulnerability, the industry is in a strong position to build on the progress already made by many firms in their support for customers in vulnerable circumstances.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the FCA, creditors and partners across the sector to ensure customers receive the right support they need.”

The Money Advice Trust has trained more than 16,000 staff in over 190 creditor organisations on identifying and supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances.

StepChange Debt Charity reaction to FCA consumer approach

Responding to the publication today of the Financial Conduct Authority’s consumer approach, StepChange Debt Charity is pleased to see that the regulator has listened to respondents’ reservations, and will not be changing its definition of vulnerability. The regulator had previously proposed a new definition of ‘vulnerable consumers’, leading to concerns that this could have narrowed the focus of firms’ efforts to support vulnerable customers.

The charity, which helped over 29,000 people with an additional vulnerability on top of their debt last year, welcomes the FCA’s renewed focus on the importance of firms proactively identifying and supporting vulnerable consumers, and the announcement that the regulator intends to develop and consult on new guidance to help firms do this, as well as on the concept of a duty of care for firms to their customers.

Peter Tutton, head of policy at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “Through our work we see the crucial importance of financial service firms putting the needs of their customers at the heart of everything they do; whether this is giving people in financial difficulty the right help at the right time, or making sure people who need more support get the products and a service that match their circumstances. So clear guidance and direction from the Financial Conduct Authority is both welcome and necessary.

“We know that people with additional vulnerabilities are more likely to be on lower incomes, to be behind on their household bills, and to not have enough money to make ends meet. There is a pressing need for Government to look for ways to improve the financial health and resilience of households and people with additional vulnerabilities.”

Tinubu Square and Gestion Credit Expert: strategic partnership on debt collection services

Tinubu Square, a leading provider of trade credit, bonding & surety and receivables finance solutions, has sealed a strategic partnership with GESTION CREDIT EXPERT, to ensure customers of Recovery Square, a subsidiary of Tinubu Square, receive seamless continuity of its debt collection services.

As a result of the investment of 53M€ made by Long Arc Capital and Bpifrance at the end of 2017, Tinubu Square is pursuing its international expansion and will concentrate its efforts on its core activity, software publishing, and focus its services offering on risk analysis services. In this context, the activities of its subsidiary Recovery Square, dedicated to debt collection services in France and internationally, are taken over by GESTION CREDIT EXPERT, a leading French credit management solutions provider, specialised in trade credit risk management and debt collections services.

It is critical for Tinubu Square to ensure a seamless continuity of services to its long-term customers, both in France and internationally, as well as to offer, in particular to its credit insurance customers, the benefits and the high-quality services of this partnership. GESTION CREDIT EXPERT is a key player in the debt collection services market worldwide and its expertise has been recognized and respected for many years.

“We want to guarantee our customers continue to get robust debt collection services which are critical for them and specific to their activities. We are confident that our customers will benefit from seamless continuation of high-quality service provision from such an internationally-minded and experienced partner as GESTION CREDIT EXPERT which is expanding rapidly worldwide in this market. Moreover, we will work closely with GESTION CREDIT EXPERT to share its expertise with our international customer network”, said Jérôme Pezé, CEO and founder, Tinubu Square.

“We are delighted to engage in this strategic alliance with Jérôme Pezé and his team. We are committed to bringing Recovery Square’s and Tinubu Square’s customers the best possible service. Through this partnership, we reinforce our position in the market and move further forward to contribute to two of the main challenges faced by our economy: increasing corporate cash flow and reducing corporate trade credit risk worldwide”, said Christophe Nobilet, CEO, GESTION CREDIT EXPERT.

Arrow Global Selects Xactium to Transform Risk Management Processes Organisation-Wide

Established in 2005, Arrow Global Group specialises in the purchase, collection and servicing of non-performing loans. It identifies, acquires and manages secured and unsecured defaulted loan portfolios from financial institutions, such as banks and credit card companies, as well as retail chains, student loans, motor credit, telecommunication firms and utility companies.

With almost £48 billion of Assets Under Management and around 10 million customer accounts across multiple European countries, the effective management of its risk profile and associated processes is critical. Having expanded rapidly, Arrow Global identified the need to implement an enterprise risk management system which would make it easier for the whole business to assess and report risk and control information, while moving away from a spreadsheet model which led to risk data being stored across multiple documents and locations.

Arrow Global took advantage of the opportunity to trial the Xactium software, deciding that it was the right system to take the organisation into a new era of risk management. By adopting Xactium, the Group will soon be working with just one central platform to store, track and report on the organisation’s risk information. With offices in countries including the UK, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands, Arrow Global will have greater transparency over risk exposures and how they are being managed across the Group, as well as the ability to automate many of the manual processes involved.

Paul Woods, Enterprise and Operational Risk Director at Arrow Global Group, said: “Establishing a ‘real-time’ and flexible assessment and reporting system which we can use consistently across our expanding Group, became a priority. Xactium’s platform addresses this need and will support us as we further enhance our risk management approach across all of our businesses. We look forward to working with them through this exciting phase of our growth.”

Managing Director, Andy Evans says, “Arrow Global expands Xactium’s rapidly growing portfolio of organisations working in the financial services sector. It’s fantastic to have been selected by such a rapidly growing organisation – Xactium’s flexible, modern, cloud based risk solution will be able to adapt easily to changes in their organisation, whilst ensuring Group-wide risk visibility.”

UK fintech expands its international footprint into the US, converting classifieds sites into transactional marketplaces for the first time

Shieldpay has increased its global footprint by launching in the US by partnering with the car classified site, AutoClassics.com. Shieldpay enabled the site to become fully transactional to its customers for the first time across the UK, EU and US.

Shieldpay’s transparent payment solution mitigates the risk of fraud by verifying the identity of both parties, holding funds securely and only releasing funds when both sides agree they are happy with the transaction. The payment solution is set to transform classified sites to fully transactional marketplaces, bringing transparency and efficiency to the payment while also reducing the risk of fraud.

AutoClassics.com has integrated the Shieldpay API to power payments, listings, bids and offers for its dealers and consumers. Classifieds and marketplaces can leverage Shieldpay’s API to create their own user experience or make use of Shieldpay’s ‘ready to user’ user interface.

Consumers will no longer have to carry large sums of cash when meeting a stranger or wire money blindly when buying a car from someone they’ve met online. Consumers will also benefit from innovative features like Shieldpay’s Driveway Checkout™ where they can negotiate the price of the car on the driveway and simply authorise the payment in-app to complete the sale.

Shieldpay’s Director of Consumer & SMB, Tom Clementson, says that the technology will allow classified sites to ‘fight back’ against disruptors like Facebook Marketplace and start competing for more of the USD$1 trillion1 marketplaces globally.

Clementson also believes that Shieldpay’s trusted payments network will fill the void in the payments industry for life’s big purchases, or when dealing with someone you don’t know.

Tom Clementson, Director of Consumer & SMB of Shieldpay, comments: “While PayPal are great for low value, every day spend, we secure larger payments between users that have been verified by Shieldpay, which addresses a huge gap in the market.

“Taking Shieldpay to the US was the next logical step. The size and scale of online marketplaces, globally, is over UDD $1 trillion – and that figure even excludes classifieds sites, which don’t yet accept payments. This opportunity is huge, yet classifieds and marketplaces are under-served by secure solutions for larger payments. Classified sites have come under increasing pressure from disruptors and we believe our technology will allow them to fight back and transform their business models – taking them from traditional listing sites to transactional marketplaces and building an instant new revenue stream.”

Geoff Love, CEO of AutoClassics, comments: “We’re proud to partner with Shieldpay as an innovative payments solution that has allowed us to become transactional for the first time. Shieldpay gives our users total confidence that they can buy and sell securely on AutoClassics.com. Our users will also benefit from Shieldpay’s verified user badge that signals to the buyer or seller that the other user is part of the trusted payments network.”

As well as protecting life’s big purchases like buying or selling a car, Shieldpay’s instant digital escrow facility can accelerate multi-million-pound M&A deals and real estate transactions, having recently powered the UK’s first fully digital real estate transaction.

Consumers left clueless about banking options

Online research from Equifax, the consumer and business insights expert, reveals a lack of awareness of banking options among Brits. When presented with a list of digital banks 60% hadn’t heard of any of the brands* and only 20% would opt for a challenger bank if opening a new account today.

The survey, conducted with Gorkana, showed 44% of Brits would choose a traditional bank, and when choosing which brand to bank with, they prioritise good customer service (41%), ease of managing money via a good app or online service (34%), and availability of a physical branch (32%). Media influence was least important; only 3% of people factor news stories about a bank into their decision.

Good customer service also topped the list of priorities for people who would choose a challenger bank (31%), followed by incentives such as a joining fee (28%) and a good app or online service (27%). Friends or family using the bank was the least important factor – just 5% of respondents would take this into consideration.

People who would opt for a challenger bank appear to be more value conscious; one fifth (20%) said better rates when using their card or withdrawing cash abroad would appeal to them, compared to 12% of people who would use a traditional bank. Over a quarter (27%) rate more competitive rates, for example on overdraft fees or loans services a contributory factor when choosing a challenger bank, versus 19% for traditional banks.

Jake Ranson, Banking and Financial Institution expert and CMO at Equifax Ltd, says: “Challenger and digital banks have been making their mark in the banking sector bringing attractive, consumer friendly services to market, yet many consumers are still unaware of these brands. The government has taken action to increase competition in the sector but there’s still a lot of work to do to encourage consumers to fully explore the options available to them and make informed decisions on selecting or retaining accounts.

“Open Banking is underway and is a huge advance for consumers. Services are coming to market that will help people get better value from banks, for example identifying sign-up incentives or better rates tailored to their needs. The next step is for the industry to work together to increase consumer awareness of the value Open Banking unlocks.”

Women and seaside towns again see most personal insolvencies – R3 comments on 2017 statistics

A higher percentage of women than men in England and Wales entered insolvency in 2017, continuing the trend of recent years, says insolvency trade body R3, commenting on the annual personal insolvency statistics released this morning by the Insolvency Service.

Looking at the geographical spread in the statistics, the North East and coastal towns such as Plymouth and Scarborough typically had the highest concentrations of personal insolvencies, also following the pattern established in recent years. Stoke-on-Trent is the local authority with the highest rates of personal insolvencies.

The 2017 statistics show that 53.9% of insolvencies involved a woman, up from 30% in 2000 and 53.4% in 2016.

Gender
· There were 22.6 insolvencies per 10,000 women in 2017 compared to 20.2 insolvencies per 10,000 men. There were 21.4 insolvencies per 10,000 for all adults.
· Women were involved in 65.4% of Debt Relief Orders, 53% of Individual Voluntary Arrangements, and 38.6% of bankruptcies.

Mark Sands, chair of the Personal Insolvency Committee at R3, comments: “The statistics for 2017 carry on the pattern which we have seen over the last few years, of women being persistently more likely to enter an insolvency procedure than men, with the gap widening to become even greater than in 2016.

“Many factors feed into this gender disparity. For example, women are much more likely than men to work part-time, and in sectors and roles with lower pay; women are often paid less than men for performing comparable work, as the gender pay gap shows; they are more likely to be single parents, which has a high correlation with greater poverty levels; and previous Insolvency Service statistics showed women were more likely than men to enter bankruptcy as a result of relationship breakdown.

“A number of factors have increased women’s insolvency rates over the last few years, not least the introduction of Debt Relief Orders [DROs] in 2009 and their subsequent expansion a couple of years ago. DROs are designed to help people with low incomes, debts, and assets, and have been predominantly used by women. DROs have helped those who might not have been able to access an insolvency procedure otherwise.

“Overall, unemployment levels stayed relatively low across 2017, but in the context of zero hours contracts and the gig economy, just having a job can be less of a bulwark against insecurity and insolvency than it used to be.

“Women have a lower participation rate in the economy, with around 26% counted as economically inactive in 2017 compared with around 17% for men. People on fixed incomes, be they pensioners or benefits claimants, are more vulnerable to rises in inflation, as any increases in their incomes will lag behind real-world conditions; price rises across last year will have increased the pressures on household budgets.

“As R3 has said before, the stereotype that women become insolvent more than men due to profligacy just does not hold up when compared with the evidence. The form of insolvency which is most closely linked to consumer spending, an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA), is relatively equally used by men and women.
“Women’s relatively weaker financial position is underlined by the gender split in DROs, which are used when the debt in question is small, and the indebted individual has assets under £1,000. Two thirds (65.4%) of DROs were taken out by women, compared with 34.6% by men.

“Bankruptcy, meanwhile, is the one form of personal insolvency procedure which is more commonly used by men than women (61.4% of bankruptcies are taken out by men and 38.6% by women in the most recent statistics), and is often associated with business failure and higher debts.”
The number of DROs taken out in 2017 fell by around 5% compared with 2016, while the number of bankruptcies was essentially flat, rising by only 0.4% year on year. IVAs jumped by 20% year on year, and overall, individual insolvency numbers rose by 9% in 2017 compared with 2016.

Regional
Mark comments: “As with the gender split, the geographical distribution of individual insolvencies also follows the patterns of recent years. The places which have the highest rate of personal insolvency tend to be seaside towns, in towns affected by the decline of a particular industry, and in the North East – where there is often a combination of both the other two factors. Although it’s not in the North East, Stoke, an area where industry has declined, tops the list of local authority personal insolvency rates.

“The problems facing seaside towns are well-known, and six of the 10 places with the highest rate of personal insolvency are by the sea. Seasonal work dries up over the winter, and when it is available, wages tend to be low. In more heartening news, however, the Government launched a £40 million fund in February to encourage investment and to boost jobs in coastal communities. The vibrant economies of seaside cities like Brighton show that coastal settlements can become prosperous, given the right conditions.

“Areas where industry has receded face significant challenges. High levels of individual insolvencies are often accompanied by other issues, like poorer health and education outcomes. We’re still seeing the impact of industrial decline, decades later. Tackling economic malaise will require significant investment in building skills, resilience, business networks, and better infrastructure. Interestingly, London is the only place where bankruptcies – a procedure associated with higher levels of debts and assets – are more common with DROs – which are associated with low assets and low, but unaffordable debts.

“Regional initiatives, such as the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine, are one way to bring public and private sectors together to boost investment and to build links, and more of a focus on such projects would be welcome news for people and businesses in post-industrial areas. Projects must also take care to look outside cities and larger towns to places where a spiral of decline has set in – the statistics show that places where levels of personal insolvency are high often exist side by side with much more prosperous areas.

SIA signs financing contract to acquire First Data business

SIA, a European hi-tech firm leader in the payment services and infrastructures sector, has today signed a financing contract to support the acquisition of First Data’s business in a number of countries in Central and Southeastern Europe.

UniCredit, one of the main reference banks and sponsor of SIA Group, acted as Sole Underwriter, guaranteeing the total underwriting of the amount, Global Coordinator, Initial Bookrunner, Initial Mandated Lead Arranger and Facility Agent.

In addition, UniCredit managed, as Active Bookrunner, the entire process of syndication, which led to significant participation by the following major banks as Mandated Lead Arranger and Bookrunner: Banca IMI, Banco BPM, BNP Paribas, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, and UBI Banca.