Divi Expands Leadership Team with Duo of High Profile Appointments

Decentralized Payment Ecosystem Divi Project (Divi), has announced two new senior appointments and a promotion to accelerate its tech innovation, drive its entry into DeFi, and expand its commercial partnerships.

Chris Airola has been appointed Chief Product Officer at Divi Labs, the Divi Project’s fintech innovation center, responsible for developing world-class decentralized solutions powered by the Divi blockchain. Chris joins from interactive content platform VRIFY, where he was head of product. He brings over two decades of product development experience from some of the world’s largest businesses and industry disruptors including Microsoft Research, PayByPhone, Moz, and Realtor.com.

Chris will drive the development of Divi’s decentralized mobile wallet and its expansion into new global territories starting with the UK and EU. In addition to current innovations including Divi’s proprietary 1-Click Masternode technology (MOCCI ™) that makes earning with crypto as easy as pressing play on Spotify, Chris will be responsible for rolling out the next tranche of innovative features including staking vaults.

Chris Airola, Chief Product Officer, Divi comments: “I’ve wanted to get involved with the Divi Project for some time. Today, the crypto industry feels like the web 2.0 of the early 2000s, and I am excited to help drive the innovation taking place at Divi and grow a company in the world of nascent tech again.”

Joshua Caleb joins Divi as Chief Innovation Officer. Joshua brings a wealth of experience in blockchain development. Previously Head of Business Development and then Chief Operations Officer at Blockchain Centre, he was responsible for expanding penetration in new markets, restructuring the business model, and building credibility and rapport with new and existing customer stakeholders. As CIO for Divi, his focus will be on modernizing the blockchain to increase efficiency and developing the company’s DeFi bridge.

Joshua Caleb, Chief Innovation Officer, Divi comments: “I am committed to supporting the development of innovative technology that empowers the most economically disadvantaged and provides essential financial tools to the world’s unbanked population. This is why I joined the Divi Project as Chief Innovation Officer. I’m thrilled to work with such a purpose-driven organization and to continue affecting positive change around the world.”

In addition to the new hires, Nick Saponaro, Divi’s Chief Information Officer has been promoted to CEO. For now, he will perform the dual role of maintaining oversight of technical development, while also driving the company’s growth.

Nick Saponaro, CEO, Divi, comments, “Chris and Joshua both bring valuable skills to the business and will be critical in achieving our mission to improve people’s lives by making crypto easy and accelerate its mainstream adoption. We have ambitious development and growth targets and a team who can make them a reality.”

By removing barriers to entry, innovating new frictionless technologies, and delivering use cases for the developed and developing world, Divi is helping people across the globe to engage in this new economy and achieve financial freedom and inclusion.

PayU partners with AU10TIX to streamline merchant onboarding 

PayU, the payments and fintech business of Prosus, today announces its collaboration with AU10TIX, an identity management company, to screen customers and ensure a frictionless onboarding process.

The PayU-AU10TIX partnership will streamline the merchant onboarding process by utilising AI and automation to rapidly authenticate identities.  The new service will be used to verify the identities of individuals or representatives of businesses connecting to PayU directly or via marketplaces powered by PayU’s payments solution.

PayU’s partnership with AU10TIX means that identities can be validated in seconds, enabling PayU to maintain its reliable and efficient merchant onboarding and re-verification processes. As the risk of criminals using online platforms to conduct illicit activity increases, this collaboration will also ensure that PayU’s processes remain streamlined and secure for both shoppers and merchants, further strengthening PayU’s crime-prevention capabilities. With AU10TIX’s innovative technology, PayU can continuously optimize its services to ensure more accurate identity verification, increased automation levels, and greater security for fighting the latest fraud attack vectors.

AU10TIX’s deep learning algorithm knows when an ID is manipulated, and the partnership with AU10TIX will further allow PayU to overcome the growing threat of synthetic identities. Using automated and innovative technologies may also allow PayU to introduce additional measures to further strengthen security in the future.

The AU10TIX integration has initially been implemented in Poland and Czech Republic and will soon be introduced across EMEA markets and elsewhere around the world, including Latin America which has seen an e-commerce boom since the start of the pandemic.

Andrzej Bassara, Chief Operations Officer of PayU: “The number of international merchants cooperating with PayU is growing exponentially, necessitating collaboration with companies like AU10TIX, a market leader in identity verification, to offer our clients the most efficient on-boarding and re-verification process.”

“AU10TIX is meeting our customers’ expectations around security by offering an automated solution that utilises advanced AI to accurately authenticate identities without the need for a human agent to review. An automated ID authentication process will rely upon an algorithm which will allow for customers’ identities to be confirmed in real time, making PayU’s processes more streamlined and secure.”

Carey O’Connor Kolaja, CEO of Au10tix: “Preventing identity fraud is at the core of what we do at Au10tix, and we are delighted to support PayU in their efforts to automate the merchant onboarding process. Our collaboration will ensure that PayU can continuously offer their users a safe and secure experience, while increasing the efficiency and pace of the processes to confidently verify identities.”

Hoist Finance and Vilja are now live in the UK with Deposit

As of July 12th, the leading financial services provider Hoist Finance is live with Vilja Deposit in the UK and extends its offering to include deposit in British pounds to the general public.

With Vilja Deposit, Hoist Finance adds an extra currency in their funding strategy, now also taking deposits in GBP. Vilja Deposit aggregates Hoist’s internal administration and ensures correct reconciliation. In addition, the solution compiles all reporting to the relevant supervisory authorities to stay compliant.

“We are happy to expand our funding options, now taking deposits in GBP. The big advantage of using Vilja is that we can build scale on our existing platform. The cooperation with Vilja has been successful and the roll-out to the UK market went according to plans” says Carl-Fabian Pellnor, Head of HoistSpar and Business Development at Hoist Finance.

“We are proud of the continued trust to grow together with Hoist Finance. To be live in the UK is an important milestone, as we continue our expansion across Northern Europe.” continues Fredrik Ulvenholm, CEO at Vilja.

Rent arrears up by £88 million during pandemic waves, hitting a total of £365 million

The latest research by Birmingham estate and lettings agent, Barrows and Forrester, examines the true impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on landlords due to rent arrears among private rental tenants in England, revealing that the total amount of arrears during the initial wave of the pandemic was dwarfed by arrears during the second.

There are 4.8 million private rented households in England. During wave one of the pandemic restrictions figures from the ONS estimated that 7% of these households, equalling 335,860 homes, were at least one month behind on their rent payments.

The average rent in England in July 2020 was £826 per month. This means the total rent arrears during wave one was at least £277.3 million. However, given that a number of households were more than one month in arrears, this is a relatively conservative figure.

During wave two of the pandemic, the number of households in at least one month’s arrears rose from 7% to 9% which means wave two saw some 431,820 private rental households fall into arrears.

The average cost of renting was also higher during wave two than during wave one, rising from £826 to £846 per month. So, with almost 432,000 homes at least one month behind on rent, Barrows and Forrester estimates the cash total of arrears to have been at least £365.3 million.

This marks an increase of 31.75% from wave one, a pounds and pence difference of just over £88 million.

When analysing the England data on a closer regional level, it is revealed that four English regions saw arrears grow by more than the national average between wave one and wave two.

The largest arrears growth was seen in the East Midlands, where between the first two waves of the pandemic, rent arrears increased by more than 36%. In both the South West and the East, arrears increased by 35.6%, and in the South East, they grew by 35%.

The smallest regional increase between each wave was in London where total arrears grew by just over 24%, but due to London’s very high rent prices, this 24% growth accounted for almost £28.5 million, by far the largest sum in the nation.

The country must now wait and see how rent arrears will be affected by a potential third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic which most analysts predict will occur between September and October 2021.

Managing Director of Barrows and Forrester, James Forrester, commented: “The first two waves of the pandemic shook the rental market to the core. All of a sudden, many tenants who had no previous problems with paying rent on time found themselves out of work, or at least having their hours significantly cut as employers tried desperately to find a route to survival during an unprecedented moment in modern history.

This left hundreds of thousands of people unable to afford steady rent payments and so the government stepped in to protect them, making it almost impossible for landlords to evict them during the height of the pandemic.

As a result, when wave two arrived, we saw a 2% rise in the number of private rental households in arrears which came at a considerable cost to the nation’s landlords.

We are starting to see normality return to the rental market but this will do little to comfort those landlords who are now severely out of pocket and should a third wave materialise, we will no doubt see yet another increase in the total amount of rental arrears seen across the market.”

Check-it, Chase-it, Collect-it: Know-it launches new standard for credit management

Glasgow-based fintech start-up, Know-it, has today launched its beta cloud-based credit management platform. Founded by Lynne Darcey Quigley, the Know-it platform gives businesses the tools to automate and simplify the way they manage the credit control process, helping save time, reduce debtor days and increase cash flow. The platform is yet another example of the on-going innovation in the Scottish technology industry, illustrating the continued resilience the sector has shown throughout Covid-19.

Know-it allows businesses to credit check and monitor, chase for payment, collect overdue unpaid invoices, and more all from one place. By partnering with some of the UK’s leading accountancy software and credit reference agencies – such as Xero, QuickBooks, Sage, FreeAgent and Graydon – users can instantly credit check companies, get live data and real-time updates to monitor customer’s credit behaviour and mitigate potential credit risks.

The beta platform also gives finance teams and business owners a simple way to check their customers’ credit worthiness and ensure customers pay on time through scheduled reminders and customisable chaser emails, letters and SMS. All of which help reduce debtor days and increase cash flow. Users can also get instant quotes to collect unpaid invoices quickly and efficiently through their debt recovery partner Darcey Quigley & Co, as well as monitoring and acquiring reports on commercial debts.

Lynne Darcey Quigley, CEO and founder of Know-it explains: “Know-it is a fresh perspective on a traditional process – while the credit control process hasn’t changed, our new platform enables all credit control functions to come together in one place. By removing the need to access multiple different platforms, the cloud-based platform streamlines the credit control process so you can credit check and monitor, chase for payment, collect overdue unpaid invoices and more. This is set to transform the way businesses view the credit control process, as it will immediately help them save time and costs by providing real-time data all from the convenience of one place.

“As the pandemic continues to rip through the business community, this is now a crucial time for technology to step in and offer a helping hand through an affordable and effective credit management platform. In the past, smaller businesses in particular have been unable to access the necessary resources required to automate this process. With the launch of Know-it’s platform, businesses of all sizes are now able to check it, chase it and collect payments, all in real-time and without the headache of manual processing.”

The Know-it platform has launched against the backdrop of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, as well as an increasing culture of late payments and financial fraud, which have both mounted the pressures on businesses and their finance departments. According to recent research, around 60% of SME owners believe that the government must offer greater support for businesses, this is despite the various support schemes having already been introduced.

Discussing the Know-it platform launch, John Strachan, Business Growth Advisor at Business Gateway, who’s support included access to a suite of workshops, industry experts and 121 advisors commented; “It is very promising to see innovation continuing to emerge from Scotland’s technology sector, particularly in the present climate. The current resilience being shown from businesses within the sector will undoubtedly hold it in good shape for many years to come and we are excited to see how the Know-it platform can support businesses of all sizes through the pandemic and beyond.”

Jack Malcolm, Relationship Manager, West Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland said: “Royal Bank of Scotland is proud to have played a part in Know-It’s journey, helping support Lynne and the team from their inception and beta testing, through to providing funding to achieve its growth plan and the launch of today’s credit management platform. As a leading champion of Scottish SMEs, we look forward to continuing to work with Know-It, and are excited to see what the future holds for this promising Scottish fintech.”

Lynne concludes: “Although this platform has been several years in the making, it was not our intention to launch in the wake of a global pandemic, but there is a timely opening for the beta platform to provide an additional level support for vulnerable businesses at a point when they need it most. Support from automated and effective credit management systems have traditionally been out of reach for them until now, so we hope this technology will provide businesses with a comprehensive and holistic solution needed to work smarter, at a time when financial accountability is key.

“Here at Know-it, we are proud to be the latest Scottish innovators harnessing the newest technologies and provide a solution for businesses to overcome the challenging, real-world issues facing their operations.”

EQ Credit Services welcomes new Managing Director

EQ Credit Services (EQCS), the consumer credit technology and outsourced services provider, has appointed Sarah Jackson as its new Managing Director.

Sarah takes the reins from departing Managing Director Richard Carter, who steps down having grown EQCS to be the UK’s leading provider of loan management systems and one of the country’s largest standby servicers.

EQCS entered the UK market in 2017 following the acquisition of Pancredit, Gateway to Finance and Nostrum Group. As former Chief Executive of Nostrum Group, Carter defined and successfully executed a new market entry strategy for EQCS. Carter will remain within the business taking up an advisory role until the end of the year.

Sarah Jackson has held several executive positions within both EQCS and the wider Equiniti Group over the past seven years, spending almost six as Sales Director of EQCS and most recently working as Managing Director (Sales) of Equiniti’s Digital division.

Sarah brings deep knowledge of financial services and is highly connected with the broader industry with over 17 years’ managerial, sales and business development experience from companies spanning Bank of Scotland, Incisive Media and Mergermarket.

Sarah also acts as an Executive Sponsor for EQ’s LGBT+ Network as part of the Group’s Global Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Council.

On her appointment, Sarah Jackson says, “I’ve been involved with EQ Credit Services for many years, and its client-centric, technology-led approach has always resonated with me. I have a strong emotional connection to the team and its clients, and I firmly believe in its vision. I look forward to building on Richard’s achievements, cementing our dominant market position and making gains in new areas.

Speaking on her future vision and plans for the EQCS business, she adds: “At its core, EQCS is an agile tech business, transforming the future of lending. Part of our strategic direction moving forward will be refocusing our messaging to showcase our tech-led business process outsourcing and servicing capabilities.

“Similarly, you can expect to see a renewed focus on mortgage activity. We have the capability to help mortgage lenders digitalise and simplify the mortgage process – and ultimately make customers’ mortgage journeys as enjoyable and seamless as possible.”

Richard Carter comments: “It has been an honour to lead the EQCS business for the last 4 years and I’m incredibly grateful for my colleagues’ commitment to achieve our goal of being the defacto standard for lending systems in the UK. I’d also like to thank our clients for the trust they have placed in EQCS to help them deliver their strategic transformation projects.

“Sarah and I have worked together for the last 4 years and I’m delighted to be handing over the baton to her. She has the necessary combination of experience, skills and determination and is perfectly suited to deliver our broader strategic agenda.“

Sarah officially began the role of EQCS Managing Director on the 25th August 2021, her appointment subject to regulatory approval.

Property transactions comment: “Desire to move remains strong”

Following the latest HMRC figures finding that housing transactions bounced back sharply from July to August, John Phillips, national operations direction at Just Mortgages said: “As we continue the march towards normality, property transactions are returning to a more recognisable level.

“The peaks and troughs of the past few months have been more erratic than in the past, but these should begin to level out as we move away from the stamp duty holiday. One thing that the latest data proves is that the tax savings were not the sole driving force behind the vast majority of moves.

“As the desire to move remains strong, particularly for properties with gardens, the imbalance between buyers and sellers remains. Buyers are significantly outweighing sellers, and properties are attracting multiple offers which is driving up prices.

“Despite the end to furlough in a few weeks, vacancies have exceeded 1m for the first-time, so there are jobs out there, and the number of buyers is unlikely to fall significantly.

“Confidence in the economy is growing and people are now switching jobs, so this may test lenders criteria on probationary periods, but it is unlikely to be a significant blocker for many.

“Now transactions are returning to close to normal, brokers should look at ensuring clients are protected, and focusing on remortgages as there will be plenty of mortgages maturing.”

Company insolvencies surge by 70% as Government support tails off

Insolvency figures released today for August 2021* by the Government’s Insolvency Service show a 71% increase in corporate insolvencies compared to the same month last year (1348 in August 2021 and 788 in August 2020). Insolvencies are also similar to the number registered two years previously (pre-pandemic; 1,336 in August 2019).

Tough times ahead as corporate insolvencies forecast to rise

Leading restructuring and insolvency professional, Oliver Collinge from PKF GM said: “The surge in corporate insolvency numbers is not surprising. The last couple of months have seen the lifting of the final lockdown restrictions and many businesses in the region will now have to start making payments in relation to their BBLS and CBILS loans as well as deferred HMRC liabilities.

“We expect the numbers to continue to rise as furlough comes to an end this month, which will put further cash flow pressure on some companies. The government’s moratorium on the use of winding up petitions is also being lifted at the end of September (albeit with some modest remaining protection designed to support smaller businesses) which will likely cause a substantial increase in creditors taking recovery action.

“There will be multiple added pressures on businesses in the coming months, particularly those that weren’t in robust financial health before Covid, so it’s critical businesses act early and seek advice if they are struggling now, or think cash flow may be squeezed in coming months. The earlier they act, the more options they’ll have to continue trading and recover.”

Additional Government support announced as moratorium lifted

As temporary restrictions on the use of certain creditor enforcement actions are lifted at the end of September, namely the moratorium on issuing winding up petitions, it is inevitable that insolvency numbers will return at least to pre-pandemic levels relatively soon and possibly higher for a period of time as creditors will be able to enforce their rights again.

However last week the Government announced it was introducing additional measures to restrict the use of winding up petitions when the moratorium ends. This will provide additional protection to SMEs and commercial tenants. These will:

  • Protect businesses from creditors pursuing relatively small debts by temporarily raising the minimum debt level for a winding-up petition to £10,000 or more; and
  • Require creditors to seek repayment proposals from debtor companies, allowing 21 days for a response before they can go ahead with a winding up petition.

Existing restrictions will remain in place on commercial landlords, which prevent winding up petitions against tenants for payment of arrears of commercial rent. Each of the above measures are temporary and will be in force until 31 March 2022.

A message to company directors

Oliver Collinge added: “There are plenty of proactive things you can do now to build resilience into your business for the post-Covid economy; don’t leave it too late. Having a restructuring professional guide you through the process can be invaluable in getting the best outcome and will also help you understand and mitigate your risk as a director.”

“For those businesses who have recently reopened, now may be the time to begin negotiations with landlords and creditors to develop manageable repayment plans. Will revenues be high enough to support your cost base? Will cash flows be sufficient to deal with the additional debt burden (both formal and informal) that has accrued during lockdown? Perhaps a CVA is something which should be considered or, where you may need to take the difficult decision to make redundancies to survive, consider applying for government funding to meet the short term cash impact of this.”

August insolvencies

Of the 1,348 registered company insolvencies in August 2021:

  • There were 1,256 CVLs, which is more than double the number in August 2020 and 30% higher than in August 2019;
  • 35 were compulsory liquidations, which is 55% lower than August 2020 and 82% lower than August 2019;
  • Two were CVAs, which is 87% lower than August 2020 and 93% lower than August 2019; and
  • There were 55 Administrations, which is 50% lower than August 2020 and 69% lower than August 2019.

SmartSearch appoints new general counsel

Leading UK anti-money laundering specialist SmartSearch has appointed a new in-house general counsel to provide expert guidance on legal issues affecting the business.

Nicola Gifford has joined the rapidly growing regtech specialist, and will oversee the firm’s corporate governance. With over 28-years working at companies such as Johnson & Johnson and HSBC, Gifford brings a vast amount of experience to the role.

SmartSearch’s industry-leading product ensures compliance for regulated businesses in the UK and internationally, therefore Gifford’s expertise is essential to ensure SmartSearch is ahead of the constantly evolving data protection and money-laundering legislation.

Part of Gifford’s responsibilities will be to help further enhance the SmartSearch team’s knowledge so they can have informed conversations with clients. By putting on regular training sessions, each member of the SmartSearch team will improve their knowledge so they can speak to clients on areas such as GDPR and data protection.

Gifford explained: “Being part of SmartSearch in this new role that has been created, means I can integrate myself fully in the business and find innovative solutions to problems.

“Working in-house means I’m available to be involved in conversations day-to-day, for example helping the team deal with customer queries, developing contracts for suppliers and clients, and supporting on the development of new products.

“One of the parts of my role I enjoy most is upskilling and equipping everyone in the business to prepare them with the knowledge they need to do their roles more effectively.

“In addition to the improving the overall expertise of everyone in the business, I also want to start consulting with other compliance professionals so we can have a voice on codes of conduct and the direction digital verification takes in the future.”

R3 responds to August 2021 insolvency figures

Corporate insolvencies increased by 22.9% to 1,348 in August 2021 compared to July’s figure of 1,097, and increased by 71.1% compared to August 2020’s figure of 788.

Personal insolvencies increased by 0.2% to 9,106 in August 2021 compared to July’s figure of 9,090, and were 42.7 % higher than August 2020’s figure of 6,381.

Colin Haig, President of insolvency and restructuring trade body R3 and Head of Restructuring at Azets, responds to today’s publication of the August 2021 corporate and individual insolvency statistics for England and Wales: “The insolvency figures published today highlight how much tougher the climate is for businesses and individuals than this time last year, and the toll the pandemic has taken on business and personal finances over the last 12 months.

“The increase in corporate insolvencies was driven by a rise in Creditors’ Voluntary Liquidations (CVLs). Numbers for this process were 115% higher than this time last year, and 30% higher than in 2019, which suggests that despite the opening up of the economy, there are a number of company directors who are opting to close their businesses after a year and a half of trading in a pandemic.

“This comes despite the fact that August was one of the better months for businesses since the start of the pandemic. The lifting of the final restrictions and the continued impact of the vaccine rollout means that more people are working, shopping and spending, and that looks set to continue as we enter the autumn.

“However, with the furlough scheme closing at the end of this month, company directors need to be aware of the signs of business distress and seek advice if any of them appear.

“If a firm has problems paying rent, staff or suppliers, has issues with cashflow, or its directors are concerned about its future, now is the time to seek advice from a qualified professional, rather than waiting till the problem has become worse.

“On the personal insolvency side, while the figures published today show a small increase in the total number of personal insolvencies compared to the previous month, it’s too early to tell whether this is a definite trend.

“However, personal insolvencies have risen sharply compared to this time last year. This has been driven by an increase in the number of Individual Voluntary Arrangements, which could be more of an indication that people are seeking and receiving help with their financial issues, rather than necessarily showing that personal insolvency levels are rising.

“It has been a tough 18 months for the nation’s personal finances, but the situation appears to be improving. Unemployment is down and job vacancy numbers are at their highest for 20 years, but there is likely to be some concern among consumers around their job stability as furlough ends and the prospect of future lockdowns is mooted as we reach the winter months.

“The best thing anyone who is worried about their personal or business finances can do is seek advice as soon as they become concerned. Doing so typically gives you more options, more time to make a decision about your next step and a better outcome than if you’d waited and let the problem spiral.”