StepChange Debt Charity comments on Which? letter to FCA on overdrafts

In a letter addressed to the FCA signed by 84 MPs, Which? today [23rd May] demands urgent action on restricting unarranged overdraft charges to the same level as arranged overdrafts, alongside publishing findings that unauthorised overdrafts can cost more than payday loans.

Commenting on overdrafts, Peter Tutton, Head of Policy at StepChange Debt Charity, said: “Overdrafts are the second most common type of debt our charity deals with, leaving many at risk of falling into persistent problem debt by entering a cycle of using their overdraft from month to month. They are meant to be short-term, but our evidence shows that they can all too easily trap people in expensive and long-term cycles of persistent debt.

“Fundamental reform is needed. There has been positive action from some banks to make charging structures clearer and to abolish unarranged overdraft charges. We know that there is some good practice when it comes to the treatment of people with overdraft debt that can be built upon. Banks which have not yet done so should follow suit, while the FCA should investigate unaffordable lending in the overdraft market as part of its upcoming consultation on high-cost credit and overdrafts.”

One in six bankrupts declaring assets have over £50,000 – R3

One-in-six (15%) people who declared their assets when entering bankruptcy in 2016-17 had assets worth over £50,000, serving as a stark reminder that you can’t be ‘too wealthy’ to be bankrupt, says insolvency trade body R3.
According to the data, provided by the Insolvency Service, 60 people entering bankruptcy in 2016-17 declared assets between £500,000 and £999,000; 26 had assets over £1m.

Bankruptcy is a personal insolvency procedure where the insolvent person’s assets may be sold by a trustee to raise money to repay creditors. Bankrupts face restrictions on borrowing money or acting as a director, typically for a year. After a year, the bankrupt is discharged with their remaining debts written off. People can apply to enter bankruptcy, or, if they owe more than £5,000 to one creditor, their creditors can ask a court to impose a bankruptcy order.

R3 says that misconceptions about bankruptcy and the stigma still attached to it can put people off seeking advice about the process, even if it might help them with their financial situation.

Mark Sands, R3’s personal insolvency committee chair, says: “Perception and stigma can be effective barriers to seeking help about financial difficulties. You can often encounter a belief that bankruptcy is something that ‘doesn’t happen’ to people who others might typically see as financially comfortable, or even wealthy. This stops people from getting advice when it would be helpful, or it means they don’t take steps to address their financial problems before it’s too late.

“Anyone, no matter how wealthy they may appear, can have serious financial issues. Someone with a lot of assets could have bigger still debts – it’s all relative. Anyone can be vulnerable to financial shocks, too: common causes of bankruptcy are the failure of a person’s own business, ill health or a relationship breakdown. Unexpected tax demands can also lead to bankruptcy for higher earners, particularly those on the receiving end of Accelerated Payment Notices linked to tax schemes.

“The sooner people seek advice about their financial situation, the more options they have and the easier it will be to resolve their problems.”

R3 says that the true number of ‘wealthy’ people becoming bankrupt could be even higher.

Mark Sands says: “Some people will have exhausted all or nearly all of their assets trying to avoid bankruptcy. Others, meanwhile, will go to every effort to try and hide assets which would otherwise be available to creditors – by moving funds to offshore accounts, hiding high-value items, or signing over property to family members. In these latter cases, the trustee in bankruptcy has the power to investigate and retrieve those assets for creditors.”

Over a third (38%) of individuals entering bankruptcy do not declare their level of assets.

Bankruptcy is one of three types of statutory insolvency procedure, alongside Individual Voluntary Arrangements (where an individual usually retains their assets and agrees to pay back a proportion of debts to creditors over a set period of time) and Debt Relief Orders (a low-debt, low-asset version of bankruptcy where the individual retains their assets and no repayments are made to creditors). Bankruptcy is the least common form of personal insolvency procedure.

Of 99,196 insolvencies in 2017, 15,082 were bankruptcies. Bankruptcy numbers most recently peaked in 2009 when there were 74,671 bankruptcies out of 134,143 insolvencies. An improving economy and the introduction of DROs have since put downward pressure on bankruptcies.

According to the Insolvency Service, in 2015 (the latest year for which such statistics are available), of those bankruptcies due to reasons unrelated to the bankrupt person’s business, the greatest proportion were listed as “living beyond means”, at 2,105 cases. The next most common reasons were “relationship breakdown” (1,715) and “significant reduction of bankrupt’s income” (1,515). For individual bankruptcies which were related to business performance (3,800 altogether), the most commonly-given reason was “management failure” (1,150), followed closely by “loss of market” (1,140).

Mark Sands adds: “Whatever your current level of income and wealth, financial planning is a must. If you are facing financial difficulties, talking to a trained and qualified adviser can be a vital step, and finding a form of insolvency that is right for you can be the first step on a road to financial recovery.”

Fintech pioneer Centtrip launches bespoke fee structure

Fintech pioneer Centtrip has introduced a bespoke fee structure available to all its corporate clients, enabling them to decide when and how they are charged from the outset.

Having initially introduced the maximum 0.5 per cent fixed fee structure to allow clients to benefit from free foreign exchange and international payments when it launched in 2015, Centtrip has extended its offering by introducing personalised and very competitive fee plans to corporate clients. From depositing funds to their account and converting currencies to making local or international payments and transferring funds to a Centtrip multi-currency Mastercard, clients can define their own fee structure based on their unique business needs and goals, once again benefitting from having complete control over their finances with Centtrip.

All the fees are agreed, transparent and fixed from the start. Companies can adjust their fee structure as their requirements evolve by simply picking up the phone and discussing a change in strategy with one of Centtrip’s experts. Once agreed, changes are effective immediately.

Centtrip’s new approach is a result of constant interaction and consultation with its clients. It helps ensure businesses only pay for the services and products they need and use, saving them from wasting money or being locked into long-term inflexible contracts.

Brian Jamieson, co-founder and CEO of Centtrip, said: “SMEs are the lifeblood of the economy, so it is crucial they have the tools and support to operate efficiently. Instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach and charging companies premium rates, we have shaken up the status quo. All businesses have different needs, so a fee structure that meets those needs now and provides the flexibility to accommodate evolving requirements and future growth is vital. We provide our customers with assurance and confidence to exercise far greater control when managing their finances, knowing we are there to support them throughout. With our innovative technology and dedicated specialists, we give clients the best of both worlds and are committed to serving the SME market to help companies realise their full potential.”

Lowell Q1 2018 Results: a positive start to the year and increased funding flexibility

Lowell, a European leader in credit management services, has delivered another positive set of quarterly results for the period 1 January to 31 March 2018, continuing to deliver on the company’s strategy of sustainable growth and diversification.

Performance Highlights

› Quarter-on-quarter growth delivered against a strong comparative quarter in 2017.
› Continued realisation of portfolio acquisition opportunities in line with the Group’s required returns and growth strategy (£167m in 6 months to March 2018).
› Business mix remains well-diversified across income lines, sectors and segments, with 47% of portfolio acquisitions coming from forward flow arrangements with existing clients.
› Integration of the Carve-out Business as new Nordic region well underway, and trading in line with expectations.
› On a pro forma basis, 120-month ERC stands at £2.8bn, with last 12 months Cash EBITDA of £402m.
› Extension to existing Revolving Credit Facility (RCF) supported by an expanded group of 13 banks.
› RCF increased to €455m on existing terms, this increases funding flexibility and reduces the weighted average cost of debt.

Outlook

In line with the guidance we gave in our 2017 Full Year Results (12th April 2018), we remain positive about the year ahead:
› Good momentum from last year has continued into 2018;
› Strong acquisitions and 3PC placements pipeline in place;
› Enhanced European scale and reach gives further opportunities for future debt management and debt purchase opportunities;
› The business will deploy investment capital in order to achieve overall growth and maximise returns for the benefit of the wider Group;
› Recent record unsecured consumer lending in the UK creates sizeable opportunities for future growth; and
› Underlying business resilience as evidenced by IFRS9 preparatory work.

Colin Storrar, CFO, said: “We have built on the momentum of the final quarter of last year and started 2018 positively. Focus has been maintained on the delivery of our core strategy while we continued to work through the integration of our new Nordic businesses, where we are already seeing positive performance. Our prudent approach has seen us make significant investment but do it selectively – taking opportunities both to grow and to review.
“That fundamental strategy of prudent investment, focused on sustainable returns, together with effective and mutually beneficial customer and client relationships continues to set us apart.
“The Group’s net debt position remains largely unchanged despite significant portfolio purchasing. This is a positive reflection of our ability to generate free cash flow for further re-investment.
“The increase in commitments for the Revolving Credit Facility to €455m demonstrates the underlying value and strength seen in Lowell, with the key terms of the facility remaining the same. The extended facility enhances the Group’s ability and flexibility to grow the business, whilst reducing the average cost of debt, in-turn providing for greater cash-flow generation.”

Debt collectors act to support customers with mental health issues

The debt collection industry has taken a significant step towards stopping people in debt with mental health problems from having to pay to prove their condition at the very time they are least able to afford to do so.

Coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week, the Credit Services Association (CSA), the voice of the UK debt collection and debt purchase sectors, has proactively revised its Code of Practice to make it easier for customers to evidence mental health problems that affect their ability to manage their money without having to revert to the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form (DMHEF) for which GP’s often levy a substantial charge.

John Ricketts, President of the CSA, says that the Association has started from the principle that individuals should not have to pay for medical evidence, where such evidence may be used to help improve their financial, physical and mental well-being: “Those who are most vulnerable should not have to take on more debt to prove it,” he says.

The revised Code advises members not to ask customers to approach health professionals for evidence in the first instance, but rather to engage with the customer to better understand their position, consider what evidence of their health problem is appropriate, and to seek other forms of supporting evidence (e.g a prescription or appointment letter) if necessary.

Only as a last resort, or if the evidence is directly required by the original creditor, should the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form be requested – and even then, the cost should not be borne by the individual in debt.

The change follows a series of meetings last year, championed by the Prime Minister, Theresa May, the Minister for Mental Health, Jackie Doyle-Price, and the Money & Mental Health Policy Unit, in which various organisations (including the CSA), charities and clinicians (including the BMA), discussed how the (DMHEF) is used and paid for.

Mr Ricketts says it is unacceptable that someone with money and mental health problems should have to pay to evidence their condition: “We’ve therefore taken the proactive step of issuing clear guidance to our members on how they can support the most vulnerable and shifting the focus away from the use of the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form,” he explains.

“Being in debt can be a stressful experience and we recognise that. We want to encourage other interested groups to follow this lead and work with them to ensure that all creditors, not just CSA members, see this as a positive move and likewise not request evidence that could ultimately add to a customer’s debt burden.”

Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Minister for Mental Health, added: “This is a significant step towards addressing the injustices that people who have mental health problems often face. Around half of those with a debt problem also have mental ill health and many of those with a mental health condition cite concerns about money as a contributing factor.

“Everyone with a mental health condition deserves to be treated compassionately and I encourage other groups to follow the CSA’s lead to ensure their customers’ mental health is both respected and protected.”

‘Relentless’ rise in CCJs highlights precarious state of household finances

The Registry Trust has today published figures showing that 305,877 county court judgments (CCJs) were registered against consumers in England and Wales during Q1 2018 – more than in any other quarter since current records began in Q1 2005.

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, said: “The relentless rise of CCJs in recent years highlights the precarious state of many household s’ financial positions – and the need for more people to receive free debt advice at a much earlier stage.

“CCJs can have a significantly negative impact on credit ratings, and so the effects of this trend could be felt far into the future.

“With people now being taken to court for much smaller amounts of debts compared to a decade ago, supporting people in financial difficulty and making sure they receive the free debt advice they need has never been more important.

“I would urge anyone struggling with their commitments to seek free advice from a charity-run service such as National Debtline as soon as possible.”

Leap in tribunal awards

The number of tribunal awards registered during the first quarter of the year rose by a half compared to Q1 2017, according to figures released today by Registry Trust.

Registry Trust is the Registrar of Judgments, Orders and Fines in England and Wales (on behalf of the Ministry of Justice). In addition, it collects, verifies and publishes judgment information from jurisdictions throughout the British Isles and Ireland.

Sixty-seven tribunal awards were issued during Q1 2018, 21 more than during Q1 2017.

Despite rising in number, the average tribunal award dropped in value by almost a quarter.

As a result of these changes, the total value of tribunal awards stood at £214,416 for the quarter, 11 percent higher than Q1 2017’s total value.

Registry Trust runs the “FastTrack” service for the Ministry of Justice. FastTrack offers winners of ACAS settlements and employment tribunal awards the opportunity to have their debt enforced by an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO). If a defendant refuses to pay out on an issued award, FastTrack is the mechanism in place to instruct a HCEO to enforce an award. There are many reasons why companies refuse or fail to pay awards: well under half are paid in full.

Malcolm Hurlston CBE, chairman of Registry Trust said: “It is sensible for people who win at tribunal to think early about getting help through FastTrack which works effectively in their interest.”

In 117 of 277 cases during the three quarters of 2017, where HCEOs were allocated via FastTrack, HCEOs were able to gather payment where the defendant had otherwise not paid.

In Q1 2018 Registry Trust received 56,881 requests to search the register for England and Wales online at www.trustonline.org.uk. TrustOnline allows anyone to search for judgments and similar information registered against consumers and businesses in jurisdictions across the British Isles and Ireland.

MBA appoints Former Adere Director

MBA-Group strengthens the team by appointing New Business Sales Director Martyn Viquerat in support of our continued investment in digital technology and wider communication services.

Joining the team in Warrington as New Business Sales Director is Martyn Viquerat. Martyn brings a wealth of sales management experience and knowledge to the company from across the industry this includes driving sales, business development and delivering organic growth.

His previous successes include leading sales teams at CDMS/Transactis, R.R Donnelly and most recently Adare SEC. His successful approach to market secured multiple high value transactional BPO contracts.

Martyn’s brief is to build a strong transactional bid team in support of our continued investment in digital technology and wider communication services. The planned growth in Warrington will also provide a broader geographical presence and will reunite Martyn with his previous CTO Martin Taylor who joined MBA from Adare 18 months ago.

He says “I’m delighted to join the team at MBA-Group”.

“The entrepreneurial leadership together with ground-breaking technology and a genuine focus on customer service were critical factors that made the decision to join an easy one! With the capability, commitment and culture at MBA, I’m looking forward to an exciting and successful time by growing the team and getting on with the task of meeting up with clients and associates, old and new.”

Commenting on the new appointment, MBA Group Sales Director Kevin Stewart added, “we’re thrilled to welcome Martyn to the team – an excellent addition in terms of his great experience and expertise in driving sales and delivering new business growth. His thorough knowledge and established relationships will quickly help to expand our current service offering to a broader audience.

Following his appointment, our team is now stronger than ever before and we’re proud to welcome Martyn onboard to help deliver an enhanced service to our customers.

CSA appoints new Head of Sales

The Credit Services Association (CSA), the voice of the UK debt collection and purchase industries, has appointed Mark Buckley as its new Head of Sales.

Mark’s immediate task is to secure further sponsors and delegates for the UK Credit and Collections Conference (UKCCC) 2018, which takes place on 13 September at the Crowne Plaza in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Mark will also be selling the benefits of CSA Apprenticeships in debt collection, compliance, and leadership and management, following last year’s appointment on the Register of Apprenticeship Training Providers (RoATP).

“I am looking to hit the ground running by increasing sales in all areas of the Association especially for the upcoming UKCCC and have already set a target of exceeding last years’ total.”

Mark is also focused on increasing memberships as well as promoting other learning and development opportunities with the CSA: “I am looking forward to helping to further enhance the reputation of the CSA and continue to provide value and continuous improvement for our members, whilst also looking at ways to grow and attract new ones.”

Mark has over 20 years’ experience working in sales, with a proven track record of account management and customer service. He has worked across a number of different sectors and industries, including retail, distribution and finance.

Peter Wallwork, Chief Executive of the CSA, says Mark will play an important role: “I am pleased to welcome Mark to the head office team, he joins the Association at a busy and important time, so his experience will be key.”

CallMiner Eureka named Best Speech Analytics Solution and a Top 10 Contact Centre Technology

CallMiner, the award-winning platform provider of speech and customer engagement analytics, announced today that Eureka 10, The Post Contact Interaction Analytics Suite, has been recognised as Best Speech Analytics Solution in the Top 10 Contact Centre Technologies of 2018. The Awards, run annually by Call Centre Helper, recognise the best contact centre technologies available globally. The Top 10 is created by customer votes, making these the most impartial of all the contact centre technology awards. Eureka 10 was recognised for being intuitive and user-friendly with the intent of making customers more self-sufficient and less reliant on professional services to drive their own analytics success.

Jonty Pearce, Editor of Call Centre Helper, said: “These awards are voted on by real-life contact centres that are using the technology, rather than selected by a panel of ‘experts’. The detailed comments made by those that voted for CallMiner, clearly show what customers love about the technology. CallMiner was singled out for its user-friendliness and robust in-depth analysis of customer interactions and agent performance, which provides management with excellent insight into what is happening in their contact centre every day.”

Comments made by customers who voted for Eureka 10, include:

“New features are constantly being added per customer suggestions. They are a company that truly listens to their customers.”

“The speed to intelligence and user-friendly interface make improving our business a far more attainable goal.”

“CallMiner has an incredible ability to depict reporting statistics instantly, is consistently improved with newer features every month, and offers functionality for supervisors to identify key areas of their agents’ calls that need to be addressed or praised.”

Paul Bernard, President & CEO, CallMiner, said: “We are honoured that our customers’ passion for this technology helped us win the Best Speech Analytics Solution category and a place among the top 10 call centre technologies of 2018. We are delighted that our customers picked out the way we help them improve their business by delivering intelligence from customer interactions.”

Combining a speech-to-text recognition engine and powerful customer journey mapping and analysis tools, this technology drives Voice of the Customer (VoC) programmes. It does so by delivering actionable insights to organisations, helping them to improve agent coaching and performance, drive great CX, lower operating costs and improve business outcomes.

Eureka’s multichannel customer journey contact analytics platform is offered as a fully hosted or premise SaaS system. It improves contact centre and enterprise performance through revealing insights from automated analysis and scoring of 100% of customer communications across multiple channels – including calls, chat, email, texts, social media, surveys and more.

CallMiner’s customisable and scalable category and scorecard building tools are designed to be intuitive and user-friendly with the intent of making customers more self-sufficient and less reliant on professional services to drive their own analytics success. The platform is also based on an open systems architecture and through the power of its robust ingestion and export API capabilities can be integrated with virtually any IVR, recorder, telephony, WFO, CRM, big data, or text-based technologies.