Coronavirus – Remote working accounts payable just became business critical

With so many unknowns over the next 4 – 8 months, all we can do is focus on the steps we can take to help our people and our organisations to get through this unprecedented situation.

One thing is certain, though – a fully operational accounts payable function is going to be critical to successfully managing the financial health of each business.

This includes fingertip access to real-time information supporting our supplier relationships, payments and producing accurate and timely cashflow and financial management reports during the coming months of growing financial uncertainty.

Business whose current accounts payable processes are reliant on paper or key people being in the office to function will find it increasingly difficult to mitigate the inevitable resourcing impact of staff self-isolation.

If your staff are unable to effectively work from home, you may be either removing their option to avoid unnecessary public exposure to themselves and their family by coming into work or reducing the capacity of your business to process commercial documents and provide accurate financial information.

If home working is enforced, which seems every more probable, you may be in serious trouble.

AP automation extends the capabilities of your existing accounting software to enable 100% remote working for the entire accounts payable process.

Critically, almost all customers are live and fully operational within a single day.

There are many benefits to be gained from accounts payable automation, but today, enabling remote working to deliver real-time visibility and control over supplier accounts, prioritising payments and supporting your cashflow projections and delivering timely financial management accounts are the most important.

The time to act decisively is now, as the level of commercial disruption is going to grow with every day that passes. Businesses need to make the tactical decision now to solve their remote working problem.

And, as for cost, enabling a single person to work effectively from home for one day delivers a compelling ROI.

By Neil Robertson, Executive Chairman at Compleat Software

Bristow & Sutor continue to prove enforcement effectiveness

In 2019, Bristow & Sutor successfully remitted £88m to its clients, enough to invest in training for over 1250 new nurses. With high collection rates and low complaints, the results speak for themselves, the debt recovery process is effective when handled and held to a high standard.

One of the UK’s leading players specialising in local authority debt recovery, the company has over 42 years’ experience in the collection of local council tax, non-domestic rates and penalty charge notices and employs 168 Enforcement Agents (EAs) located in strategic areas around the country.

Bristow & Sutor is playing a key role in raising the profile of the sector to both the public and business communities, addressing a somewhat negative perception of how enforcement agencies collect debt. Working alongside the industry’s trade association, the Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA), progress is now being made.

All of Bristow & Sutor’s EAs are fully employed to ensure the company retains full responsibility and accountability. To provide full transparency on all visits, agents wear body cameras and travel in vehicles that are trackable.

Unlike self-employed EAs, all Bristow & Sutor fully-employed agents are provided with a company car to carry out their duties. In addition, a smartphone is supplied, with access to the company’s bespoke app which allows agents to manage cases allocated to them. The app provides a four-way, real-time integration between the Client Portal, an award-winning Debtor Portal and back-office system, ECS, automatically updating all systems immediately when one is updated.

Bristow & Sutor operates a policy of ‘case rotation’ meaning that an EA only has ‘ownership’ of the case for one week during which time they will undertake visits and update the case file using their PDA. This means that when a further visit is undertaken, it will be carried out by a different EA who will have access to the case notes. This ‘peer review’ is an important feature of the company’s model and can only be delivered through the use of directly employed staff.

The company also invests heavily in training, spending over £800k annually on courses and continual professional development. Equating to, on average, nearly £2,000 per employee, this investment ensures that all cases are processed, managed and monitored by staff trained to exemplar industry standards of customer care. Having employed staff means that training is mandatory and EAs undertake a minimum of three months learning and mentoring before any work alone is undertaken.

Andy Rose, CEO at Bristow & Sutor, reflected on the company’s performance; “We believe that our model, operating with a directly employed, accountable and well managed workforce, is a sound one for success. Local Authorities are under tremendous pressure at the moment to deliver both effective services and budget responsibility. Working together with the industry as a whole is the best way to achieve this and to deliver best value to the citizen

“Councils that engage with experienced and ethical enforcement agent firms, which consider the vulnerable and invest in a trained workforce, will not only produce positive future results but may nullify some misconceptions too.”

Chancellor COVID-19 workers package announcement – response

Duncan Swift, President of insolvency and restructuring trade body R3, responds to COVID-19 employee support measures announced today by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak MP: “The measures announced today are a positive step and will go some way in providing businesses with the financial help they need to support and retain their staff and weather the economic storm.

“Once the crisis phase of this is over, businesses will need to rebuild and their staff will play a crucial part in this. The support package the Chancellor has set out today will hopefully enable them to hold on to the talent that will drive their recovery, as well as providing a financial lifeline for many employees facing a period of great uncertainty and turmoil.

“However, time will tell whether this package is enough. Detail on how this package of support will affect those who are self-employed or on zero hours contracts is needed as these groups are particularly financially vulnerable in the current climate.

“As well as support for maintaining employment, other help is needed. The VAT payment holiday is welcome, but the same could be done for other taxes.

“Despite the support the Government is providing, we are aware that this is a worrying time. Any directors or business owners whose businesses are in difficulty or are starting see signs it will struggle should seek professional advice as early as possible. Early advice and early discussions with creditors give a business more options to find and implement solutions to the challenges they face and begin to address issues like rearranging payment terms.”

CSA Ratifies Independent Chair and Vice Chair nominations, and Appoints Four Board Directors

The Credit Services Association, the trade association for the debt collection industry, has made a series of significant changes to its future governance which will see the CSA Board led by a new, independent Chair.

Crucially, those seeking future election to the post of Independent Chair cannot be a current practitioner, bringing the appointment more in line with corporate governance best practice. It also gives the CSA the opportunity to appoint an individual with a wide range of skills and experience to complement those already found within the CSA membership.

John Ricketts, former Chair, will be superseded by Tom Chandos, the CSA’s current Senior Independent Director. Lord Chandos will serve an initial two-year term, while John has been reappointed to the CSA Board. Nick Cherry will continue in the role of Deputy-Chair for an additional term of two years.

The appointment of an Independent Chair will similarly ensure true independence from the distinct debt purchase and debt collection sectors which are becoming increasingly separate and often pursuing different interests.

Under the new governance regime agreed at the Annual General Meeting (AGM), the Chair will oversee a Board of Directors who will share responsibility across the various CSA committees. The Board now comprises:

  • Denise Crossley, CEO of Lantern Debt Recovery Services. Denise, who was named Business Leader of the Year at the 2020 Women in Credit Awards, has vast experience in the sector, and valuable knowledge of the regulatory landscape.
  • John Ricketts, Managing Director of Ardent Credit Services. John has been involved in the credit services industry for more than 40 years, and served as a director for the past 25 years at debt buyers or Debt Collection Agencies (DCAs). In 2019, John was recognised for his “Outstanding Contribution to Industry” at Credit Strategy’s Collections and Customer Service Awards.

Denise and John, who had both served a maximum of three terms, were invited to stand for a further term of three years in order to maintain a level of knowledge consistency during the period of transition to an Independent Chair. The two new members of the Board are:

  • Andrew Bunting, of Arvato Financial Solutions. Andrew has worked the debt recovery sector for over 20 years and held a diverse range of positions within some of the sectors most prominent firms. For the last five years Andrew has held an Executive Director position within Arvato, with responsibility for Compliance Oversight.
  • Craig Hinchliffe, CFO of Asset Collections and Investigations Ltd, part of Perch Group. Craig has some ten years’ experience in the DCA/Debt Purchase sector, both within large global businesses as well as small start-ups.

Peter Wallwork, the CSA’s CEO, says the transition to an Independent Chair will bring the Association’s new regime in line with the principles of good governance: “ An Independent Chair is the appropriate arrangement for changing nature of the Association, our membership and the regulatory landscape within which those member companies are working,” he says.

Peter welcomed the new members to the Board at the AGM on 19 March, and he thanked former CSA Board directors Sara de Tute and Eddie Nott for their services prior to stepping down: “We would like to thank both Board members for all the hard work and time that they have devoted to the Association during their tenures as directors,” he continues.

“We also welcome the new Board Directors and look forward to the knowledge and experience they bring to the table in helping navigate our industry through future challenges.”

Following Tom Chandos’ two-year term, subsequent Independent Chairs will be eligible for one term of three years. This will be subject to annual re-election by those members entitled to vote at the AGM in line with current governance trends to ensure accountability to CSA members.

Ebury and Crédito Agrícola join forces to transform global transaction banking for corporates and SMEs

Crédito Agrícola and Ebury signed a partnership that will allow the bank’s corporate clients to carry out foreign currency exchange and cross border transactions completely online.

The partnership is part of the CA group’s growth and evolution strategy, which aims to continually offer more high quality digital services to corporate customers.

The Portuguese bank’s corporate clients who access Ebury’s services will be able to trade in more than 130 currencies at more competitive rates. This offering is aimed at the wide variety of companies that carry out, or have the potential to carry out, international business operations relating to the import and export of goods.

“This partnership is in line with CA Group’s innovation strategy, offering its customers a service that helps businesses mitigate risks arising from international trade.”, Said Licínio Pina, President of the CA Group.

“Ebury is delighted to be part of this pioneering partnership with a bank that is treading the path of innovation. It is the first time that a Portuguese bank has partnered with a fintech to provide this service to companies, streamlining their international transactions and allowing them to consolidate their internationalisation”, underlined Duarte Líbano Monteiro, Country Manager for Ebury Portugal.

Crédito Agrícola is the only Portuguese cooperative financial institution with exclusively national capital, with the largest network of branches in the country. The bank has reinforced its focus on corporates, as this partnership shows, and it has consolidated its commitment to digital transformation through its several platforms.

Ebury is a fintech company specialising in foreign currency exchange and offering a range of financial solutions to SMEs trading internationally. Its headquarters are in London and it has 25 offices in 21 countries, across four continents, with more than a thousand employees.

Chancellor COVID-19 measures, R3 response

Duncan Swift, President of insolvency and restructuring trade body R3, responds to the measures announced yesterday (Tuesday March 17) by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak MP, to support businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak: “The Chancellor’s ‘Whatever It Takes’ strategy is the right one, but businesses do need help now, and other types of help are needed alongside the additional access to finance announced today.

“Feedback from our membership is that otherwise healthy businesses are already experiencing a cash flow crisis. Many businesses will face insolvency without significant creditor forbearance or direct help from Government to bridge the gap in their finances. It’ll be expensive, but Government intervention is needed to weather the storm. As well as additional money going in to businesses, payment holidays for businesses on things like PAYE, NICs, or other taxes will help manage outgoings, too.

“The focus on loans could store up problems later: these loans will need to be paid back. Grants for small businesses will help, but larger businesses aren’t immune to the impact of COVID-19.

“The first step any business in difficulty should take is to seek professional advice. There are options out there. Speaking to creditors will also be key, and the earlier businesses do this, the earlier they may be able to rearrange payment terms.”

Paysend publishes informative guide to money transfers during coronavirus

UK-based FinTech company Paysend has today published a guide for expats and foreign workers whose money transfers home to friends and family may be affected by the current coronavirus crisis.

Closed workspaces, travel bans and entire towns and countries on lockdown have caused significant disturbance to many users of traditional money transfer platforms. High-street banks, remittance outlets and post offices are no longer the most effective ways of sending money abroad, and so regular users of these establishments for sending money must look elsewhere to ensure that money is sent to affected countries, where it may be used for essential items including food, clothes and medicines.

“We want to help creating a better-connected world where the movement of money across borders is seamless,” Abdul Abdulkerimov, Founder and President of Paysend said. “We want to give all users sufficient guidance and information to ensure that money can continue to arrive where it’s needed most. In times of crisis it’s important that we do all we can to help alleviate any problems that have arisen. In a situation like this many people may have to start using digital services and we want to help them in the transition to a safer, cheaper and faster money transfer service.”

Paysend has already started offering zero-fee money transfers to China, and is planning for more supportive initiatives to countries most affected by virus in the coming days.

Lowell full year results 2019

Lowell, a European leader in credit management services, today announced its results for the Full Year ending 31 December 2019.

2019 in summary

Financial delivery

  • Strong growth in three key metrics: Cash Income, Cash EBITDA and 120m ERC
  • Collections continue to perform ahead of forecast (104% v Dec 18 static pool)
  • £397 million capital deployed on portfolio acquisitions in 2019 at improved returns
  • Improving Cash EBITDA margin – in excess of 200bps year-on-year
  • Deep client relationships – Forward Flows providing 51% of acquisitions in 2019
  • Substantial available liquidity of £261 million
    • Leverage reduced to 4.7x in line with guidance

Operational delivery

  • New partnerships create exciting asset management opportunities
  • Cutting-edge data science centre of excellence, Lowell Labs, launched
  • Nordic IT integration completed ahead of schedule
  • IT infrastructure investment creating platforms for future development
  • Award-winning roll-out of robotic process automation

Colin Storrar, Group CEO, said: “2019 was a year of delivery for Lowell. We have continued our growth by doing things the right way – running our business efficiently and ethically. We are delivering better outcomes: for customers, for clients, for colleagues and for our investors. These results represent the hard work of each colleague within Lowell and I am proud of what we have achieved this year.

“Our purpose; to make credit work better for all, has not just been the foundation of the results we have announced this morning, but also of new strategic partnerships that create opportunities for our future development.

“I am delighted to announce the signing of our co-investment agreement and the first joint portfolio acquisition into this partnership structure. This is a natural evolution for our business and demonstrates again the strength of our origination, pricing and servicing capabilities.

“Our performance demonstrates a business that has built strong and sustainable financial foundations. These are foundations from which we can build and focus on the priorities for the next stage of our growth as we continue to make credit work better for all.”

Overview

This year saw Lowell deliver on the financial foundations that it has built; increasing income and improving efficiency. Strong growth was evident in the Group’s key measures: Cash EBITDA up 14%, Cash Income up 9% and Estimated Remaining Collections up 9%.

There has been positive performance not only at a Group level but in each of the three regions. The UK region, the Group’s largest, continues to show robust Cash Income growth and strong ERC growth. The performance of the DACH region demonstrates the forward momentum in the business. The Nordic region continues to grow Cash EBITDA significantly faster than Cash Income, as it leverages the operating platform of the Group.

Sustained, prudent forecasting supported the pricing of the Group’s disciplined use of capital for acquisitions, which delivered improved returns – a 300bps increase in IRR to 19%. The launch of Lowell Labs, based in Amsterdam, will enhance the Group’s data and analytics capabilities further.

Strong Net Operating Cash Flow generation (£292m before portfolio acquisitions) will create additional opportunities for growth and deleveraging. Cash EBITDA growth outpaced Net Debt movement, which drove a reduction of leverage to 4.7x, a fall of 0.4x since Q2 2019.

Two new strategic partnerships have been agreed that will increase the market opportunities for the Group. Together with a listed, global Asset Manager, Lowell will jointly acquire NPL portfolios, with up to €300m of capital deployed over three years. The first acquisition has already been completed. In DACH, an NPL procurement agreement with German bank, OLB, has been signed. This will see Lowell procure up to €30m of NPL portfolios annually for OLB and act as the sole service provider on these assets.

The combination of the Group’s core client relationships, cash flow generation, reducing leverage position, strong liquidity, and continued diversification of income streams provide a platform for the sustained growth and development of the business.

Outlook

The debt purchase market remains fulsome, and the Group benefits from an optimal mix of Spot and Forward Flow opportunities. Levels of capital deployment will continue to be driven by the Group’s rational approach and the likely returns available. Lowell’s collection performance across the last 12 years shows it performs strongly across different economic cycles and will be well-placed for the opportunities any change in economic climate may bring.

Lowell23: Making credit work better for all

Lowell is a mission-led business with a clear purpose: to make credit work better for all. The work the Group does is important, not just to the Credit Management Services sector, or to financial services, but to society, so it is important that it does it well.

Today, Lowell outlined its strategic focus for development in the coming years: ‘Lowell23’. The financial foundations that have been laid will remain a key focus, in addition, there are four further strategic priorities for Lowell to deliver better performance:

  • Consumer experience and interaction
  • Culture & colleague engagement
  • Client relationships
  • Operational foundations

Improvements in each of these areas, closely managed and monitored, will deliver strong performance and support our growth ambitions over the next years; making Lowell a better business for all its stakeholders – consumers, clients, colleagues and investors.

Visma Acquires Credit Management Company, Onguard

Visma has grown steadily in the Dutch market over the last few years, and has extended its presence further by adding Onguard’s order-to-cash solutions as a strategic complement to its financial management, HR management, procurement, and Digital Society cloud solutions in the Netherlands. Onguard joins the family of well-known Dutch brands in the Visma group, including Visma Connect, Visma Raet, ProActive, Visma Idella, PinkWeb, HR2day, Dotweb, VerzuimSignaal, PlusPort, Circle Software, and Visma Roxit.

Based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Onguard is a European market leader in cloud-based order-to-cash solutions, providing an end-to-end product suite ranging from solutions for risk management and invoicing to credit management and collections. Through a combination of Onguard’s core platform and partner products, the company is able to provide a flexible, horizontal solution that serves the needs of both small and large enterprises in numerous industries. The company serves over 30,000 business users across 600 companies, most notably Aon, Schiphol, BMW, and Lloyds Bank.

Visma has acquired Onguard from Main Capital, a strategic investor in the northwestern European software industry. Through Main’s leadership, acquisition strategy, and focus on partner and reseller ecosystems over the last six years, Onguard has experienced consistent growth.

“We are very pleased to continue to develop our business within the Visma group. Visma’s international presence and breadth of product offerings will help us to enhance our platform further, provide new possibilities for our customers and employees, and meet our growth targets. We look forward to the opportunity to extend our reach across the European market”, says Onguard CEO Marieke Saeij.

“The order-to-cash value chain is a strategic priority for us and we are therefore thrilled to welcome Onguard to the Visma family. Onguard’s cloud solutions will serve as a fitting complement to our solutions in the Netherlands. We also see great opportunities to grow together across Europe”, says Eivind Gundersen, Divisional Director of Visma Commerce Solutions.

“I’m proud to see Onguard joining the growing Visma family, further increasing the freedom of choice Visma offers our customers with a leading platform that gives customers an overview and control of their payment processes and cash flow while maintaining sustainable customer relationships”, says John Reynders, Country Director of Visma Netherlands.

Budget blow for access to finance – ‘perverse’ insolvency reforms confirmed

The Budget has confirmed plans to grant HMRC ‘preferential status’ in insolvencies from December 2020, says insolvency and restructuring trade body R3.

Business groups, including R3, have described this policy as a threat to business lending and business rescue.

From December, debts owed to HMRC by insolvent businesses will be repaid in advance of those owed to ‘floating charge’ lenders, other businesses, and pension schemes.

Floating charge lending is a key form of finance for retailers and SMEs, and has been increasingly popular over the last two decades. Lenders have warned that the Government’s policy will limit the availability of this type of finance.

The Government has ignored advice from across the business landscape that the policy should be reviewed, or that steps should be taken to mitigate its impact.

With no changes in this Budget, next week’s Finance Bill is also likely to include new powers for HMRC to make directors and others personally liable for corporate tax debts in situations where HMRC suspects they are using the insolvency framework to avoid tax, or where a director has a ‘track record’ of insolvency. These powers were first announced at the 2018 Budget.

Commenting on the changes, Duncan Swift, R3 President, says:

HMRC preferential creditor status

“The return of HMRC’s preferential status in insolvencies is a badly-timed and ill-considered blow to the UK’s enterprise culture. It will damage business lending and business rescue, and will affect jobs, livelihoods and the economy.

“It’s perverse that on the day that the Bank of England has taken steps to boost business lending, the Government has taken a step in the opposite direction.

“It is beyond frustrating that the Budget has confirmed the policy will be introduced without meaningful changes from what was first proposed. The plans were first announced in 2018 with no consultation and, since then, there has been near unanimous opposition to them. Business groups and lenders have been clear that the policy will be a short-term gain for HMRC at the expense of a long-term cost for the economy.

“A slight delay in the implementation date from April to December changes nothing. A bad policy in April is still a bad policy in December.

“It is scarcely believable that the Government has turned a deaf ear to these concerns and has ignored sensible suggestions for how the negative consequences of the policy could be mitigated. This has been a policymaking failure from start to finish.

“At a time when businesses are facing economic headwinds, they need the Government to help them, not elbow them out of the way. Priority repayment for HMRC in insolvencies will reduce what can get repaid to other businesses, pension schemes, and lenders. Reduced returns to lenders will increase the costs of borrowing and availability of finance, especially in rescue situations.”

“Ultimately, dropping the policy entirely would be the only way to avoid its harmful side effects. The Government would see much better results if HMRC were to engage proactively and commercially in insolvencies rather than trying to skip the repayment queue.”

‘Tax abuse and insolvency’

“Missing from the Red Book is a reference to something announced in the last Budget: a challenge to the fundamental principle of limited liability. We’ll be likely to see more when the Finance Bill is published next week.

“We understand what the Government is trying to do: a clampdown on tax avoidance schemes is one thing, but our concern is with how the legislation will be drafted and interpreted. The draft legislation seen to date is not fit for purpose.

“Making individuals personally liable for corporate debts is a big step, and the draft legislation seeks to make directors liable for tax debts incurred when they were not even directors of the company. As a result, there is scope for the power to be used in circumstances beyond those for which it was originally intended, and it could make the risk of becoming a director prohibitive in many instances.

“HMRC argues the power will be used where it assesses there is a ‘risk’ of tax loss. How this risk is going to be assessed is unknown, and clearer parameters and checks on the power are necessary if this is to be implemented.”