More people struggling with debt despite rising economy

The latest European Consumer Payment Report from Europe’s largest credit management firm Intrum presents a worrying picture when it comes to rising indebtedness and the ability of consumers to meet their financial obligations.

Over 1,000 UK consumers took part in the survey of more than 24,000 Europeans. While more and more people are able to save money every month, the number needing to borrow to pay bills or buy things for their children is also growing.

In total 29% of UK respondents say they have maxed out their credit card or borrowed money in order to pay a bill or bills, apart from mortgages, during the past six months. That’s up from 18% last year. This is the highest share of respondents among all European countries, where the average was 20%, putting the UK on par only with Greece.

The amount of people saving every month in the UK has risen to 59% from 49% a year ago. On average they are saving £241 a month, up from £95. Despite this significant increase, 27% of UK respondents have said they do not have their financial situation under control, the highest share of respondents reporting this across Europe, for which the average is 18%.

Technology and online payments appear to be influencing consumers. More than one in three (37%) agree that the ease of shopping online makes them shop more in total. And more than half (57%) say the ease of access to credit via smartphones worries them.

The results also show that more than half of the consumers surveyed for the report (51%) wish they had learned more about household finances in school, and 7 in 10 believe schools should teach children more about how to manage money.

“Credit is an important part of society and it is natural that both businesses and consumers take on more credit when the economy grows,” said Eddie Nott, UK Managing Director of Intrum.

“But the system in which credit is granted needs to work in favour of all parties involved. Our daily experience and findings in this survey show that the financial sector can do more to support sound choices, for example through financial education initiatives.”

About Intrum European Consumer Payment Report 2018
The answers of 24 398 respondents, between the ages of 18-65 in 24 European countries, were collected in total, including 1,013 in the UK. The survey featured questions concerning household finances and was conducted during September 2018.

For access to the full Consumer Payment Report, please go to https://www.intrum.co.uk/media/4426/ecpr-2018-uk.pdf

Training academy honoured after hundreds build skills and find jobs

An ambitious training academy led by an award-winning business outsourcing firm has been honoured by a Birmingham college.

Around 425 people have found full-time jobs with Birmingham-based Sigma Group after receiving expert training in the academy set up by Sigma – in partnership with Birmingham City Council, the Department for Work and Pensions and Birmingham Metropolitan College (BMet).

Now, in recognition of the company’s success and long-term commitment to employment opportunities and skills, Sigma’s Chief Operating Officer Mike Harfield has been made a fellow of BMet.

Mr Harfield said: “We have an absolutely outstanding team providing a first-class programme that builds candidates’ confidence and makes them ready for a career in our business.

“The team has taken hundreds of people and given them rare, hands on opportunities in a professional workplace.

“I’m really proud to say that the programme has helped to change lives and brought 425 people into new jobs in both Birmingham and Redditch.

“The Fellowship is a huge honour not just for me, but for the whole team involved. It’s a really proud moment for us all.”

Sigma, which has UK offices on Birmingham’s Priory Queensway and in Prospect Hill, Redditch, as well as in Cape Town, South Africa, has seen its staff numbers grow to over 1,000 since being acquired by South African-based Digicall Group in 2016.

Sigma’s clients include major blue chip organisations from the utilities, financial services, retail and telecommunications industries. The company was formed by Mr Harfield and CEO Gary Gilburd in 2011.

The training academy has been in operation since 2016 and was established within BMet’s Greater Birmingham Professional Services Academy. As part of the process, new recruits are provided with the opportunity to study for NVQ level 1, 2 and 3 in Customer Services while working at Sigma. Over 700 people have gone through the training so far.

Noble Systems Wins Best Call Centre Technology Provider for Gamification Solution

Noble Systems, a global leader in omnichannel contact centre technology solutions, is excited to announce that its Noble® Gamification solution has received Credit Strategy’s “Best Call Centre Technology Provider” award at their annual awards dinner last month.

The Collections & Customer Service Awards returned for their 12th year to recognise the outstanding achievements of those within collections and customer service. The awards are independently judged and aim to reflect the exceptional and critical work within the industry.

The team of judges recognised the Noble Gamification unified employee engagement platform for its proven results for increasing agent productivity and reducing attrition in call centres. Noble leverages game mechanics across the employee generational spectrum to ultimately align the client’s objectives with their employees’ activities. The product’s unique approach creates equity and normalises KPIs across disparate groups and campaigns and includes built-in tools to quickly deliver rewards.

“Employee motivation and retention is increasingly important to all contact centres, not least in customer services and collections departments/organisations. Noble Gamification uses both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors to promote and reinforce desired behaviour and gain greater buy-in to the company’s targets and objectives. For our customers, the rapid ROI is astounding and the benefits include increased productivity, decreased employee turnover, higher profits, reduced training costs, improved employee morale and accelerated learning”, said Colin Chave, General Manager of Noble Systems EMEA. “We are absolutely delighted to receive Credit Strategy’s acknowledgment of our ongoing commitment to help companies create more engaged employees”.

The judges commented, “Noble Systems’ impressive figures demonstrate a strong performance, innovating through gamification to retain staff and deliver better outcomes for customers”.

Upside to Brexit chaos if you have money to transfer to the UK

The latest twist in the Brexit saga sees PM Theresa May delaying the Parliamentary vote on her deal. This sent the pound nose diving to an 18 month low against the dollar. You’d be forgiven for thinking there was nothing good to come out of these latest developments. This is however, unless you’ve been biding your time waiting to transfer money to the UK. For anyone with money abroad or businesses importing goods from the UK the pounding that sterling is taking has an upside!

Whilst Theresa May struggles to get backing for her Brexit deal, for those transferring money, there are deals to be had among money transfer providers. David Noble, Co-founder of money transfer comparison site Xompare.com, says, “as speculation surrounding the next steps for Brexit have grown, we’ve seen the pound fall dramatically and through watching activity on the website we’ve seen a trend for EUR to GBP feature strongly, peaking yesterday following May’s announcement. Our advice to those that want to transfer money to the UK either because they are repatriating their own money, or purchasing goods from U.K based companies is, you should compare money transfer providers to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Make sure you know all of the fees involved and you understand the different rates on offer and take full advantage of the competition between providers”.

At the time of writing the pound was down against the US dollar to $1.25 and down against the Euro to just €1.10. At these rates it’s well worth considering if now is the time to transfer money to the UK. Be warned though, these markets fluctuate rapidly. Should Theresa May’s position start to improve we could see the value of the pound improving so watch this space!

Tips from Xompare.com for finding the cheapest way to send money abroad:

– Always compare money transfer providers and make sure you know the differences between rates and fees in order to choose the best deal for you.

– Don’t assume that one particular provider is always the most favourable. Certain providers are either more or less competitive when considering the currency of the payment, amount being transferred, and the method of settlement.

– Avoid transferring small amounts of money too frequently. Transferring large amounts less frequently will save you money on fees that are charged per transaction.

– If you’re not in a hurry, keep an eye on fluctuating foreign exchange rates and time your money transfer when rates are in your favour.

– Be mindful and pay attention to the total cost. The fees may be low but the exchange rate may be unfavourable or vise versa. Watch out for additional fees that may be incurred whilst your payment is in transit and remember that some money transfer providers will protect against these ‘lifting fees’.

Equiniti Riskfactor wins US client Eagle Business Credit

Equiniti Group plc, the FTSE-listed share services and fintech business, is delighted to announce that its risk management business, Equiniti Riskfactor, has been awarded a contract with Eagle Business Credit, the Atlanta-based factoring company which launched in 2013 and provides flexible funding solutions for small businesses.

Equiniti Riskfactor will provide Eagle Business Credit with its proven risk management and analytics software, EQ Riskfactor. The software is built especially for the invoice finance and asset based lending market and uses unique risk algorithms to detect and prevent fraud by identifying suspicious behaviour.

Eagle Business Credit marks the eleventh North American business for Equiniti Riskfactor, following the appointment of Leigh Lones to head up their North American business in July. It continues Equiniti Riskfactor’s ongoing international strategy to take its specialist products outside of the UK which has been a success in 2018 after winning its first ever Canadian client, Baron Finance, and partnering with Efcom to sell into the German market.

Aaron Hughes, Managing Director at Equiniti Riskfactor, commented: “We are very excited to have been awarded this mandate by Eagle Business Credit. It is great to have another US client on board and we have a strong pipeline for 2019. Our technology has been very well received in the US and it is rewarding to see it making a positive impact on new clients.”

“As well as detecting fraud the software will help Eagle Business Credit to improve the overall efficiency of the business and ensure for the first time that they have access to real time information. This will revolutionise the way the teams manage their clients and help to minimise losses across the portfolio.”

“EQ Riskfactor already enhances the operating systems of many lenders in the industry and can be easily installed to work alongside their existing systems. I am delighted to welcome Eagle Business Credit into the Equiniti family and look forward to working with them in the future.”

Ian Varley, CEO at Eagle Business Credit, commented: “I used EQ Riskfactor as a risk management tool for over ten years when I was at Bibby Financial Services so I know first-hand the benefits it will bring to our business. The ability to easily pinpoint potential issues before they become a major problem is critical for us to help prevent unnecessary losses.”

“We’ve been growing our portfolio at an impressive rate and this software will also help drive operational efficiencies, allowing us to scale the business and manage overheads as we continue to expand.”

Tackling late payments this Christmas; new data and business tips

The closure of debtors over Christmas will negatively impact a third (33%) of the UK’s SMEs, according to new research released today from Nucleus Commercial Finance.

Unfortunately for one in 10 of UK SMEs, it means that they will struggle financially – at a time when they should be able to concentrate on planning and preparation for the year ahead.

Nucleus Commercial Finance, a provider of finance for SMEs, is urging businesses to take action now and chase outstanding invoices to improve their cash flow and ensure they are paid on time this Christmas. The research shows that around a fifth (21%) of businesses are already chasing their debtors, in an attempt to overcome this seasonal financial challenge but the remainder could be caught out by the payment delays over the festive break.

SMEs from across the UK will struggle financially due to late payments over Christmas with the five worst affected regions being:
North East – 27%
East Midlands – 20%
North West – 19%
Northern Ireland – 17%
London – 16%

Chirag Shah, CEO of Nucleus Commercial Finance, comments: “We know that the issue of late payments is a challenge faced by too many SMEs every day. However, the extended closure of so many businesses over the festive period worsens the problem and for some businesses puts them into real financial difficulty whilst they wait for debtors to reopen and settle their bills. Businesses can take action now by speaking to their debtors and encouraging them to settle their bills before they close for Christmas. As a longer-term solution, we look forward to an update from Government on the Prompt Payment Code that is underway.”

Nucleus Commercial Finance has put together three top tips to help businesses get on top of late payments before the festive break:

  • Take control of your part of the process and set an example to your debtors. You need to invoice clients accurately, and make sure that you are billing the correct entity with the correct details. After a sale takes place, don’t be afraid to be proactive in following up with the client. Indeed, the longer a debt goes unpaid, the more likely it is it will remain unpaid.
  • By maintaining positive, open and honest relationships with clients, you will be making it easier to manage the payments process. As a result, your request to settle up on time (or perhaps even early) in advance of Christmas should be dealt with quickly and professionally. Remember the clients that always pay on time, and make the effort to thank them – it won’t go unnoticed.
  • Accurate forecasting requires real honesty, which can sometimes be difficult when you are passionate about your business succeeding. Take the time to plan when a dip in cash flow will impact your business and work in advance to avoid them. If you can see a situation is going to be difficult, think about how external finance could help your business to maintain a healthy financial position and equip you with the finances you need to invest in future growth.

How digital technology and academic collaboration are blowing a wind of change through debt collection practices

It might not be the most glamorous area of research but the way creditors collect the money owed to them can affect us all at some point in our lives. At the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) Future Space innovation hub, fintech company Flexys is using advice from Bristol University’s Personal Finance Research Centre (PFRC) and working with UWE Bristol’s Computer Science and Creative Technologies department to change the way customers in debt can manage their arrears.

Guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority and other regulators requires creditors to identify vulnerable consumers and ensure they are treated fairly. Flexys has consulted with experts at the PFRC on how to best identify and engage with customers in difficulties, bringing a more collaborative approach to debt repayment via its Collaborate digital solution.

Jamie Evans of the PFRC says “We’ve really enjoyed and benefited from our informal collaboration with Flexys. Their team has shown a real thirst for our research. We feel this demonstrates that they are eager to use such knowledge to design systems focused on the needs of a wide range of people, not just ‘typical’ consumers.”

CEO of Flexys, Jon Hickman, commented “These academic consultations are strategically important to the collaborative way we work. Our technology is enhanced by insight from academic researchers that helps us to test and refine our machine learning-based solutions. Our work with experts ensures our solutions are backed by the latest research.”

Meanwhile, the Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Flexys and UWE Bristol’s Creative Technologies department will use machine learning to help collections agents make informed decisions on the most appropriate course of action for customers in arrears. Along with Flexys’s business experience, the UWE Bristol’s ‘research with impact’ ethos will ensure the effort has real-world benefits.

Heading the collaboration, Professor of Interactive Artificial Intelligence, Jim Smith says “UWE Bristol is committed to offering our students real-world experience, our work with Flexys means both parties will benefit from this partnership. Our students can be proud of contributing to the essential and complex work on debt and fair customer outcomes.” UWE Bristol’s Dr Memhet Aydin, agrees, ”It is a great pleasure and very rewarding to be able to solve real-world problems with state-of-art academic knowledge and experience, this helps enhance applicability of theory and touch the ground of real-world practice to be translated in student experience.”

The partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme (KTP). KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base. This project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

European payments leader SIA appoints new CEO

The Board of Directors of SIA, meeting today under the chairmanship of Giuliano Asperti, has appointed Nicola Cordone to the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Company, after having co-opted him as Director.

Cordone (52) has a degree cum laude in Electronic Engineering from Genoa University and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Bocconi University Business School.

He has worked at SIA since 2000 with increasing responsibilities up to his appointment as Deputy CEO and Senior Vice President Global Business Solutions in 2016.

Previously he had worked at several companies, first as Senior Business Consultant (AT&T-Unisource, Siemens Telecomunicazioni, Italtel and Ansaldo) and was subsequently employed by Servizi Interbancari (now Nexi).

Within the SIA Group, Nicola Cordone is also Chief Executive Officer of the subsidiary P4cards.

“The appointment of Nicola Cordone as the new CEO of SIA recognizes his contribution in recent years to the growth of the company on the national and international markets. I applaud the choice made by the shareholders as it allows our internationalization strategy to continue and I believe that Cordone, together with all the people of SIA, will be able to carry forward this story of innovation which is the main characteristic of the company”, said SIA Chairman Giuliano Asperti.

“I wish to thank SIA’s Board of Directors and all the shareholders for confirming their trust by appointing me as CEO of the Company. My commitment is to continue the international development of SIA with the aim of creating the leading digital payments operator in Europe, through the development of innovative services for clients as well as extraordinary operations such as the recent ones concerning the card activities of Ubis – UniCredit Group – and of First Data in 7 central and south-eastern European countries. A path that I am proud to share with a highly professional team of managers and people specializing in fintech and capable of achieving significant results”, stated Nicola Cordone.

Qualco UK golf tournament raises £1,200 for two charities

2018 marked the third year of the Qualco UK charity golf tournament, which raised £1,200 for charities Princess Alice Hospice and the Campaign against Living Miserably (CALM).

The tournament took place at the historic St. George’s Hill Golf Club on Friday 23 November in Surrey. The course is rated 32nd in the 2018 Golf Digest ‘World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses’ ranking. It provided a beautiful backdrop and challenging task for industry professionals from First Utility, Fiinu, Founded, Moriarty Law, Peacock D&B, Sigma, and Water Plus.

The prizes were hotly contested. Andy Hughes won closest to the pin, Richard Mabbott achieved the longest drive, and Martin Ewins secured the individual stableford. Moriarty Law took home the Qualco Cup for best team.

Claire Woodward, Princes Alice Hospice Senior Partnership Fundraiser, said: “Once again Qualco’s generosity and good spirit have benefited the Hospice – for which we are extremely grateful. This gives a welcome boost to our funds and enables us to look after those who need palliative and end of life care – services which are provided free, thanks to donations like this.”

Qualco’s Head of Sales, Jan-Michael Lacey commented: “We always look forward to our annual charity golf tournament; it is an excellent opportunity to meet up with industry contacts on such a beautiful course whilst raising money for our chosen charities. It was a competitive year, so well done to the winners. We look forward to the next one!”

Government urged to introduce tougher rules to tackle late payments to suppliers

“Although there has been more discussion on tackling late payments and progress such as the government’s promise to pay its own suppliers in a timely way, this remains a huge problem for small businesses. Our recent report found the average amount owed to UK SMEs rose by almost a quarter from £64,000 in 2017 to £80,000 in 2018, causing cash flow problems and stifling future growth.

“Simply put, late payments put pressure on cashflow and the financial stability of small businesses – 48% of SMEs admit that overdue payments put their business at risk of failure. Although businesses can look at the previous payment behaviour of their customers to help with mitigation plans, SMEs often don’t have the luxury of turning down contracts and it’s virtually impossible to avoid the cashflow impact and risks associated with overdue payments. The introduction of a 30-day payment deadline and financial penalties could be what is needed to deal with this critical issue head on.”

Tim Vine, Head of European Trade Credit at Dun & Bradstreet