E-commerce is propping up crumbling retail sales, says ParcelHero

Retail sales fell by -0.2% in September, the fifth consecutive fall since April. Only an uptick in online sales prevented a greater slump, says ParcelHero.

Today’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) retail sales figures for September saw the record broken for the longest period of decline since records began, 25 years ago. September’s -0.2% decline in the volume of sales was the fifth straight fall in a row, says the home delivery expert ParcelHero.

ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks M.I.L.T., says: ‘September’s figures were a record breaker, but not in a way that would have impressed Roy Castle (I may be showing my age). Since shops reopened fully in April, retail sales have been steadily falling month-on-month, rather than climbing as expected.

‘High Street retailers are feeling the crunch. Household goods stores sales fell -9.3% as DIY fever – which had us all redecorating after staring at the same walls for months during lockdown – subsided.

‘Once again, online was one of the few growth areas, up 0.5% in value compared to August. Department store’s websites led the charge with sales up 3.8%. This shows people are still not confident about entering crowded shopping streets and malls.

‘Even online retailers shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to pop the champagne cork, however. Online sales were actually down -2.3% compared to September 2020 and department store’s online sales tanked by -15.8% compared to last September.

‘Retailers will be praying that the increasing supply chain problems don’t make the situation even worse as we approach Christmas. October’s ONS retail sales figures will be scrutinised closely to see how significantly embattled stores are being impacted.’

Shawbrook and FDC support growth and succession of leading holiday home manufacturer, Carnaby Caravans

Carnaby Caravans, a leading manufacturer of high-quality holiday homes, is set for further growth following a record year which has seen revenues grow by more than 50% to £30m. Shawbrook, the specialist lender, has provided an undisclosed funding package to Carnaby, alongside backing from debt funder Frontier Development Capital.

Founded in 1976 in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, Carnaby is one of the UK’s most well-established manufacturers of high-quality holiday homes. The business has grown substantially over this time, driven by its reputation of producing holiday homes to an exceptional standard through continued innovation and outstanding craftmanship.

The transaction, initiated by its shareholders Nigel Smailes, Chief Executive, and Tim Meadley, Operations Director, allows the business to pursue its ambitious growth plans, driven by the significant increase in the popularity of UK stay-cations and holiday homes.

Sandra Carter, Sales Director, and Mike Swift, Technical Director, join Scott Thornton, Finance Director, on the board with all three becoming shareholders alongside Nigel Smailes and Tim Meadley.

Carnaby Caravans was introduced to Shawbrook Bank by Dow Schofield Watts (Roger Esler, Paul Herriott, Matt Spence) who led and structured the transaction on behalf of Nigel Smailes and Tim Meadley. Legal advice was provided by Clarion Solicitors (Jonathan Simms, Alex Cooper, Marie Pugh). Shawbrook Bank was advised by Shoosmiths. Frontier Development Capital also supported the transaction and was advised by Squire Patton Boggs. Management was advised by Gordons. Financial due diligence was provided by RSM. Murray Harcourt were tax advisers, led by Neil Sengupta.

Nigel Smailes, CEO at Carnaby Caravans, said: “Following the successful completion of this transaction and the new appointments to the board, we are eager to further strengthen our presence in our markets as we continue to serve our customers, existing and new.

“Shawbrook has an excellent reputation in our local market and this was proven by their ability to deliver. By getting to know our business and our needs they were able to craft a bespoke funding solution that will allow us to evolve the business and continue to grow as we look ahead. We are delighted to welcome Shawbrook alongside Frontier Development Capital as new funders to the business.”

Roger Esler, Corporate Finance Director at Dow Schofield Watts, commented: “We have worked with Carnaby Caravans over several years and witnessed both the growth in the business and the strengthening of its brand with leisure parks and holiday home owners alike. We are delighted to have advised on this transaction that brings new funders to the business as well as new appointments to the board at a time of unprecedented activity for the market.”

Ondrej Okeke of Frontier Development Capital, commented: “FDC is delighted to be backing this highly operationally-skilled and experienced management team at Carnaby Caravans, who are stalwarts of the leisure home industry. They have nurtured a business with a long-established reputation for building products of superior design and quality and maintained a very loyal customer base.

We are excited to be supporting the Carnaby team as the Company enters the next stage of its growth story.”

Daniel Martin, Senior Director within Shawbrook Bank’s Corporate Lending team, said:

“Carnaby Caravans is a very well-respected business across the markets it operates in and we are delighted to have been able to support their future growth plans.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Nigel and the team and it was clear from the outset that they are very passionate about the business so we are excited to seeing how Carnaby Caravans continues to develop over the coming months and years and are confident in its future.

“Our thanks go to the teams at Dow Schofield Watts and Frontier Development Capital, and all others involved, for their support on this deal.”

Autumn Statement call for Chancellor to support growth business investments

The industry body responsible for the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), the EIS Association (EISA) is calling for the Chancellor to recognise the importance of private sector investment into the UK’s early stage growth businesses when he delivers his Autumn Statement on the 27 October.

The Enterprise Investment Scheme provides tax incentives to investors who support growth businesses in their early stages and is one of the main routes for entrepreneurs to access the capital they need to develop.

In the ‘Reigniting the UK’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Report’ looking into how to reboot the post pandemic economy, an investment gap for seed funding of £768m and for growth funding of £1.45bn was identified. Attracting investment from the private sector is key to filling the gap, and the simplification and continuance of the EIS scheme is paramount in hitting these targets.

The EISA is calling on the Chancellor to address four principal areas:

  • Assurances that every effort will be made to ensure the continuation of the EIS and SEIS schemes, particularly beyond the current sunset clause of 2025.
  • An increase in the SEIS lifetime allowance from the current £150,000 to £250,000
  • Replace the “age restriction” on eligible recipients of State Aid with a different threshold
  • Further investigation into how money held in pension funds can be used to fund EIS and SEIS qualifying companies

Director General of the EISA, Mark Brownridge commented, “We all recognise that the Chancellor has an enormous job to do in balancing the economy, and ensuring that we support the country’s growth businesses, bringing with them employment, profitability and tax income is an important component in that agenda. Much of the investment for growth businesses in their early stages comes from the private sector, and it is imperative that we see the government proactively backing the EIS scheme to ensure that the access to this important source of capital continues. At the top of our wish list is a call for the formal extension of the current scheme beyond 2025, so that both investors and entrepreneurs can plan their future for the benefit of the economy as a whole.”

Bibby Financial Services appoints Chief Technology Officer to drive tech roadmap

International SME financier, Bibby Financial Services (BFS) has appointed James Cooper as Chief Technology Officer to drive forward its technology agenda as part of its new BFS 4.0 strategy.

First joining BFS in 2014, James previously held technology roles at Mothercare and financial advisory group, Rothschild. Most recently James was Chief Information Officer at BFS.

Speaking of his appointment, James said: “Across the world we have experienced and engaged teams providing excellent service to our customers. Technology will be key in augmenting this passion for service excellence and underpin our strategic ambition. This is an exciting time for BFS, and I look forward to working with people from across the business, external partners and customers to evolve our technology ecosystem.”

In addition to James’s appointment, Nicola Allard has been appointed as Head of IT and will assume responsibility for the day-to-day delivery of technology to customers and colleagues.

Prior to joining BFS in 2013, Nicola spent 20 years with KPMG in IT leadership roles.

Nicola added: “We’re committed to continually enhancing the way in which we can service our people and customers through the provision of technology so I’m delighted to be able to support and enable our teams across the world.”

Richard Olver, Chief Operations Officer of BFS said: “Our strategy focuses on becoming a leading international provider of working capital solutions with a multi-channel delivery and operational platform, so our technology roadmap and delivery is critical to our success.

“I’m delighted to announce James and Nicola’s appointments. I’m confident with them both in post, we will continue to build on the excellent service we’re known for by enhancing the customer experience via technology. In addition, the team is critical to supporting our ambitious growth plans through the provision of systems to support new product development and strategic partnerships.”

BFS operates in nine countries throughout Europe and in Asia. It is part of the Bibby Line Group, one of the UK’s oldest family owned businesses.

Finsec joins Knowledge Bank

Finsec, the specialist second charge & secured business loan lender, has added its criteria to the Knowledge Bank platform.

Knowledge Bank is a multi-award winning mortgage criteria search system. It holds the full criteria of over 250 lenders and has over 125,000 individual pieces of criteria making it the largest database of its kind anywhere is the UK.

Finsec’s speciality is providing loans to small businesses who may have been rejected by mainstream lenders and individual borrowers with non-standard or complex income and credit profiles, where the proposed borrowings combined with the amount owed to their first mortgage lender does not exceed 70% of their residential property value or 65% on semi-commercial or BTL property’s. Finsec provide second and third charge lending up to £150K on repayment terms of up to 15 years.

Kevin Cooke, Managing Director at Finsec said: “We are delighted to be able to join Knowledge Bank to bring our specialist lending products to an even wider audience of professional brokers and intermediaries. Introducers who have experienced our service tell us they like our same day decisioning, streamlined process (we can complete a deal within 5 working days), flexible terms, minimal early redemption charges and instant commission payments as being the reasons why they use us.”

Matthew Corker, Operations Director of Knowledge Bank, added: “We are excited to have partnered with Finsec, showcasing their entire range of second charge and commercial criteria on Knowledge Bank. Finsec’s common sense lending approach coupled with non-automated decision making means they can consider cases other lenders won’t and even cases that have been declined elsewhere. We are sure they will be a popular addition to our system.”

Hope Capital celebrates ten years in business

Specialist short-term lender, Hope Capital has marked its 10th year in business and is reflecting on the past decade, as well as looking ahead towards a very bright future.

Since being established in 2011, the firm has achieved exponential growth and achieved many milestones, including a current team of 22 highly committed individuals.

Jonathan Sealey, CEO of Hope Capital, commented: “We’re delighted to reach our 10th birthday as this is testament to our success. Since 2011, we have worked with many brokers, clients and stakeholders and have successfully supported a significant number of borrowers in achieving their investment plans.

“Reaching this milestone is also a great opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of our staff who have been instrumental in our growth. Success boils down to the people within the business who execute the strategies and processes put in place, which is why I am so grateful to the team.”

Hope Capital is renowned for being a highly flexible lender and is dedicated to delivering innovative bridging loan solutions. The firm offers a broad product range, which it has developed and evolved over the last ten years to meet the needs of a diverse range of borrowers, with products suitable for residential, commercial and mixed-use property. This includes the Seventies Collection, for residential property, the Refurbishment Range for light to heavy refurbishment works, the Discounted Rate Loan and the new Development Exit Loan. Hope Capital’s full product range can be found here.

Throughout the last year, Hope Capital has also achieved a number of company records and experienced a significant increase in business volumes. As a result, the firm is currently focusing on its long-term recruitment strategy, where Hope Capital is looking to secure additional talented individuals for the following roles: Business Development Manager, Portfolio Coordinator and HR Manager. Further information can be found on Hope Capital’s careers page.

Jonathan Sealey, added: “Hope Capital initially began as a one-man journey, when I discovered an opportunity in the market to launch a new bridging lending company. 10 years on, I would never have imagined the company would be where it is and achieving the success it does today.

“As we look to enter a new space, we will continue our growth strategy of extending the team, so we are in the best position to meet business volumes and create more innovative products which meet the market demand.”

Green Finance Wholesale Guarantee needed to scale up green lending

The Finance & Leasing Association (FLA) is today stepping up its call for a Green Finance Wholesale Guarantee in response to the series of Government announcements on Net Zero initiatives.

FLA lenders are fully behind the Government’s green agenda – they want to provide finance that enables consumers and businesses to choose green options when they next upgrade their boilers, cars, equipment or plant and machinery – but to do that, the price needs to affordable, competitive and comparable to non-green options.

However, making this a reality will require Government to share some of the elevated credit risk attached to many green goods – they are new to the market and pricing their lifespan, depreciation or obsolescence can be difficult.

A Green Finance Wholesale Guarantee for funders of both consumer and business portfolios would signal to lenders and investors that the Government is aware that the timeframe for achieving Net Zero targets does not allow for credit risks to be absorbed as the market evolves naturally, and that they are willing to shoulder some of the burden.

Stephen Haddrill, Director of the FLA, said: “Credit risk is a problem that eases over time once there is sufficient data from which to calculate residual values, and an established secondary market in which to sell the used assets, but time is a luxury we do not have if the Government’s Net Zero targets are to be met.

“There is also a need for consistency on the part of the Government. Green Homes Grant. Launching initiatives is easy, conquering the attendant logistics is difficult – are there sufficient specialist fitters available to meet initial demand and scale up the rate of installations for the new grant system for domestic heat pumps launched today?

“Everyone can see the value and urgency of meeting Net Zero targets, but we need to make green choices easy – the finance needs to be competitive, the initiatives need to work, and the Government needs to be talking to the industries that can help deliver their green agenda.”

DawsonGroup selects Yooz AI software to add real-time automation to Accounts Payable system

DawsonGroup, the leading specialist asset rental business, has announced the integration of Yooz cloud provider of real-time purchase-to-pay (P2P) automation software to accelerate the digitisation of its finance department.

Operating across the UK and mainland Europe, the DawsonGroup portfolio includes over 22,500 assets including commercial vehicles, trailers, buses, coaches, sweepers, and more. The group’s broad customer base is represented mainly by large reputable companies.

As explained by Nick Quin, Finance Manager at DawsonGroup, the decision to integrate an automated accounts payable system formed part of the company’s broader project, referring to a “high need for digitisation” to overcome the previous “paper-based and archaic” accounting processes.

“Invoices were transmitted by post, typed into our system, the paper invoices would then have a Purchase Order printed off and sent to the relevant departments to check the matching. Only then would it finally be sent to our accounts payable department for payment,” Nick Quin explains.

Other mitigating factors included financial documents being lost or missing while staff worked from home, and the need to have an automated integration with Netsuite accounting software.

After undertaking a rigorous selection process and scouring a long list of vendors, DawsonGroup selected Yooz as the preferred choice for AP automation, impressed with the ease-of-use and the customisation of the software.

Yooz combines real-time Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning technologies to automatically record, and process invoices, utilising the processing experience of over 1 million vendors and more than 100 million financial documents.

“The intuitive and clear user experience is a main differentiating feature for us, as starting our digital transformation in finance was a very challenging journey for all of us, and most people in the company were used to paper invoices for a long time and reluctant to change. But with Yooz, you can get anyone from anywhere to use the software.” Nick Quin states.

SME’s predicting closure has hit record low for first time in two years

Transport disruption, labour shortages and fears of a winter fuel crisis have failed to dent resurgent small business confidence for the three months to Christmas. After a significant bounce-back in the spring, small business growth forecasts have hardly changed over the last nine months, with 35% of business owners predicting growth for the next three months.

Not only is there solid quarter-on-quarter consistency in the proportion of ventures predicting growth but new findings from Hitachi Capital Business Finance also reveal that the percentage of small businesses fearing they could struggle to survive or collapse has hit its lowest level for two years. This rocketed when Covid first struck back in April 2020, with 29% of small businesses fearing they would close in the next three months. Whilst closure fears remained in double figures for the next three quarters, this month this has fallen to just 5%.

The evidence of new-found stability for many small businesses also comes with a rise in the number of enterprises that predict ‘no change’ in their business outlook on previous quarters. This has doubled since the early months of the pandemic, and has risen every quarter this year to a new high of 52%. For small businesses that are unable to predict growth, or are impacted by current market disruption, there is underlying confidence that enterprises can adapt and weather the storm.

Sector outlook: A winter’s tale of two Christmas seasons

Christmas is a pivotal sales period for many small businesses, and the forward-looking Business Barometer study allows Hitachi Capital to capture an early sense of small business confidence as they move into the countdown to the festive season.

Compared to this time last year, the growth outlook for small businesses across sectors is much improved, a trend that underlines the substantial progress that has been made over 12-months. In some sectors current growth outlook has even surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

  • After a perilous existence during the succession of national lockdowns, there are firm signs that confidence in the hospitality sector is bouncing back. The falling away of Covid restrictions is allowing many enterprises to gear up for a busy Christmas period, with 35% predicting growth in the next 3 months – almost double the figure this time last year (18%).
  • Retail along with travel and distribution buck the trend, with fewer enterprises predicting growth compared to this time last year. These sectors have been seriously impacted by labour shortages and supply chain disruption.
  • Despite challenges in labour supply and post-Brexit uncertainty, outlook in manufacturing for the Christmas period is relatively bullish. Growth predictions here have doubled compared to the all-time low this time last year (back from 23% to 49%)
  • In sectors where small business growth forecasts were least impact by Covid – IT, telecoms, media and marketing – growth forecasts have continued to rise and are now higher than they were before the pandemic.

Joanna Morris, Head of Insight at Hitachi Capital Business Finance comments: “Given the challenges we have all experienced getting fuel in recent weeks – and the warnings there may even be no turkeys for Christmas – our latest findings present an emphatic endorsement of the crucial role the small business community plays to the economy and society at large. Having experienced difficulty during lockdown, many have found ways to adapt and grow in the last year – and for those that can’t grow, a record number of business leaders are able to hold firm and weather the storm.

“The overall picture is one of remarkable solidity when faced with a volatile market – what has appeared is an agility and a willingness to adapt to change. At Hitachi Capital Business Finance, we are gearing up to support the sustainable growth plans of businesses for 2022 – and we hope that, for many, a successful period of Christmas trading will give enterprises the confidence to realise their full potential going into the New Year.”

Lending Works announces partnership with Experian to enhance credit framework and support growth

Lending Works, the UK’s leading embedded lending platform, has today announced a new multi-year partnership with Experian, the global information services provider. The deal will provide Lending Works with access to Experian’s credit and affordability data to help underpin its credit decisioning engine and fraud prevention strategies.

Experian’s Trended Data solution will help Lending Works understand whether consumers are on an upwards or downwards trajectory in their capacity to afford credit.

Lending Works will also use Experian’s Affordability IQ service to identify if a customer has experienced a recent reduction in or loss of income as a result of the pandemic.

Access to this data will help Lending Works to understand a customer’s affordability. It will also help Lending Works to proactively manage its customers’ financial wellbeing, ensuring they are treated fairly and responsibly throughout the life of a loan.

The partnership will allow Lending Works to accelerate its growth whilst maintaining high credit standards.

Ines Maia, Chief Revenue Officer of Lending Works, said: “Understanding and assessing affordability is critical in the current environment. Experian’s in-depth and granular insight is the most predictive available, and we expect the quality to continue to improve as it expands traditional and new data sets.”

Paul Speirs, Managing Director of Digital Consumer Information at Experian, said: “The uncertain economic environment means it’s essential for lenders to have the most up-to-date and accurate insights available to make the highest quality lending decisions and protect customers.

“As Lending Works’ primary bureau of choice, we will help them to understand which consumers are on an upward trajectory and in a better position to take on finance than a static credit score would suggest.

“The sensitivity that our income shock data offers will provide Lending Works the insight to proactively manage customers and safeguard them. We continue to seek new, growth-hungry partners in the fintech sector and improve their customer insight using a combination of bureau and Open Banking data to broaden the range of options available to people.”