The Money Stats – March 2020 – Portrait of a Pre-Crisis UK

March 2020’s Money Statistics, produced by The Money Charity, are released from a place significantly different to anything the majority of us will ever have witnessed before, and almost certainly unlike any previous period for which this report has existed.

Life has changed very quickly for the whole of the UK, leaving most of us disoriented and still scrambling to catch up with adjusted ways of life. The Money Statistics is no different, and thus this month’s release strikes a different tone to normal. A key point of uniqueness for the March report being that, with the majority of numbers which we regularly report on relating to the period up until January and February 2020, they are therefore unable to capture the massive changes to GDP, pay, employment, debt, and government spending that have rapidly taken place since then. However, it seems impossible to ignore this context, and therefore the March report can be best viewed as a snapshot of the UK on the eve of a crisis. Covid-19 (“Coronavirus”) will end up affecting many people in many ways but one of the most prominent areas will be in our finances.

As a country, we went into the current situation with £1.45 trillion in mortgage debt, up from £500 billion in 2000. For every adult in the UK there is an average of £4,264 in unsecured debt. The UK holds £72 billion in credit card debt, a significant proportion of which is deemed “persistent” by The FCA and in need of sustained reduction. In a crisis many will think first of their savings as a backup, however 12.8 million households either have no savings at all or less than £1,500, nowhere near enough for most people to support themselves through a sudden loss of income. 4.8 million people live without at least one essential household item (such as a fridge, freezer, cooker or washing machine) and now face a domestic lockdown which will only further exacerbate this.

In short, the big financial question for the UK, particularly all those involved in key decision making for society, will be: “did we build an economic framework that enabled people to be as resilient as possible to life’s unexpected events?” And, perhaps even more importantly, “what could we do better next time?”

Paul Frost, Interim Chief Executive of The Money Charity says: “Firstly, and most importantly, I hope all our readers and their families, friends and colleagues are keeping safe and well during this challenging period. These are truly unprecedented times, but in many ways they illustrate the relevance of the things we speak up for every day. An essential part of our financial wellbeing and financial education work is our emphasis on the importance of people planning ahead, budgeting robustly, having a financial buffer if at all possible, and keeping debts to manageable sustainable levels, so they are in the best possible position to cope with both the expected and unexpected.

“As the UK’s statistics heading into the Covid-19 crisis amply demonstrate, these messages are
both difficult to bring to enough people’s attention and often hard for them to implement. This amplifies the pressing need for increasing the availability of effective financial wellbeing interventions to all sections of society, and in particular the vulnerable.”

Other striking numbers from the March Money Statistics:

  • The number of people unemployed in the UK grew by 14 per day in the year to January 2020. (P20.)
  • It costs an average of £22.92 per day for a couple to raise a child from birth to the age of 18. (P14.)
  • The population of the UK grew by an estimated 1,083 people a day between 2017 and 2018. (P20.)

Conveyancing market stakeholders produce industry guidance for firms during Coronavirus crisis

The Conveyancing Association (CA), the leading trade body for the conveyancing industry, has today endorsed industry-wide guidance to conveyancing firms advising clients on house moves during the Coronavirus crisis.

The guidance has been prepared by a group which includes the Law Society, the Society of Licensed Conveyancers (SLC), the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Bold Legal Group and the Conveyancing Association (CA), and has the support of Government departments including HM Land Registry.

Its primary purpose is to help conveyancers assist clients and comply with the latest Government Regulations and Guidance on home moving, in particular:

  • Home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight Coronavirus and in accordance with Government guidance.
  • If the client has already exchanged contracts, and the property is currently occupied, then all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter.
  • If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus.

This additional Guidance covers four key areas:

  • Amending existing contracts.
  • Advice for clients who have already exchanged contracts.
  • Advice for clients who have not yet exchanged contracts.
  • Advice for clients who have to move during the current restrictive period.

In terms of amending existing contracts, the stakeholder group has worked together and agreed a draft clause and the process for firms to follow when varying a completion date.

The guidance sets out the need for conveyancers to exchange a written agreement to alter the existing contract, to e-sign or authorise the conveyancer to sign on the client’s behalf, to formally exchange documents and to ensure clients are fully advised in accordance with their own circumstances. It also outlines how firms might wish to consider issues that may arise around the client’s mortgage, searches and any additional costs that might be involved.

It also urges firms to treat every case on an individual basis and any clauses or processes recommended by the firm should be amended according to the individual needs of the client.

Within the document there is also specific advice that conveyancing firms can offer to clients who have exchanged, have not exchanged, or for those who have to move during the current restrictive period.

Paul Smee, Chair of the Conveyancing Association, commented: “At present, home moves should not be contemplated unless the need to move is critical. So, this guidance only applies to cases where contracts have already been exchanged and the parties involved have been unable to agree on a delay in completion. It outlines the relevant requirements that have been put in place by the Government to counter the spread of the virus, and what conveyancers need to do to work within them. Home moves can only occur where it is safe for them to do so. Some cases will have special features on which specific advice will be needed and home buyers and sellers should always talk to their conveyancer.

“Firms should be prepared for a changing situation and their service will need to respond flexibly in order to comply with the Government’s evolving objectives. To that end, we are also able to provide members with access to business continuity guidance, provided by both individual member firms and the SLC, which is available on the CA website.

“This has been a real collegiate effort amongst a range of conveyancing trade and sector bodies, plus the regulators and Government departments such as HM Land Registry, to provide this supplementary guidance that should help firms to work through such cases.”

Simon Davis, Law Society President, said: “The Law Society recognises the real difficulties faced by those who are trying to move home, particularly for those who have exchanged contracts, but are not able to complete, for a variety of reasons created by the restricted movement requirements.

“The guidance from the Government, and that produced by the Law Society in conjunction with other conveyancing bodies, is our attempt to offer some solutions in these exceptional circumstances.

“There are no simple solutions and the position is one that is fluid and changing. We will keep it under review and if necessary step in again.”

Phoebus Software launches Mortgage Self-Service Portal to help stem calls in lender call centres

Phoebus Software Limited (PSL), the leading banking and lending software provider, has launched a new digital self-service portal that allows lender’s customers to self-serve on their accounts.

Developed within PSL’s award winning Innovation Hub, the Phoebus Mortgage Self-Service Portal (MSS) has been designed in conjunction with client feedback to provide a range of functionality including the ability to make payments, view transactions and statements, change direct debit details and order redemption figures. The solution also provides a mortgage calculator that allows borrowers to look at the effect of making a part-redemption and how that will affect their mortgage term and monthly payments.

PSL is already considering the next release of functionality, and is looking at accelerating changes that could reduce call volumes into call centres in the current pandemic environment.

The Phoebus solution is initially being offered to PSL’s existing clients. However, it has been designed to be integrated with any servicing platform via a range of APIs. They will push borrower information to the self-service portal from the host servicing platform, so that the borrower can view it.

Richard Pike, PSL’s sales and marketing director says, “Our investment in the PSL Innovation Hub has meant that we have a clear focus on the digital solutions that the market requires, both now and in the future. PSL’s new Mortgage Self Service product will reduce call volumes in what will undoubtedly be pressurised call centres for the foreseeable future. We are also looking to enhance functionality in future phases to meet the requirements of a rapidly changing lending and economic landscape.”

Paradigm launch Coronavirus support page for advisers

Paradigm Mortgage Services has today launched a new Coronavirus support page for advisers which includes a raft of information to help firms through the crisis.

The informative page contains a range of resources, including a comprehensive ‘Lender Matrix’ which features the very latest details from Paradigm’s panel of lenders, all in one place. Updated at the end of every day, advisers will be able to track all the changes and see how each lender is dealing with both advisers and their clients in relation to COVID-19.

This specific lender information covers how lenders’ BDMs are working, the stance each is taking with regard to mortgage payment holidays and information related to valuations. Users of the Matrix will also be able to view when it was last updated, making it easy to see what new information has been added since their last visit.

The support page also covers:

  • Protection updates – this will include useful links to information collated by Protection Guru on how different providers are dealing with the virus, such as changes to products and underwriting.
  • Paradigm has also seen a large increase in interest from its members on protection and the page also allows intermediaries to access a wide range of marketing and technology support to firms who are active, or looking to be active, in the protection space.
  • CPD – registering for Paradigm’s CPD Academy provides access to protection, mortgage and regulatory-related content as many industry CPD events have been postponed or cancelled.
  • FCA – includes guidance from the regulator for advisory firms.
  • Economic commentary – from Paradigm’s investment proposition, Tatton Investment Management.
  • Contact/getting in touch – details of all Paradigm’s customer services team who remain contactable via telephone and email

Paradigm has committed to updating all parts of the Coronavirus support page regularly and is urging all advisory firms to make use of the information and resources which will aid them in these challenging times.

Bob Hunt, Chief Executive of Paradigm Mortgage Services, commented: “With the fast-developing Coronavirus situation upon us, we want to reassure all of our members that we have robust business continuity measures in place. We are constantly reviewing the Government advice and we have measures in place, including remote-working for all of our staff, to allow us to ensure our members, lenders and providers continue to receive the high level of service they have come to expect from us.

“To that end, we have produced our Coronavirus support page which contains a raft of relevant information and details of the ongoing changes that are being made, whether those are from lenders, providers or the regulator. We believe the ‘Lender Matrix’ will be of particular use as it will update each day and show users exactly how lenders are approaching this, changes to products and criteria, and how advisers can engage with them.

“Despite the current situation, Paradigm remains absolutely committed to the continuation of our proposition and supporting all those who need our services and help.”

Anthony Rose, Director of LDN Finance, said: “In these very volatile, and fast-changing times, any reliable sources of information are invaluable to brokers. Due to the urgent need to help clients before lender changes come into place it can be hard to stay on top of updates ourselves. The work that Paradigm have been doing has enabled us to successfully place cases without any unwitting errors being made.”

Computershare Loan Services UK – Coronvirus statement

Andrew Jones, CEO for Computershare Loan Services in the UK, said: “We’ve changed our working practices to keep our contact centres operational whilst taking steps to take care of our people’s health, including through the use of homeworking.

“However, over the last week we’ve experienced an increase of around 500% in call and email volumes as many borrowers understandably want to speak to us about how coronavirus is affecting their mortgage payments.

“Everyone will get their request dealt with – but to enable us to get more of our people working from home, we’d ask borrowers to delay any non-urgent enquiries and use their lenders’ website to access information and manage their accounts online wherever possible.

“In line with the recent government announcements, we are of course working to implement a payment holiday of up to three months for any customer who contacts us and requests support and can tell us how they are experiencing a direct or indirect financial impact as a result of coronavirus.

“We’ve taken thousands of calls since the announcement on 18 March and will make sure everyone is taken care of.”

COVID-19 operational update from Stuart Wilson (Air Group)

Below is a COVID-19 operational update from Stuart Wilson, CEO of Air Group – the collective of companies covering a range of retirement and later life services: “At the moment, we are very much carrying on with ‘business as usual’ albeit under these exceptionally unusual circumstances. We are all still finding our feet in this new ‘socially distant’ world and, while it’s a challenge, it’s also remarkable how quickly our industry has been able to adapt.

“I’ve talked to a lots of Air Group members in recent days, and I know that as they’ve adjusted their own sales processes to meet the demands of social distancing and isolation, many are concerned about what happens next with regards to crucial aspects of the lifetime mortgage application process – namely valuations and conveyancing.

“These processes rely on both the valuer and lawyer meeting a client face-to-face and/or entering their home; given the most recent control measures announced by the Government, that is now all but impossible, especially for conveyancing which (among other things) requires the mortgage deed signature to be witnessed.

“Air Group has the interests of its members at the top of our list and we’re in daily contact with lenders to get updates on how they, and the connected parties to this process, intend to navigate through this issue. There are innovative solutions being discussed and we expect to be able to provide members with some good news on this over the course of the next few days.

“We will communicate again with members on these points, including how we are moving forward with them, shortly and we are urging members to get in touch with us if they need help or if they have any further questions.”

Vision Blue announce new brand and enhanced products

With a head office in Dublin, Vision Blue will bring together its range of financial services products, under a new brand designed to reflect the breadth of the offering to financial service providers and their customers. From today, the Vision Blue Group will become The Aryza Group.

Colin Brown, chief executive officer of The Aryza Group, has been a key contributor to the strategic modernisation of the financial services sector and is a champion of using technology to ensure ethical and compliant practice.

Colin commented: “Over the past three years, Vision Blue has been evolving. Since our acquisition by Pollen Street Capital in 2017, they have helped us grow, strategise, and plan for the future. We wanted to grow our impact and our offering, and as part of our new direction, we wanted a new look, a new name, and a new logo.

“We are delighted to announce today, officially, that we are Aryza.

“You’ll see our new name, branding, and look on our new website, in our correspondence, and across all of our social media channels. They reflect how we’ve grown since we began as Vision Blue some 18 years ago. When we began building software, we wanted to help insolvency practitioners navigate the insolvency process with their clients in a more time and cost-efficient manner – this is still at the heart of our business. As the company has grown and evolved, so has our overarching mission and purpose.

“Having seen the positive effects that better processes can have not just on insolvency practitioners, but on the financial journey out of insolvency, we knew that with the right tools we could offer a suite of software solutions designed to help financial professionals help their customers, whatever their situation.

“In the past few years, we’ve acquired a number of software companies who have built incredible tools to streamline and automate processes across the full financial cycle. We now have software that facilitates the lending cycle, as well as recovery and collections software, more international insolvency solutions, and software to help individuals manage their budgeting and savings. We’ve also moved into industry insights, data collection and analysis, with a view to getting a really accurate overview of the whole industry, to ideally help us build even more effective tools and – ultimately – help more people have a better relationship with their money and achieve greater prosperity.”

Future Adviser Event moves to new September date

As we work through the global Covid-19 crisis, the Future Adviser Event has decided, in line with government guidance, to reschedule its inaugural event to 8th September to assist with efforts to prevent the continued spread of the coronavirus.

The Future Adviser Event is a brand-new event in London and Manchester, all about looking forwards, preparing advisers for what’s next and not relying on how it’s always been done.

A consortium of experienced business leaders in financial services came to us with a vision of an event which set a new standard for financial services – and so the Future Adviser Event was born.

The Future Adviser Event – an immersive exhibition, with a tech-focus and education as a key driver – will offer forward-thinking advisers the chance to explore the changing face of financial services. As well as the chance to network and spend valuable face-to-face time with the industry’s biggest businesses, the event also features unrivalled learning opportunities and unique tech-based zones, including:

  • A dedicated Tech Demo area where advisers can get hands-on experience with the leading financial technology and learn how it can support their business, watch and take part in live technology demos with leading providers, and see the cutting edge of mortgage market technology in action
  • A whole-of-market CII-accredited academy programme with exciting speakers already lined up, including the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) discussing tech & compliance, Scottish Widows’ Johnny Timpson exploring how to discuss death & critical illness with your clients, and Paradigm providing practical tips on advisers planning to transition to directly authorised (DA)
  • The Marketing Hub, featuring unique, small-scale sessions which teach businesses how to make the most of email marketing, social media and much more to boost leads and improve client retention

The event – hosted by experienced industry events professional Laura Calcroft of White Duck Events – will also bring its unique fintech and educational opportunities to the advisory community in the North, taking place at Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse on 17th September 2020.

Future Adviser Event, which was created following demand for more tech-focused opportunities for advisers, already boasts many of the industry’s leading names as sponsors, including Affirmative, Answers in Retirement, Connect for Intermediaries, Foundation Home Loans,  In Partnership, Interbay Commercial, Insights, Kensington, Key Partnerships, Knowledge Bank, More2life, Mortgage Advice Bureau, MT Finance, Paradigm, Pure Retirement, Smartr365, SortRefer, Square One Media, Together, and more.

Laura Calcroft commented: “I am pleased to announce that we have been able to move the Future Adviser Event to a new September date to ensure it is best placed for the market and to maximise business opportunity as we recover from these testing times.

“I will however continually monitor and review the situation, until such a time that we feel it is safe and responsible to hold industry events and reassure you that you will be fully updated. It is my commitment to work together to ensure our sector remains buoyant and we don’t navigate this alone.”

Self-employed incomes are ‘falling like a stone’ as a result of Covid-19

The incomes of self-employed people are ‘falling like a stone’ amidst economic disruption caused by Covid-19, according to charity the Money Advice Trust, which runs the Business Debtline advice service. The warning comes after the Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs that constructing a scheme to protect the self-employed who are losing work because of the Coronavirus crisis “is proving to be problematic”.

The charity says that the likely implementation delay in any support scheme that the Government brings forward, such as through the model being advocated by IPSE and others to replace 80% of average incomes over the previous three years, means interim measures to provide self-employed people experiencing hardship are now even more urgent.

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline and Business Debtline, said: “Many self-employed people are seeing their businesses hit harder and more quickly than they could ever have imagined, as the country grapples with the Covid-19 crisis. Almost every call currently being made to Business Debtline is about the impact of the outbreak on self-employed people’s finances – many of whose incomes are falling like a stone.

“This group is currently the least likely to benefit from the government’s financial response to the Covid-19 outbreak so far. The Chancellor has already announced big and bold support for people in employment – there is now an urgent need to do the same for the UK’s self-employed workers.

“The Chancellor’s comments to MPs today warning that any new scheme will not be able to provide immediate support makes it even more important that the Government introduces a dedicated hardship fund for self-employed people, to help them cope with the difficult weeks and months ahead.”

The Money Advice Trust is continuing to engage the Government on the need to support household and small business finances through the Coronavirus crisis, following the publication of the Money Advice Trust and StepChange Debt Charity’s proposed ‘Rescue Package’ recommendations last week.

Air Group announce postponement of National Later Life Adviser Conference

AIR Group, the collective of companies covering a range of retirement and later life services, has today announced that its third annual National Later Life Adviser Conference will now be postponed until 2021 due to public health concerns around the spread of COVID-19.

The Conference was due to take place at the National Space Centre in Leicester on the 4th June 2020 but will now be held at the same venue on the 6th May 2021. The Air Awards have also been rescheduled for the same date next year.

Air Group has announced that the format of the Conference, the content and programme will all remain the same, with up to 24 industry speakers and celebrity key-note addresses covering a range of later life issues through presentations and panel discussions.

Stuart Wilson, CEO at Air Group, commented: “Given the current situation and the public health advice and guidance that we all need to follow, it seems a common-sense response to postpone this year’s National Later Life Adviser Conference and our first Air Awards until May 2021. It’s clearly disappointing to have to do this but we must ensure the safety of all those who attend including our staff, delegates, speakers and sponsors, and therefore it is absolutely the right thing to do.

“We’ll be back next year with an excellent event and in the meantime we at Air Group are here to support all later life advisers and to provide them with everything they might need to keep working during this period. We urge everyone to stay safe and do everything they can to stop the spread of the virus. Air Group staff are at the end of a phone or e-mail or live chat, and we are running business as usual albeit with staff working remotely. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you require our help.”