Majority of Brits treat themselves during lockdown

COVID-19 has prompted a sharp increase in one-off purchases, with more than half of Brits (53%) splashing out on an item worth over £200 that they wouldn’t have normally bought, according to research from Indesser1 – a joint venture between the Cabinet Office and TDX Group.

A further third of people (31%) treated themselves to one-off purchases over £200 on multiple occasions. Of these, clothes were the top purchase in UK shopping baskets, followed by a new TV, mobile phone, a car and shoes.

A quarter of respondents (25%) reported their income had decreased, while 78% claimed their spending levels remained equal, or had even risen. Of these, nearly one in nine said their spending had increased significantly, pointing to a growth in disposable finances for many as Britain continues to live under COVID-19 restrictions.

Paul Verner, Interim CEO of Indesser, said: “COVID-19 has taken an immeasurable toll on our society, but for those unaffected financially the restrictive nature of lockdown has boosted their disposable income. By contrast, the pandemic continues to intensify the pre-existing financial divide in the UK, with many struggling to get by and the underlying debt situation remaining highly complex.

“Almost a third of Brits (29%) are increasingly reliant on borrowing to make ends meet. Despite hopeful signs of future economic recovery sparked by vaccine progress, with forbearance planned to end in the spring, a significant debt surge is on the horizon. In these circumstances, it’s imperative that creditors stand prepared to carefully and effectively manage those facing financial vulnerability, drawing on powerful data insights to create the best outcomes from start to finish of the customer journey.”

Dealer Pulse 2021 – from MotoNovo Finance

Dealers recognise that their overall approach to business is reactive led by the ‘here and now’. Arguably a weakness, this short-term approach served many dealers well in 2020. It was reflected in two concerns/priorities that dominated dealers’ priorities to COVID-19:

  • Staying afloat
  • Serving customers well

Reflecting on the publication of the first part of Dealer Pulse 2021, MotoNovo’s Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer Jon Slater highlights a ‘Baker’s Dozen’ key points focussing upon the impact of COVID-19, noting; “The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up a massive challenge to the motor retail community. I am delighted that the overwhelming view was that business was a lot better than expected with dealers showing their classic agility across such a broad audience. From the research, we have distilled thirteen key points from dealer feedback that summarises their experiences and views on the implications moving forward.”

Changes in the Customer Journey

1) Dealers recognised that customer expectations of online service have accelerated ‘by a few years’

2) Click and collect/delivery and remote sales increased noticeably for some dealers. However, the perception was that, apart from lockdown periods, this had not taken off as much as dealers thought it would. The fear of more returns/ buyers’ remorse has generally not materialised either

3) Customers are doing more research beforehand: they ask fewer questions once in the dealership and are coming in to confirm things are as expected. Often, final decisions are being made without sight of the car. The amount of selling dealers need to do has been reduced significantly

Finance

4) Although not universally desired by dealers, self-service elements in the finance journey are seen as rising

5) Signs of finance competitors being very aggressive with the rates they advertise and with some success

6) Concerns that financially savvy customers will begin to circumvent dealer finance

Used Car Growth Drivers

7) Customers concerned about spending too much on new cars with EV’s around the corner

8) Concerns about the future economic climate

9) Moves to avoid public transport

Structural Challenges for Dealers

10) There was an absence of clear digital strategies by dealers to address the trend to online car buying and financing

11) Noticeable staff losses since the first lockdown as the need for physical presence dwindles. Dealers feel even busier and more stretched, an area where digitisation might help

Hope or Reality?

12) The traditional PoS model is viewed as fundamental to great service and expected to remain, with digital playing a more significant complementary role

13) Delivery not pervasively implemented or desired, dealers associated it with a lot of set up work and other complications. Dealers do not think it will take over as people generally want to see the vehicle or book a test drive before purchase

Jon concludes; “We cannot underestimate the lasting change the last year has had on the dealer model. I do not doubt many people will want to visit showrooms when the opportunity returns, something supported by a YouGov survey that suggested 62% of people were not in favour of an entirely online car buying model.

“Nevertheless, it still means that a third of people are happy to buy online and with dealers telling us showrooms visits were just to ‘confirm things’ and with less staff on hand to help, a shift to online, self-serve car buying and financing is set to become increasingly essential. Dealers need to adapt, leveraging the support and help of collaborators.”

Nationwide shows house prices rebounded in February

Concerning the latest Nationwide House Price Index, Matthew Cooper, Founder & Managing Director of Yes Homebuyers, commented: “We’ve seen the property market hurtle along with the pace of a runaway steam train due to a boost in buyer sentiment via a stamp duty reprieve.

“While positive, there’s a very real chance the market could derail once this rug is pulled from beneath the feet of the nation’s homebuyers.

“The industry is eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s Budget to find out if this adjustment period will be happening sooner or later via a deadline extension but regardless, we will need to brace for impact at some point this year.”

Director of Benham and Reeves, Marc von Grundherr, commented: “Those that were quick to call a market decline after a marginal reduction in the rate of growth during January have clearly never overindulged over the Christmas break.

“A sluggish start to the year is often the case as the cogs start to turn once again and this is no different where property market activity is concerned.

“So a month to month view of housing market health is inaccurate at best and longer-term trends suggest that it is not only in very fine health but building momentum already this year.

“With a potential stamp duty extension on the cards, we can expect buyer demand levels to remain robust and the rate of house price growth to keep climbing as we gradually emerge from our lockdown boltholes.”

Managing Director of Barrows and Forrester, James Forrester, commented: “With a lockdown exit plan now in place, we should see the wider economic health of the nation start to improve. As a result, the potential expiration of the current stamp duty holiday simply won’t impact the market as severely as some would like to think.

“The furnaces of the UK property market are burning bright at present and there is an abundance of market fuel to keep this fire going far beyond the March deadline should an extension fail to materialise.”

HNW mortgage broker Enness welcomes new Chairman

Enness Global Mortgages, the mortgage broker of choice for global ultra-high-net-worth individuals, is pleased to announce Nigel Le Quesne as Non-Executive Chairman. He will, in addition, acquire an equity stake in the business.

Enness was founded by Islay Robinson and Hugh Wade-Jones in 2007 and has grown to become the go-to mortgage broker for ultra-high-net-worth individuals, with 35 staff operating across six offices in London, Monaco, Jersey, Dubai, Ibiza and Geneva.

The business’s day-to-day running remains with CEO Islay Robinson in London and Managing Director Hugh Wade-Jones in Monaco, with Le Quesne providing guidance and support to their international growth plans.

Nigel Le Quesne is the Chief Executive Officer of JTC PLC. Under his strategic leadership, JTC listed on the London Stock Exchange in March 2018 and is now a FTSE250 company. He has experience as a Chairman and Director in public and private markets and across several business sectors over his career.

Nigel Le Quesne commented: “I am delighted to be joining Islay and Hugh as Non-Executive Chairman of Enness to assist them in their exciting and ambitious plans for its future development. My wide experience and history of managing a multi-jurisdictional growth business over the years will, I hope, prove invaluable in this regard.”

CEO of Enness Global Mortgages, Islay Robinson, commented: “This is an important landmark for Enness and the absolute correct decision for both the company and our team. With Nigel’s guidance and support, we will now set upon an ambitious phase of growth, further cementing Enness as the leading mortgage broker for UHNW individuals on the international stage.”

Managing Director of Enness Global Mortgages, Hugh Wade-Jones, commented: “It’s fantastic to have Nigel on the board at Enness, and we predict it will further accelerate the success we have enjoyed as a company, particular in the past two to three years.

We have ambitions to create a truly global brand in the HNW space. Nigel has obviously had phenomenal success with JTC, who have offices in every corner of the globe, and we have no doubt he will be able to help us emulate the same at Enness.”

The Money and Pensions Service announces appointment of new non-executive director

The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) has announced the appointment to its Board of a new non-executive director, Alex Heath.

Joining the MaPS Board from 1 March 2021, Alex brings with him a wealth of experience from the digital sector, including most recently as founder of CrowdRating, a screening service for equity crowdfunding investors. Alex is also Chairman of Artfinder, and Chairman designate of Fairer Finance, an independent provider of product and customer experience ratings on consumer finance and insurance products.

Alex joins the MaPS Board which includes Sir Hector Sants, Chair; Ann Harris OBE, CBFA; Elaine Kempson CBE; Tim Jones CBE; and Moray McDonald.

Sir Hector Sants, Chair of MaPS, said, “I am delighted to welcome Alex to the MaPS Board. MaPS, with its stakeholders and partners throughout the UK, is increasingly challenging itself to find new ways to use digital channels to improve people’s financial wellbeing. Alex’s experience of digital innovation will be an invaluable addition to our Board.”

Alex Heath says, “I am a passionate believer in helping people to make the most of their life chances, and key enablers for this are gaining a good financial education at an early age and having access to timely and good financial guidance and advice. I believe that the MaPS Strategy for Financial Wellbeing addresses these areas with clear and achievable goals and I am delighted to have been asked to assist MaPS in achieving them.”

79% of homebuyers are hoping for a stamp duty holiday extension, 71% want it scrapped altogether

The current stamp duty holiday has helped to turbocharge homebuyer demand since it was introduced in July of last year, suspending the tax paid on the first £500,000 of all property sales in England and Northern Ireland.

Wednesday’s Budget is expected to include a deadline extension in one form or another, and Ascend Properties has revealed that homebuyers not only want these rumours to become a reality, but the majority would like to see stamp duty scrapped altogether.

79% want an extension

Ascend’s research shows that 79% of buyers would like to see an extension. 51% want an extension for the whole market, while 28% think it should be restricted to delayed sales having offers accepted before the original March deadline.

71% want more

With stamp duty providing an additional financial hurdle when looking to buy, it comes as no surprise that 71% would like to see this archaic land tax scrapped altogether.

Stamp duty holiday isn’t driving intent to purchase

However, while homebuyers would mostly like to see an extension, the stamp duty holiday hasn’t been the driving influence when it comes to their decision to buy.

Ascend asked if the original introduction of the stamp duty holiday had caused homebuyers to enter the market in search of a property.

52% stated it wasn’t the reason, with a further 36% saying they were already in the process of moving when it was introduced. However, for 12%, it did act as the catalyst for their current property purchase.

Despite the long market delays caused by stamp duty fuelled buyer demand enveloping the market, 61% of buyers have managed to complete and save on stamp duty.

What would a holiday mean for current homebuyers?

For those still in the thick of it and yet to complete, 34% were unphased by an extension, stating they wanted to move anyway, but a saving would be nice if the deadline were extended. 25% also said that delays on their purchase would cause them to miss the original deadline, so an extension would see them save.

However, for the other 40%, a potential extension could have a far more significant impact on their purchase.

20% stated their sale is likely to fall through if there isn’t an extension, with an additional 20% stating they would call off their current sale to look for a different property if more time is granted on the current stamp duty deadline.

Managing Director of Ascend Properties, Ged McPartlin, commented: “The stamp duty holiday has been a success for buyers able to complete in time to secure a saving. However, it’s also caused an enormous backlog of sales due to the industry becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of buyers entering the market.

“We can unequivocally say that a deadline extension will benefit more homebuyers should it materialise on Wednesday. At the same time, it’s also likely to exacerbate the current issues of extended purchasing times.

“While many would like to see it happen, a stamp duty saving isn’t the primary driving force behind the intent to purchase, so you have to question whether an extension is worth the many additional months of transactional delays that it is likely to cause.

“Our advice to homebuyers at present would be to act as they would if no holiday was in place at all. You’re going to face delays, and you might not complete even if an extension is implemented. Stay calm, take one day at a time and don’t stress yourself out hoping to save on stamp duty. That way, any saving will come as a bonus, and a failure to secure one won’t bring such disappointment.”

Survey of 1,137 recent homebuyers (last six months) in England carried out by Find Out Now (February 26th 2021).

Scottish FinTech Exizent announces three new big name clients

Glasgow-based legal technology firm Exizent is going from strength to strength following the confirmation that Countrywide Tax and Trust Corporation, Thursfields Solicitors and Thorntons are all digitising their probate with Exizent’s new platform.

In September, Exizent raised £3.6 million in funding to transform the way the legal and financial services industry deals with bereavement by bringing together all the information needed to manage probate cases on its unique online platform.

Countrywide Tax and Trust Corporation, which provides legal drafting software, probate, professional executor and trustee services; Thursfields, the Midlands-based practice; and leading full service Scottish firm Thorntons are all early adopters of the system. Glasgow-based Friends Legal Solicitors has also signed on; adoption of the platform has helped enable the firm to launch By Your Side, a fixed cost private-client service to deal with legal services for the bereaved.

Nick Cousins, founder, and CEO of Exizent says so many big names onboarding soon after launch demonstrates the clear and pressing demand for technology like this to improve the process.

These leading firms in the probate space mean thousands of probate cases could be managed through Exizent’s innovative platform every year, radically bettering the experience of dealing with bereavement: “We know from our own research that most law firms are frustrated with the amount of time it takes to process probate cases and wish the process could be more efficient, and in an era of digitised services, with more transparent and open access to information, there is no reason it shouldn’t be. Our platform brings together all the information and data needed to apply for probate in one place, making it quicker and easier for professionals to manage and less stressful for those who have lost a loved one.”

Thursfields being one of the earliest users of the platform is seen as a major endorsement as the firm’s Wills and Estates department is headed by Ian Bond, who is one of the most experienced, prominent and respected probate specialists in the UK. Bond acts as a contributing author of the respected Law Society publication The Probate Practitioners Handbook and is former Chair of The Law Society Wills & Equity Committee.

Ian Bond, Head of Wills & Estates at Thursfields, says: “Due to the numerous parties implicated and the time required to manually gather all relevant information, probate can be very emotional and stressful for those involved. Exizent is the first piece of technology to connect data, services and the network of people involved when someone passes away, and therefore has the ability to completely transform the way professional services manage and executors experience probate.”

Murray Etherington, Head of Private Client at Thorntons, says: “It’s vitally important for those dealing with estate administration that they do everything in their power to alleviate as much distress as possible for both families and executors. Every client requirement needs to be dealt with individually, but having an effective and efficient process in place helps enormously and this is where Exizent has the power to be a real game-changer.”

Clive Ponder founder and Director at Countrywide Tax and Trust Corporation, says: “The loss of a loved one can be made all the more stressful by having to tend to complex and time-consuming documentation and admin work. This has never been clearer than in 2020, a year marked by extraordinary grief. Using the Exizent platform will enable our Specialist Probate Team to better support the bereaved, by eliminating uncertainty and ensuring a seamless and integrated experience for all involved.”

Air Group release latest half-year ‘Temperature Check’ of Equity Release Provider service levels

Air Group, the leading later life services platform, has today announced its second half-year equity release provider ‘Temperature Check’ report focusing on a number of key service measures, as experienced by advisers.

The ‘Temperature Check’, which in this iteration covers H2 2020, has been designed to give smaller advisers a collective voice in terms of providing feedback on providers’ service levels and Air Group is using it to deliver stronger dialogue in order to improve service standards across the sector.

Over 250 smaller advisers who account for 8% of the plans taken out in H2 2020 rated providers they had used on five key service areas and three net promoter factors.

In this second iteration of the ‘Temperature Check’, Air Group has outlined the top four in each category.

The top four in the Overall Category were: Pure Retirement (8.11 out of 10), more2life (8.07), Legal & General (7.88) and Canada Life (7.86) with the top four in each individual service category as follows:

The top four in the Net Promoter Score Category were: Pure Retirement (86.25%), more2life (80.92%), Canada Life (78.95%), and Legal & General (70.98%) with the individual categories breaking down as:

The providers whose service levels were reviewed as part of the ‘Temperature Check’ in the second half of 2020 were: Aviva, Canada Life, Hodge, Legal & General, LV=, Just, One Family, more2life and Pure Retirement.

Air Group engages with each one to provide feedback on the analysis and ensure the collective voice of the smaller advisers who use its services are heard.

Stuart Wilson, CEO at Air Group, commented: “The second half of last year was an incredibly busy period for all those involved in the equity release sector, as we saw a significant uplift in demand and activity from clients.

“At the same time, we had a necessary shift in working practices, with the vast majority of providers having all their staff working remotely, and of course it did take some time to get used to this and to ensure systems and processes were able to cope with lockdown life and the upsurge in demand.

“Perhaps understandably, this iteration of the ‘Temperature Check’ has seen a number of providers post scores which fall slightly below what they were able to achieve in the first half of the year, which included the Q1 pre-lockdown period.

“Having said that, a number have seen an improvement, and without wanting to necessarily single out individual providers, a special mention should go to Pure Retirement who – in a number of categories – didn’t just break into the top tier but hit the highest position, specifically in terms of communication and the speed of its post-offer process.

“And more2life, Legal & General and Canada Life all maintained their positions at the top of the rankings, with good scores across all areas.

“With each provider being given a detailed report on how they scored and a debrief from Air Group, we want to ensure the feedback provided is taken away and, where possible, changes and improvements are made to improve the adviser experience.

“The ‘Temperature Check’ is undoubtedly aimed at providing quality feedback to providers from advisers, giving them a collective voice and offering providers a number of specific areas to work on so that scores right across the board might be improved, and the service experience for advisers and their clients can be enhanced.

“We congratulate all those providers who made our ‘Top Four’ during what was an eventful six months, to say the very least. As we all know, November saw a further lockdown at a time when transactions were appreciably up; a situation which we currently find ourselves in once again.

“We’ll continue to use the ‘Temperature Check’ to allow advisers to express their views, and in order to work with providers to help drive up service standards and outputs to the highest level possible.”

Foundation Home Loans announce price cuts of up to 0.5% across its residential range and up to 0.2% on buy-to-let

Foundation Home Loans, the intermediary-only specialist lender, has today cut rates across a number of products within both its residential and buy-to-let ranges.

The Foundation Home Loans residential range is designed to meet the needs of borrowers with complex income or employment such as the recently self-employed and those looking to optimise their affordability by using up to 100% of a wide range of income types including 100% of bonus, overtime and/or commission, retirement and investment incomes.

Foundation is cutting rates by up to 50 basis points on both its residential two- and five-year fixed rate mortgages:

  • Residential two-year fix at 65% LTV now at 2.89% (from 2.99%) and 75% LTV at 3.19% (from 3.29%); five-year fix at 65% LTV now 3.39% (from 3.49%) and 75% LTV at 3.54% (from 3.69%). Products come with a £995 fee.
  • Fee-assisted residential remortgages include a two-year fix at 65% LTV now 3.19% (from 3.49%) and 75% LTV at 3.39% (from 3.89%); five-year fix at 65% LTV now 3.59% (from 3.99%) and at 75% LTV 3.79% (from 4.29%). These products come with a reduced £595 fee, no application fee, a free standard valuation and £250 cashback upon completion.

Foundation accepts retained profits and one year’s accounts for the self-employed, and it caters for borrowers with multiple, or unusual, income sources including the more recently self-employed, and employed clients with high commissions or bonuses.

The lender has also cut rates on its two- and five-year buy-to-let fixed-rate mortgages; the products are designed to support landlords looking for a more generous loan for their rent, as ICR is calculated using the pay-rate on five-year fixes at Foundation, or the notional rate of 5.5% for shorter rates, and stress-tested at 125% for limited companies and basic-rate taxpayers, and 145% for others.

Selected cuts on Foundation’s buy-to-let range include:

  • Two-year fixed rate which now starts at 2.89% up to 65% LTV (down from 3.09%).
  • Five-year fix up to 75% LTV which has been reduced to 3.34% from 3.44%.
  • 80% LTV two-year fixed-rate product which now has a sub-4% rate of 3.99% (down from 4.09%).

Additionally, the five-year buy-to-let fixed rate for Large Loans over £500,000 up to 65% LTV with a 2.25% fee has been reduced by 10bps to 3.09%; and the buy-to-let two- and five-year Remortgage Specials with a 1% product fee have also been reduced, now starting from 3.29% (65% LTV) and come with incentives including no application fee, a free standard valuation and £250 cashback upon completion.

George Gee, Commercial Director at Foundation Home Loans, said: “We have taken this opportunity to make our ranges even more competitive for both landlords and residential borrowers, by cutting a number of our two- and five-year fixes by up to 50 basis points. In the residential range particularly, this is an opportunity for advisers who are seeing an increasing number of clients with complex income or multiple income sources, and the self-employed who may have only one-year accounts, to find competitively-priced mortgages combined with flexible criteria. Landlord borrowers will also benefit from cuts to various products including our remortgage specials, our early remortgage offering, and those seeking large loans.”

Amigo Holdings PLC (LSE:AMGO) Announces 3rd Quarter Results

Amigo Holdings PLC, (Amigo), the leading provider of guarantor loans in the UK, announces results for the nine-month period ended 31 December 2020.

Commenting on the Q3 results, Gary Jennison, CEO of Amigo, said: “Amigo has made considerable progress over the third quarter of our financial year with an entirely new Board enabling a fresh and different approach, focused on customer outcomes. Following the period end, we initiated our Scheme of Arrangement process.

“When I started as CEO over five months ago, I knew we had to do something significant to deal with the complaints we were getting. We’re very focused on doing the right thing for all our customers, including the 700,000 past borrowers and guarantors who no longer have a loan with us. The Scheme was a difficult decision for us to make. We had to look at all the options, and we considered every possibility. We’re doing it to treat all our customers and other stakeholders fairly and we believe it is absolutely the right thing to do.

“We are paying redress due to customers with final response letters issued prior to 21 December 2020 and handling all final decision letters from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) prior to this date. We are still getting new complaints in, and our team is dealing with them, responding to them, and we’re explaining to customers how they can benefit via the Scheme of Arrangement.

“We’re a small leadership team at Amigo and we will spend the coming weeks focusing on the Scheme. Once the Scheme has started going through the Courts and we’ve agreed the go forward business model with the FCA, then we can turn our attention to lending. We’ve seen our customer base shrink by over 30% over the last 12 months, as they’ve settled or finished their loans. We want to get Amigo back to life again.

“Amigo has a valuable role to play in the non-standard lending sector, when mainstream finance will not lend to people who are excluded from their lending proposition. We have a real purpose to help provide financial inclusion to millions of adults in UK society. The newly formed team of people here have gravitated towards Amigo to help us to work with regulators to fix the challenges from the past and to do the right thing for customers.”