Comments on today’s ONS retail sales figures for March

“The 0.9% decline in retail sales volumes in March was unsurprising as the sustained inflationary environment continues to leave consumers cautious about spending across food and non-food retail. Increasing food prices are forcing consumers to make choices to buy less as they pay more. The recent period of poor weather has also put many off from buying their spring-summer wardrobe and other non-discretionary items.

“However there may be a light at the end of the tunnel as the ‘three-month’ trajectory indicates that sales volumes rose in the three months to March 2023, the first quarterly  rise since August 2021. As we enter spring, the Easter holidays and the various bank holiday weekends, should continue to drive food sales, however retailers must remain cautious with how sustainable this is as household disposable income continues to be squeezed.

“Data from EY’s Future Consumer Index shows an enhanced focus on value and utility – meaning cost isn’t always the defining factor when making a purchase. Retailers should take this into consideration when developing their value proposition. They will need to navigate a tight balance between rising costs and deciding how far they continue to pass on price increases without impacting the top line. Now more than ever having a clear strategy on the value proposition that delivers on what consumers want is critical. In an environment of slow volume growth, working capital and range/pricing decisions remain the most important considerations for retailers.”

Silvia Rindone, EY UK&I Retail Lead

Essex law firm sponsors local LGBTQ+ Rugby team

Birkett Long is pleased to announce its support of Colchester Kings RFC, East Anglia’s first gay and inclusive rugby team, as kit sponsor.

Established in June 2022, the team aims to give queer people and their allies a safe space to participate in team sports whilst eliminating homophobia and transphobia in rugby by reducing barriers to join in team sports. This ambition leads them to support the LGBTQ+ community by promoting inclusion and participation in a welcoming and friendly environment.

The partnership is an organic one for Birkett Long, as Colchester Kings’ values of equality, diversity and inclusion reflect the firm’s own values.

Community is at the heart of Birkett Long, which has a history of actively supporting the LGBTQ+ community. In addition to running a number of LGBTQ+ focused webinars and publishing regular blogs focused on helping those in the community tackle legal issues that affect them, the firm has a high profile presence at local Pride events every year. You will always see employees cheering on the Kings and handing out crowns at Kings matches…whatever the weather!

The commitment is demonstrable and ingrained at every level as a number of the firm’s staff completed LGBTQ+ awareness training for businesses offered by local charity The OutHouse. The Divorce and Family team also witness signatures on statutory declarations for gender recognition certificates for free.

Birkett Long’s Head of Marketing, Jennie Skingsley, said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to support the Colchester Kings Rugby team and are so proud to see our logo on the team kit at matches. We understand what it means to the players to put on the kit and we’re right there with them. It’s a vital part of showing our commitment to supporting the LGBTQ+ community throughout the year – we don’t just put a rainbow on our website for Pride month!”

Samuel Biscoe, Chairperson of Colchester Kings Rugby team said: “We’re delighted to have Birkett Long as a sponsor for our inaugural year. Having a local firm that is visibly engaged in our community is really important to us and we’re delighted with the support that they have given us since we established the team last year. We look forward to a long and engaging partnership as the club enters the International Gay Rugby league this September.”

Will the BoE now take its foot off the interest rate accelerator? – comment on inflation

“As ever we waited with baited-breath for the latest inflation figures, any news that may mean the Bank of England takes its foot off the interest rate accelerator would be good for the housing market.  So, the news today, coupled with the fact that GDP is still not in decline, could well be the catalyst we have all been hoping for.

“The country is holding its head above water and confidence appears to be returning.  Despite the lull at the beginning of the year the housing market has been picking up in recent weeks with the usual springtime boost, and more lenders are revising rates every day.  There is no doubt that affordability is a worry for many households and lenders will be working around the age old of dilemma of continuing to meet lending targets versus more defaults down the line.  Being prepared for both scenarios is a juggling act, but one that every lender needs to have systems and people in place to deal with.”

Adam Oldfield, chief revenue officer at Phoebus Software

CABI chooses Logpoint to increase visibility and bolster cybersecurity defenses

Logpoint has been selected by CABI to provide its SIEM and SOAR solutions. Logpoint will be essential for CABI’s IT and cybersecurity operations, centralizing everything in a single pane of glass, increasing visibility across the infrastructure, and reducing the workload through automation and increased efficiency.

Logpoint SIEM fuses indecisive signals into meaningful alerts by adding context to accelerate detection and investigation. Logpoint SOAR automates the investigation of security incidents and provides case management tools to help analysts automate incident response.

“Logpoint’s user-friendly SIEM and SOAR solutions are an ideal fit for our requirements. We like the ease of use and the streamlining of services, as well as the elimination of manual triaging, which allows us to make better decisions about our security efforts,” says Jamie Brown, CABI Security Engineer. “We are able to detect and prevent security breaches before they become a problem, freeing up time previously spent on manual processes.”

CABI is an international, inter-governmental, not-for-profit organization based in Oxfordshire in the United Kingdom with 49 member countries. It has more than 400 employees from more than 20 locations globally. CABI’s mission is to improve people’s lives worldwide by providing information and applying expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment.

“CABI’s selection of Logpoint demonstrates our strength in providing efficient, robust capabilities to improve the business outcomes of cybersecurity and our ability to deliver speedy time to value, says Tim Wallen. “We’re excited to provide CABI cutting-edge SIEM and SOAR technology.”

Open Banking update shows commitment to scale up UK success story

This morning the Joint Regulatory Oversight Committee (formed of HM Treasury, the Competition and Markets Authority, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Payment Systems Regulator) published its recommendations for the next phase of open banking in the UK.

Commenting on the update, Emma Steeley, Chief Executive of Freedom Finance, one of the UK’s leading digital lending marketplaces, said: “The mass adoption of Open Banking will improve financial outcomes for millions of financial services customers.

“The UK is already a global leader in the use of Open Banking technology and its success is tangible evidence of the benefits that the fintech sector in this country can deliver for consumers when acting in lockstep with the government, regulators and the wider financial service industry.

“It is encouraging to see the commitment in this roadmap to building up scale which is pivotal to Open Banking becoming ubiquitous in this country. To achieve this, the ecosystem needs to increase competition by offering consumers the widest possible selection of providers, products and services from the most reputable brands to deliver safety and choice.

“In the consumer credit sector, Open Banking is significant because the widespread sharing of transaction data can help lenders deliver more personalised and suitable products by using a far wider set of criteria to assess customers. This not only matches products with customers in a bespoke manner but increases access to the credit market by generating a far more accurate risk profile of a customer through an increasingly holistic assessment of their creditworthiness compared to the narrow parameters used to generate credit scores.

“For example, it means a person with a thin credit file through no fault of their own – like divorcees or expats returning to the UK – but posing no greater risk to lenders will not face exclusion from the market.

“We urge the industry to continue working with the government to push forward proportionate regulation, improve data sharing and support the development of payments capabilities. Only through fintechs, government and the retail financial services working together can we make Open Banking a truly great UK success story.”

Lending Standards Board welcomes new Chair

The Lending Standards Board (LSB) formally welcomes its new Chair, Ken Scott, who took up his role with effect from 1 April 2023. Mr Scott’s extensive experience will support the LSB’s mission of working to ensure fair outcomes for financial services customers.

During his executive career, Mr Scott played a key role in driving the regional growth of HSBC’s commercial bank, with a particular focus on championing customer service. He later led the subprime lending business for Citigroup across the UK and Republic of Ireland.

His other career achievements include leading a successful turnaround as Chief Executive of real estate agents Hamptons International; floating MG Capital, an early fintech player, on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM); and building listed software provider ILX Group into a leading international skills-based eLearning, classroom training and consultancy business.

Mr Scott’s current appointments include non-executive chair of JLC Distribution, and Senior Independent Trustee at St John’s Foundation, a Bath-based charity supporting vulnerable members of the local Bath & NE Somerset community.

Mr Scott replaces Chris Pond, who has reached the end of his six-year tenure – the maximum term allowed under the LSB’s governance rules.

Emma Lovell, Chief Executive of the LSB, said: “While Chris will be a hard act to follow, we are gratified to have attracted someone of Ken’s calibre to take up the mantle. Ensuring fair outcomes for business and personal customers within financial services is a constant and ever-changing challenge.

I look forward to drawing on Ken’s counsel and expertise as we continue to help firms navigate this landscape. All that is left to do is to thank Chris – a committed and enthusiastic ambassador for the LSB who undoubtedly will be missed. And, to welcome Ken.”

Ken Scott said: “The financial services regulatory environment is destined to continue changing and adapting. I am very excited to get going and begin contributing officially to the LSB’s vital work. I warmly thank Chris Pond for his assistance in onboarding me over the past few months.”

Cynergy Bank appoints Neil Fuller as Non-Executive Director

Cynergy Bank today announces the appointment of Neil Fuller as a Non-Executive Director.  Fuller will join the bank’s board with immediate effect.

Fuller has almost 40 years’ experience in retail banking and financial services. He held senior roles at Bank of Ireland UK plc including Chief Risk Officer and Executive Board Director, and for a short time, Interim Chief Executive Officer.

Prior to that, Fuller was Chief Risk Officer at GE Capital Bank Ltd and held a variety of roles including Risk Director and Chief Risk Officer in the UK retail division of Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest.

Fuller is an independent Non-Executive Director of Leeds Building Society and is the Chair of the Leeds Building Society Board Risk Committee.

Euan Hamilton, chairman of Cynergy Bank, said: “I am delighted Neil has joined the board of Cynergy Bank. Neil’s experience and knowledge of risk management in the financial services sector will enrich and further strengthen the Board.  Having such a high calibre individual is invaluable as we continue to challenge the UK SME banking market by providing good value products, delivered via exceptional relationship managers, supported with the best technology.”

Mastercard Community Pass Awarded ID2020 Certification

San Francisco, CA – ID2020 announced today that Mastercard Community Pass has been awarded the coveted ID2020 Certification for digital ID solutions.

With more aspects of daily life – work, education, play, government services, shopping, and even social connections – now taking place online, governments, NGOs, and the private sector are in the midst of an unprecedented digital transformation.

And yet today, one person in nine – approximately 850 million people globally, including nearly a quarter of all children – is being left behind because they have no official record of their existence, let alone a way to prove their identity online.

These individuals often lack access to the most basic of services, including education and health care, the ability to open a bank account or apply for credit, exercise their rights as citizens and voters, travel, or meaningfully participate in the modern economy. As this digital transformation continues to extend into all aspects of social, political, and economic life, individuals who live in rural communities – especially those with limited digital connectivity or electricity – are even more likely to be systematically excluded.

Mastercard Community Pass is a shared, digital platform that will enable governments, NGOs, and other service providers to enhance access to critical services while simultaneously reducing the cost of service delivery. With Community Pass, individuals will receive a functional ID and a digital wallet – carried on a smart card – that enables them to receive food and humanitarian aid; access agricultural services, education, healthcare, and formal financial services; and more. Moreover, Community Pass was developed specifically to work offline, thus ensuring that individuals living in low- and no-connectivity environments are able to access critical services and opportunities.

“We could not be more delighted to announce the certification of Mastercard’s Community Pass,” said ID2020 Executive Director, Clive Smith. “Mastercard has long been a leader in the movement toward more privacy-preserving approaches to digital ID. We are encouraged to see them extend their product offerings to serve those who live in rural environments and who often struggle to access even the most basic of services. We hope that other solution providers will follow their lead to ensure that the needs of society’s most vulnerable are met.”

ID2020 announced the launch of the ID2020 Certification at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It recognizes digital ID solutions that adhere to leading industry standards for privacy, user management, portability, and interoperability.

Solutions are evaluated against 56 functional, outcomes-based Technical Requirements, which were developed with extensive input from the private sector, governments, and civil society organizations. The certification provides funders, implementers – and ultimately, end-users – with a “third-party seal of approval” so that they can trust that a solution was developed with ethical principles and consideration of the inherent risks and potential harms of digital ID systems in mind. The Technical Requirements are also widely used by developers aiming to build ethical, inclusive digital ID solutions.

“As we move towards a more digital world, we must ensure that no one is left behind. Cultivating privacy-preserving digital identity is not just a matter of technology, it’s a matter of trust – and the true power of digital identity lies not in the data we digitize, but in the lives we can change. We thank ID2020 for their recognition and ongoing partnership. By prioritizing privacy and empowering marginalized individuals to benefit from their own digital identity, we can build a more inclusive and equitable society for all,” said Andro Koutsoudis, Vice President, Mastercard Community Pass. 

UK banks’ crypto crackdown slammed as an “outrageous overreach”

UK high-street banks that are imposing limits and restrictions on their customers who are investing in cryptocurrency have been slammed as using “an outrageous, overreaching diktat” against account holders by the CEO of one of the world’s largest independent financial advisory, asset management and fintech organisations.

The criticism from deVere Group’s Nigel Green follows reports that some of the country’s biggest banks have “cracked down” by applying daily limits for customers, restricting credit cards from making crypto purchases, banning customers from buying stocks of companies with Bitcoin exposure and, in some cases, temporarily freezing accounts.

Nigel Green says: “Your bank has no business telling you how or what to invest in, if what you’re planning to invest in is perfectly legal – which crypto is in the UK.

“This kind of control over people’s private, personal financial decision-making sounds like something from the pages of Orwell’s 1984 and goes against the values of Britain’s proud banking heritage.”

Most of the banks say that they are imposing the new restrictions to help protect customers and to try and keep their money safe.

“Of course, this is a noble ambition and part of a bank’s remit.

“However, the actions that they are imposing imply that potential illicit activity is unique to crypto and not the traditional financial system – which is, of course, complete nonsense.

“Why have they decided to ‘step up’ on crypto but not in other areas where their customers may or may not decide to invest?” says the deVere CEO.

“It appears that some banks are using an outrageous, overreaching diktat against account holders because they are anti-crypto over concerns it poses a threat to the power and influence of traditional banking, presumably.

“But, again, you should be free to do with your own money as you please – even if they disagree with it.

“What comes next? Will they move on to placing restrictions on those who invest in alcohol, tobacco or energy companies, or those who make political donations to parties they deem unsuitable, for example?”

He adds: “It’s an infringement on your privacy, rights, and ability to control your own money.”

The comments from Nigel Green come as institutional investors are once again increasing their exposure to cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. Michael Saylor’s MicroStrategy is amongst them.

MicroStrategy, whose primary focus is on developing and selling software that enables companies to analyse and visualise large amounts of data, using tools such as dashboards and reports, has bought 6,455 Bitcoins over the last five weeks, according to a recent filing with the US financial regulator, the SEC.

Institutional investors, like individuals, are investing in cryptocurrencies for various reasons. These include portfolio diversification, the potential for high returns, a hedge against inflation, and access to a new future-focused asset class.

Atradius employees to receive second cost of living payment worth £2,000

Atradius, one of the UK’s largest trade credit insurers, will give almost all staff a £2,000 payment to support them through the cost of living crisis. This follows a £1,600 payment which was given to employees in October last year.

The insurer, based in Cardiff, employs 426 people across the UK and Ireland, will give the payment to almost all employees on the payroll including graduates, interns, and those on temporary contracts.

The management board at Atradius made the decision to offer the second payment to continue supporting its employees amid the rising cost of living, as inflation continues to increase, and people face record-high prices on essentials like fuel and energy.

All staff members, with the exception of Executive Managers, will receive the grant, which will be split across four £500 installments, from April onwards.

The cost of living payments will be in addition to performance-based and inflationary-linked pay increases, which are offered annually. In March 2023, the majority of Atradius employees also received between a 5% and 11% pay increase.

Stuart Ramsden, Regional Director in the UK and Ireland, says: “Atradius is a brilliant place to work and that’s because of the brilliant team of people that work here, so I’m really pleased we’re able to offer substantial financial support for the second time.

“Our team continue to help our customers through challenging economic times, but we know they may also be affected, so it’s important to us that we regularly evaluate what we can do to support them as the cost of living continues to rise.

“Along with financial support, we will also continue to offer core benefits including 10x salary life assurance and payment protection of 75% of salary up to state retirement age, and voluntary benefits including private healthcare, discounted retail vouchers, childcare vouchers, and dental plans.

“I’d like to sincerely thank everyone for their ongoing commitment to their roles and the wider team, and I hope this payment demonstrates how important every member of the team is to the organisation.”