Crisis on our High Street

Dr Gordon Fletcher, retail expert at the University of Salford Business School, comments on todays’ PwC report which found that 14 shops a day have closed on our High Streets for the last six months.

Dr Fletcher said: “Today’s report from PwC confirms the conclusion that can be drawn from the slowly drawn out story about the high street. More stores are closing their doors than opening them. This is an obvious conclusion to anyone who still battles the traffic jams and high parking costs to visit their local high street. PwC’s research highlights the plight of retail chains with more than five outlets including restaurants such as Jamie’s Italian. The picture that is painted is bleak.

“However, the opportunity and the hope for the high street lies on its fringes in the spaces where rents are cheaper and the terms are not necessarily as risky for the smaller and independent retail entrepreneur. These independents are offering the entertainment, the distinctiveness and the variety that chains so quickly give up for the sake of efficiency and consistency. The rise of consumer power and the ability to share this through social networks has also brought a rejection of this very same consistency. This rejection has a double impact for retailers when the fixed and safe spaces of shopping centres that they occupy become regarded as the very symbols of boring shopping experiences.

“There is hope. Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Crouch End, Hastings Old Town and others all show that there is a future for an independent, local and invigorating ‘offline’ high street even if that experience must exist on the fringes of online and mainstream retail.”

Atradius publishes new Central and Eastern Europe country report

Businesses trading in Central and Eastern Europe can access key economic and trading insights with a new report from trade credit insurer Atradius.

As part of a suite of free publications by Atradius, the latest country report is designed as a trading tool for businesses exporting, or planning to export, to the region. The report covers eight major markets within Central, Eastern and SE Europe; Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Turkey.

Within the report, global economists assess the political and economic situation within each country and provide a performance outlook for 12 different industry sectors, to help businesses identify trading risks and spot opportunities for growth. The country report also reviews the main import sources and export markets for each country as well as tracking recent developments in key indicators such as GDP growth, inflation, and private consumption and also forecasts statistics for 2018 and 2019.

Mike Rowan Regional Manager at Atradius’ Northern Hub, said: “In an environment where the risks of global trade are continually changing, knowledge is key. At Atradius, we have on-the-ground experts all over the world feeding through real-time information enabling us to give unrivalled insights and analysis to businesses. As a robust and reliable partner, Atradius supports businesses to trade safely and successfully both domestically and overseas.”

Pilling: Universal credit could be to blame for 3% rise in landlords in significant arrears

Mark Pilling, managing director at Spicerhaart Corporate Sales, who deal with arrears and repossessions on behalf of lenders, says “The latest arrears and possessions statistics reveal that while arrears and possessions on residential properties remain historically low, there has been a 3 per cent increase in the number of buy to let mortgages in significant arrears compared with the same quarter of the previous year. These figures suggest that the problems with Universal Credit are now really starting to impact landlords.

“Last month, the Residential Landlord Association revealed that 61% of landlords with tenants receiving Universal Credit have had problems with non-payment and arrears, and on average, these tenants owe 49% more than they did a year ago.

“Universal Credit has been plagued by problems since it was introduced, and while the Government announced in the Budget that more money will be dedicated to the new welfare system, it is clear that much of the damage has already been done. Many claimants experienced huge delays in receiving their money, forcing them into arrears, and many are receiving far less than they did with the old system, which means in many cases, they simply do not have enough money to pay their rent on their reduced incomes.

“From a lenders point of view, it is important that they keep a close eye on their buy to let customers who have tenants who are on or are soon to be moved onto Universal Credit so they are able to work out the best solution for those who are struggling so that repossession is a last resort.”

Young people most likely to be victims of online fraud

Despite the common assumption that the younger generation is more tech-literate, three in 10 (31%) 16-24-year olds have been a victim of online shopping fraud, compared with only 12% of over 55s according to Shieldpay, the secure payments provider.

Younger victims of online fraud are also facing more significant losses compared to older victims. Those aged between 16-24 who were scammed whilst purchasing an item online lost on average £613, compared to those aged 55 and above losing £337, a difference of £276.

Not only are younger generations losing more than their elders, banks are also recovering less than for the generations above them. On average, 16-24-year olds have 42% of the money they lost returned to them by their bank or payment provider, whilst those aged 55 and over managed to recover 77% of their money. Interestingly, 65% of the elder generation reported that they were able to recover the full amount, compared to just 21% of those aged between 16 and 24.

It appears that the less cautious approach taken by younger generations online could be a cause of this disparity. Far more over 55s are uncomfortable with transferring money to a stranger via online bank transfer compared to the younger generation. Seven in 10 (71%) of those aged over 55 would not transfer any amount of money to a stranger online, compared with only three out of 10 (29%) aged 16-25.

This less cautious approach by young Brits is also reflected in the amount each age group would be happy to transfer online via bank transfer to a stranger. Young Brits are willing to transfer £85 more on average than those over 55, which can go some way to explaining how they are losing out more when they do fall victim to an online scammer.

Tom Clementson, Director of Consumer & SMB at Shieldpay, said: “It’s often thought that older people are most at risk from fraud, yet it is the younger more tech savvy generation that are being deceived more often. Common stereotypes need to be rejected, banks and businesses have a large part to play in ensuring vulnerable consumers are protected online. That said it is still crucial that people stick to safe practice and be vigilant when buying and selling online.”

Experian to offer a new trended data ‘multi-dimensional view’ of UK consumer finances with the launch of Credit 3D

Experian is launching a new range of services to help lenders evolve their approach to making consumer credit decisions, so businesses can make more informed decisions and deliver fairer, more affordable outcomes for their customers. It’s now be possible to take a multi-dimensional view of a borrower’s financial health with Experian Credit 3D.

Knowing a consumer’s credit information at a single point in time only offers a snapshot of their financial behaviour. However, by using innovative trended and alternative data sources via Experian Credit 3D, businesses can access an unparalleled set of insights, enabling faster decisions based on a more rounded picture of affordability.

Using Experian’s extended trended and alternative data capabilities provides a more granular and predictive insight into a consumer’s payment behaviour. Drawing on the largest and deepest data source in the market, Experian Credit 3D will also offer an ‘on-the-spot’ summary of key data points for faster customer decisions.

They can also access a new set of value added data blocks to overlay Experian’s risk scores, containing summarised views of more than 50 key data attributes, evaluating payment behaviour over a period of up to six years. They’ll also be able to combine rental, utilities, council tax, property and mobile data, to provide a view of predictive behaviour and affordability – all derived using advanced analytics.

Tom Blacksell, Managing Director of B2B at Experian, said: “A customer’s current credit position only ever tells part of the story. People’s financial circumstances are multidimensional and unique. By providing a range of smart insights that recognise this, we are supporting our customers as they look to keep up with a diverse and ever-changing global population.

“With Experian Credit 3D, we are making richer sources of data available to our customers to make this possible, combining trended and new alternative data sources, such as open data. But, more importantly, we are employing our vast set of capabilities and wealth of experience in advanced analytics and machine learning to help our customers through this period of exciting and rapid change.”

There’s little doubt that the market is evolving fast, driven by burgeoning consumer demand for a more fluid and accurate customer experience. According to a recent survey[1], 77% of businesses cited ‘gaining better insights about their customers’ as a top priority for the year ahead.

Traditional risk scores have evolved significantly over the last five years using analytics and utilising different data sources, such as rental, mobile and payday loan data. They use a view of payment history and credit use at the point of application to form a risk score, which remains a reliable and successful assessment method for many ‘mainstream’ consumer applications with stable profiles.

Augmenting traditional risk scores with a view of detailed consumer behaviours over time is particularly valuable in making decisions on applications which are currently on the margins. Alternative non-credit data, including subscriptions and utilities data, can support the approval of applications from consumers with ‘thin’ credit files.

“Our unique combination of data, technology and analytics will help businesses unlock insights and take decisive actions in the moments that matter,” added Blacksell.

“This will enable organisations to explore, build, test and deploy new strategies seamlessly, with access to whole of market data, big data science toolkits and powerful visualisations

“By combining all this with our global market leading decisioning capabilities in PowerCurve, and our soon to be announced investments in SaaS deployment, we’ll be able to support customers of all sizes to make intelligent decisions in frictionless, digital environments.”

The National Crime Agency reveals serious and organised crime is costing UK economy £37bn a year – response

Following the latest report from the National Crime Agency, which revealed that serious and organised crime in the UK is costing the economy £37bn a year, Martin Cheek, managing director of Anti-money laundering firm SmartSearch says it has never been more important to have proper antimony laundering procedures in place.

These latest figures from the NCA suggest that there are around 4,600 serious and organised crime groups in the UK and that their activities cost £37bn a year and affect more citizens than all other national security threats combined. And we are talking about the most heinous crimes, including child abuse and human trafficking. The last figure, published five years ago, said the cost to the UK economy was £24bn, so this is a 54% rise in just five years.

Martin Cheeks says, in response to the report, “The only way these criminals are able to do what they are doing is by using dirty money, and it is therefore our duty to stop them if we can. These criminals are highly sophisticated, and the money laundering techniques that they employ are becoming cleverer and cleverer, wrapped up in so many different layers of activity that many have become almost impossible to detect.

“Fraudulent documents, such as passports and driving licences used to launder money and make fraudulent transactions are now so sophisticated, that manual checks are struggling to spot the fakes, which means there are billions of pounds worth of transactions going through the UK financial system every year, funded with dirty money from serious and organised crime.

“When carrying our AML checks, the Fifth revision of the Money-Laundering Directive says electronic identification should be used ‘where possible’ because electronic identification is the most reliable, secure and efficient source of information for identity solutions. If all checks were done electronically, it would remove the risk of errors as a result of manual checks.

“We hope that the NCAs plans to tackle this threat include making electronic AML check mandatory, because it is the only way we are going to spot the money trails which are funding these crimes.”

Commenting on Sterling rallying following encouraging news of a potential Brexit deal

Commenting on how Sterling is rallying following encouraging news of a potential Brexit deal, Andy Scott, Associate Director at JCRA, the independent financial risk management consultancy, said: “Sterling is rallying this morning following encouraging news reports on a potential Brexit deal that could be agreed within the next few weeks. Earlier this week Sterling slumped to a two-month low of 1.27 versus the US Dollar as the Brexit impasse and domestic political concerns prompted investors to sell. Following this morning’s Times report that the UK and EU have reached a tentative deal on financial services and data sharing, along with comments from Dominic Raab that a deal will be reached by November 21st, Sterling has strengthened by over one percentage point versus the Dollar to 1.29. While the UK government and the EU have been insisting on calm as negotiations reach the final crucial stages and time runs short, investors are forced to navigate the on/off nature of these negotiations. We’ve seen many false dawns when a deal seemed imminent, only to be repeatedly disappointed as negotiations broke down, often due to the Irish border issue. As the clock ticks down, investors and speculators are treating positive headlines with growing scepticism. So this rally might also run out steam if no formal agreement is reached to back up these latest reports.

“The stakes are high, particularly for the UK. The fact that a deal hasn’t been reached yet is reason enough for many to significantly doubt that one can be reached in time. It took an 11th hour deal to prevent Greece from leaving the Euro and potentially bringing down the entire Eurozone, despite vociferous opponents to the bail-out. So it seems only logical that the interdependence of the UK and EU’s relationship, least of all in economic terms, will ultimately lead to an agreement. Let’s just hope they don’t leave it quite as late as they did with Greece, or we’re in for another 148 days of deal or no deal!”

Comment: Is the Eurozone economy losing momentum?

Commenting on whether the Eurozone is economy is losing momentum following the release of the euro area and EU28’s Q3 2018 GDP figures, Andy Scott, Associate Director at JCRA, the independent financial risk management consultancy made the following remarks: “The Eurozone showed much promise during 2017. It was growing at its fastest pace in years as consumer spending was driving domestic demand. The low value of the Euro supported export growth and monetary stimulus boosted financial conditions. In the second half of 2017 the Eurozone economy grew 2.8% year-on-year; by comparison in the third quarter of this year it managed just 1.7%. The preliminary data on the current quarter points to even weaker growth.

“The data appears to show how Trump’s trade measures, a lack of clarity over Brexit and Italy’s budget dispute have resulted in significant loss of momentum for Eurozone economies, despite domestic conditions remaining favourable. So far, the EU has no real response to the Trump administration’s “America first policy”. This alongside a significant fiscal stimulus in the form of tax cuts, has materially boosted US economic growth, while global growth is slowing.

“The million dollar question for 2019 is: will the US economy’s fiscal sugar high fizzle out, causing it to slow alongside the rest of the world, or can the rest of the world ride the tails of a stronger US economy? Of equal importance for the Eurozone is what policy makers will do to drive growth reforms that remain the Achilles heel of many economies in Europe. This is further influenced by the announcement from Merkel that she will not seek another term as the German chancellor, and by her weakened party, the CDU. With much of the European growth engine powered by Germany, any faltering of the country will be a problem for the ECB who still plan this year to phase out their bond purchases (QE).”

Equifax and consents.online launch first real time Open Banking ID verification solution

Equifax, the consumer and business insights expert, announces the latest development in its partnership with consents.online, integrating Equifax Bank Account Verifier into the Open Banking journey.

The new solution means identity information such as the consumer’s name, address and date of birth, can for the first time be matched with transaction data provided through Open Banking in real time. This will help reduce fraud, allowing credit providers using Open Banking to confirm that account information belongs to the person applying for credit, and not a potential fraudster.

Equifax Bank Account Verifier compares the sort code and account number taken from the customer’s online bank account to Equifax’s extensive current account database. The name and address details associated with the bank account are then compared to the details provided by the customer during the credit application. This links the transaction data back to an individual, performs an anti-impersonation check and helps verify the customer’s identity.

HSBC UK, as an early adopter of the Equifax and consents.online Open Banking service, is now testing the new verification process as part of its on-boarding solution to further streamline its digital journey customer application process.

Jake Ranson, Banking & Financial Institutions Expert and CMO at Equifax UK, said: “Since the implementation of Open Banking at the start of the year we’ve seen more and more consumers willing to share their current account data digitally to access new products and services. In our work with clients to develop their Open Banking solutions we uncovered an important gap in the process, as identity information isn’t provided through application programming interfaces (APIs). Equifax Bank Account Verifier (EBAV) closes this gap, helping the industry make the most of the new data sharing in a more secure environment.

“The products and solutions we can deliver through our partnership with consents.online showcase the consumer benefits of Open Banking. Part of the challenge is educating consumers on what Open Banking means in real life, and a streamlined customer identity verification process that helps them get a faster credit decision is a great example.”

Emma Steeley, CEO for consents.online, said: “We have been delighted with the response from companies wishing to innovate using the data available from Open Banking so far. Combining the Open Banking data with Equifax Bank Account Verifier has enabled us to launch the first live ID check in the Open Banking market. It is extremely exciting and showcases our continued evolution in our strategic partnership to deliver the best in class Open Banking solutions.”

Creditworthiness Assessment Bill delayed – comments

Rhona Parry, vice president, external affairs, EU at Equifax said: “The delay in passing the Creditworthiness Assessment Bill means a barrier remains in place for the millions of renters who pay too much for credit when they need to replace a washing machine, buy a car or get a mortgage. The Bill shines a light on the penalty renters pay in credit markets because mortgage payments are considered in lending decisions but rent payments are not.

“The Government does not need to wait for the Bill to be rescheduled to solve this problem. In the Budget on Monday it can reduce the cost of credit for many of the two million families who rent council houses across the UK by allowing all credit reference agencies to access rental data directly from local authorities and encouraging housing associations and large private landlords to do the same”.