ECB cuts interest rates and restarts bond-buying – comment

“The ECB has just announced its decision to restart its asset purchase programme (APP) this November, in which €20bn of bonds are set to be purchased each month. Meanwhile, Mario Draghi’s decision to lower the deposit rate for the first time since March 2016, signals towards the ECB’s efforts to kickstart the euro area’s growth engine and bring inflation back closer to the 2.0% target. The euro zone’s latest monetary decisions highlights the rising macroeconomic and political risks across the region and affirms our most recent global economic outlook trend downgrade, shifting from ‘stable’ to ‘deteriorating’ in September.”

Ediz Fahri, Senior Economist, Dun & Bradstreet

Global financial crime protection specialist appoints chief operating officer

Financial crime and compliance software firm TruNarrative has strengthened its executive-level management team with the appointment of a new chief operating officer, to support the organisation’s growth.

Having previously spent 11 years at major UK online retailer N Brown Group, as the company’s director of financial services, Stuart Daniels brings with him high-level expertise in risk, operations and analytics.

He has been hired to head up the customer success and product development side of the business. He will work closely with the UK and US operations departments to refine TruNarrative’s technology and ensure all users continue to receive the service levels and onboarding experience they expect of a brand of this stature.

TruNarrative’s CEO and founder John Lord commented on the new addition to the team: “Stuart truly understands our industry and will add further strength to TruNarrative’s C-suite. His background in risk, operations and compliance – plus his immense experience and evidenced capabilities – will undoubtably aid the continued high growth of our business.”

Stuart and his team will be responsible for delivering a product that leverages the power of multiple different data sources, as well as the latest in machine learning and analytics, to make safe commerce simple.

Commenting on his new role, Stuart added: “I am delighted to be joining the talented TruNarrative team at such an exciting time in its expansion journey – on both sides of the Atlantic.

“The business’s approach to the whole customer lifecycle process is unique and I am extremely pleased to be involved.”

TruNarrative’s unified platform solution uses real-time processing to enable its customers to create an efficient onboarding journey, which can be adapted to future compliance and industry requirements.

Stuart’s appointment signifies the second major hire for TruNarrative in the last three months alone, as the firm continues to add to the growing team to support its business expansion.

Zephyr Homeloans scraps upfront application fees

Zephyr Homeloans, the specialist buy-to-let lender owned by Computershare, will no longer charge an upfront application fee.

The lender will remove the charge, which had been £199, with immediate effect until further notice.

The change will apply whether a broker deals directly with Zephyr or goes through one of the 15 packagers that it distributes its mortgages through.

Paul Fryers at Zephyr Homeloans said: “After ten months of Zephyr trading, we’re now moving into the next phase of our growth plan and want to give something extra to brokers, packagers and their clients.

“We understand the pressures on landlords at the moment, so we want to make it easier for more people to benefit from Zephyr’s highly competitive range of buy-to-let mortgages by making access to our products even cheaper.”

Zephyr says its range of buy-to-let mortgages includes some of the most competitive loans in the market, with rates starting from just 2.49% on its two-year, fixed-rate products and from 3.20% on its five-year fixes.

Zephyr Homeloans is a trading name of Topaz Finance Limited, a part of the Computershare Loan Services division of the Computershare group.

Launch of new Vulnerability Registration Service marks important innovation to protect vulnerable consumers from hardship

In a groundbreaking new step to help protect vulnerable consumers, a group of concerned consumer credit industry professionals have today launched the Vulnerability Registration Service (‘VRS’), a not-for-profit initiative designed to protect people from financial hardship and combat the associated risks to mental health.

The VRS is a tool to help people who consider themselves to be financially vulnerable and in need of help to register their details online, free of charge, and indicate to businesses and organisations they deal with that they require sensitive handling and support. Legally authorised third parties are also able to register those for whom they care at no cost. [See here for examples of consumers already signed up to and benefiting from the VRS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBr-4R9RpEs].

Helen Lord, Director of the VRS, said: “We believe passionately that consumers have a right to be treated with care and respect in their interactions with businesses and organisations, particularly when their personal circumstances leave them more vulnerable to financial harm. We are encouraged by the positive response the VRS has enjoyed from businesses who, like us, can see the benefits that this initiative can bring to help them treat their customers fairly and compassionately throughout the relationship. We urge other like-minded organisations to work with us to really help transform the quality of life and peace of mind of vulnerable consumers.”

At an event in central London, the VRS register was formally unveiled to over 80 decision-makers and opinion-formers, including industry specialists in consumer protection; regulators; third-sector experts experienced in helping the vulnerable collections; and compliance and policy managers in financial services and utilities. Among the panel of speakers at the launch were financial journalist and broadcaster Paul Lewis; the CEO of the Consumer Credit Trade Association, Greg Stevens; Director of the Debt Managers Standards Association, Kevin Still; and Director of Christians Against Poverty, Dawn Stobart.

At the launch, the VRS published new survey data, commissioned from ComRes (fieldwork: 4-6 September 2019; sample: 2,009 GB adults), that clearly demonstrates the need for the kind of support the VRS tool provides, and the public desire for more significant action to be taken by businesses. The survey found that two in five GB adults have experienced a life event that left them feeling vulnerable, either financially or socially. The survey found that:

  • 54% of the public think businesses definitely or probably should be required to identify whether a prospective customer is vulnerable in order that they can be better protected against harm; and
  • 50% of the public believe that businesses should have more regulatory requirements on them to identify vulnerable consumers.

Currently only 15% of the public agree that businesses do enough to protect their vulnerable customers. Payday lenders and gambling companies were particularly identified as business types that should do more to identify vulnerable customers, with 58% and 57% respectively mentioning them.

Survey: UK Banks Lead in Race to Merge Fraud, Financial Crime Operations

A new independent survey by research firm Ovum on behalf of global analytic software firm FICO has found that most banks plan to integrate their fraud and financial crime compliance systems and activities, in response to new criminal threats and punishing fines. Responses show that UK banks are more advanced in their progress and ambitions than most countries surveyed.

The survey found that two thirds of banks across the regions surveyed have strategic plans for further integration, either to fully integrate functions or share resources where synergies exist. A further 20% are actively seeking to obtain synergies even if they are only taking a tactical approach.

Since the financial crisis, regulatory fines for the global banking industry for compliance breaches related to AML or sanctions failures now total more than $28 billion. Some single fines have been as high as $8.9 billion. However, this regulatory ‘stick’ is only one driver for banks to tackle financial crime — banks also wish to protect their customers and themselves.

“Banks are asking a fundamental question: Is the current approach to tackling financial crime sustainable or should they seek a more integrated approach between fraud and anti-money laundering (AML) compliance?” said Matt Cox, who oversees fraud, compliance and cybersecurity solutions for FICO.

However, FICO’s survey found major differences between approaches in the UK and the nine other countries studied.

“Ensuring high detection creates major operational challenges in the subsequent operational workloads,” Cox remarked. “Particularly in Europe (as well as South Africa), institutions struggle to manage high levels of false positives (suspected fraud or money laundering that is not). In the UK, the overall volumes of suspicious activity reports or SARs that require investigation poses the biggest challenge.”

“UK banks reported higher levels of integration in six out of seven areas,” said Cox. “That said, even in the area with the highest level of integration — investigation systems — only just over half of UK banks said their fraud and financial crime compliance systems were very integrated. We are still at the start of the process of bringing these functions closer together.”

While the majority of banks across all regions have strategic plans for convergence, nearly half of UK banks reported a strategic plan to fully integrate functions, compared to 26 percent of all other banks.

“Convergence is a hot trend in the fraud and financial crime compliance space,” Cox said. “Overall, our survey shows that banks are moving in this direction, though the UK is further along than most countries surveyed.”

Ovum surveyed over 100 retail banks on their priorities, challenges, and plans for financial crime, looking to assess the maturity of the sector in tackling financial crime, and ambitions towards integration. Respondents came from the UK, the US, Canada, South Africa, the Nordics, Germany and Austria.

Spicerhaart comments on the Mortgage Lenders and Administrators Statistics – 2019 Q2

Mark Pilling, is MD at Spicerhaart Corporate Sales said: “The latest Mortgage Lenders and Administrators Statistics reveal that the value of outstanding balances with arrears fell by 1.7% on the quarter to £14.2bn, while the proportion of total loan balances in arrears decreased again, falling from 0.99% to 0.97% which is the lowest since the series began in 2007.

“It is obviously great news that arrears are low and still falling, but that does not necessarily mean that people are not experiencing financial difficulties. Instead, what I think we can take form these figures is that lenders are continuing to do all they can to help borrowers who are struggling, to ensure that repossession is always the last option.

“Another more worrying trend that we can see from these stats is that the number of mortgages with higher LTVs is continuing to increase. The number of mortgages with LTVs above 90% increased quite significantly this quarter, from 5.21% of all mortgages to 6.31%, while those borrowing more than three times their incomes (both single incomes and joint) has also increased.

“This suggests that some borrowers may be stretching themselves too thin, and if rates do rise, they may start to struggle with their repayments. ONS figures released last month revealed house prices fell in the South West for the first time since 2009, so those with bigger loans which have been taken out recently may also find themselves in negative equity if this trend continues and spreads throughout the rest of the country.

“In uncertain times as these, it is really important that lenders continue to focus on speaking to borrowers who are struggling and ensuring that appropriate support and signposting is available. We work closely with lenders to assist in providing a range of solutions that ensures a borrower in difficulty has access to various tools that can assist them in finding a positive outcome to the difficult situation that they find themselves in.”

Open Banking to make consumer credit more competitive say 77% of leading experts

A survey of 100 leading global credit experts* has revealed nearly eight out of ten (77%) believe Open Banking will make the market for credit more competitive, with only 6% believing the initiative would make it less competitive.

The findings come from the recent Credit Scoring and Credit Control XVI Conference at University of Edinburgh Business School, where 400 industry professionals and academics from over 40 countries gathered to discuss the future of credit scoring and the burning topics within the sector.

On other subject matters, such as Brexit and the future availability of credit, opinion was much more divided among the respondents. Four in ten experts (42%) believe that if the UK left the EU without a deal, this would lead to an increase in demand for consumer credit, while nearly a third (32%) think this would reduce demand.

More than half of respondents (51%) from Europe (excluding the UK) feel credit would be more available in their respective country in the next year, versus just 21% who feel it would be less available. In comparison, respondents from the UK have a much bleaker outlook, with just over a third (35%) believing credit would be more available in the next year in the UK, and 38% thinking it would be less available.

Professor Jonathan Crook, deputy dean and director of the Credit Research Centre at University of Edinburgh Business School, said: “Open Banking, while still in its infancy, is allowing banks and companies offering credit to gain a greater financial understanding of existing and potential customers, and consumers to have greater autonomy and comparability when choosing financial products.

“It’s little surprise to see global industry experts predicting positive outcomes related to Open Banking and its impact on the market for credit. As Open Banking platforms become more widespread, we expect to see an increasingly transparent environment, where credit is both more available and competitive.”

Chirag Shah, CEO, Nucleus Commercial Finance comments on the CYBG SME Health Check Index

The main findings of the CYBG SME Health Check Index show that:

  • SME Health Check Index reduced to 41.9 points in Q2, compared with 48.8 in Q1
  • Labour market remains resilient as SMEs continue to hire
  • Diversity of SMEs means they are well placed to deal with market conditions

Chirag Shah, CEO, Nucleus Commercial Finance comments: “As Brexit limbo continues, it is not surprising that confidence amongst businesses continues to fall as we quickly approach the Brexit deadline. However, it’s not all doom and gloom: the labour market has remained resilient over the last quarter with small businesses continuing to make new hires.

“SMEs play a vital role in the strength of the UK economy and so it is important they continue to have access to support in these politically turbulent times. We want to reassure businesses that alternative lending solutions can help them achieve their ambitions and remain competitive in a challenging environment.”

Public sector still unprepared for incoming website accessibility regulation, warns Sigma

With just two weeks to go until the UK government implements a new digital accessibility law, many public sector bodies could still be unprepared for the change, warns a specialist design company.

The new government legislation is set to come into effect on 23rd September 2019. It will require all public sector websites and apps to meet certain accessibility standards. The aim of this is for digital platforms to be inclusive to all users – including those with disabilities. This means that platforms will need to be compatible with screen readers and speech recognition software, and be usable by people with visual, auditory, cognitive or motor impairments. Existing websites will have until 2020 to fully comply with these new guidelines.

However, leading digital design agency, Sigma, has warned that public sector bodies may be falling behind when it comes to preparedness for the new legislation.

Hilary Stephenson, managing director of, Sigma, said: “Maximising accessibility in the public sector is a crucial way to ensure that millions of people with ranging abilities can have the same experiences and opportunities as everyone else. We’re only a year away from the deadline, so responsible public organisations should be acting now to ensure that their services are available to everyone – rather than leaving adjustments to the last minute.”

How can the public sector put this into practice and ensure it is regulation-ready?

Public sector websites and apps must meet relevant accessibility standards as outlined in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1.)

Making a website “accessible” doesn’t have to mean expensive adaptions or adding extra elements that are only beneficial to certain users. Having an accessible website will benefit and improve the experience of all users and there are some basic standards that can be met quite easily.

Addressing basic accessibility issues

Use alternative text for all descriptive images and other text equivalents for other non-text elements

Don’t forget some users will not be able to see images (whether they’re visually impaired, colour blind or low sighted) and the alt attribute gives a description of the image so these users can get an understanding of what the image is.

The site uses relative units not absolute units for text size

Having informative text on a website isn’t much use if some users can’t read it because the font is too small. Using relative units lets the user alter the size of the text (but don’t forget to make it obvious how to do this).

No layout breaks if font size is increased

Failing to solve this problem can result in a change of page layout if the user increases the size of the text. This not only makes a website unattractive and appear unprofessional, it also means the user might struggle to find the information once it’s moved. Ensure the website is capable of maintaining its layout no matter the font size.

The site uses visible skip links

These internal page links aid navigation around a web page. However, they are usually only visible for users with a screen reader, as other users can easily skip over information. Making these links visible will make it easier for users without a screen reader to find them and navigate the website.

There is the ability to tab around the content using keyboard navigation only

This is one of the most important accessibility features for any website as it allows users to navigate using their keyboard and specific shortcuts.

Forms are accessible – carefully consider tool tips, error feedback and labels

If forms are not labelled properly, users with a screen reader will not get the same cue as those with no sight problems and it can be impossible to know what information should be entered. Each field on the form should be well positioned with a descriptive label.

Tables are accessible – use mark-up to associate data cells and header cells

Failing to mark-up to differentiate between data and header cells leaves the user reliant on visual cues to identify information and creates immediate barriers to accessibility.

There is sufficient colour contrast and brightness

Black text on a white screen offers maximum contrast, but if you’re in doubt you can use a free colour contrast checker such as the WebAIM checker.

Links are descriptive, avoid “click here”

Descriptive links make it much easier to navigate a page because they allow the user to make informed choices more quickly. Labelling a link “click here” doesn’t give much contextual information and can cause accessibility issues if the rest of the page isn’t optimised for usability.

The site is responsive and works across multiple browsers

Make sure your site is responsive or mobile friendly, and works in all of the popular, and most recent browsers.

The content is accessible when CSS is switched off or not supported

Some users will likely visit a site with a browser that either doesn’t support Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), or has it switched off. This should not impact accessibility adaptions.

The content is accessible when images are switched off or not supported

Some users may use a website with images switched off, so adding descriptions of images, or instructions mean they can still get the best out of the website.

Audio and video elements do not autoplay

Users with screen readers rely on the ability to find the play/stop function of audio and visual elements using sound. Automatically started sounds could interfere with the navigation and make the page unusable. Not to mention that autoplay can be extremely annoying for all users.

Why stop there?

And it shouldn’t stop there. Organisations should collect user feedback, particularly from users with a diverse range of access needs, on an ongoing basis, striving to continuously improve their digital accessibility and inclusiveness.

Commenting on today’s Eurozone GDP data and how Germany is in a cyclical decline

Commenting on Eurozone GDP data and how Germany is in a cyclical decline, Artur Baluszynski, Head of Research at Henderson Rowe, said: “Global trade tensions and Brexit have now started feeding through to Eurozone GDP numbers and other lagging indicators. Its current account surplus of about 3% of gross domestic product makes it highly exposed to the global trade cycle, especially Germany which has a current account surplus of around 7% of GDP. Approximately 28% of Eurozone’s GDP goes outside of Europe. As per 2018 numbers, China is the eurozone’s third-largest goods export destination trading over €1 billion a day. German factory orders showed a month on month decline of 2.7% and this combined with recession-like PMI numbers from two weeks ago further confirms that Europe’s biggest economy is already in cyclical decline.

“The tricky thing about recessions and how financial markets and investors react to them is that we only know that it happened once we are already in one. We might already be in a global recession we just don’t know it yet.“