How COVID-19 helped accelerate the UK’s biggest digital transformation

The measures to limit the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) implemented in March 2020 led to a sudden increased demand for the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP’s) digital services.

Simon McKinnon, Chief Digital Information Officer, said: “Our focus was clear: to get money to people as swiftly as possible and help safeguard vulnerable people.” The DWP Digital team who are responsible for driving forward DWP’s transformation, reacted quickly in the face of unprecedented number of claims for Universal Credit – more than 10 times the usual number.

DWP Digital had to ensure that critical services were available and fully supported to deal with the demand, which included making 6,500 rapid IT changes in 6 months. It also meant distributing more than 40,000 devices to colleagues delivering frontline services from home and tripling Virtual Private Network (VPN) capacity to enable more than 32,000 home workers to connect to servers.

Improving services to customers

The crisis accelerated the digital transformation of a number of DWP’s services, including the Confirm Your Identity service. Over 500,000 customers have used the service since its launch in April which has enabled over 250,000 people to remotely confirm their identity, removing the need for a face-to-face appointment. Before it’s launch only 15% of all new claims had customer identities remotely verified, this now stands at 55%, significantly reducing the need for customers to physically attend jobcentres.

Payments capacity for Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit was trebled, allowing the department to make up to 180,000 one-off or repeat payments to customers per day.

Local jobcentres were turned into virtual processing teams and a virtual contact centre was set-up to support the exceptional amount of new claims, using software to enable colleagues to safely handle inbound and outbound calls from home.

The Pension Credit online service was introduced sooner than planned, giving customers an additional way to claim and negating the need to go out to post a form.

The Bereavement Payment Support service software was updated to temporarily bypass death and marriage/civil partnership verifications which, in normal times, take time to complete. This led to quicker payment processing times to customers.

Shruti Kohli, who works in DWP Digital’s innovation lab said: “In the Innovation Lab, we’re constantly looking at tech and tools to support the department’s COVID-19 response. For example, when the number of calls to DWP increased we looked at how digital channels could alleviate pressure and what technology was available, for example natural language processing techniques to capture the intent of callers and help answer queries quickly.

“Innovation has evolved and the changing ways we’re doing things has become more normal.”

New ways of working

COVID-19 meant DWP Digital had to change the way it works by pausing some strategic plans to focus on urgent priorities. Helen Roberts, Deputy Director, said: “The call for us to apply our digital expertise to address departmental problems wasn’t an opportunity, it was a necessity.” The response showed how aggressively the department could make big, successful changes to digital services. Showing that it is possible to deliver difficult things quickly in government.

Craig Eblett, Digital Delivery Director said: “Responding to the COVID -19 recession, the challenges it will bring and using the lessons we’ve learnt, are our key priorities for 2021.”

DWP Digital is adopting an iterative approach to understanding its future ways of working. The long-term vision will be based on feedback from teams about what’s working, what isn’t, what could be better and how we can resolve issues.

Craig added, “Our teams are used to working remotely and across locations. But the scale of the crisis has meant that we’ve had to rethink and change our ways of working. And get used to combining work and home.

Most importantly, we’re supporting our people with their personal wellbeing and getting their work life balance right.

Our future working will be more flexible, this will mean positive changes in the ways we work, not just more working from home. We’re not abandoning our digital hubs. We still believe in teams being an essential part of our delivery model and our teams still need a place to collaborate. However, we now have a fresh opportunity to work out what space we need for our teams in the future. Our priorities for 2021 include giving our colleagues a better working experience.”

heycar Expands Partnership Drive With Regit

Online car marketplace heycar is continuing to expand its reach, through a new partnership with Regit.

It marks the latest step in their ongoing commitment to building strategic relationships across the automotive industry – in order to drive greater visibility on dealers’ stock.

The deal sees heycar become the exclusive provider for new and used cars on Regit and follows recent similar partnerships with WhatCar? and Motorway.

Regit, which describes itself as a ‘digital garage’, provides a range of comparison services for buying, selling and maintaining your car.

Brook Bishop, Head of Strategy at heycar, comments: “We’re delighted to reveal our latest industry partnership with Regit.

“It allows us to further extend exposure of our quality stock, enabling us to continue to build the volume of quality leads we are driving to our dealer partners.

“It’s another example of our commitment to building long-term strategic relationships across the automotive industry to accelerate our growth as we strive to raise standards and provide a best-in-class service for our customers.”

Regit users searching for their next car will be able to browse from heycar’s inventory of 150,000 vehicles which are under eight years old and have less than 100,000 miles on the clock. They all come with a warranty and money-back guarantee, giving customers peace of mind.

Regit founder Chris Ashton-Green comments: “Our users are a discerning bunch, so it’s important that we enter into partnerships with brands who we feel share our values and approach.

“That’s why heycar are such a great fit. We’re delighted that visitors to Regit now have access to such a great range of quality cars.”

Brook adds: “At heycar we’re just getting started with our ambitious programme of partnerships. We’re determined to deeply integrate our service with the industry’s biggest names and the platforms consumers use to seek quality cars.”

FCA must flex its muscle as threat of financial crime rises – SmartSearch

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has confirmed that so far in 2020 no criminal prosecutions under the current anti-money laundering legislation have been made, despite its stated intention in 2019 to do so.

The revelation came from a Freedom of Information request, which also said it has discontinued half of its 14 investigations into possible breaches of AML rules in the UK.

Commenting on the findings, Martin Cheek, managing director at AML experts SmartSearch, said: “Due to the Covid-19 crisis we face an increasing threat of financial crime in the UK, and indeed around the world.

“So at a time when we should be ensuring every effort is made to crackdown on that increased threat, it’s a concern that the FCA has halved the number of cases it is investigating, and has yet to bring a single criminal prosecution.

“There has of course been some welcome enforcement activity with hefty fines handed out in recent months. However, now more than ever it would send out the right message if the FCA were to really flex its muscle and bring the full weight of their enforcement power to bear on offenders.”

The FCA said in a statement that it has changed its approach so that it is now conducting investigations into suspected breaches of the money laundering regulations that might give rise to either criminal or civil proceedings.

With less than four months left of the year it remains to be seen whether any criminal prosecutions will yet be brought about in 2020. But SmartSearch say that just as importantly, the FCA need to play a key role in encouraging firms to move with the times and use more secure technology to protect themselves against fraud and financial crime.

Cheek added: “The FCA faces a real challenge in dealing with the fallout of Covid-19 in terms of the increased levels of fraud and money-laundering, as criminals seek to take advantage of the situation.

“Unfortunately, there are still too many firms operating outdated processes that have not kept pace with the increasingly sophisticated methods employed by criminals, and they are vulnerable in this current climate.

“While we understand that methods of investigation may have changed at the FCA, it’s going to be important to see a criminal prosecution brought soon in order to draw a line in the sand and convert their intention into action.”

West One makes significant enhancements to its second charge residential and buy-to-let ranges

West One is making a series of further significant enhancements to its residential and buy-to-let second charge product ranges. This follows the expansion of their product range last month which saw the reintroduction of its ‘Prime Plan’ with rates starting from 3.99%.

This latest set of changes is designed to target underserved areas of the market which will benefit, amongst others, borrowers exiting payment holidays, employees who have returned from furlough, non-key workers and landlords.

At a time when service standards across the mortgage market are coming under increased pressure, West One is operating at normal service standards. This could prove critical for borrowers with applications which are subject to specific timescales such as home improvements or property purchases.

The product and criteria changes unveiled by West One include:

Buy-to-Let Second Charge

In addition to West One’s market leading, second charge BTL products, the following changes are being introduced across the range:

  • LTVs increased to 75% for second charge buy-to-lets and increased loan sizes up to a maximum of £250,000
  • Return of pre-Covid criteria, including consideration of applications from ex-pats and loans secured on licensed HMO’s. West One will now also accept up to three loans per borrower up to a maximum gross loan of £500,000.

Residential Second Charges

  • Regular overtime and commission can now be considered for non-key workers, where this is sustainable and in line with previous year’s earnings
  • Increased loan sizes for the prime product ranges, up to £500,000 and up to 65% LTV
  • The addition of a 5-year fixed rate without ERC’s to the Apex 1 range
  • Enhanced AVM criteria across all residential products.
  • Borrowers exiting payment holidays/returning from furlough
  • Increased LTV’s up to 75% and access to all plans and standard loan sizes with rates from 3.99%
  • Workers must have returned to work on full pay and pre-furlough hours providing confirmation from their employer and not be on notice of redundancy or similar
  • Borrowers exiting payment holidays will need to have made at least one full contractual mortgage payment and affordability will be assessed on the restructured payment where applicable

Marie Grundy, Sales Director West One Loans commented “I am proud that West One has been able to play a significant role in ensuring that a wider range of borrowers can continue to access second charge finance throughout these uncertain times. At a time when mortgage intermediaries are working in more challenging circumstances, with particular regard to service and product availability, it is more important than ever that specialist finance products, such as second charges, are considered as part of the standard advice process to ensure borrowers needs are being met by the most appropriate product.”

Ryan McGrath, Chief Executive of The Loans Engine commented, “We are delighted to see further positive changes from West One, particularly as they are one of the few lenders offering buy-to-let second charges. We are seeing increased demand from landlords who want to take advantage of the stamp duty concessions to expand their property portfolio, and the flexibility of multiple applications combined with increased LTV’s and loan sizes will provide even greater options for property investors.”

FICO Named Cyber Risk Quantification Category Leader for Second Year Running

Global analytics and technology provider FICO has just been named a category leader for the second year running in the new Chartis Research report – Cyber Risk Quantification Solutions, 2020: Market Update and Vendor Landscape.

“Cyber risk is a threat to every modern business, and those risks present themselves directly and throughout organizations’ extended supply chains,” said Manish Karir, vice president of Product Management at FICO. “We are proud of the intelligence our FICO Cyber Risk Score offers organizations in their efforts to manage and reduce cyber risk.”

Chartis Research is the leading provider of research and analysis on the global market for risk technology. Its new report reviews the market for cyber risk solutions and explores major trends and developments, including an assessment of the vendor landscape – in which FICO has been a category leader for the past two years running.

The FICO® Cyber Risk Score is the only predictive cyber security assessment with a data-driven, empirical, analytic score, leveraging the latest in AI and machine learning techniques. The score is based on billions of cyber risk indicators that are monitored at Internet scale. It relies on machine learning to interpret the network hygiene practices of thousands of previously breached organizations and form predictors that amplify the signals associated with risk of data loss.

Cyber risk quantification is a vital part of any third-party risk management program, and organizations can apply the FICO® Cyber Risk score to an unlimited number of partners and suppliers, to effectively analyze and control cyber risks presented to their company, data, operations and finances, by organizations other than their own.

Chartis evaluates the landscape for solutions and vendors through the development of its RiskTech Quadrant®, a proprietary methodology developed specifically for the risk technology marketplace. It considers the product and technology capability of vendors, as well as their organizational capabilities. Chartis uses two distinct categories to evaluate vendors. Firstly – ‘completeness of offering’, which evaluates the breadth and depth of functionality a vendor possesses, along with infrastructure, analytics and reporting capability. Secondly – ‘market potential’, which evaluates a range of categories such as market penetration, brand reputation, innovation and implementation and support. FICO scored well in both categories, resulting in its category leader position on the quadrant.

Just Mortgages employs first broker in new online ‘territory’

Just Mortgages has just employed its first person in its new online territories.

Spicerhaart and Just Mortgages are creating a number of territories across the UK and up to 235 estate agency branch partner roles who will be working across their own market place, but not necessarily from a branch. Each one will be supported by a mortgage adviser who will work from home rather than from a physical branch but will receive leads in the same way as they would have done if they were sat in the branch. It is expected that one mortgage adviser will look after two to three virtual estate agencies.

If successful, it will mean that Just Mortgages will create between sixty to ninety new mortgage broker roles.

This move to online has been accelerated by the Covid-19 lockdown and will provide mortgage brokers with the flexibility to grow their business while working from home. All brokers will be employed by Just Mortgages, but in the future there will be the opportunity to open the roles out to brokers who prefer to be self-employed under the Just Mortgages Self-Employed Division.

The first broker to be employed in the new territories is Rachael Fox. Rachael has worked in financial services for 12 years and has been a mortgage broker for three years. She joins Just Mortgages from Nationwide where she was a banking manager and will cover the Derbyshire area in her new role.

Rachael Fox says, “I will work closely with the branch partners, keeping everything simple and under one roof while offering a great service to the clients. I want to offer mortgage clients a more flexible service, but the new model of working from home will also help me to achieve a work/life balance too. This is a brand-new role so I want to be there to help and support – not only the mortgage clients, but also the estate agency partners on how valuable the financial services bit can be both to them and to the clients who need professional and proactive mortgage and protection advice.”

Duncan Jones, financial services director for the North and West division of Just Mortgages says, “This is an exciting new role that has evolved through changes within the Spicerhaart operating model. The role is an indication of what the ‘new normal’ may look like for several Just Mortgages advisers.

“Rachael will work closely with the branch partners ensuring that our vendors receive the best service available through qualification of viewers and people offering on properties. This will ensure that more sales reach completion.

“We anticipate several more of these roles becoming available and this will provide fantastic opportunities for both our existing advisers and also experienced advisers looking for something a little bit different.”

Holly Evans, branch manager for Hucknall says, “This is an exciting new way of working and I’m very glad that Rachael will be working with our already fantastic team. She is such a bubbly, bright person that I’m sure all of our partners will have total confidence when referring clients to Rachael that she will look after them as I know she will put all of her clients at ease. I’m sure she will have a very bright future here.”

Paymentology teams up with Thought Machine to create market leading model digital bank platform

Paymentology, the UK cloud-native payment processor, is partnering with digital banking platform Thought Machine, to bring rapid integration solutions to established and challenger banks.

By delivering a direct payment processing integration into Thought Machine’s Vault, the partnership will see the creation of a future banking module that removes the need for middleware.

Banks that are currently operating inflexible legacy systems will now be able to benefit from market leading digital solutions through the arrangement, enabling them to bring quality services to market in short timeframes, simplified integrations and without the need to draw on additional third-party components.

Working together, Paymentology and Thought Machine have recently been able to support the successful launch of Standard Chartered’s new digital bank, MOX bank, in Asia which has this month announced its full launch following its initial phase during which it attracted 20,000 pre registrations.

Welcoming the partnership from Paymentology, CEO Shane O’Hara said, “Working in conjunction with like minded fintech businesses means that client facing solutions can be brought to market much more efficiently and more speedily than would be possible through individual platform builds. Through our partnership with Thought Machine we can genuinely meet the requirements of banks requiring digital solutions through direct integrations.”

Record summer for Hope Capital

Bridging lender Hope Capital has enjoyed a bumper summer, with figures released by the firm today showing a surge in demand as the market emerges from lockdown.

From June to August 2020, Hope Capital has seen the number of loans drawn treble compared with the same period last year.

New cases have more than doubled, rising by 128% on 2019, and there has been a 40% increase in residential completions.

In the post-lockdown period, Hope Capital has launched a range of competitive new products that have struck a chord with brokers and borrowers.

The Hope Capital Custom Collection, which comprises six products, features and options, and most recently the Seventies Collection have all been launched since the end of lockdown. The new products are all aimed at giving borrowers maximum flexibility and control, and the popularity of the new range has driven record levels of demand for Hope Capital.

Hope Capital anticipates further growth as the market recovery continues and new opportunities open up. As a result, it is looking to expand its team in all areas of the business.

The firm’s growth plans have already seen Hope Capital make a number of new appointments, and managing director Gary Bailey says his door is always open to talented applicants: “This is an exciting time for Hope Capital. As soon as lockdown restrictions were lifted, we began to see unprecedented levels of demand.

“Our innovative products are putting borrowers in a position to realise their ambitions, and with our well-earned reputation for fast, flexible service, Hope Capital is the first port of call for many brokers.

“We’ve got ambitious plans to build on that success further, and we are always looking for experienced and enthusiastic people to join us on that journey.”

Turkey Country Report forecasts economic bounce back

The latest country report from Atradius reveals the Turkish economy is forecast to bounce back in 2021 as it recovers from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Turkey Country Report by the global trade credit insurer highlights that in the aftermath of the currency crisis in 2018, Turkey’s economy grew just 0.9% in 2019. In 2020, while the economy had a strong start and saw recovery of credit growth, this rebound was abruptly halted by the global pandemic, which severely impacted both domestic and external demand. The Atradius outlook shows Turkey’s GDP growth is forecast to contract 5.1% in 2020 with private consumption and investment set to deteriorate by 6% and 2.4% respectively with a heavy blow to the tourism sector. Atradius reports Turkey’s economic downturn has been exacerbated by weak external demand, with exports expected to contract by almost 14% this year, despite the significant currency depreciation of the Turkish lira.

However, robust rebound is on the cards with Atradius economists forecasting growth of 6.7% in 2021, based on a sharp recovery of exports – up 14% – and domestic demand. Meanwhile, Atradius does warn that should a quick recovery of domestic and key export markets not materialise due to a second coronavirus wave, Turkey would be highly vulnerable to global economic shocks and could even suffer a comprehensive currency crisis. Exchange rate volatility continues to remains a major risk.

The Turkey Country Report, available free on the Atradius website https://atradius.co.uk, forecasts that payment delays and insolvencies will increase sharply this year. In its industry forecast, Atradius rates the construction and construction materials sectors with a ‘bleak’ performance outlook, having already suffered from the economic slump in 2019 with high levels of overcapacity, indebtedness and weak liquidity. The metals sector also has a ‘bleak’ outlook as a consequence of deteriorating demand. With a ‘poor’ outlook, many businesses in the consumer durables sector have experienced a serious deterioration in financial strength, negatively impacted by lockdowns, lower consumer sentiment, currency depreciation and rising unemployment. The ICT sector also has a ‘poor’ outlook due to its above-average credit risk, driven by increased import prices and deteriorating demand, as does the textile sector with overcapacity, decreasing demand and competition from East Asia. Other sectors with a ‘poor’ outlook are automotive/transport, machines/engineering, paper, services and steel. More positively, the financial services and food sectors are forecast to have a ‘good’ outlook while the outlook for agriculture and chemicals/pharma sectors is rated ‘fair’.

Darren Power, Northern Regional Manager for Atradius UK, said: “As is the case for many markets around the world, Turkey has been put under pressure by the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing containment measures which have curbed its expected rebound this year. However, despite a forecast decline in 2020, it is anticipated that the Turkish economy will bounce back next year and return to growth. This optimism is though dependent on the evolving environment and the path the pandemic takes in the coming months. We continue to face challenging times and it’s important for businesses to be proactive about risk management. This includes comprehensive research and real-time monitoring of the markets you’re trading in and understanding the potential impact on your customers and their ability to pay. Protecting your business from the risk of non-payment continues to be a key priority.”

Santander UK Wins Multiple Industry Awards for Innovation in Digital Banking With nCino

nCino, Inc. (NASDAQ: NCNO), a pioneer in cloud banking and digital transformation solutions for the global financial services industry, today announced that Santander UK has garnered multiple industry awards in recognition of its digitisation efforts in partnership with nCino. With the nCino Bank Operating System, Santander UK has been able to provide its SME, corporate and commercial banking clients with a faster and more transparent onboarding experience, greater efficiencies and quicker lending decisions and fulfilment processes.

Most recently, Santander UK won The Banker’s Innovation in Digital Banking Award for Best FinTech Partnership. Earlier this year, Celent, a global financial services research and advisory firm, named Santander UK the winner of the Model Bank Award for Commercial Lending for delivering its customers a cutting-edge lending experience. The bank worked with nCino and other technology partners to replace 13 legacy systems and over 60 end-user computing systems with a cloud-based ecosystem, completely overhauling its SME, corporate and commercial banking units in a forward-looking transformation project that helps it meet rapidly changing customer expectations.

“The Celent Model Bank Awards recognise how banks are using technology to change the face of banking,” said Patricia Hines, CTP and head of corporate banking at Celent. “These banks should serve as an inspiration to others looking for strong examples of best practice implementations that will have a truly meaningful impact on business results and the industry overall. The entry from Santander UK clearly demonstrated this.”

“We are pleased to be the recipient of these awards for our commercial lending efforts in partnership with nCino,” said Jonathan Holman, head of digital transformation at Santander UK. “With nCino’s digital platform, we’ve been able to streamline processes and decrease some cycle times by more than half as a result of automation, increased transparency in onboarding and lending workflows. This is something that has been particularly important recently as we help our customers navigate the COVID-19 crisis. We’re very proud of the improvements we’ve been able to make to both the employee and customer experience as a result of this project and how it has allowed us to focus on being a great bank for our customers, colleagues and shareholders.”

With nCino, Santander UK has been able to consolidate massive amounts of data and auto-populate fields, leading to a dramatic increase in efficiency in its lending processes. Other benefits to Santander UK of the collaboration include:

  • Workflow automation and the elimination of data rekeying, reducing processing and some cycle times by more than 50%;
  • Up to 10% increase in front-office capacity to focus on value-add analysis and customer relationships;
  • A holistic view of the customer across business units;
  • Improved portfolio management;
  • Powerful insight into forecasts and risk via the nCino Bank Operating System’s financial spreading functionality, freeing up approximately 14% of credit risk officers’ involvement over the average work week; and
  • The extraction of data from financial statements using nCino’s artificial intelligence feature, nIQ, saving the bank both time and money.

“Our heartfelt congratulations go to the entire Santander UK team for receiving these esteemed awards,” said Pullen Daniel, EVP and managing director – international at nCino. “We’re excited to be part of the bank’s digital transformation journey and look forward to continuing to help them meet and exceed customer needs and expectations as the market continues to evolve.”