Half of employers not geared up for remote ‘smart’ working, amid coronavirus fears

48% of businesses in the UK are not in any way set-up to be able to accommodate workers who may need to self-isolate – should they display any symptoms of a cold or flu.

What’s more, a large proportion of employers are not taking ‘reasonable steps’ to prepare staff to work from home. Top reasons stopping UK employers implementing a remote working policy include:

  • 60% fear employees may abuse the policy
  • 45% state that it would be difficult to supervise employees
  • 41% claim remote working makes it difficult to track staff performance and productivity.

The findings come from a recent whitepaper from global recruiter Robert Walters – A Smart Workplace for the Workforce of the Future.

Whilst flexi-hours (56%) and remote-working capabilities (25%) are some of the top valued perks by UK employees, it appears that these benefits are typically reserved for those in senior positions – with 65% at senior management/board level being able to benefit from flexible working arrangements, compared with just 34% of junior staff.

Chris Hickey, UK CEO at Robert Walters, comments: “Advances in technology have been changing the way companies and employees work for some years now. With teams more dispersed and covering more time zones, working with others via phone, virtual meetings and video is slowly becoming the norm.

“The business case for smart working is clear; adopting a digital workplace helps to streamline operations, enhance speed of communication, and drastically improve access to information in a much more effective way.

“Flexible working arrangements are no longer considered just a perk for employees; they are a crucial business strategy to help encourage workforce diversity, attract talent and increase employee satisfaction and productivity.”

“What COVID-19 has highlighted to many UK companies is despite companies having ‘all of the gear,’ we are essentially a while away from being able to ‘push the button’ on remote working.

“Work needs to be done to build trust amongst employers and employees, as well as ironing out clear working practices and guidelines for those working remotely. As more Millennials and Gen Z professionals enter our workforce, we can expect the pressure to mount for companies to increase their flexible working practices to be able to accommodate a generation who are more in tune with their wellbeing and health.”

Top reasons employers adopt smart-working practices:

  • 72% – to improve workflow and overall staff productivity
  • 58% – to strengthen collaboration between staff and improve communication
  • 54% – digital transformation is a global trend
  • 22% – to track results & streamline decision-making
  • 17% – to attract and retain talent

How professionals feel about smart working:

  • 85% – productivity is enhanced
  • 80% – feel motivated to work on a tech-savvy company
  • 78% – coordination between departments is enhanced
  • 42% – work-life balance is hindered
  • 22% – fear workplace technologies will replace jobs
  • 11% – difficult to learn and apply new technologies

SmartSearch rises in FT list of fast-growing European firms

Yorkshire-based anti-money-laundering (AML) firm SmartSearch has moved up more than 300 places in the Financial Times’ annual list of the fastest-growing European companies.

The FT 1000 lists the European companies that have achieved the highest growth rate over 2015–2018. SmartSearch’s placing at 596 compares with its 917th position in last year’s list, on the back of revenue growth of 281% across the period.

SmartSearch is also one of the top 20 fastest-growing fintech firms.

According to the FT, competition was even tougher at the top this year, with companies requiring a minimum growth rate of 38.4% per year to make the list, compared to 37.7% last year.

SmartSearch’s annualised growth rate over the period was 56.2% placing the firm in an elite group that have more than trebled their revenue over the three-year period.

James Dobson, marketing director at SmartSearch said: “This is an immense achievement for SmartSearch and all our dedicated staff. When you see a household name like JustEat on the list and then realise that you are growing faster than them, you know you must be doing something right.

“We have achieved this result through a best-in-class product but also through our commitment to outstanding customer service. We have a 98% client retention rate which has provided a firm basis for the strong growth we have experienced in recent years.

“We expect to continue rising up the list in the future too, as we have continued to achieve significant increases in business from new and existing clients, and have begun the expansion of our operation into the North American market.”

The full FT 1000 list can be found at: https://www.ft.com/reports/europes-fastest-growing-companies

Ex-TDX director appointed by Just

Nick Georgiades who joined the Just parent company Arum in 2019 has been appointed as the Managing Director of its subsidiary, six months after its launch in September.

Just, the post litigation market integrator has grown fast since launch adding over sixty customers to its list of clients and now provides High Court enforcement solutions for some of the largest writ issuers in the country.

Nick commented on his appointment; “I have been working closely with the Just team since launch and assisted in the development of the technology that underpins the business and the supporting frameworks, including those that support the appointment of our suppliers.

Having spent nine years at TDX, it’s great to take the opportunity to lead the Just proposition, with the benefit of previous learnings to make the business a success. I am excited about building Just to be the first-choice solution for all post litigation enforcement and collections.”

Jamie Waller, Just Founder and Chairman commented: “Nick is an expert in data, collections and debt market integration and that makes him perfect for the job. I am looking forward to supporting him and his brilliant team.”

Spread of Coronavirus reveals vulnerabilities and excessive risk in the global economy

Right now, we are seeing some very worrying trends in global financial markets, and I am truly concerned about where we are heading. The spread of coronavirus strikes fear into the markets and reveals that the recent bull years are built on a very fragile foundation. As Nouriel Roubini recently wrote, coronavirus can be the spark that – along with many others and long-ignored challenges – could start an avalanche.

We have long been part of the largest monetary policy experiment in history. With central banks increasingly looking to stimulate the economy, we are experiencing one of the most paradoxical and dangerous phenomena I have experienced in my time working with the financial markets: negative interest rates.

On the surface, the situation can look promising. Markets have been rallying over the past few years and pension savers and others with investments have received good returns. At the same time, low interest rates have benefited the people who are in the housing market and have access to lending.

But we need a discussion on the larger perspectives.

The risk build-up is huge. Negative interest rates change capital flows and increase risk. In some countries you pay to hold savings and get paid to borrow. It turns natural, healthy and rational incentives into something dangerous punishing optimal behaviour and rewarding excessive risk taking.

What do bank clients do with savings when their cash is worth 0.7% less every year, plus inflation? Many people buy apartments, houses, stocks and bonds, all of which have seen a historically long bull market.

Many people buy ever more expensive housing – which, incidentally, they might then find difficult to service when the economy turns – and which in turn pushes prices up and makes the housing market inaccessible to many. That has massive social and societal consequences.

Of course, many also turn to investment products, which have produced a good return historically. That has a tendency to become self-reinforcing – for a while at least although money goes into rising markets that are not necessarily supported by growth and productivity. In fact, the phenomenon is depressingly called TINA – “there is no alternative”.

What happens the day confidence in this “Ponzi scheme” cracks? What happens if investors someday want to get out of liabilities where they have actually lent out their money for thirty years with virtually no yield? What if the market realises that it might be a bad idea to lend money essentially free of charge to people who might not pay back?

The good time in capital markets must come to an end at some point and that’s going to hurt. There’s an expression in financial markets – ‘you take the long staircase up, but the fast lift down’. We can look to Japan to see an example of how debt-financed growth can collapse quickly and be difficult to recover from.

In fact, the Japanese market, which peaked at the beginning of 1990, today is only worth approximately half, a stark reminder that it is no law of nature that good times continue. In the 80s and beginning of the 90s, many thought Japan was on path of outgrowing all other nations. That’s not how it went.

When things have been going well for a few years you tend to forget how quickly the mood can change. At Saxo Bank we try to discuss with clients and partners how best to navigate this complicated world. Risk management is now more important than ever, both for individuals, companies, including banks, but also for nation states. It requires understanding of underlying mechanisms of the market and how to get protection and manage your risk in the market. Risk management deserves far more focus than it gets today.

Growth is a necessity for developing the world and finding technological solutions to our many challenges. Reforms must be designed to create win-win between citizens, companies and societies, and to ensure competitiveness in a world that is constantly evolving and improving. It requires sound management, efficiency and modern technology in all areas, as well as the right incentives. This should be on the top of all political agendas, regardless of party colour and political leanings.

In recent years, the global economy has been keep afloat by irresponsibly easy monetary policy, and many politicians have grown accustomed to sitting back while central banks prop up the economy. That will change soon. When the mood turns, the need for bold and ambitious politicians will become clear to everyone.

By Kim Fournais, Founder and CEO, Saxo Bank

UK Research: Unsecured Borrowers Favour Banks and Brands Amid Brexit Limbo

Against a backdrop of political and economic uncertainty, UK borrowers turned to established and familiar lenders in 2019, according to a new research report* launched today by Equiniti Credit Services and Credit Kudos.

Entitled A Brands’ New Decade: Loyalty on loan as consumers consent to data-driven lending services, the report finds that although banks remained the lender of choice in 2019, 64% would be likely to consider a loan from a non-traditional brand, if it was well-known and had a good reputation. Loans from Google and Apple, for example, would be chosen by 26% and 21% of those surveyed, and Amazon by 34%. With political uncertainty resolved, the report’s findings now suggest a ready-made market for brands that can move quickly to deliver attractive credit products.

“Consumers still consider a low interest rate to be the key factor when choosing a loan product,” says Sarah Jackson, Managing Director, Sales at Equiniti Digital, which incorporates Equiniti Credit Services, the UK’s leading consumer credit technology and outsourced service provider. “Interestingly, however, brand reputation was cited by one in four as the most important factor overall, overtaking low weekly or monthly repayments for the first time. That doesn’t mean people are loyal to any one brand, however. Only 14% said they would return to a lender they’d used in the past.”

One area where lenders should focus, says Jackson, is on meeting the growing expectations for digital, consumer-centric services: “As technology continues to drive convergence across sectors, borrowers are rightly expecting a digital-grade service experience from their loan provider. While banks continue to play catch-up, there is a big opportunity for the tech-enabled brands that are known for delivering exceptional user experiences to make a play in consumer credit. Established lenders need to work hard to make up ground here. Delivering a first-rate UX will be key in ensuring they protect their lender-of-choice status.”

The report also suggests that consumer perception of open banking is moving beyond concept stage, presenting lenders with a number of exciting opportunities to expand hypothetical use-cases into real revenue-driving products and services.

“Our research highlights that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits offered by open banking,” comments Freddy Kelly, CEO, Credit Kudos, an FCA-authorised Credit Reference Agency and Account Information Service Provider (AISP). “Demand for personalisation and instant, consumer-centric digital services was evident in the report, with consumers becoming increasingly receptive to how their data could be translated into more personalised services, presenting a real opportunity for lenders.

“By leveraging this data, lenders can gain a better understanding of their customers, offer new transaction data-based products which can flex and adapt to fit changing individual circumstances and, as a result, create a more central-role for themselves in the lives of their customers.”

The full report also explores the impact of the ‘Brexit limbo’ on the credit market, the apparent decline of traditional price comparison sites and consumer attitudes to new technologies, like AI. Importantly, it identifies where opportunities for credit providers lie and offers support on how they can create new, personalised services which deliver for consumers of all ages.

Download: A Brands’ New Decade: Loyalty on loan as consumers consent to data-driven lending services.

*Research methodology: This report draws on data collected from a survey of 2,000 UK consumers conducted by ResearchBods in Q4 2019.

Access to Banking Standard summary report published by the Lending Standards Board

The Access to Banking Standard aims to help minimise the impact of bank branch closures on customers and local communities. It is designed to ensure that customers affected by branch closures receive sufficient communication and clarity on the reasons for the closure and adequate support in accessing alternative banking services

.The Standard, overseen by the Lending Standards Board (LSB), applies once the decision to close a branch has been taken and therefore the role of the LSB does not extend to approving or commenting on the banks’ decision to close branches.

This latest review carried out by the LSB, assessed proposals by seven firms to close 480 branches in 2018 and 513 branches in 2019. It included an assessment of the process for identifying impacted customers and dealing with potentially vulnerable customers, the adequacy of communications and notices prior to and during the closure process, and the availability of Impact Assessments for customers.

The LSB noted clear improvements made by firms since the first review in 2018. Noticeable developments included enhanced communications about branch closures, the use of insights from previous closure programmes and continued engagement with the Post Office. Since the last report, UK Finance has led on the development of a 5-point plan to raise awareness of banking services available through the Post Office.

The Report also notes two important industry-wide improvements. The first is an agreed definition, brokered by UK Finance, of what constitutes an impacted customer. The second is agreement that the LSB will define a small number of common key metrics to be used in Impact Assessments. Both initiatives will support greater consistency in application of the Standard.

The areas requiring improvement included the need for a more proactive strategy for engaging with potentially vulnerable customers as well as enhancing the level of information available post announcement and post closure to continually assist customers. As part of the review the LSB conducted a mystery shopping exercise, with 54 branches visited, to test the availability of the Impact Assessment for consumers. It was found that this was not always readily available and is a suggested improvement outlined in the report.

Improving customer outcomes through the implementation of the Standard remains a priority for the industry. The LSB found that there was a positive level of engagement from all firms’ and action is already being taken to address recommendations made in the report. The LSB will continue to monitor activity in this area, working with firms and carrying out further independent assurance to ensure all actions are completed to a satisfactory level.

VAT Support Group is launched with MoJ guidance inbound

VAT Support Group is launched to help High Court enforcement businesses and creditors deal with the forthcoming Ministry of Justice (MoJ) guidance on charging VAT.

The MoJ has committed to publishing guidance which will change the way VAT is collected by High Court enforcement businesses. It’s thought that industry changes will be required to ensure compliance.

Just, the enforcement market integration business say’s the advice will be issued within the next few weeks.

The support groups, launched today are free to join and plan to keep everyone who may be affected by the changes up to date on progress, provide access to the guidance and offer advice and support with any process or programming needs.

They are free to join, and any advice or support given is also free. You can sign-up for a group by registering your details here:

Creditors & Litigation partners

High Court enforcement businesses

Commenting on the launch, Just Founder and Chairman Jamie Waller said: “We are pleased to receive confirmation from the MoJ that they will issue guidance on the correct application of VAT within the next few weeks. This matter has been left unresolved for six years, and I am pleased that we were able to bring it to a conclusion. We will now divert our energy and offer the industry the support needed to ensure compliance with the instructions we receive.

“We are offering this support to anyone that employs the services of High Court enforcement and to the High Court enforcement businesses themselves. As an integrator, our potential suppliers must implement the issued guidance swiftly and without delay to protect the reputations of the industry as a whole. As we have built our systems and processes with these changes in mind, we are perfectly positioned to help others make the changes necessary to deliver a safe service for all.”

Second charge mortgage new business volumes up by 19% in 2019

Commenting on the full year 2019 new business figures for the second charge mortgage market, Fiona Hoyle, Head of Consumer and Mortgage Finance at the Finance & Leasing Association (FLA), said: “The second charge mortgage market reported double-digit growth in each month of 2019. New business volumes reached over 28,000 agreements in 2019, which was the highest annual total since 2008.

“Although still a relatively small sector, second charge mortgages are proving popular with consumers and we expect the market to continue to grow in 2020.”

Salary growth in charity finance sector halves since 2018

Growth in average salaries for finance professionals within the UK charity sector dipped from 6 per cent in 2018 to 3.24 per cent in 2019.
At the same time, the rise in average earnings for women was almost double that for men, increasing by 4.08 per cent and 2.4 per cent respectively, according to the 2019 Charity Finance Salary & Benefits Survey Report published by Robertson Bell today.

The survey conducted by Robertson Bell, a leading provider of finance talent for the charity and wider not for profit sectors, analysed the results from over 1,000 respondents across the charity finance sector.

It found that while average salaries have continued to rise year on year, albeit at a slower pace than previously, those in senior roles saw the greatest increase over the last 12 months.

Finance professionals working for charities with an annual turnover of less than £10 million, saw the average salary for a permanent senior manager rise to £67,000 per annum compared to £44,000 for a mid-management position, and £31,000 for non-management postholders.

For those operating within mid-size charities, whose annual turnovers are between £10 million and £60 million, the difference in earnings between a senior executive and a non-management colleague is £89,000 for the former and £32,000 for the latter.

Within the UK’s largest charities that have a turnover exceeding the £60 million mark, the pay gap between senior executive and non-management professionals is at its sharpest.

A director, for instance can expect to earn on average £128,000 per annum, compared to a senior (£65,000), middle-management (£54,000) and non-managerial (£29,000) colleague within the same organisation.

Stuart Bell, CEO of Robertson Bell, commented on the last 12 months: “Despite the political and economic uncertainty that dominated 2019, employer hiring intentions remained strong within the charity and wider not for profit sector as a whole.

“One of the key findings of this survey is that 7 out of 10 [68 per cent] charity finance professionals admit to being open to new career opportunities. There are two things at play here.

“First is that competition for talent within the sector is higher than ever before, which is creating a greater array of career opportunities for people. And second, demand for talent – especially at senior and executive level – remains high but the availability of that talent is low, which in turn is pushing salaries upwards.

“Against this backdrop, it follows that finance professionals at all stages of their career recognise that the shortage of available skills means that employers will increase average earnings in a bid to attract the talent they need to fill the roles they have; hence, why so many people are open to a new move.”

Professional qualifications

The data highlighted the importance of professional qualifications and their relation to earnings. Accordingly, middle management post holders possessing a recognised accountancy qualification such as CIMA, CIPFA, ACCA or ACA, earn on average 15 per cent more. For their senior and executive colleagues, this rises to almost 20 per cent.

Regional variances

Location too has an influence on salary levels. London continues to offer higher renumeration than elsewhere in the country, with senior roles such as Finance Directors and Head of Management Accounts seeing an average salary increase of 9 per cent over the last 12 months. Meanwhile, the prospects for interim finance professionals remain highest in the capital.

Flexible working and gender

“There has been an interesting shift when it comes to flexible working within the sector too,” adds Stuart Bell. “Our data shows a widening in the salary gap between mid- and senior- level candidates who work both from home and the office (higher), and those that are purely office or purely home based (lower).

“This suggests that an increasing number of employers within the sector are embracing and even encouraging greater flexible working, and this may be playing a part in the rise in average earnings among women.

“Our analysis shows that women’s average earnings across the charity finance function have spiked by 4.08 per cent since 2018, whilst salaries for men rose by 2.4 per cent.”

Sector migration

The survey also found that the charity sector has seen an influx of senior finance professionals moving from commercial sector, with the finance function increasingly being organised along the same lines as those more commonly associated with a corporate entity both in terms of approach and attitude.

Matt Millar, Director at Robertson Bell, commented: “There has been a general trend of moving towards a ‘business partnering mentality’ across the finance function within charities.

“This, I believe, has been a catalyst for the significant increase in senior finance professionals opting to make the switch from commercial to not for profit employment over the last 12 months. I expect this will continue throughout 2020 and for the foreseeable future.”

“The bottom line is that employers need to attract and retain good people, and it is getting harder to do so. As such, salaries will rise in accordance with that demand and certain roles such as Financial Accountants and Financial Controllers, the increase is likely to be faster than for other roles within the charity finance remit.”

Hope Capital completes complex £4m deal on country house

Hope Capital has started the year with a bang with a complex £4million deal. Hope Capital completed the £4 million loan on a magnificent multi-million pound four-storey country house, set in extensive land with a number of outbuildings plus recreational facilities.

The loan was required to repay an existing charge, on which the client was paying a high interest rate; Hope Capital also provided an additional £500,000 for business purposes pending the sale of the property.

The short-term nature of the loan complexities around multiple planning permissions, together with the client’s status made it challenging for him to access mainstream finance. However, Hope Capital was able to get comfortable with the intricacies of the case, by researching every facet of the property, the client and their previous transactions combined with full due diligence.

While the loan application was in process, the client’s business interests required him to spend much of his time overseas and in different time-zones. Hope Capital overcame this by using video-conferencing, ensuring contact was maintained throughout the loan process so that any issues were ironed out without him needing to be in the country. This significantly sped the case up.

Although the planning and legal elements of the case were complex, Hope Capital’s flexible approach enabled these to be rapidly overcome.

Commenting on the deal, Gary Bailey, managing director of Hope Capital, said: “This was a complicated deal but with Capital B as the client’s broker, the client, solicitors, planning experts, valuers and insurers all working together, Hope Capital showed once again that we can get deals done quickly and provide clients with the solutions they need.

“The deal threw up a number of challenges, however Laura Carr and the underwriting team used their combined experience to find an appropriate solution for the client.”

Andre Bartlett a director of Holborn based brokerage Capital B says, “I had been to a number of lenders who just could not deal with the complexity of this case. Then I approached Hope Capital and now wish that I had gone to them straight away. The team at Hope were incredibly helpful, they overcame every obstacle, working in partnership with lawyers and valuers as well as myself to help make the transaction as easy as possible. Many other lenders would have waited until my client was in the country to deal with everything which would have significantly prolonged the time to completion, but Hope Capital were happy to use video conferencing.

“I have nothing but praise for the team at Hope and they will definitely be the first lender I call for all future bridging loans. Thanks to the innovative thinking of BDM Steve Allen, we made this into a deal that made sense.”