New NatWest and NAB open banking white paper calls for reform amid transition to smart data

NatWest and NAB have published a jointly authored white paper exploring the common threads that bind both Australia’s Consumer Data Right (CDR) and the UK’s Open Banking regime.

The agenda-setting whitepaper highlights the similarities in the policies that underpin both regimes: to increase competition, innovation and to empower consumers with control over their data, as well as how the two countries have diverged in their journeys to implementing these frameworks, notably in relation to their respective scope in terms of ‘breadth versus depth’.

Claire Melling, Head of Bank of APIs, NatWest said: “By collaborating with NAB on this report we shared valuable lessons from the UK’s implementation of Open Banking, as well as our own experiences at NatWest of going above and beyond the mandate with the creation of our Bank of APIs ecosystem. We also have lessons to learn here in the UK from Australia’s approach to the Consumer Data Right – especially in terms of the breadth of data access being implemented there. It’s important that the industry acts on this insight from Australia as we transition from Open Banking to Open Finance and Smart Data in the UK.”

One of the report’s authors, NAB Executive Digital & Data Governance, Brad Carr, said there’s a lot to be learnt for both jurisdictions.

“Consumers are now looking for more integration and connection between the main experiences they have every day, and that means evolving from ‘Open Banking’ to ‘Open Data’,” Mr Carr said.

“There are a number of insights and lessons we can glean from Australia and the UK’s journeys in relation to Open Banking and the Consumer Data Right. It has been great to partner with our friends at NatWest on this report, as the UK was an early adopter of Open Banking and many other nations, including Australia, looked to the UK’s experience in developing their own regimes.”

Angela Mentis, NAB Chief Digital, Data & Analytics Officer said customers will be the beneficiaries of this convergence as the economy becomes increasingly digitised.

“We’re exploring ways we can utilise open banking to improve experiences and make things easier for our customers,” Ms Mentis said.

“As an active data recipient, one of the areas we’re looking at is how open banking can help us enable instant credit decisions. Immediate decisioning will have a transformative effect on the customer experience and allow us to better support a customers’ financial wellbeing.”

The UK and the Australian regimes are now at a critical juncture of their respective development, with the UK looking beyond banking and finance to open data and Australia shifting focus to grow adoption of the regime and support greater system functionality.

Several years on, is Open Banking in the UK and the CDR in Australia heading in the right direction? And are they moving quickly enough to be impactful in their respective economies?

Read the full report here.

SMEs need a new Green Super-Deduction to help Net Zero transition

Eight leading trade associations have written to the Chancellor recommending that a new Green Super-Deduction replaces the existing programme when it comes to an end in March.

SMEs looking at their investment needs right now will undoubtedly have Net Zero considerations on their mind. While smaller firms are not required to report on their transition to greener technology, it’s an increasingly important factor for their end customers, whether consumers or businesses, and therefore keenly linked to competition.

A major flaw of the current Super-Deduction is that it is not available for leasing or short-term hire, despite the fact that many firms choose these options because it makes good business sense. In the current economic conditions, firms may want to maintain a little flexibility with their cash flow, or depending which sector they operate in, they won’t want to buy an asset outright if they only need it for a few months at a time, or if they operate in a high-tech industry where obsolescence is a factor.

Simon Goldie, Director of Business at the FLA said: “Net Zero preparations are no longer the preserve of large firms with big budgets. Green investment is now a competitive issue for firms of all sizes because those credentials matter to suppliers, partners and customers.

“It’s vital that a Green Super Deduction is put in place to help SMEs, but it also has to be a programme that allows businesses to choose the right funding option for their investment and their circumstances. Leasing and short-term hire are key to the funding mix, and any Super Deduction that does not include them is flawed by design.”

We have recommended to the Chancellor a Green Super-Deduction to replace existing allowances for green plant and machinery, such as the 100% first year allowance (FYA) for electric vehicle charging points and electric vans, and the 50% FYA for plant and machinery which supports a business’s energy efficiency. This would deliver simplicity for businesses, especially SMEs, which may otherwise not use capital allowances.

Toby Poston, BVRLA Director of Corporate Affairs said: “The leasing and rental exclusion in the current regime has created an unfair playing field that is hindering SMEs from making the leap to zero emission commercial vehicles. The enhanced allowances we’re recommending would boost business investment in zero emission technology and support the Government’s ambitious phase-out targets.”

The signatories to the letter are: BVRLA, CECA, EAMA, FLA, Forum of Private Business, Logistics UK, Make UK and MTA.

Why SMEs won’t ditch Green intentions despite ongoing financial uncertainty

Small and medium sized businesses (‘SMEs’) face an unclear future. Hit with high interest rates, supply chain issues, increases in wages and a worsening cost-of-living crisis while at the same time demand for working capital has reached unprecedented levels. Conister’s research recently revealed that over a fifth of UK SMEs that required external finance over the last two years, were unable to access it. What’s more, over a quarter have had to stop or pause an area of their business because of a lack of finance.

You might assume therefore, that SMEs would ditch their Green intentions – assumed to be too expensive and a ‘nice to have’. Indeed, a third of businesses surveyed in a recent study by Barclays cited financial constraints as the reason behind their failure to go Green. 16% were concerned around the return on investment with Green technologies and 19% of businesses said they only invested in greener processes because of regulatory demands. Seemingly at this time SMEs would move into survival mode and source the already depleted levels of capital from wherever they could get it, regardless of ESG or Green criteria?

In fact, no, SMEs remain more committed than ever. SMEs are driving forward Net Zero targets, with two thirds saying they have a plan in place to reach Net Zero by 2050, according to Lloyds Bank’s Net Zero Monitor. Moreover, 7% of SMEs have already reached Net Zero emissions. Consumers have followed suit – Deloitte’s 2021 sustainability and consumer report found that 32% of consumers were highly engaged with adopting a more sustainable lifestyle last year and want brands to lead the charge. 64% of consumers want brands to reduce packaging, 50% want more information on how to recycle and 46% said they desire clarity on sourcing of products. Barclays’ research also revealed 75% of businesses situated across all sectors, have seen vast commercial benefits following the adoption and inclusion of Green technologies in their operations.

So, what is driving this determination for SMEs to be Green? One reason is cost. It’s not because SMEs have to be Green but if they don’t, they’ll be paying much higher rates on financing. Lenders, both mainstream and alternative across the board, have adapted their models to offer the best rates for those firms that are ESG compliant and Green. It’s a necessity not a requirement. For example, Conister’s current rates for financing are around 50bps less for SMEs that adopt a Green approach.

The opportunity to be Greener as an SME is great. In the UK, SMEs already represent more than 90% of clean tech enterprises and is therefore a significant driver of Green growth. SMEs in the UK have already seen a drop in their running costs as a result of making more environmentally-focused investments. This is becoming an increasingly attainable option as Green technologies such as solar PV systems are becoming more accessible, with initial implementation costs being offset in the long term.

SMEs are however continuing to struggle with accessing finance and, worryingly, this lack of availability is costing them and the UK economy in terms of growth at a time when it is needed the most. Yet apart from demonstrating a necessary commercial responsibility towards the environment, adopting more conscientious Green measures make it more attractive to consumers and potentially help grow the business and provide a strong foundation for the future. Gone are the days where being Green came at a price, SMEs are realising that to generate the necessary capital to grow and agree the best rates with lenders in an uncertain economic environment, it pays to be Green.

By Kai Hunter, Executive Director at Conister Finance & Leasing Ltd

Institute welcomes UK regulator’s emphasis on education and training issues around ESG

The Chartered Banker Institute (the Institute) is delighted to see education and training issues moving up the regulatory agenda in the UK, as highlighted in a new FCA Discussion Paper (DP23/1), aimed at enabling finance to deliver on its potential to drive positive sustainable change.

Addressing training and competence in firms, the FCA recognises the need for genuine capability-building across the financial sector, including staff training on climate change and net zero and sustainability more broadly, identifying the PRB Academy as a good example of a UK and global initiative in this area. The Academy aims to support banks’ alignment with the objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement and was founded through a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), The Chartered Banker Institute, and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

We believe there is a clear link between purpose, culture and education in firms and the just transition (moving to a more sustainable economy that is fair to everyone), so ensuring that finance professionals have the knowledge and skills required to support decision-making and understand the financial and sustainability outcomes these lead to is essential. As is building firms’ capacities, capabilities and cultures to support the fast-growing and constantly evolving ESG sector.

The DP also includes a collection of 10 commissioned articles from experts with relevant and interesting perspectives on firms’ sustainability-related governance, incentives, competence and stewardship arrangements. Writing about competence, Simon Thompson, the Institute’s CEO and Chair of the Green Finance Education Charter (composed of 14 leading professional bodies representing nearly 1 million finance professionals), explains that Green Finance Education Charter signatories have all incorporated ESG into professional and CPD programmes and stresses the importance of avoiding inadvertent greenwashing by firms by not allowing them to self-certify their ESG training and competence.

Simon Thompson, Chief Executive of the Chartered Banker Institute commented: “I am very encouraged to see two key initiatives that the Institute is playing a key role in, the PRB Academy and the Green Finance Education Charter is highlighted by the FCA in their latest Discussion Paper.

In my article, I feature the growing problem of competence greenwashing, which is as serious a threat to the integrity and future growth of ESG as greenwashing itself. I believe there is an opportunity to address this through regulatory levers both in the UK and internationally, however, by ensuring that firms are no longer allowed to ‘mark their own homework’ by certifying the ESG competence of their staff themselves. Collectively the UK’s professional bodies have the appetite, expertise, and resources to support this endeavour and I encourage all our members and their employers to read and engage with the DP.”

Adopting a positive security culture and encouraging better employee awareness

Security failures happen. Unfortunately, in today’s always-on, highly digitised world, it is inevitable and a question of not if but when. We only need look at the news during the first few of weeks of 2023 to see several high-profile breaches reported, including T-Mobile and Mailchimp. The companies, its customers and its employees must remain on high alert in the coming months for increased phishing attempts from threat actors using credentials from the attack.

So many of these breaches get blamed on employees being socially engineered, highlighting the importance for employees to be more aware of their role in cybersecurity and for companies to have effective, thoughtful security training and intuitive security systems in place. Users are an organisation’s biggest vulnerability; a well-known attack vector for data exfiltration that unfortunately cannot be completely closed. Today, organisations have a wide variety of users and any one employee, partner or supplier from any level within the company can present a vector through which a hacker can infiltrate the organisation.

Adopting a security culture

Business leaders need to be much more aware of the role they play and how they foster a culture of security, while also driving for more comprehensive security systems to defend the organisation. This strategy should also include a thorough understanding of who has access to what and who is using and interacting with critical systems. In essence, security is everyone’s responsibility and if management at all levels isn’t abiding by and regularly encouraging security awareness across the organisation this should be viewed by the business as a huge performance gap.

At the same time, human error is used all too often as a catch-all reason when a breach occurs, with employees being blamed for not being vigilant enough. This mindset suggests that the business is relying on a system that requires humans to behave perfectly and never make mistakes, like clicking on phishing links or misdirecting an email. The team responsible for designing and implementing systems needs to think about what could possibly go wrong, based on the assumption that mistakes will be made. Using a classic example of a busy or distracted employee clicking on a link which creates a compromise, every company should consider how their systems can detect and prevent this vector of attack but must also put into place measures to stop and contain the attack when it inevitably gets through the defences.

Drinking poisoned coffee

Looking at this in another way, if a customer gets a coffee that is poisoned, is it the customer’s fault if they drink it? No, we’d generally lay the blame on the system that allowed such a thing to happen in the first place. In terms of risk management, it is very unlikely that the customer will be poisoned, but if it were to happen, there would need to be systemic changes that prevent this from happening again, rather than blame on the person for drinking the poisoned coffee.

For security awareness to work it needs to extend across the business while considering how employees do their job, assuming they will get tired, stressed and subsequently make mistakes. The system must account for all these scenarios. The perfect system does not exist, but business leaders need to accommodate behaviour by building in systemic changes, and aiming for defence in depth as threats unfold.

Additionally, the security culture needs to include engaging training, and thoughtfully avoid victim blaming and punishment of those who fall into a criminal’s trap. To some extent security should always contradict useability – it shouldn’t be that easy to access data and it should make folks stop and think. There must be a balance between usability and security – access shouldn’t be so difficult that employees don’t want to work at the organisation, nor so easy that anyone can access the system.

Staying in the safety zone

So, what solutions can organisations put in place to help users stay in the safety zone?

–         Password managers make it easy for users to never have to remember passwords, which will lead to the use of more complex and unique passwords for each site.

  • Two factor authentication also helps to put another layer of control into protecting data.
  • Automating single sign on for onboarding and offboarding employees means they only get access to data they need and when they don’t need access this privilege is promptly revoked.
  • Credential vaults and organisation segmentation enables the organisation to understand access partitioning so only those who need access obtain this and only when they need it.
  • Implementing a ‘trust no-one’ Zero Trust approach ensures only certain individuals have access to parts of the network. Internal firewalls and application firewalls add a high level of granular control.
  • Using machine learning to watch the network and undertake threat modelling provides valuable insights and rapid reactions to threats.

Humans are infinitely hackable, therefore systems must be designed around how they are going to fail.  Organisations need to implement layers of security and think about how they can make it difficult for people to do the wrong thing. Systemic changes need to be implemented to react when situations do happen. Organisations must design systems that are both secure and easy to navigate so that users don’t work around security but embrace it.

Make training engaging and fun

And finally, organisations must make training fun and reinforce the importance of having a positive security culture. This means making sure executives are modelling the proper behaviours and ensuring employees across all levels of the organisation understand this.

When there is a breach, corporate training often gets pushed out as a penalty or organisations use training only to obtain certifications to prove employees have been trained in cybersecurity. As a result, training is boring, no one pays attention to it, and it becomes a tick-box exercise. Incentives should be in place and the training should be engaging and effective so that it results in the right outcome: security awareness to improve security, not just pass an audit. Ideally, organisations should have a positive culture around security, so they don’t have to rely on always poison-checking their coffee.

By Brian Knudtson, Director of Product Market Intelligence, 11:11 Systems

Hampshire Trust Bank cuts buy-to-let 5-year fixed rates by up to 130 basis points

Hampshire Trust Bank (HTB) has made significant enhancements to its specialist buy-to-let mortgage offering, with significantly reduced fixed rates and simplified loan size bandings.

Five-year fixed rates have been reduced by up to 130 basis points (starting from 5.99%), with the Bank’s new two-year fixed rates starting from 5.69%.

In addition, the Bank has simplified its bandings into three levels: £100k – £1m; £1m – £5m and £5m+. The recently launched ‘ERC Plus’ and ‘ERC Lite’ options are also now extended across both the two-year and five-year fixed rate specialist buy-to-let, HMO and MUFB and semi-commercial ranges.

HTB provides professional investors with specialist residential loans up to £25m for limited companies, offshore entities, expats and foreign nationals, as well as mixed use portfolios and semi-commercial properties.

Chris Daly, Managing Director, Specialist Mortgages at Hampshire Trust Bank, commented: “These positive changes to our specialist investment loan proposition highlight our appetite for business from portfolio landlords and professional investors, with our £1m-£5m band being particularly competitively priced.

“These reductions put our fixed rates firmly in a sweet spot for investors, and with our service back at SLA levels, we are ready to manage demand for these attractively priced products.

“As illustrated with our recent ERC product launches, we do not believe high fees/lower rate products meet the needs of landlords; rather, we think it is prudent to offer options for brokers to recommend the best product to meet their clients’ requirements for leverage and affordability, as demonstrated with today’s changes.”

FLA appoints new Board Director

The Finance & Leasing Association has appointed Helen Lumb, Chief Finance Officer at Shire Leasing, to the FLA Board.

Stephen Haddrill, Director General of the FLA, said: “I am very pleased indeed that Helen has joined the Board. Her expertise and sector perspectives will be much valued as the industry works together to meet the needs of customers facing uncertain economic conditions.

“I would also like to thank Bill Dost and Carol Roberts, both of whom recently stepped down from the Board having served terms of 9 and 7 years respectively. Their insights and counsel have been much appreciated.”

Helen Lumb said: “I am looking forward to joining the FLA Board and making a contribution towards representing our sector’s interests, in particular the opportunities and challenges that our asset finance industry is currently facing.”

Asset based lending in a volatile world

In an uncertain world, asset-based lending can emerge as a dependable strategy for attractive returns having demonstrated its resilience through various economic cycles.

Heading into 2023, the economic outlook across geographies looks set to remain challenging with macroeconomic headwinds building, from rising inflation and interest rates to persistent supply chain issues and challenged labour markets. The sentiment from UK business leaders reflects this with only 34% of CEOs predicting strong or very strong growth over the coming 12 months, down 15% from June of this year.

The mood music across the economy has already had a consequential impact on money markets, for everyday consumers interest rate rises have seen mortgage approvals fall to their lowest level since the onset of the pandemic, and lending to SMEs is expected to tighten even while the unmet finance needs of SMEs globally represents roughly 150% of the lending currently available for these businesses.

Faced with this economic environment and supply restrictions, borrowers will increasingly turn to non-bank lenders to support them with their growth. Firms like Pollen Street, offering senior secured, asset-based lending to these high quality non-bank lenders, enable them to grow their lending businesses and fulfil the funding gap. This funding gap is only set to grow in the current climate and represents an expanding market for us to target, but with the confidence and track record of having delivered through challenging economic cycles.

Planning for the worst eventualities

Pollen Street was founded following the global financial crisis, identifying the structural changes that could form the foundation for sustainable growth. In credit this combined the identification of opportunities to fill a funding gap that was emerging but also a very considered approach, built to withstand extreme stresses in the economic environment. Pollen Street has developed a compelling strategy in senior secured lending primarily to non-bank lenders, technology companies and other companies with diverse portfolio of assets. In the last six years, we have invested more than £3.0bn across 100 deals.

When making decisions about lending, we don’t judge based on current market conditions, rather assessing on the basis of a very stressed macro-environment. This model, with modest Loan to Value ratios (LTVs) and subordinated cash equity from borrowers combined with comprehensive covenants gives certainty that the borrowers and underlying assets we have secured our lending against will generate sufficient cash to fully repay our loan plus interest even through the toughest conditions, without the refinancing risk typically associated with corporate lending.

The nature of our lending also means that we’re protected by the diversification of the underlying assets we lend against. For example, our senior facility to IWOCA, a leading SME lender, is secured on more than 6,500 individual SME loans making repayments monthly; or our senior facility to ONTO, Europe’s largest electric car subscription provider, is secured on over 4,500 electric cars and associated monthly customer payments. This diversification means that cashflows are stable with low volatility even in a more uncertain environment where credit defaults are predicted to rise.

Structuring for protection

The terms of our relationship with borrowers are also critical to ensuring resilience. At Pollen Street the comprehensive covenants that we negotiate with our credit partners are integral to our strategy and ensure that we have the right to step in early if there are signs of underperformance. Covenant packages cover not only borrower financial performance but also asset performance and diversification with levels set significantly inside underwriting stress tests.

In addition the terms of our facilities mean that we are only lending against performing assets and therefore as any underperformance emerges our facilities automatically de-gear and reduce LTV as borrowers are required to increase their equity subordination to finance those underperforming assets. Added to that automatic de-gearing, we retain senior ranking over both the asset and the cash of the borrower, which means we can control the flow of loans in and out of the business if a critical moment emerged. The nature of our lending makes this eventuality unlikely but the model we have created at Pollen Street provides confidence in the resilience — and is a first principle of engagement from our highly experienced team.

Ultimately we have designed our approach over years of experience in the industry to tap into a compelling opportunity while maintaining a margin of safety through different economic cycles.

Seizing emerging opportunities

While the tightening market results in larger lenders becoming more risk averse, there are increasing opportunities for lenders like Pollen Street, where our expert team is able to source and assess a large number of opportunities. In particular the mid-market deal size where we operate has significant whitespace as this sits below the appetite of the larger banks, public markets and larger asset managers.

We believe the businesses that will do well through this economic environment are those with a great foundation and product that manage to secure financing for investing and growing their business, which in turn will help them win market share. As a sector specialist we have built our reputation in the market which means we’re increasingly a go to player for this type of financing.

In the next five years, structural changes will drive the asset-based finance market, with Europe expected to increase 100% to £1 trillion and the US by 70% to £3 trillion.
The economic headwinds will need to be constantly assessed but that’s an approach that we have always undertaken, and what gives us confidence that our approach to asset-based lending will continue to steer the course.

By Matthew Potter, Partner at Pollen Street

Almost 20 million adults never speak about mental health – and it’s set to get worse due to the cost-of-living crisis

More than one in three UK adults surveyed (36 per cent) never make space in their day or the time to speak about their mental health – the equivalent of 19.6 million people aged 16 and over.

And the cost-of-living crisis, on top of the long lasting impact of the pandemic, is affecting people’s ability to make space and manage their mental health. The mental health of nearly 8 in 10 Britons (78 per cent) surveyed has been affected by the cost-of-living crisis.

The poll of more than 5,000 people was conducted as part of Time to Talk Day, the nation’s biggest conversation about mental health. It aims to spark millions of conversations about mental health in communities, schools, homes, workplaces and online across the UK.

Worryingly, nearly a fifth (18 per cent) are also reporting the cost-of-living crisis is decreasing how often they are able to make space to have a conversation about mental health. Almost half (46%) of respondents said that their reason for fewer conversations is that everyone is struggling right now and they don’t want to burden others.

Previous research by Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and Co-op for *Time to Talk Day 2022 found that 39 per cent said that their mental health had got worse since the pandemic. 41 per cent of those who experienced their mental health worsening at any point during the pandemic blamed it on money worries. The cumulative effect of Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis is taking its toll on the nation’s mental health.

Activities like Time To Talk Day are helping, by providing tips and resources for having those conversations. The latest research found that:

  • Almost a third (32 per cent) say more knowledge and understanding around mental health would make it easier to talk about mental health (down from 40 per cent in 2022)
  • 3 in 10 would welcome tips to help people start a conversation (30 per cent)
  • A fifth (22 per cent) say it would help to have someone in their local community who can offer support with their mental health.

Yet the cost-of-living crisis threatens to significantly hinder our ability to continue with the everyday ways we usually look after our mental health. Those for whom the cost-of-living crisis caused a decrease in how they make space to have a conversation about their mental health, the survey also reveals that:

  • A quarter of respondents (25 per cent) can’t afford social activities that help them stay mentally well
  • A quarter (25 per cent) are having to work longer hours due to the rising cost of living so have less free time
  • A shocking 16% simply can’t afford to contact their support network to have these conversations (e.g. over phone, text, social media), showing the real impact of digital poverty
  • 18% can’t afford to travel to their usual support networks in communities.

And it’s feared the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on our mental health will become even worse – just over three fifths (61 per cent) of those who have seen a decrease in the number of conversations expect this.

Time to Talk Day 2023 is run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness in England, See Me with SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) in Scotland, Inspire and Change Your Mind in Northern Ireland and Time to Change Wales. It is being delivered in partnership with Co-op as part of a shared ambition to reach those who wouldn’t usually engage with mental health support.

James Downs, 33, is a yoga teacher from Cambridge who has lived experience of eating disorders, autism, and ADHD. He finds it very difficult to talk to others about his mental health and has been worrying about money a lot since the cost of living crisis. He says: “The lack of obvious spaces and people to talk to about mental health has left me feeling even more on my own. The loneliness and isolation have played a huge role in keeping me unwell. So often, it’s only when things reach a critical point and I know that I have to talk to someone about my mental health that I do. I think turning this around and having conversations in everyday settings can help prevent things reaching crisis in the first place and direct people to additional help and support if they need it.”

Jordan Yeates, 30, from Northamptonshire has lived experience of anxiety and depression. He works as a freelance photographer, but he also works in a coffee shop part time – where he makes space to talk about mental health. He says: “Some people who I know are having to work two jobs now to keep up with the rising costs of living, so they have less time to meet with friends and talk about how they’re feeling. There’s pressure to get your head down, work and stay at home.

“Personally, I used to see my friends about once a week for a coffee or drinks, but in the last few months I’ve only seen them two or three times. The act of socialising is changing due to financial difficulty, so finding the time and space to talk is harder.”

Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “It’s vital we make space in the day for a conversation about mental health. Yet so many of us are finding that looking after our mental health has taken a back seat. Worryingly we fear stigma if we speak up, we can no longer afford to access the things or places that keep us mentally well, or we don’t want to be a burden on others. We know that talking about our mental health and listening to others about their experiences can help us feel less alone, more able to cope, and encouraged to seek support if we need to. That’s why it’s time to talk and to listen this Time to Talk Day.”

Rebecca Birkbeck, Director of Community and Member Participation, Co-op, said: “With the cost-of-living crisis, and the ongoing impacts from the pandemic, it’s never been more important for us to be able to talk about how we’re feeling – and making connections in our community can play a key part in this. Our research shows a fifth of people rely on their communities for support, that’s why we’ve been working in partnership with Mind, SAMH, Inspire and others to bring communities together to kickstart conversations this Time to Talk Day.”

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “Talking about our mental health with someone we trust can help us feel less isolated and encourage us to reach out for support. It’s even more important during the difficult times we’re living through, and we hope this Time to Talk Day sparks millions of conversations about mental health.”

Wendy Halliday, Director of See Me, Scotland’s programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, said: “We all have mental health, and big issues such as the cost-of-living crisis and other daily struggles can make it hard. The figures show that there is still real stigma attached to opening up about how you’re feeling, and we want everyone to feel comfortable talking about mental health in a way that suits them. This Time to Talk Day, speak up, reach out, and have those conversations.”

Lowri Wyn Jones, Programme Manager for Time to Change Wales said: “Unfortunately, stigma is still an issue and there are worries that the cost-of-living crisis could make this worse. This is why we are urging everyone to use Time to Talk Day as an opportunity to break down barriers and have real and meaningful conversations about mental health.”

Kerry Anthony MBE, Group CEO of Inspire, said: “This research shows us that people think speaking about mental health is important, but still struggle to do so. There is still a significant degree of stigma around mental health and far too many people of all ages and genders still find it hard to talk about how they are feeling and find support. Time to Talk Day gives us all the chance to refocus on the strength and importance of asking, talking and listening.”

The partners are supporting communities across the UK to encourage mental health conversations by providing free resources, including tips on how to have the conversation, and running a UK-wide awareness campaign. Every conversation matters and people are encouraged to make space in the day for a conversation about mental health. Whether that is texting a friend, chatting to a colleague or neighbour, or raising awareness in your community. This is a chance for all of us to talk, to listen, and to change lives.

In addition to supporting Time to Talk Day 2023, Co-op colleagues, members and customers have raised over £8m for Mind, the Scottish Association for Mental Health and Inspire. The partnership is funding mental wellbeing services in over 50 local communities across the UK. Over 22,000 people have received support from the services, so far.

Exporting in 2023 – ParcelHero’s Top 5 dos and don’ts for selling overseas post-Brexit

The international delivery expert ParcelHero has compiled a list of its Top 5 opportunities and pitfalls for exporters in 2023.

ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks M.I.L.T., says: ‘Post-Brexit taxes and regulations have made many businesses wary of selling overseas. UK exports, however, were worth £802.7bn last year. Those companies that have never exported or have suspended their international sales following Brexit are losing out. We’ve been analysing the latest export trends and can now reveal our top tips for exporters, as well as the pitfalls and tricky issues still to be resolved.


1: New FTAs – Do make the most of the 70+ free trade agreements (FTAs) the UK now has in place. From Albania to Vietnam, there are many new agreements already operating, including a £38.8bn total trade deal with Switzerland and a £20bn total trade agreement with Canada. Other newly minted deals include agreements with Singapore and Japan. FTAs with Australia and New Zealand should also come into force this year.

2: Trade with Germany – Do keep pushing your products to Germany. Not everyone realises that it’s now our second-largest overseas market, after the USA. UK exports to Germany were worth £50bn in 2022. Top sellers were aircraft, generators, pharmaceuticals and cars. Forget Mercedes and BMWs, we exported £1,838.92m-worth of motors to Germany in 2021.

3: The Chinese luxury market – Do consider re-entering the Chinese market. We’re sticking our necks out on this one, but now China’s strict Covid lockdown laws have been relaxed, its hunger for luxury goods appears to be returning. Before the pandemic, China was a lucrative market for companies such as Jaguar-Land Rover, Burberry and Ted Baker. Providing tensions don’t escalate over Hong Kong or Taiwan, China should return to being a growth market. Last year, we exported £27.9bn of goods to China, making it our 6th largest export market.

4: Freeports – Do consider the opportunities created by the Government’s new freeport economic zones, such as Freeport East. Goods imported into freeports are exempt from tariffs; manufacturers can import raw materials tariff-free, only paying them on finished products for the UK market. Goods can be re-exported without paying UK duties. Freeports will also offer lower property taxes and lower national insurance rates for new staff.

5: Return to EU markets – Do consider trading with the EU or returning to this market if you quit it post-Brexit. Yes, it’s more difficult than previously, because of new tariffs and red tape, but some issues are improving. Last year, UK goods exports to the EU were worth £330.2bn. That’s still a slump from 2019’s £363.5bn pre-Brexit figures, but not so far off 2017’s £337.6bn. Road vehicles, pharmaceuticals, generators, industrial machinery and electrical machinery top the charts for UK exports to the EU.


1: EU e-commerce issues – Don’t rush into returning to e-commerce trading with the EU without doing your homework, particularly if you are a small seller. It’s a potentially lucrative market, of course, but it still remains challenging for e-commerce sales. Cross Border Europe’s 2022 report on EU e-commerce states: ‘Brexit has had a negative impact on cross-border trade to and from the UK. UK customers lost faith in cross-border commerce (-35%). For e-commerce sellers, Brexit basically means more bureaucracy and tax.’ It’s still a great market, but if you do fancy a return, platforms such as Amazon and eBay offer the easiest route back in.

2: Regulatory divergence – Don’t get caught out by new split regulations as the UK diverges from the EU. Many British products sold in the UK will soon need to have packaging and stamping to show they meet UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed) regulations. However, it won’t be possible to sell UKCA-passed products within the EU without reassessment by EU bodies. The new UKCA mark was to have been mandatory from the beginning of this year, but the Government recently extended the period until 31 December, 2024.

3: Northern Ireland trade – Don’t treat Northern Ireland (NI) as being the same as the rest of the UK. To avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, NI has, in effect, remained in the EU’s single market for goods. If you plan to move goods between GB and NI, you’ll need an EORI number that starts with XI. To add to the confusion, labelling requirements are set to change. For example, the UKCA markings mentioned above won’t be valid for goods sold in NI, which will still require the EU’s CE marking, and/or potentially a UKCA NI mark.

4: The US market – Don’t assume the US is a natural replacement for lost EU sales. It has its own complications. We sold £142.3bn of goods to the US in 2022. However, products sent to the US valued at over $800 face tariffs, and the much-vaunted US-UK trade deal has yet to come to fruition. Additionally, Biden’s new Inflation Reduction Act includes billions of dollars of subsidies for electric cars and eco-friendly products. However, these will only be available to consumers who buy American-made products. That could impact on UK (and EU) exports.

5: Volumetric weight – Don’t get caught out by extra charges incurred by volumetric weight corrections on overseas shipments. International carriers bill items based on the combined size and weight of the parcel, using a formula called volumetric weight. To add to the confusion, each carrier uses different criteria to calculate this weight, depending on which service is selected. Fortunately, ParcelHero’s new volumetric  tool not only calculates the typical volumetric weight but, if you enter the specific carrier and service you are thinking of booking, it will calculate the exact volumetric weight you will be billed for.