No festive freight train

The festive season sometimes feels a bit like a fast train rushing through a station.

All is quiet. Then in the distance, you make out some lights, moving slowly, but surely in your direction… but it is a long way off, no need to pay attention.

Then rails then start to dance with a high-pitched tinkling, like lasers from some sci-fi movie.

Then all of a sudden it is at the end of the platform. Bright lights, noise, and action… a party barrelling through at 100mph. Those that don’t like it take cover, those that do revel in the exhilaration of all the energy rushing past.

Then it is gone, all is quiet, except for bits of wind disturbing rubbish on the track…. what exactly was all that about you are left thinking.

Now maybe I have spent too many hours waiting for trains at the station (or maybe I am just getting old!), but we are at that point now for this year… Christmas is at the end of the platform… and heading towards us fast.

Plan B

Of course this year, like last, we have COVID in the background… a collective wet blanket on festivities and seeing people it seems. With 2021 concerningly following a similar pattern, this week the government here announced, Plan B, a return of more restrictions. More wearing masks, and as of tomorrow, we all need to work remotely if possible.

I wrote in previous weeks about an optimism building. There was definitely a push in some sectors to get people back on-site in the office. And, this week, with the announcement, you could feel a collective sigh from HR departments everywhere as despite all of their efforts, and admittedly working against some resistance, we were all told, once again to work from home… not much you can do really.

Of course, how much people will pay attention to this remains to be seen. Certainly looking at the traffic, shops, and restaurants, over the weekend and in the evening it seemed as busy as ever… and we all, of course, know that the “virus only works during the workday” [err: not true]… or maybe just the balance of risk is different when seeing family and friends [err: likely true]….so whether it will be busy tomorrow morning, on a Monday, at 8 am, getting to the office, the week before Christmas, remains to be seen!…

Remote working dashboard

With this in mind and with so much change going on, I also pulled together a remote-on-site working survey this week, really to find out what people think and are feeling about remote vs on-site work. It is going to be launched via LinkedIn on Monday, but if you would like a sneak preview you can also access here too -> Let’s get back to the office?

Consumer Duty

The other big news this last week was the launch of a new FCA consultation on Consumer Duty. These proposals have the intention to set a higher standard of care for consumers from financial firms.

Firms will need to act on delivering good outcomes for consumers and be able to monitor and evidence these outcomes.

– act in good faith
– avoid foreseeable harm, and
– enable and support retail customers to pursue their financial objectives

A new Consumer Duty. Feedback to CP21/13 and further consultation

Of course, the collections process, often being a litmus test of good outcomes across the rest of an organization, will be front and centre of this.

Policy, process, control and reporting are all going to be critical, and as Kevin Still discussed last week it is something we need to get ready for now.

This is another train en-route and it is a big freight train at that. We to make sure we are not surprised when it arrives, it will likely not be a party.

Light training

I think this is enough talk of trains for one week… so think it is, therefore, time to put some belated decorations up… or ‘winter lights’ as they are called here… Why ‘winter lights’? This provides the perfect cover to leave them up way into later, into the end of January, cheering up the dark days after the festive train has left the station… something I feel we may need this year.

Have a good week everyone.

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Affording change

This week, outside of eating my first mince pie, I seem to have been preoccupied with higher energy bills and consumer spending in the run-up to Christmas and how big a debt repayment hangover will be in the new year.

Traditionally January and February are always been high volume months for customers falling into the arrears process (get ready now to prepare), but I just wonder if this is going to be bigger than ever this year, with the potential for much wider further knock-on impacts economically too.

It’s not their fault honest

Take energy costs. I have written about this previously, but this week IO heard more stories of monthly fuel bills increasing with customers forced off their great fixed rates onto much higher Standard rate tariffs (60-80% in some cases).

Even on my local Facebook group (admittedly not always a very scientific sample of public opinion, albeit with lots of opinions), there was plenty of talk and shock at the price increases, with some final dismay at just where they were going to find the extra money or stay warm.

Some of this resulted in anger, much of this at energy companies, with assumptions they are raking in profits. But, as someone helpfully pointed out, this really is not the case. Unless you are sitting on paid for land extracting gas reserves… it seems they are losing money too, in fact, most of us are…

Even those sitting pretty on locked-in fixed-price contracts, only have time on their side until these expire… and with the price cap to change again in April, there is likely to be a further shock in the spring too… it is just not great all around.

Wrinkles in approach

The big recent news in this of course has been the insolvency of Bulb. It is now in administration, customers appear on the same deals, with the gap apparently being funded by the government.

Elsewhere in the market, the large energy suppliers have been taking on the customers from smaller suppliers at a rate of knots. However, each of these customers on a standard tariff is still loss-making, with no apparent subsidy to make up the difference.

The situation at face value seems somewhat inconsistent, and you have to wonder if larger scale subsidies are heading to energy suppliers to keep them afloat, should this situation continue. It just seems untenable.

The icing on the (Christmas) cake

And then onto Christmas and Christmas spending. With mince pie season starting the ramp-up to the holidays is now well and truly underway.

With the feeling that Christmas was cancelled last year, the streets seem busier and fuller than we have seen for a long time. Even the announcement of this new Omicron COVID variant does seem to have damped spirits… the motto “have mask.. will carry on (shopping)” seems appropriate.

And this is reflected in the lending data too. Seemly there have been increasing applications for credit amongst younger people and reports of extensive use of Buy-Now-Pay-Later this year.

It all points to increasing debt loads, which will of course will have to be paid back in the New Year.

New Year Cheer?

So could we see combining effects? Consumers having to find that extra money for increased expenses and energy, also with increased monthly debt repayments?

Consumers, faced with such a situation will have to prioritize… and keeping warm is important, so as we know it will result in increased arrears, particularly in unsecured financing areas such as loans, credit cards and BNPL.

If you run an operation it is time to get ready, and especially have digital alternatives to handle the volume, should this materialise as is feared.

However, this turns out, mind you, it is going to be an interesting New Year for sure.

Have a good week(end) everyone.

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Many great returns

The big event of last week was the Credit Strategy Collections and Vulnerability summit featuring the U&T conference.  It was an interesting event, discussion, and once again an opportunity to meet people in person.

As previously discussed, meeting people, in person for the first time, can feel a strange experience and it was not much different this time around.  However, what I did notice was if I knew someone well from video calls, that once we were over the initial “hello” our discussion would then carry on as if we had known each other for a long time…. which I suppose we had, just on video.  It really did all feel very natural.

I suppose this is not that surprising, but it does seem all that discussion, and work, getting to know people over lockdown, really does pay off.  It is not really reset on meeting, so good news.

There were also a couple of interesting themes at the conference itself.

The great return to the office.

Much discussion I have heard up until now has swirled around the many benefits of remote working and continued working on a hybrid basis.  This week however I happy started to increasingly hear more arguments from supporters for an office return. 

Having not had the weight of events on their side until now, they are clearly starting to feel more confident.  Arguments were being vocally pressed, explaining how ‘employees are just so happy to be back’.

Of course, much of this will depend on the demographic, age of workers and role type, it is unlikely to be one-size-fits-all.  It does feel like waiting to ask the question again, after any initial excitement from meeting people again subsides, is probably worth it before jumping to any conclusions here.  [… and of course, with new COVID measures announced over the weekend, all of this could be somewhat premature too].

The return of inflation.

Inflationary pressures are increasingly starting to get mentioned.   With gas and electricity prices leaping, and rumours of £2 per litre petrol, all of this is going to have a significant impact on affordability.  Customers of course need to stay warm, and get to work as a priority, so this will start to feed through to arrears levels.  It seems we are going to have to be prepared and prepared soon (likely early in the new year).

The great resignation

Staffing and recruiting is still a burning issue for many companies, many appear to have large swaths of employees announcing they have found new roles. 

The question I have been mulling on is why is this occurring, and founds some plausible answers this week.

No one has moved roles for the last 18months, so we have a lot to catch up on –  it is just all happening in a shorter period of time.

Also, many older employees in the workforce have just decided to not come back.  With COVID, new younger employees have also not yet entered the workforce. With about 500,000 employees entering and leaving the workforce in the UK every year, this kind of made sense.

With the turn of the month to December, there are only a few more weeks to get things ready for the break over the holidays and then into the new year, so a few important things to think about this week.

Have a good week everyone.

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