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Insolvency & Restructuring Conference 2014: Review 4 April 2014

More than 700 delegates, 100 speakers and 40-plus exhibitors gathered at the QEII Conference Centre in Westminster yesterday to participate in the credit and insolvency industry’s largest daytime event.

Two days after it assumed regulatory powers over the consumer credit sector, the opening keynote speech was delivered by Martin Wheatley, chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Addressing the packed conference hall, Wheatley opened by welcoming the “opportunity to talk to you as professionals”. He said that credit allows people to plan for the future and that his priority as regulator was to ensure markets worked efficiently. “Our job is to protect responsible firms from the irresponsible,” said Wheatley. “Forward-looking oversight is important for firms as well as consumers.”He also used the speech to announce a “full scale” competition review into the UK credit card market to be conducted this year.

Economics journalist and expert Anthony Hilton took to the stage to give his unique outlook on the UK economy, both past and present. Asserting it is “nonsense to think you can measure something as big as the economy”, Hilton played down the importance of economic figures as “half of the population doesn’t know how recovery even works.”

To begin the Insolvency & Restructuring stream, Jenny Willott MP, minister for employment relations and consumer affairs, gave her keynote address, shedding light on the government’s current thinking with regards to insolvency, taking into account regulatory issues, proposed fee reform, and approaches to directorial misconduct.

The stage was set for Dr. Stephen Baister, chief bankruptcy registrar, and David Kerr, chief executive of the Insolvency Practitioners Association, to offer both a judicial and industry response to the government’s insolvency measures.

Baister was in favour of the government’s ‘Red Tape Challenge’, designed to cut needless processes during insolvency proceedings, commenting that “abolishing red tape is a good idea in theory”, but warned it may discourage creditor involvement and would not act as a “silver bullet”. Kerr outlined the IPA’s response, covering the fee reforms as “a crude solution that ignores research”. However, Kerr stated the IPA had not received “that many complaints about fees” as most referred to personal insolvency processes instead.

Risk within insolvency processes was addressed by a panel comprised of Dr. Stephen Baister, Alan Bloom (EY), Barry Isaacs QC (South Square) and Raquel Agnello QC (Erskine Chambers). Baister believes litigation can be a “blunt and unsatisfactory instrument”, while Agnello urged IPs to “try to use alternatives to litigation where ever possible.”

After lunch, a panel session chaired by Russell Gould (Everline) on Business Lending saw Craig Leyland (Lombard), Martin Morrin (RBS Invoice Finance), Stephen Pegge (Lloyds), and Brendan Gillmore (Metro Bank) discuss lending issues affecting the SME market. Topics such as the use of data, the needs of customers, and alternative lending were addressed as the panel sought to clarify where the bottleneck is for SME lending.

Glenn Morgan, managing director of Credebt and R3 committee member, then gave delegates a run-down of how to make the most out of debtor ledgers. Morgan advised insolvency practitioners to “instruct debtor collection agencies on a contingency basis only.”

A change to the auto-enrolment legislation is a topic that concerns IPs, with a panel of speakers running through how the insolvency profession will be affected. Tushar Bhate (Neon Legal) and Nick Boyes and Emma Hilton (Alexander Forbes) outlined how IPs should react and what legal obligations will arise from auto-enrolment during insolvency. “The Pensions Regulator commits half its annual budget of £60m to dealing with auto enrolment” said Bhate, while Hilton advised IPS that they “must use the S120 online on all insolvency appointments and any scheme that you are aware of that is not on this system will require a manual S120 notice”.

Nick Hilton, head of national accounts at Ad Hoc Property Management, gave an address on the issues surrounding vacant properties during insolvencies, outlining how the “property guardian” scheme can assist in protecting vulnerable empty buildings. Hilton asserted that it was not “a security solution”, but means properties are “better protected and unlikely to be targeted.”

The final session of the day brought together delegates from the Trade Credit stream for a panel discussion on the hot topic of creditor and IP relations. Myles Halley (Rcapital), Tim Hawkins (Centric Commercial Finance), Stuart Hopewell (Fujifilm UK), Mike Jervis (PwC) and Andrew Pepper (Hilco Capital) held sway over a lively discussion addressing the issues of trust, communication, transparency and regulatory change as factors affecting creditor and IP relations.

Other conferences on Alternative Lending, Car Finance, Collections & Recoveries, Debt Advice, Trade Credit and Treating Customers Fairly also enjoyed large numbers of delegates, listening to high profile speakers imparting their insights into the industry.

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