Friday, 13 January 2017

2017 Predictions: What does the year ahead hold for the debt industry? TDX Group experts give their view on the themes and developments we can expect to see in the coming months.

Rising inflation squeezes disposable income

The devaluation of the pound and the fact that the new Government has signalled the end of austerity in the UK, means we should expect to see inflation creeping up in 2017. It is our view that inflation will be in the 2% to 3% range by the end of 2017 and whilst this is not high by historical standards, it does represent a significant movement when compared to the last five years.

Typically inflation impacts different consumers in different ways and won’t be evenly distributed. People living with financial difficulties or problem debt are more likely to be subject to a higher personal inflation rate than those not in debt; driven by lower incomes, higher housing costs and the rising cost of everyday expenditure like food, heating and travel.

Interest rates remain stable

If inflation does exceed 2% then eyes will quickly turn to the Monetary Policy Committee, within the Bank of England, to see whether they will react and raise interest rates. During the acrimony of the Brexit vote, some of the walls around the independence of the Bank of England began to look a little less solid and the potential for direct political involvement seemed possible.

However, it now appears that political involvement in setting the Bank of England base rate will remain indirect and it is likely to remain unchanged during 2017. This will continue to provide relief for those most indebted individuals who are especially susceptible to small movements in the base rate.

Limited real wage growth

Growth in the living wage is expected to continue towards the Government’s stated aim of £9 per hour but outside of this gradual increase, we would expect to see very little growth in UK median wage rates during 2017. The challenges thrown up by Brexit and rising import costs are likely to see UK firms focusing on cost reductions in order to remain competitive in the domestic market.

The exchange rate drop may well provide a boost for exporting firms, but whether this translates to wage growth will depend on the long-term view around the correct value of sterling. With inflation expected to grow, we anticipate that real wages will remain at current levels or marginally erode over the year. From a debt perspective, this will impact real disposable income and may well see certain groups of individuals struggling with more delinquent accounts.

Consumer spending and borrowing will begin to flatten

Against the backdrop of these macroeconomic factors and coupled with falling consumer confidence, we expect to see a decline in overall consumer spending in 2017. A “hunker down” mentality will remain in force throughout the UK and this will also have a knock-on effect for borrowing. Whilst consumer credit has been growing since the 2008 financial crisis, it is our expectation that this will begin to flatten in 2017.

Consumers with good affordability (particularly homeowners with equity) will have access to a wide range of cheap credit, but are less likely to take-on any new unsecured credit in the next 12 months and will remain focussed on paying down existing commitments. Whereas, households with lower affordability are more likely to use expensive credit products to get through the month and it is likely that where this population has access to credit they will continue to borrow.

More people struggling with bankruptcy and insolvency

There has been a significant shift in the insolvency market in 2016 and we expect this to continue into 2017. Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) volumes which have been falling in recent years have suddenly started to grow as the demographic of those people utilising IVAs as a debt relief tool has changed. The average value of an IVA (in terms of total debts held) has significantly reduced and is now around 50%* of its peak average value. This decline reflects the demographic change as does the mix of creditors involved in IVA which now contains a much larger proportion of short- term, high-interest lenders.

IFRS 9 preparation and implementation for January 2018

In 2017, financial institutions will complete their preparations for the introduction of IFRS 9 (new rules on how banks and other companies that lend money should account for credit losses). This will have a fundamental impact on how lenders view their balances sheets and will trigger a range of alternative decisions around products offered, product pricing, collections and recoveries.

Under IFRS 9, financial institutions will be required to significantly raise their provisions relating to up-to-date accounts and whilst this will be the area where we see the greatest change, the knock-on effect will be most strongly felt in the non-performing loans market where creditors are expected to accelerate sale and clear non-performing loan warehouses to manage the overall provision number.

Regulatory oversight maintains momentum

We can expect regulatory oversight to continue at the rapid pace seen since the inception of the Financial Conduct Authority in 2013. The focus on fair customer treatment (specifically the most vulnerable) which is increasingly embedded across the financial services industry, will continue and this will create opportunities for those most well equipped to use data to really understand their customers’ circumstances. Evermore there will be a desire to ensure visibility of the end-to-end customer journey and continued oversight throughout the entire lifecycle.

We also expect that the changes which TDX Group has already started to introduce around Debt Collection Agency (DCA) commission structures and how we are aligning these with fair consumer outcomes will develop rapidly in 2017, as all parties realise that incentivising only on cash collected does not optimise wider outcomes for customers.

Greater demand for customer choice and creditor flexibility

This year will be interesting in relation to customer behaviour and how creditors respond to the new expectations that customers have on them. Given the continued macroeconomic turbulence expected in 2017, we are likely to see an increasing number of “new” customers entering into collections and recoveries; customers recently dubbed JAMs (Just About Managing) by the Government, who are unused to dealing with arrears and will expect a different type of engagement from their creditors. Most likely they will also want to deal with their creditors across multiple touchpoints, potentially for the same query.

Only those creditors who are fully joined up across a number communications channels (eg social media, live web chats and traditional customer service centres) will be able to effectively engage with these individuals. This capability coupled with a less dogmatic and more flexible approach to collections and recoveries will separate the best and worst performing creditors.

In summary…

…as we go into 2017, the level of economic uncertainty is probably greater than at any time since the financial crisis almost a decade ago. On 20 January 2017, Donald Trump will take office in the US in what promises to be nothing if not unpredictable. Once in office, whether he will continue his proposed policy of America First and fiscal stimulus is still unclear, but if he does it is likely to have economic consequences around the world.

Here in the UK, we have to navigate the fall-out from Brexit whilst not forgetting that the EU remains largely unstable off the back of the UK vote and ongoing budgetary and banking crises. All-in-all creating further uncertainty around the key macroeconomic indicators. In 2017, it will be these larger impact items (rather than micro industry wide triggers) that will deliver the real change across collections and recoveries, and the key focus will be to maintain flexibility around strategy and suppliers whilst also building capacity to deal with an overall increase in delinquency and default.

2017 Predictions compiled in conjunction with:

Stuart Bungay, Group Product and Marketing Director
Richard Haymes, Head of Financial Difficulties
Carlos Osorio, Director of UK Debt Recovery
Pete Parsons, Director of Third Party Government Relationships

*SOURCE: Figures based on TDX Group data from The Insolvency Exchange, December 2016.

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