June 20th, 2014
Contis’ Next Generation Prepaid Platform to Power Oblong’s Bespoke Card Solutions for Member Organisations Worldwide
19 June, 2014 – Contis Group, one of Europe’s leading e-money institutions, today announces a strategic partnership with prepaid specialist Oblong Cards. Under the terms of the partnership, Contis Group’s next generation payments infrastructure will power a portfolio of open, restricted and closed loop prepaid card solutions delivered by Oblong to its international client base of member organisations.
Oblong Cards specialises in delivering card solutions that create unique value for the members of clubs, unions and other community and member-driven organisations across a variety of sectors, from travel and tourism, to sport and financial services. Through the partnership, Oblong can leverage the flexibility and versatility of Contis’ prepaid platform, together with its status as a Principal Member of Visa, in order to design solutions that are tailored precisely to the individual needs of each of its clients.
Commenting on the partnership, Ian Hossack, Managing Director of Oblong Cards, says: “Oblong doesn’t produce standard products for its clients. Our relationship with Contis empowers us to create solutions that meet each of our client’s specific objectives with the confidence that our core supporting platform is capable of supporting the concept. Contis is one of just a handful of providers capable of offering all the components needed to bring a prepaid solution to market under one roof, which helps us to deliver innovative solutions in a fraction of the usual time. By harnessing this flexibility, we are able to integrate loyalty and rewards schemes, member discounts, bespoke online accounts, multiple cards and other value-generating initiatives into a single solution, enabling our clients to increase their own member value as a result. We already have a variety of exciting solutions currently being implemented and we look forward to sharing more details on these in the coming weeks.”
“Large member associations can benefit greatly from bespoke, integrated card solutions,” adds Mike Fromant, Managing Director, Contis Group. “By creating value through payment, loyalty and rewards schemes designed around the interests of members, Oblong’s clients can boost member engagement, extend the longevity of their subscriber base and even drive greater cost efficiencies in their own operations. Oblong is known for its innovation in this sector so it makes perfect sense to marry their skills with ours; the result is a powerful combination of unconventional thinking and real technical agility. Product ideas can now be conceived, designed and brought to market in a matter of days. We’re very excited by the disruptive potential of this partnership.”
Contis and Oblong expect to deliver a series of announcements detailing successful customer implementations across a variety of vertical industries in the coming months.
The partnership with Oblong follows recent news of Contis’ corporate expansion and revenue growth. Also in June, the firm has announced annualised monthly compound annual growth rate of 202% between June 2012 and March 2014. Year on year revenue has increased by 93% in FY14 and management is forecasting further growth of 147% for financial year ending March 2015.
Posted in Latest News
June 18th, 2014
Credit unions drive maximum financial inclusion, step up the fight against unethical lending and prepare their members for Universal Credit
17 June 2014 – Eleven credit unions across South and Mid Wales, including Dragon Savers Credit Union (Treorchy), Lasa Credit Union (Swansea) and Neath Port Talbot Credit Union, are working hard to support local residents through tough financial times with the introduction of an online and mobile personal account facility that offers more to their members than any basic high-street current account.
Partnering with credEcard, the UK’s leading e-money personal account, Visa debit card and rewards programme, enables Welsh credit unions to achieve the maximum possible levels of financial inclusion by delivering an alternative to traditional bank services to members who can’t obtain a current account or simply wish to shun traditional banking facilities. The credEcard product also helps credit union members to control spending, pay bills on time and generate significant cashback amounts when they shop for groceries, and other everyday purchases.
Julie Mallinson, Business Development Manager at Neath Port Talbot Credit Union, comments: “In an area classified as ‘highly deprived’, we are one of the largest credit unions in South Wales with almost 10,000 members. Local landlords are extremely concerned about welfare reform, especially the introduction of Universal Credit, which will see benefits delivered via one monthly electronic payment – a huge sea change from the current system. The fear is that benefit recipients will struggle to adapt, resulting in rental arrears, unpaid bills and further financial turmoil. credEcard is helping us to combat this. We receive our members’ benefit payments, manage their bills and then deposit the remaining funds in their respective credEcard accounts, for them to use day-to-day. Simple and effective.”
“Finding an ethical financial solution for our members was key,” adds Christina Stoneman, General Manager of Dragon Savers Credit Union. “The credEcard package has been specifically designed to support credit unions, helping us to give our members the flexibility to save regularly, keep an eye on daily spending and receive and ring-fence funds that are already committed to rent and other essential outgoings. In all, these new personal account facilities give users total control over their finances in a way they could not get before.”
The actions of the 11 credit unions in Wales reflect those of an increasing number of credit unions around the UK. In reaction to an impending ‘Universal Credit crisis’, a national total of 93 organisations including credit unions, housing associations and other support agencies are now issuing credEcard to members who, despite being excluded from the traditional banking system, will be required to obtain current account facilities in order to receive monthly benefit e-payments. As the new system rolls out, unbanked claimants will also be in critical need of the initiative’s free online budgeting tools, designed help them manage the sudden increase in personal financial responsibility that Universal Credit will impose.
Denis Greenall, Manager of Lasa Credit Union (Swansea) believes that educating members through initiatives like credEcard is vital: “Our support does not stop at loans, developing money management skills in our members enables them to manage their own payments in the future. To do this they need the right account facilities. The credEcard package delivers these in an ethical and transparent solution which is already greatly helping our members.”
Geoff Leech, Managing Director, credEcard, commented: “It is our mission to help credit union members get ‘more bank for their buck’. We work hard with all of our partners to achieve maximum financial inclusion for all by ensuring the product meets the needs of local residents. This helps users to mitigate the disruption that Universal Credit will bring and stay out of the clutches of predatory high-cost credit companies. Our aim has always been to deliver an ethical, low-cost and transparent tool for support agencies looking to give their members the help they deserve. Credit unions in Wales and all over the UK have realised the value of credEcard and are making use of its unique set of specially-designed features.”
By partnering with credEcard, housing associations and credit unions are able to support those they serve with budgeting tools and account facilities at no cost to them. Cardholders benefit from a personal account capable of monthly bill payments, money transfers, general purchases and ATM withdrawals and can also take advantage of the unique envelope facility budgeting tool, designed to help cardholders ring fence essential funds, such as care provision and utility bills, leaving the remainder of their monthly income free to spend or withdraw as cash.
 Contis Warns of Looming Crisis for Credit Unions following Citizen’s Advice Study
Posted in Latest News
June 17th, 2014
Regional MPs lend support to credit union mission to steer community away from unethical lenders
17 June 2014 – North London Credit Union is supporting local residents with the introduction of an online and mobile personal account facility that offers more to their members than a basic high-street current account.
By working with credEcard, the UK’s leading e-money current account, Visa debit card and rewards programme, North London Credit Union is delivering online and mobile banking facilities that encourage its members to develop smart financial habits and enable them to control spending, pay bills on time and generate significant cashback when they shop for groceries and other everyday purchases.
Commenting on the benefits of credit unions offering e-money services to members, Nick de Bois, Conservative MP for Enfield North said: “Many people who have tight budgets are finding prepaid cards a very useful thing to have. Having a payment card is almost mandatory for shopping these days, but having one that does not encourage you to run up debts is a very welcome development.”
The e-money product also enables North London’s ethical financial co-operative to achieve the maximum possible levels of financial inclusion by delivering an alternative financial solution to members who can’t obtain a current account or simply wish to shun traditional banks.
“A prepaid card is a great way for people to budget and manage their money simply and safely, in addition to buying things online,” comments Andy Love, Labour MP for Edmonton. “I’m pleased that the North London Credit Union, which services the whole of Enfield, is now able to offer the cards – it shows that credit unions are increasingly providing people with an ethical alternative to mainstream banking.”
Peter Lovell, CEO of North London Credit Union adds: “It is our job to help our members to develop money management skills so they can control their outgoings. To do this they need the right facilities and our partnership with credEcard is enabling us to deliver this. credEcard has been specifically designed for credit union members, helping them to save regularly, keep tabs on daily spending, receive and reallocate payments and ring-fence funds that are committed to rent and other essential outgoings. This simple and effective package will improve financial literacy and greatly help our members.”
The actions carried out by North London Credit Union reflect those of an increasing number of credit unions around the UK. Housing associations and other support agencies are now issuing credEcard to members who, despite being excluded from the traditional banking system, will be required to receive monthly benefit e-payments, in response to an impending ‘Universal Credit crisis’. Unbanked claimants will also be in critical need of the initiative’s free online budgeting tools, designed to help them manage the sudden increase in personal financial responsibility that Universal Credit will impose.
“The government’s Universal Credit scheme is putting a lot of pressure on benefit recipients and their supporting institutions,” Geoff Leech, Managing Director, credEcard comments. “We are working hard with all of our partners to help them deliver bank-beating services to their members and we support the drive for maximum financial inclusion in order to mitigate the disruption caused by the onset of Universal Credit.
“Our mission is to deliver an ethical, low cost and completely transparent tool for support agencies seeking to give their members time to adjust to the new system. As Universal Credit rolls out, credit unions all over the country will be inundated with requests for financial assistance from their members. credEcard holders are able to manage their finances effectively and eliminate the risks of borrowing from predatory high-cost credit companies.”
By partnering with credEcard, housing associations and credit unions are able to support those they serve with budgeting tools and account facilities at no cost to them. Cardholders benefit from a personal account capable of monthly bill payments, standing orders, general purchases and ATM withdrawals and can also take advantage of the unique envelope facility budgeting tool, designed to help cardholders ring fence essential funds, such as care provision and utility bills, leaving the remainder of their monthly income free to spend or withdraw as cash.
 Contis Warns of Looming Crisis for Credit Unions following Citizen’s Advice Study
Posted in Latest News
June 2nd, 2014
02 June 2014 - Contis Group, one of Europe’s leading e-money institutions, has posted impressive year-end growth figures following a period of corporate expansion and diversification, supported by continued demand from the growing global prepaid market and the addition of new products and services.
The company has built upon its platform and licensing developments in 2012, which gave Contis total end-to-end ownership of all implementation and programme management processes including an E-Money License covering all EU states and Principal Membership of Visa, to successfully position its flagship divisions. Firstly, the company’s e-money current account, Visa debit and rewards programme, credEcard, has continued to contract credit unions, housing associations and other welfare support providers as they move to support their members with ethical financial services.
Recently, Contis launched its new flagship brand, The Gift & Loyalty Company to develop Contis’ successful activities in the closed and open gift card sector into an internationally positioned brand, dedicated to the development of disruptive gifting solutions in the changing world of retail, travel and entertainment. Finally, Contis Financial Services has demonstrated significant contract wins and growth demand for its white label Visa products, with projects such as its Visa prepaid debit card in partnership with the Latvian National Airline, airBaltic, prepaid current account Ffrees and international haulage company TCS Ltd which have all delivered significant revenues since launch.
These factors have seen Contis grow its annualised monthly recurring revenue at a compound annual growth rate of 202% between June 2012 and March 2014. Expansion in the total number of prepaid accounts operating on Contis’ platform by 385% between June 2013 and March 2014 has contributed to this overall growth, in addition to the number of monthly prepaid transactions rocketing by 339% between January 2013 and March 2014. With year on year revenue having grown 93% for financial year 2014, management is forecasting further growth of 147% for financial year ending March 2015.
Peter Cox, Executive Chairman of Contis Group, comments: “We have an aggressive growth plan for the next five years which includes further expansion in the UK and Eastern Europe, following the launch of our Baltic HQ in Latvia. This activity will focus on Scandinavia, the Baltics and the CIS region where there is a proven demand for our bank-like card-based solution. Through our in-house development team we are continuing to deliver innovative products and services across a range of vertical markets and to further refine our current financial services offering which continues to demonstrate its ability to deliver the services associated with traditional banking to people across Europe.
“This aggressive growth will require additional funding and we are working to secure a significant capital inflow which will place us in an even stronger position to take advantage of the ground swell of opportunities being presented to the Group and the rapidly growing prepaid sector.”
According to Capgemini, the prepaid card market is one of the fastest growing non-cash payment markets in the world with global, open loop prepaid card transaction volume growing at a 20%+ compound annual growth and is expected to reach 16.9 billion in 2014. The Boston Consulting Group expects the global prepaid market to reach $840 billion by 2017, with Europe expected to represent $156 billion.
Posted in Latest News
May 29th, 2014
International organisation to challenge one-size-fits-all delivery models with express focus on bespoke, personalised and integrated gift and loyalty solutions
21 May, 2014 – The international market for gift cards, rewards and loyalty schemes faces considerable disruption today following the launch of The Gift & Loyalty Company, a major new brand intent on displacing ‘one-size-fits-all’ gift card, loyalty and reward providers globally, by designing and delivering entirely bespoke solutions for major retailers worldwide.
As part of the Contis Group of companies, The Gift & Loyalty Company will consolidate the group’s existing international business in this sector and seek aggressive growth driven through an express focus on furnishing tier-one retail brands around the world with custom built, flexible and versatile gift card and loyalty solutions.
“As the mobile, online and in-store services of retailers blend into a single, converged customer experience, the value-potential of gift and loyalty programmes is rocketing,” comments Dannie McDonald, Managing Director, The Gift & Loyalty Company. “A new, flexible and agile approach is required if brands are to fully capitalise on this potential. At present there are too many providers in this sector which, despite the incredible flexibility offered by today’s gift and loyalty platforms, remain content to deliver off-the-shelf and inflexible solutions that are, frankly, out of date. The Gift and Loyalty Company is launching to challenge these preconceptions and demonstrate what can be achieved with an inventive, multichannel solution built on our next generation service platform. We are already operating internationally and are trusted by some of the world’s biggest brands. As part of the Contis Group, a Principal Member of Visa and a major global force in payments technology group, we have both the resources and the technical ability to redefine this sector.”
The launch of The Gift & Loyalty Company reflects Contis Group’s continued drive to invest in solutions that redefine the markets they serve and create unique and was previously unachievable value for clients. The delivery of purpose built gift and loyalty solutions enable merchants in today’s hyper-connected and customer-centric market to personalise and deepen their relationships with customers, generate new revenue s and drive competitive differentiation.
“To succeed in today’s market, a brand’s gift and loyalty platform should give it the freedom to focus on its customers,” adds McDonald. “Only by understanding their motivations, aspirations and expectations can they create the truly enticing promotions which lead to extra profits. Too many promising brands are being strangled by their systems, unable to capitalise on customer trends because they can’t be fleet of foot. We solve these issues by designing a gift and loyalty programme that is based on each client’s unique commercial requirements and then applying our service platform that serves these specific objectives. Working in this way, we can ensure that everything is tuned to the needs of the client; nothing is redundant.”
The Gift and Loyalty Company will continue serve the Contis Group’s existing gift card customers, including Virgin, PizzaExpress and Le Pain Quotidien.
Mike Fromant, Managing Director, Contis Group comments: “Contis has grown and diversified considerably in recent years, offering Visa debit and prepaid payment cards, e-account facilities, payment processing services and corporate expense solutions for international companies. Our gift and loyalty offering has also grown and now commands the market differentiation it deserves.”
The UK Gift Card & Voucher Association estimates the UK gift card market alone to be worth £5bn per annum, with consumer sales of gift cards growing year on year by more than 7.5%. In Q3/13, the vast majority of retail gift card sales came from category-specific gift cards which made up 85% of the total, indicating that market demand for tailored solutions remains strong.
Posted in Latest News
March 14th, 2014
I applaud AmEx’s recent initiative to use technology to help the plight of Amercia’s 70m underbanked citizens, but I do hope it knows that there’s no need to start from scratch. The work being done by e-money institutions in the UK, on the Visa platform in particular, to address the needs of the financially underserved is world beating.
UK programmes of this kind have been tremendously successful for a number of years and can provide a best practice blueprint for AmEx to follow.
Prepaid and debit products have been built in partnership with welfare support institutions like Credit Unions and Housing Associations, for example, offering bank-like payment facilities to those that that have been turned away by the traditional high street banks. The best of these deliver integrated loyalty and rewards schemes linked to value-driven retailers, enabling cash strapped cardholders to generate income from their spending.
But leveraging the right partnerships is just the tip of the iceberg. The flexibility of the e-money environment (of which AmEx is an important part) enables service providers to shape financial solutions to help groups of customers manage their funds in a way that suits their specific circumstances, including the unbanked. On this side of the pond, e- account platforms have already been created that that enable account holders to segregate committed outgoings for, say, rent and utilities, and store them in virtual ‘envelopes’, thus ensuring they remain untouched until their payments are due. This leaves remaining income easily accessible for groceries and other expenses, or to withdraw as cash from an ATM. These practices are already well established in Europe and could help AmEx circumvent years of research.
Finally, AmEx will also need to recognise that the unbanked cannot be addressed as a single market. State-by-state variations are acute, so the ability to apply appropriate segmentation will determine the initiative’s success in the US, probably more so than it would in the UK. Assessing and prioritising those support agencies which have the greatest potential to effect change will also be central to the realisation of AmEx’s vision. These organisations truly understand the plight of the unbanked and will cast valuable light on the needs of those they serve. Only then will AmEx be able to develop solutions that are of true value.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on this project. I’m quite sure that UK e-money providers would be happy to lend knowledge and expertise in support of this venture.
Posted in Blogs
January 29th, 2014
Last week, T-Mobile announced that it was ‘taking on the US banking market’ with a mobile app and a prepaid card. The story stated that the company was targeting this service at the 68 million Americans that do not have traditional banking accounts, many of whom rely on expensive alternatives like payday lenders. The account boasts no minimum balance requirement and no charge for activation, monthly maintenance, or for replacing lost or stolen cards.
Reading this story, I wonder if T-Mobile has missed a trick. It is widely accepted that consumers need more than just a new facility if they are to ‘go mobile’ with their financial behaviour and the provision of value added services (VAS) are commonly cited as the bonus that can trigger the change. Had T-Mobile taken the step to link their customers’ accounts to a rewards or incentives programme that would generate cash back and receive discounts at popular stores, as some of the best e-money providers do, its offer to this demographic would be enhanced greatly.
Prepaid cards are nothing new and the global e-money industry has been working tirelessly over the years to support the unbanked by providing a sustainable alternative to the recent flood of sub-prime financial providers, such as pay-day lenders. Waiving the fees is a good move but in the absence of additional incentives, it will be interesting to see how many people adopt the solution. Having invested the time, energy and money to bring this product to market, one wonders why they didn’t go the extra mile.
This is a project to keep an eye on. It will be interesting to see if T-Mobile publishes adoption figures in the months to come and also how it develops the solution in order to catch up with the most innovative and comprehensive prepaid providers in the market.
Posted in Blogs
January 21st, 2014
Senior Hire to Drive Business Development across the Baltics, Poland, Scandinavia and CIS
In response to market demand for its integrated prepaid, debit and loyalty payment solutions, Contis Group, one of Europe’s leading e-money institutions, has extended its international business development footprint with a new Baltic Region HQ in Riga, Latvia. The new office, together with the appointment of Country Director, Baltics, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, Ingrida Kovalioviene, is reflective of the group’s increasing corporate investment in Eastern Europe and its neighbouring countries.
Based in Riga, Kovalioviene, formerly deputy CEO at JSC SNORO lizingas, one of Lithuania’s largest consumer finance companies, will consolidate existing Contis business in the region and drive new growth for the Group, focusing on major accounts in vertical markets such as banking, transportation, retail and postal services.
“Contis Group demonstrated its innovative powers to this region last year, with the ground breaking airBaltic Visa Payment Card,” comments Kovalioviene, whose business development remit covers the Baltics, Poland, Scandinavia and CIS countries. “This was a product that showed major companies in the region that integrated payment and loyalty solutions can be used to extend their brand, generate revenues and drive greater value in their customer engagement. As a model, it holds vast potential for this region. The need for innovative payment methods and instruments is evident across multiple industries in this region. Companies are less dependent on traditional banking infrastructures, so have greater flexibility to implement customised programmes, meaning the opportunities for brands to establish themselves as players in prepaid and debit are greater than elsewhere. To maximise returns, however, solutions must be tailored precisely to the needs of customers. Achieving this requires a dynamic and agile partner capable of bringing bespoke, integrated payment products quickly and efficiently. The Contis Group has collated in-house all of the elements needed to do this. Together with its major brand experience, it has a very compelling and powerful market proposition indeed.”
Commenting on Kovalioviene’s appointment and the opening of the regional Riga-based office, Peter Cox, Executive Chairman of Contis Group adds: “Investing in local market knowledge and expertise is critical to the Group’s continued global expansion. Adding a regional HQ to our existing local language call centre facility, also in Riga, will enable us to establish a strong business development and account management resource to support our continued growth. Ingrida’s extensive executive experience with institutions like JSC SNORO, AB Parex Bankas and Nordea Bank make her the ideal figurehead for the region. We warmly welcome her to the Contis Group.”
With head quarters in Skipton, UK, Contis Group has also established a wholly owned software development and payment processing arm based in Ahmedabad, India. The Group maintains total end-to-end ownership of all implementation and programme management processes required to effectively launch and operate a Visa prepaid or debit card initiative: BIN sponsorship, card issuance, payment processing and administration management. The result is a seamless service offering for clients, which delivers cost efficiencies, greater agility in programme development, a much faster time to market and simplicity of management; all services that are delivered in-house through a single customer point of contact.
Posted in Latest News
December 19th, 2013
Mike Fromant | Managing Director of Contis Group
As the popularity of prepaid e-money solutions continues to grow, Mike Fromant, Managing Director of Contis Group takes a look at the areas where the market will develop in 2014 and the trends to look out for.
1. Rise in loyalty platform integration
We will see e-money and loyalty scheme providers leveraging their technology, client portfolio and experience in order to broker introductions for customers with strategic partners who also operate on their loyalty platform. Through these introductions, customers are able to establish commercial partnerships with other brands, with mutual gain derived from the quick and straightforward integration of systems. This provides e-loyalty customers with new avenues through which to establish additional sales channels for their gift cards, including gift card malls, virtual malls and the sale of virtual cards together with the bulk sale of gift cards to large enterprises. This can result in cross-brand tie ups – with loyalty points for one shop usable in another, for example – or one-time promotions around an event or season, increasing loyalty and revenues.
2. Unconventional uses for prepaid
2013 saw a number of interesting uses for prepaid which capitalised on the flexibility of prepaid e-money accounts; a trend that will continue into 2014 and beyond. Some airlines, like AirBaltic, are now using branded card schemes to offer additional value to their customers. Benefits include an international payment instrument and exclusive incentives such as flight discounts when the card is used for purchase, miles programme integration, competitive eFX rates and integrated loyalty schemes for consumers. In return, these schemes ensure issuers receive increased brand recognition, customer engagement and retention, in addition to a new revenue stream.
Prepaid adoption amongst migrant worker recruitment agencies will also increase in 2014, as they seek to support workers without a bank account. Prepaid e-money accounts are already revolutionising this procedure. Agencies can load wages onto cards and issue them to workers, removing the necessity for large amounts of cash to be kept on the premises, making the process simpler and safer for all concerned. The best solutions even enable migrant workers to apply for an additional card to be associated with the account, which can be sent back to their home country, enabling family to avoid international money transfer costs by withdrawing funds from an ATM.
3. Curtailing corporate credit
Credit is no longer king. In austere times, unnecessary corporate spending is the first area to be reigned in. Prepaid cards are an easy and effective way to bring spending back under the control of finance departments. Switching corporate expense systems to prepaid removes the ability for an employee to overspend, only offering the option to use money that has already been sanctioned. This system is easier to administer for the finance department and enables instant loads for specific requirements such as business trips or events. This places thrift at the forefront of employee’s minds and eases the pressure on internal systems.
4. Cross-border expansion
Regional brands will increasingly leverage the benefits and flexibility of e-money accounts as a vehicle for brand expansion overseas, through recognition and loyalty. We have already seen airlines offering prepaid cards to customers as a tool to aid expansion into new markets through payment and added value, and this could equally work for organisations like car rental, hotel chains and national retailers.
5. Mobile marches on
In 2014, we will see e-accounts go mobile, placing quick, convenient and secure money management facilities into consumer’s pockets. Adoption will be quick amongst consumers as they look to keep even tighter control on their finances while on the move. Taking this one step further, once users are familiar with the process and functionality of mobile money management, we will begin to see tailored loyalty programs offering value direct to app users. Already, retailers are offering tailored discounts to frequent customers and some are even offering location-based deals, leveraging the GPS on customer’s phones to know when they are close and tempting them as they walk past. Expect to see more of this in 2014.
As with so many industries, successful diversification will be the key. 2014 is shaping up to be a big year for e-money and those players with the ability to spot opportunities, and the agility to react to them, will increase market share and thrive.
Posted in Blogs
December 6th, 2013
A research report from Citizens Advice earlier this year revealed that nine out of ten benefit recipients will be ‘unable to cope’ when the government’s flagship benefit scheme Universal Credit rolls out across the UK; a situation that will inevitably place huge financial and logistical pressure on care providers, social landlords and welfare support providers.
Universal Credit requires claimants to manage all financial commitments from one monthly imbursement, paid directly into a bank account. Today, most benefit recipients budget on a weekly or fortnightly basis, according to how often their benefits are paid. There are many who currently struggle to manage their finances effectively from one week to the next and many who will find it difficult to revise their financial behaviour.
A high proportion recipients also don’t have a bank account, nor any means of obtaining one. The transitional period will no doubt be disruptive and many recipients will miss vital payments for rent, care provision and other services which were previously settled by the state on their behalf. According to a national survey by KANA Software, three quarters of UK social housing landlords fear potential mass rental arrears when Universal Credit is introduced. Elsewhere, Housemark, a performance improvement services organisation set up by the Chartered Institute of Housing and the National Housing Federation, indicated that Universal Credit could cost up to £1.4bn in additional unpaid rent every single year.
Significant support will therefore be needed if recipients of Universal Credit are to budget effectively and keep up with the regular payments which fund the services they receive. To this end, welfare support providers must take steps to protect their interests and ensure they remain commercially capable of delivering on their service contracts. But where will this support come from? Action must begin by ensuring that all service recipients can obtain an account facility of some kind into which their Universal Credit can be paid. Then, sufficient facilities must be made available to enable recipients to manage their financial affairs effectively.
The e-money industry has been working hard to create solutions for this sector. The best of these deliver far greater benefits to account holders than traditional banks currently offer, linking their account to rewards and incentive programmes that enable individuals to generate cash back on the money they spend. e-money institutions can offer anyone a prepaid e-account complete with an account number and sort code. This enables them to arrange standing orders, transfer funds between accounts and withdraw cash from ATMs worldwide. Additional cards can also be made available, meaning a relative or carer can play an open and active role in managing a claimants financial affairs, should they be unable to do so themselves. No bank in sight.
We even provide an Envelope Facility, where cardholders are able to separate incoming funds into different ‘envelopes’ for different purposes, facilitating effective monthly budgeting for those unfamiliar with the practice. As cardholders can only ‘spend what they load’, prepaid solutions can also help to mitigate against debt.
With an anticipated eight million Universal Credit payments expected over the first four years alone, financial solutions designed for low income individuals and those with developing financial skills will grow dramatically in 2014.
The Universal Credit crisis, therefore, can yet be averted. By working with e-money institutions, social landlords, care and welfare providers can support those they serve with the required tools and account facilities at no additional cost to them. Furthermore, there is an urgent need for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to consult with the e-money industry in order to gain a better understanding of what online payment and budgeting facilities are available to recipients of Universal Credit. So, for both the DWP and social welfare providers, now is the time to act in order to mitigate the disruption caused by Universal Credit and provide UK’s unbanked with the support they need and deserve.
Geoff Leech is Managing Director at credEcardplus
Posted in Blogs