Interview with Colin Blears, Director at Risq Ventures

Colin Blears is a Director at Risq Ventures and has a wealth of experience delivering digital solutions in the UK Property Market, the most recent being the launch of the EstatesearchTM Credit & Liabilities Report. In this interview, he tells Today’s Wills and Probate about changes he’s witnessed in the probate industry as well as advising how professionals can adapt.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge currently facing those working in the probate market?

The probate market is really split into two key areas with some overlap between them.  The first is Estate Planning, provided to a client during their lifetime, helping them to record their estate assets and define how they would like their wishes implemented after they die by the executor or personal representative named in the will.

The second part is Estate Administration, the legal and accounting process to aggregate the information on assets, liabilities and beneficiaries before applying for probate and making the final tax submission to HMRC.

Both markets currently face different challenges but there is a common theme of correctly aggregating key information to provide more efficient and cost-effective services to clients, while mitigating the potential risks and liabilities.

Professional and Lay Executors will continue to struggle with identifying assets and liabilities as the financial sector rolls out more “digital by default” and paperless processes, with ever tighter restrictions on data protection. Consumers now travel globally or may emigrate, while divorce is more common, making it harder to trace beneficiaries and assets.  The fact-finding process can also be quite invasive to the family if the records are not easily available.  New ways in which people can borrow money, or invest in crowdfunding and other alternative finance, means digital assets will also be harder to find.

Will writers and estate planners also face the challenge of keeping in contact with their client during their lifetime and at key lifetime triggers to update their will, such as marriage, divorce, births, new home, or shares in stocks or companies.  Two-thirds of the UK adult population don’t have a will or lasting power of attorney in place (Source, YouGov 2016); they are not recognising the importance of having a will to protect their family and estate.

Do you see any substantial changes within the probate market in the next three years?

Over the next three years, I expect to see information and data services playing a key role in helping Will writers generate new business and maintain relationships with existing clients.  Probate professionals will need to implement IT systems with robust workflows to drive efficiencies, reduce risk and remain competitively priced.  Overall, there is likely to be some consolidation in the market between smaller probate firms as some volume providers disrupt the market.  Stronger relationships with financial advisors will be formed to generate new business.

Where do opportunities lie in the next three years?

At RISQ Ventures, we believe the key opportunities for probate professionals exist in using data and information services to help reduce risks to executors, administrators and personal representatives as part of the estate administration due diligence.  Firms will offer their clients a more efficient service at a more competitive rate while having the confidence that a high level of quality and compliance is being maintained.  Longer term, estate planning is going to become more common place and this will drive consumer decisions on who to use for will drafting and estate administration.

What should solicitors and will writers be doing to prepare themselves for the changes?

Both solicitors and will writers should be looking to build relationships with financial advisors and find smarter ways to manage new and existing client data.  The introduction of the EU General Data Protection Regulation in 2018 is a great opportunity to review existing internal processes and look for market solutions to streamline and reduce costs.  Now is also a good time to review how these professional services are charged to the client, moving away from hourly rates with disbursement to fixed price models similar to the approach taken by the conveyancing sector over the last ten years.  If the professional market fails to respond then it’s likely that consumers will look to save money by writing their own will, now increasingly available as a web-based service.

What does probate mean to the end customer?

Until four years ago, I hadn’t appreciated what probate was and the impact it would have on a family if an estate doesn’t have a will or estate plan in place.  Fortunately, this process is not something that the majority of consumers have to deal with on a regular basis so when it happens it is at an emotional, stressful and disruptive point in their lives.  Consumers should look for a solution that is simple, efficient and cost effective so the bereaved family can grieve without an invasive legal and accounting process.

What problem will Risq Venture’s Estatesearch solve and how?

Currently the process to identify liabilities is split into a combination of placing statutory public notices and manual investigation of the deceased records, or taking a light touch approach and insuring away, without taking steps to mitigate the risk.  The option of placing statutory notices takes several months but is the best practice for due diligence, the option of insurance is quick but does not take a proactive approach to due diligence.

RISQ Ventures Estatesearch™ has been developed in conjunction with probate professionals to provide a solution that queries credit bureau records in real-time to perform a search of all known liabilities and then formatting this data into a report for estate administration purposes.

The Estate Search Credit & Liabilities Report includes:-

  • UK creditor data (banks, building societies, payday loans, store cards, online gambling, etc), both secured and unsecured
  • Previous address history
  • Financial connections,
  • Solvency warnings, Bankruptcy, Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) / County Court Judgements (CCJ)
  • Alerts to signpost professionals on financial affairs or liabilities that require further investigation
  • Report refreshes up to the date of distribution of the Estate
  • The Estatesearch™ Estate Administration Protection provides £250,000 of cover underwritten by the UK insurance arm of Munich Re, allowing early distribution of the estate, while protecting the Executors and Beneficiaries against a subsequent claim from an unknown creditor, including claims from HMRC, health providers, bank, building society, mortgage lender, credit card provider, direct debit, utility companies and local authorities.
  • The scheme still allows the Executor to continue to place a Section 27 statutory notice, with the Protection applicable just four weeks from date of publication.

The Estatesearch™ Credit & Liabilities Report including protection for executors, administrators and personal representatives is now available and costs £185+VAT, chargeable as a disbursement to the estate.

What part can technology play?

Technology will be important to drive efficiency and reduce risk but the priority is to ensure solutions solve a real problem before implementing a technology change program.  RISQ Ventures Estatesearch™ is available via a standalone web portal and an API is also available to software case management providers for seamless integration.

Moving forward, we expect to see will writers and estate administrators using mobile technology to gather key information and draft wills.

Finally, and on a personal note we have heard that you’re a bit of an adventurer – please tell us more

Well, after spending 16 years developing digital solutions for the UK property market, I decided to take on some personal challenges.  Having never sailed before, I decided in May 2015 to take part in a Round-the-World yacht race, covering over 14,000nm.  It was this life-changing event that made me go through the process of getting a will and lasting powers of attorneys put in place, so that my family had peace of mind should anything have happened.

On my return from the race, I had an increased energy and desire for more challenges, so signed up to take part in a four-man crew to row across the Atlantic from mainland Europe to mainland South America.  I set off on 6th March 2017 and on 23rd April we set a new world record of 48 days, 4hrs and 53mins.

My next challenge is to run eight marathons in eight days through the Alps in September 2017.

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