Interview with Tom Curran, Chief Executive of KCT

Kings Court Trust (KCT) and the Institute of Professional Willwriters (IPW) have just announced (view article here) that they have entered into a strategic partnership to deliver the Integrated Legal Services (ILS) probate and estate administration service to all IPW member firms. Under the agreement, all IPW members will automatically be eligible to become KCT business partners and benefit from a number of services to support them and their clients. Tom Curran, Chief Executive of Kings Court Trust, told Jane Common of Today’s Wills & Probate about the partnership — and shared his views on the wider legal services industry too.

How long have you been with Kings Court Trust, Tom?

"Kings Court Trust was founded in 2002 but it changed ownership about five years ago, when the original founders retired following the acquisition of the business. Following this, we secured external investment from Smedvig Capital a couple of years ago. So we now have two brands operating in the legal market place — Title Research, which provides services to solicitors, and Kings Court Trust, supplying services to will writers, IFAs and the like, who we support with their estate administration needs."

What do you relish about the legal services industry?

"It’s hugely interesting on a case level because of the family dynamics and at an industry level it’s interesting because of the changes happening in the marketplace post the Legal Services Act, with ABSs and massive shifts in consumer behaviour as well. Thanks to constant developments in technology, consumers now want to interact with professional services in a completely different way — and at times convenient to them. That’s not to say they don’t want to speak to their professional advisers but they do want a multi-channel relationship. They want to be able to do what they want when they want — quite rightly of course, modern-day consumers want it all! And that’s what we’re here to provide."

What challenges do you foresee in the industry over the next few years?

"Well, as we were just saying, the march of technology — although obviously that’s an opportunity as well as a challenge. If a firm has the technology and the business mindset then technology offers a real chance to innovate and evolve services to meet customer requirements. We have to remember that only a small proportion of what we do is directly legal — most of it is about administration and providing a great service."

How does KCT provide a great service?

"From our point of view, great service is about having the right people working for us to interact with our families and business partners — that’s essential. But our team has to be supported by the appropriate technology and a proper business framework to allow them to deliver that great service. Then, in theory, everything should flow."

How many staff do you have?

"There are 90 of us — mostly based in Bath but some out on the road. Our staff members are all people who are willing to embrace change and innovation — they won’t settle for second best on a personal, team or company level. I’m obviously biased but I’d say we are a good place to work. In line with best practice we have a good, solid employee benefits package, but ultimately I think what really makes people dedicated and motivated is interesting work and a good working environment. We’ve had a period of expansion and now we are consolidating on that, but we expect to recruit again in the not too distant future."

What do you think about regulation in the legal services industry — should there be more of it?

"Kings Court Trust is a regulated business — we have chosen to be regulated and we are broadly in favour of regulation of consumer legal services. Most consumers believe that all legal services are regulated already, of course, and therefore on balance we think regulation is a good thing in terms of consumer protection.

"It has to be kept in mind, however, that simply because a firm is regulated it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s solid — we’ve all witnessed that. The reality is that a good, well-run business shouldn’t need regulation and because of that, while I don’t want an industry that operates like the Wild West, I don’t want to see more regulation just for the sake of it — the cost of too much bureaucracy and red tape tends to get passed on to the consumer. So what we need is a good regulatory framework in place, particularly as the industry has moved into a new phase and there are new business structures coming into play."

Are you expecting any consolidation of the market or any new entrants into it?

"I’d say it’s inevitable that distribution in legal services will change — absolutely. It’s obviously highly fragmented — we now have Gateley listed on the Stock Exchange; acquisitions by big law firms like Slater and Gordon; and mergers between smaller and medium-sized practices going on all over the place. But just merging two law firms doesn’t necessarily provide the overall change that the market needs and that change is more likely to happen on a corporate level — so new brands deciding they want to operate in this marketplace.

"Ultimately, I believe, people will soon be buying legal services in a completely different way. So if someone wants to buy a house they will think ‘I need to find a service provider to help me’ rather than ‘I need to find a law firm to help me’. And though that service provider, which may or may not be what we currently recognise as a solicitors’ practice, will obviously have to offer appropriate legal elements to their service, in the consumer’s mind it will be about the service, brand and technology rather than the expertise in law.

"That will be the shift and, off the back of that, new businesses will enter this marketplace — very possibly bigger companies that aren’t practising law at the moment might move. Some have done it already and others are waiting and watching and thinking about when’s the right time to come in."

Are you looking at different ways of working as a company?

"We are very, very focused on delivering excellent service so it’s not about introducing myriads of different products — it’s more about concentrating on improving the experience for our customers while they’re going through the estates administration process. Getting the service delivery right is the most important thing and we are focussed on that.

"And we do that through having the right culture and ethos, listening to our customers’ requirements and being adaptable to change. We’re not talking great sweeping changes but, instead, constant, continual refinements in the way we provide our services. And, without sounding glib, it’s about listening, observing and using technology to facilitate a more personal service — that’s where we excel."

What does the partnership with the Institute of Professional Willwriters means for KCT and its customers?

"With ILS, we’re providing an additional service to some IPW members and a refinement to an existing service for others. We want to work with the IPW to bring it closer to its clients so the IPW can broaden its service offering, secure in the knowledge that KCT, a high quality provider, is underpinning it. It’s still early days but we’ve had positive feedback so far and we’re very excited about the future."

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Today's Wills and Probate