Interview with Clive Ponder, Director at Countrywide Tax & Trust Corporation Ltd
Clive Ponder, a Director at Countrywide Tax and Trust Corporation Ltd which has just launched a software arm selling innovative Lasting Power of Attorney and Will writing software to both professionals and the public, told Today’s Wills and Probate about the initiative…
How long has Countrywide been running and what are its main areas of specialism?
“My co-director and I founded the company in 2002 — both of us had been in the industry previously and decided to combine our knowledge and expertise by setting up a company called Countrywide Legal Services Ltd. In 2009 we achieved Trust Corporation status and changed the company name to Countrywide Tax and Trust Corporation Ltd. The Trust Corporation status demonstrates to our clients that we’re serious about what we do.
“At our head office in Kenilworth we employ 55 staff and we have in excess of 750 consultants and financial advisers based throughout the U.K. who use our services for their estate planning work. Our main area of specialisation is asset protection, using wills and trusts to protect our clients’ wealth as best we can to ensure that their money is safe. After all, they’ve worked hard to accrue it — they should be able to keep it.”
What’s your own background?
“I’m a mining engineer — I was a colliery general manager for many years, moving around the country. When all the pits closed down, I was offered a job in a legal company. So I joined the company, thought I could make a better job of it than they did and, I reckon now, I’ve proved I could.”
What do you like about the business?
“People — every client is different and that’s the fascination I suppose. Even though I’m a director at Countrywide very rarely does a week go by when I don’t see a client — I need to understand what they want and also how our products and software works.”
On your website it says: ‘we have never seen a will that can’t be improved’. What in your opinion are the biggest mistakes people make when putting a will together?
“People don’t realise just how vulnerable their assets are. You’ve got Mum and Dad who have worked hard all their lives to buy a house — it’s worth £200,000, say — and they really want it to go to the children. So they write a will and leave it to the kids and then the grandkids. But does it remain with them down the generations? Lots of people just keep their fingers crossed but we offer an alternative to that.
“Protecting everything is impossible — we can’t pull rabbits out of hats — but we can do a lot of work to protect assets against divorce and bankruptcy. So, for example, if someone receives assets from their parents and they’re placed in a trust, they’re a lot less attackable if that person later divorces than if they’re in their own name.”
What do you think are the big issues in will making right now?
“The big issues are the massive changes in care legislation that are being introduced in April 2015 and April 2016 — that’s what most of our clients want to talk about at the moment. The government has got rid of the CRAG (Charging for Residential Accommodation Guide) regulations and replaced them with The Care Act 2014 and the Care & Support Statutory guidance. With situations like this we’re always wary until some case law comes through and shows how the changes will work in practice.
“Then there are the new pension regulations that have just been introduced — money was never attackable in a pension before but now we think it may be. If you could have withdrawn your pension but didn’t and you go into care the council can now attack that pension pot whereas before it was safe.
“So we have to educate our clients — let them know how changes to legislation affect them and make them realise that their money is now more vulnerable than it might have been before.”
Should there be more regulation about who can make wills?
“I think we need light-touch regulation around mandatory professional indemnity and training. Some people in the industry want too stringent regulations — some solicitors for example, want regulation to the effect that the only people who can write wills are solicitors. They’re just trying to tie the market place down!
“I fail to see how too much regulation is good for the customer — consumers need more choice; not less. Also, if regulation costs a packet, that’s not fair on the consumer as the cost will ultimately trickle down to them.
“So, yes, I approve of some regulation but it needs to be carefully monitored. At the end of the day, we need proper training and, I believe, writing wills without carrying professional indemnity should be a criminal offence.”
You do training at Countrywide?
“Yes, we always have and we are moving with the times with webinars, which we’ve been hosting for about a year. We still do face-to-face too but as more people try webinars and like them there’s a growing demand there.”
What are your most popular training courses?
“We regularly run our Foundation courses for new entrants and in addition there are a number of webinars available which enhance our basic training. Webinars are also available to all our advisors, which cover topical subjects and specialisms. One such webinar which has proven to be extremely popular is our ‘Superman: every client needs a hero’ webinar, which includes subjects such as Reciprocal Gift Trusts.”
What is happening at Countrywide at the moment?
“We purchased a software company 18 months ago — Legacy Documents, which had written our software for the past 11 years. The person who ran it wanted to retire — well, we all deserve that at some point — but we weren’t going to let the software go anywhere else so we bought the company. Over the last 18 months we have been busy rewriting that software to enable Countrywide to proceed in two directions — the original Countrywide Tax and Trust Corporation will remain exactly as it is but with a new software arm to the business as well.
“Our LPA software went on public release last week and the Will writing software will be released in a fortnight’s time. It’s the best piece of software out there — our consultants use it day in and day out and it’s brilliant.”
Where can people buy this software?
“The software packages are available to view and purchase by visiting our website on www.countrywidelegacy.co.uk or by calling us direct on 01926 514392 where our staff will be pleased to talk through all the options available.”