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Round up: SPG 2019

Round up: SPG 2019

26 November 2019

Two hundred and forty members of the insolvency and restructuring profession took up residence at Heythrop Park Hotel in Oxfordshire for R3's 2019 Smaller Practices Group (SPG) conference, which was held on 14 and 15 November.

Over an action-packed two days, 18 speakers provided an insight into the most pressing issues affecting the profession.

Here are some of the highlights:

Kicking off with an economic update

Following a welcome from Conference Director Trevor Binyon and SPG Committee Chair Simeon Gilchrist, the first day of the conference opened with a session from Professor Trevor Williams of the University of Derby on the economic outlook for the UK. It was interesting to note that Brexit has had less of an immediate impact on the economy than expected, and that business investment growth may pick up once the uncertainty over the future of our relationship with the EU has been decided.

De-crypting cryptocurrency

Prof Williams' session was followed by a presentation from Allister Manson from Opus Business Services on cryptocurrencies and how they can be managed in insolvencies. The crypto-world is an evolving beast, and with little caselaw and virtually no regulation to draw upon, it can be a challenge to see how they can be classed and managed as assets in insolvencies. Future cases will hold the key - and set the precedent - for how the profession manages these.

NEST and the insolvency process

The third highpoint of the morning was a presentation from John Hale of NEST, who talked us through NEST's proposed changes to its IP process and sought feedback from delegates on what was planned.  It was great to have NEST at SPG this year - hopefully the discussions will form the foundation for its continued engagement with the profession... 

Lessons from Brompton bicycles

Our Day One keynote speaker was Will Butler-Adams OBE, the Managing Director of Brompton Bicycles. And he didn't disappoint. Over an hour, he extolled the virtues of cycling, innovation and freedom for staff, while telling the story of how he and his team grew Brompton Bicycles from a firm that turned over £1.7m a year into a multimillion-pound business with shops all over the world. The secret: never forget your purpose.

GDPR one year on

It's been a year since GDPR was brought into force - and day one's penultimate session saw R3's Technical and Education Director Caroline Sumner take us through the impact it had had on the profession and those who worked on it.

Twelve months on since GDPR's introduction, it's interesting how little has changed - and how much of an impact good commercial judgement has had on insolvency practitioners staying the right side of the regulations. The key takeaways: adopt a pragmatic approach to GDPR issues - and keep an eye out for the GDPR guidance R3 and the RPBs are developing next year...

A question of ethics

Day One closed with an ethics panel chaired by R3's President Duncan Swift. Following a lively debate, it was clear that there was a need for consistency across the profession in terms of how breaches of ethics are handled and that there was a clear need to keep promoting the profession's achievements and success stories, and explaining insolvency processes.

And on the second day...

Day Two of SPG began with a session covering R3's Strategic Plan, presented by R3 CEO Emma Lovell and R3 President Duncan Swift. Emma and Duncan set out the five pillars underpinning the plan: community (making sure R3 is the 'home' for all members of the profession and the wider insolvency and restructuring community, at every stage of their careers); voice (promoting and protecting the value of members' work, through media and political outreach, among other channels); learning (providing market-leading education and training for the profession); innovation and insight (producing research and providing a forum for discussion of insolvency and restructuring issues); and ensuring that R3 will continue to be a thriving organisation (building for the future by revising R3's governance, and taking advantage of new technology and improved business processes).

The secrets of high-performance teams

Emma and Duncan were followed by Day Two's keynote speaker, Marcus Child, who provided an insight into managing high-performance teams. The key takeaways: people can always achieve more than they think, and between 80 and 90 per cent of staff behaviour reflects how the leader operates. Wise words from a man who has taught thousands of businesspeople how to believe in themselves.

Mental health in insolvency

One area of insolvency that's increasing in awareness is the vulnerability of debtors during the insolvency process. Nick O'Reilly from Manolete Partners took conference attendees through some of the learnings in this area from his career.

As he pointed out, our profession isn't made up of clinicians. But we can help staff understand and recognise some of the signs of mental distress and help point them to sources of support with these problems. This is an area R3 is looking at closely, particularly how we can support our members as they deal with mental health challenges they encounter in cases and in practice.

The finer points of the Finance Bill

The penultimate session of the conference was led by R3's Head of External Affairs Nick Cosgrove, who took us through the Finance Bill, and the elements of legislation that will affect the insolvency profession - and the business community as a result. Key areas of concern were the proposed return of Crown Preference (for more on our concerns around this, read our most recent R3Thinks post on the topic [H/L]), and the lack of clarity around director liability - both of which will have consequences for the economy and UK's reputation as somewhere that's easy to do business. R3 has been working hard to get both proposals amended and will continue to do so once the election is over.

Advice on property as assets

The final talk of the day came from Nathan Pask of Avison Young, who provided a surveyor's perspective on selling property - and an insight into how times have changed. It used to be normal to take 6-12 months to sell a property, but now it can be done in eight weeks (although specialist properties can take longer). The key learnings: the market will always decide the property's value - and that the Red Book is a reference guide, rather than a rule book for valuations.

And with that, the 2019 SPG conference ended. Thank you to the SPG Committee, all our speakers, our sponsors and everyone who attended. Hopefully we'll see you all again next year. 


R3's sponsors play a huge part in helping us put on all our events, and SPG was no exception. A big thank you to this year's sponsors, who are:

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