This year, Estatesearch celebrates five years of serving the industry. We spoke to Jonathan Upton, Director, about how the company started, milestones and how it has grown along with a look at how the industry has developed and hopes for the future.
1) Tell me about how Estatesearch first started.
I’m a chartered accountant and also spent a number of years working with conveyancing firms. I was involved in developing Calnea Analytics which became one of the UK’s largest providers of property market intelligence.
Having personally experienced the difficulties faced by Executors and Beneficiaries when managing an estate, and in particular some of the potential frustrations of dealing with the banking and the financial sector, I felt there was an opportunity for technology-led products and services to improve client outcomes.
Antony Turck (Tony) who had also worked in conveyancing industry and myself launched Estatesearch in 2018.
2) What’s good about the probate industry?
Probate professionals are a group of well-intentioned people who always have their clients’ best interests at heart. There is a strong focus on good client outcomes and we are proud to be part of that. There is also an opportunity for technology to help legal professionals streamline processes and provide a better service for clients at what is often a difficult time.
3) What does Estatesearch offer?
Much of our work is about supporting clients in identifying the full extent of a person’s estate, in a bereavement or loss of mental capacity cases. As a business, we are committed to developing innovative products and services using new data and technology that helps private client professionals achieve better outcomes, either through greater efficiency or risk mitigation.
Before we launched Estatesearch, we had noticed other asset search solutions, where a solicitor would provide a name and address and the search firm would contact about 50 financial institutions. This is a relatively small number and some of the major high street brands were missing. We felt much more could be done.
We also recognised that literally billions of pounds belonging to deceased estates still remained languishing in a variety of accounts with beneficiaries not receiving what was rightfully theirs. This issue has only been exacerbated in recent years with the increase in online banking and the rise of degenerative illness as life expectancies have increased. Initially, we started by developing a liability search which later evolved into an asset and liability search or Financial Profile search to identify and uncover lost accounts, pension pots and share certificates.
By obtaining a full name and address history of a person over time, and reaching out to a large number of financial institutions our Financial Profile search would be far more likely to uncover assets and liabilities to support an efficient fact-finding process, helping solicitors quickly build a better understand of clients’ financial affairs to administer an estate effectively. It has worked.
Fast forward five years and we are still helping to uncover significant assets. One notable example was a recent Financial Profile Search for Jones Whyte solicitors. They were working with a vulnerable executor to establish the assets within her deceased partner’s estate, and we uncovered five asset holders in addition to utilities and credit cards the executor was previously unaware of. The estate which has been uncovered is substantial, with potential of being worth £1 million.
4) How has Estatesearch grown over the past five years?
We now have a team of 35 great people and have doubled our turnover year on year since start-up. One of our main milestones was becoming the first company to access Experian Credit Bureau data records for estate due diligence.
Following the launch of our Financial Profile search we added the the opportunity for solicitors to place Section 27 notices and local newspaper notices all within our secure online portal. Since then, we have added further products all with the goal of making life easier for legal firms and so we now have a full suite of services which can all be accessed and ordered in one place.
In the past 12 months alone, we have grown our client base 180% to over 1,800 professional firms operating across wills, probate, estate administration, and estate planning.
5) What will the next five years bring?
Our industry will, no-doubt, adopt further technological advancements. For example: Artificial Intelligence (AI) or machine learning might be used for document preparation. The automation of form filling processes will free-up solicitors time for more complex client facing work with bereaved and vulnerable people.
At Estatesearch, we look at what humans would do if they had unlimited time and budget and look to try to achieve that using technology to make processes more efficient to allow for scale. For example: we are currently trialling the automated reading of documents for key information to reduce administration time in the compilation inheritance tax declarations.
6) Estatesearch is one of the founders of the Vulnerable Banking Group – how do you see the future changing in relation to the treatment of vulnerable individuals?
The vulnerable people that our clients represent comprise a small subset of the population that the FCA regards as in vulnerable circumstances, so financial institutions and the FCA have historically prioritised limited resources to tackle change for the largest number of affected people. My fear is that we come across examples of financial abuse of vulnerable people on a regular basis, but because the perpetrators of the abuse are often the family and the ultimate beneficiaries of funds, authorities struggle to step in. Our Financial Profile Search helps solicitors uncover instances of financial abuse but I’d like to see broader industry changes brought in to address this concerning issue.
I’d also like to see a development in mindset within our culture which re-evaluates the role and place of elderly people within society and our economy. As a board member and trustee for the charity Re-engage: Charity Supporting Older People Through Volunteering (reengage.org.uk) I believe older people should be appreciated for their contribution and net benefit to society and resources appropriated to enrich all of our lives by reintegrating generations that often live separate lives. Ultimately we will all benefit from this approach eventually, and it would lead to more people living fulfilled lives.
For further information please see: www.estatesearch.co.uk
This article was submitted to be published by Estatesearch as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Wills and Probate. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Wills and Probate.