An array of private client legal and non-legal professionals across the industry collectively joined to meet virtually this week to discuss how the pandemic has shaped the industry, and individual firms in our second Today’s Wills and Probate (TWP) 2020 roundtable.
Hosted by Karen Babington, Director at the Practical Vision Network who publishes the TWP publication, the event has been a regular fixture throughout the years for industry leaders and professionals across the sector. The event was sponsored by Inheritance Data, the UK’s financial asset searching platform, and Share Data, who specifically deal with the valuation and sale of US shares and handle the extensive paperwork associated with deceased’s estates for professionals.
The second virtual event was pleased to introduce experts from across the country working in the sector including Sarah Walker from Weightmans, Alison Craggs of The Burnside Partnership, Jonathan Bloch, Share Data, Gavin Holt of Co-op legal Services, Emma Baddaley and Bruce Cane from Inheritance data, Stuart Simpson of Equiniti, Jonathan Maskew, Simpson Millar, Ally Tow of Boyes Turner and Claire-Marie Cornford of Irwin Mitchell.
After welcome introductions, Karen kicked off the event by quizzing the group by posing an interesting question. She asked what the most significant thing everyone was doing differently compared to the same time last year and the consequences of those changes.
There were a few things everyone was doing different which had dramatically changed the culture of firms but the consensus of the group was adapting to working remotely/virtually, in that the majority of staff now work from home and only a fraction of their colleagues work in the office.
Firms have now adopted a more flexible approach with their employees. The normal 9-5 hour job had been replaced, giving staff the opportunity to do the school runs, for example, but still keeping the right level of service for their clients.
Of course, there were big operational differences and firms had to adapt all their systems and there was a shift to client-based technology and customer service approach.
Lastly, another big difference was going paperless, with the shift to scanned documentation and introduction of new technology to allow for paperlite working which presented a huge challenge for more traditional firms.
However, consequences of change meant that there was loss of face-to-face human contact, with private client professionals missing social interaction with their clients. Plus, there was concern with how firms were going to win clients in the future due to the removal of seminars or meetings and ensuring their junior lawyers and trainees still receive good training and development, making sure they deliver the services correctly.
On the positive side, virtual meetings have proved to be less stressful, especially for clients who are able to stay at home. In terms of virtual mediation meetings issues are being dealt with quicker and less travel expenses for all concerned. Overall, one of the main positive outcomes of change has been increased productivity throughout.
Emma Baddaley of Inheritance Data set the scene for the roundtable discussion which was ‘Missing Millions’. She asked the group whether they knew how many millions were declared dormant by the five high street banks in 2019. The group attempted to guess but Emma revealed to everyone it was £137 million of unclaimed money (which was monies laid dormant for 15 years plus).
Emma confirmed that this figure is growing exponentially, with banks and building societies increasing by £100 million per annum and pension pots stand at £20bn, with FCA reporting it’s increasing annually.
It was felt that there was total unawareness of this figure and its growth and more encouragement was needed for their clients to think about what assets they have and record them.
There was concern that due to people moving around, changing jobs, working abroad, it is difficult to keep track of assets, especially pensions. There was also an argument whether due diligence and searches were not as good years ago and there was a belief that there would be a lot of money sitting in countless closed probate files, with millions and millions of money probably belonging to beneficiaries in these files.
Finances have now become more important than ever since the pandemic. So there needs to be protection for beneficiaries to be able to re-open dormant probate files if estate assets are discovered at a later date.