Features | 20/07/21

I am pleased to add my welcome to this edition of our relaunched magazine. I am delighted to write as the new Chief Executive of the Consumer Credit Trade Association.

My first step is to thank my predecessor, Greg Stevens, who retired at the close of 2020. As many of you know, he stepped in as Chief Executive back when the CCTA was going through some testing times.

Over the years, he brought the organisation back to good health and its prominent position. He has steered the ship, continuing to avoid the reefs and shallows through some difficult times for consumer credit.

Over the last few years, he has been working on moving to the next chapter for the CCTA. And I know we will also wish him well with his own personal story as he steps back.

It is now no secret that during 2020 we entered into discussions about how this might be the catalyst for a series of changes to the association. Both Greg and I felt that the pandemic was another reason for action, but longer-term trends were already in place before then.

There were regulatory pressures across the consumer credit sector—both increased regulation and more uncertainty on critical issues like affordability. We both felt that there were concerns about the lack of understanding of our members’ customers. That a set of regulators educated and trained in bank-lending often found it hard to understand the nature of the financial need and the benefits of the services provided.

At the same time, changes to the market were placing pressure on all trade associations. In our discussions, we could see the opportunity to develop a single voice for alternative consumer credit that can engage with key stakeholders – regulators, Government, and other influencers.

This was the chance to ensure that the model was fit for the purpose. Leaner and more agile.Our aim was, and is, to develop a natural home for lenders and supporting companies. Always allowing members to decide their level of engagement.

Following positive talks, made more difficult because of Covid-19, the directors came to their decision. Taking up my role on the 1st January, I had my first opportunity to introduce myself to you at our CCTA Spring Summit just a few weeks ago. If you did hear that presentation, then much of what I say in this article will be familiar. Much has changed over the years, but the association’s mission remains close to what it has always been.

One thing that has not changed from the times of our foundation is the need to work together. There has never been a more critical time for strong advocacy. We recognise that we need to have allies and good relationships for us to be effective.

Sometimes our role as an association is to explain what our part is in terms of society. This is why you will hear us talking about our vision of a well-regulated market, providing responsible credit access. Speaking publicly, we will talk about the benefits of credit. The positives it brings. And ask what happens if we do not have access to credit. So, we will be your advocates.

Of course, the CCTA has always been a source of information. Members could access us as a sounding board and a place for advice. That will always be part of our mission. But over the last few years, we have had to adapt to the new FCA framework. The questions we get asked now are less about a fixed, unmoving interpretation of the regulation.

There is a greater focus on how the FCA and FOS interpret the rules. Less and less of this black and white. Yes, sometimes there will be precise regulation, written in a way that leaves little margin for interpretation. There are occasionally decisions in the courts.

However, it is more likely that a regulator or an adjudicator will be involved in the reinterpretation of a principle. Just as importantly, those interpretations shift over time. However, that means that there is no single truth. The experience of others, the interpretations of regulators are essential.

So, you will see us asking for more about your experience of the regulator. It is about having our finger on the pulse, hearing what is being said on the frontline, and ensuring you have that insight. We want to continue to be a source of insight. How we do that will need to alter as we operate under a new regulatory framework.

Last but not least, we recognise it is not always about us. Not everything needs to be about what we do on behalf of members. We know that often it is about us creating an opportunity for members to hear from other members. And we want to create more of these opportunities in the future.

So, what this looks like will be familiar in many ways. I mentioned that we would like to see the Annual Conference. I have attended CCTA Conferences for years. I have always thought they are helpful and also enjoyable. Following on, I want to develop some more opportunities for members to engage with us and with each other.

The online Summit held in March was a good example. We were delighted to have nearly 140 people join us. I thought it was valuable to hear more about Breathing Space from Gareth McNab of Christians Against Poverty. We were particularly keen that you should hear from an organisation that is often on the frontline.

I know, like me, you will have appreciated the pragmatic approach that they have. Do lookout for the opportunities to be involved in smaller roundtable discussions throughout the year. It is also our hope that we will be able also to get back to face-to-face meetings soon. Possibly even in the second half of this year. There will be weekly updates to keep you informed. You will continue to see regulatory alerts and our magazine.

Of course, there will be changes – some small and some more significant. I think you will see more information about discussions that we will have with the regulators, with the ombudsman and with Government. You will see these reflected in the reports of meetings and briefings to members. We aim to draft more hints and tips. ​

Speaking of advice and education, I do not think we will ever return to an extensive classroom-type training program. Much of this can be done online. Yes, there will be the occasional physical workshop, but training has changed. I hope that we can provide more webinars and online workshops.

I think there will be no surprise to hear that we will also be working on political and public affairs engagement. This is always an essential part of any trade association. A key element in our advocacy work.

Much of this is about identifying who has an interest and what that interest might be. Often it is about showing that our interests are aligned. That is when we talk about the problems of illegal lending or when we explain how claims management companies abuse their customers.

So, look out for further information about our activities throughout the year. Look out for summits and Conference later in 2021. Come back to us when we ask whether you would be interested in attending an Annual Conference. Look out for several smaller discussions that will genuinely be two-way.​ As I mentioned, you will hear more about what we are doing on your behalf​.

There will be more campaign activity around FOS, affordability, and access to credit.​ But we cannot do this alone – we will seek your help. I started my article with thanks to my predecessor. I close by adding some more thanks. I want to say thanks to all the members of the CCTA team that have welcomed me and helped me through these first few months. Behind the scenes, they have been working on implementing the many changes I have mentioned.

This magazine, our successful Summit, the increased communication, and our ongoing campaigning work has only happened because of the support of the team. Lastly, I would like to thank the CCTA Council members, including those who left at the close of the year, who asked me to take over. I know that they are rightly proud of the heritage of this association. I promise that I value that history and continue to focus on our founding mission of representation, advice for our members and building a network.

Any trade association is only as strong as its members. I look forward to working with you to create a new CCTA and a strong voice for our sector.

Jason Wassell