The future of finance - as imagined by Ryanair

No frills finance is taking off - and while many have an opinion on allocated seating, printing your own boarding pass and paying for food on-board, the model remains simple but thrilling.

When Easyjet, Ryanair and Jet2 launched they shook up an airline industry dominated by high prices and package holidays. They were able to offer a direct and simple way to get a better rate on your seat using the internet. They offered a new way to travel, giving people unprecedented access to air travel on a scale never seen before. While many have an opinion on allocated seating, printing your own boarding pass or paying for food on-board, the model was simple but thrilling – give the customer a low-cost, destination rich, frill-free option and see if it flies. It did, and became the new normal.

Fast forward 20 or so years, and something similar is happening in finance. While a few canny and charismatic entrepreneurs drove the adoption of low cost flying, it is a combination of people power and the latest technology that is revolutionising finance in this digital age - taking the frills out of finance but putting great rates back in. An example of this would be the peer-to-peer finance industry, which innovation specialists Nesta calculate to be currently worth a staggering £482 million in 2013 alone. Not enough to topple High Street banking yet, but certainly enough for mainstream customers to take notice. Peer-to-peer lending businesses have taken a very old model in banking, which is essentially lending and borrowing, and modernised it through online platforms to offer a more direct, open and transparent way to lend and borrow. It is a product that offers reward balanced against risk as platforms aim to diversify the risk, only lend to most credit worthy borrowers and some platforms even have safeguard funds in place in case of a default. There is also a social element as many lenders appreciate the community spirit involved as they are helping people finance a new car or home improvement or supporting a business to grow through a business loan. The return for enabling this is personal, and provides a financial incentive which currently offers returns two or three times higher than the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, high street banks offer savings rates so low that in real terms its costing people to save money.

In October 2013 the industry warmly welcomed the draft measure outlined by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) for regulating peer-to-peer lending. Put simply, regulation will help improve trust in an industry that is still growing and open it up to a whole new consumer audience. How they are regulated is one of the most common questions asked of peer-to-peer lending platforms, as there is an added level of perceived safety that regulation seems to bring to any industry. Some have speculated that regulation may stifle the creativity of those currently operating in the sector, but the majority believe it will normalise and legitimise these more democratic forms of finance.

With all businesses more accountable and connected to their customers than ever before, repairing the damage caused by the financial crisis is proving tough for traditional financial institutions. While there will always be a desire to have a transaction based relationship with banks, the increasing popularity of alternative finance options cannot be ignored. Startling growth rates of 200 per cent year-on-year have been predicted for the peer-to-peer lending platforms over the next few years, helped on by regulation and other benefits that this allows like tax free savings in ISAs. The take-off of peer-to-peer lending has been steep but it’s for many that regulation will bring about a smooth landing, with higher volumes of passenger numbers in 2014.

Giles Andrews is CEO and Co-Founder of Zopa

Could the principals of budget aviation be applied to finance? Photograph: Getty Images.
Giles Andrews is CEO and Co-Founder of Zopa
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Our trade unions are doing more for women than ever before

You don’t have to look far to find examples of unions not just “noisily fighting for”, but actually winning better pay, terms and conditions for women.

Reading Carole Easton’s article on women and unions was puzzling and disappointing in equal measure. Puzzling because it paints a picture of trade unions which bears little resemblance to the movement I know and love. Disappointing because it presents a false image of trade unions to women readers just at a time when women need strong trade unions more than ever.

While it is right to say that too little progress has been made in closing the gender pay gap or tackling the scourge of zero hour contracts, it is wrong to suggest that trade unions have been twiddling their thumbs.

Like our friends at the Young Women’s Trust, equality is at the heart of what unions do. This work isn’t measured in the number of high-profile women we have at the forefront of our movement – although we’re not doing too badly there, as anyone will attest who has seen Frances O’Grady, the first female general secretary of the TUC, speaking out for ordinary women workers.  

Trade unions contribute to equality for our 3 million women members every day. For us, that’s about the thousands of workplace reps supporting individual women facing discrimination or harassment. It’s about health and safety reps negotiating for protective clothing and better workplace policies on the menopause, terminal illness and many more issues. Our work is unions taking employment tribunal cases on behalf of women who could never afford the tribunal fees without us. And always, at the heart of everything, our work is about the collective power of workers joining together to bargain for fair pay and decent work.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of unions not just “noisily fighting for”, but actually winning better pay, terms and conditions for women. Several unions have successfully organised cleaners, supported them to take strike action for better pay, and won. The RMT is just one example of many. Unite is busy organising London’s low-paid and often exploited hotel workers. Unison organises teaching assistants, fights for better pay and conditions, and even runs a Skills for Schools project to help TAs develop in their careers. Unison and the National Union of Teachers – both unions with over 75% female membership – organise childcare workers and fight not just for better pay but also for training and development opportunities. Over in the retail sector, Usdaw and GMB are fighting the good fight for their women members in supermarkets and shops, not just on pay but on pensions, health and safety, carers’ leave and protection from violence at work.

Women have much to gain from trade union membership. Male union members are paid 7.8 per cent more than men who aren’t in a union – but women union members are paid 30 per cent more than non-members. A recent EHRC report on pregnancy discrimination found that employers who recognised unions were less likely to discriminate against their pregnant employees.

Yes, it’s true that too few young women are union members. This summer, the TUC and our member unions will launch a new organising and campaigning effort to spread the benefits of union membership and attract a new generation of women (and men).

But starting new women-only unions is no form of progress. That’s where we started out over 100 years ago. Now women workers are at the heart of all our unions, across all sectors. Women’s concerns at work are trade union concerns. And every day we make practical progress towards women’s equality at work through patient representation and negotiation and active campaigning to challenge bad bosses. Young Women’s Trust should work with us to get more women the benefit of union membership.  

Scarlet Harris is women's equality policy officer at the TUC