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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Lord Empey: Northern Ireland likely to be without government for a year

The former UUP leader says Gerry Adams is now in "complete control" of Sinn Fein and no longer wants to be "trapped" by the Good Friday Agreement

The death of Martin McGuinness has made a devolution settlement in Northern Ireland even more unlikely and has left Gerry Adams in "complete control" of Sinn Fein, the former Ulster Unionist leader Reg Empey has said.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman on the day of McGuinness’ death, the UUP peer claimed his absence would leave a vacuum that would allow Adams, the Sinn Fein president, to consolidate his hold over the party and dictate the trajectory of the crucial negotiations to come. Sinn Fein have since pulled out of power-sharing talks, leaving Northern Ireland facing the prospect of direct rule from Westminster or a third election in the space of a year. 

Empey, who led the UUP between and 2005 and 2010 and was briefly acting first minister in 2001, went on to suggest that, “as things stand”, Northern Ireland is unlikely to see a return to fully devolved government before the inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme is complete -  a process which could take up to a year to complete.

“Adams is now in complete control of Sinn Fein,” he said, adding that it remained unclear whether McGuinness’ successor Michelle O’Neill would be “allowed to plough an independent furrow”. “He has no equal within the organisation. He is in total command of Sinn Fein, and that is the way it is. I think he’s even more powerful today than he was before Martin died – by virtue of there just being nobody there.”

Asked what impact the passing of McGuinness, the former deputy first minister and leader of Sinn Fein in the north, would have on the chances of a devolution settlement, Empey, a member of the UUP’s Good Friday Agreement negotiating delegation, said: “I don’t think it’ll be positive – because, for all his faults, Martin was committed to making the institutions work. I don’t think Gerry Adams is as committed.

Empey added that he believed Adams did not want to work within the constitutional framework of the Good Friday Agreement. In a rebuke to nationalist claims that neither Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire nor Theresa May can act as honest or neutral brokers in power-sharing negotiations given their reliance on the DUP’s eight MPs, he said: “They’re not neutral. And they’re not supposed to be neutral.

“I don’t expect a prime minister or a secretary of state to be neutral. Brokenshire isn’t sitting wearing a hat with ostrich feathers – he’s not a governor, he’s a party politician who believes in the union. The language Sinn Fein uses makes it sound like they’re running a UN mandate... Gerry can go and shout at the British government all he likes. He doesn’t want to be trapped in the constitutional framework of the Belfast Agreement. He wants to move the debate outside those parameters, and he sees Brexit as a chance to mobilise opinion in the republic, and to be seen standing up for Irish interests.”

Empey went on to suggest that Adams, who he suggested exerted a “disruptive” influence on power-sharing talks, “might very well say” Sinn Fein were “’[taking a hard line] for Martin’s memory’” and added that he had been “hypocritical” in his approach.

“He’ll use all of that,” he said. “Republicans have always used people’s deaths to move the cause forward. The hunger strikers are the obvious example. They were effectively sacrificed to build up the base and energise people. But he still has to come to terms with the rest of us.”

Empey’s frank assessment of Sinn Fein’s likely approach to negotiations will cast yet more doubt on the prospect that devolved government might be salvaged before Monday’s deadline. Though he admitted Adams had demanded nothing unionists “should die in a ditch for”, he suggested neither party was likely to cede ground. “If Sinn Fein were to back down they would get hammered,” he said. “If Foster backs down the DUP would get hammered. So I think we’ve got ourselves a catch 22: they’ve both painted themselves into their respective corners.”

In addition, Empey accused DUP leader Arlene Foster of squandering the “dream scenario” unionist parties won at last year’s assembly election with a “disastrous” campaign, but added he did not believe she would resign despite repeated Sinn Fein demands for her to do so.

 “It’s very difficult to see how she’s turned that from being at the top of Mount Everest to being under five miles of water – because that’s where she is,” he said. “She no longer controls the institutions. Martin McGuinness effectively wrote her resignation letter for her. And it’s very difficult to see a way forward. The idea that she could stand down as first minister candidate and stay on as party leader is one option. But she could’ve done that for a few weeks before Christmas and we wouldn’t be here! She’s basically taken unionism from the top to the bottom – in less than a year”.

Though Foster has expressed regret over the tone of the DUP’s much-criticised election campaign and has been widely praised for her decision to attend Martin McGuinness’ funeral yesterday, she remains unlikely to step down, despite coded invitations for her to do so from several members of her own party.

The historically poor result for unionism she oversaw has led to calls from leading loyalists for the DUP and UUP – who lost 10 and eight seats respectively – to pursue a merger or electoral alliance, which Empey dismissed outright.

“The idea that you can weld all unionists together into a solid mass under a single leadership – I would struggle to see how that would actually work in practice. Can you cooperate at a certain level? I don’t doubt that that’s possible, especially with seats here. Trying to amalgamate everybody? I remain to be convinced that that should be the case.”

Accusing the DUP of having “led unionism into a valley”, and of “lashing out”, he added: “They’ll never absorb all of our votes. They can try as hard as they like, but they’d end up with fewer than they have now.”

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.