A Finance Conference – it was more interesting than it sounds, honest!

Posted: 1st June 2013

A Finance Conference – it was more interesting than it sounds, honest!

Altair sponsored the most recent Social Housing Finance conference. With this we get two “free” places. Susan, our Finance partner, is keen to go and network for England with her accountant mates. Other Altair partners claim to have pressing commitments – so I get roped in.

As I lay in bed thinking I should probably get up soon and help set up our stand at the conference, the Today programme covered a story about the number of female presenters over the age of 50 on the TV. Apparently only 18%.

Coffee at 9am with a 9.30am start. Susan arrives at 8.15am to set up our stall. I manage 9.25am to find Susan energetically engaged with an FD on the implications of “ring-fencing” and the wisdom of “living wills”. It’s that exciting!

My first impression of the conference coffee area is “a male sea of suits” – nowhere near 18%. I make a mental note to tell the Today programme about the paucity of women in the housing finance field. The coffee is good and there are biscuits the size of saucers.

Susan sits front row, pen poised. The Chair, Julian Ashby (who must have been a head master in a previous life) announces there are 18 (?!?!) speakers. Should I feign illness?

Quite cleverly, I position myself at the back close to the exit.

Prof. Steve Wilcox, first on. Apparently Welfare Reform is going to cause the sector some problems. The policy is unsustainable and it will get a lot worse before it gets better. A cheery start.

Some interesting stuff from Wakefield on their “Direct Payments” pilot. They found 95% of their tenants had some form of bank account but only 20% had Internet access. Both of these statistics are astonishing to me. Maybe Wakefield is a bit odd? I have long held the view that financial inclusion and digital inclusion go hand in hand. Also, initial data shows that management costs increased by £250 per unit.

Next, a presentation on pensions. I am sure I need to be somewhere else. It is received with what I judge to be reverential silence and concentration. “Any questions?” asks Master Ashby. More silence. I realise I am the only one awake.

Lunch was tricky. Stand up hot food with one of those dodgy glass holders attached to the plate. It had “major spillage” and embarrassing shirt stain written all over it. Curiously, the gender mix had changed. The women had obviously sneaked in late. Susan asserts they probably went into the office and did a day’s work before joining the conference. Touché!

The afternoon session (same seat for me) starts with consideration of Market Renting – I am now engaged, as this is my territory.

Notting Hill, Hometrack and Grainger have some interesting observations. PRS is the growth tenure. Renting a property is on average 14% more expensive than buying the same property with a 20% deposit. Is it a generational lifestyle change or a reaction to mortgage availability? The final session is a panel of 5 bankers (no rhyming slang) who talk about their offers and take questions. Big surprise – there are few questions.

Master Ashby brings proceedings to a close and I slide out for my 5pm appointment (a bloke in a pub) whilst Susan networks to the death and packs up the stand.

It’s great to be at the edge of knowledge and conferences offer that opportunity. Whilst the bankers didn’t do it for me – I came, I saw and I learned.

Chris Wood.

Chris can be contacted on 07932 693292, chris.wood@altairltd.co.uk. Follow Chris on Twitter, @Chris_Altair.

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