Did you know that 1 in 6 people in the UK are struggling with so called ‘problem debt’? According to a new report undertaken by the Money Advice Service, over 8.3 million adults in the UK are struggling to keep up with their bills or credit commitments.
It’s not just a financial issue. Difficulty with debt or financial problems can lead to anxiety and stress as well as depression and may also place serious strain on personal relationships and self-esteem.
With such high levels of personal debt in the UK, firms like our Customer of the Month, Bright Oak, are working hard to help people through such a difficult time. At Bright Oak, they are a team of experts in personal debt advice and debt management. They assist people set up appropriate debt solutions which can bring their household finances back under control.
Often people approach Bright Oak when they are approaching a financial crisis-point. Bright Oak helps them to address the initial crisis and then work towards clearing the debts altogether over a period of time. Other individuals approach the company when they realise that their financial position has become unsustainable due to the amount of debt they owe.
The firm is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Relatively few providers of debt management plans around the UK met the FCA’s rules and standards which were introduced in 2014. The team at Bright Oak isn’t aware of any other debt management plan provider headquartered in Wales that has been licensed to deliver this service.
As well as firms such as Bright Oak, there are many other sources of advice for people who are worried about their debt. For example, The Money Advice Service (tel: 0800 1387777) can connect people with free-to-client sources of debt advice and debt management plans.
We were really interested in the work that they’re doing at Bright Oak and how they’re helping people get their lives back on track and manage their debts more effectively, which is why we were thrilled to be able to grab five minutes with Andrew from Bright Oak to find how he came to set up Bright Oak.
Where did your name come from?
Celtic tribes historically met at prominent features in the landscape. Near Leeds (I grew up in Yorkshire) was one such notable landscape feature; an oak tree that was much taller and that had lighter coloured leaves than the others nearby. This was the ‘Bright Oak’ and it was a place where people met, talked, and solved problems.
How many people do you employ?
There are three professionally qualified debt advisers in our team.
Where are you based and why have you chosen to be there? Did you ever work from home and if so at what point did you decide you need to look at alternative workspace? What attracted you to The Business Centre and how does it help you do your job?
Back in 2007, I set up the business from home. After a few months we took office space at Business in Focus in Cardiff Bay. By September 2014 we had moved to a new office in Penarth. Our landlord in Penarth required the office-space back for his own business’s use in late 2017, so we started looking for a new base. Originally we were looking in Penarth but couldn’t find anything suitable. Wanting to avoid the rush hour traffic in and out of Cardiff, we expanded our search and came across The Business Centre. Upon visiting, we loved the family business feel. The short commute is great as it takes less than 10 minutes door-to-door driving against the traffic. It has everything we need and more with parking, air conditioning and practical office space.
Where do your customers come from, is it mainly in the Vale of Glamorgan? How do they hear about you? Do you do any of your own marketing?
We actually have customers from across the UK and we also assist a considerable number of British expats living in different parts of the world. Most of our marketing is directed towards professionals who might be able to introduce customers to Bright Oak. Otherwise our marketing efforts are very limited. We are interested in working a little more regionally in Wales, helping more local customers to deal with their debts. It’s not essential for the work that we do, but being able to talk things through face-to-face can be a real benefit for some customers.
What challenges face small businesses like you in growth?
Small businesses in the consumer credit sector have, since 2014, been adapting to a FCA regulated environment. Firms like ours have had to embrace significant change in order to earn the right to continue operating. This has delivered important customer and business benefits in the long-term, but the workload involved for a smaller firm to reach this point was very significant.
Dealing with continual change of one type or another is pretty much a given for most business owners. If you are expecting the journey to be straightforward and stable, you’ve probably misunderstood what you’re getting into! Despite creating extra work and challenges, constant change also creates new opportunities that can drive a business forwards.
Another challenge for small businesses is the sheer variety of tasks and challenges likely to end up on the owner or manager’s desk. For Bright Oak, putting great arrangements in place from the start for accountancy, legal advice, and IT support, really freed us up to focus on our customers. Doing things “properly” right from the start can also save a business much distraction and money later on.
Have you always worked for yourself? Did you always imagine this is what you would do?
Bright Oak is the first business I have owned. We’re now in our 11th year. Previously I had been working for a company operating in the same industry as their Commercial Manager. I really enjoyed the nature of this business and decided that I’d give it a go for myself.
Other than deciding to work for yourself, what was the single most important decision you made that contributed to your success?
When we first started out, we were clear about our values. This was especially important for Bright Oak as some of our customers can be quite vulnerable. We decided that if we couldn’t maintain those values and make a living then we’d go away and find something different to do. If you’re clear about your values and stand by them, your reputation grows and your service becomes trusted.
What do you love about your job and what do you love less?
One of the amazing things about our work is the notes we receive from people who have finally cleared their debts. They’ve come to us with worry and financial difficulty, then leave with a positive outlook and confidence about their future. This can be a truly life changing moment for some of our customers.
Less enjoyable can be the occasional tussle with a creditor on behalf of a mutual customer. Thankfully this is fairly uncommon these days; most banks and credit card providers treat customers in financial difficulty with much more respect and fairness than used to be the case.
What advice would you give someone who wants to set up their own business, and starting out on their own?
When my previous job came to an end I could have looked for new employment. However, I was ready to work for myself and financially had my first opportunity to do so. I couldn’t be sure if or when such an opportunity would arise again. It’s easy to find reasons to take a safe route forwards but I think if you have a business idea you’re confident about, and the means and energy to pursue it, the benefits of running your own business can greatly outweigh the challenges.
Bright Oak are just one of the many interesting businesses that are part of The Business Centre business family. Whether you’re looking for meeting rooms, use of our call answering service or co-working space, we can perfectly tailor a specific package for almost any type of business from freelancers to teams of 14. Plus, all The Business Centre residents can take advantage of our free 5* onsite gym as well as a delicious home cooked meal from Mel’s! For more information about our business services, click here.