As someone who works to bring together the money advice sector and the creditor community as Money Advice Liaison Manager at Nationwide, the Money Advice Liaison Group (MALG) is an important network for me and I was pleased to be involved in the organisation of this year’s conference.

The theme of the MALG Conference 2017 was ‘shaping the future of money advice’ and the purpose was to bring a wide range of stakeholders together in one place to challenge our thinking on what we’re currently doing and start conversations that would lead to joint action.

With the rise of challenger banks and the increasing influence and relevance of fintech, it’s more important than ever that we talk to new people and discuss new ideas if we are going to make a real change that will shake up the future of money advice and get over some of the huge hurdles we face when it comes to capacity, funding, and delivery.

This year’s MALG Conference was different to those of the past and for some it possibly went a step too far but I found it to be a refreshing opportunity to think more laterally about how we can all work together to improve the lives of people in debt. Despite being involved in the development of the conference programme, there were three key questions coming out of the day that really surprised and challenged me. They were:

  1. What are we doing to help solve poverty in the UK?

Emma Stone of Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) in her keynote presentation on ‘Solving poverty through re-thinking markets and growth’, stopped half way through to ask us all to talk to those next to us about what we are doing in our day to day jobs to help reduce poverty in the UK. Wow. What a challenge. We’re all working hard every day to improve the lives of people in debt but are we really thinking about the bigger picture? JRF has a five step plan to solve poverty in the UK and it has practical things within it that we can all do.

  1. What’s it going to take for fintech developers to work better with money advisers?

Peter Myatt, founder of fintech app Bean, which is designed to help consumers find, track and manage bills and subscriptions, delivered part of the fintech demo session. But rather than just selling his wares, he asked the audience a very pertinent question – what is it going to take for fintech developers to work better with money advisers? What a brilliant question and what a great place to ask it. It may seem simple but we all need to do this more. And it reminded me that MALG is the only forum that brings together such a diverse mix of people in the sector and encourages them to ask these challenging questions of each other.

  1. Do we REALLY understand money?

As money advisers we all think that we do. But Bruce Davis of Abundance really challenged our perceptions in his talk on the ‘social life of money’. As someone who works for a mortgage lender, his take on things simultaneously blew my mind and deeply offended me. My key take away from his session was that it’s not the banks or economists or accountants that can help people with money – it’s those that truly care about the welfare of those that have very little. And that is something that all of us involved in MALG aim to do.

  1. Did you know we still imprison people for Council Tax debt?

Alistair Chisholm of Payplan launched a new campaign to stop the imprisonment of those with Council Tax debt. Much of this is simply about raising awareness of the fact that this is something that still goes on the in UK and shining a light on the fact that it is an outdated and unfit practice that needs to change.

  1. Did you notice the gorilla at the party?!

This was one of the slightly more ‘out there’ questions of the day but Chris Fitch’s session on the psychology of vulnerability got us all questioning whether as advisers, creditors, collections professionals and others dealing with those in debt, we can sometimes miss things that are blindingly obvious by focusing on the wrong things. Chris’ special guest Alex Lewis (a quadruple amputee who told us about the ‘minor setback’ he suffered when contracted a terrible virus and how it had completely changed his mindset on life) gave us the most food for thought of the day when it came to addressing how we label and deal with those in vulnerable circumstances. Those who may seem incredibly vulnerable in some ways may actually be more than capable of dealing with those aspects of life, but there may be less obvious things that they need support with.

Those were some of my highlights from the day but there is much more to come out of the conference in terms of future joint action and we now need to continue working together on an ongoing basis to challenge each other to do better to improve the lives of people in debt. I look forward to continuing to be actively involved in MALG in 2018.

Gareth McNab, Money Advice Liaison Manager, Nationwide Building Society