Q & A  with Greg Connell, Managing Director of InfolinkGazette

Q. What was your first job. 
A.  In my first job I worked for Dun & Bradstreet, which at the time specialised in providing commercial credit reference information, including credit ratings and credit limit recommendations. I worked on compiling Business Information Reports, analyzing financial data, public record information and interviewing the finance directors of UK companies, to arrive at an appropriate credit recommendation. Our largest customers were Trade Credit Insurers and companies seeking credit limit recommendations to support the credit limits they were seeking to insure.
Q. Please describe your current job? 
A.  Since 2007, I have been Managing Director at InfolinkGazette, the first online provider of Unpaid Creditor information from UK Creditor Liquidations and Administrations. My main focus is on developing the company's core products and services beyond in-depth UK and Irish Insolvency information to deliver a broader range of data products that will help support the information and risk management industry. Digitizing complex data sources and converting text based data in to meaningful information databases will always be my central priority.
Q. Who is the business person you most admire?
A. That has to be Warren Buffett, the legendary investor and head of Berkshire Hathaway and one time significant shareholder in Dun & Bradstreet. I share one of his fundamentals, which is to only invest or participate in something you truly understand; if you are reasonably well educated, have enjoyed some business success, you shouldn't be fooled in to running headlong in to something you don't understand, just because it is the latest trend. Warren Buffett famously avoided the losses from the tech bubble crash, precisely down to this fundamental approach.
When I am faced with difficult decisions, I often call upon one of his many pearls of wisdom and the ones that most frequently come to mind are: "Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing" ; "Diversification is a protection against ignorance. "and "Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked." I don't think anyone else condenses so much good sense in to so few words
Q. What is the most important lesson you have learned in business?
A.  Don't make business critical decisions based on forecasts, whether they are coming from Treasury economists, stock broking analysts, finance directors, or sales directors. Most forecasting errors begin with figuring out what actually already happened in the previous month, quarter or year and this applies to restated Treasury output estimates and major retailers quarterly sales and profit announcements. Better to make your business critical decisions on known facts around value and current momentum.
Q. What business accomplishment are you most proud of?
A.  I am proud of the success of InfolinkGazette and the satisfaction of our customers and employees. Outside of my core business, I am also very pleased to have worked alongside some dedicated Pension Trustee Directors, during a period of wholesale change that has required us to de-risk and diversify our investment strategy and engage with company sponsors to eliminate substantial technical deficits.
Q. In your experience, how has the commercial credit reference industry changed over the last few years?
A. Recent years have seen many new entrants to the space, the low-cost/free providers, which in the long term will put price pressure on the traditional Credit Reference Agencies (CRAs). I think we are likely to see the established CRAs come under market share pressure in the same way Creditsafe shook up the industry in the mid noughties. The real long term winners will be the information providers who meet the emerging demand for real-time data, which is now greater than ever. Information providers are going to have to replace, daily, weekly or monthly update processes with real-time updates and recalculation of credit scores. The best placed CRAs will invest heavily in unstructured data analytics and develop their ability to analyze and mine data content found on the web and through analysis of social media content.
Q. What do you think the implication of Brexit are for the industry and the UK and Eurozone?
A.  There will be a few years of volatility and economic disruption but I think we can be optimistic for the longer term. Brexit has always been a possibility, because the EU has never had universal popularity across Britain; it's disliked by democrats for behaving like an autocracy and its feared by lower skilled UK workers because of the perception that freedom of movement encourages net migration, creating competition for housing and jobs at the lower end of the market.
A slowdown was already on the way and Brexit will take the blame in the short term, but in the long term, Brexit should help the EU to face up to its problems, the EU’s share of global trade is declining and even Germany, the northern powerhouse of the EU is losing global market share at a rate of over 1% a year.
There are many aspects of the EU that are beneficial but they do not require a supranational layer of government to achieve them. Most of the worlds trade takes place without an additional layer of government covering the trading areas and the UK will continue to trade in or outside the single market.
We are still several years away from a clear unambiguous route-map for Brexit and despite my previous comments on forecasting, I believe we can already consider some of the implications for UK business and credit insurers in particular. There will be the re-emergence of sovereign risk from EU members further weakened by the uncertainty caused by Brexit. And a less optimistic outlook for the stronger EU countries, until more is known about what kind of trade deal will be agreed with the UK. A recession is far from certain and much will depend on the effectiveness of central bank stimulus, but it is possible the UK and some other European countries may well enter brief, shallow recessions. Nobody can say with any certainty what the negotiation positions of the EU and the UK will be, but it is plain for anyone to see that life as Germany, Netherlands and Ireland know it, can’t continue without a tariff free trade deal with the UK, although it’s going to stick in the craw to grant a tariff free trade deal when the UK won’t be able to sign up to the usual terms.
One thing is certain, which is that the UK will look outside the EU block to grow its global trade; the EU finds it difficult to cut trade deals across the globe because it can’t easily compete on the delivery of goods and services produced by potential global trading partners. A more nimble and flexible UK will find it easier to make these trade deals. The implications for credit insurers will be requests for higher levels of credit due to the weakness of sterling; an increase in European sovereign risk and generally increasing demand from UK customers for International Credit Insurance outside of the single market.
Q. What do you enjoy in your spare time?
A. I enjoy occasional weekend trips with friends around the Solent on my motor cruiser, I also like single handed sailing, or windsurfing when I am in warmer climes and I never miss a week skiing in the Austrian Alps each year. I'm fortunate enough to live in the centre of London, with easy access to the west end, which makes it effortless for my wife and I to indulge our passion for theatre, opera and dance. My interest in economics, investments and pensions means I am frequently in demand from family and friends to review retirement arrangements.
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