Key learnings from the annual ICAS Insolvency and Restructuring Conference
With business failures rising, demand was high for ICAS’ annual Insolvency and Restructuring Conference. Shona Campbell CA talks through the key points
The ICAS Insolvency and Restructuring Conference has long been a fixture in the calendar for insolvency practitioners (IPs). This year the event was set against an unusually troubling backdrop. Insolvencies across England, Scotland and Wales are at their highest since the global economic crash of 2008. That’s not surprising, given the multiple challenges facing firms and individuals in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis.
The government had previously announced it would be bringing insolvencies under a single regulator. Although that proposal has now been shelved, there has seldom been a more important time to be hosting the conference.
The event was chaired by Shona Campbell CA, Convenor of the Insolvency Committee at ICAS and a partner at Henderson Loggie, where she heads the business recovery and insolvency team. Like many other events, the conference went online-only during lockdown. ICAS has decided to stick with that format to engage with as many IPs as possible. Improving accessibility has paid dividends, with almost 350 IPs and support staff registering for each day of the conference.
“When it was an in-person, paid-for conference it tended only to be senior staff attending,” says Shona. “We were pleasantly surprised by how many people joined the first online conference. And although it is a relatively niche cohort – there are 1,600 IPs across the UK – the number of attendees is growing each year. It’s important and beneficial to have a conference that’s available for anyone to attend, and at no cost, even if you only want to pick out specific sessions.
“In a smaller firm such as Henderson Loggie, which doesn’t have a dedicated training team, it’s great to have these sessions available online for my staff and to be able to talk to colleagues and say: ‘It is part of your CPD and provides good practical content that people need to know.’
“This year, of course, we had the single-regulator issue. I remember seeing a LinkedIn post that highlighted the fact that was the first time that anybody from the Insolvency Service would be speaking about it. It would have been the biggest shake-up in insolvency since the 1986 Act. It was informative to understand the thinking behind it.”
When drafting the rest of the two-day programme, the Insolvency Committee wanted to ensure a healthy balance of technical content.
“A reference point for the committee was to look at the annual monitoring reviews and see where IPs were falling short in any way. That tended to be around compliance,” says Shona. “There are issues where IPs can do better, for example, compliance around anti-money laundering and cashiering. Compliance isn’t going anywhere. It will be important for IPs, and the conference had 15-minute sessions that will help.”
Shona adds: “Although it is quite niche, one of the sessions that stood out was on the taxation issues on insolvency for directors’ loans. And it was great to get insight on what HMRC is doing in this area when a director’s loans are written off. In an insolvency scenario, what’s the impact on the director’s personal tax position?”
Looking towards next year, Shona is not optimistic about the wider economy: “My personal view is that insolvencies will increase in 2024 or, at the very least, stay at a similar level.” Her view is supported by analysis from the Centre of Economic Business Research, which recently predicted the UK would fall into technical recession next year, with around 7,000 insolvencies per quarter in 2024, up from 6,700 in 2023.
“Next year the delegates would like to see more sectoral discussions – for example, hospitality, retail, construction – and the most common issues around insolvency and restructuring in those sectors, as well as more case studies,” says Shona.
“Case law can be so important to what we do in insolvency. But somebody will mention a case, you look it up and there could be 40–50 pages of the judge’s notes. What are the key points and how can we distil them?
“The session that generated the most comments this year was the last one, in which Dorren Lurring from Teneo spoke about the importance of taking notes and maintaining your file notes. There is a saying that if you don’t put it on a bit of paper, did it happen?”
With the preliminary stages of planning for the 2024 conference just months away, Shona welcomes suggestions for topics to cover or speakers to feature – including from those who would like to address delegates themselves. “We will start the process of planning for the next conference in March,” she says, “and we’re always keen to hear from people who want to contribute and build on what we’re doing."
For many in the profession, the relevance of this conference is unlikely to diminish any time soon.
Watch video of the Insolvency and Restructuring Conference