A Welcome from the Chair
A Welcome from the Chair
2020 presented a unique set of challenges for our businesses. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Group was severe as the lockdown measures resulted in 27% fewer consumers having accidents in the year. This impacted revenues in both our Personal Injury and Critical Care businesses but I am pleased with the fast and effective response our divisions made to this dislocation whilst continuing work on their longer-term strategies.
Personal Injury – Business Transformation
We acted quickly to protect our staff and customers and our business models proved to be sufficiently resilient to weather this storm. Through focusing on the short term in 2020 and generating a significant increase in free cash flow (from an outflow of £1.7m in 2019 to an inflow of £6.1m in 2020), we reduced net debt and de-risked the balance sheet. Our businesses faced lower demand in their markets and had to quickly adapt their operations to protect staff and customers. By flexing our personal injury business model, carefully managing costs and with a resilient performance by our Critical Care division, the Group remained profitable at the underlying profit level in the year.
Continued Strategic Progress
To prepare for the Small Claims Reforms planned for implementation on 31 May 2021, we transformed our Personal Injury business from a claims management company (CMC) into a modern, technologically-enabled law firm, National Accident Law, regulated by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.
Critical Care – Planning for the future
Our Critical Care division is a long-cycle business and so the impact of fewer accidents resulting from COVID-19, along with the delay in non-urgent medical procedures, will impact profits for several years. However, we do expect to see profit improvement in 2021 compared to 2020 and the management team has advanced initiatives that could, if successful, accelerate a return to levels of pre-COVID profits by 2023.
Changes in Group leadership
The Company saw several changes to the composition of the Board:
- In June 2020, we welcomed Brian Phillips to the Board as Non-Executive Director;
- In September, Russell Atkinson stepped down as Group CEO; and
- In October, Caroline Brown stepped down from the role of Chair
I would like to thank them for their contributions to the business and I wish Russell and Caroline well for the future.
Finally, I would like to thank our people for their unwavering focus on supporting our customers during this unprecedented year, and our shareholders for their continued support.
Chair of the Board, May 2021
Revenue decreased by 20.3% to £40.9m (2019: £51.3m)
Underlying operating profit decreased to £5.7m (2019: £10.4m)
Loss before tax decreased to £(0.2)m (2019: £(2.3)m), a result of lower exceptional costs in Personal Injury and an impairment charge of £5.3m recognised in respect of the Residential Property division in 2019
Underlying EPS of 1.9p (2019: 9.4p)
Significantly improved cash generation with Free Cash Flow increasing from £(1.7)m in 2019 to £6.1m and cash conversion of 228.9% (2019: 47.4%)
Net debt at 31 December 2020 £16.3m (2019: £21.0m)
- Decisive actions taken to increase the Group’s resilience and liquidity in response to COVID-19
- Successful merging of Personal Injury and Residential Property businesses into new Consumer Legal Services division, driving efficiencies
- Completed the transformation of Personal Injury business into a modern, technologically-enabled law firm
- Residential Property business rallied strongly in the second half, in line with the improved performance of the housing market
- Resilient performance from Critical Care division with continued strategic progress delivered to support growth prospects
Statement from the CEO
Revenue across the Group decreased in the year by 20.3% from £51.3m to
largely as a result of reduced demand for our services caused by fewer accidents.
As a result, underlying operating profit also decreased, by
from £10.4m to £5.7m at an underlying margin of 13.8% (2019: 20.3%).
Our Key Achievements
At the start of 2020, the division was operating as two distinct businesses and the Personal Injury business had a solid start to the year. Lead volumes were showing a positive trend, we were airing a new TV campaign and our flexible placement strategy was operating well and growing claim volumes in National Accident Law.
At its worst, in April, personal injury enquiry volumes dropped to 30% of 2019 levels and Q2, in total, delivered 45% of 2019 volumes.
Creating a new division, delivering cost savings
Management moved early and quickly to execute a significant organisational change programme designed to deliver over £1m in annualised cost-savings, while supporting the recovery and future growth prospects of the Group. Our Personal Injury and Residential Property businesses were merged into a new division, Consumer Legal Services, combining marketing, IT, finance and operations to streamline activities and share expertise.
Our business model once again proved its flexibility during this period and, as volumes improved, we cautiously increased the proportion of our enquiries we placed into National Accident Law, helping to build experience in the team and increase the number of ongoing claims.
Residential Property – return to profitability
The Residential Property business rallied strongly in the second half, in line with the improved performance of the housing market. We grew revenues by 5% in the year, to £6.3m, and, having streamlined our cost base in 2020 and, more recently, upgraded our technology platform and simplified our lead generation portfolio, this business is well-placed to grow over the coming years.
Personal Injury – significant strategic progress
We continued to make progress with our strategic priorities during 2020. On 2 January 2020, the Group terminated its partnership in its joint-venture law firm, National Law Partners. We completed our three-year Personal Injury investment programme to prepare us for the forthcoming industry reforms by delivering three key initiatives during the year.
We merged our law firm and claims management company, introduced a seamless one touch customer sign-up journey (which we refer to as ‘One Call’) to convert a lead into a claim with NAL, and launched a new digital customer journey for RTA claimants, providing a simple and intuitive sign-up journey so that a standard claim can now be completed entirely online.
With these initiatives delivered, and an optimised team and organisational structure in place, National Accident Law is well prepared to process an increasing volume of self-generated work from 2021, including small RTA claims.
Our Personal Injury transformation journey
Our Personal Injury transformation journey
Critical Care Performance
The year started strongly, building on a successful 2019, with promising numbers of new Case Management and Expert Witness instructions in Q1.
As expected, as the pandemic progressed, Case Management services were first to be affected, given the typical four to six week time lag between an individual suffering a catastrophic injury and the start of their rehabilitation. Our Expert Witness business proved more resilient in the year and the impact is likely to be felt over subsequent years, as the nature of these reports means that they are generally commissioned several years post-injury.
We continued our track record of innovation in B2B marketing, focusing our efforts on strengthening relationships with clients, law firms and associates. With the introduction of remote case conferences and court hearings, the team placed themselves at the forefront of innovation in this area and were recognised for a second consecutive year with the prestigious ‘Supporting the Industry Award' at the PI Awards, highlighting their added value to the industry and their clients.
As lockdown restrictions eventually eased, we saw a gradual recovery in Case Management enquiries in H2 and Expert Witness rebounded strongly.
The division continued to make progress with strategic initiatives including:
- Continuing with our technology transformation;
- Project Svelte, our proprietary report writing tool designed to streamline the production of Expert Witness reports, progressed at pace throughout the year ahead of being rolled out in Q2 2021; and
- Headway was made with the company’s insurer proposition, with the core IT infrastructure completed
Our Culture. Our Business
- Our overriding priority was the continued health, safety and wellbeing of our people and supporting our customers and business partners through those unprecedented times
- We transitioned over 250 staff members from a predominantly office-based environment to working from home ensuring uninterrupted service and support to our customers
- In order to protect jobs and plan for our recovery, we chose to furlough 82 members of staff throughout the year and utilised the Government's Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) on a flexible basis
NAHL Group plc is built around a strong values-based culture with talented and committed people at its heart which enables us to be resilient and drive through change.
We recruit, appraise, reward and recognise against our company Values; resulting in a committed and flexible team that is:
- Passionate about the business and their role in it;
- Driven to maintain operational performance;
- Unified to do the best job possible; and
- Curious about how efficiency and efficacy can deliver excellent performance
Highlights of the year included:
- The Residential Property business maintained its Silver Investors in People (IiP) status while our Critical Care business, Bush & Co, was rewarded for its consistent improvement with Gold IiP status; and
- Engagement levels remained high at 77.2% for the year against a UK Gallup average of 17%. This is the third consecutive year we have scored over 75%, putting our people amongst the most engaged in the UK
Revenue decreased by 20.3% to £40.9m (2019: £51.3m)
Underlying operating profit decreased by 45.7% to £5.7m (2019: £10.4m)
Loss before tax £0.2m (2019: £2.3m)
Free cash flow £6.1m (2019: £(1.7)m)
Net debt at 31 December £16.3m (2019: £21.0m)
Looking to the Future
The Group demonstrated its trading resilience through a year of significant market change. The impact of the pandemic on our businesses was severe but we remained profitable at the underlying operating profit level, reduced net debt and de-risked the balance sheet.
Consumer Legal Services
Our clear strategy for our Personal Injury business will ensure we will be ready for the legal industry reforms on 31st May. This includes:
- The creation of our modern, technologically-enabled law firm, with the most trusted brand in the category;
- Self-processing of all our RTA enquiries through NAL and, from H2, an increasing proportion of non-RTA work; and
- Scaling the operation using our unique business model to profitably balance short- and long-term returns
As a leading player in the catastrophic injury market, we will continue to:
- Nurture our strong and diverse customer relationships;
- Develop our competencies and specialisms across case management and expert witness services; and
- Use our Innovate – Optimise – Grow strategy framework to drive growth through technological innovation and expansion into adjacent markets
Assuming the continuation of the current timetable for bringing COVID-19 restrictions to an end, we anticipate a return to the pre-pandemic trends in our markets in 2022. We expect personal injury enquiry levels to return to 80-90% of 2019 levels by December 2021, and forecast that the Critical Care market will return to pre-pandemic levels during 2022 – although expert witness instruction volumes will be subject to some longer-term softening resulting from lower accident levels over the last 14 months.
If these forecasts are correct, we would expect to see growth in 2021 revenue and profit in both divisions compared to 2020.
Driven by our culture
We are optimistic about the future of NAHL Group plc. We have a good understanding of our path to recovery from COVID-19, the leadership team to deliver our strategic initiatives, and some exciting plans to build two profitable and sustainable businesses, capable of excelling in their respective markets.