Saturday 24 March 2018

A debt advisor who knows what it's like to dread the mail

Why you should invest in Neo Financial Solutions

Paul Carroll: 'The most stressful thing about bankruptcy is the running around trying to save the business,' says the CEO of Neo Financial Solutions. Photo: David Conachy
Paul Carroll: 'The most stressful thing about bankruptcy is the running around trying to save the business,' says the CEO of Neo Financial Solutions. Photo: David Conachy
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Nothing forces you to get back on your feet quicker than hitting rock bottom, and Dubliner Paul Carroll understands this better than most.

Mr Carroll, a qualified accountant, had a property company which took a big hit during the crash.

"We were very successful for between 10 and 12 years but we unfortunately got caught at the wrong time," says Mr Carroll.

"In 2007, my property business was worth €30m - by 2010, it was down €20m. I lost the business and was declared bankrupt in 2010."

As Mr Carroll's property company was based in Northern Ireland, he has since emerged from bankruptcy. (You can usually emerge from bankruptcy after a year in Britain and the North).

About three years ago, he set up a company which offers advice to people who find themselves in the exact same situation he was in back in 2010. The company, Neo Financial Solutions, has been trading for about two years. He runs the firm with his wife, Jane, who is also a qualified accountant.

As well as offering advice to people facing bankruptcy, Neo Financial Solutions brings its clients through the entire bankruptcy process.

"We hold their hand through the process," Mr Carroll says.

The company typically charges €5,000 to advise and bring someone through bankruptcy.

"That includes our fees, court fees, solicitor fees and so on," he adds.

His own experience is clearly an advantage for his business because he knows what his clients are going through.

"The most stressful thing about bankruptcy is the running around beforehand trying to save your business," says Mr Carroll.

"Once you decide that you're going to go bankrupt, it effectively takes the weight of the debt off you, as you realise you will never be able to pay it back. It is amazing the relief which sets in once you bite the bullet. The day you walk out of the bankruptcy court is the day that the debt is gone - you can't get any more texts or calls about your debt. Some clients who have gone bankrupt have said that it took them six weeks to realise that they could collect their mail after the postman walked up to their door."

It's some 10 months since a new law kicked in which allows people to emerge from bankruptcy in Ireland after three years. Previously, you had to wait for 12 years. This has triggered a surge in the number of people declaring themselves bankrupt in Ireland. In the first three months of this year, more people had declared themselves bankrupt in Ireland than had done so for the entire year of 2013. In the first six months of this year, 164 people had declared themselves bankrupt here - almost three times as many as had done so in 2013.

This means that the advice being offered by Neo Financial is very much in demand - and Mr Carroll expects this to continue.

"It will take another five years to address the majority of personal excess debt in this country - we have only just recently started to address it," he says, adding, "It could take even longer for some people."

He lays most of the blame for the legacy debt hanging over this country on the banks.

"The biggest cause was the inappropriate bank lending that went on in the boom," says Mr Carroll.

"I see a huge amount of debt from people who should never have got the funding in the first place - that includes the properties people were allowed to borrow money on, and the equity release loans people were allowed to take out."

He has seen a change in the type of clients walking through his doors in recent months.

"Before the last two to three months, the typical client was someone who had a mortgage on their family home - as well as one or two buy-to-let mortgages," he says.

"The crash would have left them in negative equity and at the same time, they may have lost their job or taken a pay cut. They would have come to us because banks weren't doing deals to write-off debt at the time - or maybe one bank was willing to do a deal but two banks in the background weren't. In those cases, the only way the person could shake off their debt was usually to go bankrupt."

Although these type of clients are still coming, he has seen more businesspeople approach him in recent months.

"These are businesses who were brought down by excessive debt - who still have the debt hanging over them even though their business closed two to three years ago," he says.

"They have found that they could not move forward with that debt and are now deciding to go the bankruptcy route so they can move on. We have had retailers, shopkeepers, architects and some solicitors come to us. We have also had building-related businesses as clients."

Mr Carroll, who was born in Raheny, is now living in Howth with his family. So what steered him towards accountancy?

"I always wanted to be my own boss. When I did the Leaving Cert, I was offered a job in an accountancy practice. I learned that this was a great way to get to know and understand business," he says.

Given that the economy appears to be getting back on its feet, is he worried that business could dry up?

"It's the opposite in fact," says Mr Carroll.

"People are realising that things are going to get a bit better - and that's why they want to shake off their debt now. Otherwise, the people they owe the money to will always be waiting in the long grass."

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