Groundbreaking fintech for Abbey School

Abbey School for Exceptional Children

Originally posted on 14 sep 2020 at greensill.com

For 25 years Barnabas Borbely harboured a dream of helping children in the UK with autism and severe learning disabilities find a way to better lives.

He knew the system supposed to assist them was broken. A House of Commons select committee said as much in 2019 and his three years working 14-hour shifts in a special needs school when he moved to Britain reinforced the point every day.

Education and social care budgets are stretched, there is no clear picture of what resources are actually required and staff with the right levels of training and empathy are thin on the ground.

Rather than try to fix the system, Borbely has branched out in an entirely new direction and is creating a provision underpinned by an innovative evidence-informed model of practice that has the potential to improve the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of children with severe learning difficulties in Britain and across the world.

From humble beginnings as a volunteer teaching assistant he qualified as a lawyer and established the Special Needs Group (SNG) to support adults with learning disabilities to live meaningful lives in the community. It has already created more than 300 jobs, putting in place facilities to assist more than 100 adults with educational difficulties in the North West of England live more fulfilling lives.

Greensill’s approach to financing has been integral to this story. Like all small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), access to cashflow is vital for Special Needs Group. The business works with local authority and central government clients who are reliable, but often slow, payers.

Greensill addresses this by providing essential access to cash owed to the business at rates that recognise the credit strength of government entities – so are considerably lower than those offered to SMEs by traditional providers of finance.

Now it is vulnerable and young people who are set to benefit as the Department for Education has just given Abbey School Limited approval to open a purpose-built school, Abbey School for Exceptional Children, in the heart of historic Chester, which will create a further 250 jobs.

The school will eventually cater for 75 children aged four to 19, providing them each with a tailor-made curriculum based on their specific educational priorities. The parental demand for places at Abbey School for Exceptional Children is high and Borbely expects to be operating at full capacity by the spring of 2021.

An app, part of a £1 million investment in research, development and training, will use sophisticated data analytics to monitor engagement and the performance of pupils in real time and ensure the bespoke development pathways painstakingly constructed for each of them are delivering an outstanding educational experience which enables them to thrive.

The SNG team has brought together all available research and data on special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as part of Abbey School’s Education Research Alliance (ERA), and will build an open source knowledge hub over the next two years that will be made available to professionals in the field in order to develop best practice.

The financial burden on local authorities sending children to Abbey School for Exceptional Children stands to be reduced greatly, thanks to a revolutionary funding model developed in partnership with Greensill.

In essence, Greensill is able to use fintech to identify and factor in future cash flows from local authorities and central government to their suppliers rather than working with historical data. That means it can facilitate financing that allows the local authority to improve working capital by extending terms and paying later at lower interest rates. And all this can be achieved without impacting vital partners and the community work they do because Greensill will ensure that they get paid on time.

Greensill’s partnership with Special Needs Group is longstanding and was pivotal in getting the project off the ground. It assessed the project in the same rigorous way it has analysed all clients, large and small.

Greensill is a credit risk led institution and whether a client is an SME or a Fortune 500 company, all financing is assessed by a large credit and risk department that approves projects only after extensive due diligence. Once approved, clients are still subject to ongoing management reviews.

Furthermore, as a company powered by financial technology and specialising in supply chain finance, Greensill structures its projects differently to traditional financing. This can mean a more cautious, but evidence and data-based approach to financing decisions.

The Greensill model requires a purchaser with a high credit rating in financial markets, and in this case the purchase is the UK state via local government, which provides a very high level of risk cover.

So, Abbey School for Exceptional Children could have its invoices for children’s fees paid immediately while the government entities it charges can settle later, smoothing out cashflow for all parties.

Barnabas Borbely, CEO and founder of Special Needs Group, concludes: “We believe that children and adults with special needs deserve better than the current fragmented care and education system often provides for them. We are delighted to have found a partner in Greensill with a similarly innovative and ground-breaking approach to making finance fairer.”