Welcome to the latest podcast from the National Association of Licensed Paralegals – or NALP as we normally abbreviate it. NALP is the longest running UK membership body for paralegals. We have dedicated over 30 years to promoting the status of paralegal professionals.
Today we are joined by Danny Curran, who is the founder and MD of Finders International, which identifies and traces heirs to estates, property, and assets worldwide.
Describe yourself in two sentences, or less:
I can try, that’s one sentence! I am an entrepreneur primarily, founder of the business in 1997, and I would also say that I have grown a business in the most ethical and responsible way that I can. I have now expanded my horizons to include ambitions in starting a new school, which I did seven years ago, and helping out with grassroots sports, which I’m involved in as well.
What’s your favourite movie of all time?
That is a hard one. I’m not sure I can pick one. It’s one of those things, it changes over the years, doesn’t it? Your favourite movie at 15… it could have been a Woody Allen film for me, but then you find out more about Woody Allen’s life and it completely puts you off! So, I think, if I had to pick one, I would probably go for an old Hitchcock film like Dial M For Murder. It’s an intriguing classic.
When you retire, where in the world would you like to live, money no object?
I love being where I am in north London and I also love being in Denmark, as my wife is from Denmark and we have a place in Aarhus in Jutland. So, those two places would be good. And a third option somewhere sunny would be good too, whether that’s the holiday home in Spain or the south of France, that would be great. So, pretty much Europe; England, Denmark and somewhere TBC for the third one.
Can you give me an overview of what Finders International does?
We have an intriguing, quite exciting business, really. It’s basically a good news business, although bittersweet at times. For 30 years now I’ve worked at tracing missing beneficiaries to estates, so this could be where someone passes away and they don’t have any family or any next of kin, or a property has been left abandoned and the ownership is unknown. Or there’s some money lying left unclaimed in a dormant account somewhere, whether it’s insurance or savings, or any kind of financial asset.
What we do is trace the heirs to that asset or estate. When we contact them it’s often a surprise, so it can be an uphill battle to convince people we’re genuine in a world full of scams. But when you do, and people realise that it’s a windfall, it’s often a lovely things for them. It can change their lives for the better, the money can help them. But as I say, the bittersweet element is always there, as it might be to do with a relative who’s passed away that they never knew. Or someone they lost touch with through no fault of their own. A lot of this comes up on the BBC show Heir Hunters, which we did for many, many years and a lot of those stories were portrayed on the show as well.
How did you discover NALP?
I’d been looking for many years for some form of regulation for our industry, which is still unregulated. So, about five years ago, I formed the International Association of Professional Probate Researchers, which is the only self-regulatory body for international firms, such as us. I formed that with a French and German company, and an American company. We set up a code of conduct and some basic rules we would abide by, and attracted members from there. It’s now quite inclusive. We have people from Poland, Slovakia, Germany, France, the USA, and it’s grown nicely. So, that’s a form of regulation.
Within the UK, I then thought, what else can we do. NALP has the best history and the most transparency in terms of paralegal organisations. I looked at the others but I liked the way CEO Amanda Hamilton was running NALP and the level of commitment that we could put into it seemed to match what I was after as a company. We could bring people in and have them join NALP, and help enforce the standards that we had started to create through the IAPPR. So, I thought it fitted a nice niche in an unregulated world.
A large number of your staff are NALP members, can you explain why this is?
A large part of our work comes directly from the legal world, from solicitors, and we wanted to try and train our staff to work on a parallel with solicitors. In the past, when I started, we were a maverick profession that would be treated as a nice surprise or something irritating by solicitors. We didn’t enjoy a great reputation. Over the years it’s become more and more important to relate to our core clients, such as solicitors and people in the legal world, in a way that they would understand. They understand the world of paralegals, they possibly employ paralegals themselves, so to see us emulating their structure gives them more reassurance when they come to employ a probate research firm.
What are your aspirations for Finders International?
We are looking at all sorts of exciting things. We’ve got quite an intriguing international network. We work with some large companies, especially in France and Germany. How that relationship grows into the future I don’t know, as my succession planning kicks in, the older I get. I don’t see myself as someone who will one day stop working and retire full stop. I don’t want to have the retirement party and never be seen again!
So, in terms of the future we’ve got to work out where… There’s always been a mysterious shadow behind us of what the next set of government regulations is going to be. So, for example, we’ve had the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) changing regulations all the time about who they’re regulating and how they regulate. That can sometimes impact us.
For example, [when its comes to] dormant accounts, dormant funds, for all sorts of purposes, people are starting to think now that we have to do something about it. In the US they have a regulatory regime, where each state has to report unclaimed money. And they have to make that information public to some extent, which varies from state to state.
It would be nice to think, in the future, we could get to the situation where the billions of pounds that people have forgotten about, that are swashing around the system… we could get proactive with them, get them back to the families or owners, because they can change lives. It’s money that’s not owned by the government or the crown and it should be in the hands of the families.
We’re very much on the side of the people. We want ‘bona vacantia’ estates (an estate without an apparent owner) to go to the next of kin. We want unclaimed money to go to the owners. Unfortunately, the government seems to do very little about it. They think that by putting a name on a website, that solves all the problems. Well, neither you nor I are going to look at a website every day, in the vague hope that our great uncle may have left an unclaimed bank account. We’ve got to do more in that area.
So, that’s all that happens with unclaimed money?
Yes, certainly with unclaimed estates. The ‘bona vacantia’ division of the treasury lists unclaimed estates. We publish that on our own website too – bonavacantialist.co.uk – and make the information more accessible. But that’s all they do. They literally receive a notification from a solicitor of an unclaimed estate, and they don’t search for a will, which is shameful. They used to but they decided they didn’t have to. Another cost-cutting measure.
So, there could be wills that are not being used. And then they put it on their website, which has led to crime. You think of all the problems we have with money laundering regulations, all the things you have to prove and the government is out there putting names and addresses of people who have died on the internet. Not the addresses but the location or the town, and sometimes it’s quite easy to work out where they would have lived.
It’s a bit of a contradiction in terms, and our information is very open in that way. It is good in one way but obviously risky in another. And they’re not even looking for a will. So, one in four or one in five of the cases we look at… we do all the research, find the next of kin, get access to the home and two or three months into the process, when we’ve done all this work, there’s a will. Then we contact the executors and they say, ‘Thank you very much, goodbye’ and they don’t pay us anything for the work. So, we’ve wasted our time for the last couple of months. And the next of kin who have been contacted are all disappointed beneficiaries and aren’t going to get anything, as the will goes elsewhere.
The system’s a bit back to front at the moment. I’d like to try and change it. I don’t think I ever will change it… once the government has made its mind up about something it’s very hard to go back to the way they used to do it.
How can NALP help you achieve these aspirations?
It’s hard to approach something like that from a NALP angle. I’ve looked through what we would need to do, to lobby and campaign, but it’s basically a monetary exercise. Is it worth spending a fortune on that?
And because our profession is so disparate, there are companies that don’t want to speak to other companies, that don’t want to engage with other companies. I can reach out to all the other companies but they don’t want to know, they don’t want to join forces in that way.
So, we started the IAPPR as a self-regulatory body and that would be a good way in which to channel exercises in trying to change regulatory regimes, but that process itself, lobbying and everything else, is very expensive. You’d have to really commit a lot of time and money to it which, when you’re running a business, is very hard to do. It’s a bit of a Catch 22, I’m afraid.
So, if NALP can’t help you in that aspect, how do its qualifications help your staff to do their jobs?
Exactly, the NALP qualification is important because it shows commitment to reaching a professional standard that the legal profession understand, that people can relate to. And they can actually check up on us, so they can go to the NALP website and see if this person is registered. In this industry, when there are so many people who work from home or are one-man-bands… there are actually people who have been sent to prison and all sorts of things have gone on… so, from the public’s point of view, they need some sort of credentials or accreditation to look at.
NALP is well respected, well known and hopefully will become even wider known, through the memberships that we have. As well as through other firms making the effort to employ paralegals within the probate research industry.
Ongoing, do you see yourself employing more staff with NALP qualifications or encouraging existing staff to get NALP qualifications?
Exactly, if they don’t have the qualifications we will certainly, if they get to a level like Senior Researcher or Case Manager, want them to have that qualification. So, we will be enforcing that to a degree, making sure they have that qualification, that understanding. Because I think it really enhances their personal growth as well as their growth in the company, too.
Thank you for your time, Danny.
And thank you everyone for listening. If you would like to know more about NALP and how we work to promote the paralegal profession and help our members with their careers, please go to our website:nationalparalegals.co.uk for more information.