Ever since I’ve been involved in owning horses the duplication, complexity, expense and hassle of ownership administration has been a complete pain in the backside. I have often joked that it was probably easier back in the days of Queen Anne. Even the postman who comes to our house regularly takes the micky out of the huge postbag of Weatherbys-related correspondence. It has probably taken a decade to learn how to deal with it all, which shows how complicated it can be – particularly when you’re running partnerships with multiple owners.
On the serious side though, it is not just the needlessly complex admin. There is a strategic dimension to the whole subject. The BHA, in its strategy for growth, is determined to bring more owners into the sport and retain those they already have. Anything which is potentially a barrier to that has to be properly addressed and changed. As Charlie Liverton, CEO of the Racehorse Owners Association, said last week when a raft of ownership reforms was announced: “Owners have long complained that their first steps on the road to ownership were characterised by red tape and confusing ownership structures, followed by numerous fees.” Encouragingly, from next Spring this should change, with a far simpler and much more modern process being introduced. My wife and I are very pleased about this, not least because we’ve taken part in a number of working groups with both the BHA and the ROA, and have made numerous recommendations for changes together with testing some of the proposed changes that are now going to be made. There are three main elements to the new system.
- Digitalising administration: a new racing administration web site for owners is being launched. Through an online hub, which will be supported by a telephone help desk, owners will be able to register, update and maintain ownerships digitally, removing the vast majority of paper-based forms. In addition owners will be able to set up sponsorships, register an authority to act and check and pay invoices, all online. These changes will make it much easier and quicker to complete any necessary administrative requirements associated with being an owner.
- Simplifying ownership structures: in Owners for Owners we describe ourselves as forming joint ownerships, thereby encouraging co-owners to be genuine owners of horses. However it has never been easy simply to describe the differences between, say, co-owners, partnerships and syndicates. Having said that, many of our owners are with us because we are not a “syndicate”. There is certainly a lot of confusion around the different types of ownership, and the plan now is to streamline the eight types down to five: sole, partnership, syndicate, racing club and company. Sole and company ownerships will remain the same. Partnerships will be designed for small groups of registered owners who are looking to share the responsibility and liability for their horse(s) (the Owners for Owners offering). Syndicates will become the ownership vehicle for entities which have been formed through a public offering to consumers and / or one that has an individual managing it (e.g. a syndicator). In future the syndicator will become responsible for the syndicate, replacing the current requirement for two nominated partners from within the group. In a racing club, the horse(s) are owned by the club with members paying a subscription fee.
- Consolidation of fees: along with simplifying the registration process, both new and existing owners alike will benefit from the alignment and bundling of ownership fees. Rather than charging a number of different fees at various stages through the year, fees for the registration and re-registration of colours, an authority to act and VAT will be aligned to one date in the year. New owners will be able to purchase “fee bundles” at the registration stage in order to minimise any additional admin.
All of this is to be welcomed. It will be very interesting to see exactly how the changes are introduced. Regular readers of the blog will know that I was highly critical of Weatherbys Bank when their online banking was updated, which was a change management disaster. Hopefully everyone has learnt from that.
So full marks to both the ROA and the BHA for their part in pushing for these changes to take place. I worked closely with Richard Wayman before he became the Chief Operating Officer of the BHA, and his support for the initiative is warmly welcomed. His views are clear: “At the heart of the sport’s growth strategy is making racehorse ownership more attractive and accessible to both new and existing owners. This will require significant progress in a number of areas, including ownership administration, where there needs to be much greater emphasis on the customer experience. The initiatives announced (on Tuesday 25th October) will address many of the administrative frustrations faced by owners for too long.” Hear, hear!