Richard Abbott

Richard Abbott

Senior Counsel at Post Office Ltd

A Day in the Life of...

Richard Abbott is a highly experienced in-house lawyer who has worked at some of the biggest names in the UK’s outsourcing, utilities, retail and financial services sectors. His areas of expertise range from intellectual property to regulatory and governance, and business transformation and performance.

Last year Richard joined the Post Office legal team as Senior Counsel with responsibility for delivering legal support to its Northwich, Cheshire-based subsidiary, Payzone Bill Payments Ltd. He told The Brief about a typical day in his working life.

My day starts with feeding our lively and mischievous cocker spaniel and our three chickens, after which I take the dog for a walk and then, after breakfast, take my daily commute to the dining room to start my working day.

The typical day starts with checking emails and my calendar. Regular meetings each week will include updates with the Post Office’s Legal Director and her direct reports within the legal department, and also the Payzone management meeting. On a less frequent basis there are also business updates and Post Office legal team meetings. I also attend steering groups for various projects and risk review meetings.

Having joined Post Office in August 2020, during the pandemic, I am in the strange position of not having met any of my colleagues in the legal team and very few of my colleagues in Payzone. Nevertheless, I have not found any problems in fitting into both the Payzone team and the Post Office legal team. This is a credit to my colleagues and to the working culture in both Payzone and Post Office, which has placed a premium on wellbeing during the pandemic and the resulting challenges of remote working.

Financial Inclusion

Payzone Bill Payments Ltd was acquired by Post Office in late 2018 to extend the bill payments capability of the Post Office Group. In our digital age, when so many of us have got used to doing everything online and paying bills by direct debit, it is easy to forget that many people, either through choice or necessity, still rely on cash.

A Financial Inclusion Report by HM Treasury in 2019, showed 1.2 million people do not even have bank accounts. The Post Office, together with Payzone, is committed to ensuring continued access to cash, especially because it is the more vulnerable members of society who are most likely to be dependent on physical currency.

Payzone is a vital part of this commitment, enabling customers to pay for services such as utilities and council tax in cash. At the heart of the Payzone business are the 13,000 retailers based throughout the UK through whom Payzone delivers bill payment services. These are independent businesses, often sole traders, who sign up to become part of the Payzone network.

Customers can pay bills as well as top up gas and electricity meters and mobile phones at their local store. The payment is recorded on a terminal and passed on to Payzone, which then forwards the payment to its client company, less a charge which includes a commission for the retailer.

An additional benefit for the retailer is the increased footfall which arises from people coming into the store to pay bills.

Broad scope

As in house counsel for Payzone, a significant part of my role involves reviewing and negotiating contracts with Payzone’s bill payment clients, and I work closely with the commercial team in this regard. I also work with the Post Office financial services solicitors to ensure that we have a common approach to bill payment contracts across both the Post Office and Payzone, which together cover around 24,000 outlets.

However, my remit is much wider than that and I work with compliance colleagues on areas such as data protection, financial crime and legal risk. I am also involved in strategic projects for the business such as the roll-out of the new Payzone Plus device to retailers.

One of the things that attracted me to the role at Payzone was that, in addition to being responsible for providing legal support to the business, I would also be part of the wider Post Office legal, compliance and governance team. This has proved invaluable both in terms of the additional expertise that is available and additional resources such as training.

So, for instance, last year we rolled out competition law training to commercial managers and have also implemented a contract management system to bring Payzone into line with Post Office and improve the governance and management of commercial contracts, including storing contracts on a central database.

Empowering remote working

Inevitably, my day will involve jumping from one Teams meeting to the next, and it is easy to go through the day without any of the natural breaks that we took for granted in the days of office working before the pandemic. As a result, the business has made a point of reminding people of the importance of taking breaks from the computer screen and has blocked out 1pm till 2pm in everyone’s diaries each day in what is called Empower Hour (pre-pandemic it was called lunch!).

The aim is to guarantee an hour in the day without meetings. For me, it is an opportunity to grab some lunch and take the dog for a walk. Other things that we have done within the legal team are to organise virtual coffee a couple of time a week and occasionally a virtual pub (i.e. a Teams meeting with beer!) after work. Likewise, within Payzone, the social squad have been busy on a number of initiatives, all with the intention of keeping us sane during this strange time.

Finishing touch

For remote working to go well, a certain amount of discipline is involved. Obviously, there is the discipline of starting the day but it is also important to finish as well. One of the advantages of office life is that it provides a natural structure to the day that is missing when working from home.

It is good practice to mark the end of the working day and for me this means ensuring that the laptop is packed up and put away. After work, I may take the dog out for another walk before feeding her, and then lock the chickens up in their coop and check for any eggs if I have not done so earlier. After that, my wife and I will have dinner and catch up on each other’s day.

Now that restrictions are being lifted, we are starting to think through how and when we will return to the office. You never know, I might eventually get to meet my colleagues!