Newsmaker: Sharing the wealth

Helen Warrell

Timothy Marshall, founder and director, ShareCare - Eager to channel dormant assets away from finance - and into charity.

While most charities try to encourage the public to part with their hard-earned cash, Timothy Marshall persuades people to donate money they didn't even know they had.

The charity Marshall founded last year, ShareCare, distributes unwanted funds belonging to those who have had assets tied up in forgotten bank accounts, insurance policies, bonds and pension schemes.

The charity works alongside Marshall's private firm, The Shareholder Partnership, which locates asset-holders and helps them reclaim their money. If they prefer to give away the surprise windfall, ShareCare steps in.

In July, the Commission on Unclaimed Assets proposed handing the UK's estimated £400m of dormant funds over to third sector groups.

Marshall's organisation could present a small-scale blueprint for such a plan, and he agrees that the dormant funds should not be wasted. "I started ShareCare because my company was finding lots of people who weren't claiming their money," he says. "We thought it was a huge shame to have this money sit there and do nothing."

After approaching several charities, Marshall decided it would be unfair if only one organisation benefited from TSP's activities - so he decided to form a charity himself. "We found it was operationally more efficient to have our own charity," he says.

Before ShareCare pockets any of the unwanted assets, however, TSP's researchers go through the time-consuming process of tracking down the owners of financial holdings that have been untouched for as long as 40 years. Once the usual routes have failed, the team returns to the holder's last known town and consults neighbours, pubs and even the local vicar about the person's whereabouts. The results can be surprising. "A British man we found had moved to Spain and had £850,000 that he hadn't ever claimed," Marshall says.

Having been formed almost by accident, ShareCare now collects between £5,000 and £10,000 per month, which is given as grants to charities that help underprivileged children or fundraise for medical research. Current beneficiaries include the Anthony Nolan Trust and the Down's Syndrome Association.

But Marshall is cautious about the Commission on Unclaimed Assets' plan to create a social investment bank. "This would be a fantastic exercise, but we think it should be broken into two parts," he says. "The first step is to get the laws passed to allow the money to be passed over to a charitable organisation after a certain period of time. The second is to fight for where the money goes.

"If we attempt to do the two steps together, there will be so many constituents and interested parties that nothing will be accomplished."

ShareCare is planning to submit its own consultation document to the commission, but in the meantime Marshall believes the potential difficulty is making sure each stakeholder group is adequately informed.

"Everybody wants their own way," he says. "The Government may want to choose which charities benefit and financial services firms are already using the money. Consumers must be educated so they don't see it as a stealth tax."

As a businessman, how does Marshall believe the bankers will react to handing dormant money over? "In the UK, unclaimed assets have been used for extraordinary spending, building work and filling gaps in balance sheets," he says. "They are a convenience that the City has relied on for decades."

With the advent of ShareCare and the Commission on Unclaimed Assets, that reliance cannot last much longer - the bankers won't be happy.

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