Talking tech with Harry Marten, Head of Finance at Cera Care
Read time: 6 minutes
We caught up with Harry Marten, Head of Finance at Cera Care, on how the company is using tech to join up and reimagine the UK’s fragmented social care industry.
Harry, tell us a bit about your journey to Cera Care.
After university I worked as a trainee for HSBC Investment Bank and then spent eight years at PwC where I completed my ACA in the audit department before working in the Deals Advisory team.
I was always interested in working with social impact companies, particularly start-ups that are trying to do something new. I left PwC to work for a private equity firm investing in green energy companies but found I wasn’t able to get my hands dirty with the real issues in running a business. So, I pivoted to focus on working within company finance teams.
Cera Care was a really exciting opportunity for me because I could combine my experiences in deals and internal company finance with the excitement of tech development. I am happy to be part of a team that is building and rolling out software that transforms the way care is delivered to people in their homes.
About Cera Care
Industry type: Hospital & Health Care
Size: 5000 employees
Type: Privately held
How did the idea for Cera Care come about?
The co-founder and CEO is Dr. Ben Maruthappu, a doctor and senior NHS advisor, who came up with the idea for Cera Care after organising care for a loved one. Like many others, he faced difficulties arranging the right care for his relative and decided there must be a better way. He wanted to reduce the challenges that care providers face when balancing the need to provide quality care with heavy administrative burdens.
What is Cera Care’s overall mission?
Our mission is to revolutionise care for the better – for our users and society. If you look at our investors, our board and our strategy, it’s all about better social care. Although we do a lot of M&A, we’re not in the game of simply buying companies, merging them together, getting synergies and optimising costs – that's not what we're here to do. The core reason we do M&A is to increase our coverage in the sector and the number of care assets that we manage. We can then roll out our technology, refine our solutions and demonstrate the improvements that we can make.
What role has funding and investment played in Cera Care’s development?
We have carried out a number of equity rounds since inception, most of which have gone towards developing our technology and creating the business. In 2020, we raised debt financing, which is used for M&A.
In 2021 the bulk of the money we're going to raise will be used to double down on technology development.
As Head of Finance, tell us about some of your big mergers and acquisitions.
One of our most talked about acquisitions in 2020 was Mears Care Ltd which was a carve-out from a publicly listed business that provides housing and care. We acquired their English domiciliary care operation in January 2020 and their Scottish domiciliary care operation in September 2020. We also acquired several owner-managed businesses, where the owners had built up a business over 20-30 years and were looking to retire or step away. 2020 was a big year for us with multiple acquisitions.
How is Cera Care helping to join up a fragmented industry?
Within social care, there are over 10,000 businesses but very few large players. Government funding is limited and typically 60-70% of social care is funded by local authorities whose primary focus is on cutting costs. Because of this, the market is extremely competitive and margins are very low. When it comes to technology, most of the businesses are owner-managed and adoption of technology has historically been minimal. Some businesses are still using spreadsheets and a pen and paper! Transforming this industry using technology is our core mission.
We believe that we can create better technology as a care provider and not just as a tech firm. We have acquired a significant amount of domiciliary care assets. We roll out our tech into the businesses and branch operations we acquire. As we continue to improve our technology, we hope we can continue to expand the impact we are having on the sector.
"As we continue to improve our technology, we hope we can continue to expand the impact we are having on the sector."
How exactly is Cera Care using technology to help the social care crisis?
We’re using technology to revolutionise the following areas:
1. Improving the user experience ecosystem
We’ve created an ecosystem by developing a series of mobile phone apps – one for the carer, one for the person receiving the care, and a third for the family member which they use to monitor the care their relative is receiving.
2. Optimising the care delivery process
We’ve automated many of the processes that other providers had been carrying out manually. This has enabled us to make things more efficient and improve the quality of care delivery. If you imagine a branch coordinator who is now able to coordinate 1,500 hours of care a week, where previously – with a slower and more manual processes – they were coordinating just 750 hours of care a week.
We’ve also used tech to streamline the carer recruitment process which has historically been a huge challenge for the industry, with demand much higher than supply.
3. Generating client risk assessments using machine learning
We collect various data points from our elderly service users through our mobile phone app. We then run this data through a machine learning algorithm which gives us a risk assessment for all our service users. We use this information, known as a risk score, to help prevent deterioration in health and to anticipate negative health outcomes and swiftly intervene. So for example, the machine learning algorithm may suggest which clients are at high risk and need an urgent face-to-face visit with a GP before their conditions deteriorate and they are forced into hospital. The other thing it does is use data to create a set of bespoke, dynamic tasks for the carer that are tailored to the individual receiving the care.
This tech benefits Cera Care because obviously we can deliver a more efficient service by anticipating health crises, but it is also reassuring to the family as they’re able to proactively monitor their loved one’s health and wellbeing from afar. Optimising the data is the area that, personally, I'm most excited about.
The overall benefit to the social care industry is that we can reduce the cost of the whole system. If we can intervene early, we can prevent negative health outcomes and hospitalisation, and in turn reduce strain on the NHS.
How has Cera Care met the challenges of the current global situation?
The impact of COVID-19 on our business is, from what I understand, very similar to other domiciliary care businesses. I think we've weathered the storm a lot better than some because of our size and the resources that we have at our disposal. I know that the smaller businesses in the sector with lower margins have really struggled. Revenues did drop off slightly initially, but obviously care is still needed and we have since resumed our growth trajectory.
PPE was a key focus for us, both in terms of being able to get the stock but also seeing prices increase during that period. A lot of that was balanced through local authority support, most recently the Infection Control Fund which comes from national government but flows through local authorities. We can choose to spend it on PPE, COVID-19 training for staff and/or covering the pay of carers who are isolating. Our clients are obviously in a high-risk COVID-19 category and the government has done a good job of recognising that with this support.
Do you have plans to expand internationally?
We do have plans to expand internationally and it's something that we're looking at in 2021. If we do expand abroad, it's very likely it will be another platform that we can demonstrate and refine our impact with our technology. We have started having a couple of conversations with advisors overseas to try and identify some targets. I think it's still very early days, but it's definitely something we want to pursue.
How did the Department of Health come to procure the recruitment platform you created?
Getting through the recruitment cycle in social care has always been quite painful for both carers and traditional providers. Our tech team built a platform, Join Social Care, that automates most of the recruitment process, including getting applicants to submit video interviews. We halved the time it takes to recruit a new carer into the sector from 4 weeks to just 2 weeks. The Department of Health was very impressed and in the spring of 2020 they signed a contract to use the platform. Not only has it been a great success for us, but we’ve also been able to roll something out that other providers can benefit from across our sector.
This is an area that we will continue to invest in going forward. It's going to be a key focus for our technology team in 2021 to see how we can further reduce the pain points around social care recruitment to increase the supply of carers in the sector.
What do you like most about your role?
It’s a very exciting role. Of course there are challenges along the way, but being at the forefront of a business that's gone from £3m revenue to £100m in a short period of time is phenomenal. For me, the most exciting thing is being part of a team that is trying to do new things and to transform the way care is delivered to people who really need it. The company and our people have a really optimistic healthy outlook and that’s a nice culture to be involved with every day.
What advice would you give to others looking to follow in your footsteps?
If you want to go on a growth journey, particularly with a start-up company, it's a role that is quite different to something more traditional.
"It’s quite easy to see the glamorous side of growing so quickly and being a part of an exciting story, but start-ups are a lot of hard work, they can certainly be a bumpy ride. You need to be prepared for that."
However, it feels very energising to work on solving problems that will have a positive impact on so many people in their time of need. I feel lucky to be able to bring the finance skills that I have developed over my career to such positive use.
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