FinTech and Artificial Intelligence

ai
Akoni stand
Cinthia Danove and Munal Mehta on the Akoni stand

Last week was London Fintech Week. For seven days, thousands of delegates from over 50 countries attended conferences, exhibitions, workshops, hackathons, meetups and parties. The main conference/exhibition took place at the Grange Tower Bridge Hotel, while other events occurred across the City of London, Canary Wharf and ‘Tech City’. The goal was to unite the world of fintech in the world’s financial capital and enhance the dialogue between multi-nationals, innovation firms, startups, governments, media and investors.

As innovators in the fintech sector, of course, Akoni was there!

We met people from banks including HSBC, Credit Agricole and Lloyds, and from international organisations who are interested in expanding FinTech in their home countries, such as FinTech Valley Vizag from India. We also met various investors who showed interest in the Akoni proposition and how we bring innovation to the market, and people from our data partner, Bureau Van Dijk.

As you’d expect, we also interacted with the other businesses who were exhibiting. It was a nice range of businesses, which is evidence of how broad the FinTech world is. Many were from outside the UK, including Malaysia, USA and Israel. This allowed a more enriching debate about the pros and cons of different geographies, such as regulation impact, access to capital, and government incentives. These interactions gave rise to potential synergies and opportunities to work together.

Panel discussion
Panel discussion

We attended a number of panel discussions, but of most interest to Akoni was a discussion about the impact of PSD2 from both a legal and commercial point of view. The panel comprised two tech partners from the international law firm, Pinsents Masons, a representative from RBS’ FinTech team, and the CTO of MoneyHub Enterprise. To a packed audience they raised awareness about the shift of liability from the use of API (in case of data breach), but also how banks need to do more to protect their image, and the challenge of improving communication with clients. They also highlighted the business opportunities and the incentives for banks to produce the best API.

View the official photos on Flickr: 10 July | 11 July

Exploring the hot topics of the day

The fintech world is changing remarkably fast, and there is lots to talk about.

We noticed many e-currency businesses and startups, indicated that this may be a hot space within FinTech. Another hot topic is the new technologies such as data analytics, deep machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) that are already transforming the financial services industry. In fact, McKinsey estimate the combination of AI and robotics to be worth $50 trillion globally by 2025.

AI allows advanced behaviour-tracking, and has already enabled high-frequency trading. In future, it could allow better fraud prevention, voice-enabled e-commerce,  compliance solutions, and virtual assistants to help customers manage their personal finances.

AI will enable organisations to reduce costs and increase efficiencies while offering customers new products and services.

Akoni leverages machine learning techniques and neural nets to improve financial outcomes for businesses, by providing intelligent forecasting and automated prompting to enhance cash management.

Playing our part in events such as fintech week shows we’re at the leading edge.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

Business savings drop since Brexit vote, while SMEs in the East of England remain top savers

The current uncertainty in the economic and political environment following last year’s Brexit vote has had a significant impact on business savings in the country. The national average on business savings has dropped a staggering 20%. However, it seems that smaller businesses are still investing a good amount of their funds in cash savings, having only dropped 5% from last year.

The good news is that we do also see an increase in business savings in parts of the country. In the East of England SMEs have increased their savings by 9% from 2016, making them once again the top savers in the country.

SMEs understand the importance of having cash readily available for regular payments. Most of the time their cash savings will remain in a savings account that business owners and managers will have most likely chosen based on their rates and the kind of returns they can make on their money. The problem is that SMEs don’t have the time and resources to be able to shop around for the best rates on a regular basis, missing the chance to truly maximize their returns. This is where the founders of Akoni realized the need to create a service that gives SMEs the same chance as larger corporations, to maximize their returns, without having to sacrifice the time they need for running and developing their business.

As the Director of Savings at Hampshire Trust Bank, Stuart Hulme, said: “Rather than stockpiling cash in current accounts, SMEs should consider shopping around for a business savings account that provides a better rate of return, enabling them to make more of their hard-earned cash.”

For more detailed statistics read more here.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

 

 

The problem with busy-ness

Bees

Have you ever had or overheard a conversation like this?

“How are you?”
“Really busy.”
“That’s good!”

Busy-ness seems to be highly valued these days. But it’s not necessarily a good thing. In fact, it’s a scourge of our age.

Do you tweet during meetings? Check emails on your smartphone while watching TV? Find yourself texting several people at the same time as updating your social media feeds?

Multi-tasking might make you feel you’re being efficient – but switching between tasks reduces your efficiency because the human brain isn’t designed to work that way.

One theory is that it’s due to the way blood flows through the brain.

In order to think, problem-solve and create memories, the brain demands a steady supply of oxygen, glucose and nutrients via the blood. Blood helps generate new brain cells, improve communication between regions of the brain, and increase the growth of white matter. If you simultaneously activate several parts of your brain, incoming blood is distributed to the relevant areas, so reducing the volume of nutrients that can be devoted to any specific mental task.

Check the evidence

Back in 2005, Dr Glenn Wilson, psychiatrist at King’s College, London University conducted 80 clinical trials to monitor workers’ IQ throughout the day. He found that the IQ of people who were distracted by phone calls, emails and text messages could temporarily decrease by an average of 10 points (15 for men and 5 for women).

That’s a greater loss of IQ than someone smoking marijuana or missing a whole night’s sleep!

What’s more, chronic multi-taskers have increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can damage the memory region of the brain.

Sandra Bond, author of Make your Brain Smarter says: “Multi-tasking is a brain drain that exhausts the mind, zaps cognitive resources and, if left unchecked, condemns us to early mental decline and decreased sharpness.”

The brain is wired for deep and innovative thinking, but it can’t do more than one thing at a time. It toggles between one task and the next.

For example, scans show that when you talk on the phone, there is limited activation of the visual part of your brain – which is why it’s dangerous to have a phone conversation while driving (even hands-free).

The answer is focus: single-tasking, not multi-tasking

Focus may be common sense, but it may not be so easy to make a new habit. One reason is because the brain releases dopamine every time there’s an incoming ‘ping’ – this addictive neurotransmitter perpetuates the need for endless stimulation.

The good news is that it’s never too late to start single-tasking.

In a study of people aged 50 to 80 sponsored by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, the biggest predictor of sound decision-making was the ability to filter the most important information from less relevant data, and that strategic attention increases with age.

Business and busy-ness

There are times when you have to work on multiple areas at once – such as when launching a startup business like Akoni. The key is to ensure you are clear about your critical objectives, focus on delivering just one item at a time, and that you make optimal use of your time. Often, you need a well-functioning team to achieve this.

If you’re a leader, don’t let a culture of multi-tasking arise in your workplace. Do your bit by modelling best practice and your people will emulate the example you set.

Here are some tips you may find useful:

Minimise distractions so you can perform to your full potential. Turn off all notifications so you’re not interrupted. Only check your emails and voicemails once or twice a day.

Understand that ‘important’ and ‘urgent’ are not the same. Draw a four-box grid with urgent on one axis and important on the other. If a task is highly urgent AND highly important, do that first. If it’s important but not urgent, schedule a time to do it. If it’s urgent but not important, delegate the task. If it’s low on both scales, don’t do it at all.

Ensure you take regular breaks. Build in time to enjoy the simple pleasures such as family, meditation and the amazing outdoors. Fresh air is an excellent tonic to help with focus as it gives your mind the opportunity to relax while sharpening itself. Even looking out of the window for a few minutes will help to refresh you and create room for the next creative idea.

Make a ‘to do’ list, and do things sequentially. Start with the most important task and don’t do anything else until it’s finished.

Remember the story of the teacher who showed the students an empty jar. She filled it with rocks and asked “Is the jar full yet?”

“Yes,” they replied.

She then added some pebbles that settled around the rocks, and asked: “Is it full now?”

“Yes,” they replied, although less certain now.

Next, the teacher added sand to fill the gaps between the rocks and pebbles, and repeated her question.

Sure the jar was now completely full, the students said: “Yes.”

Finally, the teacher poured in a jugful of water, and filled the jar to overflowing. “Is it full now?” she asked.

“Yes,” the students confirmed.

“The moral of this story is that we all have the same number of hours in the day, and you have to fill them with the ‘big rocks’ first, otherwise there will be no room for the little things.

Follow these tips, and we hope you will eventually escape the curse of busy-ness and be able to increase your creativity and energy through focused single-tasking.

Akoni manages your cash while you focus on other important matters. Register free and set up your personalised Deposit Planner with over 300 business products at AkoniHub.com

Cash management for construction firms

As with any business, ‘cashflow is king’ in the construction industry.

Even profitable construction companies can have cashflow problems, and there has been a high rate of insolvencies in the industry for years. Contractors go out of business not because they run out of work, but because of poor management and lack of financial control.

If you consistently make a loss, you’ll fail. If you run out of cash, you’ll fail.

Construction companies need special cashflow management strategies to help them fund expenses, mitigate any losses, and achieve profitability.

Here are some of the challenges that are unique to this sector:

Time-lag between income and expenses

Construction companies have to cover their expenses every week, even though the average number of days it takes to get paid is 60 – 90.

Change orders

Change orders are common, due to extreme weather causing delays, or a project requiring more time, money and/or resources than originally expected. Try to resolve change orders quickly so the project can be completed and the final bill issued.

Retention

Construction contracts often have a retention rate up to 10%, meaning that only 90% of completed work can be billed. Try to negotiate a reduction in the retention rate, perhaps dropping to 5% retention once 50% of the work is complete. If possible, withhold payment to your sub-contractors at the same rate (assuming that is permitted under local regulations).

Inventory

Don’t buy too many materials and store them for future use. If not used quickly, this inventory just ties up your cash. Don’t allow resources to build up beyond what you need in the short- to medium-term, and sell off any excess.

Equipment

Similarly, if you have invested in equipment that’s not in use, it’s losing money. Know how much each item costs to run, and monitor your equipment usage accurately. Limit downtime. If equipment is not generating money for the business, then rent it or sell it. Consider leasing fixed assets rather than purchasing them.

Cash management throughout the lifecycle of a construction project

Every project is different, and you need to know the net cash position for each unique project. Here are some tips that cover the five main stages of a construction contract:

  1. Pre-bidding and bidding
  • Review the credit status of your potential customer
  • Review the payment arrangements in the project contract
  • Cost the contract accurately
  • Understand what financial records need to be kept
  1. Contract awarded
  • Finalise the details of the project contract and negotiate favourable terms
    • When payments will be made
    • How payments will be made
    • What happens if payments are not made
    • What costs are allowed within the contract
    • What performance penalty is allowed, if any
    • What is the retention rate
    • When is the property owner’s monthly cut-off for invoices to be received
  1. Before construction
  • Hold a pre-construction meeting to agree the project overview and what reporting and documentation is required
  • Establish a performance and billing schedule, month by month
  1. During construction
  • Follow the performance and billing schedule
  • Follow the schedule of values
  • Negotiate with vendors and subcontractors to save money
  • Send invoices in line with the contract terms
  • Pay suppliers in line with the contract terms
  1. End of contract
  • To avoid delaying the final payment, ensure you complete the project to the customer’s satisfaction
  • Collect the final payment

If that’s what to focus on for each construction project, here is some general cashflow management advice:

At company level

  • Use cashflow management software to predict future income and expenses
  • Train your project managers so they understand how to manage cashflow
  • Develop a good relationship with your bank, so you can access credit if you need it to cover unexpected expenses

Dealing with suppliers

  • Let suppliers know you are shopping around – this incentivises them to offer you the best deal
  • Negotiate a discount on materials
  • Extend credit from 30 to 60 days
  • Use financing to spread the cost

Paying staff

  • Offer incentives based on cashflow performance
  • Consider outsourcing. Full-time construction employees are usually paid weekly or fortnightly, while sub-contractors are usually paid every month (this can benefit cashflow but potentially raises the risk of issues with security or quality)

Invoicing customers

  • Write clear payment terms
  • Check credit reports before you make any deals
  • Develop a front-loaded schedule of values. Bill in phases for items such as mobilisation, then site development, and finally walls, roof, landscaping and finish. Don’t put all the profit into the last tasks. Build profit into the front end to help mitigate the natural cash outflow when the job gets underway
  • Automate your invoices so they are issued on time – or even early
  • Offer payment incentives
  • Avoid over-billing and under-billing. Over-billing may increase cashflow in the short term, but too much overbilling may mean that you are borrowing from one job to pay for another. It’s best to invoice according to how much of the project is completed
  • Accept electronic payments; they are the quickest way to get paid
  • Do whatever you can to increase the speed of receivables, such as reducing your payment terms to 50 days or less
  • Chase late payers promptly, and restructure terms

Automation

There are various ways to make it easier to manage your construction company, such as job management software from Okappy, and cash management services from AkoniHub.

With money in the bank, you can pay bills promptly, which helps get competitive prices from suppliers and sub-contractors. With better cashflow, you have more capital to use for day-to-day operations, accounts payable and growth. With increased automation, you can stay on top of your cashflow and have more chance of building a successful construction business.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

Business savings: Why it’s worth shopping around

shopping bags

The UK is currently sweltering under a heatwave, and the sun looks set to keep shining for a few more days at least. However, the interest rate climate is uncertain, with rising inflation and the wider economic impact to be considered.

As discussed in last week’s newsflash, rates are bound to rise sometime, although the Bank of England base rate is staying at 0.25% for the time being.

What about the USA?

Rates may soon be on the move if the UK follows the US pattern.

Over the Atlantic, interest rates were held at record lows since the financial crisis. The first increase in nine years came in December 2015, then in December 2016 and again in March this year.

Base rates in America are set using the Federal Reserve funds rate (this is the amount banks and other institutions charge each other to borrow money held at the central bank).

The Daily Telegraph says: “The US Federal Reserve is expected to raise its federal funds target to between 1.00% and 1.25%, from 0.75% to 1.0%.”

Managing your savings while interest rates are low

Businesses are managing and optimising the opportunities and risks presented by Brexit and the current climate. You might have deposited money in the bank to act as a cash reserve, to save for new equipment or to fuel long-term business growth. A sensible business will make their money work as hard as possible, while keeping enough in a current account for effective cashflow.

Why leave your cash in business savings accounts that pay little or no interest when you could boost the income you receive by 10 to 12 times when you choose an account paying the highest rate?

UK businesses have £258bn in cash balances and make next to nothing on them – in some cases, businesses with cash holdings are being charged fees by their banks

A business with £2 million cash holdings could generate an additional £30,000 per year. This return could provide for a new marketing campaign or a staff member, contributing to productivity and profit.

Akoni CEO and co-founder, Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, says: “Most businesses sweat all assets, yet cash typically languishes.”

A business savings account is the best place for any surplus funds, because they usually offer higher rates than a business current account. Broadly, you can choose between two types of business savings account:

1. Fixed rate bonds

With a fixed rate bond, you choose a term from one to three years. The rates on business bonds tend to be better than variable rate accounts, and are guaranteed so you know what you’ll be getting.

Generally, the longer you’re willing to lock your funds away, the higher interest rate you’ll receive.

However, there’s no flexibility, and you won’t be able to add funds. Usually, you won’t be able to make any withdrawals before the maturity date. If you do, you’ll have to pay a significant penalty.

You could get 2.2% when you invest £500K in Secure Trust Bank for 60 months, or 2.0% over 48 months*

Check today’s fixed rates on AkoniHub >

2. Variable rate accounts

‘Variable’ means providers can change the interest rate at any time.

With an easy access business savings account, you get instant access to your funds in case of emergency. These accounts are very flexible. The minimum balance is likely to be low, and there will be few withdrawal restrictions, so you can make as many deposits and withdrawals as you wish.

Interest rates are higher with a notice account, but you will have to give notice to your provider before you can withdraw any money. Notice periods generally vary from 30 days to 120. If they allow you to access funds earlier,  there will usually be a penalty.

You could get 1.0% when you invest £500K in ICICI Bank instant access business savings account*

Check today’s variable rates on AkoniHub >

Things to look out for

It’s important to consider the small print as well as the headline rate. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the rate include a short-term bonus? If yes, you may need to move your savings when the rate drops
  • Is your type of company eligible? Do you meet the turnover criteria?
  • Is there a minimum investment requirement?
  • Do you need to maintain a minimum balance at all times?
  • How many penalty-free withdrawals can you make each year?
  • Are you restricted to accessing the account only in branch, by phone or by post?

Ensure you’re covered by FSCS protection

The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) protects the first £85,000 you hold in each institution with a separate UK banking licence – but only if you’re a ‘small business’ that meets at least two of these criteria:

  • 50 employees or fewer
  • £6.5 million turnover or less
  • £3.26 million balance sheet total or less

To find out more, please see our article: Are your deposits protected?

A note about tax

Interest is paid gross, so remember to notify HMRC of any tax your business owes on its savings interest.

Follow our cash management advice by shopping around to find the best rate, and you’ll be happy to pay extra tax on the extra interest you’ve earned!

*Interest rates correct at time of writing.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

Newsflash: Are interest rates set to rise?

graphs and charts

Just over a week ago, we wrote about how the pound has fallen since the Brexit vote: Pound down, inflation up

How fast things change!

In the last few days, the pound has started to bounce back up against the dollar, as you can see from this chart:

GBP v USD
Source: BBC News Market Data

That’s not the only shift that’s going on.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meets monthly to decide what to do about UK interest rates.

Rates have been on hold at a record low of 0.25% since August 2016. The only one of the eight MPC members who votes for a rise is typically MIT professor, Kristin Forbe (and she’s leaving the committee this month). Yesterday, she was surprisingly joined by Ian McCafferty and Michael Saunders. The last time three people called for rates to increase was May 2011.

This signals that policymakers are increasingly concerned about inflation rising even though the economy slowed to 0.2% in the first quarter.

The Bank had expected inflation to peak around 2.8% in the second half of this year, but now thinks there is a risk it will reach 3.0% by autumn.

The MPC said a further fall in the value of the pound would add to upward pressures on inflation, and that inflation had picked up more quickly than expected since last month’s economic forecast.

The committee stressed that all members agreed any increases in the interest rate would be ‘gradual and limited’.

Money managers now believe there is a 50% chance of a rate increase by May 2018, up from 12% before yesterday’s meeting.

Interest rates

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

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What the hung parliament means for business

Houses of Parliament

The political arena has sprung a series of significant surprises on us in recent months, including the vote for Brexit, David Cameron’s speedy resignation and replacement by Theresa May as PM, and Donald Trump being elected in America.

And now – at a time when the Conservatives seemed unbeatable – Mrs May held a snap General Election with the intention of boosting the Tory majority, and instead has ended up with a minority and coalition talks with the DUP.

The bad news is that a hung Parliament leads to uncertainty for all.

Impact of a hung Parliament

Because of the hung Parliament, the Brexit negotiations that were due to start on 19 June have now been delayed. The Queen’s Speech has also been delayed. And the value of pound is still volatile (this links to last week’s article, Pound down, inflation up).

At the time of writing, Mrs May has reshuffled her cabinet and said she has no intention of resigning. But there is speculation that she will be forced to step down and/or we’ll be voting in another General Election within a year.

All this upheaval and uncertainty seems to weaken the British position in the eyes of the rest of the world. It’s hard for other countries to see us as ‘strong and stable’ as we’d like to be.

Various organisations have been ‘taking the temperature’ of the business world, to see how UK industry leaders are responding to the uncertainty. Below, we examine some of the results.

What the surveys say

The Institute of Directors surveyed 700 members and found a ‘dramatic drop’ in confidence following the hung Parliament, and huge concern over political uncertainty and its impact on the UK economy.

As a priority, the respondents wanted the UK to reach agreement with the EU on transitional arrangements for Brexit, and to clarify the impact on EU workers in the UK.

Stephen Martin, Director General of the IoD, said: “It is hard to overstate what a dramatic impact the current political uncertainty is having on business leaders, and the consequences could – if not addressed immediately – be disastrous for the UK economy.”

The Harvard Kennedy School of Business surveyed more than 50 medium-sized businesses and trade association. Their key concerns were:

  • The overwhelming importance of securing a good trade deal with the EU
  • The concern that Brexit would lead to an increased regulatory burden not a reduction
  • The need for continued engagement with EU regulatory agencies
  • The fact that Brexit will necessarily trigger a fundamental rethink of policy towards some sectors, in particular agriculture
  • The need to upgrade customs control procedures and revamp the immigration system

‘Almost all’ expressed a preference for remaining in the single market and customs union. All the companies questioned were concerned about potentially rising costs from tariffs and customs controls while many were worried about the UK leaving the EU without a deal at all.

Peter Sands, former boss of investment bank Standard Chartered, told the BBC: “When it comes down to it, most would prefer to be in the single market – that makes it easier for them to do business, and if they can’t get that they want a free trade agreement or something as close to the single market as possible.”

We know it’s possible. For example, Israel has a special relationship with the EU since 2000 as an ‘associated state’. With its high level of scientific and research capability, Israel has a long-standing history of scientific and technical co-operation with the EU. With this type of status, the UK’s strong scientific community could continue to deliver EU access to British innovation.

The Resolution Foundation surveyed over 500 employers who employ EU/EEA nationals, and identified a huge gap between the kind of immigration system employers expect and what the new government is planning.

Nearly a third (30%) expect freedom of movement to be maintained for EU/EEA nationals moving to the UK with a job offer, while 17% expect no change to the current system.

The PM has ruled out either option, stating that her government – rather than employer demand for workers – will control migrant numbers. However, this may change now that a softer Brexit is being proposed post-election.

The Foundation warned that lower migration, along with a higher minimum wage and a tightening jobs market, could mean the end of cheap labour for many UK firms.

Changing face of Parliament

There’s still some way to go, but the good news is that Parliament is more diverse than ever. The BBC breakdown shows (out of a total of 650 newly elected MPs):

  • 208 women, compared with 191 in 2015
  • 52 people from ethnic minorities, an increase from 41 in 2015
  • 45 who openly define themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), a 40% increase since 2015
  • An increase in the number of MPs with disabilities (no official figures)
  • 51% went to comprehensive schools, 29% went to private school, 18% selective states

There will be more on diversity in a future article.

What can SMEs do?

The way things are going, there’s no way of predicting how the situation will play out over the long-term. In fact, it’s currently changing on a daily basis. In the short-term, SMEs will no doubt attempt to carry on business as usual. Here are some tips:

  • Companies large and small are pondering their investment decisions. Use AkoniHub to find the bank with the best interest rate. That way, your business deposits will grow faster, while the politicians sort themselves out
  • Focus on building your pipeline and business confidence. In the here and now, many firms across the UK have been doing well
  • Understand the key threats and opportunities that lie ahead
  • The future of devolution is an important consideration in business planning. So review the impact of further volatility in sterling as firms weigh up their business models and plans to invest or recruit.

For the vast majority of companies in the business communities we visit, Brexit feels far away and far off — what matters are the high upfront cost of doing business, poor broadband, the inability to recruit successfully for vacancies or transport gridlock. Different regions may also have their own view. In many parts of England, upcoming elections for new city/regional mayors whose powers matter to local business success could overshadow anything that happens in the national polls.

In the British tradition, let’s all try to keep calm and carry on. The UK must be seen to remain open for business, with a government committed to supporting enterprise. This means a clear timetable and ongoing pressure via industry bodies and associations for value add.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

Pound down, inflation up. What does this mean for SMEs?

Keep Calm

What goes up must come down, they say. Either way, there is no reason to panic!

When you put things into a longer context, say five years, you can see that – whatever happens – we’ve probably been there in the past, and will probably be there again in future.

Let’s explore the current situation where we’re seeing a lower pound and rising inflation.

Plummeting pound

Alas! Poor pound. It’s been falling for ages – although it does seem to be making a slight recovery in 2017, as shown on this five-year chart compiled by the FT. (The sudden drop just before July last year was a result of the Brexit referendum vote.)

Pound

A weak pound can benefit small businesses who export their goods and services or sell to tourists. The Guardian recently reported the following success stories:

Wrendale Designs of Lincolnshire source nearly all their materials from the UK, and export greetings cards, home furnishings and giftware to the US. Co-founder, Jack Dale predicts 30% growth in turnover this year.

“The US market is doing really well for us,” he says. “We’ve kept our prices constant but obviously the dollars we’re earning convert to around 15% more pounds.”

The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh has had its busiest year ever, with visitor levels up 9% on last year and the number who take a tour up by 12%.

Julie Trevisan Hunter, head of marketing, says: “The weakness of the pound has made Scotland an attractive holiday destination, particularly for short-haul travellers. At the same time, the value of the pound versus the euro has made staycations more attractive for people from the rest of the UK.”

For fashion brand, Gandys, online international sales are up 21% by volume and nearly 13% in value, while in-store sales in London have seen a 14% boost, largely due to shoppers from overseas.

“We’re doing really well with tourists who are spending a lot more money in our flagship Spitalfields store because they’ve effectively got a 15% discount,” says co-founder, Paul Forka.

International sales have also rocketed for male grooming brand, The Beard and the Wonderful, who sell products online through their own site and via eBay.

Founder, Steve Sanger, says: “Before, around 4/5 of our business was in the UK but now it’s more like a 50/50 split. On lower cost items a 15% discount may only bring your cost down by less than a pound, but it gets you at the top of search results when people prioritise by price.”

Bibby Foreign Exchange allows “hedging” of dollar and euro purchases, where an SME fixes a price a month or two in advance so they know they will have enough in the bank for an upcoming purchase.

MD, Michael McGowan, has seen a sharp rise in SMEs being more comfortable to deal in dollars and euros. Similarly, business is brisk in turning dollars and euros earned abroad back into pounds.

“A few years ago, many British SMEs were resistant to selling in another currency but since the drop in the pound, they’re increasingly willing to deal in euros or dollars,” he says. “You’re effectively getting 15% more margin for the same transaction.”

Soaring inflation

Meanwhile, UK inflation has been rising since 2015. This chart shows the past five years:

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Source: tradingeconomics.com

The Bank of England set an inflation target of 2%. However, in April 2017, consumer prices increased 2.7% year-on-year, following a 2.3% rise in each of the previous two months, and inflation is now running at its highest rate since September 2013.

But why?

According to TradingEconomics.com, the upward trend is mainly connected with the reduced value of sterling since the Brexit vote last year, as well as the rising cost of air fares (due to a late Easter), and electricity prices. With a falling pound, imports are more expensive. At the same time, fuel and food prices are rising.

Ben Brettell, senior economist at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Transport costs account for more than a third of the inflation figure. Oil is priced in dollars, and sterling has fallen around 13% since last June’s referendum.”

With the average pay rise at 2.3%, and inflation increasing at the same or higher rates, employees are no better off, which puts pressure on household income and spending.

In BBC reports, the Bank of England said it expects inflation will peak at 2.8%, although some economists think it could rise above 3%.

And what does this mean for interest rates?

Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “Businesses continue to report that the substantial increases in the cost of raw materials and other overheads over the past year are still filtering through the supply chain, and are therefore likely to lift consumer prices higher in the coming months. However, it remains probable that the current period of above target inflation is transitory in nature, with little evidence that higher price growth is becoming entrenched in higher pay growth. This should give the Bank of England sufficient scope to keep interest rates on hold for some time yet, despite their recent warning.”

Interest rate increases by the Bank of England are uncertain, particularly in relation to controlling prices.

Which means that – if your business has money in the bank – you have to do your best to make the most of it. And that means using your Akoni Hub to find the account paying the best interest on your cash deposits. We also provide a personalised report with best practice relating to cash management, collecting funds owed to you and paying your suppliers.

After that, you can put your feet up, relax, and have a cup of coffee.

 Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

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Innovation in the UK

innovation

When you think of UK innovators, who comes to mind?

Maybe it’s Wallace, the eccentric inventor from the claymation series, Wallace & Gromit, created by Nick Park of Aardman Animations. Some of Wallace’s ‘cracking contraptions’ are based on real-life inventions, such as the bed that tips up to wake its owner, an idea that was first shown at The Great Exhibition of 1851.

Park admits that Wallace’s inventions are often ‘using a sledgehammer to crack a nut’ and most of the comedy comes from things going wrong! If you have time, you might enjoy this compilation:

On the other hand, maybe you think of Sir Clive Sinclair, who produced the first slimline pocket calculator, the first mass-market home computer, and – of course – the Sinclair C5 battery electric vehicle. His latest invention is a folding bicycle for commuters.

Or perhaps Sir James Dyson comes to mind, he who created the bagless vacuum cleaner, airblade hand-dryer and bladeless fan.

Whoever you think of, you can bet that not every one of their inventions has been a commercial success!

So what’s the connection between innovation and business growth?

How innovation impacts business growth

In PwC’s ‘Breakthrough Innovation and Growth’ survey of 1,757 C-suite executives (including 201 from the UK), researchers found a direct link between companies that focus on innovation and faster growth.

  • 93% of respondents say ‘organic growth through innovation’ will drive the greater proportion of their revenue growth
  • The UK’s most innovative companies grew on average 50% faster than the least innovative over the last three years
  • 32% of UK companies see innovation as ‘very important’ to their success (compared with a global average of 43%)
The report also stated that top innovators treat innovation just like any other business or management process.

Innovation is a driver for rapid and profitable revenue growth and is recognised by the executives we interviewed as being integral to sustaining the long-term future of their business. For 43%, innovation is a ‘competitive necessity’ for their organisation, increasing to 51% in five years.

As it’s the case that innovation is a commercial necessity, happily, the Government offers some help!

Government support of innovation

Innovate UK works with people, companies and partner organisations to find and drive the science and technology innovations that will grow the UK economy. Since 2007, they have committed over £1.8 billion to innovation, matched by a similar amount in partner and business funding, and helped more than 7,600 organisations with projects estimated to add more than £11.5 billion to the UK economy and create 55,000 extra new jobs.

So how is UK innovation doing today, on the global stage? Not too badly, by the look of the Forbes list!

Flying the flag for UK innovation

Each year, Forbes ranks companies by their ‘innovation premium’ – the difference between their market capitalisation and the net value of cashflows. The difference between them is the bonus given by equity investors on the ‘educated hunch’ that the company will continue to come up with profitable new growth.

Seven UK businesses appear in the Forbes list of the world’s most innovative companies 2016:

  • ARM Holdings #12 Multi-national semiconductor and software design
  • Reckitt Benckiser Group #51 Multi-national consumer goods
  • Smith & Nephew #70 Wound management and surgical devices
  • SAB Miller #79 Multi-national brewing and beverages (now owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev)
  • Capita #86 International professional services and business process outsourcing
  • Liberty Global #88 International TV and broadband
  • ITV #97 Commercial TV network

And what are the predictions for the future? Real Business produces a regular report, where they handpick their shining stars for coming years!

Future 50

Real Business has recently published their 2017 list of the 50 most disruptive companies in the UK. They say:

From mobile to marketing, and from retail to recruitment, Britain is full of industries that are dominated by industry heavyweights taking positions for granted and not innovating. Each year, our Future 50 ranking gives the young players a chance to shine.

To some extent, they may be looking into a crystal ball, but if past performance is any guide, Real Business predictions can be taken seriously! UK startups they have previously highlighted that have gone on to become household names include:

  • Songkick: Allows people to organise and track their favorite bands, get concert alerts, and buy tickets
  • Made.com: Designs and sells homewares and furniture online, and across experiential showrooms in Europe
  • Secret Escapes: Exclusive travel club offering huge discounts on hand-picked luxury hotels and holidays
  • Funding Circle: Peer-to-peer small business lending, connecting investors with businesses looking for capital
  • Crunch: Online accounting and accountants for freelancers, contractors & small businesses
  • GoustoAward-winning food boxes containing fresh ingredients delivered weekly
  • Revolut: Removes currency exchange fees so people can send, exchange and spend money globally at no charge

Looking forward

One businessperson who represents innovation on a global scale is Jack Ma. He is the founder and chairman of Alibaba – the Chinese ecommerce company that’s become the world’s largest retailer. Speaking last year at the Asia Cooperation Dialogue in Bangkok, Mr Ma claimed that: “Data will be the new resource.”

That’s the approach we take here at Akoni.

We use digital technology to increase returns for the average SME via a simple, user-friendly solution. We take public data from various sources that’s currently in a disparate form and format, and bring it together to make sense and add value to the company. This includes public financial data from Companies House, and banking product deposit data from both well-known high street banks and less known challenger banks.

By only including data from UK-regulated banks on our marketplace, it ensures SMEs always have government protection as guaranteed by the FSCS.

Harnessing data is how our personalised online Cash Management platform will improve financial outcomes for businesses. In future, we shall enhance cash management further, with automated prompting using artificial intelligence and machine-learning.

We’re proud to be part of such a long-standing history of British innovation.

Looking back

The UK has been leading global innovation since the industrial revolution. Just for the record, let’s end with a few renowned British innovations:

  • 1822 Charles Babbage’s ‘difference engine’
  • 1837 First computer = Babbage’s ‘analytical engine’
  • 1943 Colossus, the first electronic, digital, programmable computer
  • 1966 Cash machine and PIN system patented
  • 1989 World Wide Web first proposed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, with HTML language and HTTP protocol the year after

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

SMEs “losing billions” due to poor cash management

Coins

When her Majesty the Queen launches a ship, she smashes a bottle of Champagne against the bow and the world’s media gather to hear her speech.

We do things a little more discreetly here at Akoni!

This week – after months of hard work behind the scenes – we are proudly launching our exciting new platform to help SMEs manage their cash.

We are starting with what the marketers call a ‘soft launch’. There’s no big public fuss or palaver, and we haven’t invited any royals along. Although, admittedly, we might toast the event with a cheeky glass of fizz!

But why is there a need for Akoni in the first place?

Because, even in this low interest rate environment, UK SMEs collectively miss out around £3bn per year on interest on the £258bn they have in cash balances. We think that’s wrong, and decided to do something about it!

There are banks that offer interest rates up to 2.2% compared to high street 0%. However, most companies are not aware of the better rates that are out there, due to lack of product transparency. What’s more, they are put off by the perceived cost of switching.

How Akoni benefits SMEs

It takes time to shop around for the best business bank account, and then transfer your cash deposits to the product where they will achieve the best interest rate.

This is where Akoni comes in.

At AkoniHub, SMEs can download their personalised cash report and search latest rates at a glance. Then, using our simple Deposit Planner, they can unlock the potential of their cash and maximise the returns they receive.

Here’s an example

The average business improves their return by 10-12 x current income. For example, an SME has £2 million cash  held in an instant access account. By transferring the money to banks with higher rates, the company would generate an additional £30,000 per year, even maintaining the same deposit maturity period.

That return could buy more than a few bottles of Champagne! More feasibly, it could provide for a new marketing campaign or a staff member, contributing to the SME’s productivity and profit and boosting the UK economy.

Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, CEO and co-founder of Akoni said: “SMEs are the engine of the UK economy. By saving them time and helping them make more money, Akoni will make a real impact.”

And there’s more!

A survey by Soldo states that UK SMEs collectively lose more than $10.2 billion every year, because they aren’t managing their cashflow properly.

The research found that SMEs average over four hours per week on managing company finances such as invoices, employee expenses and financial forecasting. The scale of the task grows with the size of the business, but even 15% of startups said they found daily cash management to be a particularly difficult challenge.

Soldo Founder and CEO, Carlo Gualandri, said: “If staff were freed up to dedicate their time to the activities that made a big difference to the company, productivity levels would rocket.”

Technology is the answer.

In order to save time and money, technology is helping to automate many business systems and processes, and cash management is no exception.

We’ve harnessed technology to build a range of simple and efficient tools that are now available for SMEs to use straightaway:

See Akoni’s tools at a glance

  • Deposit Marketplace
    Check today’s best rates at a glance, and filter them according to the governance requirements of your business.
  • Cash Management
    Your personalised Cash Management Report shows how much interest you gain by utilising Akoni’s tools, and provides tips and guidance for optimal cash flow management.
  • Deposit Dashboard
    Build your cash deposit portfolio by trying different alternatives until you find what works for your business.
  • Income and Expenditure Planner
    Enter your key cash inflows and outflows to create an efficient portfolio that maximises returns, while ensuring future expenses are covered.
  • Financial Bootcamp Report
    Get sector-based data that will help you identify opportunities and areas for cash management improvements.

Felicia said: “Akoni solves a problem that most SMEs don’t even know they have, and enables them to access  corporate-level returns on their cash.”

Signup for free at AkoniHub.com

Coming soon…

But we’re not stopping there!

Akoni members will soon be able to access a range of additional cash management services on the platform, such as an Automated Cash Allocation algorithm and advanced Cash Projection tools. It’s all part of the Akoni mission to help UK SMEs to make the most of their cash.

We think her Majesty would be proud.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register for free at AkoniHub.com

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