Are your deposits protected?

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Individuals and businesses are rightly concerned about risking their cash, especially since the 2007/8 financial crisis.

As you may remember, the problems started in the US with the sub-prime lending crisis and collapse of Lehman Brothers. This led to a run on UK’s Northern Rock that forced the government to intervene and guarantee deposits, followed by the need to step in and save HBOS and RBS (owner of NatWest).

FSCS

After NatWest was deemed ‘too big to fail’, the government launched the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) – an independent fund designed to protect your money if the worst happens.

The FSCS applies to all organisations regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), and covers all UK-regulated current accounts, savings accounts and cash ISAs held in banks, building societies and credit unions.

If your bank collapses, it’s likely that you’ll lose access to the cash temporarily, but you should get your money back within seven days.

As part of the Akoni service, we share advice on making the most of your cash. So here are six things you need to know about how the FSCS protects your deposits:

1. The amount of protection you get has increased from £75,000 to £85,000

The amount protected in each UK-regulated financial institution increased by £10,000 on 30 January 2017.

Chief Executive, Mark Neale, said: “Our new limit will protect about 98% of the UK public, so people can be sure their money in banks, building societies and credit unions is safe.”

2. Joint accounts get double protection

Cash in joint accounts is protected up to £170,000 – half each. But beware. If you have another account with the same institution, your individual savings totalling over £85,000 won’t be covered.

3. In some cases, up to £1m will be protected for six months

If your savings balance is temporarily high due to a life event such as selling your main home (not a second home or buy-to-let property), inheriting money, redundancy, or a payout from insurance or compensation, the FSCS protects up to £1m for up to six months if your provider fails.

This allows extra time to plan. Meanwhile, you can move the cash into an account that pays higher interest, and maximise your cash.

4. Check which institution owns your bank

Remember, the limit is not £85,000 for every account, it’s for every financial institution. So you need to know which institution ultimately owns the brand name where your account is held.

The definition of ‘institution’ depends on what licence the bank holds. For example, Halifax and Bank of Scotland are sister banks, and your money is covered up to £85,000 combined. However, RBS and NatWest are also sister banks, but their limits are separate.

See the list on the Bank of England website >

5. Check that the FSCS covers the bank where your money is deposited

Most banks that are located in the UK are also regulated in the UK, including some that are owned overseas, such as Spain’s Santander. However, there are a few EU banks that are not UK-regulated, such as use Fidor and RCI Bank. Instead, they use a ‘passport scheme’ which gives protection from their home government.

Find out more on the FSCS website >

6. Spread the risk

We recommend you deposit less than £83,000 in any one institution, which leaves room for interest to grow. We also suggest you spread your money across at least two institutions. This is because if one bank collapses, there will be a delay in releasing your funds via the FSCS, meanwhile, you will still be able to access your cash in the other.

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

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Meet the new challenger banks

The UK financial services sector is going through unprecedented upheaval, with new banks being launched all the time.

Banks make their money by attracting savings and lending out the money at a higher rate of interest. New banks need to increase their lending, which means they need to grow deposits – they do this by offering higher rates of interest on savings accounts. Some of these new banks are therefore offering the best interest rates on savings.

It therefore makes sense to move your savings around more often – and that’s exactly where Akoni’s cash management service fits in.

Why challenger banks

The ‘Big Five’ UK banks hold 85% of the personal current account market – Lloyds has about 27% market share,  Barclays and RBS have 18% each, HSBC has 12% and Santander has 10%. The top four banks also hold about 80% of the small business liquidity market.

People used to be loyal to traditional high street banks because they thought bigger institutions were safer. However, this mindset is changing. Here are the main reasons why:

  1. Traditional banking was discredited by a series of scandals
  2. The business model for high street banks was reformed after the financial crisis of 2008, when the UK Government had to prop up the banking system with a massive £1 trillion
  3. Legislative reform led to improved competition within the banking sector (according to Savings Champion, over 1 million retail customers have already taken advantage of easier switching)
  4. Customers witnessed or experienced poor value, bad customer service and mis-selling
  5. Low interest rates are driving savers to shop around
  6. Most High Street banks focus on acquisition of new customers rather than retention of existing customers
  7. The EU and UK Governments provide deposit guarantees relating to the risk of bank failures.  In the UK this is provided by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), with further information provided below.

Introducing the challenger banks

New banks are now challenging the market share held by the five major high street banks. These challenger banks are more specialised, with simpler business models and greater transparency.

To help familiarise you, here’s a brief introduction to just a few of the new entrants in the UK banking sector:


AldemoreAldermore Bank

Independent bank launched in 2009 and based in Peterborough. Among other investors, it was originally backed by private-equity company, AnaCap Financial Partners LLP (who are now planning to launch Abacus – a digital bank), and has since been floated on the stock exchange. CEO is Phillip Monks, who gained 30 years’ experience at Barclays and Arab Bank. Focus is on UK SMEs, with funds lent to small businesses and as mortgages.


Amicus

Amicus

Amicus is a fast-growing specialist financial services group, providing finance for property and other assets, as well as invoice factoring for SMEs. It’s headed by John Wilde, formerly of SME Invoice Finance, JP Morgan and UCB Bank plc. The group was set up in London in 2009, and applied for its banking licence in 2016.


british business bank

British Business Bank

This government-owned and independently managed bank is dedicated to developing smaller businesses. It provides finance to start a business, grow to the next level, or stay ahead of the competition.


Cambridge and CountiesCambridge and Counties Bank

Launched in 2012, this bank was formed by a partnership between Trinity Hall, Cambridge and the Cambridgeshire Local Government Pension Fund. It provides business savings accounts, property finance and asset finance. CEO is Mike Kirsopp, who previously spent 30 years in commercial lending including at Lloyds.


csbaCommunity Savings Bank Association

CSBA aims to create a UK-wide network of customer-owned, regional banks that use local savings to grant loans to local people, community groups, and SMEs. The Chairman is James M Moore, and the initiative is supported by The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).

Copernicus Bank

Since 2012, Aidan Brady and Michael Rossman of Danela Ventures Partners Limited have been building a new UK corporate banking platform to target corporate clients. It will run an open ledger/balance sheet and not engage in deposit-based maturity/risk transformation. The launch date has not yet been announced.


HampshireHampshire Community Bank

A new not-for-profit bank launched recently to serve the Hampshire community, headed by Richard Werner, Professor of Banking at Southampton University, and Sir Vince Cable as Chairman. It’s modelled on small local banks such as Sparkasse and Volksbank in Germany, and aims to ‘create credit for productive purposes’ by lending mainly to SMEs.


Metro BankMetro Bank

When Metro Bank launched in 2010, it was the first new independent UK bank on the High Street for more than 100 years. It has 27 branches in London and southeast England, all open seven days a week, and about 360,000 customers. CEO is Craig Donaldson, who used to hold senior roles with RBS, Barclays and HBOS. Funds are lent as mortgages, personal loans and credit cards in the UK.


oaknorthOakNorth Bank

OakNorth is run by entrepreneurs not bankers, and provides funding for business and property. The CEO is Rishi Khosla, and the Chairman is Cyrus Ardalan.


Paragon BankParagon Bank

Based in Solihull, Paragon Bank launched in 2014 after being a buy-to-let mortgage lender for years. It’s quoted on the stock market. MD, Richard Doe, was previously CEO of ING Direct UK. Funds are lent to UK borrowers and as car loans.


RedwoodRedwood Bank

Redwood was co-founded by Jonathan Rowland and Gary Wilkinson to provide SMEs with commercial mortgages and deposit accounts. The bank is based on the border between Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.


ShawbrookShawbrook Bank

Launched in 2011 and based in Essex, this UK bank is owned by the Special Opportunities Fund (SOF). CEO is is Richard Pyman, a banker for 20 years. The management team are formerly from RBS Group. Funds are lent to individuals and UK SMEs.


FSCSFinancial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS)

This free and independent scheme was set up to boost confidence in small banks. It means that customers will be compensated if UK-authorised financial services firms stop trading.

The FSCS protects deposits and savings up to £85k, as well as investment business, home finance, insurance policies and insurance broking. If your savings balance is temporarily high due to a specified ‘life event’, the FSCS protects up to £1m for up to six months.

Note that some EU banks are not UK-authorised as they are covered by their own scheme instead. You should be aware that cash saved in those banks is not protected under the FSCS and will usually be covered by the home country government guarantee.

Visit Akoni Hub’s latest rates to view leading business deposit products.

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

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Leaving the Lab

As you may know, Akoni was among only 20 startups selected for the fifth Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab London. It was a honour to be chosen out of more than 300 applicants from around the globe.

Tom Graham, programme director for the Lab, said: “The Fintech Innovation Lab London is helping startups forge ties to thrive at home and abroad…[and] offers lightbulb moments to banks with exciting innovations that can help make financial services work better.”

The Lab was developed to help startups refine and test their proposition through a three-month accelerator and mentorship programme. This year, it was held in the Trampery Republic, an innovation facility at East India in London’s Docklands.

Sigga Sigurdardottir, Head of Customer and Innovation at Santander, said: “It’s positive to see London taking a leading role in shaping and defining the global fintech innovation agenda.”

Akoni’s time at the Lab has recently finished, and we’re now back at our offices in Westminster.

It was a privilege to be part of the programme, and to experience the various benefits that will help Akoni, our customers, and our partners. For example, we were able to network with many fascinating people, including the Accenture team and other innovative startups.

Our team were invited to attend bank events, and had the chance to meet top execs and decision-makers from global financial services institutions including HSBC, Barclays, RBS, Lloyds Banking Group, Citibank, Santander, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs and more. Collaboration with banks is a key part of the Akoni offering, so these introductions are invaluable to our growth and the service we offer.

What’s more, we had personal mentoring from experts within the fintech and banking sectors, which provided us with useful insights. We were also granted the chance to deliver follow-on presentations with Accenture and banks.

This all added up to provide Akoni with the acceleration we’d hoped for.

Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, CEO and co-founder of Akoni confirmed: “The Lab has accelerated our proposition and helped us refine our value to businesses and banks. We have made invaluable connections and gained amazing mentorship from the banks. Banks are now working with us, and we see this as an endorsement of our collaboration.”

Find out more about the Lab

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

Time to spring clean your business

It’s Easter week. With the long weekend, many children off school, and people taking holiday, customers can often be a bit quieter. So it’s a good time to do some strategic planning, financial planning and marketing for your business. Here are some ideas to inspire you:

Measure how much time you spend working ‘on the business’ compared with the time you spend working ‘in the business’. As a small-business owner, it is tempting to get bogged down in the everyday detail, but it is wise to take time to step back and look at the bigger picture.

Are you spending roughly equal amounts of time on:

  • Marketing activities to fill your pipeline and win new clients?
  • Admin activities – all the jobs that need to be done to keep your business ticking over?
  • Actually doing the work you need to do to make money?

Are you easily distracted by social media? Use an app to measure how much time you are spending – you may be surprised. Decide whether you can outsource some or all of this activity.

Things are changing fast ever, so we recommend you update your business plan at least every quarter. Are you on track to achieving your goals for the short-term and long-term? What, if anything, do you need to change? Do your goals need to be revisited in the first place?

Map out your workflow so you can spot the bottlenecks and resolve them. What can you automate or delegate to save valuable time? For example, if you hate dealing with bookkeeping, accounting, payroll and invoicing, these tasks are better done by a professional. Can you move your software into the cloud? Or introduce apps that will improve your systems and processes?

Customers

Customer retention is cheaper than customer acquisition, and engaging with your customers is the only way to know what’s working and what’s not. Ask for customer feedback, and make any changes that may be necessary to keep them delighted. Also investigate why customers leave your business – this can provide even more valuable insight.

Identify any non-profitable clients or time-wasters, and consider whether it is time to let them go so you are free to take on more worthwhile customers.

Check the customer journey (as if you are a mystery shopper) to make sure the experience they receive is seamless. Also check your competitors’ websites to see what they are doing.

Colleagues

Similarly, review your staff roles and responsibilities. Do you have the right people with the right skills doing the right things, or do you need to make some changes?

Spend time with your people. Nothing is better than a face-to-face interaction to build relationships, understand  their motivations and issues, and unleash their potential and productivity.

It’s dangerous to stay still, so brainstorm new ideas with colleagues at all levels in the organisation. You never know where the next inspiring product or service concept will come from – it may well be from an employee who is closer to the customer than you are.

Good housekeeping

Read your own website and social media output to double-check that the content is up to date and conveying your core message clearly. Is the URL https? If yes, Google will boost your site up the rankings. Is it mobile-friendly? If not, it needs to be, because Google will no longer show the link in the results when searched on a mobile device.

Empty your email inbox, and resolve to check messages only once each day. Filter any junk mail to a spam folder, and unsubscribe from newsletters that you no longer read. This simple tip will make you far more productive.

It’s said that a tidy desk is a sign of a tidy mind, so file your paperwork, clean your workspace, and refresh your décor.

Money money money

Review your expenses. Talk to your regular suppliers to negotiate a better deal in return for your loyalty. Look at any ongoing subscription charges to see whether there are any you should cancel. Check that your business insurances are up to date.

Order your personalised cash report from Akoni, and move your cash into accounts that generate more interest.

Look after yourself

And finally, some suggestions to help keep you happy and healthy:

  • Review whether your personal goals are still in line with your business goals
  • Remember to take time off so you return to the business with a fresh mind
  • Celebrate successes with your team

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

Akoni exhibits at the International Fintech Conference

First International Fintech Conference

Following our success at the Accenture fintech innovation lab and working with a number of key banks, we at Akoni were delighted to be selected to exhibit at the first international conference for global investors, regulators, and UK fintech companies, organised by HM Treasury and the Department for International Trade.

Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, said:

“Britain is the best place in the world to start and grow a fintech company. These events are a great opportunity to show why. The first ever International fintech conference brings together dynamic UK firms with an exciting vision of the future, and global investors who can support their future growth.”

Over 100 UK fintech companies were represented, with investors attending from every continent. Akoni was one of the few early stage machine B2B fintechs selected.

Asia is seen as the most exciting destination for market expansion and the UK government is working with India to create a fintech Bridge to serve China, Singapore and other markets.

Our Head of Finance & Analytics, Cinthia Danove, said: “The Department for International Trade are making huge efforts to bring Chinese money into UK, and we saw many Chinese funds walking around. UK regulators are the only ones that have Innovation as part of their mandate. They are outstanding at doing that.”
Speakers on the packed agenda included:

  • Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Mark Carney, Governor, Bank of England
  • Simon Kirby MP, Economic Secretary to the Treasury
  • Eileen Burbidge, HM Treasury’s Special Envoy for FinTech
  • Alastair Lukies, Founding Partner, Motive Partners & Prime Minister’s Business Ambassador – FinTech

We also heard from representatives of TransferWise, Funding Circle and HSBC, as well as many more.

We learned that Barclays plans to open a fintech flagship Hub next month, with 500 workspaces for startups, further cementing London as a leading fintech powerhouse.

The event was held in London on 12 April as part of a whole week dedicated to UK fintech, aiming to promote the success of the sector and attract more investment. To find out more, please follow #IFTC2017 on Twitter, visit internationalfintechconference.com or watch the video below.

UK is number one in fintech

The UK has been rated the number one global fintech hub twice in the last year. With a workforce of 600,000, the sector adds almost £7 billion to the economy each year. UK fintech is really shaking up the competition and challenging more established players to up their game – resulting in improved services to customers.

We’re proud to play a part in this revolution.

Akoni highlights to date

Large companies can pay for treasurers and treasury management systems. Akoni uses technology so that smaller businesses and SMEs can get the same benefits, but without the cost. By acting as a hub between business and banking partners, Akoni disrupts traditional banking and benefits businesses.

CEO and co-founder, Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, explains: “Scientific tools are changing the way we work in financial services, right down to conventional cash management activities that are traditionally based on Excel and TMS. Akoni plans to be a key leader and driver in delivering these changes. At last, corporates and SME businesses have access to similar facilities as global institutions do.”

The platform is also available to banks on a white-label basis, leveraging emerging Open Banking standards to provide game-changing liquidity management, customer stickiness and cost savings.

Deputy Chairman, Yann Gindre, says: “SME cash is currently non-profit making for banks, so Akoni could be a game changer.”

Having delivered cash portfolio optimisation, the Akoni R&D team are in the process of building groundbreaking cash prediction capabilities, leveraging statistical forecasting combined with Machine Learning and Neural Networks. This provides SMEs with more accurate predictions of their future cashflows as well as in-depth analytics, personalised insights and tailored prompts, aligned to their own accounting and forecasts.

CTO and co-founder, Panos Savvas, says: “Akoni will leverage data science and machine learning to forecast cashflows. By recognising historical patterns and categorising transactions, Akoni will create more accurate forecasts for SMEs and businesses.”

Having successfully completed our second round of seed investment, we have progressed to live product launch. The investment round is led by our Chairman, Duncan Goldie-Morrison, previously Chairman of Newedge Limited; CEO Credit Agricole The Americas and Head of Global Markets Group and Asia, Bank of America.

We’re also proud that Akoni was selected as a finalist of the Accenture fintech innovation lab in London, leading fintech startups in Retail Banking, working with large global banks including RBS, Lloyds, HSBC, Barclays, etc, and presented amongst the top three retail stream fintech startups.

The government is planning another international fintech conference in October. We look forward to taking part there too.

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

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7 things SMEs need to know about the new tax year

A new tax year starts on 6 April 2017, and various changes take effect on that date which you need to know about.

1. Ensure your employees have the correct tax code

The personal allowance increases to £11,500, and the higher rate income tax threshold increases to £45,000. This means your employees will take home more of their monthly salary than they did in the previous tax year.

2. Ensure you are paying the correct hourly wage

The National Living Wage rises to £7.50, in line with the pledge made by Philip Hammond in the autumn statement.

3. Consider changing to cash basis accounting

The entry threshold for cash basis accounting increases from £83,000 to £150,000. If you are a trading business with straightforward tax affairs, this is a simplified way to calculate your taxable profits (it’s optional).

4. Pay less corporation tax

Corporation tax reduces from 20% to 19% in 2017, and to 17% in 2020, meaning the UK will have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20.

5. Note changes to business rates

As we have mentioned before, business rates increase – but £435 million relief has been made available to help ease the transition:

  • £300 million discretionary relief is available from local authorities to help businesses most affected by the revaluation
  • Pubs with a rateable value up to £100,000 can claim £1,000 discount for one year
  • No small business will pay more than £600 more in business rates this year than they did last year

6. Prepare for Making Tax Digital (MTD)

The VAT threshold rises from £83,000-£85,000.

Businesses with a turnover below the VAT threshold were going to have to submit tax information online by April 2018 – this has now been deferred for one year.

This means SMEs have more time to plan and prepare. It also gives software providers more time to update their products to cope with recording and submitting digital tax reports.

7. Welcome funding to improve digital and physical infrastructure

In the spring budget, the Chancellor announced:

  • £200 million for local broadband networks
  • £90 million to improve transport in the North of England
  • £23 million to address pinch-points on roads in the Midlands
  • £16 million for 5G mobile technology

This investment should help improve road networks and broadband connections across the country, and help boost productivity for SMEs.

Summary

In the current climate including planning for Brexit, we encourage all businesses to review opportunities, potential government support and cost-saving initiatives.

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

How Brexit will impact SMEs

Theresa May triggered Article 50 on 29 March, starting the two-year process of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

We’ve entered into an age of uncertainty – but SMEs can’t put growth plans on hold and adopt a ‘wait and see’ approach. Business continues as usual. Stock markets and inflation are holding steady, and Treasury predictions for growth remain the same as before the referendum.

Threats

SmallBusiness.co.uk says: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of the UK economy. Falling GDP will have a large impact on small businesses in terms of the overall activity of businesses and consumers buying their products or services…Small businesses are also more susceptible to shocks since they generally have a lower field of operation.”

  • Buying goods and services from other countries is now more costly. A weak pound is bad for the UK since we buy more from overseas than we sell
  • If prices rise faster than wages, consumers will start to spend less
  • Tariff-free trade with EU countries accounts for 44% of UK exports, so the cost of doing business with these clients has increased

The right of EU nationals to live and work in the UK is unclear, which may drive recruitment of UK workers and increased labour costs.

The Adviser Lounge warns: “If the cost of hiring skilled labour increases, the financial cost of Brexit to small business could prove too much to bear.”

Opportunities

Brexit undoubtedly brings threats, but it also presents opportunities.

Felicia Meyerowtiz-Singh, CEO and co-founder of Akoni says: ” Brexit and uncertainty also provide opportunities for revenue and business growth for UK business.”

  • Exporters are already benefiting from the fall in the value of the pound against the dollar and euro
  • The UK tourism industry should benefit, with an increase in staycations and visitors from overseas
  • Some employers anticipate potential relaxation of EU employment laws

So what can you do?

The world is changing faster than ever, with a combination of the digital revolution and economic uncertainty.

Here are some tips  from the Akoni team.

  • It’s easier for small organisations to remain flexible and adaptable. Demonstrate agile leadership and become comfortable with uncertainty and change. Don’t worry about what you can’t control, but plan for relevant risks that you can mitigate.
  • Streamline your systems and processes, such as the internal flow of information.
  • Identify the skill sets and attitudes you need, and train your people accordingly.
  • Maintain focus on customer satisfaction, monitoring social sentiment and improving your value proposition and customer journey.
  • Make use of new technology such as the cloud. Monitor data for trends and use it as a guide to threats and opportunities. Turn data into visuals that can be easily analysed and transformed into  good decisions and useful outcomes.
  • With a grasp of core financials, the CFO plays a key role of oversight, guiding the business in the right direction both short-term and long-term.

And finally, here are some ideas from other sources:

HSBC suggests: “We will need to improve in an area in which we have consistently under-performed: supplying the world’s fastest-growing economies in Asia and Latin America.”

SmallBusiness.co.uk says: “Small business should be looking to do everything they can now to protect themselves from future shocks… Diversifying out of, or into different markets might make sense…and now is the time to open dialogue with suppliers about pricing.”

Real Business advises: “By developing employees, you’ll have a more confident, motivated and proactive workforce who feel more positive about the future, and who are better placed to handle whatever comes along…Review your operation and pinpoint there there may be the opportunity to work with other similar-sized businesses who are experts in their field…Be as transparent as possible and involve staff in updates about the business where appropriate. This will foster strength and build trust amongst the team, which will be invaluable if the business hits any bumps further down the road.”

Change is here to stay. Whatever happens, Akoni will be here to help and advise.

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

The last-ever Spring Budget: The business impact

On 8 March, Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his final spring budget. From 2017, the budget will be moving to the autumn, with a spring statement instead. The intention is to allow more time for changes to be made before the next tax year.

Key points

Here are some of the key points that were announced:

  • Growth in the UK economy picked up through 2016, and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts that the UK economy will grow by 2% in 2017, at a slightly slower rate in 2018, and then up to 2% in 2021
  • Britain’s debt stands at nearly £1.7 trillion – around £62,000 for every household in the country. In 2009-10 the UK borrowed £1 in every £5 spent. This year it is set to be £1 in every £15. Borrowing is forecast to reduce by nearly three quarters by 2016-17.
  • Employment has reached a record high of 31.8 million people

How the Budget affects SMEs

Here are some of the ways that SMEs and start-ups will be affected by the recent announcements:

  • There is a cut in dividend allowance for company shareholders
  • If you are an unincorporated business with an annual turnover below the VAT registration threshold, Making Tax Digital will become mandatory in April 2019 – after that, you will have to use digital software to keep your tax records and update HMRC every quarter
  • Self-employed people will have to pay increased National Insurance Contributions to bring them closer into line with employed people. From 2018, Class 2 NICs will be abolished. Class 4 NICs will rise to 10% in April 2018 and to 11% in April 2019.
    Update 15 March: The government has announced a U-turn on self-employed VAT, as explained in this BBC report.
  • Small businesses with minimal expenses (less than £2,000 a year) will now have to pay 16.5% under the Flat Rate VAT scheme

Rising business rates

We’ve written about rising business rates before, but here are some of the ways the Chancellor is sweetening the pill:

  • Business rates are increasing for certain sectors, especially the digital economy – but no small business that is coming out of small business rates relief will pay more than £600 more in business rates this year compared with 2016-17
  • Local authorities have been granted £300 million of discretionary relief they can use to help businesses most affected by the revaluation
  • From April 2017, pubs with a rateable value up to £100,000 will be able to claim a discount for of £1,000 on their business rates for one year

Consumer protection

Your business may be fined if you mislead or mistreat consumers. For example, if you charge consumers unexpectedly when a subscription is renewed or a free trial ends, or if your terms and conditions are too long, complicated or jargon-filled.

Investment in innovation

The Chancellor confirmed the government’s support of innovation, highlighting the Research and Development (R&D) tax credit scheme. They aim to improve awareness of the scheme among SMEs, and make administrative changes to increase the certainty and simplicity around claims.

£500 million is to be invested in technical education for 16 to 19-year-olds, with new T-levels being introduced from autumn 2019 covering 15 different subjects including construction, digital and agriculture. Students doing high-level technical courses at National Colleges and Institutes of Technology will be able to access maintenance loans from the government.

£270 million has been allocated to the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, to support research and innovation in:

  • Artificial intelligence and robotics that will work in extreme environments
  • Better batteries for electric vehicles that will help improve our air quality
  • Medicine manufacturing technologies to speed up patient access to drugs

£210 million will create new fellowships and programmes to attract top global talent to conduct research in areas such as bioscience and biotechnology, quantum technologies, and satellite and space technology.

£200 million is going towards local projects to build fast and reliable full-fibre broadband networks.

£90 million will provide 1,000 new PhD places, including in science, technology, engineering and maths.

£16 million is being invested into a national 5G Innovation Network to trial new 5G technology.

EIS tax relief

It has previously been indicated that the government will be reviewing existing tax reliefs aimed at encouraging investment and entrepreneurship (such as the EIS) to ensure that they are “effective, well targeted, and provide value for money”, however, Philip Hammond didn’t mention any change to Enterprise Investment Schemes at this stage.

We can only wait and see…

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

How Wednesday’s budget could affect SMEs

The final Spring Budget is on 8 March. From next year the Budget is moving to Autumn, with a Spring Statement. This change gives time for tax changes to be made in advance of the tax year, and provides businesses with more time to plan, if necessary.

Forecasts are showing sharp growth with borrowing lower than anticipated, and a £45 billion tax windfall for the Treasury in the next five years. January’s tax receipts are at the highest level since 1999, but Chancellor Philip Hammond is quoted as saying: “There is no pot of money under my desk.”

In this article, we’ve compiled some of the main predictions that will impact you and your business, and look forward to hearing what is announced on Wednesday.

Business rates

According to reports, some firms face increases of up to 400% in the April business rates hike.

The Chancellor has recently indicated that he is “alive” to the impact this have on some High Street shops, and “open” about finding ways to help.

Business rates are a property tax that doesn’t apply in the digital economy, and the Government is trying to ensure that online retailers such as Amazon don’t benefit to the detriment of traditional High Street retailers.

We expect he will announce some immediate measures that will mitigate the worst effects on SMEs (such as transitional relief), with more fundamental reforms to come in the future. No additional help is expected for supermarkets and corporations.

Misleading contracts

Companies that mislead or rip off consumers are to be targeted, because Ministers want to force firms to use plain English and make key terms more obvious. If not, they face a fine.

The Citizens’ Advice service estimates that 2 million consumers per year have problems cancelling subscriptions, and research shows that 42% of people are paying for at least one subscription they don’t use, such as gym membership.

Consumer watchdog Which? found that 90% of people ticked to agree with online T&Cs in the past year but only 16% always read them. For one thing, T&Cs are often very long, for example, contracts for mobile phones can run up to 40,000 words. They also contain acronyms and legal or financial jargon that mean people don’t fully understand what they are signing.

Plans will be therefore be unveiled to fine companies that tie people into long contracts or unexpected fees in their terms and conditions.

There may also be a crackdown on rolling subscriptions that renew automatically after a free trial, with new rules to ensure consumers are offered the chance to cancel the agreement.

Science and innovation boost

The Chancellor is expected to announce a £500 million boost from the National Productivity Investment Fund, to support science and technology.

Around £270 million will be made available for pioneering projects such as:

  • Technology that operates in extreme and hazardous environments
  • Cutting-edge artificial intelligence
  • Robots for off-shore and nuclear energy, space and mining
  • Batteries for the next generation of electric cars
  • Accelerating patient access to new drugs, by developing speedy new ways to manufacture medicine

£200 million will go towards new fellowships for researchers in areas aligned to the government’s industrial strategy.

A further £90 million will fund 1,000 PhD research projects in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), with extra cash for investment in 5G communications.

Brexit

British businesses are calling for economic stability during the Brexit negotiations. The Confederation of British Industry says that uncertainty dampens investment and higher inflation erodes the growth in consumer spending.

Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General of the CBI, said: “By supporting businesses to invest, the government can promote growth at a critical time.”

Rain Newton-Smith, CBI chief economist, said: “Prioritising stability will inject further confidence in the economy now, and help boost the country’s productivity and prosperity for the future.”

Anything is possible after Article 50 is triggered at the end of March. Bigger measures are likely to be reserved until the Autumn Budget, so the Chancellor can see how the economy reacts. Meanwhile, we know he is aiming to keep a pot of money as a safety net, to ensure the country negotiates Brexit with stability.

As always, Akoni will keep you posted.

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Heard about Small Business Saturday?

Small Business Saturday has been taking place on the first Saturday in December since 2013. The campaign provides free training workshops, celebrates small business successes, and encourages consumers to support small businesses in their community by ‘shopping local’. Although it focuses on one day, the aim is to change mindsets so people choose small businesses all year round.

This year’s figures are not yet announced, but on Small Business Saturday in 2015, customers spent £623m with small businesses – an increase of 24% on the previous year. #SmallBizSatUK trended at number one all day, with over 100,000 tweets sent, reaching over 25 million people. And over 75% of local council supported the campaign, for example, by providing free parking.

100 small businesses were highlighted in the 100 days running up to this year’s event on 3 December. They attended receptions at Downing Street and The Treasury Drum with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and benefited from exposure on social media and in the local press.

One of the featured businesses in 2016 was Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet! – a pop-up disco for people who love soul, funk and disco music from the 70s and 80s. Founded in 2010, they have performed in South East London and Birmingham, with vinyl DJs, dance line-ups, retro sweets and fancy dress prizes. Ad agency, JWT, called them a “trailblazer” for targeting the under-served 50-something market.

Spice Kitchen in Walsall is a mother-and-son team producing home-ground spices and spice mixes sold online via Etsy and Not On The High Street. They were also finalists in the Guardian Small Business Showcase competition, won a Great Taste Award in 2015 for their garam masala, and received the BBC Producers’ Bursary Award 2015 for up-and-coming food producers. The owners say customers love the products, and the fact that they are a family-run business.

Marvel Plumbing was one of the first businesses to be highlighted in 2016, and organised a fun event on Small Business Saturday to bring other businesses together and expose them to the local community. The company has grown from one man-and-van in 2012 to eight vans and four full-time office staff. They have also been asked to write and deliver part of the gas course for Southgate and Barnet College, so training future gas engineers to meet their high standards.

Small Business Saturday is a non-commercial initiative headed by Director Michelle Ovens MBE. It covers all types of small business, and is free to join. The campaign is supported by high-profile sponsors including American Express, Federation of Small Business, and Vistaprint.

This year, they have even launched a free cookbook containing recipes inspired by small businesses.

Find out more at smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com

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