The rise of Britain’s £7 billion ‘mum’ economy – and how to support it

Small businesses are the backbone of every economy – and behind many of them is a female founder.  They are usually mothers, with children aged 18 or under, who’ve often made the leap from full time employee to fully fledged entrepreneur to create a better work life balance for themselves and their families.

Often referred to as ‘mumpreneurs’ – these women, collectively, are driving the UK’s economic growth. According to a report published by think tank Development Economics, these power women generated £7.2 billion in revenue for the nation in 2014 and supported over 200,000 jobs.  By 2025, the mum economy will generate £9.5 billion for the UK and add even more employees to their books.

From retail shops and management consultancies to booming empires, female founders are making an impact across sectors – while also raising children.

But why are we still labelling women as mumpreneurs? Is this really necessary?

After all, men who start their own companies aren’t referred to as ‘dadpreneurs’ and many would argue that the term ‘mumpreneur’ is rather patronising and limiting.

The report Shattering Stereotypes from the Centre for Entrepreneurs, claims many women overwhelming prefer terms such as “founder” or “business owner”.

Indeed, the time has come to move away from labels – and to call mums that run businesses by what they truly are – entrepreneurs. The next step is to support them more on their scaling journeys.

Compared to male-owned companies, female entrepreneurs face unique challenges – the biggest being capital-raising.  Women are less likely to get funding from VCs or a loan from a bank, despite the number of women entering the business world.

Women launch over half of new businesses in the UK – yet very few grow those business to more than £1m turnover. They simply can’t get the financial support to scale – even though it’s a well-documented fact that female entrepreneurs generate a better return on investment than men. Yet with so few female VCs out there to help stamp out sexism and bias in the investment world, the lack of funding offered to women remains an ongoing problem. And the lack of investment leads to budget constraints that prevent founders from getting the staff they need to manage business growth.

Building a support network that can facilitate networking opportunities and introduction is also frequently cited as a challenge.

Add to the mix the issue of staying cash flow positive and trying to get clients to pay on time – and you wonder how women could put up with the trials and tribulations of going out on a limb and setting up a new business.

Fortunately, many female led businesses are finding a light at the end of the tunnel with new fintech innovations that are offering different ways of raising money and managing daily operations.

Crowdfunding platforms, for example, are providing a lifeline for female entrepreneurs – while also democratising the investment landscape and making it easier for women to invest in companies – including female led businesses.

Seedrs and Crowdcube are great vehicles that are helping female entrepreneurs get the funding they need to scale.

Meanwhile, digital invoicing is helping to chase payments automatically, taking the hassle away from the entrepreneur – while our own digital cash management platform is helping business owners find the best savings vehicles for their deposits with a click of a button – without the hassle of paperwork or the need to hire a treasurer to do the work.

An increase in mentoring programmes and government grants are also offering an extra boost to female entrepreneurship, but there’s still a long way to go before women are on the same level as their male counterparts.

At the very least we owe it to the economy to do more to champion female leaders in business.  The extra billions earned for the nation’s coffers would secure the future prosperity of our country – while playing a crucial role in helping to close the unacceptable gender gap in business.

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IFGS 2018 – Akoni’s Experience

The day after the Innovative Finance Global Summit event (IFGS2018), we wake up with a smile of success and our minds full of new energy and inspiration.

The event gathered the global FinTech community at the historic Guildhall and Square Hall here in London, the Fintech capital of the world. It was 2 days of interesting talks, sharing of ideas, networking and culminating in the start-up pitch competition, Pitch360. Attendees were made up from a vast range of players in the field, from the world leading innovators, institutions and investors, to policy makers, regulators and international trade bodies.

On the first day, Akoni’s CEO Felicia Meyerowitz Singh was part of a panel session on Closing the Gender Gap in Fintech, in which Akoni pledged that we will maintain or exceed our 50% female workforce. She strongly believes that diversity will improve the range of products available. Currently only 29% of the workforce in Fintech is female and as Susanne Chishti said, this won’t change very fast if diversity is on a voluntary basis rather than if there are regulatory targets.

This was one of many interesting discussions we heard in the past two days and we are only beginning to process the content. Who knows what we all can produce from such inspiration.

Day 2 was very exciting for us, as we were one of the winners in the start-up pitch competition, Pitch360, for our category – Banking/Enterprise solutions. Akoni Hub’s platform, for maximising returns on business cash holdings, our Dynamic Cash Forecasting tool and our potential white labelling solution, were celebrated with the win and received amazing feedback.

It was a wonderful experience and Akoni looks forward to hearing more of the other fantastic start-ups we met.

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Lessons from Carillion- the importance of rapidly paying suppliers

Last month’s collapse of the facilities management and construction services firm Carillion has drawn public attention to the ongoing difficulties many SMEs face due to late payments for completed work.

The scale of the Carillion crisis is unprecedented with an estimated £1bn still owed to more than 30,000 business at the time of Carillon’s collapse. Yet many SMEs will be unsurprised that the current system encouraged so many UK businesses to be placed at such risk, despite few options for recourse when disaster struck.

SMEs currently face difficult choices when working with larger corporate clients. On the one hand, large clients can often provide sustained and lucrative work that can open essential new doors for a growing smaller firm.  Yet the underlying power imbalance between the two firms can leave SMEs unfairly vulnerable to exploitation.

This is particularly true when it comes to getting paid on time. The collapse of Carillion exposed the plight of thousands of SMEs, many of which had been seeking payment for months and were denied the tools needed to successfully challenge Carillion on failing to make payments owed.

This disregard for paying their suppliers can seem baffling considering that prompt payment for completed work remains a fundamental expectation in our society. Yet Carillion failing to meet its commitments did not garner enough attention in the wider community because of a culture of acceptance among some firms for this very damaging practice.

Consistent cashflow is essential for the 5 million UK SMEs who are the lifeblood of the UK’s economy and these businesses should not have to sacrifice further time and money in chasing down payments already owed to them.

The extent of this situation was recently underscored in a survey of more than 500 SMEs by Dun & Bradstreet, which revealed that late payments were jeopardising the future for 58 per cent of the businesses surveyed.

The research also showed that on average SMEs were owed £63,881 in late payments, with 11 per cent owed between £100,000 and £250,000. This withholding of payments brings about cash flow difficulties for 35 per cent, delayed payments to other suppliers for 29 per cent and reduced profit performance for 24 per cent.

In the wake of the Carillion crisis, The British Business Bank announced it would provide an additional £100m of lending to affected small businesses and other banks have also pledged to offer short-term support during this challenging period.

This support was desperately needed by the thousands of SMEs and their employees whose livelihoods have been placed at serious risk by Carillon’s actions. Yet is it enough?  While any assistance is welcome, UK SMEs deserve a solution that truly addresses the vulnerabilities in the system and protects SMEs from unnecessary risk as they drive the country’s economy.

A report this month by the government on its consultation with UK SMEs on ‘Late Payment and ‘Grossly Unfair’ terms and practices’ brought some promising news. The government’s report acknowledged the difficulties that many UK SMEs face in taking disputes regarding late payments, and other violations in contractual terms and practices, to court.  It recommended that this process become more efficient and accessible through increasing the power that representative bodies have to represent SMEs during such disputes.

In Carillion’s case, such rules may have given unpaid SMEs the power to collectively force the issue and publicly reveal the extent of Carillon’s financial problems earlier. Ultimately, however, the biggest driver of change in late payments to SMEs needs to come from a top-down adaptation in culture regarding the importance of paying suppliers as quickly as possible.

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A Solution for SMEs to Optimise Cash Holdings: Akoni in an Interview on Fintech Focus TV

Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, CEO & Co-Founder of Akoni, speaks to the Harrington Star about the solutions that Akoni brings to SMEs and small corporates to make managing their cash easier and more beneficial. One of the many pain points Felicia addresses is the huge amount of time that such organisations, who aren’t big enough to qualify for banking corporate treasury functions, must spend managing their cash. The interview discusses the use of AI and data optimisation as Akoni seeks to help busy SMEs maximise their cash with access to new tools and better interest rates. Watch the full interview now!

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Auto enrolment for employee pensions – SME checklist for compliance

The UK population is facing a major savings crisis – and it’s not confined to the millennial population. In fact, the so-called ‘generation debt’ demographic – those aged 18-25 – are active savers and putting up to 10% of their earnings aside to plan for their future.  74% of those recently surveyed by one bank claimed to invest regularly, more so than this country’s older generation.

This is an impressive figure and dispels the stereotype of the over-spending millennial.  But it’s still not enough for old age. We are living longer – and our money pot needs to accommodate this reality.

Retirees are feeling the pinch, with one in five people in their 50s and 60s unable to set aside enough money after bills and other living expenses are paid.  Only 43 per cent are occasional savers according to a recent report carried out by Aviva.

In further research commissioned by Age UK, half the UK’s workforce between 40 to 64 years of age  – eight million people – expect to have to work until their late-60s.

Government has taken action to try and reverse this trend. It wants to encourage the population to save more and to legislate businesses to provide pension schemes.

Hence the enactment of statutory staging dates – the period whereby employers must enrol staff into a pension. Staging began in 2012 with larger employers followed by smaller firms. February 1st 2018 marked the last staging date.  From now on, all new employers – including SMEs- must comply with automatic pension enrolment on the day their first member of staff starts work.

2% of ‘qualifying earnings’ has to be paid into a scheme for each employee, with at least 1% of this coming from the employer.  In April 2018 the contribution rate will rise to 5% of qualifying earnings, with a minimum of 2% from the employer.  The following year it will increase to 8% with a minimum of 3% from the employer.

All employers must enrol workers into a workplace pension who:

  • are not already in a qualifying pension scheme
  • are aged 22 or over
  • are under State Pension age
  • earn more than £10,000 a year

Most SMEs will probably turn to accountancy firms to manage the administrative side of the auto enrolment.

For SMEs that want to set up the pension themselves, the first step is to visit the workplace pension sector of the Directgov website to learn more about their responsibilities.

The pension regulator also has important information online that SMEs should consult – including the master trust assurance list of schemes that meet government approval.  The register includes the National Employment Saving’s Trust (NEST), a not-for-profit, trust-based, defined contribution pension scheme that was created to support automatic enrolment and to ensure UK employers have access to a suitable pension scheme. NEST is easy to use and provides an affordable way for employees to save.

The UK government is right to enact this pension reform – and businesses must comply or face stiff penalties that can hurt their bottom line and impact the wellbeing of employees.

Millions of people are not saving enough for retirement – and as life expectancy increases, savings in pensions are decreasing. Auto enrolment offers a hassle-free way for employees to reverse this worrying trend and for all companies – including SMEs – to play an active role in creating a better financial future for everyone.

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Tax Returns – Did you file on time

January 31st was the deadline to file your tax return in the UK.

The good news is that each year more people are actually submitting the returns on time Last year a record was set – nearly 11 million people got their annual tax returns by midnight on January 31, with nearly 33,000 filing online just an hour before according to the UK’s tax authority. 

But for every person that made the deadline, there’s plenty of others that didn’t.

It’s estimated that one in 14 tax payers didn’t file on time last year. While it’s too early to assess what the numbers were like this year, what is certain is that submitting a late tax return is a costly affair – especially for small businesses.

An automatic fine of £100 pounds is generated by computer after January 31st – and the later that people wait, the greater that number increases. If you’re three months late, there’s a £10 fine for each following day up to a 90 maximum of £900. Six months later or more and you could be asked to pay up to 100% of the tax due instead as well as any tax owed, which is doubling the payment you were originally asked to pay.

Paying your tax return on time is probably what most SMEs aim for but maybe it’s not procrastination that is the cause of the delay, but the actual process of filing the return in the first place.

Going online and navigating through the government portal can be confusing and frustrating. There are also requirements to provide a host of information and ID, which takes time as well. Add to the mix the need to supply a Unique Transaction Reference (UTR) and suddenly you find yourself running out of time as you scramble to locate where and what this number is and why it matters so much.

Another serious issue is the struggle that most SMEs face: late client invoices. If small businesses are struggling each month to get paid – how will they file their tax return on time?

The Federation of Small Businesses asked government for some mercy, complaining that people have faced an unusually difficult year, which is impacting their ability to file their return.

HMRC estimates that nearly 11 million people have to complete a tax return because they are self-employed, earn more than £100,000 or have a second income.

For those firms that filed on time this year – a big congratulations are in order. For the millions that have missed the deadline – here are a few tricks to prepare for the next return:

First, be organised- keep paperwork sorted throughout the year so everything you need is in order and you’re not panicking the day before the deadline.

Second, keep track of all expenses and include all the information required. Double check that forms are fully completed and include all earnings. Many tax returns are rejected by HMRC due to errors and mistakes so find the time to cross check all paperwork before you file the return.

Third, use the plethora of FinTech software that’s readily available and can simplify processes. They include online platforms such as the Which? online tax calculator that helps businesses submit tax returns directly to HMRC with little hassle.

If all of this sounds too daunting, then there’s always the final option and that’s to seek out an accountant.  That can be a costly affair but so too is the whole business of late tax returns.

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Increasing Rates and the CASS 7 Opportunity for Asset Management and Investment Management

Client money and CASS 7 with FCA rule and the Continuous Game Changing of Basel III

The FCA released its consultation paper regarding the loosening of restrictions on client monies in unbreakable deposits. This comes after ongoing lobbying from the asset management and banking industry to come to a commercial resolution that works for the industry as well as for clients of the asset management industry.

The result of the consultation, which extends investment in unbreakable deposits and money market products from 30 days to 95 days, provides a significant opportunity for the asset management and investment management industries, as well banks and funds, to benefit from these managers’ investment.

The industry lobbied for this change to address the stalemate that the 30-day investment limit in unbreakable deposits had inadvertently created.

Regulators require banks to have a liquidity coverage ratio (LCR) of 100% by either acquiring high quality liquid assets (HQLA) to cover at least a 30-day market stress or to reduce their intake of deposits from SMEs and investment firms.

However, investment firms were restricted to a maximum deposit of 30 days, which directly impacted on the bank’s LCR. The extension to 95 days should hopefully increase the banks’ appetite for cash from the asset and investment managers. Compounded with an increasing rates environment, asset and investment managers will hopefully benefit from actively managing cash, ensuring capital preservation through strongly rated banks’ deposits, as well as for immediate liquidity needs triple A money market fund compliance with CASS7 compliant.

However, to really take advantage of this extension, asset and investment managers must gain full access to specialised professional firms to provide appropriate advice and guidance.  Akoni is well positioned to assist these clients as our platform provides portfolio management for cash that complies with cash management, including both money market and deposits. Akoni has strong financial institution relations, and vast experience in governance and operating with FIs/ regulated entities, including a board with over 150 years’ experience in financial services. Our Chairman Duncan Goldie-Morrison was previously Chairman of Newedge, Head of BoA Global Markets, Director Icap and in the Risk Hall of fame; our Deputy Chairman Yann Gindre was previously CEO of Natixis London and NYC and our CEO Felicia Meyerowitz is an FCA approved person. We are also working with a leading law firm should clients require assistance in the set-up of the omnibus account relating to specific legalities.

FCA Link –

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Turning inventory into cash: Tips for SMEs struggling with late payments

Small businesses are the foundations for every economy – but they are also the most precarious of enterprises.  And it all boils down to money.

A great service, an iron will, and great customer loyalty are not enough to keep things moving if there’s a cash flow problem. This major issue is what determines whether an SME is on the brink of success, ready to scale or nearly bust.

Getting cash flow positive doesn’t happen overnight. Any investment made in products or workers takes time to transform into liquidity. Unfortunately – that’s one thing most SMEs simply don’t have – time to wait for payment.

Add to the mix the need to also pay for employee wages and other overhead costs and suddenly an SME without a decent cash flow runway is borrowing money to cover costs at high interest rates, which hinders the ultimate goal for any business – maximum profitability.

On average, SMEs have a 30-day cash reserve to cover cash flow problems. If payment takes 60 days or more, businesses can start to falter because they need twice the amount of reserves to cover costs and the next round of inventory – whether it’s physical or professional services. The slower the cash-to-cash cycle the more expensive it gets to run a business.

The culture of late payment is getting worse for SMEs and undermining the stability of economies. According to research conducted by MarketInvoice, over 60% of invoices issued by UK SMEs in 2017 – worth over 21 billion- were paid late – up 62% from the previous year.

An economy can’t thrive if SMEs cannot resolve this critical issue – they are worth too much to national growth and to the cohesiveness of communities. In the UK, SMEs account for 47% of all private sector turnover – a sum too big to ignore.

So, what are some of the ways to avoid such a scenario?

Do SMEs have any power over the speed in which they manage cash flow? Or is the act of chasing invoices part and parcel of what it means to run a small business?

While there’s no panacea to cure the late payment scourge, there are several ways to help minimize the cash-to-cash cycle without having to borrow finance or call in the lawyers.

  1. Don’t tolerate late payments

Extending terms to your customers to delay payment will give them permission to make late payments – a something you need to avoid from the very start of a client relationship. Offering discounts for early payments can also work well, and incorporating a late payment policy can dissuade payment delays.

2. Itemise and split invoice fees to encourage faster payment

Billing for fees or expenses can bloat a final invoice – so why wait until the very end to settle the total if the service has already been delivered? Itemise and bill separately for spending you’ve made for your client to complete the job the moment it’s done. This gives the client enough time to review and go through the charges- and enough time for you to resolve any disputes that can delay reimbursement.

3. Optimise supply and demand performance

Keep track of the demand of your inventory – don’t order too much or too little – and work closely with marketing teams to know when promotions and new campaigns will launch and potentially spike interest in your goods or services. This can help you prepare for demand and get the right amount of stock in place ahead of time. Planning and forecasting schedules for sales and operation planning goes a long way to managing cash-flow cycles. You would also be wise to consider investment in customer relationship platforms that keep track of their spending habits and preferences – as well as the performance of your competitors.

4. Trim overheads

Lean companies have the agility to deliver goods quickly and to achieve faster turnaround for payment. Take control of your end-to-end processes, and fill any gaping holes that are making it more expensive to run your operations and partner with any suppliers to integrate process and enhance your performance. Running a tight ship is important – but keep an eye on stock calculations to guard against your customer service and company brand.

5. Optimise order-to-cash process

Examine every step of the invoice process, and eliminate anything that is slowing down the payment cycle. Investing in digital invoicing, financing and payment platforms are other good ways to reduce time in order-to-cash processes as well.

The persistent and growing trend in late payments remains a critical issue for most SMEs, so preparing for the likelihood of slow cash-to-cash cycles is important – not only for the small businesses but for the overall economy as well, which relies on the billions that small companies generate each year to fuel its growth and prosperity.

6. Manage cash effectively

When holding cash, ensure that it is always deposited in accounts that will create the optimal returns for your cash flow circumstances. Managed porting of your cash holdings will leave you with cash available when you need it, but also generate returns from an asset that otherwise wouldn’t be working for you. For more information on how to manage cash portability effectively, contact Akoni.

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Open Banking Levels the Playing Field for SMEs and Brings Hope of a Better Future for financial services

It’s been a long time coming but we are entering an era of greater access and better financial services that will finally put the needs of customers first.

The catalyst of achieving this much needed and long overdue result is the culmination of big debate, endless lobbying and necessary government legislation. All this hard work will bear fruit on January 13th when the law of Open Banking comes into force.

For years banks have sat on the most valuable asset to any business: the infinite transactional and financial data of customers that essentially define individual’s tastes, preferences, budgets and – crucially – their requirements for building and planning their lives.

High street banks – reluctant to share their oligarchy of power, held on tightly to this data – unwilling to share it with others – or use it to enrich their consumer experience and put them at the heart of their business model.

With open banking, this power will be wrestled from the big incumbents and data will be available to third parties, SMEs and new digital players. This will lead to a better future for financial services, one that increases competition and creates a greater consumer experience.  More businesses will finally have a shot at delivering services that are tailored and relevant to individual customers.

Open Banking will also strengthen the role and influence of FinTech companies that have the agility and open APIs to make data sharing possible and to disrupt the status quo. We have already seen new banks like Starling Bank taking the lead, by creating partnerships with other FinTechs to create a customer rich ‘Amazon of Banking’ experience.

Together with multiple significant other sources of data being made available with consent and through API format, this will finally deliver financial products in a simple and meaningful manner, with automated prompts as companies or market products change, resulting in data innovation and improved financial outcomes, as well as removing the hassle for enterprises, saving time and money.

Key to this is delivering analytics in an easily understandable form without overwhelming businesses – leveraging the rapidly advancing data science technologies, machine learning and AI, as well as outstanding design and user experience is part of the market change we are moving towards.  While the UK and EU lead the way, there are early sprigs of global growth for international solutions.

Incumbents are not resting on their laurels. Many banks and financial institutions that make up the global sector are making impressive strides to capitalise on open banking, while also exploring valuable collaborations with new innovators that can help them harness the immense value of their data.

A great example is BBVA, which has embraced the digital movement and has set itself apart from other global offerings and is putting the client front and centre. The Spanish bank has nurtured the development of impressive FinTech firms – such as the digital ID startup Covault- while also making some canny acquisitions to keep it at the forefront of innovation that resonates with a new generation of consumers and keeps them agile and technology focused.  This includes the purchase of digital bank Simple.

Open banking also presents some challenges. Exposing large quantities of personal consumer data could increase the risk of cyber-attacks, hacking and identify-theft. The possible reluctance of customers to share their personal data could also derail the initiative. Educating consumers and gaining their trust around data sharing will therefore be crucial to the success of this initiative. So too the need for businesses to share information within a secure platform and for online payment providers to be scrutinised by the rigorous laws in place.

If all goes well, the developments of open banking – and the opportunities they bring to consumers– cannot be overstated. Banks will get another chance at creating better value-added services, while SMEs will finally have the access they need to deliver what their customers truly want and ultimately transform their consumer experience.  Additionally, corporates are also now included in the scope of Open banking, increasing pressure on banks to deliver improved services to the neglected business market.

We only hope that customers will see the value of it all to willingly share their data and banks will leverage their relationships of trust to deliver solutions of value to their commercial client base. With their consent, the blueprint for a better future for finance can be mapped out for generations to come.

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WHAT is MiFID II and How Will It Impact SMEs

MiFID II (Markets in Financial Instruments Directives II) is a law that comes into force today – and it’s going to radically transform the way assets are traded and how money is managed for investors.

For those that don’t have the time to read the 7,000-page document, here’s a quick summary of the new law– and why it could – inadvertently – make it harder for small and medium businesses (SMEs) to grow.

MiFID II is the EU ‘s second big initiative to regulate markets and to create new rules on how information is shared, prices are set, and how brokers pay one another.

The regulation serves a noble purpose – to democratise financial markets and to make it fairer and more stable.

The legislation is broad and far-reaching, and extends to any institution trading European securities – no matter where they are based in the world.

This regulation is a follow up to the first MiFID law, which came in 2007 and served to harmonise rules for stock trading. The financial crisis hit a year later and threatened the future outlook of the sector. Anxious policy makers worried about another financial meltdown, decided that more protection was needed to safeguard investors and to help create a more sustainable financial services model.

This concern led to the birth of MiFID II, which extends the harmonisation of rules beyond cash equity markets to include commodities, bonds and so much more. The law not only makes markets more transparent, but also regulates trading behaviour and lifts the curtain on the actual cost of trading and investing in stocks for those that are buying them.

At present, many securities are still traded in broker-to-broker deals, which is opaque and investors can’t determine whether they are getting the best deals. MiFID II will change this scenario while also ushering in a new era of open and regulated platforms. Automated trading currently makes up more than half of all trades and several major flash crashes have been blamed on these computer algorithms. To protect investors, the platforms must be registered with regulators and to include circuit breakers to shut them down.

It’s not just automated trading platforms that will be impacted by regulation. Research once provided for free by financial institutions, analysts and paid for by trading commissions will need to be paid for by fund managers and other third parties, to avoid conflict of interest.

This has sparked some concerns for SMEs, as MiFID II will indirectly impact the smaller end of the market as research could focus on the bigger sectors and companies. Brokers will probably avoid covering small-cap SMEs, impacting those firms’ ability to access investors.  At the same time investors will be reluctant to invest into SMEs with low level of research available or reduced quality. Long term, this could undermine the ability for these businesses – the bread and butter of every economy- to scale and grow.

While MiFID II has been created with the best of intentions to stabilise the markets and offer greater protection for investors, more needs to be done to support the SMEs that could potentially be shut out from the benefits that MiFID II aims to create.

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