Investment growth for charities – but potential for higher earnings from cash deposits!

Charity Financials recently published Charity Income Spotlight report makes for interesting and positive reading, highlighting the significant growth in investment income that charities are enjoying. It states that income from investments among the top 5,000 charities increased 6% year on year, with total investments among this group now worth £3.29bn, £600m more than in 2008.

Making money working harder in this way creates a very valuable income stream for charities, generating valuable unrestricted funds to further an organisation’s mission.

But our insight is that charities can do even more.

Judging by the charities we have spoken with over the past months, investment money is one part of the portfolio and cash deposits are a separate, and mostly neglected, part. Charities need to keep cash in the bank – as reserves, committed project funding, for operating expenditure – and this is where greater income can be generated.

Our insight suggests that charities could raise at least 10x more from cash deposits in banks – based on a split portfolio that includes instant access accounts. This equates to in the region of £60,000/yr on a £5m cash deposit – it would take 1,000 supporters giving £5/month for a year to raise that!

But how?

With Akoni’s digital cash management platform you can find the best rates (suited to your term and risk requirements), open accounts and manage your cash across multiple accounts in a couple of clicks without the paperwork.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register free at and follow us on Twitter

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.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register free at and follow us on Twitter

Akoni’s Dynamic Cash Forecasting

Acquiring banking products is a lengthy process of paperwork, taking 30-100 days to process. Businesses shy away from even finding out what opportunities they might be missing , for the simple reason that they don’t have the time to deal with it. With Akoni’s tools, particularly its ability to use powerful innovation on data from multiple sources, the process can be cut down to 1-3 days, or even be dealt with in real time in some cases.

This was exhibited recently at Finovate Europe, 6-9 March London, when Tesobe and the Open Banking Project, chose to include Akoni’s Dynamic Cash Forecasting as part of its demonstration.

This dynamic cash forecast uses data from public and private sources to analyse a company’s cash flow needs on a monthly basis, and produce a forecast for their cash balance needs throughout the year. In reporting the monthly cash requirements of the company, the platform will also highlight any expected cash surplus for a given month.

What do companies do with this surplus cash? Typically, nothing.

It will continue to exist as an unused asset delivering next to nothing in terms of revenue, and given the current inflation rates, it will often depreciate. However, Akoni not only maps out the cash surplus each month but can instantly produce a cash management planner that shows how the spare funds could be allocated to bank accounts that will achieve a real return on the cash. This is all done within the company’s stated governance and compliance requirements.

However, most SMEs and small corporates don’t have the resource or the time to deal with opening multiple new bank accounts and instructing and withdrawing deposits on a regular basis; so how does this help?

The great thing about Akoni’s offering is that it allows the user to open the multiple recommended bank accounts, make deposits and withdrawals, and generally manage their cash without the hassle or paperwork typically required. The cash plan can be put into action with no more paperwork than the single onboarding form that is required at the outset. In terms of the user’s effort, bank accounts and deposits can then be made live with nothing more than a few clicks. The simplicity of the cash management is perfectly illustrated in our short video.

As more and more SMEs continue to onboard with Akoni, we hope to further cut away at the staggering amount of unworked cash that is sitting under their control. With sign-up being for free, and Akoni offering a genuinely hassle free solution, there’s no excuse for delaying another day. Get started now!

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register free at and follow us on Twitter

What did we learn from the Spring Statement?

What an upbeat outlook!

With UK growth at 1.7% in 2017, rather than the predicted 1.5%, estimates are now set at 1.5% in 2018, 1.3 % in 2019, 1.3% in 2020, 1.4% in 2021 and 1.5% in 2022. So, in 2018, the UK will experience the slowest growth of all G7 economies, with the exceptions of Italy and Japan. In the Eurozone, the UK will be just ahead of Greece, Italy and, perhaps, Belgium…

Among the potential good news, we heard about:

  • Stronger tax receipts, which will reduce the UK borrowing to £45.2Bn in 2018 and below the 2% target of national income.
  • Spending is to be treated with a “a balanced approach” but part of the surplus will be committed to public services.
  • A review of the VAT system for small businesses but unfortunately, as it is merely a consultation at this stage, it is unlikely to have an impact in 2018
  • The business rate revaluation has been brought forward to 2021 to reflect the current property market

At the same time, Hammond also touched on topics including housing construction, curbing plastic waste and a new digital strategy.

In conclusion, a very political spring statement with little in the way of new announcements and still no understanding or accurate assessment regarding the potential impact of Brexit.

Does anybody remember that the 2018 growth prediction, before Brexit, was 2.1%….

Why SME banking may spawn the industry’s next big winners – EuroMoney

Most new challengers are attacking retail, but a few ingenious startups are moving into the more fragmented and poorly served small business market. It is here that concepts of open banking and banking as a platform may first become real.


In February, the UK’s financial services regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, finally delivered to the Treasury committee of the House of Commons the full report written by Promontory Financial Group.

The report dealt with RBS’s mistreatment of the many small and medium-size enterprises that had had the misfortune to fall into the hands of its Global Restructuring Group (GRG) in the recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis.

Nicky Morgan, chair of the UK parliament’s Treasury committee, had announced at the start of the month a new inquiry looking at the lessons to be learned from RBS’s GRG and more broadly at the state of the market for SME finance.

According to Morgan: “The case of GRG has undermined the trust of small firms in banks and highlighted the imbalanced and potentially exploitative relationship between banks and SMEs.”

The Treasury committee’s inquiry will consider the extent of competition in the market, as well as access to other sources of funding aside from bank credit available to small businesses, including crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending.

Around the country a million entrepreneurs roll their eyes: ‘Another report? Yes, that’s bound to make all the difference.’

Any student of the banking industry could probably write its key findings now. Small businesses, which account for more than 99% of private businesses in the UK and in aggregate contribute more than half of turnover and employment, are particularly poorly served by big banks.

The big five high street lenders are built for serving either retail customers or medium-size and larger companies with collateral to back three-year and longer term loans that the banks like to hawk to companies that do not really need them as a way to sell associated risk management.

Small businesses want short-term, flexible working capital with no punishing fees for low usage or early repayment. This is expensive for banks to underwrite – especially for new startups and sole traders lacking several years’ worth of financial history – and to administer. Few small businesses want the interest-rate hedging and FX facilities that banks like to bundle up with term loans for medium-size and larger corporate customers.

Many small businesses are discouraged even from applying for bank credit. Sole traders and small company founders often combine personal and business finance, raising start-up capital by re-mortgaging their homes and sometimes paying business expenses – even payroll – off a personal credit card. It is, in banking jargon, all quite sub-optimal.

Tide turning

The report’s authors may find a little good news, however. The market is at last now producing non-bank competitors looking to provide the right kinds of services and products for small businesses – ones that give these challengers a shot at the £2 billion of annual revenue the British Bankers Association suggests SMEs now pay for financial services.

George Bevis is a former banker who started at Capital One and dealt with small businesses in roles such as product director at Zopa, business strategy director at Barclaycard and head of innovation at RBS, before founding Tide. Tide is a digital business bank that launched last year and focuses for now on smaller companies with 10 employees or fewer, providing easy account opening for simple payments services.

Tide describes its core product as a super-charged current account. A lot of business founders do not want term loans. They do want to send and receive payments, however, and to manage expenses, invoices and bookkeeping. George Bevis, founder of Tide

“Tide is about the people who run SMEs and who often lose huge amounts of valuable time doing crappy repetitive admin,” Bevis tells Euromoney. “Tide is essentially a software business that aims deeply to understand SMEs and then to automate a lot of that admin, especially as it relates to current accounts.”

Bevis claims that by focusing on a particularly poorly served and numerous segment – very small businesses – Tide has been able to gather market share quickly, gaining one in 12 of all new business current accounts opened in the UK just 10 months after launch.

“We think we are the fastest growing new B2B fintech in the UK ever,” Bevis claims, leaving Euromoney to figure out just how many B2B fintechs there are at a time when most new challenger banks and fintechs are targeting consumers doing basic retail banking, remittances, foreign exchange transfers, crowd investing or wealth management.

Early momentum has come from entrepreneurs sharing their experiences.

“Half of our customer acquisition is through word of mouth,” says Bevis. Key offerings, aside from speedy account opening – take a picture of your photo ID, confirm a few details, send a selfie that Tide matches against the photo ID and you are done with an account in minutes, with a MasterCard to follow – include the ability to send and pay invoices on the go.

“That was a bit of a lightning bolt moment that came during a debate with one of our early backers about whether a business customer really can do everything on a mobile,” says Bevis. “We conceived a process for customers to upload an invoice into Tide, which reads the invoice and prepares a payment, as well as more obvious services such as paying invoices and recognizing and categorizing different expenses for accounting purposes.”

Tide is not actually a bank. Customer deposits are kept in a segregated account at Barclays under an FCA-regulated e-money licence by PrePay Solutions (PPS), a leading European prepaid services company that services more than 50 blue-chip organizations including PayPal, EE and Virgin Money.

Holding member funds under an e-money licence means that PPS is not allowed to take investment risks with customer deposits.

“The e-money licence is a fantastic innovation which allows you to offer many of the services of a bank without being a fully fledged bank,” says Bevis.

If I was at a property company, I would never let a £50 million building yield zero. Why should I with an asset that happened to be cash?
Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, Akoni Hub

Tide applied for and recently received its own e-money licence. It is also already licensed as a credit broker. The company earns revenue by charging 20 pence per bank transfer and £1 for using a card at an ATM. There are no other monthly or annual account fees or transaction charges.

While the business is still in the very early stages of its roll out, Tide is hugely ambitious. It declares an aim of having 50 million small business customers globally by 2026. That is an enormous number for a startup in an economy of 5.4 million SMEs. To even come close, Tide, which counts business customers today in the tens of thousands, will need to expand geographically, enlarge its product offering and deal with bigger companies.

It has plans to do each of those.

“We will be in several European countries before the end of this year, and in 2019 we may go into another continent, either Asia or North America,” says Bevis. “The core product we have built meets needs that are quite similar in many countries – needs that banks are not focused on to the same extent they are on those of retail customers or large businesses.

“We will take a pragmatic view over which products and services we can create and provide ourselves and which it makes more sense to provide through partners.”

Credit is one example. Tide does not allow overdrafts. Instead it tied up last year with iwoca, a specialist online provider of working capital facilities to small companies, to allow its customers to apply through the Tide app for up to £15,000 in working capital, potentially available within minutes, or by submitting to a longer credit appraisal for up to £150,000. It has been rolling this out to its customers as Tide Credit.

Other destinations on the product roadmap include allowing multiple users to have cards on the same business bank account.

“When we first started, our customers were roughly 30% sole traders, 70% registered businesses. Today it is more like 80% registered businesses,” says Bevis.

Still to come are an FX offering – due to be delivered soon through another partner – international accounts, Sepa (Single Euro Payment Area) payments, bulk payments and Swift payments, even, eventually, a fully fledged banking platform.

This is the BBVA model of banking-as-a-platform service being rolled out by a new challenger rather than an incumbent.

“I used to be one of those employees at a big bank looking to innovate for business customers. I know how hard it is for a bank to build the services of a software provider,” Bevis says.

“We’re moving beyond core current account services,” he continues. “In fact, we’re already close to doing most of the things a regular bank does. We’re looking at payroll, for example, as one of those administrative burdens we could automate for small companies. We see ourselves eventually as a provider of most universal banking services.

“I’d certainly expect us to be servicing FTSE500-size companies before long. But we’ll also do things your bank has never even thought of. We’re looking at AI to automate any number of processes. I feel that our technology is like a Ferrari launched in the era of the horse and cart for small business banking. We have to tell customers it’s a better horse, just to get them to try it. Once they do, they’ll soon see what we can really provide.”

Open banking

Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, Akoni Hub Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, founder and chief executive of Akoni Hub, a fintech company that helps SMEs improve returns on their spare cash, has been doing a lot of thinking about the impact of open banking to improve the delivery of financial services to the neglected small business market.

Her thesis is that for years banks have sat on the hugely valuable asset of customers’ transactional and financial data, unwilling to share it with other service providers or to use it to enrich their customers’ experience.

With open banking, this power will eventually be wrestled from the big incumbents. Data will be available to third parties, SMEs and new digital players through open APIs (application programmable interfaces) – as long as customers consent to it being shared – and these challengers may start to deliver financial products that remove the hassle for enterprises of managing their finances, as well as saving them time and money.

Singh felt the sore end of this as the financial director of a Lloyds Insurance broker and underwriting agency that periodically held large volumes of cash, up to £50 million at times.

Singh lacked the resources to track the money markets and programmatically split the cash into instant access and deposit amounts at different banks to optimize returns over various short-dated maturities and bank rating grades. She ended up just depositing the cash with two high street banks that had little incentive to offer advice on how to improve returns on it, presumably (although Singh herself does not say this) because they were treating it as a free good.

“The relationship managers would simply say: ‘These are our rates,’” she recalls.

And how did those rates look?

“They were terrible. But we weren’t big enough to qualify for a global treasury solution,” Singh tells Euromoney. “I recall one RM suggesting I should walk into the local branch and enquire there about rates for our own and our clients’ money.”

In the end, Singh had her team split cash holdings into one third at one high street bank, one third at another and the last third split between various other banks, on which her team first had to build ratings profiles. She still lacked the resources to constantly monitor changing money market rates at different maturities matched against business cash-flow, while also keeping track of ratings fundamentals at large numbers of banks.

“I spoke to my peers, the CFOs and treasurers at other firms in the Lloyds market and they were all in the same boat. I wanted a treasury management system-lite: one I could go into and simply execute deposits as our cash levels and market rates changed. But the systems were too complex. I had a £50 million asset that essentially yielded zero. It was nonsensical.

“If I was at a property company, I would never let a £50 million building yield zero. Why should I with an asset that happened to be cash? My thought was: ‘There has to be a simple way to do this better.’”

Akoni Hub, like Tide, sees the difficulty SMEs face in accessing the fairly simple financial services they actually need aside from lending, which for now can often take weeks and endless form filling – much of it repeatedly inputting the same data to different providers – to obtain.

It has built a so-called deposit dashboard, which allows businesses to compare the instant access accounts and deposit rates on offer from the more than 80 banks in the UK seeking business’s short-term cash. It overlays Fitch’s implied ratings on these banks.

Open banking comes into play when SME companies give permission for Akoni Hub to see their cashflow data, which in many cases is delivered manually. This allows Akoni to send prompts to shift money that the company may not need to access for a set time into a higher-yielding term deposit of a bank that fits its ratings criteria.

“Our current permissions relate entirely to cash products, which are non-advised,” says Singh. Akoni is FCA regulated and licensed, but it is not a bank. Rather it has partnerships with a panel of banks, including Barclays, Aldermore and Metro, that handle the cash.

If banks don’t want to charge customers for holding their cash, then they might want to help them move it into longer than 30-day maturities Yann Gindre, Akoni Hub

Becoming a customer of Akoni allows businesses to transfer funds to an Akoni Hub account with Barclays, which works like a trust account. Small businesses can then use their own dashboard to ask Akoni to instruct panel banks to execute selected deposits. This takes just a few clicks and requires no paperwork. Companies can see their entire cash balances and what they are earning on them, including money not managed through Akoni Hub if they permission this.

The dashboard shows when a company’s instructions to shift cash into a deposit have been received by a panel bank, when they are being processed and when the deposit has been made.

“This is the benefit for small businesses,” says Singh. “It takes out the endless hassle of repeat data provision, gets customers access to the products they need and allows them to manage and decrease their risk while at the same time boosting the bottom line on their cash.”

Like most fintech companies, Akoni Hub has sought to make its mark with one eye-catching product, while developing plans to crunch vast amounts of data derived from multiple sources in an open banking world and use machine learning and AI to expand into additional financial services.

“We are looking at adding money market funds for larger customers, as well as other financial products,” says Singh. “As those funds are an advised asset class, we would need to vary our permissions or partner with a third party that already has those permissions.”

Akoni Hub looks to Euromoney like a product that incumbent banks may want to white label – several are already considering this – as the competition to provide easy access to basic services for small companies now awakens.

It may look like banks would be encouraging a competitive marketplace, which might hurt their own net interest margins, but most bankers Euromoney speaks to claim to be champions of free-market competition.

New angle

There is another angle for banks to consider. Akoni Hub’s co-founder and deputy chairman is Yann Gindre, a former debt capital markets banker and veteran of stints at JPMorgan, UBS and Barclays, who for a time headed global markets at Commerzbank and more recently chaired Natixis Alternative Investments.

He knows the banking industry inside out.

Yann Gindre, Akoni Hub “I would suggest that the liquidity coverage ratio under Basel III raises questions about the continuation of certain banking business models,” he says. “Regulators now require banks to hold high-quality liquid assets [HQLA] as a proportion of any deposits shorter than 30 days’ maturity to protect against a run on the banks. For that reason, if banks don’t want to charge customers for holding their cash, then they might want to help them move it into longer than 30-day maturities.

“We see considerable upside for banks with Akoni Hub, first as a useful tool they might offer their own clients – one that costs relationship managers little time to run – and second as one which may benefit the banks by encouraging customers into longer-dated deposits.”

Gindre adds: “It could soon offer a daily automated money market sweep so that short-term cash doesn’t sit on the banks’ balance sheets incurring HQLA charges. At scale, this could free up capital for banks to support lending.”

One of the important lessons for banks from the emergence of companies like Akoni is that they must find better ways to use the vast abundance of client data they hold to help their customers or others will do it for them.

One side benefit of its business model is that Akoni can benchmark a company’s management of its cash against peers of similar size in the same geographic region and industry sector.

“If you’re a widget maker in the northeast and we can see that your average debtor days are 65 while your peer average is 25 days, then that’s an important insight that with better invoice management you might free up some cash now tied up in unpaid accounts receivable and earn a return on it instead,” says Singh.

It is easy to see in principle how Akoni might use the same approach to open banking and client data to offer market monitoring and execution services similar to the one it now offers for cash and deposits. These could be in working capital, foreign exchange for small businesses that start exporting, trade finance and insurance.

Akoni does not need to compete with banks to provide those underlying commodity products and services. In fact, it will likely only have much impact if it is delivered through the banks.


As Euromoney surveys the new offerings in banking services to small companies for clues to the future of business banking, it is striking how fragmented the market is becoming.

There are more providers, more products and services. Big banks are unbundling services they once packaged together, exiting certain lines of business and specializing more.

New challengers are emerging that may have a long-term vision to offer a one-stop shop for an array of products but that for now are striving to make their mark with only one. The right product or service might be out there for a business, but how do you even find the potential providers and compare them? Shachar Bialick, Curve

“The world of money is becoming even more disconnected,” agrees Shachar Bialick, founder and chief executive of Curve, a new platform that seeks to provide a way for individuals and businesses to manage multiple cards and accounts.

It provides customers with an app into which they can load their various credit cards and then allocate payments between them at a touch of their smartphone screen. It also provides a single plastic MasterCard that customers can use at home and abroad, and which undercuts banks that like to gouge customers on the FX rate by exchanging money at the wholesale market rate plus 1%, instead of the more normal plus 5% margin or more.

Bialick tells Euromoney: “Because there are multiple use cases for money, people and businesses tend to have numerous financial services, accounts and cards. As new regulations force banks to unbundle, this fragmentation only accelerates, with new challengers emerging. The problem is that customers are not aware of all the new entrants that can help them save or have better services, let alone compare or on-board them on their headspace.

“People now have so many bank cards, credit cards, loyalty cards, accounts, savings products that it’s all getting harder to stay on top of, or to sign to new services. Thus, a fragmented marketplace leads customers to leave a lot of value on the table.”

That is why Curve came up with the idea of one card to rule them all. Its best wrinkle, however, is one that messes with time itself. “Curve allows you to change the card/account that you spent money from, after you made the transaction. We call it ‘Go back in time’,” says Bialick.

“With this functionality, Curve is now developing a service, whereby we identify that you made a big-ticket item on a credit card using an overdraft, the interest you would otherwise pay using this product / overdraft, and recommend the user to move this transaction to a cheaper instrument, using the Go Back In Time functionality: for example, the ability to split the charge to 10 instalments with a significantly lower APR rate, provided by one of our partners.”

The firm jokes that its card comes with a flux capacitor. Older Euromoney readers may recall that is what powered Doc Brown’s time-travelling DeLorean in the film ‘Back to the future’.

“All fintech firms are obsessed with crunching data to generate customer insights,” says Bialick. “What we care about are first principles. Providing data, or insights are not enough. An action should follow. With Curve, we provide actionable insights where we can tell clients: ‘If you do this, it will save you money’, and all the client is left to do is tap yes or no.”

Curve’s initial product tries to help people get on top of the four basic things they do with their money and which can feel like a full-time job. They want to see where it is, send it to other people, spend it and even save it.

Like all emerging fintech companies, Curve will have its roadmap of products and services to roll out in future. Intriguingly, Bialick offers a very clear point of view on where the banking market is likely to go in the next 10 years.

Right now it is fragmenting. At some point disintermediation will peak and then consolidation and aggregation will resume before, possibly, we see category kings.

“If we want to become the operating system for money, like Spotify is for music, Netflix is for TV, or is for travel, we need to take a view on the whole industry,” says Bialick.

“The starting place is that banks are the focal point for money right now, and they do a good job parking our money securely. I put my salary into the bank every month, and that’s the basis of trusted relationships that led banks to offer proprietary products such as credit cards, loans, foreign exchange, savings, pensions, etc. But actually, in today’s world, the only thing that only a bank can do is take deposits. Almost everything else, thanks to new regulations, non-banks can also do.”

He continues: “Whether they know about it or not, customers are now connected through multiple banks and multiple networks, such as Visa and MasterCard, and interbank networks like ACH [automated clearing houses] or Faster Payments, and, for many users, new additional layers such as mobile wallets and cloud solutions like PayPal and Skrill.”

End game

So what does Bialick see as the end game?

“We believe that there will be one more new layer, an aggregation layer that will connect the entire stack offering into one place – an operating system for money at the top of all this, which will solve the fragmented world of money by providing one personalised point of access to ‘everything money’, allowing customers to access and discover financial services, just as they do with music on Spotify, accessing and discovering their favourite music.”

In this vision the underlying services, such as payments, are mere commodities. Fintech challengers, which have great technology but no customers and a high cost of customer acquisition and thus weak stores of risk data, bypass this problem by becoming a point of access to other people’s services.

“The banks used to say: ‘Give us your checking account and we’ll upsell you other proprietary products that make us money’. In the future, the successful challengers will be the marketplace in which customers access the best-available products for them,”says Bialick.

Tide, with its grandiose sounding aim to have 50 million business customers 10 years from now, also shares the same ambition to be a new kind of banking category king: one that is not really a bank at all.

“To be an operating system for money, we ought to be agnostic of where customers’ money is or who conducts their payments, as well as which operating system they use,” says Bialick.

“The competition won’t be BBVA or Bank of America, not unless they fundamentally change their DNA and stop being banks. It won’t even be the new challengers, as they are still following the models of traditional banks. It may well be Apple Pay, PayPal, or WeChat, which have the required DNA to build an aggregation layer. However, with these players, they are restricted by the infrastructure and the significant behavioural change required to use their products.”

Banking’s next category kings may take the view that the higher up the financial stack they go, above products like deposits, credit and savings, above payments networks, and the more front-of-mind they are for customers as their operating system for money, the less regulated they are likely to be.

Written by Peter Lee for EuroMoney, 6th March 2018.
Full article:

International Women’s Day- Women in Business

International Women’s Day is just around the corner and there is so much to showcase when it comes to the crucial role that women are playing in building SMEs around the world.

As the motor of every nation’s economy, SMEs are recognised for their importance to a country’s prosperity.  In the UK alone, over 99% of businesses can be classified under this category, employing between 0-250 employees and generating more than half of total business turnover in Britain each year.

In 2016, 22% of SMEs with no employees and 20% of SMEs with employees were led by women which in concrete terms means that around 1.2 million SMEs in the UK currently have a woman at the helm.

Unfortunately, female leadership is still sharply segmented by industry in a broad reflection of the wider inequities of gender participation in the labour market.  According to analysis by the SME Finance Monitor, only 3% and 4% respectively of female SME leaders work in the ‘Transport, Storage, and Communication’ and ‘Construction’ sectors compared to 18% each in the women dominated ‘Health and Social work’ and the ‘Community, Social and Personal Services’ sectors.

Addressing this issue will take time, but we can start by encouraging leadership role across all fields- regardless of gender.  Women should be supported to lead in traditionally male dominated industries like construction, while men should also be encouraged to spearhead initiatives in the ‘people oriented’ sectors which can be subject to biases stemming from outdated misconceptions of ‘female oriented’ industries, particularly in roles outside of top level management.

The persistence of the gender divide in leadership and the lagging rates at which women launch their own business remains a critical societal issue because diversity in leadership matters. The existence of role-models at the top can inspire other would-be-entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and model gender equality and achievement to their employees and colleagues.

Closing the gap between male and female rates of entrepreneurship could also have a profound effect on the nation’s economy.  Despite recent evidence that more women than men are choosing to move into self-employment since the 2008 recession, the RBS Enterprise Tracker – which tracks people’s attitudes to starting up in business – found during 2016 that women continued to be less likely than men to want to start a business (30% vs. 38%) and that fewer women were in the process of starting their own business (3% vs. 5%).

Research cited by the Federation of Small Businesseses suggests that an additional 900,000 businesses would be created if the UK achieved the same level of female entrepreneurship as in the US, resulting in an additional £23 billion gross value added to the UK economy. In England alone, 150,000 extra businesses would be created per annum if women started businesses at the same rate as men.

The final piece to the puzzle is the funding gap between male and female led SMEs, which can hobble promising new start-ups before they can truly grow. According to a 2017 TechCrunch review of Venture Capital funding in the US, since 2010 women led teams raised an average $82 for every $100 a male founded team raises. In early-stage venture funding, the picture was even bleaker with women-only founding teams raising on average $77 for every $100 a male-only founded team raised.

While these statistics are for the US, VCs are similarly male dominated environments in the UK both in terms of businesses funded and the gender makeup of the VCs themselves. Securing funding is critical for SMEs and the predominance of male dominated fundraising environments can make this a more difficult process for female led businesses.

Of course, such hurdles are frequently overcome everyday by the countless trailblazing women who lead successful businesses across the country. In 2018, however, we hope that this International Women’s Day will be one of the last where admiration for such success still needs to be paired with a call to action for the continued fight for equality.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register free at and follow us on Twitter

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.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register free at and follow us on Twitter



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!

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register free at and follow us on Twitter

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.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register free at and follow us on Twitter

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.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Register free at and follow us on Twitter