Why is Akoni different? How we set ourself apart from the crowd

SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy and yet they are chronically underserved by the banking sector. For many people this might be an unfortunate yet passing fact but for business owners across the UK, it’s an everyday reality.

At Akoni, we know how critical change in the business banking sector is for SMEs because we’ve experienced the challenges first hand.  Our founder, Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, first conceived of Akoni while she was the frustrated financial director of an SME herself. Despite holding up to £50m in cash, she found that there were few market options available to help the company maximize their returns and little interest from banks whose business services were designed around serving larger clients.

We believe that it’s absurd that £50m has become an insufficient sum to attract any engagement from the banks and we are driven to provide all UK businesses, regardless of size, with the resources they need to thrive and grow.  We know that it’s much easier for a company to focus on what they do best when they’re given the tools they need to streamline their finances and efficiently increase their returns. It was this passion for equal access to an efficient and fair business banking system that first inspired Felicia to found Akoni Hub and these values remain key to Akoni’s future.

With hundreds of financial products available to small businesses it is alarming to think that so few of them have been designed and conceived by people with real experience of what a small business requires. All to often banks reserve their most powerful tools and offerings for the large corporates before presenting a much reduced selection to smaller businesses – a selection that rarely, if ever, is specifically tailored to meet the differing requirements of an SME. Akoni co-founded by a CEO with real, endlessly frustrating, experience of seeking out financial products for the SME market are different.

Financial services have traditionally been plagued by a lack of diversity that has deprived the sector of the innovation and growth that a multi-cultural environment can provide. While many companies now acknowledge how important it is for their team to reflect the broader community they serve, few have created a culture that doesn’t just tolerate diversity but actively seeks it out.

For Akoni, however, equality isn’t a choice but is integral to who we are. Our team draws from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and is led by a female founder with experience in finance. It’s disappointing that having a female founder is still of note in 2018 and that last year only 9% of funding for UK start-ups went to companies with a female founder. Yet for us, embracing diversity is a natural extension of our commitment to the values that first inspired our platform.

UK SMEs should have access to the same services that larger corporates have long enjoyed. When these services are denied to smaller businesses they miss out on valuable opportunities to access extra income. This disparity is not only unfair but is also damaging to the UK economy as the success of SMEs is critical to maximizing growth.

It’s clear that the banking sector itself must learn to embrace whatever innovation is required to give all their clients the tools needed to achieve their best results.  Akoni believes that our platform will play an important role in modelling this change and we are deeply passionate about leading the way to a future where efficient and responsive business banking is equally accessible to all.

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

 

 

 

 

How SMEs can attract, nurture and retain talent

Akoni had the privilege of being part of London and Partners Business Programme’s recent report Access to Talent.

The findings are based on feedback from London’s tech community and reveals the ongoing issues of attracting, nurturing and retaining the talent that drives company growth.

These are problems faced by firms big and small – but the latter is the most affected. Trying to compete for talent alongside tech giants and financial firms is a challenge that most SMEs struggle to overcome.  They simply can’t afford to match the salaries of the big boys looking for the same people.

There are also fewer qualified workers to pick from these days, thanks to worries over Brexit.

So what’s the answer to the bottleneck? And how can we create a workforce that is not only talented but also as unique and diverse as the customers we aim to serve?

Government must do more to create a better image of the UK as a place that is still open for business. London is a global city that is driven by the world – our population comes from everywhere and so does our talent. We need to reflect this reality more clearly.  Campaigns that highlight success stories and what makes the UK so great for a new generation of workers are good places to start.  They need to know that we want and need them to drive our booming sector. Making it easier for skilled workers to come into Britain through fast track VISA schemes is also vital.

Businesses also have to play a part to woo staff. If an SME can’t compete in salary, then they have to make their work environments more appealing. Flexible hours, mentoring for staff, equity in the company and parental leave are excellent policies that should be a primary focus for any business that wants to stay competitive. This can also help to create a more diverse workforce, which can foster greater employee loyalty. If people feel comfortable in their workspace, and have an opportunity to express their unique perspectives in a nurturing environment, then they are more likely to stay.

Innovations for business have made it easier to do more with fewer staff – especially FinTech technology that helps simplify payments, invoices, and managing loans and savings. But nothing beats human contact and engagement. This is what sets us apart, the unique selling point for SMEs the world over: our people.

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

 

 

 

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.

Fragmentation

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 booking.com 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: https://www.euromoney.com/article/b1769mlczvrdcr/why-sme-banking-may-spawn-the-industrys-next-big-winners?copyrightInfo=true

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 panel.akonihub.com 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 panel.akonihub.com 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 panel.akonihub.com and follow us on Twitter

 

Time is Money

A quick google search tells me that the phrase ‘Time is Money’ is credited to Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the USA, who of course now appears on the $100 bill. He first used the phrase in his 1748 essay ‘Advice to a Young Tradesman’.

Nowadays it seems fairly obvious that time is money… in our daily working lives we’re encouraged to think like that – how much did this advertising campaign cost? What’s the return on investment? What is the transactional cost of administering x, y and z?

Over the past few months I’ve spoken to a number of charities about how they run their operations and finance, and when introducing Akoni we’ve talked about how they manage their cash. The common response I’ve had is ‘our cash sits in a bank, we don’t get much (if any) interest; the hassle and transactional cost of managing cash isn’t worth the returns’.

Benjamin Franklin would agree with this logic.

But time is variable… if you can reduce the time taken to do something, then it might be time for a different approach. Time taken to manage cash is one of the problems that Akoni solves.

Our innovative platform means you can move cash to higher yielding accounts without hassle, working on both sides of the time and money equation. The transactional cost is taken away and your returns are increased. So with not much time you could make more money.

It is innovation like this that changes the way charities (and businesses) work… challenging assumptions that things (like managing cash deposits) take too long or aren’t worth doing. Akoni are helping charities to innovate and access cash returns they’re missing out on.

As one of the great innovators of the 18th century, we think Benjamin Franklin would agree.

Please feel free to get in touch with me at Stephen.harvey@akonihub.com if you’d like to find out how Akoni can help your nonprofit to reduce the time and hassle it takes to maximise your cash.

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

 

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 –

https://www.fca.org.uk/publications/policy-statements/ps18-2-client-money-unbreakable-deposits

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

2017 in Review and Looking Forward to 2018

This is it! The end of 2017 has arrived and what an interesting year it has been, for Akoni, for business and for the country as a whole.

Brexit has been at the forefront of the news for the entire year and we imagine it will continue to be so for 2018. How could it not be? It is a huge change that this country is going through and nobody can tell what the results will bring for the economy and for the individual. Facing the unknown has never been an easy task for humanity and our instinctive reaction is often fear and despair. But like many times before, an uncertain future, involving hardship, has often resulted in greatness and prosperity. We are watching the developments closely, and in particular the decisions made that affect business.

While the majority of predictions about the UK’s prosperity in light of Brexit have been negative, business in the UK has continued to grow with the notorious entrepreneurial spirit of Britain not disappointing.

Below we go into more detail on:

  1. Some interesting and encouraging numbers on the UK economy relating to businesses
  2. An overview of Akoni’s successes this year – we have had an exciting year, which we are eager to tell you all about.
  3. Two focus areas for Akoni: Charities and UK Tech Start-ups
  4. Akoni’s insights for the year ahead

 

  1. 2017 for business:

 Although confidence levels among Britain’s SMEs has suffered amidst the Brexit turmoil, entrepreneurship has not suffered. In 2017 SMEs in the UK accounted for:

  • 51% of all private sector turnover with a total combined turnover of £1.9 trillion
  • 60% of all private sector employment with a total of 16.2 million people employed
  • at least 99.5% of the businesses in major sectors.

Investment in UK PLC has been hampered since the 2016 Brexit vote but that hasn’t stopped the business population in the UK increasing – by 4% since 2016 – reaching a record of 5.7 million private sector businesses early this year. These numbers are published by the government each year in January. In a few weeks the numbers for 2017 will be released and we will likely see a further increase in this regard.

However, we are also seeing that the UK economy has slowed down over the past year, with the International Monetary Fund calling Britain a ‘notable exception’ to an improving global economic outlook.

 Nevertheless, we at Akoni strongly believe that SMEs are significant contributors to the UK economy, as seen in the above figures. Therefore, we will continue to support SMEs and charities as the bedrock of economic growth.

  1. 2017 for Akoni: highlights

 Over the last year as our business has gone from strength to strength so has our team, and as the year draws to a close our number of team members has already doubled. We have a group of talented and motivated individuals, each in their own field, from various backgrounds, contributing valuable resources to the Akoni endeavour.

 

Throughout the year we took part in various events, had the chance to speak and present the Akoni proposition to vast and fantastic audiences, were selected for prestigious industry competitions and have been mentioned in major news publications.

Here are Akoni’s finest moments of 2017:

 

  1. Akoni’s focus areas

As we look to build on the success we have had to date, there have been a few sectors of the business community that we have been focusing on and we wanted to highlight some of our key takeaways for these communities.

  • Tech Start-Ups

At Akoni a key focus for us, along with assisting SMEs, is working with the start-up community to help these new businesses to reach their full potential by utilising their cash reserves. With an increase in co-working spaces (notably WeWorks but also Plexal and Rise London (the latter for the Fintech industry)), accelerator and incubator programmes often in collaboration with large industry corporates (CO:CUBED and HighTech XL to name a couple) and national led initiatives like London & Partners, the UK feels like an exciting place to be starting a new tech venture. And although there have been mixed reviews about the health of the UK economy, we have been particularly encouraged by what we have seen within these various ecosystems, including collaboration between incumbent tech start-ups in various industries.

Given Akoni’s specialism, we are seeing a number of fintechs growing in the UK, with the aim of giving SMEs more control of, either their existing assets (like Akoni), or providing easier access to funding sources (like Funding Circle and Capitalise) to allow the UK SME market to hopefully achieve even better returns than noted above. In addition, these new Fintechs are also providing sources of capital for the start-up industry, beyond typical VC investment.

With all this being said, we are excited for what 2018 holds for all tech start-ups.

  • Charities

2017 has been another year where charities have been in the spotlight. The response by charities and the public in donating to charities, in the wake of incidents at Grenfell Tower and the Manchester Arena bombing, as well emergencies beyond our shores, has shown that the charity sector in the UK is still huge force for good and plays an important role in society.

With that important role comes accountability and the focus in 2017 charity governance remained a hot topic. The continued scrutiny of the role of Trustees, and use of funds raised, together with the release of the Charity Governance Code outlining standards charities, should aim to points for a need and appetite for improved governance.

What is certain – the voluntary sector is a vital cog in the wheel of our economy and improved governance can be seen as a positive moved for the sector.

Brexit is going to have an impact on the charity sector in the UK. Aside from the £250m+ direct funding UK charities receive from the EU, the impact on the economy will likely put a squeeze on public pockets which could make fundraising harder. The value of the pound will also impact on those charities who operate overseas.

GDPR legislation, continued focus on governance and uncertain political times will also impact on the non-profit sector, but collaboration across the sector, innovation in fundraising and communications, and embracing digital technology in all functions of the organisation, are opportunities to be grasped in 2018.

Charities have faced turbulence in the past and have always found ways to raise funds and continue their important work. We look forward to playing a role in this and helping charities to maximise their income.

  1. Looking ahead to 2018

 2018 will be a critical year for the UK economy where we may see one out of three scenarios:

  1. A bespoke agreement with the EU, which will likely see a stronger pound, reduced inflation, employment growth and a return to economic prosperity.
  2. A hard Brexit which would create a difficult scenario because of the uncertainty around it. In this instance, it seems likely that inflation will rise and the pound and economic growth will likely weaken, whilst unemployment rises.
  3. The PM faces a no-confidence vote by the government, leading to an election with the possibility of seeing labour come into power. This would understandably be quite a shock to the economy, at least for the first year of the new government.

Looking at current reports, it seems likely that interest rates will go up in February following the next Bank of England meeting, particularly if inflation remains around 3%. Unemployment will probably remain reasonably low and wage increases won’t be drastic either. When it comes to overall economic growth, the UK will not see as much growth as will be the case for the rest of the world. While we cannot speak about a recession just yet, the UK economy will face one of its most challenging times and the uncertainty around which of the three above mentioned scenarios will unfold, does not assist the economy with getting back to its expected level, that being the 4th or 5th largest economy in the world. But when it comes to economic forecasting they say that there are two types of economists: Those who cannot forecast and those who don’t know that they cannot forecast. In that same spirit, we at Akoni choose to remain positive.

We very much look forward to the events of next year and what possibilities they will open up for us and for business in general. We cannot help but mention Open Banking coming into effect from January 2018 and how this will change the landscape of finance for the better, allowing SMEs to leverage new types of financial services to their advantage. We are full of hope and optimism that next year can be a great one and that this country’s entrepreneurial spirit will catapult us into a fantastic era of innovation.

           

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

Neither Akoni or its advisors or officers authorised to make any express or implied representation , warranty or undertaking as to the accuracy or completeness of this update. Furthermore, the writer expresses his /her own opinion and not an investment advice.  

 

What does Brexit mean for the tech sector so far

The tech sector was a major voice in favour of the UK remaining part of the EU. There were fears that an exit from the European Union would cause investment to shift to tech companies outside the UK, uncertainties about the status of EU nationals working in the UK, the acquisition of new talent from the EU and tech companies choosing to have their headquarters elsewhere.

We would like to look at where we stand today with regards to the tech sector and the developments of the Brexit negotiations.

1. Investments

 2016 saw a record high in investments, with more than £ 6.7 billion being invested into UK tech companies, leading Europe in merger and acquisition activity. While investment did slow down after the June 2016 referendum, the fall wasn’t as drastic as expected and was not necessarily attributed to the vote on Brexit, seeing as there was a general fall in tech funding, not just in the UK.

Today the UK remains top of the list when it comes to capital invested by quite a large margin to European countries such as Germany and France. Nevertheless, this margin is shrinking and the UK is the only country where more founders say it was harder to raise investment in 2017 than 2016.

The recent budget announcement included a large amount of government investment into the tech sector, as an attempt to tackle possible losses due to Brexit.

2. Tech companies relocating

The continuing uncertainty regarding trade deals between the EU and the UK, mean that existing UK based companies consider relocating to Europe if the UK leaves the single market. European founders, on the other side, also no longer see the UK as an attractive base for their companies’ headquarters. But is that really the case?

The European tech scene is evolving and beginning to build its own ecosystem independent from what’s going on in the UK, US or elsewhere but that certainly doesn’t remove the UK as a major player in the global tech scene. UK tech companies will continue to have advantages, such as London fintech companies being located in the world’s biggest financial centre, with direct access to a huge b2b market that London offers.

3. EU nationals working in the UK

 After much insecurity regarding EU tech workers’ rights to remain in the UK, the recent reciprocal deal agreed between the EU and Britain certainly caused a sigh of relief in all sectors of business, not least the tech sector, with almost 200,000 EU citizens contributing to UK tech.

EU citizens’ rights to live and work in the UK have been guaranteed including the rights of a range of family members to move to the UK. This of course makes it easier on employers, who up until now did not know, which of their employees would be able to continue working for their companies and how much they would need to re-staff their offices. It also adds to more certainty for new potential talent to be recruited before the March 2019 deadline.

Another concern of the tech sector was the amount of time an EU national could live outside the UK, before losing settled status. Originally this was set to be only 2 years and has now been increased to 5. For tech companies this is a big improvement as they regularly second staff across a global network.

To sum up…

 While the tech sector was not a fan of Brexit, the actual results seen at the moment are not as bad as expected. The deal guaranteeing rights of EU citizens in the UK, is a major break-through in favour of the future of the UK tech sector and while leaving the single market may be considered a disadvantage, there is plenty of room left for positive development of the UK tech sector, still seen as a world leading hub for technology.

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