Finance Monthly had the privilege to interview Paresh Davdra, the co-founder of the world’s first free money transfer, Xendpay, as well as the UK’s first online foreign exchange service, RationalFX. Paresh is a serial entrepreneur and business leader, an expert on FX markets, currency trends and overseas property advice and trends.
Paresh’s experience in the FX and IT industries spans over a decade and his key skills include sales, strategic thinking and an expansive knowledge of the financial markets.
Paresh grew up in Harrow, London with his close knit family. His father is originally from Uganda but was forced to leave with the rest of the family back in 1972. They arrived in London with £50 between them and Paresh and his sister were the first family members to be born in the UK. With the entire family living under one roof, Paresh learnt about family values and ambition – traits that he attributes for his success today.
Whilst at university, Paresh worked at a brokerage firm and went onto work there for a year after graduating. It was here that Paresh got his first taste for foreign exchange, and after a year, he and Rajesh quit their respective jobs and moved to Brighton. With one phone, one computer and no money, RationalFX was born.
Paresh is an advocate for all things entrepreneurial and encourages those starting out to be brave and tenacious, and this is reflected in the company culture which he describes as a ‘learning environment with no revolving door policy’.
What more can you tell us about Rational FX? What are the company’s beginnings, values and mission?
The idea for RationalFX first came to us whilst Rajesh and I were working together at a brokerage firm. With expert knowledge in the field, we had spotted a gap in the market for an online foreign exchange service and decided to take the leap. Rajesh and I packed up, moved to a small flat in Brighton and started the RationalFX journey with as little as one phone, one computer and £20,000 (a small ‘car loan’ Rajesh had taken out).
First of all, we identified a key customer base – the overseas property market – which provided excellent potential for growth. With this in mind, we then chose to target overseas estate agents, who recommended us to clients in return for a small fee.
One of RationalFX’s key values is innovation – we don’t want to simply move with the times, we want to be the change makers. Fintech is shaping the future of the financial services industry and we are delighted to be a part of it.
Another value is our people.
What were some of the complexities that you faced when setting up the company?
We founded RationalFX not long before the 2008 financial crisis, when many organisations failed due to the recession. We were becoming successful in the three years leading up to the crash and when it hit, everything slowed down. In the financial services industry in particular, recessions make a monumental difference.
Thankfully for us, the financial crisis did not hit us too badly – in fact, it presented a real learning curve for Rajesh and I as founders. I, in particular, learnt to be more responsible with money, as we can never fully predict when a crisis will hit, or even how much it will cost.
You founded Xendpay as an independent company in August 2012 – what is the history behind starting the business?
Xendpay came from an idea Rajesh and I had resulting from friends’ complaints over the costs of sending money back home to India. We did some research into the fees money transfer companies charge and were astounded by the additional amounts they requested. In response to this our friends’ worries, we decided to try and solve the money transfer issue for good, creating the world’s first free money transfer service, Xendpay.
What motivates you about working within the Fntech field? How challenging would you say is to provide online exchange and money transfer services?
The Fintech industry is extremely fast-paced – innovation is key to the survival of the sector and this creates an exciting environment to be a part of. It makes me proud to be able to give customers more choice as opposed to just the traditional banks on offer. Since the financial crisis, customer trust for these institutions faltered greatly and they need to know that there are more options available to them.
What is the achievement from the past twelve months that you are most proud of?
We have managed to grow and compete in a very competitive market whilst remaining privately owned. Last year we grew at close to 70% and we have continued to reinvest in technology to further bring down the cost of money transfer. But I would have to say that the biggest achievement has to be being able to pass on that value to our clients via our online platforms. Whilst our competitors have continued to burn extortionate amounts of money in marketing, we have been busy giving that back to our clients using our ‘pay what you want’ model.
How is Brexit going to impact the Fintech sector in the UK, and in particular, your businesses?
With the recent PMI data indicating positive gains across the UK industries, the economy as a whole does not look as if it is going to struggle as much as expected in response to Brexit. With the capital of the UK holding first position for Fintech globally, this was also in danger post-Brexit. It is much too early to tell however, as talks regarding passporting rights for financial services are yet to be finalised. At present, the Fintech sector remains strong - there is every possibility that London will remain the Fintech capital for the foreseeable future.
Your business partner Rajesh Agrawal was recently appointed deputy mayor of London for business – how is his appointment affecting Rational FX and Xendpay?
Rajesh is now the non-Executive Chairman of our group. Whilst we feel very proud that he is doing such a great job for London businesses, he also has his hand full and is extremely busy in his new role… I am lucky that he has been such a great mentor to me over the years and I am able to apply that knowledge as CEO.
What would be your top three tips for young entrepreneurs willing to ‘go the extra mile’?
Perseverance is crucial to being an entrepreneur. Life is challenging, and starting your own business is equally so – if you believe in what you’re offering, stick with it and others are sure to believe in it too.
Another tip, in the same vein, is to be brave and take risks. We took some gambles when RationalFX was starting out – we had no money and no salary for the first few years – but it eventually all paid off. When a good opportunity comes your way, grab it with both hands. Don’t worry about being perfectly prepared because you’ll learn a lot along the way.
Finally and most importantly - never give up. Stick to your values and you can’t go wrong – this isn’t to mean you won’t fail, but it’s worth a try if you’re fighting for something you really want!
This article was written on September 11th 2016. It has now been 15 years since the attacks of September 11, 2001, but the memory of this day will never be forgotten by billions of people across the globe.
The 9/11 events were a vivid example of the fact that without financing, terrorism is impossible. After the tragic events from that day, a number of countries, and especially the US (with CIA and FBI on board) began developing procedures and mechanisms that will help them find grey or black financing, in an attempt to stop new threats in the world. Supported by the American Patriot Act, these services were made possible, on two governmental levels - forensic audit was developed within national authorities and on courts level. This is when the word “forensic” in auditing and accounting terminology was born. The word ‘forensic’ has an ancient history and originated from the tribunes of Rome where Cesare brought criminals to the public Forum for them to get justice. US authorities were making good progress, however not every country was as when it came to developing the discipline. The first professional group that was interested in forensic accounting and auditing was the Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
Initially, Belgium was not a leader in the field, as for a long time CPA believed that it was not their responsibility to investigate fraud. There was only a number of frauds that were meant to be communicated to the management team, the shareholders and only in certain cases, to the official authorities. CPA was not expected to play the role of a detective in Belgium and conduct any investigations in companies and organisations.
Meanwhile, many enterprises realised that 75% of all fraudulent activities were committed by internal people. It was discovered that a simple solution to these problems could be conducting a forensic audit and appointing a forensic auditor who, in cooperation with other employees in the company, will establish a procedure aimed at avoiding fraudulent activities internally. The shareholders in a company have certain expectations from CPA which means that there’s a lot of pressure on the forensic auditor when it comes to meeting these expectations. Naturally, fraudulent activities are complex; not only from a professional point of view, but in certain cases, from a legal perspective too. It would be unachievable for CPA to systematically control every transaction and it would be unachievable for the forensic auditor to read every email exchanged between employees of the company, for example, as this would be considered as an invasion of their private sphere. Forensic auditing and accounting is based on fraudulent activities or suspicions of that kind.
What is understood under “Fraud”? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain”. Fraud is therefore a business risk. So what are Forensic accountancy and audit related to?
Let’s turn our attention to External Audit, Internal audit, criminal audit and compliance audit. External audit is organised by an official body who needs to certify the correctness of financial statements of a company. The CPA’s main activities are to organise external audits. Internal audit is done by the company’s department, based on instructions by the management team and often, by the audit committee. Not every company is large enough to have its own internal auditor or internal audit team, so this could also be organised by a certified association (external) or a member of the finance department, preferably by a controller (internal). The internal auditing communicates via the audit committee with the CPA. Two important Institutes that are committed to this job are the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) and the European Confederation of Internal Auditing (ECIIA). Without the active involvement of the internal audit process, it is difficult to see how the Board of Directors, or equivalent body, can gather sufficient objective information to carry out its stewardship function, be aware of the risks of fraud or report effectively on internal control”. Criminal audit is using the methodologies and techniques from financial auditing that are adapted for fighting against organised crime. This technical domain is inspired by criminal law. During a compliance audit, the auditor investigates if the organisation is compliant with all applied laws and regulations.
Furthermore, non-financial issues can also influence the profitability of the company. Therefore, fraud in relation to non-financial issues is also part of the Forensic audit spectrum. Subjects as Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Governance, Risk Management and respect of Ethical Codes are the fundamentals of non-financial issues. A better reputation of the organisation is more trustworthy to the public and it increases profit, while also helping create better management of the company risks and opportunities.
Sustainable business was an issue that Belgian enterprises have been communicating to the public, while promising higher profits, better image, better relationship to quality management, better motivation of its personnel, competitive advantage etc. Fraud is seen like a dark cloud over an organisations, so it is vital that key employees are monitored regularly to avoid potential risks and the management team of each company needs to have a procedure for updating the monitoring processes. Specific attention should be given to promotion, evaluation and bonus systems and employees who could easily access financial data to obtain their bonus targets.
Every company’s management team needs to have a crisis plan when it comes to fraudulent activities which could potentially help limit the consequences of the fraud. Each sector has its own weaknesses, so fraud must be focussed on the activity of the company in the micro chain. The areas on which managers need to focus are numerous - insurance fraud, telecom fraud, computer fraud, credit card fraud, tax fraud.
‘The Fraud triangle’ is a framework often mentioned in literature, which is designed to explain the reasoning behind a worker’s decision to commit workplace fraud. The three stages that it includes are the pressure on the individual, the opportunity to commit fraud and the ability to rationalise the crime.
An increased focus is placed on training experts in forensic accountancy in several academic and professional institutions in Belgium. The Antwerp Management School has their own post-graduate programme in Forensic Auditing and the Institute of Forensic Auditors offers a programme for registered forensic auditors.
The following examples of conditions or events which increase the risk of fraud or error (see ISA 240 “Fraud and Error” and IFAC) could be helpful when identifying potential fraud or intentional misstatement:
Fraudulent activities are situated in the smaller details of activities. A good knowledge of possible risks in relation to operations within the company is an absolute must-have, in order to discover all activities that can potentially lead to fraud.
Now let’s turn our attention to an actual example of a Belgian company where fraud was identified during monitoring the sales and treasury process that led to material misstatement. It was the case of a company distributing bouquets of fresh flowers to supermarkets where the purchase manager’s task is to explore options for produce in Europe and mainly in the Netherlands. The plants that the company is interested in buying are typically coming from small firms and family businesses which makes it easy to build a relationship with the owner. During the first year, the purchase manager’s work resulted in a high turnover, even though for the distributor, this represented a small percentage of the company’s purchase portfolio. Consequently, the company developed a dependency on these companies and their produce. After a certain period of time, the purchase manager started negotiating prices with one of the owners that he was purchasing plants from, who realised that now his turnover is very dependent on this client. He realised that thigh prices could harm the business and agreed to lower the prices with 10%. The purchase manager decided to split up these 10% into 6% that will go to the distributor and 4% to be paid to his offshore company. The distributor was satisfied with the fact that the purchase manager has managed to negotiate and lower the prices, without asking further questions. The sales manager then decided to reward the purchase managers of the supermarkets (by offering them restaurant vouchers, etc.) in order to obtain inside information from him so that he is aware of competitors prices and so on. As the distributor was making a lot of profits, the purchase manager introduced a system of offshore commissions to be paid in order to lower the taxes that he pays. As the purchase manager had his commission in his offshore company, started paying private local expenses with his offshore company’s credit card, which is an easy way to launder your money. The owner of the distributing company applied for a back-to-back loan with the bank in order to use the laundered money for legal business. That way, the distributor pays interest to the bank, which pays interest to the offshore company. And finally, the flowers that haven’t been sold were coming back to the distributor who was meant to get rid of the flowers, which in fact were sold to small shops’ owners who paid in cash.
This example highlights that different fraudulent activities were performed by a number of individuals working for the company.
In the case of the slightest doubts, the forensic auditor is the right man to assist. Fraud is a complex phenomenon and CFA’s guidance would be vital in clarifying the monitoring processes, identifying possible risks and opportunities for fraud, installing detecting mechanisms and looking for problem-solving solutions.
European Family Businesses (EFB) and KPMG Enterprise has launched the 5th edition of the European Family Business Barometer, which seeks to measure the confidence levels of family-owned businesses across Europe.
Family businesses prove once again to be successful and resilient. This important market (Europe has approximately 14 million family owned companies, providing over 60 million jobs in the private sector, Source: European Family Businesses) continues to demonstrate a high level of confidence and sustainable growth: 54% of surveyed family businesses report an increase in turnover in the previous year; 83% expect further growth in the coming year. However, disparities between companies of different sizes are obvious: among large companies, 74% have increased sales against 57% among mid-sized companies, and 47% among small companies*.
Although family businesses are optimistic, there are still major challenges inhibiting their growth. The biggest concerns this year related to attracting and retaining talent and political uncertainties, both cited by 37% of respondents. The ‘war for talent’ has been steadily rising for the last 3 years (in 2013 it was not even among the top five), now reaching first place. A warning sign as difficulty to compete for the best talent places pressure on family businesses and may impede their further growth.
Family businesses remain clear as to what drives their success: people and innovation. The rising importance of these two success factors is reflected in their high rankings in the list of priorities, as well as in sufficient investment allocations. Among 73% of respondents including investments in their strategy, 52% plan to invest in new technology and 47% on new hires and training, second and third investment priorities respectively. The biggest spending remains on core business.
Family businesses are planning for the future and place growth high on the agenda. Regardless of the chosen strategy – growing sales, tapping into new markets, or preparing to transfer the reins of the business – business owners are taking steps to further professionalise their companies’. They are formalizing governance structures (88% of respondents have already formal governance mechanisms in place), involving the next generation members in the company’s management (49%), and, when necessary, bringing in outside knowledge and expertise (79% of family businesses currently have non-family executives).
Overall, the Barometer indicates that despite the sluggish economic growth and recent nervousness within the European market, the family business community remains confident and optimistic about their outlook for the future.
‘As we have become accustomed to, family businesses in times of political turmoil and uncertainty are the stabilising factor to our shared economies. Family businesses are doing their bit to create more growth and jobs. Our European leaders must do theirs by ensuring that family companies have the right framework conditions to prosper. Collectively, we must ensure that Europe remains competitive and the best place to invest and grow.’
“It is very encouraging to see that in spite of the recent upheavals in the European market, family businesses feel confident and optimistic about their future prospects and demonstrate positive performance. Family business owners seem to have found their keys to success; they actively rely on the traditional structures and cultural strengths and are taking steps to boost their companies’ professionalization. Nevertheless, survey respondents expressed clear concerns about the intensifying ‘war for talent’, as their inability to compete for the best talent may hinder their further growth.”
*Large companies are defined as those with turnover of over €50m, mid-sized companies –with turnover €10m-€50m, small companies - with turnover of less than €10m (EU definition)
About the Barometer
The European Family Business Barometer is based on the responses of an online survey from 959 questionnaires which were received from family businesses across 23 European countries from 1st May to 30th June 2016.
About European Family Businesses (EFB)
European Family Businesses (EFB) is the federation of national associations representing long-term family owned enterprises, including small, medium-sized and larger companies. EFB represents 1 trillion euros in aggregated turnover, which is 9 per cent of European GDP. EFB’s mission is to press for policies that recognise the fundamental contribution of family businesses in Europe’s economy and create a level playing field when compared to other types of companies.
Passion, it’s what drives entrepreneurs, family businesses and fast-growing companies alike. It’s also what inspires KPMG Enterprise advisers to help you drive success. You know KPMG, you might not know KPMG Enterprise. KPMG Enterprise advisers in member firms around the world are dedicated to working with businesses like yours. Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to get started, an innovative, fast-growing company, or an established company looking to an exit, KPMG Enterprise advisers understand what is important to you and can help you navigate your challenges – no matter the size or stage of your business. You gain access to KPMG’s global resources through a single point of contact – a trusted adviser to your company. It’s a local touch with a global reach.
From the boardroom to the kitchen table, KPMG Family Business advisers share practical advice and experienced guidance to help you succeed. To support the unique needs of family businesses, KPMG Enterprise manages a global network dedicated to offering relevant information and advice to family-owned companies. We understand that the nature of a family business is inherently different from a non-family business and requires an approach that considers the family component.
KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing Audit, Tax and Advisory services. We operate in 155 countries and have more than 174,000 people working in member firms around the world. The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative (“KPMG International”), a Swiss entity. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such.
By Paul Davies, head of business diversification, Audatex UK
You don’t have to look very far to see that autonomous vehicles are driving the technology news agenda. Pardon the pun, but it’s true. From Tesla to Google, Apple to Uber – there’s been an explosion of interest in the automotive industry, with big players from different sectors trying to muscle in on the act. Last year, there were 1.5 million cars sold in the UK already equipped with the necessary technology to be autonomous. Research suggests that by 2025, 25 per cent of the UK’s cars will be autonomous, a number that will increase to 50 per cent by 2040.
Furthermore, a little known fact is that the UK is one of the few European countries that decided not to sign the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic in 1968, which states drivers must be in control of their cars at all times. This convenient gap in regulations has left the door wide open for the UK to lead the way when it comes to autonomous test drives, which are already taking place all over the country. There is no doubt about it: Driverless cars are going to shape the world’s automotive landscape over the next few years, something that will undoubtedly have a massive impact on the insurance industry.
At a recent insurance industry event we hosted, one of the speakers - Paolo Cuomo of Charles Taylor/InsTechLondon - described the moment his 10-year-old daughter explained that neither she, nor her little brother need to learn how to drive. Her reasoning was that driverless cars will soon be able to take them everywhere they need to go - like a driverless (and thus relatively cheap) taxi service. I remember starting lessons as a teen, feeling overwhelmed by the sense of power and responsibility I felt sat behind the wheel. Getting my license required hours of revision and practice, to make sure I possessed the reaction skills, awareness and attention to detail needed to safely navigate a car on the road.
As driverless cars become the norm, younger generations may develop this perception that autonomous vehicles are safe. If that is the case, people may shy away from learning to drive all together – instead relying on technological developments in driverless vehicles, and opening up the idea that cars will soon become ‘chauffeurs’. Given that autonomous vehicles are still far from fail safe when it comes to accident avoidance, the industry does have a bit of time to work out how best to address that changing environment.
What will car insurance in the future look like?
As an insurer, what would you do if someone came to you and asked for an insurance policy when they have a fully autonomous car, have a licence, but have never owned a manual operated car before? How do you calculate what their premiums should be? They might assume that having a driverless car would automatically reduce their premiums to a minimum, but how would that change if they had previously owned a manual car before? Research shows that young drivers (16-19 years old) are a third more likely to die in a crash than 40-49 year olds. Because of this additional risk factor, young drivers find their excitement at passing and getting their first car comes screeching to a halt when they see how much insurance will cost them. Do industry statistics like that count, or individuals driving experience count when it comes to insurance premiums and their choice of car in the future? These are the kinds of questions we need to answer as an industry.
If driverless cars take off, we should also be asking ourselves what exactly we are insuring. In the event of a crash, it’s difficult to pinpoint where fault lies - whether it’s the car manufacturer, the software provider, or the passenger?
This question of ‘Who?’ will actually need to be opened up to a much broader field – one that goes beyond purely the automotive insurance industry. With the Internet of Things (IoT) getting bigger and more diverse, it’s only a matter of time before we see a blending of the home environment and the car. Just like how life insurance premiums differ depending on your lifestyle, I can already see the day where insurers will move from insuring possessions to insuring people and the ‘things’ they interact with. And all insurance they take out - whether home, phone, travel, pet or car - will depend on the person and their lifestyle.
This is great news for the consumer, as it flips the current system on its head. No longer will they need to look on countless comparison sites to find the best deal, but rather insurers may end up competing for their business. For example, if they exercise three times a week, drive safely, leave all their valuables indoors with a premium smart security system and only spend holidays in Iceland (the safest country in the world), then they are a safe bet for insurers and at the top of their wish-list. If customers can provide the data proving they have a ‘virtuous’ lifestyle, then this power shift will be an interesting one to watch unfold.
As discussions around driverless cars become more frequent among insurers, these are just a few of the topics that will be at the forefront of their minds. From assessing legal implications, to thinking about the apportioning of blame - the questions are endless. It is up to the insurance industry as a whole to come together, ask these questions, discuss them at length and come to ethical, logical conclusions. It’s not just up to us - consumers will no doubt have a loud voice when it comes to how they interact – and we all need to make sure we listen.
By Kevin McAdam, prepaid director at allpay Limited
For nearly twenty years the EU has successfully launched initiatives aimed at integrating EU financial markets. It has facilitated the removal of legal barriers which hindered cross-border financial services activity across Europe. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) regards the EU as a springboard for trade with the rest of the world through its global reputation, accounting for 23% of the global economy in 2012 and granting British firms accessibility to a $24 trillion market.
Undoubtedly, Britain’s role within the EU offered a sense of financial stability, with ‘Vote Remain’ utilizing public trust in the union’s economic decisions and cross-nation partnerships to drive its campaign. But now the future is uncertain. The Brexit vote has understandably raised concerns over its implications on the UK payments market. In response, the Emerging Payments Association (EPA), under the leadership project, has established a global trade initiative, which I am proud to be leading.
The EPA Trade Initiative aims to highlight the strength of the UK payments market to the rest of the world, keeping its reputation for leading edge products and solutions, which has made the UK the hot bed for payments innovation, intact. There are three key work streams which will drive the strategic objective for the EPA. The first is awareness and education, as we plan to position the EPA membership as the focal point of the Payments Industry with global operators beyond the Euro zone. We will be creating a program of local and national events, as well as implementing a strong marketing and communications plan. Through these methods we will offer expertise, innovation and education from product to regulation. This platform of knowledge sharing will facilitate better communication and realisation of business opportunities.
We will also be actively networking and cross-border working with industry associations and public bodies to establish relationships, with the aim of entering into a working partnership framework. Such partnerships will further support the payments industry cross border. Our third work stream will identify commercial and technology exporting opportunities for emerging markets outside the Euro zone. Our key objective is to open up trade corridors between the UK payments industry and emerging markets, initially LatAm and Asia Pacific. The initial phase will target Mexico, Serbia and China specifically. Fundamentally, this initiative will serve as a dynamic platform for continued global interaction for EPA and the membership.
We are already proactively reaching out to countries, pitching the UK as the global hub for payments innovation and reinforcing the idea that trade can remain strong post Brexit. We want to highlight how the EPA can help these countries moving forward, and that the Trade Initiative will create new, and strengthen existing, global relationships within the payments industry.
Dialogue has started with financial institutions within Serbia under the EPA banner and we have also had interest from the Hong Kong Development Corporation on how the EPA can support, advise and trade within Hong Kong to meet their desire to become a centre for FINTEC. Once again this is also working with UK trade associations.
The EPA board and its members will this month be joining 20 other country representatives in China. The trip, called China Start, involves visiting China’s leading business school and incubator network, learning about best practice for business in China and pitching our services to companies there. A new company called ZymPay and a leading Bloomberg analyst of the Chinese tech scene will also be in attendance. EPA members will have opportunity to sit at the top table, win business opportunities and secure funding for their PayTech ventures. allpay has already had some success in this market, having entered into a trade relationship with Lakala Group, one of the largest internet financial services groups in China. A key aim of this partnership is to build communication, co-operation and trust between the UK and China internet industries.
In all, networking with other countries has so far proved promising. In June 2016 we hosted a delegation of five from Mexico, looking at world class e-money regulations, technology and business models. In August 2016, three government officials met with a line-up of EPA members. This initiative has been fully supported by the UKTI and British Embassy. Those from Mexico are seeking companies to help pilot and roll-out a mobile and prepaid card programme for benefits distribution to seven million Mexican people. This was not exclusive to myself and the senior team at EPA, but any financial industry figures and EPA members.
Be assured that, post Brexit, steps are being taken to ensure that the UK payments industry and its reputation continues to flourish. Partnerships are forming, while existing trade relationships are being strengthened and maintained. One of the UK’s greatest assets is that it has always demonstrated a desire to explore, innovate and collaborate with the rest of the world. The EPA membership will use its wealth of knowledge and expertise to continue in this spirit, developing and supporting initiatives across the globe.
Emerging Payments Association (EPA)
The EPA is a community comprising the UK’s most progressive and collaborative payments companies. The EPA helps them influence the payments landscape and collaborate with those operating in it, whether they are buyers, sellers or partners. Operating since 2004, the EPA now has over 100 member companies, has the support of UK government agencies, and regularly communicates with regulatory bodies to help advance payments innovation. The EPA is led by an independent Advisory Board and has the support of Benefactors such as MasterCard, The Bancorp, Just Loans Group and SVS.
By Andrew Hicks, CFO at Advanced
In our recent white paper, ‘The Connected CFO – a company’s secret silver bullet?’, we looked at how technology is changing the role of the CFO, freeing them from time-consuming, administrative day-to-day tasks and giving them the opportunity to drive digital transformation.
From my own experience of being a CFO at a number of different organisations, I can safely say that the role of has certainly evolved and taken on new dimensions in recent years, requiring new skills and capabilities.
However, the reality is that for the majority of businesses, the digital transformation journey is just beginning. The savvy CFO can therefore seize this opportunity to drive real change and be seen as a leader. Businesses are crying out for that connected, end-to-end view of data across departments, and CFOs are in the ideal position to deliver this.
So, what do you need to do in order to capitalise on this and become a ‘connected CFO’?
Traditionally, CFOs and their finance teams have been too bogged down by manual day-to-day tasks to spend time on higher-level, strategic activities. However, modern software solutions can automate many of the manual, paper-based processes that finance teams typically carry out, enabling organisations to become more efficient and streamlined.
Technology is also improving compliance, something that is increasing in importance as regulations multiply, as well as connecting different systems to enhance access to realtime, accurate information.
As the organisation’s budget controllers, the finance team can use this technology to make decisions that improve processes, drive efficiencies and reduce costs. So as the remit of the CFO widens and becomes more tactical, they need to ensure that their own team is operating as efficiently as possible so that they are well equipped to embrace this new way of working.
If CFOs want to lead business change, they need more than just financial expertise. Technical skills will be core to the role in the coming years, as technology and finance become more closely intertwined and tasks that have traditionally sat with IT or administration teams, such as analysing big sets of data and information, fall into the realm of the CFO.
With the pace of technological change, it is essential for the CFO to understand as much as possible about digital services and the power of a connected IT infrastructure. A recent survey by CFO Research found that 93% of senior finance executives in the US believe that the CFO of the future will need a much stronger technology skill set than at present.
64% of respondents said they had taken action to upgrade their skills in the past year, while 80% said they planned to do so, showing that the vast majority recognise the importance of technology to their role. Are your IT skills up to scratch?
CFOs are increasingly being called upon to be the digital pioneers. With the pace of technological change, it is essential for the CFO to understand as much as possible about digital services and the power of a connected IT infrastructure; certainly, if this happens, the better positioned he or she will then be to utilise innovation and new technology to drive business value. In today’s organisation, technology and finance are no longer separate. Finance departments are required to be more than just cost centres with control of a budget. With access to greater business insights, digital transformation is turning the CFO and his team into business enablers, using technologies to make decisions that improve processes, create efficiencies and reduce costs, allowing the business to remain ahead of the competition and be prepared for the future.
New technology is creating huge volumes of data across business departments that can be difficult to manage and make sense of. At the same time, as the availability of data increases, businesses and investors are becoming hungrier for information.
Although no longer stored in spreadsheets, in many organisations data is still effectively held in digital silos within each department. However, technology infrastructure innovations are helping to overcome this for forward-thinking organisations. Systems can now be integrated effectively, and cloud-based solutions are also helping to connect the various solutions required by each department. Business intelligence analytics and dashboards are helping to visualise this data and increase the availability of such information.
As people who are used to dealing with numbers and data, CFOs, sitting at the intersection between financial and operational information, are ideally placed to lead the management of this data which supports more informed management decisions and provides stakeholders with the information and insight that they are demanding.
In order to rise to this challenge, CFOs must embrace analytics technology which helps to visualise this data, interpret it and turn it into meaningful insights that can be used for forecasting, trend predictions and growth strategies to inform business decisions.
The role of the CFO has historically been quite an isolated one, but with so much data at their fingertips, the CFO actually sits in a sweet spot of financial and operational information. They are therefore ideally placed to connect and integrate this data across different departments and systems, so that there is a single version of the truth, and effectively act upon this information. By doing so, they can not only elevate their own position on the board, but help to create a more collaborative, informed C-suite and consequently a more connected business.
With technology and big data playing an increasingly prominent role in the CFO’s day-to-day job, by taking the above steps to become more connected, the CFO will obtain the opportunity to elevate their own position from working in the business, to operating more strategically on the business as key strategic advisor and enabler of business change.
Biomass specialist, re:heat, has joined forces with leading law firms Ward Hadaway and Harper Macleod LLP and the Energy Saving Trust, to host a series of technical seminars throughout the North and Scotland to advise operators and owners of biomass district heating schemes on the government’s new Heat Network Regulations.
Neil Harrison, re:heat director and vice chair of the Wood Heat Association, explains: “The new Heat Network Regulations, which come into full force from December 2016, have significant implications for owners and operators of district heating schemes of all sizes.
“The uptake of district heating using biomass boilers has been significant under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), with many hundreds of new schemes installed across the UK since the scheme was introduced in 2011.
“Many installers and scheme owners have implemented biomass district heating projects without fully understanding the new legislative environment in which they will operate. There is also mounting concern and evidence that many schemes are not operating as efficiently as they could.
“This is why we have developed our technical seminar series in partnership with two leading law firms in Scotland and the North of England. We aim to bring owners and operators up to speed to prevent them from falling foul of the new legislation. For example, the new legal requirements state that all heat customers must have a heat meter fitted and owners must meet other obligations or face enforcement action.
“The seminar series is part of our ongoing efforts to drive up quality standards in the biomass sector, and have been developed for the benefit of biomass district heating scheme owners. We want to provide expert guidance to help operators navigate regulation changes, maximise the operating efficiency of underperforming systems and increase their RHI income.”
The seminars are intended for anyone who owns or is developing a biomass district heating scheme or who provides heat to a number of end users in a property - particularly in the rural, forestry or agricultural sectors. Housing associations and local authorities will also benefit.
Experts from North law firm Ward Hadaway’s Company and Commercial Team and Scottish law firm Harper Macleod LLP will advise attendees on how to comply with the new regime.
Steven Roper, associate at Ward Hadaway, said: “The Heat Network Regulations impose a series of important obligations on anyone who provides a communal heating or cooling system to customers or tenants. As such, they apply to a wide range of organisations from energy providers to housing associations and local authorities.
"However, our experience indicates that most providers are unaware of the burdens imposed by these regulations, and many may well be in breach as a result.The potential penalties from not complying with the new regime are serious, so this is something which people cannot afford to ignore.
"This is why we are delighted to be offering our expertise in these areas to support re:heat in helping providers and land owners better understand and comply with their obligations."
Scottish Land & Estates, the new voice of land-based businesses in rural Scotland will also be in attendance.
Sarah-Jane Laing, director of policy and parliamentary affairs at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Our members have been at the forefront of the biomass sector and many have used biomass to heat cottages and other buildings via a district heating system. This has enabled them to address energy efficiency and fuel cost issues which exist in rural properties.
“We are always looking for ways in which to help members improve the way in which they do things, and these seminars provide an excellent opportunity for both those who already have biomass heating networks and those contemplating installation.”
The Energy Saving Trust is another supporter of the seminar series with representatives speaking at selected venues in Scotland on the funding opportunities available for district heating projects.
As well as getting the legal low-down, attendees will also hear from re:heat engineering experts on how to optimise district heating scheme outputs through improved controls, metering and measuring to increase RHI income and reduce wood fuel costs.
They will also receive an update on national biomass policy, the future of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme and the biomass sector in general. The seminars also provide an opportunity for guests to network with other owners of biomass district heating schemes in their area.
To book a place or find out more about Biomass District Heating and the Heat Network Regulations seminar series, please contact Penny Stewart at re:heat by emailing: email@example.com or telephone: 01665 665 040. Details are also available online at www.reheat.uk.com/heatnetworks.
Seminar dates & venues:
Tuesday 27th September 2016** Ayrshire - Craufurdland Castle
Tuesday 11th October 2016 Aberdeenshire - Inverurie, Thainstone Centre
Tuesday 25th October 2016** Perthshire - Battleby, Battleby Centre
Tuesday 8th November 2016 Cumbria - Penrith, The Rheged Centre
Tuesday 15th November 2016 North Yorkshire - Moulton, The Black Bull
Tuesday 22nd November 2016 Scottish Borders - Carfraemill, Carfraemill Hotel
Tuesday 6th December 2016 Northumberland - Morpeth, Cockle Park
*Each seminar starts at 9.45am and ends with lunch and networking.
** On these dates, the Energy Saving Trust will also be speaking on district heating project funding opportunities.
Harworth Estates has welcomed its latest new tenant onto Lynefields Park – the site of the former Alcan smelter in Northumberland.
Former Durham and Kent cricketer Ben Harmison has taken a five year lease on a 3,200 sq ft unit and open storage land at the entrance to the site to develop his Harmison Personal Training business.
“The space and equipment at Lynefields Park make this an ideal location to establish Harmison Personal Training,” said Ben.
“As well as gym membership we’re also providing boot camps and bespoke training and conditioning courses seven days a week. As site owner, Harworth Estates has been great to deal with and now that we’re up and running I’m looking forward to growing the business and creating jobs in a community I’ve always considered home.”
In setting up at Lynefields Park, Ben follows other tenants including precast concrete flooring specialist Lynx Precast, which currently employs 30 people and H-Mix, which recently invested £400,000 in building a new production facility on the 320 acre site. C&J Marine, which is involved with caravan disposal and storage and construction firm Sisk are also existing occupiers.
And Paul Scott, a former Rio Tinto Alcan employee, who has returned to the site to set up a business recycling wooden pallets, has recently hired his first apprentice.
Harworth Estates, specialists in the regeneration of industrial land, completed the controlled demolition of eight chimneys at the site in June as it prepares to bring forward its redevelopment plans with local residents and other interested parties at public consultation events later this year.
Eddie Peat, Director at Harworth Estates, said: “Demolition of the former chimneys and the subsequent clean-up of the site was an important milestone in the redevelopment of Lynefields Park. We’ve continued to work hard to promote the site’s existing units to commercial units via our agents at Cushman & Wakefield and HTA and we plan to share our draft masterplan later this year with the public.
“In the meantime, we wish Ben Harmison and our other existing tenants every success as they grow their businesses and create new employment opportunities for local people.”
North East based automotive cleantech firm AVID Technology has secured a key position in a three year collaborative programme to develop more efficient vehicle powertrains with global OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Caterpillar.
In a project co-funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, Caterpillar UK Engines Company Ltd, AVID Technology Ltd, Denso Marston and Imperial College London will collaborate to develop a highly efficient hybrid powertrain for heavy-duty on- and off-highway vehicles. The powertrain will utilise AVID’s advanced electrification technology for the engine’s ancillary devices to reduce the parasitic loads on the engine. Ancillary devices will be powered using waste heat energy that will be recovered from the exhaust.
The system is expected to deliver significant fuel consumption reductions over real-world operating conditions. This £5.2M, three year project encompasses software, hardware and control system design and development and will culminate with an on-engine demonstration using a Caterpillar-built Tier 4Final-compliant diesel engine.
This development reinforces AVID’s rapidly growing position as a world leader in the electrification of ancillary systems in heavy duty and high performance vehicles, an area which it has pioneered as a cost effective solution to improve drive train efficiency and emissions.
AVID’s managing director, Ryan Maughan, said: “To secure a program like this with a major name such as Caterpillar is huge for AVID. This has allowed us to push forwards with significant investments in new facilities and personnel to support the growth of the business and will provide a platform for further growth over the coming years.”
By Rick Gustafson, Chief Financial Officer of ServiceMax
How the ability to measure field service is turning it from cost overhead to profit centre
Renowned MIT professor and serial inventor Alan Kay once said, “Context is worth 80 IQ points.”
These famous words are particularly relevant for CFOs today, especially if his or her organisation carries out any sort of service, repair or maintenance. That’s because the emergence of the Internet of Things, improvements in mobile internet and devices have meant that field service departments - traditionally an overhead cost to any business - are now being turned on their heads and actually generating significant revenue.
It’s shifting the goalposts and stirring up the very essence of how a business is run.
Service, it seems, is the new black.
Or let me put it another way: when was the last time a field service engineer helped your company make its revenue quota? It’s not as strange as it sounds. New research is predicting that the tail will soon wag the dog as field service is expected to become a primary revenue driver within the next two years.
Your field service reps are usually the only human touch point customers have with your company, coming into contact with them multiple times in the lifecycle of the product. They can discover patterns and timing of demand for replacement of products, drive consumable sales and add to your competitive knowledge database.
The key here is having the ability to deploy made-to-measure services, a bespoke approach that can ensure businesses not only meet the specific needs of customers but can also use those relationships to gather intelligence and act upon it.
Upselling and feeding product performance and recommendations to research and development are just two advantages of the new breed of service professional with increased visibility on the frontline. Throw in the ability to order parts on-site (therefore reducing order errors and support times) and anyone can start to see how technology is enabling more immediacy in services. Reducing waiting times and improving ordering accuracy and delivery means not just happy customers but reduced service times and administration.
The cost benefits will vary from business to business, of course, but imagine having an overall view, a sort of general’s map of the business that provides metrics for CFOs on the performance and profitability of service teams?
It’s the sort of command and control centre that would enable any CFO to see where money can be saved but also made. A field service dashboard gives CFOs visibility into what has previously been a blind cost centre. You can drill down to see service engineer utilisation, who is the most productive, who always orders parts on ‘overnight express’ even when it’s not urgent, which maintenance contracts are costing you money rather than generating it. You can also see context for stock parts, areas of revenue leakage and information on contract renewals.
Now imagine comparing your company’s service performance with the industry standard and identifying areas of under or over optimisation. It is this level of visibility and intelligence that is exciting both field service and IT decision makers alike.
A recent report revealed that improving customer service (45%) is a priority area for investment in all organisations. For IT decision makers, field services (24%), although it falls below the popular categories of security (68%), big data (44%) and analytics (35%) is still regarded highly. Nearly one-third (30%) of respondents to the survey said they risk losing customers if they do not place enough value on field services, and nearly half (46%) feel they risk falling behind competitors. .
And 86% surveyed said they expect field service to become a primary revenue driver by 2018. It’s a clear indication of how field service is valued and certainly how perceptions within the relevant departments have changed. There is a concern though with under investment and a lack of understanding of the shift in field service capability at board level. According to Callum Budd, Project Manager at Vanson Bourne, which conducted the study, many board level execs have yet to grasp the potential.
“Although service leaders and IT management understand the ability of field service management tools to positively impact profitability, supply chain, upselling, cross selling and warranty leakages, senior executives and board level management have yet to make the link,” he says. “It’s a classic case of having your cake and not eating it by failing to capitalise on the un-activated potential of your field service organisation.”
Of course boards have many priorities in making a business profitable and successful. And field service has probably never been in the mix until now. However, its clear shift to being a profit centre should elevate its status.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to field service given the varying nature of businesses and product types. But what is evident is that across the board field service can benefit from a bespoke approach based on customer intelligence and performance and cost transparency.
For CFOs this is probably new territory but like a new tailored suit it won’t just make you and the balance sheet look good, it can feel immediately comfortable and leave you wondering why doesn’t everyone do it.
New research has found that 85% of people don’t understand what a pension is – leaving them vulnerable to financial hardships when they retire.
Pensions advice specialist, Portafina, conducted the research to find out the extent of knowledge and understanding of pensions across the UK, and discover just how financially prepared we really are for retirement.
A staggering 47% of people say they have not given retirement much thought, and 40% admitted that they find pensions and pension-related terminology too confusing. Worryingly, over one in ten (12%) admitted they don’t have a pension set up at all, with those aged 46 to 51 (18%) least likely to have one.
Nearly 80% of those surveyed were unable to figure out if their pension was on track to provide a sufficient income when they retire. The data revealed a strong link between a lack of confidence about pension terminology and an underestimation of the pension pot needed to provide a living wage.
The study also found a gender and age split between pension preparation, with only 7% of women on track to have sufficient savings upon retirement (versus 21% of men), and 18% of people aged 46-51 still without a pension (versus 9% of those aged 30-35).
Lesley Hopkins, 51 from Leeds said, “When I was in my twenties, private pensions weren't really talked about that much. They were something that you might have in place if you worked for a big company, or you were a teacher, doctor etc. I didn't really think about it - my priority was getting on the property ladder. It's only in the last 10 years that I started paying into a pension because a friend urged me to get something sorted. I know I probably won't have enough saved, but I'll deal with it when I have to.”
Peter Richardson, 24 from Sunderland said, “I've always known that I've needed a pension as my parents have told me to ensure that I set one up when I am in full time employment. I know my work match my salary contribution but to be honest I have no idea what that means. I only put in 2% of my salary - I have loads of time to save for my pension. I'd prefer to save for a house first before worrying about my pension.”
Jamie Smith-Thompson, managing director at Portafina, said: “It is interesting to see how unprepared so many people are for their retirement - almost half of those we surveyed had not given it much thought. One person even admitted that their plan for dealing with the cost of retired life was to ‘die young’.
“Peter’s attitude reflects how many people of his generation feel. Although it’s definitely understandable why more immediate goals are the priority, I expect more people would be interested in their pension if they realised how much difference those early years can make. What incentive do people have to lock their money away for years if they aren’t aware of how a salary match or compound interest can boost the value of their pension? Coupled with confusion around pensions in general, this research highlights how important financial education is and the need to use clear, everyday language.
“Most people require a pension pot of at least £200,000 to provide a living wage from retirement age onwards, so relying on a partner’s pension, the government or relatives and friends isn’t going to cut it. If your pension doesn’t seem very important yet, look at the lifestyles of people in their 60s and 70s and how active they are. Retirement can last a long time; the more money you’ve saved the more enjoyable it will be.”
In the last couple of years, a number of high-profile businesses have had large amounts of customer data stolen due to a cyber attack. Furthermore, hackers and other malicious parties are always looking for new ways to intercept the information users send to businesses via the web or gain such information directly from users by deceptive means.
In this blog post, David Midgley, Head of Operations at payment gateway provider Total Processing, outlines why making the move to HTTPS protocol goes a long way to helping to eliminate these problems while also helping to improve a business’ reputation and trustworthiness.
For the uninitiated, HTTPS is a way of securing all of the information that is sent between a website and a browser. It works by adding a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption layer to the basic HTTP protocol, meaning that the information is still being sent in the same way and in the same ‘language’ to each other. However, all the requests and responses are now encrypted before being sent and then decrypted before the webpage loads for the viewer to see.
This means there is less chance of those requests and responses, and crucially the information contained within them, being intercepted and exploited by external forces. More and more people now do their banking, buy their shopping, book holidays and make other transactions online, and all of these actions require them to share financial information or the level of personal information that can be used to commit identity theft. Therefore, it is vital that the websites processing this information make sure they are using a secure channel to send and receive the information.
However, you would be mistaken to think that only sites that send and receive personal and financial details from users need to protect the communications that take place between their sites and a user’s browser. In fact, all the information a site sends through to a browser, be it cookies, java scripts or HTML code, can also be intercepted by an external party who can tamper with the information before it is seen by the end user.
These external parties can range from those with malicious intentions, such as hackers, seeking to trick users into giving them sensitive information or install malware, ransomware and spyware all the way to respectable, well-known organisations looking to present their own adverts to the user.
While the latter is relatively harmless and there is no real ill intention, as their aim is to sell products or promote a service, I would argue the insertion of adverts onto web pages is still an intrusive practice and can be very disconcerting for users as they can begin to feel that they are being ‘followed’ from site to site by an advertiser. In turn, users can then lose confidence in sites where their browsing experience has been interrupted by adverts as they can begin to feel that their browsing history and the information they’re sharing isn’t secure.
I would argue the above is also harmful to a business’ reputation as a company’s website is a reflection of them, and thus, having an insecure website sends out a very negative message about the company.
Furthermore, Google, which accounts for over 80% of all searches, has also revealed that it gives a ranking boost to those who use HTTPS protocol to secure their website. This is a very important point that could potentially have a huge effect on a business, as according to Moz, unless your site is listed in the top four of a search engine results page, it will have a click-through rate of less than 2%. Essentially then, if you’re a small business in a competitive market, you can’t afford to ignore this point, as you are immediately at a disadvantage and have given up ground to your competitors who are using HTTPS if you’re still operating a site that only uses HTTP protocol. In addition, Google have also recently revealed that, from January 2017, they will alert users of their Chrome browser when a site doesn’t use HTTPS encryption, thereby making the link between the use of HTTPS protocol and the security of information transmitted online even clearer for web users.
Therefore, it makes sense to use HTTPS – your users’ personal details are safe, as is other information that can be used to track them, such as their browsing history. In addition, securing your business’ website with HTTPS should also help to instil trust among site users too. Finally, the biggest search engine with the vast majority of all searches has also made it plain that they will give your site a boost in their rankings if you use HTTPS protocol. Arguably, a higher ranking in Google, and other search engines, should also help to further instil trust in a business among consumers and bring business to your site too, as, by ranking a site higher in its’ SERPs, Google is effectively saying to its’ users “this is a relevant and trustworthy site”.
It has to be said that HTTPS protocol can’t protect your site and the information it sends and receives secure from every possible threat, and it isn’t without its’ problems. For example, some would argue that a site using HTTPS is slower than one that uses HTTP protocol, while others could point to the fact that buying and renewing SSL or TLS certificates adds to the costs of a business. However, the effect on page loading time is marginal and barely noticeable to most users, while the page ranking, reputational and security benefits will far outweigh the financial cost of renewing security certificates in the long run too.
For these and many other reasons, you need to switch over your business’ website to HTTPS protocol if you haven’t already.