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Business Mentoring: The Road to Economic Recovery

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Jackie-Jenks

Jackie Jenks, Enterprise Mentoring Manager, Lloyds Banking Group

Jackie-JenksAiding the development of SMEs needs to be a key priority for the UK, particularly if our economy is to bounce back from the effects of the double-dip recession. It is essential, more so now more than ever, that we support and nurture our country’s growing businesses in order to encourage and aid economic regrowth.

As an organisation, we provide more than traditional banking facilities like loans, credit cards and overdrafts – indeed our support extends way beyond the more obvious financial packages.

Enterprise mentoring has been a key initiative for us since the introduction of the national mentoring scheme in 2011 and we have seen encouraging results amongst the businesses we have worked with so far.

About the mentoring scheme

The mentoring Scheme was set up in conjunction with the Business Finance Taskforce and the British Banking Association, with the overall aim of helping the economy return to sustainable growth by training industry professionals to impart their own skills and experience onto entrepreneurs. As part of this, we work with a number of mentoring organisations including Business Innovation and Skills and the Small Firms Enterprise Development Initiative SFEDI amongst others, through which our trained mentors are partnered with enterprises seeking support.

Mentoring in Practice

The mentoring process is really simple. Volunteers from across the banking industry sign up to become an enterprise mentor and receive training which allows them to gain the relevant skills and experience needed to effectively support a business.

Following that, they are then paired with a business in their area and organise regular meetings and discussions with the business leader where they can review any issues the business is faced with, aim to answer any questions the mentee has and use their own skills and experience to provide guidance and support which will ultimately aid the business’s development and growth.

The mentoring scheme also includes several business events that span across the country including conferences where members of the local business community can learn more about the scheme, partake in interactive workshops as well as sign up for mentoring support.

Our volunteers have also run activities in Universities and schools, sharing information about the banking industry with the next generation of potential business owners, as well as actively meeting current business leaders at industry events to discuss the benefits of mentoring with them directly.

External benefits 

One example of a business that has benefitted from mentoring support is award-winning language services company, Veritas.

Based in Swansea, Veritas Language Solutions provides translation, interpreting and consultancy services to a wide range of companies, charities, universities and government departments in the UK and internationally, including Nokia and the Red Cross.

In early 2012, the company founded by Sharon Stephens and another graduate from her home town became a finalist in the Lloyds TSB Enterprise Awards. Her company was recognised for its outstanding 500 per cent increase in turnover growth in its first three years. A component of the prize was access to a dedicated business mentor.

For Veritas, this involved regular meetings between the management team and the mentor, Martin Lewis from Lloyds TSB Commercial Banking, to provide guidance on specific areas of business management and finance as required.

Throughout this mentoring support period, the business has continued to increase turnover and introduce new services. Its newest addition, Veritas Talk, allows users to translate short conversations in real-time between 157 languages, is available 24/7, 365 days a year, and is already proving popular with business and medical customers.

Sharon Stephens, managing director of Veritas Language Solutions, said: “The help from our business mentor has blown us away in terms of opening our eyes to the scope for our services, both for traditional translation and interpreting services. We are also working with companies to provide cultural training to assist them in their aim of successfully expanding into new overseas markets.

“Having benefitted immensely from the support of a mentor myself, I am now involved with local education projects and business events to share our experiences with others and to help encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs and businesses.”

Internal benefits

It is fantastic to see businesses like Veritas gaining so much from the mentoring scheme, but what is also great about our involvement is the benefits we have felt internally as an organisation.

Since our involvement with the initiative began, there has been a substantial increase in enthusiasm and self-development amongst our mentors. Many of our mentors have banking as a core skill as well as their own areas of expertise – from IT and sustainability to HR and business development – so their experience in providing financial support and guidance is extensive and mentoring gives them the opportunity to play to their strengths and really add value to the businesses they are helping.

The regular meetings allow mentors to gain an on the ground experience that provides an insight into all aspects of running a business. They can throw themselves into an organisation completely unlike their own and gain a deeper understanding of how that business works and hear about the aims and ambitions of their mentee.

Furthermore, not only are our mentors required to utilise their knowledge and skills in banking to support their mentees, but they also often have to adopt a role completely different to that of their day job. Many mentors are used to spending a substantial part of their time listening to business owners talk about the strengths of their businesses, particularly when they are wanting to borrow money and it is their  job to draw out the risks and discuss the challenges in order to make a measured assessment and recommend the appropriate financial products.

Mentoring, however, is quite the opposite – all the risks and issues are established straight away and it is the mentor’s job to discuss the strengths, and break down the weaknesses allowing the mentee to define their own way forward.

Training

Since the scheme’s inception, over 420 employees from within the bank have signed up to become mentors – making up 40% of the total number of volunteers across the entire programme and as part of our continued involvement with the scheme, we have contributed to the development of two new mentoring qualifications including the Level Five certificate in Enterprise Mentoring, created in conjunction with SFEDI and the Continuing Professional Development course, also launched with SFEDI and Business Mentors South West (BMSW).

Several of our mentors played instrumental roles in devising the content and format of these training courses based on their own understanding of working with mentees.  Yet the skills gained through the training programmes are not just useful when it comes to a mentoring relationship. In fact a big proportion of volunteers have expressed how useful the training programmes are in developing their own leadership skills and how it has allowed them to enhance their roles as internal mentors for other employees looking to develop their careers.

We’ve also heard from many who have gained a new sense of pride and invigoration that they can now bring to their roles and a large proportion of mentors have said that being able to interact with business leaders in a completely different way from that of a banking perspective has helped them to get an insight into the challenges and the realities which are facing the country’s enterprises.

This is something that they can transfer back into their everyday jobs, and ultimately helps us as a bank to better understand our customers, and be able to tailor our services to ensure we are meeting the needs of the UK’s businesses.

It is clear to see that mentoring is an effective way to help support SMEs at all life cycle stages from start-ups and businesses looking to grow through to established companies, and there are many tangible benefits for business leaders and mentors alike.
 

 

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Oil prices steady as lockdowns curb U.S. stimulus optimism

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Oil prices steady as lockdowns curb U.S. stimulus optimism 1

By Noah Browning

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices were steady on Monday as support from U.S. stimulus plans and jitters about supplies competed with worries about demand due to renewed lockdowns to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

Brent crude futures for March rose 7 cents, or 0.1%, to $55.48 a barrel by 1210 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for March was up 5 cents, or 0.1%, at $52.32.

“Sentiment was buoyed by expectations for a blockbuster coronavirus relief package … (but) the tug of war between stimulus optimism and virus woes is set to continue,” said Stephen Brennock of broker PVM.

U.S. lawmakers are set to lock horns over the size of a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package proposed by new President Joe Biden, financial stimulus that would support the economy and fuel demand.

European nations, major consumers, have imposed tough restrictions to halt the spread of the virus, while China reported a rise in new COVID-19 cases, casting a pall over demand prospects in the world’s largest energy consumer.

Barclays raised its 2021 oil price forecasts, but said rising cases in China could contribute to near-term pullbacks.

“Even though the pandemic is not yet slowing down, oil prices have good reasons to start the week with gains,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen from Rystad Energy.

Supply concerns have offered some support. Indonesia said its coast guard seized an Iranian-flagged tanker over suspected illegal fuel transfers, raising the prospect of more tensions in the oil-exporting Gulf.

“A development that always benefits prices is the market turbulence that conflicts create,” Tonhaugen added.

Libyan oil guards halted exports from several main ports in a pay dispute on Monday.

Output from Kazakhstan’s giant Tengiz field was disrupted by a power outage on Jan. 17.

(Editing by David Goodman and Edmund Blair)

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Dollar steadies; euro hurt by vaccine delays and German business morale slump

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Dollar steadies; euro hurt by vaccine delays and German business morale slump 2

By Elizabeth Howcroft

LONDON (Reuters) – The dollar steadied, the euro slipped and riskier currencies remained strong on Monday, as currency markets were torn between optimism about U.S. stimulus plans, and the reality of slow vaccine rollout and the economic impact of lockdowns in Europe.

Market sentiment had turned more cautious at the end of last week as European economic data showed that lockdown restrictions to limit the spread of the virus hurt business activity, dragging stocks lower.

The safe-haven dollar declined gradually overnight, and riskier currencies strengthened. It then recovered some losses after European markets opened, and was at 90.224 against a basket of currencies at 1152 GMT, flat on the day.

On one hand, market sentiment is supported by hopes for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion fiscal stimulus plans, as well as the expectation that central banks will continue to provide liquidity.

But, in Europe, the extent of the risk appetite was limited by a lack of progress in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine as well the economic impact of lockdown measures.

German business morale slumped to a six-month low in January, surprising market participants who had expected the survey to show a rise.

“It’s very much a case of hopes for the future against the reality of the first quarter of this year which is going to still prove to be fairly troubled,” said Jeremy Stretch, head of G10 FX strategy at CIBC Capital Markets.

“For now at least, the optimism that we’re hoping for has been somewhat delayed and that has taken a little bit of steam out of the euro and just put a little bit of support back in the dollar but ultimately I think it is still a case of those high-beta commodity currencies, reflation currencies, will continue to perform well,” he said.

Analysts expect a broad dollar decline during 2021. The net speculative short position on the dollar grew to its largest in ten years in the week to Jan. 19, according to weekly futures data from CFTC released on Friday.

The U.S. Federal Reserve meets on Wednesday and Fed Chair Jerome Powell is expected to signal that he has no plans to wind back the Fed’s massive stimulus any time soon – news which could push the dollar down further.

“The process of tapering QE is likely to be a gradual process which could last throughout 2022, and then potentially be followed by the first rate hikes later in 2023,” wrote MUFG currency analyst Lee Hardman.

“In these circumstances, we continue to believe that it is premature to expect the US dollar to rebound now in anticipation of policy tightening ahead, and still see scope for further weakness this year,” he said.

The euro was down around 0.1% against the dollar, at $1.2153 at 1207 GMT. At the European Central Bank meeting last week, President Christine Lagarde said the bank was closely watching the euro. The euro surged 9% last year versus the dollar and reached new two and a half year highs earlier in January.

But despite this verbal intervention, traders remain bullish on the euro, expecting the bar for a rate cut to be high.

Elsewhere, the Australian dollar, which is seen as a liquid proxy for risk, was up 0.2% at 0.7726 versus the U.S. dollar at 1208 GMT.

The New Zealand dollar was up 0.5%, while the commodity-driven Norwegian crown was up 0.2% the euro.

The safe-haven Japanese yen was flat on the day at 103.815 versus the U.S. dollar.

Graphic: USD, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/qmypmyjdxpr/USD.png

(Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft, editing by Ed Osmond and Chizu Nomiyama)

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Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific warns of capacity cuts, higher cash burn

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Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific warns of capacity cuts, higher cash burn 3

(Reuters) – Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd on Monday warned passenger capacity could be cut by about 60% and monthly cash burn may rise if Hong Kong installs new measures that require flight crew to quarantine for two weeks.

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier said the expected move will increase cash burn by about HK$300 million ($38.70 million) to HK$400 million per month, on top of current HK$1 billion to HK$1.5 billion levels.

Hong Kong is set to require flight crew entering the Asian financial hub for more than two hours to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks, the South China Morning Post reported last week, citing sources.

“The new measure will have a significant impact on our ability to service our passenger and cargo markets,” Cathay said in a statement, adding that expected curbs will also reduce its cargo capacity by 25%.

The airline, in an internal memo seen by Reuters, requested for volunteers among its crew who could fly for three weeks, followed by two weeks of quarantine and 14 days free of duty, adding it will be a temporary measure and not all its flight will require such an operation.

“We continue to engage with key stakeholders in the Hong Kong Government,” the memo said.

In an emailed response to Reuters, a Hong Kong government spokesperson said: “In the light of the evolving pandemic situation locally and internationally, the Government will keep reviewing and refining the arrangements applicable to different categories of exempted persons, including air crew, with reference to all relevant considerations.”

Separately, a company spokeswoman said the airline could not detail the impact on vaccine transport specifically in terms of cargo shipments.

The aviation industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as many countries imposed travel restrictions to contain its spread.

In December, Cathay’s passenger numbers fell by 98.7% compared to a year earlier, though cargo carriage was down by a smaller 32.3%.

(Reporting by Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney and Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong; Editing by Bernard Orr, Arun Koyyur and Mark Potter)

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