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FRAUD PREVENTION FIRM SEMAFONE DIALS UP GROWTH AMBITIONS WITH FURTHER INVESTMENT

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FRAUD PREVENTION FIRM SEMAFONE DIALS UP GROWTH AMBITIONS WITH FURTHER INVESTMENT

Business Growth Fund invests alongside Octopus

Semafone, a UK company specialising in fraud prevention software used by call centres taking payments over the phone, is looking to increase the size of its operations following a £4m growth capital investment from BGF (Business Growth Fund), and a further £1m from Octopus Investments and other existing shareholders.

BGF, an independent company established to help the UK’s growing businesses, is investing in Semafone to support delivery of recent large contract wins and expansion in overseas markets.

FRAUD PREVENTION FIRM SEMAFONE DIALS UP GROWTH AMBITIONS WITH FURTHER INVESTMENT 3Semafone’s DTMF masking payment method is patented in the US and UK and allows call centre operators and other businesses taking payments by phone to reduce Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance costs by up to 80 percent. The technology anonymises sensitive credit and debit card details as they are keyed in by the customer during a telephone transaction and sends them directly to the bank, by-passing the call centre itself. Semafone also allows the call centre agent to maintain a dialogue with the customer during the transaction process, which reduces abandonment rates and provides a better customer experience than a fully automated service.

Based in Guildford, Semafone employs a team of 38 and was founded by David Jackson and Charles Cooper-Driver in 2009; the board of directors is chaired by David Sear who is also group chief commercial officer at global payment specialist Skrill. The business, which has turnover of circa £5m, is on a high growth trajectory. In May 2014, Semafone became the first vendor to achieve three of the highest levels of accreditation in the payment security industry, PA-DSS, PCI Level 1 certification and being a registered Visa merchant agent.

Semafone’ s software is used by a host of blue-chip customers including Sky, Virgin Holidays, Talk Talk, Aviva Canada and Capita. In October 2013, Semafone signed a partnership contract with BT which will see it become a core part of BT’s call centre technology offering for its corporate customers.

The market for Semafone’s product has grown strongly in recent years, driven by high profile data breaches around the world that have dented consumer confidence and the reputation of major companies. The most recent large-scale attack was in September 2014 on US retailer Home Depot, resulting in the theft of 56 million customer records with an estimated “street” value of $3 billion.

BGF has taken a minority stake and BGF Investment Director Alistair Brew has been appointed to the board with Investment Manager Will Gresty joining as Observer to the board.

Semafone is banked by Lloyds Banking Group.

Tim Critchley, CEO of Semafone, commented:
“We are very pleased to have BGF’s support during a pivotal period of growth. Our global collaboration with BT on the BT Secure Contact solution and our expanding customer base, which now reaches four continents, are placing unprecedented demands on the company’s resources. BGF’s investment will help us to deliver these projects successfully as we continue to fulfil our ambitious plans for expansion into the US and further afield.”

BGF Investment Director Alistair Brew said:
“Semafone is an incredibly exciting company with a market-leading product offering endorsed by major blue chip customers. It is on an impressive growth trajectory, driven by its innovative software and consistently high quality project delivery under Tim Critchley’s strong leadership.

“There is a clear vision for how Semafone will build on its successes to date both in the UK and overseas, and we are delighted to be co-investing alongside existing investors Octopus Investments, who have been long-term backers of the company, to help realise this plan.”

Simon Andrews, Octopus Non-Executive Director, Semafone, said:
“This new investment should allow Tim Critchley and the team at Semafone to accelerate development to take advantage of the substantial opportunities that exist for the Semafone payment platform globally and build on its growing presence in the North American market. Octopus was the first institutional investor into Semafone and we are pleased to continue supporting the business in this investment round.”

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Women inch towards equal legal rights despite COVID-19 risks, World Bank says

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Women inch towards equal legal rights despite COVID-19 risks, World Bank says 4

By Sonia Elks

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women gained legal rights in nearly 30 countries last year despite disruption due to COVID-19, but governments must do more to ease the disproportionate burden shouldered by women during the pandemic, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

Nations should prioritise gender equality in economic recovery efforts, the bank said, warning that progress on equal rights was threatened by heavier job losses in female-dominated sectors, increased childcare and a surge in domestic violence.

“This pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities that disadvantage girls and women,” David Malpass, World Bank Group president, said in a statement accompanying the annual “Women, Business and the Law” report.

“Women should have the same access to finance and the same rights to inheritance as men and must be at the centre of our efforts toward an inclusive and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

A total of 27 countries reformed laws or regulations to give women more economic equality with men in 2019-20, said the report, which grades 190 nations on laws and regulations that affect women’s economic opportunities.

While countries in all of the world’s regions made improvements in the new index – with most reforms addressing pay and parenthood, women on average still have only about three quarters of the rights granted to men, the report found.

Notably, nearly 40 countries brought in extra benefit or leave policies to help employees balance their jobs with the extra childcare needs created by coronavirus restrictions.

But such measures were “few and far between” worldwide and will probably not go far enough to tackle the “motherhood penalty” many women face in the workplace, it said.

The report also noted separate data from a United Nations tool tracking gender-sensitive pandemic responses which found 70% of such measures addressed violence, with just 10% targeting women’s economic security.

The pandemic could result in “a backslide on various hard-won advances in women’s rights achieved in recent years”, said Antonia Kirkland, the global lead on legal equality at women’s rights organisation Equality Now.

“This disruption is a unique opportunity for countries to rebuild more resilient, inclusive and prosperous economies,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

“But this can only be achieved alongside the removal of sex discriminatory laws that prevent women from participating fully and equally in economic, social and family life.”

(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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Digital health checks vital to travel recovery, Heathrow says

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Digital health checks vital to travel recovery, Heathrow says 5

By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) – Digital health checks will be vital to a recovery in foreign travel from the COVID-19 pandemic, Britain’s Heathrow airport said on Wednesday, after a collapse in passenger numbers saw it plunge to a 2 billion pound ($2.8 billion) loss last year.

The UK government said on Monday trips abroad could restart in mid-May as its vaccination campaign kicks in, sparking a surge in holiday bookings.

It is also looking into a digital health passport or app to help ease restrictions, while conceding the benefits have to be weighed against potential risks to civil liberties.

But Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said digital technology, and international agreements, would be vital to reviving a travel industry on its knees.

“It’s absolutely critical and that’s one of the main things that government needs to work on,” he said, when asked about a digital health app.

At present, paper checks on COVID-19 test results and passenger locator forms take 20 minutes per traveller at Heathrow, making travel near impossible should passenger numbers rise from current low levels.

Britain’s biggest airport said it was “very likely” people would be able to go on their summer holidays, but expects passenger numbers will take time to recover.

The airport, west of London, is forecasting 25 million passengers in the second half of the year, meaning it would be operating at about 50% capacity.

Heathrow, owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, the Qatar Investment Authority, China Investment Corp and others, last year lost its title as Europe’s busiest airport to Paris after its flight schedules shrank more than those of its rivals.

Passenger numbers plunged 73% to 22 million people last year, with half of those travelling during January and February, before the pandemic shut down global travel in March.

Heathrow said it had 3.9 billion pounds of liquidity, giving it sufficient resources to keep going with low levels of traffic until 2023, despite the 2 billion loss before tax for 2020.

The airport urged the government to provide business tax breaks for big airports, something only available to smaller airports so far, and to extend the furlough job support scheme to help it financially before the recovery takes off.

($1 = 0.7044 pounds)

(Reporting by Sarah Young. Editing by James Davey and Mark Potter)

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Britain’s Heathrow sinks to $2.8 billion loss during pandemic

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Britain's Heathrow sinks to $2.8 billion loss during pandemic 6

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Heathrow Airport plunged to a 2 billion pound ($2.8 billion) annual loss after passenger numbers collapsed to levels last seen in the 1970s during the pandemic.

Heathrow called on the government to agree a common international travel standard to allow passengers to start flying again in the summer and to provide business tax breaks for airports to help them ride out the crisis.

The airport, west of London, is hopeful that travel markets will reopen from mid-May after a government announcement on easing lockdown on Monday.

Still Britain’s biggest airport, Heathrow last year lost its title as the busiest in Europe to Paris as its flight schedules contracted more than its rival’s.

The airport said on Wednesday that during 2020 passenger numbers shrunk 73% to 22 million people, with half of those people having travelled during January and February before COVID-19 shut down global travel.

The airport sunk to a 2 billion loss before tax on revenues which were down 62% to 1.18 billion pounds, but Heathrow said it had 3.9 billion pounds of liquidity and that could keep it going until 2023.

The airport is owned by Spain’s Ferrovial, the Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corp, among others.

($1 = 0.7044 pounds)

(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Kate Holton and James Davey)

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