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Going global: too big an opportunity to miss?

Tony Collins

By Tony Collins, Chairman of OPAL, the financial outsourcing company www.opal-uk.com

We live in an increasingly globalised world, particularly when it comes to financial services. Tony Collins, chairman of OPAL, the financial outsourcing company, examines the opportunity for a global standardisation of financial products.

As the finance sector undergoes unprecedented change, the opportunity is there to standardise products. It’s not news to anyone that the financial services world is increasingly globalised – something we are reminded about on an almost daily basis following the onset of the financial crisis, with events in Athens, Berlin and Wall Street sending shockwaves around the globe. The crisis has helped to highlight just how interconnected the world’s finance industries are as events in one country impact the way firms operate internationally. Tony Collins

The downturn has also made the market a much tougher place, with all-time high levels of volatility and increased competitiveness. However, in spite of the continued doom and gloom, the global marketplace does open a door to a number of opportunities for firms to overhaul their business models in order to emerge in a prominent position on the global stage. The greatest such opportunity is to increase efficiency – you just need to take a look at governments’ drastic attempts to make their finances and functions more economical. For financial firms that operate in multiple markets, tailoring their product offering for each individual geography can be time and cost-intensive and providers appear to be missing out on a big opportunity to roll-out standardised products to a global footprint.

Standardising products for an international audience suggests a need to meet similar financial needs across the globe. How has the global marketplace itself been standardising in recent years?

Rapid economic growth in developing markets over the past decade coupled with the sharp slowdown of developed economies since 2008 has evened out the global playing field. The explosive growth of a new middle class in emerging nations, particularly in the BRICs, means that many more consumers in the developing world now have a similar purchasing power and financial needs as those in more developed markets. If this is the case, then why should those markets not be given similar options when it comes to investment, insurance and pension products etc.? After all we all have similar plans and concerns such as saving for our retirement or insuring our valuable possessions regardless of whereabouts in the world we live.

Therefore, financial products of a similar nature are relevant for a much wider, global audience than in previous years. This highlights the potential that a standardisation of product development holds for firms looking to maximise efficiency and global reach whilst minimising time and cost. Uniform products can be designed and developed with only minor tweaking needed at the point of launch across various markets.

Regulatory compliance is driving ever-stricter guidelines when it comes to developing new products. How have trends in the regulatory space also opened the door to global standardisation?

Regulatory bodies have been quick to recognise the need and potential for a global standardisation of rules and guidelines. Although financial markers will always need rules tailored to their specific conditions, we have recently seen a drive by regulatory authorities such as the UK’s Financial Services Authority (FSA) and international equivalents to homogenise their guidelines as much as possible. This trend is being driven partially by similar demands from government’s worldwide in light of failings that led up to the financial crisis, but also by a universal recognition to make international compliance more achievable for firms. This is especially the case in Europe where the requirements of the single currency and regulatory drives from the European Union automatically cover a jurisdiction of up to 27 member states. For example, the European Banking Authority (EBA) was set up last year to harmonise banking guidelines across the EU.

Legislation surrounding capital requirements is also having an increasingly international footprint, with Basel III banking standards applicable to most markets and similar moves in the insurance sector, such as Solvency II, being replicated in markets around the world like in Bermuda for instance. Some US legislation such as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) also has a global jurisdiction, with all banks regardless of their primary location, required to declare US account holders to the American Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax purposes.

With most regions of the world in an economically precarious position, time is very much of the essence and cost savings are a priority for many organisations. How does outsourcing allow firms to take advantage of this opportunity in a time and cost-effective way?

The development of financial products depends heavily on consumer demand and regulatory requirements. As these two influencing factors level out across different markets, providers have a chance to streamline the development of their products, which can then be tweaked to suit individual regions and countries. This is where financial services firms can use an outsourcer to their full advantage. A third party will have the expertise and optimum services in place to standardise the product development process as much as possible, which can amount to serious time and money savings for organisations launching products in different markets.

This is an increasingly important priority as firms look to gain a foothold in emerging nations without compromising their operations in the weaker ‘core’ markets of Europe and North America. By tapping into the international expertise third parties can offer, organisations can increase the global impact of their products. Outsourcers can also act as a bridgehead to launch these quickly and efficiently on a shared risk model. The financial services sector should embrace the integrated international market as it really is too big an opportunity to miss.

OPAL is an FSA-regulated organisation that specialises in launching own label life, pension and investment products on behalf of major financial services clients such as Prudential, Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS, Abbey, LV=, HSBC, Investec and Virgin. OPAL is one of the leading third party financial product developers and administrators in the UK financial services sector.

For more information visit www.opal-uk.com

Finance

Teaching children about wealth management and why there has never been a better time

Teaching children about wealth management and why there has never been a better time 1

By Annabel Bosman is Managing Director and Head of Relationship Management at RBC Wealth Management

As we approach the end of week sixteen in lockdown, I am breathing a sigh of relief at having successfully navigated another week of juggling work and client commitments with the increasing demands of my children – age six and nine.

My day job is to lead RBC Wealth Management International’s relationship management efforts in the British Isles, but my toughest challenge right now is educating and entertaining my new junior co-workers each day.

While my children’s school has done a great job at setting up daily tasks and learning activities, there is only so much ‘teaching’ they can take from me without World War III breaking out. So instead of rigidly sticking to the school curriculum each day, I have taken the opportunity to educate my young children about a topic that is often not discussed enough in school — money.

Why now?

What I do for a living has become a central discussion in our co-working space — also known as the dining table. I have found that investment concepts can be grasped quite well by young children and this has led to some interesting conversations about which businesses are doing well in the current situation, and those that are not. Children are often more logical than adults, and in my house, this logic is helping them grasp the basics of an investment philosophy. As a result, I have even passed conversations around stock markets off as maths classes!

For young children like my own, helping them learn the basics of managing money is something that will hopefully set them up well in life. There are some great tools to help them do this – we use GoHenry, which provides children with a pre-paid card to learn about budgeting. Likewise, encouraging conversations around how they spend virtual money whilst gaming on apps like Roblox can give some really important lessons around how you look after the money you have earned – and how if something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.

The most important thing is not to underestimate your children. Whether it is the application of a “mummy-tax” when they want chocolate or applying interest rates (albeit nominal!) if they want to borrow money, teaching our children the basics around money is something we can all do.

Incorporating new lessons

The first step is to identify the best way to approach teaching these topics in a way they will understand. Resources such as the Usborne Money for Beginners are really helpful to start conversations. There are also several YouTube clips and even TikTok channels dedicated to helping children think about money. I tend to think about what is important to them and use that as a catalyst to start conversations; for example, it could be how they can monetise their love of the gaming app Roblox.

Ending the taboo

Any conversation that leads to a greater awareness around financial discipline and security has to be a positive, no matter what the age – and there are certainly parallels with my experience and that of my clients. There seems to have been a shift in HNW and UHNW families’ willingness to talk about money. Whereas previously it was seen as very un-British to speak about money, the pandemic has meant that a more open conversation is taking place.

Whatever our financial position, we often bury our heads in the sand when it comes to money, and don’t always have a clear financial plan, but when we start to put down on paper what’s going in and out, we immediately start to feel more in control, thus becoming more engaged. It can be uncomfortable to have that conversation with your family, but we regularly speak with our clients about all manner of sensitive subjects including putting wills in place, inheritance and protecting loved ones. Naturally, this is also bringing conversations to the fore around succession planning, legacy, philanthropy and even one’s own mortality. When times are good, it’s easy to not have these thoughts at the forefront of your mind, but in challenging times like these, it highlights how essential it is to talk. And just as with my children, there are plenty of apps and websites that can help you take the first steps.

Varying generational approaches

There is no one way to educate your children about money — what worked for one generation will not necessarily work for the next. Different generations have had to address the different approaches they might take in thinking about money and try to reach a common language to agree on common goals. Whilst many of us grew up with physical pocket money from our parents after completing household chores, today’s young children rarely even touch money, they receive their allowance on an app.

A 2019 study commissioned by RBC Wealth Management and conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit found that seven in ten younger affluent respondents think that their beliefs about wealth are very different to those of their parents; with a similar percentage, 78%, believing that wealth is less easily attained or preserved today. Early, open and continuous dialogue can only help confront obstacles head on and smooth the path ahead.

These talks also allow HNW individuals and their families to talk about how they can address their non-financial goals, such as fighting climate change or supporting social agendas – something that the younger generation is acutely focussed on. Indeed, more recent social events have led to an ongoing and overdue debate around what privilege looks like and how society needs to change.

What next?

With the summer holidays fast approaching, the struggle to keep children occupied will continue, but without the pressure of the school curriculum. This is an opportunity to continue discussions with children about where money comes from and where its value lies.

I have found it tremendously empowering to talk to my children about money and getting back to basics — it may not be school learning, but it is real life learning. And as I say to my clients, the initial step to start a conversation is always the hardest.

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Finance

From accountants to advisors: changing roles and expectations

From accountants to advisors: changing roles and expectations 2

By Chris Downing, Director for Accountants & Bookkeepers at Sage

The line between strategic advisor and traditional accountant is blurring. Over the last year, 82% of accountants said their clients were demanding a wider service offering, including business and technology implementation advice. In the current climate this transition has only been accelerated.

Clients increasingly expect their accountants to take a more active role in change management and predicting their cashflow months into an uncertain future. This is enabling businesses to tackle the challenges of day-to-day operations, while keeping an eye on what the post-COVID world will look like, and the support they will need to return to strength.

To solve these new and complex, expectations accountants must develop a different way of working. They will be required to increasingly supplement the traditional, compliance and reporting aspects of their work with business advice and consultancy. To do this, accountants need the ability to move quickly and efficiently, with a firm grounding in technology and data control.

Get straight to the point

The priorities of yesterday are very different to the goals of today. Where businesses once focused on driving growth and efficiency, the objective for many now is continuity – understanding what government support is available and for how long. In the current climate, speed of delivery and client care are top of the agenda.

But the way accountants go about this is very important. Rules are changing every day – the definition of an ‘essential business’, government support and bank loan programmes are constantly in flux. In normal times, an accountant’s role is to ensure their clients are aware of and reactant to these changes. Yet, how much value does this create for them in the ‘now’?

To be valuable, new information must be delivered quickly but it should also be succinct. It isn’t useful for clients to be bombarded with email updates, or reports running into hundreds of pages, trying to explain the week’s changes. With so much present noise, it’s the accountant’s task to break through the information overload and provide the client with crucial resource only.

To understand client pain points and get to the heart of what they really need, a running dialogue is essential. Building individual client relationships will unlock the potential to deliver tailored experiences that meet their business demands. Armed with this insight, accountants can then distil complex information into digestible chunks.

A more entrepreneurial spirit 

Sharing insight is only the start.  The other half of the story relies on consultancy. In the Covid-19 environment, the routine aspects of an accountant’s work are being supplemented with the transformative changes they can make for clients. Cashflow projections for the next six months are crucial, but even more so is the advice an accountant can offer on improving the financial outlook of a business.

Chris Downing

Chris Downing

To provide this balance, accountants should embrace a more entrepreneurial way of thinking. Not only advising on how clients can meet current challenges, but also how they can innovate to drive new revenue streams in the future. Part of this means being willing to step outside of their comfort zone. Many firms are already investing in the skills and technologies they need to service novel demands – like advising on relevant accounting and finance technologies.

While many businesses remain closed to the public, even as lockdown eases, they have increased capacity and flexibility to shift operations towards what will be most effective and profitable. Clients will be open to changing their business focus to meet demand spikes in other areas as they do not have to account for a disruption to customer service. For example, many distillers shifted production from beverages to hand sanitiser while bars and restaurants were closed.

With their contextual understanding of client finances, accountants are uniquely placed to advise their clients on change and guide them through the transformation process. Though this requires a more innovative model of accounting, and one that is willing to embrace the latest technologies.

Truth in the cloud

Business advice needs to be backed by data, especially for accountants engaging directly with the CFO. Scenarios need to be modelled, analysed, tracked and compared over time to arrive at the most effective proposal for the client. This is outside the wheelhouse of traditional accounting, but it’s becoming necessary in an industry heavily disrupted by new technologies.

To keep up with the ever-growing need for rapidly available data and analytics capabilities, more and more accountants are turning to the cloud to consolidate and use their data estate, while automating the time-consuming tasks of data management. Indeed, the majority (91%) of accountants have said new technology has delivered fresh value to their business in the last year, whether it increases productivity or frees up more time to focus on client needs.

Against the backdrop of coronavirus and technological disruption, a new breed of accountant is quickly emerging. Innovation is possible for those who stay ahead of client expectations and are aware of their needs, embrace an entrepreneurial mindset and adopt the latest cloud and automation technologies. In this way, an accountant becomes an integral part of their client’s business.

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Finance

Preparing for the new normal and building a financial plan

Preparing for the new normal and building a financial plan 3

By Donna Torres, director of small business at Xero UK

There is some light at the end of the tunnel for small businesses. As the lockdown continues to ease many retailers and hospitality businesses are now opening up again, or preparing to return soon.

Preparing for what’s around the corner has always been key to business success. Whilst there is still much uncertainty, it’s more important than ever that businesses get in control of their finances and create a solid plan.

Having a strong understanding of your cash flow and a plan for the months to come is vital to helping you prepare for what’s ahead. If you’re unsure where to begin, here are five ways to start:

Take stock

Financial experts Lauren Harvey (Founding Director of Full Stop Accounts) and Jonathan Graunt (Founder of accountancy firm FD Works and Xavier Analytics) recently spoke with Xero about the uplift in businesses taking an interest in their finances and understanding their financial position.

Businesses should be using this time to review their processes and really understand their numbers. It can be helpful to reflect on your original statement – what do you really want your business to do? And has the pandemic changed this? Use this as the fuel to drive your business vision forward.

Consider the risks

The government has provided SMEs with a number of support schemes, but the conditions and capital being offered is changing.

For example, the Furlough Scheme will currently only run until the end of October and the deadline to furlough new employees has now passed. The government will also gradually be reducing the amount it pays under this scheme. Make sure you’ve accountanted for this in your financial plan so you have a clear picture of how furlough tapering off will impact your business and any adjustments you might need to make.

If you’ve taken out one of the Government backed loans, now is the time to start building repayments into your financial plan. Building a solid plan will also help to ensure that you use the money in the best way to support your business in the long-term. It can be tempting to fight the most immediate fires with your capital, but try to think about the longer term health of your business – and where the money is going to have the most impact.

Adapting to a change in demand

Covid-19 has forced businesses to adapt to a lot of changes and SMEs should be thinking carefully about how their customer demand has changed. What do customers expect from you now? For example, many are still apprehensive of shopping on the high street. This might mean some of the options you offered during lockdown like deliveries or online services should remain.

Communicate with your customers as much as possible to get an accurate view of what they need from you now and in the future. How can you fulfil this? Then it’s important to look at the numbers and scrutinise which areas are going to provide the most return on investment.

Financial Planning: where to start?

For financial planning to be effective, it’s helpful to get into habits that will provide an accurate snapshot of how your business is performing. Reconciling bank transactions daily, creating a daily simple cash flow check-in habit and examining your profit and loss statements weekly will give you a better understanding of where your business stands.

Apps like Float or Fluidly will help to give you an accurate look at your cash flow in an easy to read visual. And the recently launched Xero Short-term Cash Flow tool can help you project your bank balance 30 days into the future, showing you the impact of existing bills and invoices if they’re paid on time. You can then work out which invoices you should follow up on.

Some people can find this task daunting, but your accounts aren’t just being kept for reporting to HMRC, they are also there to give you invaluable insight into your business and to plan for the future.

Ask for help

Your accountant is there to help you to understand your finances. This is likely to be one of the biggest economic challenges you have ever faced as a small business owner. Now, more than ever, it is time to lean on your accountant to help create a robust plan.

If you do not understand something, or need guidance or clarification, get in touch and ask for their expertise and advice. If their advice doesn’t help, ask them to explain it again.

You can also check out Xero’s online guide to managing cash flow here.

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