By Kaushalya Somasundaram, Head of Payments Partnerships & Industry Relations at Square, UK
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused continued uncertainty for the hospitality industry. Many have been forced to pause operations or adjust the operations so they can keep trading.
Businesses are continuing to address social distancing rules by rapidly accelerating their digital capabilities. From bakeries to pubs, we have witnessed businesses shift to selling online, offering click and collect services to making their goods available for delivery.
But one of the most integral ways technology is aiding these businesses is on the payment front.
Contactless payments and cashless businesses have been around for years, gaining popularity for the ease and convenience it offers businesses and customers alike. However a new significance has been placed on all technologies that reduce physical contact and time needed to complete a transaction.
It’s no surprise the number of cashless businesses in the food and drink sector is skyrocketing, from 8% in January 2020 pre-lockdown, to 33% in July 2020.
Contactless payment technology has played a vital role in the survival of many businesses, including a pop-up pizza business based in Cambourne, Cambridgeshire.
From hobby to hub
When Sam Corban first tried his hand at pizza-making, it was out of interest. But after moving to Cambourne, he decided to turn what had quickly become a hobby into a business.
Sam approached local council offices to seek support in getting his idea for an artisan pizza pop-up business off the ground. And in February 2017, 400° Pizzeria fired up its oven for the first time, trading every Friday night at the Cambourne Cricket Pavilion.
Prior to the pandemic, Sam’s trademark 24-hour slow proof dough – which had taken him almost nine months to perfect – had garnered him a fond reputation around the village. It wasn’t long before his popularity meant he could hire his first staff member.
However, fostering a close relationship with his local community has been equally essential to Sam’s success. He has several pizzas named after customers – from the classic Nduja to The Debbie – and often asks his regulars for feedback regarding new recipes.
The success of his pop-up has influenced other local artisan street food providers, who’ve since joined him at the Pavilion on Fridays which has helped create a local hub for Cambourne locals.
Once the pandemic hit and a new normal descended on the world, Sam knew he had to react quickly and intelligently if he was going to continue doing business and be a positive force in his community.
And that all started with how he took payments.
The unexpected virtues of contactless
Despite accepting cash, Sam has always encouraged his customers to pay with card whenever possible, even pre-pandemic. It’s simply a quicker way to complete a transaction, especially now most bank cards have contactless chips.
After trying out a few contactless terminals, Sam decided to use the Square Terminal, an all-in-one card machine for everything from managing items and taking payments to printing receipts and getting paid. Once the pandemic started it was a no brainer to become completely cashless. “As all my payments are processed seamlessly through the Square Terminal, I’m cash free,” explains Sam. “This means I can process orders faster and don’t have to deal with hygiene issues posed by taking cash.”
And, the peace of mind this offers customers can’t be overstated. It means they can get a slice of community and normalcy (along with pizza) in a time where they’re cooped up at home and need to keep contact to a minimum.
As a result, Sam was able to keep operating safely and successfully throughout 2020.
A future-proofed pizzeria
Sam’s success is closely linked to how he connects and engages with his local community. As well as his weekly pizza pop up, he’s also started stocking his van with dry goods such as flour and pasta to deliver goods to those who can’t leave the house. He has even started offering home pizza making kits – giving local families a fun way to jump on the lockdown home baking trend.
These acts, plus the digital transformation he’s undergone over the course of the year, will resonate positively for the pizzeria long after this pandemic is past. Not only has he cemented his place in his local community, but the technology he’s adopted has helped him flex his operations.
As Sam shows us all, with a sprinkle of technology and a healthy serving of community spirit, every crisis can also be an opportunity to grow and evolve.
Guarantor loans surge to top of UK financial complaints chart
By Huw Jones
LONDON (Reuters) – Complaints about guarantor loans by companies such as Amigo soared last year, eclipsing grievances over payment protection insurance (PPI) that have dominated for more than a decade, Britain’s Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) said on Wednesday.
Consumers have turned to loan providers since last March as lockdowns to fight the COVID-19 pandemic strained their finances.
“For more than a decade, the Financial Ombudsman Service received an unprecedented number of complaints about PPI. We’re now seeing thousands more complaints about credit – including about guarantor loans,” FOS said in a statement.
Guarantor loans require a friend or family member to guarantee they will take on repayments if the borrower falls behind. Complaints about this type of loan reached more than 10,000 in October to December, up from just over 300 in the same period a year before, the FOS said.
Complaints about other types of home credit jumped to over 6,000 from 430 over the same period.
The complaints about consumer loans usually focused on inadequate affordability checks, FOS said.
Amigo describes itself as Britain’s leader in guarantor loans. FOS said complaints about the company totalled 12,854 in the second half of 2020, up from 1,163 in the first half.
Amigo said it launched a scheme of arrangement, or court-approved compensation process, in January after receiving a high number of complaints last year.
“We are a new leadership team that wants to correct past mistakes in a way that is fair and equitable to all our customers – including our 700,000 past borrowers and guarantors,” Amigo said in a statement.
Provident Personal Credit Ltd was the second most complained about company, with 10,390 complaints in the second half of 2020, FOS said. Provident had no comment.
PPI became Britain’s costliest retail financial scandal that dominated FOS work until the final deadline for complaints passed in August 2019.
(Reporting by Huw Jones; editing by Barbara Lewis)
Sunak promises to do ‘whatever it takes’ to shield the economy
LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak plans to say in a budget speech on Wednesday that he will do “whatever it takes” to support the economy, and that the task of fixing the public finances will only begin once the country is recovering from the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re using the full measure of our fiscal firepower to protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people,” Sunak will say, according to excerpts of the speech to parliament released by the finance ministry on Tuesday.
“First, we will continue doing whatever it takes to support the British people and businesses through this moment of crisis,” he said in the excerpts.
“Second, once we are on the way to recovery, we will need to begin fixing the public finances â€“ and I want to be honest today about our plans to do that. And, third, in today’s budget we begin the work of building our future economy.”
Britain has suffered the biggest COVID-19 death toll in Europe and the heaviest economic shock among big rich countries, according to the headline measures of official data, after shrinking by 10% last year, its worst slump in three centuries.
Sunak has so far spent almost 300 billion pounds ($419 billion) on emergency support measures and tax cuts.
But Britain has also rushed out Europe’s fastest COVID-19 vaccination programme, raising the prospect of an economic bounce-back once its current, third lockdown is relaxed.
Sunak said in media interviews on Sunday that he would not rush to start addressing Britain’s yawning budget deficit, which is approaching 400 billion pounds – its highest as a share of the economy since World War Two.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to lift lockdown measures gradually, starting with next week’s reopening of schools in England, before most measures are removed by late June.
Sunak is expected to announce an extension of his emergency support measures, including huge income subsidies that are on track to cost more than 100 billion pounds, to provide a bridge for the economy until then.
But he has also said he will “level with people” about how Britain’s 2.1 trillion-pound debt pile would carry on growing without action, which is likely to mean future tax increases.
(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Catherine Evans)
UK gilt issuance to be second-highest on record at almost 250 billion pounds – Reuters poll
By Andy Bruce
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is likely to sell nearly 250 billion pounds ($347 billion) of government bonds in the coming financial year – the second-highest total on record – to help power an economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, a Reuters poll of dealers showed on Tuesday.
The survey of all 15 wholesale primary dealers, or banks tasked by the government with creating a market for its bonds, pointed to gilt issuance of about 247.2 billion pounds for the 2021/22 financial year starting in April.
Such a sum marks a sharp drop from the 485.5 billion pounds of gilts that the United Kingdom Debt Management Office (DMO) plans to issue in the current 2020/21 year to finance the economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak is due to deliver his budget around 1230 GMT on Wednesday, after which the DMO will publish its 2021/22 gilt issuance remit.
Sunak has said he would not rush to fix the public finances as he readies a budget, which will add more borrowing to almost 300 billion pounds of COVID-19 spending and tax cuts.
In November, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast borrowing in 2020/21 would reach 393.5 billion pounds, or 19% of GDP, a peacetime record. The latest official data suggests borrowing will fall below this, partly because more taxpayers than expected have opted against deferring payments to 2021/22.
The poll showed Sunak is expected to announce a budget deficit forecast for 2021/22 of 180 billion pounds, 16 billion pounds more than the OBR had predicted in November.
“Our current estimate is that the latest lockdown will ‘cost’ around 16 billion pounds in terms of additional fiscal support,” said RBC economist Cathal Kennedy.
He cited the fact that more workers are now furloughed than the OBR had assumed in November, as well as expanded support for self-employed people and business grants announced in January.
In addition to the budget deficit, the government must also refinance 79.3 billion pounds of gilts due to mature in 2021/22.
As in the current year, much of the issuance will be soaked up by the Bank of England’s asset-purchase programme, which is due to buy around 100 billion pounds of government debt during the next financial year.
The poll suggested the government will finance borrowing almost entirely through gilts in the next financial year, rather than additional issuance of T-bills or via the government’s retail investment arm.
The DMO is likely to ramp up its issuance of inflation-linked gilts in 2021/22 to around 14% of the total, compared with 7% in the current financial year, the poll showed.
The DMO reined in sales of index-linked gilts through most of 2020 due to uncertainty caused by a review into the future of the retail prices index measure of inflation, which is used to price the bonds.
“Given pent-up demand, we think that this target is achievable,” said Deutsche Bank analysts Sanjay Raja and Panos Giannopoulos.
The dealers did not expect much change in the split between short, medium and long-dated gilts. Britain already has a longer average maturity for its debt than any other major economy, but the recent jump in global bond yields has prompted some commentators to say the DMO should do more to lock in low rates.
The government has also said it will issue the first “green gilts” – bonds to finance environmentally friendly projects – in 2021/22. Most respondents expect one or two bonds to be issued, of around 10 billion pounds in total.
(Reporting by Andy Bruce, editing by Larry King)
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