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How to use data to protect and power your business

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How to use data to protect and power your business 1

By Dave Parker, Group Head of Data Governance, Arrow Global

Employees need to access data to do their jobs. But as data governance professionals, it’s our job to protect it. Therefore, we must perform a fine balancing act to weigh robust data protection against the productivity of workers who need the data to maintain business-as-usual working processes.

Data grows exponentially, and most organisations will admit that they simply don’t know what data they have, where it is, and the controls that exist around it. This creates 2 challenges:

  1. Burgeoning amounts of unstructured data makes the business increasingly vulnerable from external attackers or internal data breaches.
  2. Because data is the key to understanding a customer’s wants and needs, if the business can’t identify its data and unlock its value, it’s at a competitive disadvantage.

As a European investor and alternative asset manager, here at Arrow Global we take care of £50bn of assets and own a data estate exceeding 160TB. How we manage our data is key to our success. We understand the difficulties involved in opening up environments to allow people to work productively, while at the same time locking them down to protect our organisation.

When it comes to analytics, I believe that Arrow is highly proficient because we employ a talented team of data scientists. But even for us, the sheer volume of raw and processed data, that resides in both our structured systems and unstructured data repositories, has the potential to put our business at risk.

We know there’s always more that can be done to strengthen our security posture and ensure regulatory and contractual compliance, while at the same time using our data to drive the business forward.

Data protection isn’t just about compliance

For many organisations, data protection has centred on demonstrating compliance with the GDPR. At Arrow, our efforts have gone one step further to include our contractual exposure.

Being a more mature data organisation, we had previously tried to develop an application in-house to manage our data estate. However, with 160TB across the company in production data alone, we simply couldn’t achieve the scale we needed to handle the sheer volume of data. Of course, the volume is just the start – once you know what data you have, you then need to be able to categorise the data and put it into a structure, so the business can analyse it for a specific use case.

We knew we needed to go to market to find an industrial-strength data discovery product to replace our in-house application. By aligning our choice of product to our overall IT and change strategy, meant that ultimately, we ended up with a far better outcome than we’d anticipated.

Position data as both a risk and an asset

Data touches every part of an organisation, so when it came to building a business case for buying-in a data discovery software platform, we approached it in a way that would speak to different people at the same time. We did this by posing the question:

“What do we want to do with data in a way that is GDPR-compliant, contractually-compliant and enables us to better service our clients?”

These are the black and white tests of data governance – to recognise the importance of securing and protecting data. They’re applied in a way that enables us to commoditise data and use it to drive the business forward, by forcing us to consider how we would use the data – for example, creating value-based pricing for our clients.

In aligning the business case to initiatives that were already priorities within the boardroom, we knew that we’d gain the attention of the senior leadership team and it would be easier to get the buy-in and budget we needed. And in the end, everyone wins – we get what we need to protect the data, and the business gets to distil the data’s value to better meet our customers’ expectations.

Dave Parker

Dave Parker

Get visibility of data at scale

For us, things got really exciting once we were able to see all of our data at scale. We chose Exonar because it allowed us to discover our data in ways that other products couldn’t. And the interface between the user and Exonar meant that everyone – both technical and non-technical users – could understand the technology and the findings it revealed.

When we saw exactly what data was in the estate, where it was and who had access to it, data security became much easier and the risk of data being compromised was dramatically reduced. We can see exactly where the vulnerabilities are and restructure how our data is stored to strengthen security. Then over time, we can use search, workflow and analysis to optimise the infrastructure and continually identify new areas to improve.

Commercialise the data

From a wider-business perspective, once people can see the data, they can start asking “What if…” to query it and distil its value. But it’s more than just the data itself. It’s not uncommon for data relating to the same thing to exist in unconnected systems across the business. For example, customer interactions and incidents or events.

Exonar is capable of joining the dots in disparate data sets. By stitching these data sets together, we can get a better overall view of our customers and use the outcomes to think of new, different or better ways of serving them through enhancing or adapting our offerings.

Why other financial services businesses should also take a smarter approach to data

  1. By changing the way you approach data, you can use it to protect and power your business and the people you serve.
  2. By positioning data as both a risk and an asset, you elevate its position to give it priority in the boardroom. Ultimately, it’s data that helps the business make informed strategic decisions about how to strengthen its competitive advantage.
  3. By gaining visibility of data at scale, you can see exactly what data you have and where it is. This gives the business confidence about the actions needed to ensure it is secured in both a regulatory and contractually compliant way, and that people are doing the right thing with data at all times.
  4. And joining different data sets provides you with a single view of ‘X’ within your data, no matter where it is. Helping to support your wider-business strategy and priorities, it gives you the information you need to secure a business advantage and generate value.

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Why and how a modern marketing strategy should put customer experience first

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Why and how a modern marketing strategy should put customer experience first 2

By Jim Preston, VP EMEA, Showpad

In 2004, the Leading Edge Forum coined the term ‘consumerisation of IT’, defining a trend in usability and customer experience that would be confirmed by the launch of the iPhone three years later. Long gone are the days of trawling through esoteric and poorly-written manuals, the trend said – if technology isn’t usable off the bat, it’s out of the question.

This trend gradually permeated all of IT, before making its way through customer and buyer experiences, regardless of sector. In fact, research has shown that a staggering 81% of B2B buyers purchase based on the buying experience alone, well ahead of either price or product. Of course, price and product are important, but with markets becoming increasingly commoditised, buyer experience, including the trust and relationships that are built, is fast becoming central to the equation.

However, this experience begins long before a customer meets with a salesperson, hits send on an enquiry email, or calls the sales team. According to studies, B2B buyers will spend an average of 20 hours doing research before they contact someone in sales – and if they’re not finding your content online, you can be sure that they’re finding your competitor’s content.

In short, this means that your marketing strategy needs to be much broader than just a Gantt chart of campaigns – a real marketing strategy encompasses all aspects of the customer experience, before, during and after a sale. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Regtech, payment processing or retail banking, it must be easy (and even pleasant) to find, understand and engage with your content and brand.

Where to begin

Sun Tzu wisely said, ‘know yourself and know the enemy’, and the same is absolutely true for your marketing strategy. Providing a good customer experience and consequently, good marketing, is impossible if you don’t know the market that you’re serving.

For example, if you’re in Regtech, make sure you know the exact ins and outs of the compliance headaches that you’re solving. Regulation is highly nuanced and will vary from country to country and sector to sector – so make sure you understand what problem your company solves and for whom! Regtech often relies on algorithms and big data to make life easier, which isn’t always easy to communicate clearly. Consequently, it’s worth spending time immersing yourself from the outset and fighting through the jargon until you’ve got it clear, so that you can brief teams and create marketing content that will really resonate rather than repel.

Similarly, if you’re working for a business bank, know the particular kind of businesses that you’re targeting – do they work in one country or multiple countries? Are they in particular vertical markets, or are they a generalist? What pressures are they facing at the moment?

Once you have a good understanding of your prospects, how they’re segmented, their challenges and how they work, as well as the respective strengths and focus areas of your own brand, you need a few more things – content, the means of communicating that content, and the means of measuring the success or failure of that content.

Clearly, if we were talking about historic marketing, we’d limit this discussion to just direct mail or events, but today, it needs to encompass all of that, as well as ongoing content that goes to existing customers – and even former customers! This means communicating better with teams like sales, customer success and product development. In fact, there is anecdotal evidence of companies pausing outbound campaigns to focus purely on marketing to current customers, in an effort to delight and retain during the pandemic.

This article won’t go into detail about how to draw up content at a tactical level – this is different for every single organisation – but there are a few very pertinent elements that apply to all companies.

The components of a great connected marketing strategy

Jim Preston

Jim Preston

Be Targeted

First and foremost, don’t do less well, do less, well. Every buyer is almost drowning in content today. Producing infrequent but regular content that is excellent – whether that means being surprising, informative, thought-provoking or just plain useful – is much more appreciated than weekly drivel. In fact, research suggests that buyers often feel overwhelmed when presented with more than five pieces of content, so less is definitely more. Quality content is good for your brand equity, and it keeps you engaged with prospects.

Closely aligned to quality is specificity. In many financial areas, products are strictly controlled and how they are sold and advertised can differ or be limited by regulation. Consequently, it’s important to have a way of segmenting which marketing content goes to which audience – and ensure that this is consistent across your organisation!

Use Analytics

Secondly, have analytics in place that can show what content is being consumed. As John Wanamaker said, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” – and the same is true for marketing. You wouldn’t run an event and not solicit feedback, so don’t create content where you can’t measure its success once it’s been distributed. Being able to tell other teams which content is working really well also helps them – and not just by bringing in new customers. If you can tell the sales team that prospects were really engaged with a webinar on the ePrivacy directive, for example, then that also gives them a conversation starter for their next interaction with a prospect.

Get Feedback

Similarly, getting feedback from broader teams is important, either to reinforce that you’re taking the right marketing approach, or to use their insights to fuel your next marketing campaign. Most large organisations will store and generate a large amount of data every single day, so mining this data to create meaningful insights and translating that into content and approaches that are impactful is extremely important.

Keep Improving

Finally, unless you’re working in a startup, you’re probably not going it alone, so you also need mechanisms to make sure that the content is being communicated and followed-up effectively by all members of the team. This means that tracking what’s been distributed, how it’s been received, as well as providing good training, coaching and performance management of staff, is key.

This also ensures that you can not only do more of what’s been working, but that you can improve things that aren’t. In some ways, it doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with an underperforming marketing asset or a member of staff – either way, you need to change something and then make sure that it’s improved!

Into the Future

With most western economies drawing a large proportion of their revenue from the service sector (in Germany, for example, this figure stands at around 70%, with the UK at 80%) it’s unsurprising that experience, above price and product, has become a central differentiator. It may have been slower to permeate through B2B organisations in the financial services sector, compared to B2C firms and retail banks, but as budgets tighten through the pandemic and recession, it’s crucial that marketers step up to take on the mantle of being experience champions.

Clearly, this will manifest itself in different ways, but whether it’s better enabling the sales team by producing highly specific content for one prospect, helping a CSM promote a product change because of customer feedback, or simply promoting a new service, the central tenet holds: experience has never been more important.

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Business first, not compliance only is the future for accountants

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Business first, not compliance only is the future for accountants 3

By Peter Bracey, MD at Bracey’s Accountants. 

The past few months have underlined the need for better business insight to reduce risk, improve decision making and exploit new opportunities. Businesses have needed rapid access to advice, support and information – yet in too many cases the obvious ‘go to’ resource has failed.

Accounting firms with a compliance only approach have been unable to step up and support businesses that need more than the basics of profit & loss; balance sheets; and cash flow.  What they require is business support, from using corporate structure to mitigate risk to undertaking robust forecasting to inform investment plans and helping to maximise business value for a company looking to sell.

From providing essential advice to protect business assets – such as property – to R&D tax incentives and VAT consultancy, whether a business requires a fully outsourced FD or support for the existing management team, Peter Bracey, MD, Bracey’s Accountants, outlines the opportunity for progressive accountants to support constantly changing business.

Managing Change

Whether a winner or loser during the Covid-19 crisis, businesses across every industry have had to adapt to extraordinary change. Gyms were shut but companies selling gym equipment, bikes and paddleboards couldn’t keep pace with demand. Garden centres and nurseries were trying to keep alive tonnes of bedding plants – while seeds sold out online and everyone bought a greenhouse.

For some business owners the focus was on managing job retention schemes and accessing the life-line of government finance – but now they are worrying about the repayments of deferred VAT and government loans that will be due early in 2021; about closing premises or making redundancies. For others, the challenge was in responding to customer demand for home delivery; working out new finance models and overcoming supply chain glitches. Now they are looking to build on new customer relationships and embed expansion plans.

At every step, these businesses have needed advice, support and insight. But this was uncharted territory. Forecasting is tough at the best of times. Little if any of the business’ activity pre-Covid appeared to offer any relevance during the past six months. So where could businesses turn for help?

Valued Advice

These are decisions that require not only excellent financial and business understanding, but also excellent financial and business data. Which is where many traditional accountancy firms fall down. The majority have, of course, made the shift to cloud based software which provides shared, real-time access to business data. As yet, however, many remain committed to a service model that is predicated solely on meeting compliance requirements, not supporting critical business decisions.

Proactive firms are taking a very different approach, one that takes a business first rather than compliance only approach.  Rather than attempting to mitigate risks and reduce tax liabilities after the fact, this model is about constant communication with clients to support change. By encouraging businesses to discuss plans in advance, accountants can provide vital support and insight – either working with the existing CFO or FD or providing an outsourced FD resource to those companies that cannot justify this dedicated role.

These firms are looking beyond annual accounts data to provide business insight and advice based on current, not historic – and now irrelevant, financial data. Whether the business is worrying about repaying its deferred VAT and Bounce Back loans next year, searching to minimise risk or building on new customer awareness to add revenue streams, there is a pressing need to understand the business as well as financial implications of change.

Continued Support

Today, that means supporting companies through a line by line approach to every item on the balance sheet. From cutting costs and chasing debts without jeopardising important business relationships; to identifying and funding new revenue streams – even creating local supply chains to mitigate the potential disruptions caused by Brexit – understanding, analysing and interpreting this data is key to making the right decisions today to support immediate goals.

But what about tomorrow? Covid-19 may have been a once in a century event but the pace of change affecting business in a digitally disrupted global economy demands this continuous level of proactive support. Few business owners or management teams have the time, resources or expertise to unravel the complexities of 21st century operations – and can become exposed to significant risk as a result.

Is it worth developing talent in house or more effective to recruit? Does the government’s latest apprenticeship scheme really work financially? What about tax incentives – such as R&D tax credits or the potential to cut corporation tax for sales of patented goods? How can the business safeguard its intellectual property?

Business Foundation

Providing the right answers to these questions is about far more than the mainstays of accountancy: the P&L and balance sheet. It is about leveraging business understanding and knowledge to support clients through every change; about helping companies to take every possible step to build a strong foundation, maximise tax incentives, minimise risk and realise business goals.

Take the retailer that has spent 50 years building up not only a successful customer base but also a valuable property portfolio and cash reserves. At first glance, a robust business. But the company structure revealed a significant risk: the entire operation was held within one limited company. There was no separation of assets. Should the business be accused of copying a product and face a legal claim, the entire company’s assets would be at risk. The simple step of creating a group structure and transferring some of the assets to a holding company draws a line in the sand and limits a creditor’s ability to attack the entire corporate asset holding.

Or consider the business that was investing circa £1million year on year in a new software product – yet had no idea that it could claim R&D tax credits and was due a £500,000 rebate. Or the businesses that have never considered applying for a patent on a product because of the up-front costs – and are, as a result, missing out on the long term financial benefits of patent tax relief. Any company with a patent pending can apply for Patent Box relief which can reduce corporation tax on the profit generated from the part of the product that is patented from 19% to 10%.

Conclusion

This level of proactive support and advice is invaluable but for many companies, and accountancy firms, it has taken a global pandemic to drive a change in expectations. As the firefighting phase draws a close, businesses will continue to face extraordinary, unprecedented change – not only as a result of Covid but also Brexit. Throw in the implications of a post Covid budget, evolving environmental legislation and technology enabled disruption and the ability to adapt and respond is now prerequisite for business success.

Business owners have never had more issues to consider – or more need for rapid, trusted business advice and support.

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Why Continuity and Succession Planning is Crucial for Businesses Right Now

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Why Continuity and Succession Planning is Crucial for Businesses Right Now 4

By Chris Allen, a Chartered Wealth Planner at Arbuthnot Latham explains why it is crucial for businesses to review continuity and succession plans at this current time.

Coronavirus has created many challenges for businesses and an area of discussion that has rapidly escalated in importance is around protection. Protection should always be an area of priority for a business, but the situation we find ourselves in has understandably brought this topic to the fore.

When reviewing continuity and succession plans, you need to consider:

  • How would your business cope with the death of a key person that has a direct influence on the profitability of the company?
  • What would happen to the business should a director, shareholder or owner pass away?

Key Person’s Protection

53% of businesses cease trading in under a year after the loss of a key person. Why? Often the effect the deceased individual had on turnover or profit was so great, that the business can no longer continue without them. There could also be litigation, brand damage and liquidation issues to contend with which can ultimately lead to business failure.
So what can we do to help? We can help you:

  • identify: key people in your business,
  • quantify the financial risks of an individual passing away
  • create a solution and implement it.

The typical result here is a life assurance plan, where the business receives the sum assured on a specific individual passing away.

Life Cover

Another area of great importance is relevant life cover. This is a tax efficient policy that allows an employer to offer a death in service benefit to their employees. Life cover policies are applicable to small businesses who do not have the scale to qualify for group schemes. This offering helps businesses offer competitive employee packages to attract and retain the right employees.

Similarly to personal life cover, the pay-out would go to the employee’s family of financial dependents, however, it is important to note that this is an employer funded policy and the premiums paid by the employer allows the company to benefit from corporation or income tax relief. This is a key area of planning for employers to protect their employees or indeed directors who are paid on PAYE.

Shareholder Protection

Six out of ten business owners state that they have no protection in place to cover the cost of purchasing shares should a business owner die.

Simply put, a shareholder protection arrangement allows the surviving shareholder(s) to have the funds available to purchase the shares of the deceased shareholder from their estate and maintain control of the business and the direction they want to take it.

When discussing shareholder protection, it is important to think about the following:

  • What happens if you or one of the shareholders were to pass away?
  • What is the succession plan for the business?
  • Would the deceased estate/spouse inherit these shares and what does that mean for the future direction of the business?

A good wealth planner can assist you by assessing current agreements you have in place, the type of business you are operating and also understand if any shareholders have medical conditions which will need to be considered.

From there they can help with the valuation of each member’s shares, work with other professional advisers to get the correct agreement in place, and structure the plan properly to accommodate the different % ownership of various shareholders.

Recent events have shown us the future is unpredictable and we should all think about getting our house in order should the worst happen. A lack of planning could have a huge impact on your business and loved ones. Having the correct advice and solutions in place is always important, but even more so in these uncertain times.

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