Stephen Wainwright, Partner, Poppleton & Appleby
In the wake of the recent Carillion collapse, Insolvency Practitioners, Poppleton & Appleby, understand that many sub-contractors may be feeling uneasy about the wider spread implications. Main contractors may not be paying for work that is being done and some may even become insolvent themselves.
Partner Stephen Wainwright talks to us about what can be learnt from recent events and what to be looking out for, to avoid such situations.
Tell us about the recent collapse of Carillion?
Carillion the second largest UK construction company went into liquidation on 15th January 2018 when talks with its lenders and the Government failed to reach a deal with debts estimated at circa £1.5b.
The company’s financial issues were widely covered in the press and its demise was a long drawn out process. In the 12 months leading up to the company failure, there were 3 profit warnings and in November 17, one of the warnings referred to a breach in its banking covenants.
It is surprising that a company with a reported 450 global contracts could fail because 3 or 4 contracts proved to be unprofitable.
The company relied heavily on large public service contracts which very often were less profitable and some contracts under-performed resulting in a debt burden of £900m.
Following 3 profit warnings, its banks were naturally averse to increasing their exposure. As a result, and presumably in their minds to relieve themselves of ongoing cash flow problems, they successfully tendered for well documented public finance contracts with lowprofit margins. I am sure people in the civil service and Government must be asked why a company that had made 3 profit warnings, the first in July 2017, was subsequently awarded such large contracts.
Carillion itself relied heavily on major public contracts which, in some instances, granted upfront finance. It appears that Carillion may have used these funds in dealing with its general ongoing financial situation rather than to fund the specific contract.
This may have worked to some degree but clearly without sufficient profit in contracts, the costs of delays and overruns typically encountered put the company into loss making territory.
How could this have been avoided?
I would have expected the company to have entered into administration, which is a process that aims to help a company restructure whilst avoiding a formal winding down and liquidation of the company. However, that would have required sufficient working capital to enable an Administrator to continue to trade whilst a buyer was sought, which the company simply didn’t have.
When the board of directors realised that there was going to be a major cash flow difficulty then they could have sought the advices of a turnover/restructuring specialist.
Even the most astute board can miss the early signs of distress. Naturally over the years, I have seen many crisis situations and naturally I have seen my share of “boiled frogs” – comparing companies in crisis with the metaphorical frog that does not notice the water it is in warming up until it is too late.
Most directors and managers often work under a set of parameters that no longer apply in a financial crisis, effectively allowing inertia to carry them along. Often the board will take advantage of cheap and widely available finance which in the short-term plasters over the poor performance of the company whilst believing that the adverse conditions are a temporary blip and that there will be a return to normality. If the underlying problems within the business are not resolved, then the money will ultimately run out and this process will repeat even if further monies are introduced. I’ve seen this countless times during my career as a business turnaround and Insolvency Practitioner.
In these circumstances, it is useful to utilise outside turnaround specialists to look at the business structure without blinkers or preconceived knowledge of the business.
In the case of Carillion, a turnaround specialist would have worked in-house with the board of directors and senior management and implemented a turnaround plan. At that stage, the specialist would have formulated a business plan and spoken with lenders and other principal stakeholders.
What should people in the construction industry, specifically, be looking out for?
Before being engaged with a project, you need to ensure that your client is financially sound. It may be helpful to ask the following questions:
How healthy are their financial statements?
They should be able to show you the last recent audited accounts as well as recent management accounts. There are a number of credit agencies who can provide financial accounts as well as recent data regarding possible summonses, etc. and provide a credit score. The costs are not considerable but could be very useful when first starting out with a client you have never worked with before. If a company refuses to provide financial information, I would think twice before working for them.
What is their annual turnover in relation to the value of the project?
If your project is £500,000 and the contractor turns over £5m a year, they may have problems in financing a contract and therefore there may be delays which ultimately could be caught by you.
Following the demise of Carillion and other well-known entities, it is clear that no company is too big to fail and therefore, doing your homework in carrying out due diligence before engaging with companies large or small, should be done in each and every case.
Most businesses have a credit rating and it may be surprising to know that only 15% have a low probability of failure.
Do they pay on time?
A very good barometer is to check if the company that wishes to engage with you pays their suppliers. If they are a plc, there are websites you can google who will give you this information.
How long have they been in business?
This may be an obvious one but rarely do people check how long their clients has been trading for. Ideally, you would want to work with a company that has been trading for at least 5 years and which has consistently grown with their P&L account increasing year by year.
It is important to know what other sub-contractors will be used on your project and although it may be laborious, it is certainly worthwhile doing some due diligence on them as they too may have issues which would impact on your ability to complete works and ultimately receive payment.
If you are entering into a large contract and have any concerns, I would strongly suggest a face to face meeting with the directors and, if needs be, your accountant or FD who can try and ascertain the company’s financial state and well-being.
A framework agreement is for long term projects usually for large clients. If contractors have these in place, it may be worth considering liaising with their clients to get an understanding of their past performance.
Partner, Poppleton & Appleby
Licensed Insolvency Practitioner and Business Recovery Specialist
CAPEX: Expanding, Educating, and Tackling 2021
Established in 2016, CAPEX.com is a worldwide broker provider dedicated to building creative solutions that change the way traders invest.
Global Banking & Finance Review editor, Wanda Rich caught up with CAPEX, CEO Madalina Rotaru to discuss CAPEX’s expansion into Abu Dhabi, the importance of education to its ethos and how it is addressing current global changes into 2021 and beyond.
Wanda Rich: First of all, please tell us more about CAPEX.com.
Madalina Rotaru: With many years of experience in the fintech scene, and as a leading multi-license broker, CAPEX always works hard to develop new products and services that innovate the way people invest today. Our goal is to create a complete fintech platform: a one-stop-shop trading solution, with services that are tailor-made for our clients and partners. CAPEX.com is now a global brand and a leading online broker, with three licenses from ADGM FSRA, CySEC and FSCA.
Wanda Rich: Why did you specifically choose Abu Dhabi as your next hub?
Madalina Rotaru: Abu Dhabi has proven to be an attractive environment and an ever-growing hub full of investment potential, with robust international financial centres like the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM).
With our expansion into the Middle East, we aim to reach a broader clientele via our prestigious trading brand CAPEX.com, while also ensuring that potential investors who are ignored by most of the popular brokers can enjoy a unique and memorable trading experience.
As we support clients who want to make educated investment decisions, we offer a personalised list of services that includes a full package of free educational materials and access to leading market tools powered by reputed providers, directly integrated into our proprietary CAPEX WebTrader platform.
Wanda Rich: There are many Forex brokers in the market. How does CAPEX.com differentiate itself from its competition?
Madalina Rotaru: Although attractive in theory, trading in the Middle East comes with its shortfalls due to limited access to educational resources and a lack of secure brokers to facilitate investments. Reports of fraudulent schemes and illegal trading activities have swept the region amid COVID-19, endangering the capital of numerous investors.
As such, the keys to ensuring the integrity of both individual traders and broader financial markets should be education, through knowledge sharing and unrestricted access to resources.
CAPEX.com stands out from the pack with a solid educational culture and an innovative way of empowering people to trade the financial markets. Our company boasts a customer-centred and education-oriented business philosophy, backed up by powerful technology and personalised trading possibilities.
Our professional teams work round the clock to build creative solutions for investors, expanding and refining our lineup of services. Traders gain access to a wide range of trading products – over 2.100 financial instruments covering the major markets and beyond – as well as to two trading platforms: CAPEX WebTrader and MetaTrader 5.
As CAPEX WebTrader users, clients can activate Trading Central, which delivers analysis and recommendations from real financial experts. Additionally, they can get essential market intel from trusted third-party sources such as News Sentiment, Daily Analyst Ratings, Bloggers Opinions and Hedge Funds Activity powered by award-winning market analysis service provider, TipRanks.
We also offer free and unrestricted access to TradingView, the market’s finest analytical platform, which attracts more than 8 million users per month.
Wanda Rich: 2020 imposed some radical changes for many of us. What changed on the global tech scene in 2020, and what should we expect in 2021?
Madalina Rotaru: Considering the global shift towards technology, the future seems bright. Cloud computing, analytics, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity have already shown impressive results, but I still see room for more growth over the next decade. And let’s not forget about the Big Tech companies, which are already lining up to get their share of the market and expand their horizons.
For example, Microsoft now offers far more than just personal computing software. The Seattle-based firm is primed to grow in the world of new technological advancements, boosted by its enterprise solutions, especially Azure Cloud.
As a side note here, we are proud that Microsoft mentioned Key Way Group – the company that owns CAPEX.com – as a success story, listing us on their global website alongside PayPal, KPMG, IKEA, Coca-Cola, Volkswagen and other international brands.
More than anything, this shows that our infrastructure has proven its worth in the past few months, as the pandemic forced people to work remotely and enabled us to collaborate, whether it was for meetings, sharing documents or reporting.
The Beaconsoft story and introducing its one-of-a-kind digital campaign intelligence platform
By Nigel Bridges, founding CEO of Beaconsoft Limited
What were you doing prior to setting up Beaconsoft?
Before setting up Beaconsoft, I was involved in the leadership and scale up of SoftIron, a ground-breaking British hardware tech company that has now moved its operations to California.
Prior to that, as well as holding the role of managing director/CEO of a number of UK tech firms, I also acted as an independent adviser and non-executive director of several digital media businesses, one of which was a digital marketing agency.
It was with this business that I first encountered the issues surrounding the lack of transparency and accuracy in digital media expenditure.
This was also when I first joined forces with my Beaconsoft co-founders, Stewart Boutcher and Mike Townend.
What were your main motivations for establishing the business?
As a digital marketing agency, one of the biggest challenges we faced was the reporting of accurate and meaningful information to our clients.
Their marketing budgets were not limitless, and we needed to make sure that money was spent wisely and, in doing so, that we achieved, and exceeded, the desired results.
We needed comprehensive yet easy to understand analytics to measure and report on the effectiveness of campaigns and channels, based on accurate, independent data.
If we had this information, we knew that we could help our clients to make improvements to their digital marketing campaigns by drawing on real and meaningful insights. However, like the vast majority of marketers, we struggled to collect and combine accurate data to achieve this.
We became increasingly frustrated that we couldn’t find the right platform, despite searching the marketing technology industry far and wide. Every piece of technology we discovered fell short of our requirements because they didn’t use independent data and tended to underreport the level of fake clicks.
This is why we decided to create something that no-one else was offering – and thus the concept of Beacon was created.
Please could you briefly explain what the Beacon platform does?
Beacon is an independent digital campaign intelligence platform that uses accurate data to help users know what content, posts, ads, etc. are working effectively and which aren’t across all their digital channels.
The marketing analytics that the platform provides are presented in such a transparent and accurate way that businesses can make better decisions based on independent and reliable data that they can place their trust in.
When did Beacon launch and why did you think it was necessary?
We had early versions to test the market back in 2018 but we launched the platform as it is now in 2019, rolling out regular updates and new functionality since then.
Beacon was born out of the frustration that we felt as a digital agency when facing the challenges of data transparency, data accuracy, multi-channel campaign optimisation and reporting inefficiency.
Beacon is the only platform of its kind on the market that can accurately show how much of a business’ digital marketing budget is being wasted by bot clicks. What exactly are bot clicks?
A bot click is simply a type of click on a post, ad, link, etc. that is not made by a human.
They can either be good or bad for businesses that operate online, but the important measurement from a digital marketing perspective is the number of human responses to messages and clicks through to a website rather than the number of clicks as a whole.
The amount of bot clicks can vary hugely, and can account for as much as 50% of all traffic received in some cases, meaning counting these interactions in campaign statistics can be very misleading.
What threats do bot clicks pose to companies’ digital ad budgets and how widespread a problem are they?
In the world of digital marketing, it is likely that, at best, only 15% of a firm’s budget leads to any form of meaningful engagement with their target audience.
A large portion of this waste is due to online spending on digital ads that attract non-human bot activity and, if malicious bot clicks are left unchecked, businesses will continue to waste their budget on non-human clicks that could be deployed on human clicks, thus making the Return on Investment [ROI] much lower.
It is estimated that expenditure on digital advertising exceeded £250 billion in 2020, with more than 21 trillion ads paid for but never seen by humans each year and digital marketing campaigns subject to fraud rates of more than 50%.
Google and Facebook are forecast to account for 71% of the UK’s online advertising market in the near future, and the prevalence of non-human ad clicks adds up to a massive waste of corporate marketing budgets.
Furthermore, the sheer size of the online advertising market tempts criminals into creating technologies to steal from advertisers, fuelling a global problem within the industry.
What purpose do bot clicks serve and why might people take advantage of them?
Some bots are completely benign and should actually be embraced by businesses.
For example, many email systems will use bots to check the validity of a link to a website, and Google will use bots to list a website for search engine rankings.
These bots are positive and should be encouraged, but at the other end of the spectrum are malicious bots that can, for example, masquerade as humans for the purpose of financial fraud.
How does Beacon help to combat the impact of bot clicks and how much of a difference could this make for businesses?
Beacon attempts to firstly detect bots, irrespective of the originating marketing channel, and remove them from campaign analytics and then stop the content from being presented to that bot so that the cost of that ‘wasted click’ is avoided.
We have spent a long time and a lot of effort developing some very special technology that makes Beacon a compelling choice for any organisation wanting to reduce its digital marketing waste, drive better engagement with human visitors, and ultimately improve their ROI.
In what other ways can Beacon help businesses to optimise their digital campaigns?
It is worth noting that reducing ad fraud is just one component in optimising digital campaigns.
By reducing the number of bot clicks, the analytics received are far more accurate, and considerable costs can be saved.
However, this is a means to an end as the goal is to improve the overall digital marketing campaign, for which organisations need to measure only the results of human interactions across all their digital marketing channels.
Once they have this, they can then improve their campaigns by looking at what works and what doesn’t by making comparisons between each ad, channel, piece of content, etc., safe in the knowledge that they are drawing on accurate and independent data.
Mark Wright – No Longer an Apprentice
Just for context, you won The Apprentice and became Lord Sugar’s business partner in 2014 – you set up your digital marketing business Climb Online and are continuing to successfully grow this business today.
With the beauty of hindsight, would you have started your business journey differently?
When growing up, I always knew that I wanted to be in business and that I wanted to be successful. It wasn’t until I was working for a personal training college in Australia that I realised the true power of digital marketing, as the website I built and ranked on the first page of Google for key search terminology enabled them to accelerate revenue from $2,000 to $240,000 per month.
After I travelled to the UK, I wanted a bank loan to help launch my first business, but I wasn’t able to secure one. A friend suggested I try out for BBC’s The Apprentice as an alternative, which was something I hadn’t heard of, let alone watched before, and the rest is history. I don’t believe in regrets and certainly wouldn’t have changed how I started my business journey. The show provided me with an excellent PR and lead generation platform, and I have had the unique opportunity to meet and learn from some incredible business people, particularly Lord Sugar, for which I am very grateful.
The X Factor winners are often lambasted by the press and not taken seriously as artists by the music industry after winning the show. Have you experienced parallel treatment from the business community after your win?
I would certainly say that I experienced parallel negative treatment from the digital marketing industry when I first won BBC’s The Apprentice; where I was even booed going onto stage to speak at a trade event. However, I am always a big believer in the fact that how people treat and respond to others is more a reflection of themselves and it wasn’t something that I let impact me. The best people in business are those who can support and celebrate other people’s successes and that’s what I always strive to do, regardless of the treatment I receive in return.
Do you feel you have had to work harder to prove your credence as an entrepreneur?
Yes, on some level I do think I initially felt like I had to work harder to prove my credibility as an entrepreneur and a business owner. A lot of people audition and make it on to BBC’s The Apprentice out of a desire for public recognition and 5 minutes of fame, whereas I only wanted to go on the show to secure investment for my business having been rejected from a number of UK banks due to my nationality.
I still hold the record as the only Apprentice Winner to turn over in excess of £1 million during my first year in business and to actually make a profit, and this was largely due to the fact I was so focused on building a large business with strong foundations from the outset.
You became a UK Citizen earlier this year, why have you chosen to stay permanently in the UK?
Australia will always have a special place in my heart and I still have a desire to return and even open a Climb Online office there, but the UK has really become my home. I have made some amazing friends and have created a number of brilliant businesses and am very excited about what the future brings here.
What have been your stand out moments since launching Climb Online?
I have been very fortunate in that I have had many standout moments since launching Climb Online, from being listed twice on Forbes 30 under 30 to creating and hosting CLIMBCON in 2019.*
However, my real stand out moment is quite simple, and it happens almost daily and that is being in the office with my team, receiving positive feedback from clients and helping and mentoring other business owners or aspiring entrepreneurs with their own challenges. There is no feeling like helping someone else succeed or realise their own ambitions and I feel incredibly fortunate that I am able to support and give back to others in such a way.
Have you ever just wanted to throw the towel in and head back to the beach?
All business owners at some point will have that feeling of wanting to throw in the towel, particularly on the days when nothing is going right, and everything feels impossible. However, the true marker of success is the ability to continue to show up each day and work through every single challenge. The ones that do will come out on top, maybe not immediately, but eventually.
I am from a small town in Australia where my Dad owns the local car garage and my mum owns the local hair salon, so when we were all sitting round the table at dinner time, they would discuss the challenges of running a business and I would gain real insight into the hardships. So in starting and continuing to work through my business journey I have always had this in the back of my mind. The power of persistence cannot be underestimated and even on days when I feel like it, I wouldn’t ever head back to the beach.
2020 has been a tough year for business. How was your business affected?
I can honestly say that the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was the hardest period I have ever had to work through in business as like the majority, we lost clients and were forced to make challenging decisions. However, I would also say I have learnt the most about business this year and worked hard to implement an effective survival strategy. This not only meant we were able to continue to navigate through the first difficult three months, but in taking the time to look at our costs, our staff and our processes, have had the opportunity to make vast improvements that have enabled us to thrive beyond pre-COVID levels and really come out on top.
What do you think the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be? Will the economy bounce back quicker than predicted?
I think the figures from Q3 were very promising and show that a ‘bounce back’ is possible. However, with further reports revealing that UK borrowing is now at the highest since records began, it means we have a long way to go and it certainly won’t be easy.
Although there haven’t been any changes to taxes as yet, I do think these will come as we start to see economic recovery and hope any increases don’t impact business owners too heavily, particularly as they have worked so hard to survive this unprecedented period.
How has COVID-19 changed the digital marketing industry?
Although there was an initial hit at the start of the pandemic, with businesses cutting digital marketing spend as a cost-saving exercise, I would actually say the pandemic has since played into the hands of the digital marketing industry by emphasising the importance of having a strong digital presence to sell your product or service online.
There will still be agencies who will be down on a revenue. However this won’t be because the business and sales opportunities aren’t out there, but because they aren’t pushing hard enough and are ultimately using COVID-19 as an excuse. At Climb Online we have won many new clients recently just because we were the only agency to actually answer the phone, which is quite unbelievable and shows that many are still operating remotely and haven’t got the right virtual infrastructure in place.
What advice would you give for business owners struggling to drive new sales?
This is going to sound very simple, but the first thing business owners struggling with sales should do is hire a salesperson to implement a clear and consistent business development strategy. I’ve met thousands of business owners over the years and it still amazes me that the vast majority don’t have any form of sales operation to keep the pipeline full and to proactively sell the product or service. Often the business owner is hesitant to hire a salesperson due to a bad experience or because they believe no one will be able to sell the business as well as they can, and whilst the latter is likely to be true, you still need additional people on the ground generating as many leads as possible. Without a sales team, any form of sales strategy becomes inconsistent and ineffective, limiting the opportunity for growth.
Will you ever retire? Absolutely not. Never.
*CLIMBCON is the only business summit dedicated to teaching businesses how to grow and scale from real life successful entrepreneurs
in an authentic and empowering live event
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