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Mind the Gap: Optimum Finance warns SMEs to uphold their payment terms

Mind the Gap: Optimum Finance warns SMEs to uphold their payment terms

Inconsistent payment terms resulting in cash flow pressure and an opaque financial outlook are the key findings of a survey of SME businesses.

Invoice finance firm Optimum Finance surveyed owners and senior managers in thirty-three companies across the region to gauge their financial health and found that nearly a fifth of the businesses questioned (18.8%) cannot predict what the financial position of their company will be in three months’ time.

Worryingly, less than half of companies (48%) say they feel their business has a strong financial health with ten percent of firms saying that cash flow has been a cause for concern in the last 12 months of trading.

One of the main areas highlighted in the findings showed the huge variation in payment terms. The majority of firms (45%) have standard payment terms of 30 days but it appears these are not being respected by their customers and clients with only a fraction of companies (6%) saying they actually get paid on time in accordance with their stated terms.

Most firms say they get paid on time on at least 50% of occasions – indicating a regular pattern of late payments for almost half of all invoices issued by small and medium enterprises. 15% of businesses say they get paid on time between 25-50% of the time.

One business owner stated they felt obliged to offer a wide range of payment terms specific to each client claiming the ‘bigger the client’s business the longer the payment terms requested.’

Reviewing the findings, CEO of Optimum Finance Richard Pepler said: “We know that payments are incredibly inconsistent as that is the primary reason that companies come to us for help.

“If they cannot rely on getting cash in the bank when invoices fall due then this has a knock-on effect to their ability to pay their staff and suppliers which in turn results in a huge amount of stress and pressure on company bosses.

“Being able to access flexible funding solutions is an important feature of business growth strategies. We know that poor cash flow is the main reason that start ups fail in their first three years, but cash flow pressures in established businesses are less discussed but no less problematic.

“It is often the bigger firms with substantial capital reserves who are the ones not paying their smaller suppliers on time. The recent high profile collapse of Carillion brought this issue into the spotlight.”

“In order for a business to grow there will always be a need for capital investment whether in new staff, stock or other investment strategies. This requires businesses to be able to accurately forecast medium to long term finances in order to make decisions. A healthy cash flow is paramount to this and that’s why some firms choose funding support that we offer which releases cash owed to them tied up in invoices.”

Business

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy  

Contis enters RBS Capability and Innovation Fund bid seeking £35 million for disruptive SME growth strategy   36

Leading payments provider, Contis, has applied for two grants from the RBS & BCR Alternative Remedies Package, totalling £35 million.  

Unlike most applicants who will deploy funds through a single brand, Contis is taking a completely different approach. The funding will be used to drive fintech innovation in the UK by developing an off the shelf, B2B electronic and card payment technology platform for SMEs. With Contis’ powerful tech stack and regulated status, this will empower hundreds of fintechs to support the SME market with groundbreaking technologies, payments and lending capabilities. Contis today services over 800,000 consumer accounts, 14,500 business accounts and processes £4bn in transactions per year, demonstrating a proven track record.   

UK businesses are facing a challenging economic environment with the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit. As large corporations and entire sectors are affected, SMEs will play a vital role in the recovery. Contis’ approach is completely disruptive, offering three channels to maximise support for SMEs and sole traders, through three unique brands, all powered by APIs from Contis’ modular and configurable engine. 

1.       Canvas for Business 

Contis is a super-vendor in the world of fintech, offering payments through proven banking rails and card scheme capabilities including issuing pre-paid, debit and virtual cards. They’re linked to digital delivery like Apple Pay and Google Pay, and a trusted tech stack that boasts 99.99% uptime.  

With funding from the Capability and Innovation Fund (CIF), Contis’ technology and regulated services will be made available to the whole fintech community, enabling them to provide dedicated SME accounts with the latest leading-edge capabilities delivered via Contis’ wholly owned, secure, cloud-based technology and apps. Contis’ solution has a firm eye on the need for SMEs to compete internationally, particularly after Brexit, and offers FX integration as standard.  

Canvas for Business will increase competition by providing fintechs serving the SME market with technology that outstrips the big banks. Contis will also provide credit referencing capabilities and empower fintechs to lend to their SME client base through Contis’ own credit licence. Without the constraints of legacy systems, it will enable simple connectivity to accounting and payments solutions, as well as to unlimited future innovations.  

2.       Engage for Business 

Over 150 Credit Unions currently use Contis’ Engage service and technology, and hold an estimated £400 million in undeployed cash reserves. Developed with CIF funding, Engage for Business will enable Credit Unions to launch business accounts and payments products for the first time, and allow excess funds to be redeployed in the SME sector through business support loans. This will revolutionise access to funding for sole traders and small businesses. 

3.       Freedom for Business 

With CIF funding, Contis will also offer large scale SMEs a direct-to-market solution where Contis holds the relationship and provides a bespoke offer to meet the business’ exact needs. 

Contis’ application to the Capability and Innovation Fund is focused on creating the widest possible impact for UK SMEs by fulfilling their accounts & payments needs and driving innovation in SME financial services. 

Through the grant, Contis will empower over 200 fintechs and Credit Unions to provide credit, simplify payments integration into everyday business needs, offer digital credit referencing, provide budgeting tools to SMEs, enable automated payments, give predictive insight on cash flow, provide rewards to SMEs on spending, and much more. 

Peter Cox, Founder and Executive Chairman of Contis said: “Our mission is to democratise payments and financial services for all SMEs, so they’re spoilt for choice with innovative and affordable solutions that meet their exact needs. Our approach, based upon proven technologies, will broaden and disrupt the services available to SMEs far beyond the capabilities of existing providers such as the big banks.  

“By driving competition and innovation, while improving the availability of funding, our approach will increase the services on offer to SMEs and make them more affordable, therefore becoming easier for every entrepreneurial person with vision to run their own businesses.” 

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Business

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver

Four years of digital transformation in four weeks: UK lockdown puts pressure on brands to digitally deliver 37

Nearly a third (32%) of consumers would switch providers if a brand’s website is unavailable for more than 24 hours

A study released today reveals the scale of omni-channel pressure brands now faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, as consumers flock to apps and websites to as the priority destination to transact with brands.

The UK has experienced a huge leap in use of online services thanks to lockdown, with the public appearing to have less concern for the availability of a brand’s physical location. Research by Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS) uncovers a “window of availability” that UK businesses now have before consumer loyalty changes:

  • If a brand’s website is down for 24 hours – 32 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a brand’s app is down for 24 hours – 28 percent of consumers would switch provider
  • If a physical store is closed for 24 hours – 20 percent of consumers would switch provider

The results by industry paint an interesting picture of the availability timeframes brands are expected to adhere to:

  • For online retailers, excluding grocery retailers – 23 percent of consumers would switch provider if they could not access online services for 12 hours, rising to over a third (34 percent) after 24 hours
  • For financial services and entertainment streaming platforms – 21 percent of consumers would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to 33 percent after 24 hours
  • In the case of online grocery shopping – 20 percent would switch provider after 12 hours, rising to one third 33 percent after 24 hours

The findings also highlight that as digital reliance increases, so will consumer expectations towards availability in the future. Over the coming two years, a third (33 percent) of consumers expect online financial services to always be available, rising to 35 percent for streaming services.

“UK consumers have become reliant on the constant availability of online services, and lockdown has only served to heighten this,” comments Chris Huggett, SVP, EMEA at Sungard AS. “What used to be a choice between physical and digital has now firmly accelerated into digital environments across various industries. As online worlds continue to outpace bricks and mortar as the face of businesses, ensuring constant availability and clear communications on downtime will be key for brands to build trust and loyalty.

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Business

Demonstrating the value of collaborative leadership during crises

Demonstrating the value of collaborative leadership during crises 38

By Jean Stephens, CEO, RSM International

In 2000, a leading expert in behavioural science, Daniel Goleman, outlined the six key styles of leadership: autocratic, paternalistic, democratic, laissez-faire, transactional and transformational, with each having their own merits and drawbacks. However, the recent global pandemic has irrevocably altered the business landscape, as traditional work practices and routines have been forced to adapt to the needs of an increasingly remote workforce. These changes have been easier for some and presented new challenges for others. At C-suite level, it has been integral that leaders continue to harness the potential within their workforces to ensure that growth and innovation do not fall by the wayside.  As such, it has become increasingly clear that our new normal calls for a seventh, more collaborative style of leadership to come to the fore. Through this, middle-market business leaders can continue to drive growth by empowering others to collectively nurture and experiment with new ideas across their business.

In a survey conducted by RSM International earlier this year, it was revealed that nearly half (48%) of new ideas within European businesses were never explored by senior management, with 37% stating that resistance from senior leadership is the greatest barrier to change. But change should not be feared; it is an opportunity to unlock new opportunities and to challenge the norm. As a middle-market business leader, letting go of control can sometimes seem the hardest task of all, particularly in times like these where the wrong move can spell disaster. But micro-management can stifle creativity and diminish potential, especially in moments of rapid evolution. It can prevent brilliant thinkers from experimenting, provide a false sense of security and render organisations inflexible.

New challenges will continue to arise as lockdown measures ease and tighten as the virus recedes and spreads. It is the responsibility of collaborative leaders to empower those within their businesses to find comprehensive and innovative solutions to these new problems. By working together and supplying teams with the necessary support and toolkits, leaders can face challenging situations head on, rather than simply directing from above.

Demonstrating collaboration is also a powerful way to motivate employees through difficult times. Businesses across the globe have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, with some having to introduce unpaid leave, cut pay or make redundancies. Asking employees to make these sacrifices while continuing to deliver in their roles requires trust in the leadership, transparency in the decision-making process and support where it is needed. In practice this can take many different forms; from weekly virtual meetings, where teams are encouraged to be open about the challenges they are facing, to offering additional technology and office equipment to those who do not have dedicated working areas at home. Internal surveys can act as a barometer for the mood of an organisation and show senior management how to help their employees’ transition to the new normal that bit easier. Weekly internal newsletters can also provide another layer of connection between staff in each corner of a sprawling business, from back office to support to front line workers, demonstrating that they are all part of a single team driving towards the same objectives.

As a leader, displaying understanding and empathy has also never been more crucial. Video conferencing has given us a window into the homes and lives of colleagues who we would not, ordinarily, have seen outside the office. Workers at all levels have taken responsibility for the emotional well-being of isolated colleagues. As a leader, all it takes is a little compassion and empathy to listen to those problems, provide support and help find a solution. Diffusing this ethos across a business will foster a community in which no one feels alone or abandoned in the face of pressure or stress, be it personal or professional.

2020 will be marked as a turning point for not only business but society as a whole. Many middle-market businesses have already proven themselves able to adapt rapidly to face new challenges and situations, but the change does not have to stop there. New circumstances provide new opportunities to listen, learn and innovate, to ensure your business and workforce can continue to thrive. We cannot predict how long this current situation will continue for but, as we continue to adapt, an empowered workforce under strong, collaborative leadership has the most potential to emerge more resilient and innovative than before – to thrive and not just survive.

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