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POLITICAL RISK: CAN BUSINESS RISE ABOVE THE TENSIONS?

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POLITICAL RISK: CAN BUSINESS RISE ABOVE THE TENSIONS?

by Mufid Sukkar, Chief Strategy Officer at Nest Investments

We are in the midst of the most unpredictable era of global politics in recent decades.

Mufid Sukkar, Chief Strategy Officer at Nest Investments

Mufid Sukkar, Chief Strategy Officer at Nest Investments

The path to globalisation is considerably less clear than even a year ago, with an unprecedented rise in inward looking nationalist parties and decision-makers all over the world. From the rise of Marie Le Pen, which almost took her to the French Presidency,to Brexit, to President Trump – there has been a significant rejection of the status quo.

It is difficult to define the ‘new’ world order; with foreign policy decisions of world leaders often surprising the pollsters and academics alike. A clear example of this is President Trump’s recent announcement of the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord, as well as his recent comments casting doubts over the USA’s commitment to NATO. These actions make it clear that the President is no longer committed to the multilateral agreements that were once a cornerstone to the USA’s post-WW2 world order. This unconventional approach may signal a return to the reliance on bilateral agreements and alliances, leaving political decision makers with the power to negotiate and make deals on their own terms.

This uncertainty is by no means a reason to despair. When the US elections results were declared, markets across the world went into freefall because of Trump’s uncertain policy intentions. However, since then, the stock markets across the USA, the EU and the rest of the world have rallied significantly. President Trump’s pro-growth stance has in fact seen a 6.12% increase in the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the first 100 days of his presidency.

It may seem as though the growing unpredictability, and to some, instability, of global politics is something to fear.However, businesses should instead be prepared to adapt to new realities to benefit from political upheaval and an ever-changing political system.

Businesses must look for ways to mitigate the strategic and political risks that will affect their operations. There are a few ways to approach this in practice:

  1. Monitor developments:

To effectively plan long-term strategy, businesses must be aware of potential risk scenarios, and how they could be affected in the future. This includes an ability to analyse the real business implications of national or global events. It is also essential for businesses to consult with specialists and analysts regularly. Specialist consultancies regularly produce highly specific, cutting-edge reports on the political landscape and the impact across global economies. It is important to fully understand both the effects of microeconomics (affecting specific projects or industries) and macroeconomics (affecting the entire economy).

  1. Stay Calm:

Rapidly changing situations, whether they be political or economic, can result in a change in opportunities or circumstances for a business. To effectively deal with the situation, it is worth taking the time to explore possibilities rather than engaging in a knee-jerk reaction and implementing a crisis plan which may not be suitable for the circumstance. By taking the time to assess all the options, businesses may in fact find that new opportunities have presented themselves.

  1. Adapt to the situation:

The decision by the British public to leave the EU was one that was met with shock and disappointment by some, viewing it as a return to isolationism and a need for absolute state autonomy. However, in its place, UK foreign policy is focussing on bilateral relations; fostering stronger economic and diplomatic ties in new areas and providing access to new and profitable markets. With adequate foresight, it is possible to adapt your business to new realities to benefit from a political upheaval rather than suffer from them.

  1. Minimize fixed investments:

Organisations may know the benefits of diversifying their strategic business components across the region but do they always know the potential costs? Political risk is always relative to the amount of capital at risk in each market. It is possible to mitigate risk by limiting costs such as leasing facilities instead of buying. Ensuring funds are kept with reputable banks with a high solvency margin and reduced exposure to property lending are also key steps to take.

Small changes in the political environment can result in huge financial implications; with many concerned that the current trend of lending on property could result in a repeat of the 2008 banking crisis. The risk of this is heightened by the fact that many central banks are printing money to keep the stock markets artificially high. When this stops, and interest rates rise, the ‘bubble’ is even more likely to burst. However, with prudent investment in stock markets, and careful thought behind the choice of your bank, the implications of financial risk can be mitigated and reduced.

  1. Ensure to Insure

Insurance can often be a powerful and reassuring way to mitigate political risk – but can often come with a large premium cost, therefore may only be available to larger businesses. As this can be beyond the reach of some businesses, insurance is best used in combination with other more proactive political risk management strategies such as those cited above.

  1. Banks since 2008 have been lending on property and everyone believes the bubble is just to burst with another bank ing crisis
  2. Also since 2008 all major currency Central Banks (USD,£ and Euro ) have been printing money which has not been used to stimulate the economy but ending in stock markets which are artificially high. Once the quantitative easing stops and interest rates rise this bubble will also burst.

Hence make sure your funds all kept with reputable banks that have high solvency margin and less exposure to property lending as well as prudent investment in Stock markets.

To conclude – the current political environment can only be defined by its unpredictable and constantly changing nature; an economic environment which undoubtedly carries a large amount of political risk. With all this in mind, businesses must prove adaptable in the face of global change and use a combination of measures to mitigate risk and keep the business viable.

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UK versus Australia – data regulation on both sides of the world

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UK versus Australia – data regulation on both sides of the world 1

By Guy Hanson, VP, Customer Engagement, Validity

While consumer data privacy continues to be a hotly debated topic and many regions are still grappling with how to effectively regulate this area, companies are fast realising that there’s much to be gained by adopting stricter data practices, regardless of whether they’re required to by law or not.

In regions that have introduced strong data regulations, like GDPR in the EU, companies have demonstrated improved results from their digital marketing programs, including increased customer engagement, higher consumer trust, and greater return on investment. In fact, for marketers everywhere, GDPR has been an unlikely lesson in the commercial benefits of giving consumers greater control over their personal data. Marketers appear to be relishing the benefits that tighter regulation has provided, and in the DMA’s “Data Privacy: An Industry Perspective” report, almost 60% said they would like to see “more strict” data protection policy in the UK.

GDPR – from villain to hero

When GDPR came into force in May 2018, organisations across Europe were concerned about how they could continue to operate successfully under the tighter regulations. Many were worried that their marketing programs were going to be severely set back at the hands of the new laws.

A common concern for digital marketers in particular was their valuable email contact lists. GDPR enforces a requirement for subscribers to opt into email marketing correspondence. If they do not, the assumption is that they opt-out. Due to this, marketers had to choose whether to use “consent” or “legitimate interest” as their legal basis for processing personal data. Legitimate interest tended to be used when a customer relationship already existed, but it was where consent was relied upon that we saw many marketers having to chop away at sizeable email lists built up over many years. This is because consent had to be refreshed if the previous permission model had not met GDPR standards, for example a pre-checked box, and this resulted in many marketers effectively starting their lists from scratch.

However, despite their initial concerns, just one year after GDPR was introduced, businesses saw email marketing initiatives receive a host of benefits. The DMA’s Data Privacy report found that GDPR offered broader business benefits with almost half (49%) of marketers stating that consumer trust in the handling of their data had improved as well as nearly a quarter (22%) saying customer relationships had been bolstered.

On top of this, the DMA’s Marketer Email Tracker report noted an uplift against all major KPIs: increased deliverability (67% of respondents), open rates (74%), click-through rates (75%) and conversion rates (67%). Negative metrics that marketers want to avoid also reduced. Opt-outs and spam complaints were down by 41% and 55% respectively. This is hugely important as improved deliverability and lower complaints means companies have an in-built advantage when it comes to getting in front of their consumers.

The global legacy of GDPR

In many ways, GDPR has provided the blueprint for global data privacy regulations and many other countries and regions have either introduced (or are on their way to implementing) their own version of the tighter regulations. For example, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is now in effect in the US. Despite some delays, Brazil’s Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados Pessoais (LGPD) is now live.

Even in regions where new regulations haven’t been introduced, the influence of GDPR is still being felt — with many companies in these locations choosing to be proactive in protecting customers’ personal data regardless. A great example of this is Australia.

Australia – an exemplar of data privacy awareness

Guy Hanson

Guy Hanson

Compared to other parts of the world like the EU, Australia has long had a more relaxed approach to data privacy. Its current privacy laws date back to the 1988 Privacy Act and have remained largely unchanged since then (outside of some specific legislation such as the Spam Act 2003). While the Australian Government is set to conduct a review of the Privacy Act — including a potential right for consumers to have personal information erased as is the case under GDPR — this won’t happen for several years

But despite having more relaxed regulations, many Australian companies choose to adopt strict data governance protocols. In fact, when it comes to ethical data practices, Australia is very much ahead of the curve without being legislated to do so.

The increase in the adoption of ethical data practices from companies in regions like Australia, where laws are less stringent, is indicative of growing global awareness around the commercial benefits of strong data governance.

By respecting privacy and using data thoughtfully, Australia has gained from one of the highest deliverability rates outside of Europe and Canada according to Validity’s 2020 Email Deliverability Benchmark report. Companies engender consumer trust and loyalty — the modern-day currency of business – and this has never been more critical than in recent times with the disruption caused by the global pandemic.

Building trust in an uncertain world

With a large chunk of the world now working, socialising, and conducting everyday life online, consumers need extra assurance that the products and services they access take their privacy and personal data seriously. A recent report by Cheetah Digital found that in light of privacy breaches, many consumers are changing their online behaviour including installing ad blocking tech, disabling location tracking, and deleting cookies regularly. At a time when there have never been more online options for consumers, losing their trust quickly results in lost revenue.

Despite what some may think, adhering to good data governance does not mean sacrificing valuable insights and innovation. As demonstrated by GDPR, implementing more thorough data practices results in greater engagement and more accurate customer insights which in turn helps businesses to innovate faster. This is why more and more companies are proactively adopting stricter data policies, regardless of their region’s regulations.

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Furlough Fraud: genuine mistake or cheating the system?

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Furlough Fraud: genuine mistake or cheating the system? 2

As the furlough scheme comes to an end, many employers will be at risk of falling foul of its stringent and complex rules and potentially facing penalties for ‘furlough fraud’, but with the 20 October amnesty introduced by HMRC, companies that have made genuine mistakes have a chance to rectify them without being penalised. Walker Morris’ Gwendoline Davies, Head of Commercial Dispute Resolution, and Andrew Northage, Partner in the Regulatory & Compliance team, share the facts businesses need to know ahead of the deadline.

The furlough scheme – designed to support businesses who are unable to pay the salaries of their full workforce during the coronavirus pandemic – is set to come to an end this month and thousands of businesses have come under investigation by HMRC for falsely or mistakenly claiming whilst employees have been working as normal, part-time, or ‘volunteering’ their time.  

According to research by legal rights app Lawya[i] in June, one in three furloughed workers were pressured by their employers to continue working for them and this ranged from being asked to check emails, to attending their physical workplace and, being pressured to ‘volunteer’ their time. In July, the Policy Exchange think tank warned that furlough fraud – whether genuine mistakes or wilful deception – could cost the exchequer between £1.3bn and £7.9bn[ii]. According to HMRC last month, the rate of fraud and error with regards to the furlough scheme currently sits between five and ten per cent and could total £3.5b[iii]; the tax body is currently investigating thousands of claims made via its hotline by whistle-blowers.

Furlough fraud in corporates – where organisations have claimed furlough monies, whilst still having employees working in some shape or form – is a big focus for HMRC right now, though it will unlikely have the capacity to fully investigate every suspected instance. There is a possibility that some organisations have been doing this as a firmwide activity, but it’s also possible that there have been rogue departments within companies that have been wrongly claiming grants under the radar, which – if uncovered by a whistle-blower – can lead to the company coming under investigation for fraud, particularly if it is suspected by HMRC as a “high risk” case.

Although a number of companies will have been deliberately fraudulent in claiming under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the complexities of the rules and guidelines mean that many employers will have simply made mistakes throughout this period, including simple admin errors like miscalculating hourly pay or mistakes in relation to holiday periods. Nevertheless, businesses that have wrongly claimed – even if accidentally – must notify HMRC within a 90-day window of receiving the grant and ahead of the 20 October amnesty or else risk a penalty charge. If these businesses report to HMRC under the amnesty, they will have to repay their funds, however, businesses that have made genuine mistakes will not be penalised in the long run. In the hope that employers will confess to overpayments sooner rather than risk a full investigation further down the line, HMRC says it has made the process of repaying the wrongly claimed money ‘as easy as possible’[iv]. Those who have committed fraud wilfully on the other hand, face prosecution and penalties and have little defence.

The amnesty has been introduced so businesses that recognise they have done something wrong throughout the duration of the furlough scheme can come forward to declare their errors so as to avoid criminal investigation and being treated as fraudulent, even if they have made a mistake.

In addition, if a company is found guilty of furlough fraud this could give rise to a penalty of up to 100% if the error was deliberate and concealed. The business will also face reputational damage, therefore, it is important that companies carry out a self-audit and notify HMRC as soon as possible and before the 20 October amnesty. HMRC does recognise that the furlough scheme is a new and unfamiliar system where human error is bound to result in some cases of mistakenly claimed funds and that these instances do not mean companies have sought to defraud the government. As with any disclosure to HMRC, a full and early disclosure[v] of mistakenly claiming money from the furlough grant will influence the amount of penalty the regulatory body seeks in the investigation.

Companies now have only a few days to admit their mistake to HMRC and, although HR departments and company directors should carry out a full audit themselves to identify mistakes, seeking professional legal advice is recommended as soon as companies spot any irregularities. If a company suspects a significant mistake has been made following a self-audit, engaging with a legal team has the advantage of obtaining expert guidance in this complex area from legal experts who will not only be able to identify problems much faster, but they will suggest the best ways to navigate the issue whilst at the same time as ensuring communications are protected by legal privilege.

Company directors have a wide range of responsibilities under statute, regulation and the common law. With mistakes made regarding claiming furlough monies, directors should ensure that they understand the risks and implications by talking to a specialist quickly – it is crucial to involve lawyers and other professionals early to ensure that companies understand their duties and risk of liability. Otherwise, directors could even be at risk of being subject to criminal action and disqualification proceedings. Though companies that have made genuine mistakes will be faced with understanding when reporting to HMRC in light of the complexities of the scheme, legal representation is advised to ensure employers are aware of their rights and assist HMRC in their investigation, but without inadvertently making costly admissions and harming their own defence.

If your organisation is under investigation by a regulatory authority in connection with an alleged fraud, Walker Morris can advise you at every stage of the process. For information on how Walker Morris can advise your business, get in touch with the team – Gwendoline Davies, Andrew Northage and Gawain Moore:

[i] https://lawya.com/post/1-in-3-furloughed-workers-under-pressure-to-keep-working

[ii] https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/furlough-payments-fraud-errors/

[iii] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-54066815

[iv]https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/08/hmrc-offers-furlough-fraud-amnesty-to-employers-ahead-of-crackdown/

[v] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hmrc-your-guide-to-making-a-disclosure/your-guide-to-making-a-disclosure

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E-money platform Contis partners with UK fintech startup Ordo on instant payments 

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E-money platform Contis partners with UK fintech startup Ordo on instant payments  3

Leading European payments provider, Contis, is excited to announce a new partnership with UK fintech startup Ordo.  

Contis is powering the fintech revolution, helping businesses unleash their true potential with award-winning real-time payment solutions. Contis puts next generation accounts, cards and apps in the hands of their customers. 

Ordo is also helping businesses and organisations unleash their potential with technology that makes getting paid easy. With smart, secure and automatic bank transfers, it’s one of the safest and fastest ways of managing finances between people. It also takes the hassle out of requesting and tracking business payments with immediate money transfer and automatic invoice reconciliation. 

This partnership will soon make loading accounts quicker and simpler for Contis’ end-customers. With the potential to benefit over 800,000 accounts, it’ll also simplify loan repayments, fund transfers between contacts and even splitting bills between friends.  

Contis is a Principal member of Visa, providing B2B issuing and processing through its wholly owned, cloud-based technology. Everyone’s needs are unique. That’s why Contis’ end-to-end platform and alternative payments technology enables every company to build their own bespoke solution. Partnering with Ordo brings additional choice and functionality for businesses and their customers. 

Peter Cox, CEO and Founder at Contis, said: “We’re delighted to partner with Ordo to bring instant remittances and automatic reconciliation to businesses and account holders alike. At a time when finances are tight for many, the benefits of quick and secure digital money transfer are especially welcome.  

This is the latest in a long run of Contis innovations and updates, recently including Buffer ‘secondary authorisation’ technology and international payments with Currencycloud. We pride ourselves on offering a frictionless experience to our clients and their customers. Integrating Ordo’s exciting tech has the potential to enhance payments capabilities for over 800,000 accounts and counting!” 

Craig Tillotson, CEO at Ordo, said: “Our partnership with Contis means that even more businesses and their end customers can quickly start to benefit from Ordo’s revolutionary Open Banking enabled Request for Payment service, lowering costs, improving efficiency, and delivering simpler and safer payments for end customers.  The shared desire of our two teams to use technology and service innovation to deliver real benefits to our clients and the complementary nature of our businesses made it an easy decision to partner with Contis and add Ordo into their end-to-end platform.”  

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