Private companies often fail to set aside sufficient time to communicate regularly with their shareholders, viewing them as a nuisance rather than the reason that they exist. But shareholders are not mushrooms – they cannot be fed rubbish or kept in the dark.
There are,of course, honourable exceptions. Every business can benefit from a review of how they communicate with their investors from time to time,particularly since shareholders playan important role in the company’s long term prospects with their ability to limit future financing opportunities.
Some £1.25bn was lent to small firms in September this year, up 55 percent on the year before, according to the National Association of Commercial Finance Brokers (NACFB). With more small businesses raising finance from angel networks and crowdfunding platforms, the number of small business shareholders is growing.
There are over 2,500 companies with turnover over £15 million in the UK that have at least 10 shareholders. Additionally, there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of start-ups with 50 or more shareholders from their through raising early stage equity funding.
Although there is no legal requirement for private companies to keep shareholders up to date –no need for interim results for example and even AGM’s are now just a guideline – it is counterproductive not to do so.
Without regular updates, a company can riskdisenchanting private investors, and reducing the chances that they will re-invest in the business, which can limitthe flow of capital to small businesses as well as venture capital and Angel Investing sectors.Shareholders can also be ambassadorsfor the business and brand.
The good news is that technology makes it relatively easy to communicate, so keeping shareholders up to date does not need to be too onerous and the costs can be kept to a minimum.
But what sort of information should be shared? Well it doesn’t have to be a glossy annual report. Keep it simple. Quarterly or semi-annual updates for shareholders can be structured simply as a letter, or email, from the CEO. It is the information and the message conveyed that is important. Investors want to be kept up to date with the latest news and other highlights on company performance such as client wins, sales, awards, new hires, product developments and so on. The aim is to keep them feeling warm and fuzzy about the company they have invested in.
Send a copy of annual results to shareholders before filing it with Companies House too.
Don’t leave communications until the next time you are looking for investment and don’t isolate one or two super-shareholders at the expense of others.
Regular investor communications
The process of structuring regular investor communications has the added bonus of giving management the opportunity to survey their business terrain every few months and perhaps consider a change of direction or a renewed focus on another goal.
Although not a legal requirement, it could be useful for private businesses to hold some form of annual general meeting (AGM). This could be structured as a webinar or held on site and would provide shareholders with key highlights for the year and future plans, giving them a chance to get a ‘feel’ for the company and the board of directors as well as ask questions and input into future plans.
Try not to look at shareholder relations as a chore. Compared to the environment that public companies operate in – where thereare increasing requirements to communicate with and seek the approval of shareholders on a growing number of business decisions such as remuneration, risks and future strategy – the task is really quite straightforward for private, unlisted firms.
Path to exit
As well as forming a communications strategy, private businesses should also consider providing their shareholders with clear options for liquidity. This can be an attractive proposition for new investors too.
Selling shares held inprivate companies has always been a bit of a problem. To attract investors, newly funded businesses often make vague promises of an eventual IPO or trade sale. Until then shareholders just have to sit tight unless the management have the cash and are willing to buy back the shares. The investment can be sound if the business is thriving of course but with no transport mechanism to determinethe value of the shares, agreeing a value is not straightforward. This means they are often bought and sold at a value that both parties can mutually agree on, rather than at market derived one.
The growing alternative finance space has led to new online share auction services – such as provided by Asset Match. They appeal to private firms of all sizes, from a range of sectors – from brewing through life sciences and financial services to manufacturing – who want to provide liquidity to shareholders. These firms will have varying numbers of shareholders ranging from as few as 50 up to 4,000 or more.
With more alternative finance providers now regulated by the FCA, there is growing acknowledgement of the role that they play in the global finance sector. NESTA estimates that the alternative finance sector will be a £1.7 billion industry by the end of 2014.
Online share trading creates new opportunities for investors too, giving them access to a previously hard-to-reach small business sector.
It also creates much needed transparency since all of the trades are online and open for both buyers and sellers to see. This results in a sale price for shares that’s much more market-driven and a closer reflection therefore to their real value.
Providing a clear path to exit is something that every private business needs to consider, for itself as well as its shareholders. While private shareholders may not be as demanding as angel or VC investors, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be treated with as much respect, kept well informed about company developments and given a clear path to exit. They are, after all, the reason that the business exists. Investors want to be more like plants, not mushrooms. If they get sunlight, and occasional watering, they and the companies they invest in will flourish.
Iain Ballie, co-founder of Asset Match, the online marketplace where private businesses and their shareholders and buy and sell shares
The potential of Open Finance and the digitisation of tax records
By Sudesh Sud, Founder of APARI
The world is undergoing huge changes at the moment. Between coronavirus pushing the economy to the limit and a group of Redditors challenging the financial market hegemony, people are questioning the role of established institutions. If finance doesn’t work to enable the economy, businesses or individuals, then who is it for?
Before the digital revolution, financial experts were seen as a necessity. They knew how things worked, what everything meant, could provide good advice and were employed to sit at the heart of the action. Now, trading can be done by anyone online through established platforms, with a wealth of information available to hand.
Yet, as the 2008 financial crisis proved, established financial institutions have made themselves too big to fail. Simply tearing down the existing financial system would leave many ordinary people, along with businesses and government treasuries, in ruin.
However, as legendary futurologist, Buckminster Fuller, once said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Traditional banking models are already being upended by technology. Through Open Banking, challenger banks are able to connect services digitally, cutting inefficiencies and costs while speeding up transactions. Now, Open Finance is seeking to build on this model to connect financial services via technology, potentially making the existing financial model obsolete.
Just as Open Banking led to greater democratisation of money, Open Finance has the potential to transfer power back to individuals. Not only would this benefit society as a whole, but it would help minimise the boom-bust cycles that cripple entire economies. No individual would be too big to fail, and bailing people out would cost far less, having minimal impact on the economy overall.
With more information available to them, Open Finance businesses will be able to use technology to make better decisions instantly. Many people struggle to get onto the housing ladder due to a poor credit score, for example, yet they have been paying rent every month of their adult lives. Why, then, can they not access mortgages? A company called Credit Ladder is addressing this through Open Banking, reporting rent payments via challenger banks like Starling to credit agencies, helping good renters to access mortgages.
While it is still very early days for Open Finance, there seems to be an endless raft of possibilities to benefit individuals, businesses and national economies. Faster, more secure, and less risky access to credit can help grow the economy, transforming finance from something that benefits a few wealthy capitalists to something that enables growth in the real economy.
So how else could Open Finance benefit society?
Using Tax Information
Every working adult pays income tax. Some of us via self-assessment while others are enrolled in PAYE. Regardless, we all have tax records with a wealth of financial information that has been verified, at least in part, by HMRC.
This centralised repository of financial information could be put to better use, such as allowing credit reference agencies to better understand an individual’s risk profile or helping to prove income as part of a mortgage application. Unfortunately, HMRC is a black hole of information ‒ its sheer size and power sucks information in, but nothing comes back out again.
However, by Making Tax Digital (MTD), HMRC are effectively allowing individuals to keep validated tax records on the software of their choice. Software providers may then be able to use this information to enable certain aspects of Open Finance. The information doesn’t need to be protected by HMRC, it is the individual’s choice and responsibility over how to use their own information.
As MTD software develops, we will see it connected to Open Banking, allowing self-assessed taxpayers to connect their business account directly to the software, effectively getting their tax return completed for them by an AI program. They would simply check the details, add any adjustments, and click submit. HMRC would then validate the records, providing assurance for any financial institutions using that financial information.
More Growth, Lower Risk
With access to complete and validated financial information, lenders would be able to more quickly and accurately assess individual risk when considering a loan or mortgage application. This would greatly speed up the process of applying for a loan, whether for a business venture or property purchase, for example.
Take residential landlords, for example. They may own a few properties already, with equity coming out of their ears. If that landlord wants to obtain another property, they would need to get their accountant to assemble their financial information, complete a SA302, and send everything off to their mortgage advisors who would then validate the information before submitting the mortgage application.
The application can then take months to approve, slowing down the process and potentially leading to missed opportunities. Since property sales usually occur in a chain (the owner of the property you are purchasing is usually purchasing another property, and so on), these inefficiencies slow the process down for everyone and can have major impacts.
If, however, mortgage applicants could simply share validated financial/tax records, mortgage providers could use that information to make quick decisions with reduced risk. What’s more, applicants could share only relevant, high-level information, rather than expose their entire financial history.
Individual Risk Management
Currently, individuals can manage their credit score/risk profile via third party providers like Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These credit reporting agencies use limited information, such as credit cards, store cards and loans to assess risk. Individuals need to understand what factors each agency uses in order to ‘game’ the system.
For example, someone who has always been careful with their money, kept to a strict budget and never taken out a loan or credit card will have a far worse credit rating than someone who regularly uses debt to finance their lifestyle. So, even though they may have amassed a good deal of savings, they cannot get a good deal on a loan or mortgage.
With Open Finance, these individuals would be able to quickly prove their earnings, spending, and savings, decreasing their risk profile in line with reality. Rather than crude measures of creditworthiness, financial institutions would be able to use accurate and validated information to make quick decisions based on realistic risk. This both transfers more power to individuals and contributes to faster growth while reducing overall risk.
As a centralised repository for validated financial information, MTD providers will be in a unique position to develop a two-sided marketplace for finance, allowing credit providers to match products to individuals’ risk profiles. When a customer needs a loan, credit card or mortgage, they can simply browse products for which they have already been approved, applying and receiving finance instantly.
Empowering PAYE Taxpayers
Currently, PAYE taxpayers have little, if any, visibility or control over their tax contributions. They will see the amount paid in tax and national insurance, but to claim any allowances requires them to submit a self-assessment tax return. For most PAYE taxpayers, this simply doesn’t seem worthwhile.
Yet, self-employed taxpayers can claim for things like travel to their place of work, a proportion of living expenses when working from home, even their lunch. These things are necessary for productive work yet, for PAYE taxpayers, come out of their already taxed income. Meanwhile, businesses tend to make use of every tax allowance available to them.
This imbalance could be rectified with Open Finance connected to tax software. As MTD becomes a validated system for self-assessed taxpayers, a new version could be developed for PAYE taxpayers, putting them in control of their tax and finances. Not only would they be able to benefit from Open Finance in the same way as self-assessed taxpayers, but they will also be able to claim for reasonable allowances. What’s more, HMRC/the Treasury/the government would be able to hold employers accountable for pay disparities and unreasonable tax avoidance.
Open Finance, then, has the power to speed up and reduce the cost of obtaining and providing finance. It would make the finance system fairer and most transparent while distributing financial power, and help to avoid the creation of too big to fail financial institutions and the boom-bust cycle that has become unfortunate features of modern capitalism.
Ultimately, Open Finance has the potential to help the UK and other nations recover from the seemingly unending series of crises that have plagued the early 21st century by allowing people to access finance quicker in order to grow their business and personal finances while reducing risk, inefficiencies, and costs.
Three ways payment orchestration improves financial reconciliation
By Brian Coburn, CEO or Bridge,
When Luca Pacioli, the 15th century Venetian monk, invented double-entry account keeping, managing financial reconciliations had its own unique challenges. The father of modern accounting didn’t have to deal with glitches in his book-keeping app but he did have to write with feather-based quills by candlelight. Five hundred years later the challenges are different but no less onerous.
As in the 15th century, solid financial reporting is at the heart of every successful high-transaction business. As Pacioli no doubt knew, up-to-date, well-documented accounting ensures good operational health and makes it easier to grow. And that’s never been more important.
While it might not be feather quills by moonlight, today’s environment of multiple customer channels can be time-consuming and labour intensive, with various payment methods and financial reconciliations from multiple data sources.
Understanding cash inflow through online transactions is a critical element of financial reporting. However, when these involve multiple payment processors and payment methods and a complex system of disjointed silos of payment data, this can become a cumbersome and arduous manual task.
Common issues in this fragmented payments landscape include working across different formats, managing different data owners and access as well as inconsistent process timings. The result is often increased inaccuracy and inefficiency. Procuring multiple tools and software can end up being uncost-effective and unwieldy. Though the current digital transformation is an exciting time for retailers, staying on top of the ever-changing payment options can be an overwhelming burden for many business owners.
Introducing payment orchestration presents a single, accessible, creative and accurate source of transactional data, crucial for today’s complex challenges around financial reconciliations.
Today, commerce is 24/7, so being able to access and analyse real-time information is vital to managing business controls. Many organisations have looked to automate these processes with account reconciliation software.
However, one key challenge is the sheer volume of transactions and the need to capture data from a variety of different sources. Payment orchestration enables transactions to be carried out by multiple payment processors and payment methods with simple and flexible plugins, centrally monitored and routed in the most optimum way.
It allows users to add or remove providers easily, knowing the complexity (detecting outages and automatically rerouting payments) is being handled by a trusted specialist partner via an intelligent platform.
Bringing disparate sources of online transaction data into one place simplifies how enterprises access and operate with multiple payment processors and payment methods. This makes it easier for businesses to remain agile.
For organisations that still depend on manual, spreadsheet driven processes, the mechanics of reconciliation can be extremely time consuming.
A payment orchestration layer creates the opportunity to automate processes and reduce manual intervention. By bringing multiple payment processors and payment methods into an integrated service layer with intelligent routing capabilities, the impact of individual outages or failed payments can be mitigated to ensure optimum payment success rates, saving crucial revenue.
Naturally, significant manual work brings with it the added risk of human error. The speed with which business moves today demands accurate accounting processes. Checking for error takes up valuable time that could be spent focusing on business growth.
Payment orchestration can improve accuracy and reduce the opportunity for error. Providing a holistic and central source of real-time transactional data, payment orchestration can offer improved transparency and greater visibility of financial data.
With all transactional data captured in one source, payment orchestration can present a data source to feed other applications – such as automated reconciliation tools and fraud management – automating business processes in a seamless way across the enterprise. Good practice like this will, of course, enable a consistent approach to fraud management across all channels and payment services.
Multiple payment choices can be onerous but, today, not adopting them at all is unwise. The key to success, and good financial reconciliation, is being able to streamline and manage them.
Circular Economy must be top of the business agenda in 2021
By Andrew Sharp, CEO of CDSL, the UK’s leading appliance spare parts distributor
The last year has been one in which we were all forced to change our behaviour. We have become far more familiar with the four walls of our home than we would have liked, we have had to give up the social activities that mean the most to us and we have spent much longer apart from relatives than we could have imagined.
But alongside the many reluctant changes that we have made, there have been some silver linings. Both consumers and businesses have reassessed their priorities, and we have seen a noticeable increase in the importance of sustainability and social value in everything we do.
Within this has been a rise in awareness of the power of the circular economy. Research from the Recycle Now campaign shows nearly nine out of 10 UK households now say they “regularly recycle” (September, 2020), while environmental organization Hubbub found that 43% of people are more concerned about plastic pollution than before Covid-19 (September, 2020).
The role of the circular economy in underpinning wider sustainability targets is now being widely realised by Government, consumers and businesses alike. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation recently found that circular economy policies contribute towards tackling the remaining 45% if greenhouse emissions that cannot be resolved by transitioning to renewable energy alone (January, 2021), and the circular economy can offer solutions to the 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress that traditional resource extraction and processing require.
However, reducing the impact of our current linear economy will require widespread change and every product that we use will need to be accommodated within this. One area that is yet to be fully incorporated into a circular economy model is e-waste – an area where the UK is unfortunately a world leader. Other than Norway, the UN has said that the average person in Britain discards more electrical items each year than anywhere else in the world, and the UK is also the worst offender in Europe for illegally exporting toxic electronic waste to developing countries.
1,000,000 tonnes of e-waste are produced annually in the UK, enough to fill six Wembley Stadiums. The WEEE Forum estimates that only 17.4% of e-waste was recycled in 2019 (October, 2020), meaning the vast majority of this is burnt or thrown into landfill, creating environmental hazards for years to come.
However, the good news is that 100,000 tonnes of e-waste would be avoided if we fixed just 10% more perfectly repairable appliances. As an electrical spare parts retailer, we have seen incredibly encouraging trends throughout 2020. Our leading consumer brand eSpares has seen record-breaking surges in demand over the past year as consumers look to fix appliances themselves rather than kicking them to the kerb.
We recently conducted a survey of 5,000 people and the results clearly show this growing interest among young people for repairing and recycling their electrical goods. The answers suggest that three times more young people than over-65s would try to fix a broken appliance at home and that the environmentally conscious under-35s are increasingly keen to fix gadgets rather than throw them away.
That is why we have taken steps to encourage our customers to drive a circular economy throughout the year with the campaign #FixFirst. As a business and a retailer, it is our responsibility to help educate our customers on the benefits of a circular economy. Free services like our Advice Centre, which has over 700 step-by-step articles and attracted 1.2million visits in 2020, contribute to this by offering assistance on making repairs around the home whenever and wherever it is needed.
It is up to businesses to ensure that we champion the benefits of the circular economy and ensure these behaviours are maintained permanently.
Certain sectors are already leading the charge in doing this. In fashion retail for example, Levi’s is paying consumers to bring back old pairs of jeans for sale on a second-hand marketplace. Patagonia similarly will take back old pieces of clothing to repair and refurbish them.
Plastic packaging is also receiving some tough attention from across the retail and food and drink manufacturing sectors. Tesco has announced that it has removed one billion pieces of plastic from its UK business in just one year through a policy of Remove, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, while consumer brands like Nestle for example are testing reusable packaging to reduce the amount of single use plastics.
Consumer attitudes are moving in one direction on the topic of the circular economy and it is therefore essential that businesses also get ahead of this as a commercial priority. In 2020, Deloitte found that 43% of consumers were already actively choosing brands due to their environmental values, while 2/3 of consumers have reduced their usage of single use plastics. In direct to consumer in sectors like the one in which we operate, sustainability credentials are fast becoming a purchasing priority alongside price.
Legislation in the UK is also increasingly clamping down on businesses that do not champion circular economy in the products they create and use. The Environment Bill that is expected to be passed in Autumn will give Government powers to introduce new targets on waste reduction and packaging. Extended Producer Responsibility expected to be introduced in 2023 will also lead to major fees for manufacturers of products that cannot easily be recycled.
As the circular economy rises in priority over the next year, businesses must act fast. Robust policies on the circular economy will both drive environmental benefit and allow businesses to stay ahead of a trend that is fast becoming a priority for consumers.
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