By Ian Thomas, Turquoise International
Businesses across the globe are increasingly acknowledging the strong potential offered by the clean energy and environmental sector, which has a critical role to play in boosting economic growth. Taking the UK as an example, at a time of recession when investment generally has been in decline, the environmental sector has been much more resilient. Employment across the industry and its supply chains continues to develop in sharp contrast to many more established business activities.
Of course, the picture is not entirely positive. A number of big investment projects have suffered due to inconsistencies in policy-making and a perceived lack of regulatory momentum. The size and diversity of the sector is both a blessing and a challenge, with focus shifting between technologies as they follow the political popularity cycle. For the clean energy and environment sectors to continue to make a consistent contribution to global recovery, it is important to provide a robust context for even greater investment decisions.
Internationally, parts of the renewables sector, for example Spanish wind and solar, are struggling whereas China continues to deploy huge amounts of capital as part of its long term economic planning. Political uncertainty in the US was reduced following the presidential election but has increased again as a result of the uncertainty over fiscal policy. Private sector investment in new technologies continues but at a reduced rate and investors’ appetite for risk has been curtailed.
There has been a move away from renewable energy generation towards energy and materials efficiency. Technologies and projects that do not rely on public subsidy and instead generate payback from savings in fossil energy consumption are seen as lower risk. Investors are also avoiding technologies that have high capital intensity. The almost total lack of availability of bank debt for projects is a major issue, as well as reduced levels of risk capital for early stage investments from both financial and industrial investors.
Uncertainty over government support for renewable energy has had a significant effect on the direction of investment.Government indecision, for example the UK approach to solar and biomass, and changing regulation, such as the EU stance on biofuels, has delayed private sector investment.
Investors around the world continue to increase their exposure to companies that rate higher on environmental factors. At the same time, there is a common perception that many sustainable businesses have solutions to problems that either do not exist or which no-one will pay to solve. So what can businesses needing capital do to improve their chances of securing investment?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Clean energy and environment is not a uniform sector, more a series of overlapping industry segments of which only some are of interest to any individual investor. It is essential, therefore, to allow six months to get to a commitment (not the actual cash), which is why maintaining up to 12 months of operating runway is critical because of the time-consuming fundraising process.
Being realistic on valuation and allowing scope for new investors to achieve their (reasonable) return requirements is a price worth paying to avoid the risk of running out of funds.
Company owners should be mindful of the level of reward they are looking for. The risk they are prepared to assume in return will have a significant impact on strategy, fundraising and exit timing. At any point in time, shareholders should be able to answer the question: how much would I sell this company for right now or what will the position be in one or two years’ time? This is an issue often ignored.
Many companies do not have the luxury of choosing investors, but experience suggests small syndicates with diversity of approach, experience and connections work better than sole investors or large groups. Each will have an industry view and early understanding of their agenda will predict their behaviour once they are a part of the business. Experienced and pro-active investor board members can have a valuable role to play in this regard.
Investment structure (voting rights, liquidation preferences, etc.) should be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each investment but erring on the side of simplicity is often advisable. Agreements that constrain a business from taking normal commercial decisions without requiring board or shareholder input, or which allow individual shareholders disproportionate influence can lead to stalemate, often with disastrous consequences.
It is always prudent to engage an experienced adviser with a relevant track record who will add value across the board, including conducting due diligence, highlighting strengths and weaknesses and positing the questions investors will ask around projections and valuations. They can also improve business plan and investor presentation materials, reduce the burden on management and bring structure to the fundraising process, as well as play a significant role in reaching an acceptable deal.
Size matters – undersized businesses are often regarded as having unproven management teams, over reliance on fewer customers and insufficient market presence to withstand competition. In such circumstances, a company should consider opportunities to acquire or merge with other relevant businesses to rapidly scale up.
In the right circumstances, ‘playing hard to get’ can create competitive tension, a powerful means of achieving best value. This does not necessarily require the company to be put up for a public auction; instead not to jump into exclusivity with any investor until they have provided a detailed set of terms. Equally, don’t overplay your hand as that can result in a failed deal.
Finally, put yourself in the investor’s shoes; don’t assume that they have prior knowledge of your business and answer the questions they are asking, not those you think they should ask. Remember, they see lots of deals and you need to stand out from the crowd.
The future needs for energy supply can only grow, the question is how quickly. However, the potential for surprising new developments, like shale oil and gas in the US, can have a significant impact on the supply/demand equation. There are a number of clean/renewable energy technologies, such as waste-to-energy, renewable chemistry/materials and automotive energy efficiency, that will reach maturity in the coming five to ten years and these may have a greater-than-expected positive impact.
Coal and gas will continue to supply a large proportion of primary energy generation because of growth in developing economies, like China and India, and the shale revolution. The role of nuclear is harder to predict but it is difficult to see how supply can be maintained without it. Renewables will grow but cannot make much of an impact globally in the near term. Achieving demand-side efficiencies is key.
The past decade has seen a transformation in how investment in businesses operating across these industries is viewed. Globally, commitment to funding these sectors is strengthening, driven by climate change and energy security concerns, the push for resource efficiency and the pure commercial benefits generated by new technologies. The next ten years are expected to offer genuinely exciting opportunities in many areas, particularly as investors extend their focus beyond wind and solar to other areas of energy and environment.
About Turquoise International
Turquoise International is a merchant bank specialising in Energy and the Environment. Established in 2002, Turquoise offers in-depth industry knowledge and extensive capital raising, transaction advisory, and investment management expertise and track record.
For capital raising, our advisory clients are predominantly private companies or listed companies seeking funding via private placements across a range of business segments including technology, project development, manufacturing and services. Turquoise assists clients in raising funds across the capital structure including equity and debt. We source funds for our clients from a diverse range of investors located in Europe and internationally.
Turquoise advises corporate clients and their shareholders on transactions such as mergers, acquisitions, disposals and joint ventures assisting in areas such as strategy, identification of opportunities, valuation and transaction execution.
In fund management, Turquoise provides a range of services to investors, ranging from advice in relation to individual investments to discretionary investment management for a portfolio of investments. Turquoise invests directly through Turquoise Capital (seed stage proprietary investments) and manages the Low Carbon Innovation Fund.
Taking control of compliance: how FS institutions can keep up with the ever-changing regulatory landscape
By Charles Southwood, Regional VP – Northern Europe and MEA at Denodo
The wide-spread digital transformation that has swept the financial services (FS) sector in recent years has brought with it a world of possibilities. As traditional financial institutions compete with a fresh wave of challenger banks and fintech startups, innovation is increasing at an unprecedented pace.
Emerging technologies – alongside the ever-evolving concept of online banking – have provided a platform in which the majority of customer interactions now take place in a digital format. The result of this is a never-ending stream of data and digital information. If used correctly, this data can help drive customer experience initiatives and shape wider business strategies, giving organisations a competitive edge.
However, before FS organisations can utilise data-driven insights, they need to ensure that they can adequately protect and secure that data, whilst also complying with mandatory regulatory requirements and governance laws.
The regulation minefield
Regulatory compliance in the FS sector is a complex field to navigate. Whether its potential financial fraud or money laundering, risk comes in many different forms. Due to their very nature – and the type of data that they hold – FS businesses are usually placed under the heaviest of scrutiny when it comes to achieving compliance and data governance, arguably held to a higher standard than those operating in any other industry.
In fact, research undertaken last month discovered that the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has had a greater impact on FS organisations than any other sector. Every respondent working in finance reported that the changes made to their organisation’s cyber security strategies in the last three years were, at least to some extent, as a result of the regulation.
To make matters even more confusing, the goalpost for 100% compliance is continually moving. In fact, between 2008 and 2016, there was a 500% increase in regulatory changes in developed markets. So even when organisations think they are on the right track, they cannot afford to become complacent. The Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID II), the requirements for central clearing and the second Payment Service Directive (PSD2), are just some examples of the regulations that have forced significant changes on the banking environment in recent years.
Keeping a handle on this legal minefield is only made more challenging by the fact that many FS organisations are juggling an unimaginable amount of data. This data is often complex and of poor quality. Structured, semi-structured and unstructured, it is stored in many different places – whether that’s in data lakes, on premise or in multi-cloud environments. FS organisations can find it extremely difficult just to find out exactly what information they are storing, let alone ensure that they are meeting the many requirements laid out by industry regulations.
A secret weapon
Modern technologies, such as data virtualisation, can help FS organisations to get a handle on their data – regardless of where it is stored or what format it is in. Through a single logical view of all data across an organisation, it boosts visibility and real-time availability of data. This means that governance, security and compliance can be centralised, vastly improving control and removing the need for repeatedly moving and copying the data around the enterprise. This can have an immediate impact in terms of enabling FS organisations to avoid data proliferation and ‘shadow’ IT.
In addition to this, when a new regulation is put in place, data virtualisation provides a way to easily find and access that data, so FS organisations can respond – without having to worry about alternative versions of that data – and ensures that they remain compliant from the offset. This level of control can be reflected even down to the finest details. For example, it is possible to set up access to governance rules through which operators can easily select who has access to what information across the organisation. They can alter settings for sharing, removing silos, masking and filtering through defined, role-based data access. In terms of governance, this feature is essential, ensuring that only those who have the correct permissions to access sensitive information are able to do so.
Compliance is a requirement that will be there forever. In fact, its role is only likely to increase as law catches up with technological advancement and the regulatory landscape continues to change. For FS organisations, failure to meet the latest legal requirements could be devastating. The monetary fines – although substantial – come second to the potential reputation damage associated with non-compliance. It could be the difference between an organisation surviving and failing in today’s climate.
No one knows what is around the corner. Whilst some companies may think they are ahead of the compliance game today, that could all change with the introduction of a new regulation tomorrow. The best way to ensure future compliance is to get a handle on your data. By providing total visibility, data virtualisation is helping organisations to gain back control and win the war for compliance.
TCI: A time of critical importance
By Fabrice Desnos, head of Northern Europe Region, Euler Hermes, the world’s leading trade credit insurer, outlines the importance of less publicised measures for the journey ahead.
After months of lockdown, Europe is shifting towards rebuilding economies and resuming trade. Amongst the multibillion-euro stimulus packages provided by governments to businesses to help them resume their engines of growth, the cooperation between the state and private sector trade credit insurance underwriters has perhaps missed the headlines. However, this cooperation will be vital when navigating the uncertain road ahead.
Covid-19 has created a global economic crisis of unprecedented scale and speed. Consequently, we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of support from national governments. Far-reaching fiscal intervention, job retention and business interruption loan schemes are providing a lifeline for businesses that have suffered reductions in turnovers to support national lockdowns.
However, it’s becoming clear the worst is still to come. The unintended consequence of government support measures is delaying the inevitable fallout in trade and commerce. Euler Hermes is already seeing increase in claims for late payments and expects this trend to accelerate as government support measures are progressively removed.
The Covid-19 crisis will have long lasting and sometimes irreversible effects on a number of sectors. It has accelerated transformations that were already underway and had radically changed the landscape for a number of businesses. This means we are seeing a growing number of “zombie” companies, currently under life support, but whose business models are no longer adapted for the post-crisis world. All factors which add up to what is best described as a corporate insolvency “time bomb”.
The effects of the crisis are already visible. In the second quarter of 2020, 147 large companies (those with a turnover above €50 million) failed; up from 77 in the first quarter, and compared to 163 for the whole of the first half of 2019. Retail, services, energy and automotive were the most impacted sectors this year, with the hotspots in retail and services in Western Europe and North America, energy in North America, and automotive in Western Europe
We expect this trend to accelerate and predict a +35% rise in corporate insolvencies globally by the end of 2021. European economies will be among the hardest hit. For example, Spain (+41%) and Italy (+27%) will see the most significant increases – alongside the UK (+43%), which will also feel the impact of Brexit – compared to France (+25%) or Germany (+12%).
Companies are restarting trade, often providing open credit to their clients. However, there can be no credit if there is no confidence. It is increasingly difficult for companies to identify which of their clients will emerge from the crisis from those that won’t, and whether or when they will be paid. In the immediate post-lockdown period, without visibility and confidence, the risk was that inter-company credit could evaporate, placing an additional liquidity strain on the companies that depend on it. This, in turn, would significantly put at risk the speed and extent of the economic recovery.
In recent months, Euler Hermes has co-operated with government agencies, trade associations and private sector trade credit insurance underwriters to create state support for intercompany trade, notably in France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK. All with the same goal: to allow companies to trade with each other in confidence.
By providing additional reinsurance capacity to the trade credit insurers, governments help them continue to provide cover to their clients at pre-crisis levels.
The beneficiaries are the thousands of businesses – clients of credit insurers and their buyers – that depend upon intercompany trade as a source of financing. Over 70% of Euler Hermes policyholders are SMEs, which are the lifeblood of our economies and major providers of jobs. These agreements are not without costs or constraints for the insurers, but the industry has chosen to place the interests of its clients and of the economy ahead of other considerations, mindful of the important role credit insurance and inter-company trade will play in the recovery.
Taking the UK as an example, trade credit insurers provide cover for more than £171billion of intercompany transactions, covering 13,000 suppliers and 650,000 buyers. The government has put in place a temporary scheme of £10billion to enable trade credit insurers, including Euler Hermes, to continue supporting businesses at risk due to the impact of coronavirus. This landmark agreement represents an important alliance between the public and private sectors to support trade and prevent the domino effect that payment defaults can create within critical supply chains.
But, as with all of the other government support measures, these schemes will not exist in the long term. It is already time for credit insurers and their clients to plan ahead, and prepare for a new normal in which the level and cost of credit risk will be heightened and where identifying the right counterparts, diversifying and insuring credit risk will be of paramount importance for businesses.
Trade credit insurance plays an understated role in the economy but is critical to its health. In normal circumstances, it tends to go unnoticed because it is doing its job. Government support schemes helped maintain confidence between companies and their customers in the immediate aftermath of the crisis.
However, as government support measures are progressively removed, this crisis will have a lasting impact. Accelerating transformations, leading to an increasing number of company restructurings and, in all likelihood, increasing the level of credit risk. To succeed in the post-crisis environment, bbusinesses have to move fast from resilience to adaptation. They have to adopt bold measures to protect their businesses against future crises (or another wave of this pandemic), minimize risk, and drive future growth. By maintaining trust to trade, with or without government support, credit insurance will have an increasing role to play in this.
What Does the FinCEN File Leak Tell Us?
By Ted Sausen, Subject Matter Expert, NICE Actimize
On September 20, 2020, just four days after the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a much-anticipated Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the financial industry was shaken and their stock prices saw significant declines when the markets opened on Monday. So what caused this? Buzzfeed News in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released what is now being tagged the FinCEN files. These files and summarized reports describe over 200,000 transactions with a total over $2 trillion USD that has been reported to FinCEN as being suspicious in nature from the time periods 1999 to 2017. Buzzfeed obtained over 2,100 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) and over 2,600 confidential documents financial institutions had filed with FinCEN over that span of time.
Similar such leaks have occurred previously, such as the Panama Papers in 2016 where over 11 million documents containing personal financial information on over 200,000 entities that belonged to a Panamanian law firm. This was followed up a year and a half later by the Paradise Papers in 2017. This leak contained even more documents and contained the names of more than 120,000 persons and entities. There are three factors that make the FinCEN Files leak significantly different than those mentioned. First, they are highly confidential documents leaked from a government agency. Secondly, they weren’t leaked from a single source. The leaked documents came from nearly 90 financial institutions facilitating financial transactions in more than 150 countries. Lastly, some high-profile names were released in this leak; however, the focus of this leak centered more around the transactions themselves and the financial institutions involved, not necessarily the names of individuals involved.
FinCEN Files and the Impact
What does this mean for the financial institutions? As mentioned above, many experienced a negative impact to their stocks. The next biggest impact is their reputation. Leaders of the highlighted institutions do not enjoy having potential shortcomings in their operations be exposed, nor do customers of those institutions appreciate seeing the institution managing their funds being published adversely in the media.
Where did the financial institutions go wrong? Based on the information, it is actually hard to say where they went wrong, or even ‘if’ they went wrong. Financial institutions are obligated to monitor transactional activity, both inbound and outbound, for suspicious or unusual behavior, especially those that could appear to be illicit activities related to money laundering. If such behavior is identified, the financial institution is required to complete a Suspicious Activity Report, or a SAR, and file it with FinCEN. The SAR contains all relevant information such as the parties involved, transaction(s), account(s), and details describing why the activity is deemed to be suspicious. In some cases, financial institutions will file a SAR if there is no direct suspicion; however, there also was not a logical explanation found either.
So what deems certain activities to be suspicious and how do financial institutions detect them? Most financial institutions have sophisticated solutions in place that monitor transactions over a period of time, and determine typical behavioral patterns for that client, and that client compared to their peers. If any activity falls disproportionately beyond those norms, the financial institution is notified, and an investigation is conducted. Because of the nature of this detection, incorporating multiple transactions, and comparing it to historical “norms”, it is very difficult to stop a transaction related to money laundering real-time. It is not uncommon for a transaction or series of transactions to occur and later be identified as suspicious, and a SAR is filed after the transaction has been completed.
FinCEN Files: Who’s at Fault?
Going back to my original question, was there any wrong doing? In this case, they were doing exactly what they were required to do. When suspicion was identified, SARs were filed. There are two things that are important to note. Suspicion does not equate to guilt, and individual financial institutions have a very limited view as to the overall flow of funds. They have visibility of where funds are coming from, or where they are going to; however, they don’t have an overall picture of the original source, or the final destination. The area where financial institutions may have fault is if multiple suspicions or probable guilt is found, but they fail to take appropriate action. According to Buzzfeed News, instances of transactions to or from sanctioned parties occurred, and known suspicious activity was allowed to continue after it was discovered.
How do we do better? First and foremost, FinCEN needs to identify the source of the leak and fix it immediately. This is very sensitive data. Even within a financial institution, this information is only exposed to individuals with a high-level clearance on a need-to-know basis. This leak may result in relationship strains with some of the banks’ customers. Some people already have a fear of being watched or tracked, and releasing publicly that all these reports are being filed from financial institutions to the federal government won’t make that any better – especially if their financial institution was highlighted as one of those filing the most reports. Next, there has been more discussion around real-time AML. Many experts are still working on defining what that truly means, especially when some activities deal with multiple transactions over a period of time; however, there is definitely a place for certain money laundering transactions to be held in real time.
Lastly, the ability to share information between financial institutions more easily will go a long way in fighting financial crime overall. For those of you who are AML professionals, you may be thinking we already have such a mechanism in place with 314b. However, the feedback I have received is that it does not do an adequate job. It’s voluntary and getting responses to requests can be a challenge. Financial institutions need a consortium to effectively communicate with each other, while being able to exchange critical data needed for financial institutions to see the complete picture of financial transactions and all associated activities. That, combined with some type of feedback loop from law enforcement indicating which SARs are “useful” versus which are either “inadequate” or “unnecessary” will allow institutions to focus on those where criminal activity is really occurring.
We will continue to post updates as we learn more.
Mastercard Delivers Greater Transparency in Digital Banking Applications
Mastercard collaborates with merchants and financial institutions to include logos in digital banking applications Research shows that ~25% of disputes...
Success beyond voice: Contact centres supporting retail shift online
As the nation continues to overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19, customers have shifted their channel preferences, and contact centres have demonstrated...
7 Ways to Grow a Profitable Hospitality Business
Hospitality requires charisma and innovation The hospitality industry is a multibillion-dollar industry with lots of career opportunities in hotels, theme...
AML and the FINCEN files: Do banks have the tools to do enough?
By Gudmundur Kristjansson, CEO of Lucinity and former compliance technology officer Says AML systems are outdated and compliance teams need better...
Finding and following your website’s ‘North Star Metric’
By Andy Woods, Design Director of Rouge Media The ‘North Star Metric’ (NSM) is one of many seemingly confusing terms...
Taking control of compliance: how FS institutions can keep up with the ever-changing regulatory landscape
By Charles Southwood, Regional VP – Northern Europe and MEA at Denodo The wide-spread digital transformation that has swept the financial...
Risk assessment: How to plan and execute a security audit as a small business
By Izzy Schulman, Director at Keys 4 U Despite the current global coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty it has placed...
Buying enterprise professional services: Five considerations for business leaders in turbulent times
By James Sandoval, Founder and CEO, MeasureMatch The platformization of professional services provides businesses with direct, seamless access to the skills...
Wireless Connectivity Lights the Path to Bank Branch Innovation
By Graham Brooks, Strategic Account Director, Cradlepoint EMEA As consumers cautiously return to the UK high street in the past...
Financial Regulations: How do they impact your cloud strategy?
By Michael Chalmers, MD EMEA at Contino How exactly do financial regulations affect your cloud strategy? It’s a question many of...