Paresh Raja – CEO, Market Financial Solutions
2016 has been a defining year for the British economy. Perhaps most significantly, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) resulted in a cabinet reshuffle with Theresa May appointed Prime Minister and Philip Hammond the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Not long after the reshuffle, the Bank of England announced that it would be setting the interest rate to 0.25% – a record low and the first cut since 2009. Despite the initial speculation, these events have had little visible impact on the British economy with consumer spending, private investment and consumer consumption all rising in Q3 this year.
In November, Chancellor Hammond’s first, and ultimately last, Autumn Statement introduced a series of large-scale investment initiatives in a bid to boost economic productivity. These initiatives will upgrade and improve Britain’s existing regional infrastructure, thereby enhancing connectivity between cities and towns.
Chancellor Hammond also delivered notable announcements that centred on the future of Britain’s letting market, targets for affordable homes, and infrastructure developments for new property. Some of the standout measures included the abolishment of letting agent fees, infrastructure funding and investment for new property in sought-after areas.
Despite the positive policies surrounding the UK property market, the Autumn Statement also omitted some rather surprising measures, especially with regards to the commitment to affordable housing. Stamp Duty was one such omission that, if addressed, had the potential to create a greater incentive to invest in the UK’s thriving property sector. As we look to 2017, the Chancellor has the opportunity to open up a new generation of investors to a dynamic and bustling property market globally renowned for its diverse collection of commercial and residential real estate.
Demand for UK property has been rife over the past five years, with the average property price rising year-on-year since 2011. With current figures projecting the average property price to rise by 2.6% in 2017 and 4% in 2018, investor and consumer demand for loans and credit is also likely to increase. Yet while the UK may be home to an affluent population of prospective property buyers and high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs), their assets do not always translate into a healthy credit score. The stringent measures and extensive processes involved in securing loans from lines of credit can also inhibit Britons from completing their property purchases.
A nationally representative survey of 2,000 UK consumers and investors by Market Financial Solutions (MFS) reaffirmed the difficulties encountered by HNWIs when securing a loan from a bank – of those with an investment portfolio in excess of £250,000, excluding properties, pensions or SIPPs, almost one in five (17%) said they had been unable to secure a credit card, a bank loan, an overdraft, or a commercial loan in a timely manner over the past five years. Furthermore, almost a tenth (8%) of HNWIs stated that they have been refused a first, second or buy-to-let mortgage due to a poor credit rating since 2011, while 13% said they had been refused a loan by the banks but had successfully sought support from an alternative source. In total, the MFS research revealed that since 2011, 18% of UK adults – or 9.2 million people – had been unable to secure credit in a timely manner.
Perhaps more worryingly, 8% of all respondents – the equivalent of more than 4 million people – said they had been refused a loan of any kind despite the value of their existing assets actually exceeding the value of the loan they needed. Banks are tightening their grip on loan approvals, and all sections of society are at risk of being refused a loan as a result of stringent banking measures. It is already projected that together regulations on buy-to-let mortgages could reduce the amount of approvals by between 10% and 20% in the next three years.
2017 can offer an exciting series of opportunities within the British property market if investors and consumers are able to access loans in a fast and effective manner. The alternative lending market has the potential to help plug this gap, and recent figures from the Association of Short Term Lenders (ASTL) demonstrate increasing market demand for bridging loan options – in September 68% of bridging lenders said they expect their business volumes to grow over the next six months.
In 2016, the total value of Britain’s housing stock passed the £6 trillion mark for the first time. Furthermore, the value of the private rented sector has reached £1.29 trillion, which is up 55% in five years, while commercial real estate accounts for £94 billion – or 5.4% – of the nation’s GDP. In light of this, it is vital that the UK Government introduces policy-backed initiatives that support not just the rental economy but also first, second and buy-to-let property purchases. With access to credit being a significant issue, it is up to the Government to ensure that investors and consumers are able to act on their property intentions.
It’s time to press ‘reset’ on travel and expense processes
By Rudy Daniello, EVP of Corporations, Amadeus
Travel & Expenses(T&E) is a large spend category for companies across the globe. In fact, for many firms, T&E is the second largest indirect spend category. While we all know the inherent value personal, face-to-face meetings bring, it’s important to quantify and manage the cost, especially in today’s climate.
While business travel has slowed due to COVID-19, many companies have accelerated their digital transformation during this period, especially in the way their teams work. One area that is under the spotlight as organisations look to transform digitally and control costs and processes better, is T&E.
Poor business travel spend management can frustrate staff, and lead to cost and productivity inefficiencies. Within the context of COVID-19, controlling T&E spend is likely to be even more important, so companies need a clear strategy around their travel and expenses.
To understand how organisations were assessing their T&E at this extraordinary time, Forrester Consulting conducted research on behalf of Amadeus, surveying more than 550 key decision makers involved in T&E solutions at large organisations worldwide.
The report, titled Digital Transformation For Travel & Expense: Balancing Process Efficiencies, Compliance, And Employee Experience highlights the challenges organisations face as they assess their T&E systems and processes before business travel picks up again.
The good news is that nearly three quarters (74%) of respondents agree that the improvement of T&E management processes and tools is critical to reducing costs, increasing efficiency, improving employee engagement, and forms part of their digital transformation.
All of these factors are key business objectives, so how can organisations address their T&E?
Focus on Systems
The research found that a lot of organisations are still relying on outdated systems to manage their travel and expenses. More than one in five (22%) of centralised companies still use spreadsheets to track expenses and just 15% of organisations use a cloud-based T&E solution.
Many decentralised companies also still rely on manual processes – either fully or partly – for their T&E. These outdated processes and systems add pressure on staff, managers, auditors and accountants. Reassess T&E Processes
Having the right systems in place will help rethink T&E processes, from researching hotels and appropriate transport, to making expenses claims post-trip. Travel managers surveyed difficulties around compliance-related expense tracking, reconciliation and auditing as a key challenge.
Three quarters (74%) of travel management leaders want to increase automation to reduce their reliance on manual processes. However, one in five (20%) organisations do not feel they are getting the analytical and reporting capabilities they need, despite data being a core priority.
The research shows that Human Resources (HR) and IT have key roles to play in redefining their organisations’ T&E processes.
Enable Smarter Booking
The research also finds that T&E leaders want to be able to manage the huge amount of content out there so that they can make clear decisions when making travel bookings. Multinational organisations need a global solution so that they can access the best deals and make more informed business travel booking decisions.
Integrated T&E solutions deliver cost and efficiency benefits
According to the research, those organisations that use an integrated T&E tool are much less likely to receive complaints from their traveling staff. More than a quarter (27%) of organisations that use an integrated T&E solution reported zero complaints from employees.
Integrated T&E solutions are essential for companies as they help their employees, take advantage of the best offers for the business trip. They also streamline expense processes, making it quicker and easier to claim and have their expenses approved and paid back.
Firms that do not have integrated T&E solutions report a 29% increase in delays in reimbursing expenses. Almost all (96%) of organisations interviewed that use integrated tools are satisfied with their T&E processes. Nearly three quarters (73%) of them even plan to expand or upgrade further.
Improving T&E is a team effort
What the Forrester Consulting research demonstrates clearly is that there is consensus across the board that T&E systems and processes can be improved.
Three quarters (74%) of IT leaders are focused on improving end-to-end experience of T&E processes, and 73% are committed to improving integration between T&E tools and other systems (73%).
And it’s not just IT leaders who see the value in integrated T&E solutions. More than four out of five procurement managers see improvement of T&E tools and processes as a key part of their organisation’s digital transformation, the highest of any group interviewed by Forrester.
While online conferencing has become the norm for many organisations, nothing can replace the value of face-to-face meetings. When business travel picks up again, companies with integrated T&E systems and processes will quickly see the benefits.
Covid-19 and the rise of remote payment fraud: how do we catch a digital thief?
By Evgenia Loginova, co-founder and co-CEO of Radar Payments
Covid -19 is finding different ways to hurt our finances – and like the virus, the threat is invisible.
Each time we tap our payments cards or make a purchase online, there’s always a risk of getting caught out by a digital fraudster. Yet during the global pandemic, the issue has not only escalated, but the ways in which people are conned have changed to reflect new social distancing and lockdown behaviours.
Indeed, the crisis has transformed the way we buy and shop – and those that are being targeted most are the millennial generation.
What are we doing differently?
It’s all down to the way we are interacting with service providers.
Since the World Health Organisation issued a pandemic in March, global payment fraud went up 5% with 100 million suspected fraud attempts from the period between March – April.
According to TransUnion, the firm analysing the data, billions of people around the world have been forced to spend time at home, which has led to industries such as financial services, ecommerce and healthcare to experience disruption in ways that have not been seen for generations.
This is due to the spike in online transactions, as more people adjust to the new normal of spending less time at the shops and more time doing everything on their digital devices. And with so many transactions shifting online – fraudsters are spending more time there too. These culprits are fully remote and are always on the lookout for vulnerable victims – as well as vulnerabilities within the payment systems.
Digital savvy criminals
Businesses that come to grips with the problem will manage to stay afloat – but they won’t be able to do it without fraud prevention tools that can identify suspicious activity without adding friction to the customer payment experience. In other words, customers must be protected from theft – as well as the truth. They shouldn’t even know that they’re under attack in the first place. It’s all about prevention- or at least as much as what technology can provide.
Without some technological intervention, there won’t be prevention, as companies simply cannot keep up with the proliferation of digital thieves. Culprits are operating individually or in criminal gangs or both – and usually in countries that are often forgotten by global leaders. For example, the telecommunications sector witnessed a 76% increase in card fraud a month after the global pandemic was declared – and the top country for suspected fraud origination was Timor-Leste – how many people even know where that is? (East Timor – formerly part of Indonesia, if you must ask!). Financial services saw an 11% increase in identity theft that same period – with most suspected culprits based in war torn Syria.
Despite their location, fraudsters are quickly adapting to consumer behaviour, and finding ways to attack. With less in-person transactions taking place, criminals are doing things like infecting online points-of-sale with malware that enables them to skim credit card details of previous customers.
From our experience with our fraud detection networks the numbers point out that missing card fraud, in particular, has shot up by 70% over the past few months. This is where people’s card details are being used by criminals to make purchases, when they are not in possession of the card. They’ve just stolen the numbers and additional critical security information such as expiry date and CVC2/CVV2.
Identity theft is also on the rise, as well as phishing and social engineering attacks. For example, in the UK alone there’s been a rise in criminals impersonating trusted organisations like the NHS or HMRC to trick people into going online and paying for services that are fake or giving away their money and information to charities and other organisations that are fake.
Local councils in Britain have noted a 40% increase in reported scams since the start of the pandemic, while Citizens Advice believes one in three people have been targeted by a Covid scammer.
This is a problem that is too big to ignore. The moment the fraudsters have your payment details – whether they’ve stolen it or you’ve given it to them under false pretences, the problem leads to losses for the victim and the businesses and organisations too.
With Covid and lockdown, fraud has gone fully remote and everything from e-commerce and digital banking has been a target for abuse.
In this ‘new normal’ world we find ourselves, the prevention of suspicious transactions through customer profiling and enhanced analytics, use of AI and machine learning models becomes very important.
Fortunately, digital theft is now being taken seriously. Spending on security has skyrocketed in recent years, and the sector supplying protection predicted to grow by $6 Trillion by 2021.
Businesses that survive the pandemic must be able to anticipate and strive to block 100% of the digital theft they encounter. But to win the war against these online criminals they require a robust security strategy.
Here are some tips to consider.
Security policies should be enforced internally and across payment channels and distributed networks. This includes the core and cloud networks as well.
Security gaps should be closed. A lot of risk can be mitigated by performing regular checks and plugging security holes, settling on a unified security framework based on interoperability, centralising visibility and control, segmenting the network to restrict the fluidity of malware and high performance, and deep integration.
Invest in AI capabilities. Artificial intelligence possesses the sophisticated power to replicate the analytical behaviour of human intelligence, as well as enable decision-making in real time and offer predictive security notifications.
Investing in AI based security systems can significantly reduce digital attacks and spot suspicious activity. The best ones are integrated with artificial neural networks (ANN), which combined with deep-learning models, can speed up data analysis and decision-making. It also enables the network to nimbly adapt to new information it encounters in the network.
Prevent fraud in online and then investigate. It is crucial to stop fraud before it happens. As most of the payments became remote, reaction should be super fast: high-risk transactions should be declined, low-risk passed with no friction and suspicious challenged. This raises the importance of finding the balance between customer experience and risk mitigation as never before. And even with AI and enhanced analytics for complex cases an expert with natural intelligence should be equipped with all needed information for relevant and adequate decision-making.
Digital crime won’t disappear as long as there’s an opportunity that criminals can exploit. As the world braces for a new wave of lockdown measures, businesses operating in the online sphere must remain vigilant and prepare for more attacks – or face losses that could be impossible to recover from during these challenging economic times.
Seven easy ways to maximise online sales by expanding your marketplaces
By Nate Burke, CEO and Founder of Diginius, a UK provider of proprietary software for digital marketing and ecommerce solutions, shares seven ways ecommerce businesses can leverage tools and platforms to quickly expand their marketplaces to maximise sales opportunities.
By now, the rise of ecommerce due to shifting consumer habits in recent months is no secret to anyone. But as an increasing number of businesses experience rapid growth and traffic on the digital channel, scaling-up practices to keep up with demand is key.
- Raise awareness
With an increasing number of retailers joining or expanding into online marketplaces, businesses can expect to face greater competition. With this in mind, online advertising should form part of any brand’s digital marketing strategy.
Pay per click (PPC) advertising in particular is a useful way to raise brand awareness and drive traffic, conversions and sales regardless of whether the brand has a new or an established online presence.
But the advertising mediums you choose to use must align with the business’s commercial objectives and operational capabilities in order to generate a return on investment. For instance, ads should be placed in channels that will reach the target audience, whether that be Google search results or in the display network, for example, as well as in languages the website supports and the company couriers can fulfil to.
And with an effective management and monitoring tool, you will be able to maximise the performance of your digital advertising activity to drive the best sales results.
Volume management is essential to any business looking to expand its marketplace operations, but it can be difficult to identify early on when ecommerce integration is needed. However, issues such as keeping up with sales levels, inventory counts or even hours upon hours spent on manual data shifting should start ringing alarm bells for any business owner.
And by integrating your website to your other online sales channels and back-end systems, you will start to gain a number of noticeable benefits. Reduction in human errors, accurate inventory management and increased sales channels, without losing operational efficiency are just some of the topline benefits business owners will begin to experience.
In fact, without integrating stock and price data, you will not be able to expand to multiple marketplaces, as those such as Amazon require very high levels of accuracy which without, your account will be suspended. With orders coming in from multiple sales channels, it is generally not feasible to keep accurate counts in the different channels without automation.
As your ecommerce grows, there will no doubt become a time when current systems and processes become highly inefficient to your operations. Manual, repetitive tasks become laborious and can lead to disaster with overworked and unenthused employees tapping away at keys when they’d rather be strategising or working new leads.
Automation can churn things like inventory management, lead generation and strategy and decision making into self-fulfilling automated tasks. As you automate basic items like price updates, order inputting, returns and stock updates, you can then move into the second phase – automation of updated advertising algorithms based on margins, stock levels, competitor pricing and related factors, all of which drive efficiency and a competitive edge. Invoicing and financial data can be moved paperless and customer service processes can be automated or streamlined in a variety of ways.
The key in the automation process, is to start with a solid foundation of your website and finance system to fully automate order flows and marketing information. Following this, you can then continue a relentless cycle of manual testing, which will determine what works and what is truly repetitive on a daily or hourly basis, rather than trying to automate tasks that you may only perform from time to time.
- Own website/marketplaces?
While some businesses only focus on their website and others sell solely on Amazon/Ebay, a robust approach across the major channels that customers use tends to drive more value and be a more sustainable approach for any business.
For example, if a company only sells in the marketplaces, it is common for Amazon to suspend an account for not hitting performance metrics, which causes a major disruption in cash flow and sales. Additionally, the marketplaces tend to restrict access to the customer, so it is not possible to market directly to your customers.
Consumers that come and purchase from your website develop a relationship with your brand, are easier to communicate with in the sales and delivery process, and you can continue to market with email and other methods for a higher lifetime value per customer. Additionally, the larger buyers will tend to prefer to deal with you directly rather than through a marketplace.
However, particularly as you expand out of your home country, digital marketing can be costly to run and cultural differences, languages and currencies difficult to manage at small scales.
Therefore a blended approach of digital marketing to your website and marketplace expansion tends to reach more customers efficiently and faster, which you can adjust as you grow and master different areas of digital sales.
- Multi-channel approach
One of the best ways to scale-up a retail business is to adopt a multi-channel approach. This may include a mix of various ecommerce sales channels as well as a physical in-store offering, for example.
However, the channels you choose to use must align with the business’s ethos and goals in order for them to be effective in maximising sales. If not, they could end up creating a greater cost than return.
For instance, a downloadable software provider may see more value in investing in online routes than in a bricks and mortar store offering. In this case, the multi-channel mix may include different marketplaces or use of various marketing and communications methods instead.
But either way, a multi-channel approach maximises the amount of touchpoints between a brand and customer and in doing so, the likelihood of the brand sticking in the mind of the consumer is increased.
- Streamlined management processes
When expanding into different marketplaces, a common problem businesses encounter is effectively managing the ramped-up level of activity. But with an insights platform, businesses can manage and monitor their digital activity across various channels on a single centralised dashboard, as well as automatically update prices, stock levels and order management.
This provides a more transparent and holistic view of performance, with data and insights that can be used for reporting and informing future decisions.
Not only does this create greater efficiency, but it also reduces a lot of the admin burden placed on employees, allowing them to focus on other business-critical tasks.
- Customer service
Due to the distance and physical detachment between customers and brands in the online realm, customer service is often overlooked. But, providing high quality customer support should in fact, be a core business activity, especially as the brand and consequently, the customer base, grow.
In doing this, you will keep both new and existing customers satisfied. This can encourage loyalty, repeat purchases and positive word of mouth, which can then be spread through customers’ personal social media networks to generate greater traffic and sales for the business.
So, remote customer service providers must be responsive, helpful and well-informed in order to have the desired effect. And to make their jobs that much easier, CRM tools can equip providers with the data and insights required to offer an efficient and effective service every time.
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It’s time to press ‘reset’ on travel and expense processes
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