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Virtual Accounts: leading payment expert calls for major changes in Wolfsberg Group guidance around “On behalf of” payments

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Virtual Accounts: leading payment expert calls for major changes in Wolfsberg Group guidance around “On behalf of” payments

Robert Lyddon is the current Director of Lyddon Consulting and former General Secretary of the IBOS Association secretariat in London.

Major changes are needed to the section in the Wolfsberg Group’s Payment Transparency Standards 2017 on “On behalf of” payments, and to confirm salient facts about the Virtual Accounts that these types of payment are made across.

“On behalf of” payments are, as the name infers, made by one party on behalf of another, and payment transparency should result in both of the parties being visible in the payment.

This principle is not always adhered to, especially where the payment traffic of very large corporates is concerned. Indeed, these financial structures obscure the corporate’s internal arrangements from their external trading counterparties.

Our analysis is based on a case study of a putative American bank as the organiser of such a scheme for a multinational client, using its London branch as the fulcrum and as the Account Servicing Institution for what it claims are the “real accounts” belonging to the client’s Shared Service Centre.

The Virtual Accounts have no Account Servicing Institution attached to them. However they each carry in their naming the identity of one of the client’s Operating Companies, and they are mainly established in the bank’s non-UK branches, subsidiaries and partner banks.

There is thus a hub-and-spoke arrangement, with the coordinating bank and the corporate Shared Service Centre constituting the hub. The Operating Companies and the non-UK financial institutions establishing their Virtual Accounts are the spokes, and can be expected to exist in every country where the corporate group has an Operating Company.

Set against this arrangement, Wolfsberg’s standards for payment transparency are far from complete. This has the effect of giving a clean bill of health to a range of services that are quite suspect given our understanding and analysis of applicable regulations on Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism, or AML/CFT as they are known for short.

All Wolfsberg Group’s 13 members figure in the Financial Stability Boards list of the world’s 30 Global Systemically Important Banks. Wolfsberg guidance has a meaningful impact on market practice, and on international banking services. What is more, theWolfsberg members include in their number some of the main proponents of these financial structures, so there is an inevitable suspicion of students marking their own homework.

The section that exists in the Payment Transparency Standards 2017 falls short in several ways.

Firstly it only deals with payments i.e. with outgoing payments looked at from the point of the view of the remitting banks. Even that section needs to be expanded, because in the case study example, the Operating Companies put on their invoices only their Virtual Account details. Their customer paying them will be unaware of the existence of the “real” account sitting behind, so they will give their bank its instruction quoting only the Virtual Account details. Wolfsberg state that both sets of details should be quoted but that is clearly impossible when the existence of the “real” accounts is obscured.

Secondly, there needs to be a whole new section on receipts, looked at from the angle of the beneficiary bank. This side is not addressed at all.

Thirdly there is a question about the Customer Due Diligence obligations of the financial institutions establishing Virtual Accounts for the Operating Companies. Wolfsberg Group should address this and confirm explicitly that any financial institution that issues unique banking details associated in its own records with a specific legal person is an Account Servicing Institution for that legal person and must have a compliant Customer Due Diligence file on the legal person.

There is a need for industry-wide clarity around the AML/CFT implications of both “On behalf of” payments and receipts, and of Virtual Accounts, the type of account to which “On behalf of” payments and receipts are normally posted.

Without the changes requested to the guidance on the contents of payment and receipt messages, there is a specific risk of non-compliance with implementations of FATF Recommendation 16 – such as EU Regulation 2015/847 of 20 May 2015 on information accompanying transfers of funds – because messages may not contain the details of both (i) the party that owns the real account that funds are debited or credited to; and (ii) the party that has entered into the contract for the supply of goods/services that the payment or receipt relates to, and “on whose behalf” the payment or receipt is being made or received.

Contrary to the inference of the Wolfsberg Payment Transparency Standards, though, it is not the details of Party (ii) – the “On behalf of” party – whose details are normally missing, but the details of Party (i) – the owner of the real account that is at the start or end of the payment chain.

There are two other major problems with the Wolfsberg standards:

  1. The standards infer that the real account sits in front of the virtual, or “On behalf of”, account towards the outside world, but in fact it is normally the virtual account that is presented to trading counterparties, and the real account that is invisible to them;
  2. These structures are principally used for receipts rather than for payments, such that the Wolfsberg standards are completely missing this side of it.

Virtual Accounts involve a bank issuing unique banking details to a specific legal person on the corporate side. In the bank’s books the banking details are linked to records in which the name of this specific legal person is visible. The bank is also aware that the specific legal person will use the banking details, and no others, in their dealings with third-parties.

These circumstances make the bank an Account Servicing Institution to that specific legal person and should compel it to carry out Customer Due Diligence on the specific legal person as laid down in applicable AML/CFT regulations. This seems to be an obvious truth, but it is not adhered to in “On behalf of” structures, and so it is vital that Wolfsberg Group explicitly confirm the obvious.

Business

Can your company data make you famous?

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Can your company data make you famous? 1

By Kerry Gould, Associate Director, Speed Communications

Businesses gather and generate reams of data every day on everything from purchasing habits to customer behaviour. But too often, it gets ignored or restricted to ‘internal use’. Is this a big opportunity missed?

Perhaps more than in any other sector, finance and banking companies hold a goldmine of data. Of course, individual customer transactions are highly sensitive and need to be kept secure. But when these are collated into trends across an entire customer base, it can paint a compelling picture of people’s changing priorities. What are people spending money on? How are they using credit cards differently? Are they shifting their savings goals or looking at mortgages differently? And it’s not just consumer-facing businesses that can use their data to tell stories. It’s a growing area in the world of B2B marketing, especially for firms targeting the UK’s 5 million+ SMEs.

Insight in the COVID-19 era

Appetite to share data is increasing since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, too. We’re already seeing companies step up and share this intelligence; barely a day goes by when there’s not a report on how people are changing and adapting. In an era when everyone is trying to be a ‘thought leader’, having this unique insight can really set a company apart and elevate its public profile.

There are some great examples out there. Barclaycard revealed in its SME Barometer that the number of small businesses actively taking payments has increased by 24 per cent since the start of lockdown, an indicator of recovery. Meanwhile, Bottomline revealed in its Business Payments Barometer that 89% of firms continued to pay its suppliers late and £164,000 was lost by the average mid-sized business to payment fraud.

These reports achieved media coverage in print and online, and likely to have been shared widely over social networks, been promoted in email newsletters, discussed in online webinars and provided talking points in customer meetings. In today’s multi-channel world, there are a plethora of ways to reach customers (and potential customers) and we know that a ‘layered approach’ to these communications stand the best chance of getting you noticed and remembered.

Commissioning a survey through an independent research agency is a tried and tested method for marketing and PR teams to gather insight to use for content marketing and news generation. But often, your company’s own proprietary data can be even more compelling. It’s based on actual facts and behaviours, immune from the public’s continually fluctuating opinions. Plus, it doesn’t cost you thousands of pounds to commission. If your company has a strong enough dataset that can tell a story or indicate a trend, it should absolutely be used.

Overcoming hurdles

Like all well-meaning initiatives, data-led PR doesn’t come without its challenges. Here, we tackle three.

  1. Getting buy in to go public
Kerry Gould

Kerry Gould

Sometimes, business stakeholders can be nervous about releasing data that may be deemed commercially sensitive, revealing market share or insight that competitors could take advantage of. In this case, it’s about considering risk versus reward. The marketing benefit for making yourself known could be offset by competitive intelligence that your rivals may have through other sources anyway. Ultimately, there’s often a compromise to be stuck and there may be some data that you can’t disclose. Bringing stakeholders on the journey with you from the start is often the best way to ascertain this.

  1. Organising reams of data

It can be overwhelming to organise complex data sets, gather trends from different silos, departments and platforms. Many finance companies have in-house data analysts and insight teams whose job this is, but for others, outsourcing to a specialist provider like Data Cubed or Beyond Analysis can be a helpful move. By building a dashboard that collates everything in one place, teams from across the business, and external PR or marketing agencies, can get access in real time.

  1. Not having enough data

It may be that your business doesn’t generate reams of data or lacks a large enough sample size of customers. In this case, you can partner with an organisation that does. In the Jobs Recovery Tracker developed with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, we partnered with EMSI to tap into their database of live job vacancies. This helped to track the employment market amid COVID-19, generating masses of media coverage, insight to inform its content marketing and talking points for its upcoming REC 2020 conference.  This can sometimes be treated as a commercial arrangement but often considered a joint PR opportunity that’s win-win.

Data journalism is a growing discipline in the world of media, with news outlets dedicating talented people and resources to telling stories with numbers. The BBC and Guardian do it particularly well. With marketeers – particularly in data-rich industries like finance – waking up to the power it can hold for true thought leadership, the future is likely to be one ever more governed by data-led insight. How long before ‘data-PR’ becomes a discipline in its own right?

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Business

Advice for contractors closing down their contracting company

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Advice for contractors closing down their contracting company 2

By John Bell is Director of insolvency firm Clarke Bell, which he founded in 1994.

Contractors with a limited company/Personal Service Company (PSC) have been going through more than their fair share of turbulent times recently.

In the last two years contractors/PSCs have been bracing themselves for the impact that the new off-payroll legislation (IR35) will have on their lives and livelihoods, as the Government ploughed ahead with its plans to roll out the reforms to the private sector; as it, wrongly in many cases, believed some contractors should be deemed as employees and not genuine self-employed contractors.  Then came Covid-19 and once again those self-employed workers were dealt another blow as the pandemic left many without work overnight, albeit there was some relief as Off-Payroll was paused until April 2021.   And let’s not forget Brexit and all the uncertainty around it which is having a huge effect on a lot of businesses in the UK.

It has been a bumpy ride for businesses of all sizes over the last few months and, despite the emergency measures announced by the Chancellor in an effort to keep the economy afloat, not every contractor will want to carry on trading. Some will want to retire earlier than they’d previously planned – to get away from all the turmoil and ‘cash in’ all their hard earnings. Others, however, will have seen their income falling to such an extent that they are now having cash flow problems and are unable to pay some of their bills.   Some may be considering taking up a PAYE role for job security whilst others may be forced to put their retirement plans on hold and continue working until they feel confident that their pension pot will serve them well.

The combined effects of Brexit, Covid-19 and the new Off-Payroll tax have hit businesses hard and some company directors now think that closing down their company is the best course of action for them.

A Members’ Voluntary Liquidation is the best option for contractors

If a contractor is planning on moving into an employee/PAYE role, retiring or pursuing some other life or career plan then a Members’ Voluntary Liquidation (MVL) is likely to be the most tax-efficient way to close a solvent company – particularly if the assets of a company are more than £25,000.

An MVL is an HMRC-approved process and a licensed insolvency practitioner must be appointed. While it may have a negative-sounding ring to it – with terms like ‘liquidation’ and ‘insolvency practitioner’ – there is nothing negative about it. Quite the opposite, in fact. By placing a company into an MVL it is a clear illustration that someone has been running a successful company.

An MVL allows a contractor to draw any remaining profit as a dividend, paying income tax on the dividend amount.  With the help of the licensed insolvency practitioner who will liquidate a company, the reserves can then be distributed as capital, which are then subject to capital gains tax (CGT) at either 18% or 28%.

Through an MVL, a contractor can also take advantage of Business Asset Disposal Relief, formerly known as Entrepreneurs’ Relief before 6 April 2020.  If someone qualifies for this relief, this can mean that CGT will be paid at a rate of 10% on qualifying assets, which can translate into considerable tax savings.  Each shareholder of the limited company could also benefit from a tax-free allowance of £11,000, the Annual Exempt Amount.  If there are multiple shareholders, this can be highly efficient.

To ascertain eligibility for Business Asset Disposal Relief / Entrepreneur’s Relief, contractors should speak to an accountant and also look at the Gov.uk website.

Off-Payroll (IR35), Brexit and Covid-19 are all things that are likely to have a huge impact on contractors and their limited companies and most firms of Insolvency Practitioners will offer free and confidential advice.

My advice to contractors is to talk to their accountant and help decide whether an informal strike-off or an MVL is the best option.  If a contractor is having serious cashflow problems then an insolvent liquidation might be the best option.

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How we as female entrepreneurs can inspire and educate the next generation of female leaders

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How we as female entrepreneurs can inspire and educate the next generation of female leaders 3

By Vaishali Shah, serial entrepreneur at Creativeid

There is tremendous enthusiasm and aspiration amongst the next generation of women who are passionate about being successful in their chosen career, whether it’s running their own business or rising to the top in the company they choose to work in. It is up to those of us who are already in the shoes they want to fill to be the role models and help them along the way. They need our support and guidance and access to tools and resources.

The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship found that only 39% of women felt they had the capabilities to start a business compared to 55% of men because they did not fully believe in their entrepreneurial skills. The Review also found that only 30% of women said they already knew an entrepreneur compared to 38% of men.

Here are some ideas and suggestions of how those of us who are successful women in business can help and support the next generation of leaders:

Mentoring – connecting the leaders of the future with experienced and established entrepreneurs and leaders in their industry who know the steps and have already overcome the challenges. Meeting on a regular basis (in person or via video technology), answering questions, offering resources and helping them to define their vision clearly while pointing out opportunities would be extremely beneficial.

Female only networks – most events, especially in the financial and banking sector, are attended by a majority of men. This can be a bit daunting for women who tend to feel isolated. Unfortunately, there are very few female-only business networking groups. We need many more. Women have a different networking style than men. A female only network can give members a safe place to network, build confidence and relationships, while sharing some of the challenges they are facing and ask for guidance and support.

Panel discussions – invite successful female entrepreneurs and leaders from different industries to share their journeys to success. Their challenges, how they overcame them, what kept them going and any nuggets that could inspire the leaders-in-waiting. This could be run around International Women’s Day in March, for example.

Vaishali Shah

Vaishali Shah

Workshops/seminars – offer a seminar or workshop on topics that give valuable information on various aspects of running a business for entrepreneurs. In the workplace, have a system in place for ongoing training, development and engagement. Providing support, tools and resources will help to develop female talent. Make the workshops free or low cost so there is no barrier to entry. Help them to formulate a clear vision and a strong ‘why’ for their vision. This vision and ‘why’ will carry them through the tough times and be an important reminder and motivation to stay the course.

Recommendations – emphasise the importance and benefit of continual learning. Suggest podcasts, webinars or books to listen to or read. Being open to others’ experiences and ideas will help to educate and inspire them. People who achieve great success have a thirst for knowledge and are eager to learn from others.

Confidence and encouragement – give the next generation of leaders a sense of their own value and the value they bring to their market by the products and services they offer. They fill a need – they bring value. Help them understand that setbacks are a part of any business, but they should not be considered failures, rather, as gaining experience. Using setbacks as stepping stones towards their goal is what differentiates those who achieve great success from those who let setbacks define who they are, thus diminishing their chances of success.

Time for them – running or working in a fast-paced business can be all consuming, demanding and overwhelming at times, especially if they’re ambitious and want to get ahead. Teach women in business the importance of taking time out for themselves every day and to celebrate even the smallest success. Taking time out may seem counter intuitive, however it gives the mind time to relax and be open to inspiration and creativity and therefore being more productive.

Dame Karren Brady says – “If you have passion, drive and an entrepreneurial spirit, being female shouldn’t prevent you from getting where you want to be, and sometimes we must have the determination not to let it”.

Whether the next generation of female leaders are students about to embark on their business career, already running their own business or those in employment, we who have the experience and knowledge can play a crucial role in their climbing the ladder of success.

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