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What are the barriers to a cashless UK?

What are the barriers to a cashless UK?

By David Orme, Senior Vice President at IDEX Biometrics 

In many ways, the UK is progressing towards becoming a cashless society. Despite this, there is a range of barriers threatening to undermine the UK’s ability to fully embrace this transition. From a lack of trust in new technology to a sentimental connection to existing payment methods, these barriers must be both identified and overcome if the UK is to operate in the modern climate.

The latest Access to Cash review[1] revealed debit cards are now the most popular payment method in the country. But the decline of cash payments is not good news for all of us. Around 8,000,000 UK adults — 17% of the population — would struggle to cope in a cashless society[2]. Many of these are from vulnerable groups: the poor, those with physical and/or mental health challenges and people without bank accounts are all disproportionately likely to rely on cash.

While the UK as a whole has been rated among the nations most ready to go cashless3, some residents are clearly readier than others. As things stand, a cashless UK would exclude a large number of people.

So, what are the greatest barriers to the UK’s cashless society and how can they best be tackled?

Who relies on cash?

With almost 500 UK cash machines being removed from service each month[3], cash is getting harder to find. Disadvantaged groups are more likely to rely on cash and some, such as those who do not have a bank account, have little choice but to use cash for everything. In 2017, people in the UK made more than 13 billion cash payments1. The choice seems clear: either ensure the continued availability of cash or make it easy for all members of society to go cashless.

Other countries have tackled this. For instance, Sweden has positioned itself as the front-runner to becoming a truly cashless society. In fact, four out of five purchases in Sweden are made electronically, and Sweden’s central bank, Riksbanken, estimates that between 2012 and 2020, cash in circulation will have declined by 20–50 per cent[4]. What can the UK learn from Sweden? Although Sweden experienced similar reservations to the notion of a transformation into a fully cashless nation from certain groups that are dependent on traditional currency, Riksbanken also emphasised that the answer lies in making sure that cash services are still provided. This would suggest that the ideal payment balance lies in offering people freedom, even if physical currency becomes rarer.

Furthermore, the Indian government has pushed the cashless agenda to tackle corruption and crime, and to draw in millions who currently live at the margins of society[5]. One element of this is Aadhaar, a digital identity/authentication that relies on fingerprint biometrics[6]. When linked with bank accounts or other methods, Aadhaar lets users authenticate payments, regardless of their literacy, income or access to formal banking.

A similar use of fingerprint biometric payment smart cards could overcome several of the problems we see in the UK. For example the fool-proof authentication built into biometric pre-paid cards could help those currently unbanked to build a credit rating, and gain access to products and services previously beyond reach.

Facilitating choice

When asked why they use cash at all, UK residents give a range of answers. These include convenience, trust and choice issues1. People like having a choice of payment and for that reason (as well as several others) the complete demise of all physical currency in the UK is still several years away. Even those who are happy to use cashless payments like to have cash as a back-up, while those who generally favour other forms of digital payment (PayPal, mobile wallets, etc.) have cards for the same reason.

Ensuring trust in card payments is very important for consumers, banks and merchants alike. As such, where cash payments are currently preferred for convenience, the obvious response is to make card payments as easy and trusted as possible.

Where trust is a problem, this is often because consumers don’t trust banks, the internet or the infrastructure needed to make cashless payments work1. This has a certain situational irony, because cashless payments are actually far more traceable than cash. Yet some consumers remain wary: they need to be reassured that card payments are secure.

Here, biometrics are useful once more. While a signature can be forged and an online account hacked, a fingerprint is virtually impossible to replicate. What is more, consumers are used to seeing biometrics used in places where security is paramount, such as airports; they trust biometrics as a gold standard.

Cards with built-in biometric authentication help customers to overcome trust issues around digital payment. They are also, therefore, likely to help financial organisations who wish to draw in the sceptical consumer by reassuring them.

How soon?

The Access to Cash review concludes that cash is unlikely to disappear from the UK completely, and that there are important reasons to keep it in circulation. However, it seems reasonable, given recent trends, to believe the use of cash will continue to fall and the use of alternatives, specifically payment cards, will rise.

It seems likely that the UK will ultimately become mostly, as opposed to completely, cashless, but preparation is key and the transition must be well supported. Rural areas must be sure they are able to access electronic money transactions, for example.

Fingerprint biometric smart cards are safer and more accessible, allowing even those without formal banking identities to make cashless payments securely and reassuring the most nervous banking clients. After all, many UK schools already give pupils (who are of course, largely ‘unbanked’) biometric cards with which to pay for their school lunches — it looks as though that’s a lesson we could all do with learning.

Finance

Teaching children about wealth management and why there has never been a better time

Teaching children about wealth management and why there has never been a better time 1

By Annabel Bosman is Managing Director and Head of Relationship Management at RBC Wealth Management

As we approach the end of week sixteen in lockdown, I am breathing a sigh of relief at having successfully navigated another week of juggling work and client commitments with the increasing demands of my children – age six and nine.

My day job is to lead RBC Wealth Management International’s relationship management efforts in the British Isles, but my toughest challenge right now is educating and entertaining my new junior co-workers each day.

While my children’s school has done a great job at setting up daily tasks and learning activities, there is only so much ‘teaching’ they can take from me without World War III breaking out. So instead of rigidly sticking to the school curriculum each day, I have taken the opportunity to educate my young children about a topic that is often not discussed enough in school — money.

Why now?

What I do for a living has become a central discussion in our co-working space — also known as the dining table. I have found that investment concepts can be grasped quite well by young children and this has led to some interesting conversations about which businesses are doing well in the current situation, and those that are not. Children are often more logical than adults, and in my house, this logic is helping them grasp the basics of an investment philosophy. As a result, I have even passed conversations around stock markets off as maths classes!

For young children like my own, helping them learn the basics of managing money is something that will hopefully set them up well in life. There are some great tools to help them do this – we use GoHenry, which provides children with a pre-paid card to learn about budgeting. Likewise, encouraging conversations around how they spend virtual money whilst gaming on apps like Roblox can give some really important lessons around how you look after the money you have earned – and how if something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.

The most important thing is not to underestimate your children. Whether it is the application of a “mummy-tax” when they want chocolate or applying interest rates (albeit nominal!) if they want to borrow money, teaching our children the basics around money is something we can all do.

Incorporating new lessons

The first step is to identify the best way to approach teaching these topics in a way they will understand. Resources such as the Usborne Money for Beginners are really helpful to start conversations. There are also several YouTube clips and even TikTok channels dedicated to helping children think about money. I tend to think about what is important to them and use that as a catalyst to start conversations; for example, it could be how they can monetise their love of the gaming app Roblox.

Ending the taboo

Any conversation that leads to a greater awareness around financial discipline and security has to be a positive, no matter what the age – and there are certainly parallels with my experience and that of my clients. There seems to have been a shift in HNW and UHNW families’ willingness to talk about money. Whereas previously it was seen as very un-British to speak about money, the pandemic has meant that a more open conversation is taking place.

Whatever our financial position, we often bury our heads in the sand when it comes to money, and don’t always have a clear financial plan, but when we start to put down on paper what’s going in and out, we immediately start to feel more in control, thus becoming more engaged. It can be uncomfortable to have that conversation with your family, but we regularly speak with our clients about all manner of sensitive subjects including putting wills in place, inheritance and protecting loved ones. Naturally, this is also bringing conversations to the fore around succession planning, legacy, philanthropy and even one’s own mortality. When times are good, it’s easy to not have these thoughts at the forefront of your mind, but in challenging times like these, it highlights how essential it is to talk. And just as with my children, there are plenty of apps and websites that can help you take the first steps.

Varying generational approaches

There is no one way to educate your children about money — what worked for one generation will not necessarily work for the next. Different generations have had to address the different approaches they might take in thinking about money and try to reach a common language to agree on common goals. Whilst many of us grew up with physical pocket money from our parents after completing household chores, today’s young children rarely even touch money, they receive their allowance on an app.

A 2019 study commissioned by RBC Wealth Management and conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit found that seven in ten younger affluent respondents think that their beliefs about wealth are very different to those of their parents; with a similar percentage, 78%, believing that wealth is less easily attained or preserved today. Early, open and continuous dialogue can only help confront obstacles head on and smooth the path ahead.

These talks also allow HNW individuals and their families to talk about how they can address their non-financial goals, such as fighting climate change or supporting social agendas – something that the younger generation is acutely focussed on. Indeed, more recent social events have led to an ongoing and overdue debate around what privilege looks like and how society needs to change.

What next?

With the summer holidays fast approaching, the struggle to keep children occupied will continue, but without the pressure of the school curriculum. This is an opportunity to continue discussions with children about where money comes from and where its value lies.

I have found it tremendously empowering to talk to my children about money and getting back to basics — it may not be school learning, but it is real life learning. And as I say to my clients, the initial step to start a conversation is always the hardest.

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Finance

From accountants to advisors: changing roles and expectations

From accountants to advisors: changing roles and expectations 2

By Chris Downing, Director for Accountants & Bookkeepers at Sage

The line between strategic advisor and traditional accountant is blurring. Over the last year, 82% of accountants said their clients were demanding a wider service offering, including business and technology implementation advice. In the current climate this transition has only been accelerated.

Clients increasingly expect their accountants to take a more active role in change management and predicting their cashflow months into an uncertain future. This is enabling businesses to tackle the challenges of day-to-day operations, while keeping an eye on what the post-COVID world will look like, and the support they will need to return to strength.

To solve these new and complex, expectations accountants must develop a different way of working. They will be required to increasingly supplement the traditional, compliance and reporting aspects of their work with business advice and consultancy. To do this, accountants need the ability to move quickly and efficiently, with a firm grounding in technology and data control.

Get straight to the point

The priorities of yesterday are very different to the goals of today. Where businesses once focused on driving growth and efficiency, the objective for many now is continuity – understanding what government support is available and for how long. In the current climate, speed of delivery and client care are top of the agenda.

But the way accountants go about this is very important. Rules are changing every day – the definition of an ‘essential business’, government support and bank loan programmes are constantly in flux. In normal times, an accountant’s role is to ensure their clients are aware of and reactant to these changes. Yet, how much value does this create for them in the ‘now’?

To be valuable, new information must be delivered quickly but it should also be succinct. It isn’t useful for clients to be bombarded with email updates, or reports running into hundreds of pages, trying to explain the week’s changes. With so much present noise, it’s the accountant’s task to break through the information overload and provide the client with crucial resource only.

To understand client pain points and get to the heart of what they really need, a running dialogue is essential. Building individual client relationships will unlock the potential to deliver tailored experiences that meet their business demands. Armed with this insight, accountants can then distil complex information into digestible chunks.

A more entrepreneurial spirit 

Sharing insight is only the start.  The other half of the story relies on consultancy. In the Covid-19 environment, the routine aspects of an accountant’s work are being supplemented with the transformative changes they can make for clients. Cashflow projections for the next six months are crucial, but even more so is the advice an accountant can offer on improving the financial outlook of a business.

Chris Downing

Chris Downing

To provide this balance, accountants should embrace a more entrepreneurial way of thinking. Not only advising on how clients can meet current challenges, but also how they can innovate to drive new revenue streams in the future. Part of this means being willing to step outside of their comfort zone. Many firms are already investing in the skills and technologies they need to service novel demands – like advising on relevant accounting and finance technologies.

While many businesses remain closed to the public, even as lockdown eases, they have increased capacity and flexibility to shift operations towards what will be most effective and profitable. Clients will be open to changing their business focus to meet demand spikes in other areas as they do not have to account for a disruption to customer service. For example, many distillers shifted production from beverages to hand sanitiser while bars and restaurants were closed.

With their contextual understanding of client finances, accountants are uniquely placed to advise their clients on change and guide them through the transformation process. Though this requires a more innovative model of accounting, and one that is willing to embrace the latest technologies.

Truth in the cloud

Business advice needs to be backed by data, especially for accountants engaging directly with the CFO. Scenarios need to be modelled, analysed, tracked and compared over time to arrive at the most effective proposal for the client. This is outside the wheelhouse of traditional accounting, but it’s becoming necessary in an industry heavily disrupted by new technologies.

To keep up with the ever-growing need for rapidly available data and analytics capabilities, more and more accountants are turning to the cloud to consolidate and use their data estate, while automating the time-consuming tasks of data management. Indeed, the majority (91%) of accountants have said new technology has delivered fresh value to their business in the last year, whether it increases productivity or frees up more time to focus on client needs.

Against the backdrop of coronavirus and technological disruption, a new breed of accountant is quickly emerging. Innovation is possible for those who stay ahead of client expectations and are aware of their needs, embrace an entrepreneurial mindset and adopt the latest cloud and automation technologies. In this way, an accountant becomes an integral part of their client’s business.

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Finance

Preparing for the new normal and building a financial plan

Preparing for the new normal and building a financial plan 3

By Donna Torres, director of small business at Xero UK

There is some light at the end of the tunnel for small businesses. As the lockdown continues to ease many retailers and hospitality businesses are now opening up again, or preparing to return soon.

Preparing for what’s around the corner has always been key to business success. Whilst there is still much uncertainty, it’s more important than ever that businesses get in control of their finances and create a solid plan.

Having a strong understanding of your cash flow and a plan for the months to come is vital to helping you prepare for what’s ahead. If you’re unsure where to begin, here are five ways to start:

Take stock

Financial experts Lauren Harvey (Founding Director of Full Stop Accounts) and Jonathan Graunt (Founder of accountancy firm FD Works and Xavier Analytics) recently spoke with Xero about the uplift in businesses taking an interest in their finances and understanding their financial position.

Businesses should be using this time to review their processes and really understand their numbers. It can be helpful to reflect on your original statement – what do you really want your business to do? And has the pandemic changed this? Use this as the fuel to drive your business vision forward.

Consider the risks

The government has provided SMEs with a number of support schemes, but the conditions and capital being offered is changing.

For example, the Furlough Scheme will currently only run until the end of October and the deadline to furlough new employees has now passed. The government will also gradually be reducing the amount it pays under this scheme. Make sure you’ve accountanted for this in your financial plan so you have a clear picture of how furlough tapering off will impact your business and any adjustments you might need to make.

If you’ve taken out one of the Government backed loans, now is the time to start building repayments into your financial plan. Building a solid plan will also help to ensure that you use the money in the best way to support your business in the long-term. It can be tempting to fight the most immediate fires with your capital, but try to think about the longer term health of your business – and where the money is going to have the most impact.

Adapting to a change in demand

Covid-19 has forced businesses to adapt to a lot of changes and SMEs should be thinking carefully about how their customer demand has changed. What do customers expect from you now? For example, many are still apprehensive of shopping on the high street. This might mean some of the options you offered during lockdown like deliveries or online services should remain.

Communicate with your customers as much as possible to get an accurate view of what they need from you now and in the future. How can you fulfil this? Then it’s important to look at the numbers and scrutinise which areas are going to provide the most return on investment.

Financial Planning: where to start?

For financial planning to be effective, it’s helpful to get into habits that will provide an accurate snapshot of how your business is performing. Reconciling bank transactions daily, creating a daily simple cash flow check-in habit and examining your profit and loss statements weekly will give you a better understanding of where your business stands.

Apps like Float or Fluidly will help to give you an accurate look at your cash flow in an easy to read visual. And the recently launched Xero Short-term Cash Flow tool can help you project your bank balance 30 days into the future, showing you the impact of existing bills and invoices if they’re paid on time. You can then work out which invoices you should follow up on.

Some people can find this task daunting, but your accounts aren’t just being kept for reporting to HMRC, they are also there to give you invaluable insight into your business and to plan for the future.

Ask for help

Your accountant is there to help you to understand your finances. This is likely to be one of the biggest economic challenges you have ever faced as a small business owner. Now, more than ever, it is time to lean on your accountant to help create a robust plan.

If you do not understand something, or need guidance or clarification, get in touch and ask for their expertise and advice. If their advice doesn’t help, ask them to explain it again.

You can also check out Xero’s online guide to managing cash flow here.

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