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Why and how businesses should change to survive coronavirus

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Why and how businesses should change to survive coronavirus

By Atul Bhakta, CEO, One World Express

COVID-19 is forcing us all to drastically alter our ways of life. Simple pleasures like seeing a friend for drinks, or making a surprise visit to a relative, are now a thing of the past as we all make our best efforts to contain the spread of this new disease.

In such difficult times, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed – especially with the endless torrent of disheartening news in the media. Some are finding comfort in the great British WW2 adage ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, a reminder that normality will inevitably resume if we endure these particularly stressful times with dignity and grace.

However useful this sentiment may be for many at this time – for business owners it can spell disaster. The idea of ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ at a time when customers simply aren’t leaving their houses and multi-million-pound department stores are facing foreclosure is senseless. As ever, businesses must constantly adapt to survive the new reality.

If a company chooses to completely pause all activities until this pandemic is contained, it may not have the easiest time resuming operations once restrictions are lifted. Thousands of businesses across the country are currently implementing short-term contingency plans (a restaurant re-organising their business model to operate as a takeaway service, for example) and others are completely pivoting their business proposition to take advantage of the current situation and continue growing even through these stressful times. Companies that fail to do either of these things will be at a definite disadvantage once COVID-19 is contained.

Enterprising, energetic and ambitious

Atul Bhakta

Atul Bhakta

Founders are naturally the ambitious, positive-minded sort – thus already possessing the greatest tools to help themselves and others during this current crisis.

When faced with economic adversity, it’s impossible to understate the importance of being proactive when choosing your next step. You may even find that actions taken to protect your business in the short-term end up producing massive benefits for years to come.

This is something I’ve learnt first-hand with my experiences founding One World Express. As we persevered through the dotcom crash of the late 90’s, the global financial crisis (GFC) and years of Brexit uncertainty, we were constantly on the lookout for how best to work through any given crisis.

Often, this meant further investment in new technologies to place us ahead of other delivery logistics companies. This turned out to be a fantastic choice, as our own bespoke logistics software has now seen adoption in companies from around the world – especially national vendors who were eager to enter into the international market in the aftermath of the GFC.

Obviously, this is a specific example not entirely applicable to COVID-19, but it represents the tenacity needed to take full advantage of the current situation.

Those who have the idea that they will be able to coast through a complete evaporation of economic activity and merely retain their staff through Government wage support schemes, rather than continuing to seek new opportunities, will face certain hardships even after everything returns to business-as-usual. An organisation bankrupt in innovation or creativity is one that will struggle to adapt, whatever the context, and will become overshadowed by more agile competitors.

Global and Local thinking

One somewhat contradictory aspect of the current business landscape is it may serve companies best to think with both a local and global delivery mindset. Given government guidance that trips outside the home must only be for exercise, food or work, those wishing to access their customer base must set up new delivery systems.

Establishing a delivery network, licencing tracking software and choosing an online payment system all require dedicated work – but can all be accomplished quickly if approached with the right enthusiasm and dedication.

Once your ability to continue providing for your local customer base is set up, then comes the time to think globally. It is deceptively easy from this point to begin to offer your products or services to the world at large – through eBay, Etsy, or your own bespoke online store.

Entrepreneurs who have pivoted from, for example, operating a high-street storefront to selling online goods will likely miss out on the customers who may have discovered their physical presence by chance. By entering into the global market and allowing anyone in the world to buy your goods – you should surely make up for this loss of customer traffic.

This is why, for the months of April, May and June 2020, One World Express is waiving all consulting fees for individuals looking to learn how to access the global markets. Social distancing rules may have deeply affected our social lives, but it doesn’t have to affect a drive to succeed. With so much of the world population bored at home, you may have the chance to finally get your fantastic product into the hands of people who need it.

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Why cybercriminals have ‘Gone Vishing’ during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Why cybercriminals have ‘Gone Vishing’ during the COVID-19 Pandemic 1
  • More than 215,000 vishing attempts in the last year alone

As new coronavirus restrictions look set to confine much of the UK population to their homes this winter, cybersecurity specialists Panda Security are warning consumers to be on guard for an explosion in ‘Vishing’ attempts by cybercriminals.

Vishing, or voice phishing, is a social engineering technique used by fraudsters posing as someone from an IT helpdesk or support services, in order to obtain personal information from a victim. They will then look to use this information to hack into secure systems and defraud victims.

Vishing has increased as hackers are taking advantage of employees working remotely. Since August last year, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has received reports from the public of more than 215,000 vishing attempts. These scams often offer fake tax refunds or help with claiming Covid-19 related financial support.[i]

The hacker can be very convincing and will often have done a lot of research into the company and the person they are contacting, to make what they are asking you for sound plausible. At times they even spoof phone numbers, so it looks like the caller ID is authentic and the same number as the real business.

European Cybersecurity Month: Keeping the ‘Vishers’ at bay

During European Cybersecurity Month, Panda Security is raising awareness of the dangers of vishing and is calling on consumers and businesses alike to take some simple measures in order to protect their data.  Hervé Lambert, Global Consumer Operations Manager at Panda Security, gives his top tips to avoid being a victim of a vishing attempt this winter.

  1. Never give out your personal details: You should never give anyone your personal details such as bank details or passwords verbally over the phone or via email. Hackers will often find data about you on the internet and through social media networks and use this to convince you they are legitimate
  2. Be suspicious: It is right to be apprehensive of unknown callers, particularly if you are not expecting the phone call. Ask the caller questions or give deliberately false statements, and if you do not feel comfortable with their answers, hang up and phone the company or person back directly
  3. Don’t always trust caller ID: Hackers can often spoof legitimate phone numbers and make you believe that the phone call is coming from a credible source. Remember that legitimate businesses will never ask for your personal details unsolicited over the phone
  4. Install security measures: While internet security will not completely protect you from fraud, installing measures such as antivirus software will help protect your digital identity and make the job of the hackers much more difficult
  5. Keep calm: Often the hacker will try to panic you into reacting very quickly and scare you into providing them with your information. Take a moment to breathe and slow the conversation down

Commenting on the raise in vishing attempts, Hervé Lambert, Global Consumer Operations Manager at Panda Security says: “Vishing is not a particularly new or sophisticated technique, and yet the “new normal” of working from home has been a boon for cybercriminals looking to exploit vulnerable people in this way. Hackers will scour the Internet and social media networks for any information they can glean about a potential victim before making a call. Once they have secured the victims trust they are then in a position of power to defraud them.”

Lambert continues: “It is essential that consumers take preventative measures to protect their digital identity, while remaining vigilant and question anything that seems unusual. Our key piece of advice remains: never give out your personal details over the phone.”

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Five golden rules of recruitment

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Five golden rules of recruitment 2

Former investment banker and entrepreneur, Connie Nam, discusses five ways in which basing your recruitment process around understanding a candidate’s personal passions, motivations and personality can improve staff retention and strengthen your workforce.

Ex-investment banker Connie Nam saw a niche in the UK jewellery market and built a £10m business from her kitchen table in just eight years. Today, as CEO and founder of cult jewellery brand Astrid & Miyu, she is continuing to grow her business as well as her team despite the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic.

As founder and CEO of a rapidly growing business, Nam’s role is ultimately to create a clear vision, run the business, continue its growth and – most importantly – lead and support her team in their work and in their progression within the business. Nam started her business on her own and, as the brand grew exponentially, she had to become quickly accustomed to managing people and continually refining her recruitment process to attract and retain the best talent to grow with the business.

Now, with a team of more than 80 across the business, Nam and her senior management team have built a rigorous recruitment process, driven by strong cultural values, to identify the perfect candidates and ensure there are world class managers heading up each department as her team continually expands.

The key to recruitment and retention according to Nam, is that the people and culture element is part of the wider company strategy, not just part of a HR strategy in silo. Nam believes that people should be at the heart of any business and that taking the time and asking the right questions to understand a candidate’s personal passions, motivations, goals and personality during the recruitment process is vital to building and retaining a unified team. Here are five key benefits of taking this approach, according to Nam:

  1. Bring any missing qualities into a business

We’re always reviewing our business and team which allows us to identify gaps and bring in missing qualities into the business. One thing I do – which I’d recommend any business leader does – is hold strategy meetings with my leadership team every quarter where we review the brand, business, and above all team strategy. These meetings allow us to find out what we’re missing in a team – in terms of communication, skillsets, values and personalities – and look to bring people in to fill those gaps.

  1. Craft a cohesive team

When crafting a cohesive team, it’s important to recruit based on values and ensure that a candidate’s own values align with those of the business. Values are such an important part of our business and this is true to everyone’s heart in the business; it’s not just coming from me – or from the top – it’s not corporate spiel rather it is instilled in everything we do.

We recently redefined our values which are: grow together, celebrate each other and break all boundaries (or throwing out the rulebook!). We take these values very seriously and build the team on these foundations. Whenever we recruit, we look for these three signals and if people don’t fit into these three values then they won’t be hired – values are not just a company buzzword, they are important and just underpin everything you do as a business and as a team.

We are also planning to put these three values formally into our appraisal system so when we do our biannual reviews with colleagues – aside from the business KPIs – these values will be a very important factor in their progression and development within the business. I would advise any business leader to make sure you take the values seriously and live and breathe them so everyone in your team feels equally passionate – that is the secret to crafting a truly cohesive team.

  1. Enable empowerment of individuals

Empowering individuals in your team is so important, not only for their own personal development, but for the benefit of the wider team and even the business as a whole. It’s important to allow people to play to their own strengths and give them a sense of ownership if you want them to fulfil their role with as much passion as though it was their own business.

As we have grown so rapidly, it has put a lot of challenges and pressure on the team, but at the same time they have been able to grow as individuals and step up very quickly to becoming industry leaders in their fields. Our last value is to break all boundaries and we give a lot of freedom to individuals and allow them to take risks (within the means of their roles). Everyone at Astrid & Miyu owns some segment of the business; they have clear boundaries and budgets but –if they act within that and meet business targets and KPIs – they’re free to do their job however they like. They can take risks and if they fail, we don’t have a blame culture. If they fail within the means, we actually celebrate it as it allows people to reflect on the key learnings which I think is quite powerful in terms if empowering individuals.

  1. Enhance job satisfactionFive golden rules of recruitment 3

Job satisfaction seems like an obvious one, but it really is one of the most important elements of maintaining a loyal and motivated workforce. As I’ve already mentioned, we ensure everyone has a very specific role with strong sense of ownership, and we let people run with their work within very clear boundaries with clear expectations. Aside from business KPI reviews we also carry out regular personal development reviews where every individual comes up with what they want to learn for the full year or for the quarter and how they want to develop and their manager will guide them – even if it’s not related to their immediate job – so they have something to look forward to which keeps them satisfied in their role and motivated. That learning and sense of ownership, development and progression really enhances employee satisfaction.

  1. Improve staff retention

Clearly, staff retention goes hand in hand with job satisfaction – if people are satisfied, they will stay in their role. As well as having a sense of ownership, having clear goals and enough progression opportunities form a big part of staff retention; teams and individuals need room to grow. We have always made sure there are progression opportunities for our people, though we have been lucky to experience continual growth that allows us to have even more progression opportunities for those who are able to keep up.

We have a very transparent progression scale, which includes total transparency when it comes to pay – something that isn’t common in the fashion industry or a start-up environment but is vital for ensuring teams are motivated and trusting of the company. Everyone at Astrid & Miyu knows what their salaries would be if they get promoted to certain levels and what their band is – if they’re on the same level, everyone is on the same pay, so I think that’s highly motivating. This is something we implemented at the end of last year to make things very transparent and open and I think people are definitely more motivated because they’re not left in the dark, which can be the feeling when remuneration is done on a case by case basis. Now we have a very clear process and salaries attached to job titles so there’s no room for complaints and the team all know exactly what they need to do to progress.

The fact it’s very clear and transparent makes people trust the business and trust the leadership. Our transparency when it comes to pay is reminiscent of the structured progression routes you see in the corporate arena of banking and accountancy which is where I started my career – I know it can become political and chaotic if you don’t have this, which is not going to aid staff retention, it will do the opposite.

Though these are the five building blocks of a successful recruitment and retention strategy, I would add that businesses should not be afraid of making hard decisions. Although it’s important to foster a supportive workplace culture and help your people with their career progression, the onus needs to be on the individual – if they are not working hard and to the business’ values, their role within the company should be reviewed – don’t let people slip at the detriment to the wider team. This can be avoided if you find the right people at recruitment stage which is why recruitment is so important because, if it doesn’t work out, companies should not be shy of letting people go if they are not committed and the right cultural fit. I think that is motivating for the people who do work hard – it can be very disheartening for employees who are working hard to see one of the team is not pulling their weight. It is important that businesses are constantly reviewing their recruitment strategy and that there is a strong set of values and a clear onboarding process to ensure a strong and united workforce.

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Using data analytics to improve SME cash flow and treasury management

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Using data analytics to improve SME cash flow and treasury management 4

The pressure facing SMEs this year is widely known, and they are looking for ways to improve their cash flow and payment decisions. Data analytics is a hidden gem that many SMEs are not tapping into. Smart data-driven decision-making could potentially be transformational for small businesses owners, writes Neo’s CEO, Laurent Descout.

 

The ability to maintain positive cash flow is one of the biggest challenges SMEs are struggling with during the COVID-19 pandemic. In times like these, the ability to monitor outgoings versus income, make payments to staff and suppliers, be paid on time and preserve a healthy order book of customers, is an extremely difficult task.

 

Governments around the world have done their best to help business owners in different ways, with fixes such as direct cash injections and loans to covering staff costs. As welcome as these are, they are short-term solutions. As businesses hopefully start to emerge from the pandemic, SMEs need tailored support and guidance that address their specific challenges – not a one-size-fits-all strategy. 

 

What many business owners may not realise is that they are sitting on a treasure trove of information that could go some way towards helping them in this regard.

 

Tapping into data and analytics for smarter decisions

 

Every SME will be facing their own challenges. Each business’ trading histories, payment cycles and cash reserve levels are unique. Over a period of months and years, through a process of trial and error, they increased oversight of their finances and improved their overall decision-making and performance.

 

They can go one step further and make smarter business decisions by using tailored data and analytics derived from their company’s history of trading, payments and cash flow. By utilising comprehensive analytics of their business functions, owners can have a complete view of their corporate behaviour, backed by intelligence. 

 

Ever wondered if all of your payments made on time, or even too early? Or what percentage of their customer’s payments are delayed, and by how much? How can temporary cash shortfalls be addressed more effectively?

 

Knowing the answer to such questions and more can result in improved forecasting, detecting patterns and anomalies and automating processes. This enhances financial decision making, risk management and cash flow monitoring. Critically, the answers derived from these analytics are unique to each business.

 

There are other benefits too. Time is saved from participating in routine and straight-forward bookkeeping processes, which improves productivity, while decision making is more informed. Furthermore, improved forecasting and predicting customer preferences can lead to an improved experience as well as new business opportunities.

 

The need for a treasury system to navigate difficult times

Laurent Descout

Laurent Descout

 

Of course, this requires access to a treasury management system (TMS), something which has historically presented a hurdle. It is estimated that three-quarters of SMEs have no treasury function; rather, they often rely on spreadsheet software, but these were never designed for this purpose. 

 

The events of 2020 have caused many people to reassess how they manage their businesses, especially while working remotely. For SMEs, modern fintech treasury management systems (TMS) could provide a solution.

 

Once solely at the disposal of large corporations, there is now a wave of innovation in treasury technology systems, which has democratised access through lower costs, and offer access to customised interfaces that are easy to use and tailored to individual business requirements.

 

The phrase ‘cash is king’ is often used more frequently during crises to highlight the critical importance of maintaining positive cash flow. Having a comprehensive oversight of your treasury management operations is essential for effective business and risk management and maintaining positive cash flows. Tailored data and analytics can be crucial for achieving this.

 

This has become even more important during the current pandemic. With the majority of finance teams around the world likely to be working remotely for a substantial period, and with social distancing expected to continue in some form throughout the year and likely into next in many countries, now is the time to make smarter decisions to sustain small businesses through a difficult period.

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