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Why CFOs need to adapt their financing – and why they need to do it now

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Klook announces $200 million in new financing aimed at bringing US and European travel experiences online for people everywhere

By Ellora Macpherson, Chief Investment Officer at Harbour

The current business landscape is a uniquely volatile one. In March 2020, almost all business leaders and their CFOs would have been asking themselves hard questions about their balance sheets. How robust are we? Will we need to let people go? Can we balance the books?

Do we adapt and innovate? Do we try to maintain business as usual?

It soon became clear that businesses would have to make tough decisions. UK redundancies have hit a record high with official data showing the largest annual fall in employment for a decade. By November 2020 there were 819,000 fewer workers on UK company payrolls than at the start of the pandemic.

The Office for National Statistics has also reported a steady climb of insolvencies and voluntary liquidations. According to the report, some two thirds of businesses are at risk of collapse, with 14% of all UK businesses having already suspended trading due to lockdown restrictions. This is despite recent optimism seen in the markets following the development of several promising vaccines.

Whilst many businesses will sadly become insolvent in 2021, others will see opportunities to act differently to manage the struggles ahead.

Within those businesses, CFOs have an immediate and urgent need to find new ways to adapt their financing through lateral thinking and alternative solutions.

That means CFOs are looking for assets already in their businesses that can be capitalised upon. One such asset is unrealised litigation. Whether arising out of fraudulent activity, unpaid debts, breaches of contract, viable claims can take many forms and can be found in many places.

The last decade has witnessed something of a mindset shift; whereas litigation was previously seen as a drain on resources, claimant side litigation is increasingly viewed as an asset – one which in the right circumstances can be hugely profitable. In calmer times businesses may have been prepared to leave such claims untouched, however the current economic reality means that businesses can now seldom afford to overlook such lucrative assets.

Ellora Macpherson

Ellora Macpherson

Yet at a time when UK businesses are facing sizeable losses and sustained uncertainty, the likelihood is that few will have neither the funding nor the internal resources to litigate. Add in the financial risk of losing the claim, they may be left with very little inclination to proceed at all.

The litigation finance market is becoming an essential tool for forward thinking CFOs intending to unlock claims in their businesses. The macroeconomic lifecycle has no bearing on the outcome of disputes and litigation as an asset class itself it has little correlation to the wider market. This means that litigation funders have the capital to pursue meritorious claims at difficult times even when the businesses with the claims do not.

By providing funding for all of the costs incurred in bringing the claim (in addition to covering the adverse costs risk should the claim not succeed) litigation funding provides a working solution to these barriers at no cost to the litigant. If the case is won, the funder receives a pre-agreed share of the proceeds; if however the claim is lost, the funder’s investment in the case is written off with no recourse to the unsuccessful claimant. A successful claim can not only improve the financial position of the company, but also that of creditors and investors.

So, if CFOs can proceed with a potentially profitable claim without any impact or risk to their balance sheet, what’s the downside? Given the litigation funder’s return is tied to the success of the case, it’s obvious that not every claim will be suitable for funding.

Experienced funders will not support meritless claims, but the truth is this makes their decision-making process a valuable yardstick to gauge whether or not a claim should be pursued. The monetization of litigation also takes expertise; claims do not behave like shares, bonds or receivables. It requires a different skillset – a blend of both legal and financial acumen.

Given that commercial disputes are often worth tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds, it is clear that CFOs must adapt their mindset to view court claims as valuable assets rather than liabilities. It is now no longer a question of whether CFOs can afford to advance these claims, but whether they can afford to ignore these assets on their books any longer.

Finance

Global dividend payouts forecast to revive in 2021

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Global dividend payouts forecast to revive in 2021 1

By Joice Alves

LONDON (Reuters) – Global dividend payments could rebound by as much as 5% this year, a new report estimated on Monday, after the coronavirus caused the biggest slump in payouts since the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

Companies’ payouts to shareholders plunged more than 10% on an underlying basis in 2020 as one in five cut their dividends and one in eight cancelled them altogether.

A total of $220 billion worth of cuts were made between April and December, based on investment manager Janus Henderson’s Global Dividend Index. But there are signs companies are beginning to reinstate at least some of them.

Janus Henderson’s report warned that dividends could still fall 2% this year, in a worst-case scenario. But its best-case scenario sees 2021 dividends up 5% on a headline basis.

“It is quite likely we will see companies pay special dividends in 2021, utilising strong cash positions to make up some of the decline in distributions in 2020”.

Banking dividends will be likely to drive the rebound in payouts in 2021, the report said, after the European Central Bank and Bank of England eased blanket bans for lenders on dividends and buybacks. These were imposed during the first wave of the crisis to prepare for a potential increase in bad loans.

UK lenders Barclays and NatWest resumed payouts this month.

Last year, dividend bans meant banks cut or cancelled $70 billion of payments globally, according to the report.

But the overall global dividend cuts proved less dramatic than expected. In August, Janus Henderson had expected the virus to drive corporates to cut $400 billion worth of dividends, nearly double the eventual outcome.

A resilient fourth quarter of 2020 helped, said Janus Henderson. The likes of German car maker Volkswagen and Russia’s largest lender Sberbank restored payments.

Mining and oil companies cut dividends after a slump in commodity prices, while consumer discretionary companies also took a hit following lockdowns.

European dividends, not including Britain, fell by 28.4% on an underlying basis in 2020 to $171.6 billion. “This was the lowest total from Europe since at least 2009,” Janus Henderson said.

(GRAPHIC: Dividend cuts by region –

Global dividend payouts forecast to revive in 2021 2

In contrast, North American payouts rose 2.6% for the full year, setting a new record of $549 billion, the report said. Canada had the fewest dividend cuts anywhere in the world, the index showed.

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Former Bank of England Governor Carney joins board of digital payments company Stripe

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Former Bank of England Governor Carney joins board of digital payments company Stripe 3

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – Mark Carney, former head of the UK and Canadian central banks, has joined the board of U.S. digital payments company Stripe Inc, days after the company was reported to be planning a primary funding round valuing it at over $100 billion.

“Regulated in multiple jurisdictions and partnering with several dozen financial institutions around the world, Stripe will benefit from Mark Carney’s extensive experience of global financial systems and governance”, the company said on Sunday, confirming a report by the Sunday Times newspaper.

Forbes magazine had reported on Wednesday that investors were valuing Stripe at a $115 billion valuation in secondary-market transactions.

A senior Stripe executive told Reuters in December that the company plans to expand across Asia, including in Southeast Asia, Japan, China and India.

The company offers products that allow merchants to accept digital payments from customers and a range of business banking services.

Stripe raised $600 million in April in an extension of a Series G round and was valued back then at $36 billion.

Consumer-facing fintechs have seen a boost to their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people have been staying at home to avoid catching the virus and have increasingly been managing their finances online.

Carney, who headed the Bank of England and the Bank of Canada, had a 13-year career at Wall Street bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc in its London, Tokyo, New York and Toronto offices.

He is the United Nations special envoy on climate action and finance.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by William Mallard)

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The potential of Open Finance and the digitisation of tax records

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The potential of Open Finance and the digitisation of tax records 4

By Sudesh Sud, Founder of APARI 

The world is undergoing huge changes at the moment. Between coronavirus pushing the economy to the limit and a group of Redditors challenging the financial market hegemony, people are questioning the role of established institutions. If finance doesn’t work to enable the economy, businesses or individuals, then who is it for?

Before the digital revolution, financial experts were seen as a necessity. They knew how things worked, what everything meant, could provide good advice and were employed to sit at the heart of the action. Now, trading can be done by anyone online through established platforms, with a wealth of information available to hand.

Yet, as the 2008 financial crisis proved, established financial institutions have made themselves too big to fail. Simply tearing down the existing financial system would leave many ordinary people, along with businesses and government treasuries, in ruin.

However, as legendary futurologist, Buckminster Fuller, once said: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Traditional banking models are already being upended by technology. Through Open Banking, challenger banks are able to connect services digitally, cutting inefficiencies and costs while speeding up transactions. Now, Open Finance is seeking to build on this model to connect financial services via technology, potentially making the existing financial model obsolete.

Just as Open Banking led to greater democratisation of money, Open Finance has the potential to transfer power back to individuals. Not only would this benefit society as a whole, but it would help minimise the boom-bust cycles that cripple entire economies. No individual would be too big to fail, and bailing people out would cost far less, having minimal impact on the economy overall.

With more information available to them, Open Finance businesses will be able to use technology to make better decisions instantly. Many people struggle to get onto the housing ladder due to a poor credit score, for example, yet they have been paying rent every month of their adult lives. Why, then, can they not access mortgages? A company called Credit Ladder is addressing this through Open Banking, reporting rent payments via challenger banks like Starling to credit agencies, helping good renters to access mortgages.

While it is still very early days for Open Finance, there seems to be an endless raft of possibilities to benefit individuals, businesses and national economies. Faster, more secure, and less risky access to credit can help grow the economy, transforming finance from something that benefits a few wealthy capitalists to something that enables growth in the real economy.

So how else could Open Finance benefit society?

Using Tax Information

Every working adult pays income tax. Some of us via self-assessment while others are enrolled in PAYE. Regardless, we all have tax records with a wealth of financial information that has been verified, at least in part, by HMRC.

This centralised repository of financial information could be put to better use, such as allowing credit reference agencies to better understand an individual’s risk profile or helping to prove income as part of a mortgage application. Unfortunately, HMRC is a black hole of information ‒ its sheer size and power sucks information in, but nothing comes back out again.

However, by Making Tax Digital (MTD), HMRC are effectively allowing individuals to keep validated tax records on the software of their choice. Software providers may then be able to use this information to enable certain aspects of Open Finance. The information doesn’t need to be protected by HMRC, it is the individual’s choice and responsibility over how to use their own information.

As MTD software develops, we will see it connected to Open Banking, allowing self-assessed taxpayers to connect their business account directly to the software, effectively getting their tax return completed for them by an AI program. They would simply check the details, add any adjustments, and click submit. HMRC would then validate the records, providing assurance for any financial institutions using that financial information.

More Growth, Lower Risk

With access to complete and validated financial information, lenders would be able to more quickly and accurately assess individual risk when considering a loan or mortgage application. This would greatly speed up the process of applying for a loan, whether for a business venture or property purchase, for example.

Take residential landlords, for example. They may own a few properties already, with equity coming out of their ears. If that landlord wants to obtain another property, they would need to get their accountant to assemble their financial information, complete a SA302, and send everything off to their mortgage advisors who would then validate the information before submitting the mortgage application.

The application can then take months to approve, slowing down the process and potentially leading to missed opportunities. Since property sales usually occur in a chain (the owner of the property you are purchasing is usually purchasing another property, and so on), these inefficiencies slow the process down for everyone and can have major impacts.

If, however, mortgage applicants could simply share validated financial/tax records, mortgage providers could use that information to make quick decisions with reduced risk. What’s more, applicants could share only relevant, high-level information, rather than expose their entire financial history.

Individual Risk Management

Currently, individuals can manage their credit score/risk profile via third party providers like Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. These credit reporting agencies use limited information, such as credit cards, store cards and loans to assess risk. Individuals need to understand what factors each agency uses in order to ‘game’ the system.

For example, someone who has always been careful with their money, kept to a strict budget and never taken out a loan or credit card will have a far worse credit rating than someone who regularly uses debt to finance their lifestyle. So, even though they may have amassed a good deal of savings, they cannot get a good deal on a loan or mortgage.

With Open Finance, these individuals would be able to quickly prove their earnings, spending, and savings, decreasing their risk profile in line with reality. Rather than crude measures of creditworthiness, financial institutions would be able to use accurate and validated information to make quick decisions based on realistic risk. This both transfers more power to individuals and contributes to faster growth while reducing overall risk.

As a centralised repository for validated financial information, MTD providers will be in a unique position to develop a two-sided marketplace for finance, allowing credit providers to match products to individuals’ risk profiles. When a customer needs a loan, credit card or mortgage, they can simply browse products for which they have already been approved, applying and receiving finance instantly.

Empowering PAYE Taxpayers

Currently, PAYE taxpayers have little, if any, visibility or control over their tax contributions. They will see the amount paid in tax and national insurance, but to claim any allowances requires them to submit a self-assessment tax return. For most PAYE taxpayers, this simply doesn’t seem worthwhile.

Yet, self-employed taxpayers can claim for things like travel to their place of work, a proportion of living expenses when working from home, even their lunch. These things are necessary for productive work yet, for PAYE taxpayers, come out of their already taxed income. Meanwhile, businesses tend to make use of every tax allowance available to them.

This imbalance could be rectified with Open Finance connected to tax software. As MTD becomes a validated system for self-assessed taxpayers, a new version could be developed for PAYE taxpayers, putting them in control of their tax and finances. Not only would they be able to benefit from Open Finance in the same way as self-assessed taxpayers, but they will also be able to claim for reasonable allowances. What’s more, HMRC/the Treasury/the government would be able to hold employers accountable for pay disparities and unreasonable tax avoidance.

Open Finance, then, has the power to speed up and reduce the cost of obtaining and providing finance. It would make the finance system fairer and most transparent while distributing financial power, and help to avoid the creation of too big to fail financial institutions and the boom-bust cycle that has become unfortunate features of modern capitalism.

Ultimately, Open Finance has the potential to help the UK and other nations recover from the seemingly unending series of crises that have plagued the early 21st century by allowing people to access finance quicker in order to grow their business and personal finances while reducing risk, inefficiencies, and costs.

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