The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Member Blog: Simplicity is the key to brilliance

By Nizam Yusuf, Senior Content Creative at AccessPay

Actor, producer, film director, screenwriter and a kick-ass martial artist – Bruce Lee was a man of many talents, who also had a way with words.

The San-Francisco born movie-star pretty much defined what we now know as the "Chinese Martial Arts" film genre, and in doing so gained many fans – one of them being me.

I may have been a tad young when I first came across those legendary action-packed movies, but as I grew older I came to appreciate that Bruce Lee was more than just an iconic martial artist. He was also a profound thinker, philosopher and a great writer.

So, when I was looking for a way to explain why Direct Debit is an ideal customer retention tool, all I could think of was this famous Bruce Lee quote;

BRUCE LEE, 1940 – 1973

Why is SIMPLICITY the key?

Direct Debit is all about simplifying the payments and collections process for both businesses and their customers.

For consumers:
• Direct Debit is a simple, safe and convenient way for consumers to make regular or occasional payments from their bank accounts.
• Once the customer has been notified of the date and amount to be collected, payments are simply deducted from their account.
• The entire process makes it easier to consume products and services.
• Other than making sure sufficient funds are available in their account, consumers don’t need to do anything else after the Direct Debit instruction is signed.

For businesses:

• Direct Debit empowers you to simplify the ongoing payments process for your customers - ideal for things like buying goods, subscribing to services and making charitable donations.
• Chasing customers for card payment failures becomes a thing of the past, as Direct Debit gives you complete flexibility to collect money straight from the customer’s bank account.
• If you decide to amend the payment amount, cancelling standing orders and agreed monthly card payments can lead to customers leaving and going elsewhere. With Direct Debit, other than notifying your customer of the change, no further authorisation is required.
• Collecting payments by cheque, cash and standing order can be an administrative burden for any business. By switching to Direct Debit, you can remove these barriers through automation and ensure your business never suffers from late or missing payments again.
• By reducing your own costs of collecting payments through Direct Debit, you could pass on the savings you make back to the customer in the form of discounts – further cementing your relationship with a valued customer.

I’m happy, you’re happy – we’re all happy

Both consumers and business alike benefit from the simplicity of Direct Debit. They each benefit from being able pay and collect through Direct Debit, but for a business this also means longer term benefits such as customer retention.

Consequently, businesses need to see Direct Debit not only as a payments and collections service but as a fundamental part of the customer experience - it couldn’t be more simple.

What next?

As the master martial artist Bruce Lee said; Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do. 

Now that you understand why Direct Debit is ideal for building customer loyalty, perhaps it time you took control of your payments and collections process and started maximising those existing customer relationships.

Find out more about Direct Debit: What is Direct Debit?

Monday, 21 November 2016

Member Blog: JAM today or JAM tomorrow? Anticipating the Autumn Statement

By Simon Collingwood - Director, Quatro PR

As ever, the Autumn Statement will be keenly watched.  But perhaps more so this year than previously given continued uncertainty about the implications of Brexit.  Expectations are high and it is unlikely that it will deliver the sizzle some hope for.

Philip Hammond has said he will revert to a low key Autumn Statement, with greater emphasis placed on the spring budget. But the nation’s finances alone don’t tell the whole story. There is a lot of expectation on the Chancellor to deliver a boost for the JAM (just about managing) demographic.  What this means for infrastructure and business remains to be seen, but it will be a balancing act between measures to help raise living standards (JAM today) and taking a long-term view to secure economic improvement (JAM tomorrow).

Building on the messaging at the Conservative Party Conference, the Autumn Statement is a set piece opportunity for Theresa May’s Government to show that they mean business and what that actually means.  Her comments at the CBI this morning will give some succour to business agitating for investment in shovel ready and long term strategic needs as will Mr Hammond on Peston’s sofa over the weekend.

We’re anticipating a few key themes:

- Seeking short-term help for consumers and home-owners
- Showcasing the UK as open for business
- A focus on industrial strategy and investing in the productivity of the UK economy
- Corporate responsibility and the next steps in Theresa May’s commitment to deal with boardroom issues like the gender pay gap, board pay levels and employee involvement

We do not expect to see any overt discussion of their approach to the Brexit negotiations, though it will be important to listen for signals and emphasis.  It does of course set the context in which the Autumn Statement is taking place. The aftershock of the EU referendum is still raw. MPs from all sides of the House are keen to keep up pressure on the Government over Brexit, international trade and, now, the UK’s prospects in a President Trump world.

The Chancellor has already indicated the plan to drop his predecessor’s objective for a balanced budget by 2020, though that is less to do with its desirability as the practicalities of delivering it. Expect a longer timetable. We’ve also already seen some big announcements on Heathrow and High Speed 2.

That doesn’t mean to say that there won’t be any big ticket spending commitments, but rather ensuring the flexibility to support these in the future. As ever with the Treasury, the devil will be in the details.

Is being disorganised costing you more than you realise?

By Sarah Brennan at Evolving Edge
It’s my mum’s birthday this week, and despite the date being firmly etched in my mind since I was about 10 years old, for some reason I (yet again) failed to organise buying a gift early enough. Don’t get me wrong, thanks to online shopping and next day delivery she will have something nice to open on the day, but getting her something she’ll love came at a cost. A cost that would have been far less should I have just been a bit more organised and not been forced to buy from the only website that could guarantee super fast delivery. This got me thinking about how many other times I’d paid over-the-odds for something due to being on the last minute, or spent far too much time searching for something suitable because I’d missed the boat on the perfect item. I can’t be the only person to have experienced this, surely? Which got me wondering about the financial impact being disorganised has in business.

The impact of disorganisation in businesses may not be quite as black and white as having to pay too much for a birthday gift, nor be as immediately evident, but it is certainly costly. See if you have ever been guilty of any of the following whilst at work:

Searching for information
Whether it be stats for a report, an email address, your company registration number or even receipts for your expenses claim, searching for missing information takes time, and time comes at a cost. Research has shown that professionals can spend up to 35% of their time searching for information or items needed to perform in their roles. As well as the alarming amount of time lost in this way, losing information and items can also mean costly replacements and missed sales opportunities.
Yet the initial investment of time required to get filing systems in order and to store important information electronically, often puts us off doing anything about it, and we continue to turn cupboards upside down and overuse the search function on our computers. Each time we do this, we aren’t doing something productive that adds value. So block some time out to get those folders in will thank yourself the next time you’re pulling a report together or submitting that expenses claim!

Missed meetings and failing to diarise events
Having a messy diary or, worse still, a completely empty one can be a huge contributor to disorganisation. Being late for or missing meetings wastes the time of others, costing them in both prep and travel time to get to the meeting, as well as any time spent waiting for it to actually happen. Using your diary effectively will not only prevent double booking yourself, forgetting about meetings and leaving insufficient travel time in between them, it will also allow you to block out chunks of time to actually get organised! Blocking out half an hour in your calendar at the start of every day to set out 3 things you must achieve that day (yes, I know 3 things doesn’t sound like many, but trust me you will find you get so much more done) will help you enormously in staying on track, retaining focus and, well, being more organised.

Not planning far enough ahead
Like the situation with my mum’s birthday gift, we often know that we have events on the horizon that require us to act, yet we fail to work out when it is that we need to start acting in order to deliver on time. Darren Hardy’s book ‘The Compound Effect’ demonstrates the principle of how small acts each day lead to much bigger things. For example, if someone asked you to read 36 books in a year and you left it until the 364th day to start, you’re never going to be able to do it in time. Yet if you just read for 15 minutes each day (we all have 15 minutes!), then you would read 36 books over the course of a year.

Project planners can be great way of working out what needs to happen and when, for a particular event or project, and will give you regular indications as to whether you’re on target or not. But if this feels like going from 0-60 on the organisation front, an initial first step can be utilising your calendar even further. By following the above step and ensuring important events are in there, simply figuring out what needs to be done for each and diarising sufficient time before then, you will effectively practice the compound effect and avoid last minute panics (or paying too much for birthday presents!).

Being perceived as disorganised
If you come across as disorganised, you will soon get a reputation amongst colleagues and customers for being so. Whilst this may be something you joke about with friends, perception is reality, meaning you could lose customers and find that colleagues are reluctant to go to you for support. By getting yourself more organised, you’ll find that people far more readily trust that you’ll do what you say you will, meaning you’ll gain more buy-in from those around you.
Ultimately, we’ve probably all been guilty of one or more of the above on occasion, and have tolerated that residual stress that often comes it. However, disorganisation breeds disorganisation, and the more we experience it, the more we will continue to. So be kind to yourself; alleviate some stress by nipping disorganisation in the bud.

You’ve diarised that, right?

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Independent Fostering Agencies: A Partnership with Government

When you Google ‘fostering’, the top results you see are from councils and local authorities. Government fostering services do vital work helping children and young people in their area grow up in safe, nurturing environments.

As an independent fostering agency (IFA), we’re proud to work in partnership with local authorities to support this important mission.

Local authorities work hard to find the best placements for children in care
Back in May, charity The Fostering Network calculated that 1,008 children came into care in just 2 weeks.

This means there’s immense demand for foster carers across the UK.
Local authorities train and recruit their own foster carers but struggle to keep up with the number of children who need placements. And it’s not just a numbers game – children have unique requirements and need specific foster carer skill sets to help them thrive.
That’s where independent fostering agencies like Perpetual come in. If the local authority doesn’t have the right carer available, it turns to specialists to find the best match for the child or young person.

Agencies have different specialities when it comes to recruiting and training foster carers. This means carers get the support and professional development best suited to them, and local authorities have trained carers they draw on to provide the best match.

The partnership approach promotes positive outcomes
Communication and collaboration are key to successful outcomes in foster care. From the moment the local authority asks for help placing a child, everyone in the team surrounding the care of the child is in constant contact.

Before placement, the local authority social worker meets with us and our foster carer to discuss the child’s needs. Together we determine how to provide the best support. After the child moves in, we’re in regular contact with the foster carer and the local authority so we can all work together to refine and develop the child’s care plan.
This approach allows the local authority to provide children with the best possible living situations while knowing we’re giving foster carers the shoulder-to-shoulder support they need.

And this partnership approach yields impressive results.

Here’s an example, in the words of a local authority social worker:
‘I have had a child placed with [a foster carer with Perpetual] since May 2016. Shortly after being placed, I noticed a significant change in the child’s behaviour, which was extremely challenging in the family home, and his engagement with myself.
‘I firmly believe this is through the positive and proactive approach of the foster carer. I feel that the child has responded well to her calm and therapeutic approach to fostering, which allows the child to feel safe and secure no matter his behaviour, and this has allowed him to flourish.’

Outcomes like these make everyone involved in foster care proud of our valuable work.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Clarity in Payment Applications - What you need to know

By Darren Cayton,  Director at Knowles Ltd 

People of a certain age will remember the darker days of contracting when ‘pay-when-paid’ and ‘back-to-back’ payment provisions were rife. It is hard to imagine that not so long ago an employer/contractor (payers) could strike its red pen through a contractor/subcontractor’s (payees) application without producing a payment certificate.

Nowadays, the strict payment regime imposed by Part II of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 (as amended) and assisted by the Scheme for Construction Contracts as the fall-back position, has gone a long way to redress the balance.

Indeed the main requirement’s imposed by the Construction Act mean construction contracts must contain ‘due dates for payment’ and ‘final dates for payment’, whilst it prohibits ‘pay-when-paid’ or ‘pay-when-certified’. Additionally the Act imposes a regime for providing payment notices (s.110A(1)), default payment notices (s.111B) and payless notices (s.111).
Despite this, over the past year or so there have been several cases which have caught unsuspecting parties out, particularly with the payment application process.

Be clear what you agree to
It is important that you understand, particularly with specific payment arrangements, what you are agreeing to. In Grove Developments Ltd v Balfour Beatty Regional Construction Ltd [2016] the parties had agreed to incorporate in their contract a schedule dealing with the making of 23nr interim applications and payments, but failed to provide a default provision for what would happen should the project overrun.

In court, the judge held that Balfour Beatty had no contractual right to make or be paid in respect of their interim application nr. 24 (or any subsequent application), and no contractual right to apply for further payments until the contracts final payment mechanism kicked in after practical completion.
It is therefore vital for payees (receiving payment) to ensure that there is a continuing right to payment if a schedule of dates is included in the contract.

Payment Applications: Don’t be too early or too late
Although there is no mechanism in the Construction Act, many contracts require the contractor/subcontractor to submit applications for payment. It is important that they are submitted within the time frame stipulated within the contract.
In Caledonian Modular Ltd v Mar City Developments Ltd [2015] the court held that an application issued half-way though a payment period and outside of the agreed contractual payment mechanism was not a valid application as its status was not clear.

The judge helpfully suggested that contractors should ensure their payment claims were clear and that they give the employer reasonable notice that the payment period has been triggered.
Similarly, in Henia Investments Inc v Beck Interiors Ltd [2015] the judge stated that the due date should be stated on the application for payment.

Make it clear
The importance of clarity is equally important when it comes to the applications themselves.
In Jawaby Property Investment Ltd v The Interiors Group Ltd and another [2016] Carr J considered the validity of The Interiors Group’s [TIG] purported interim application. The issue concerned TIG’s seventh application for payment made in January 2016. The procedure which had been followed for the first six applications was that TIG would send a valuation by email, complete with a spreadsheet and back up sheets, and a statement of the sum applied for. Each valuation was up to the 8th of the month (as required under the contract) and would state that the valuation was for ‘approval’ or ‘consideration’.
This time though, Jawaby started the ball rolling with an email on the 5 January 2016 requesting a valuation for the next day. TIG responded on 7 January 2016 saying ‘[p]lease see our initial assessment for Valuation 007’. On 15 January 2016 following a site visit Jawaby issued a Certificate for Payment. The valuation was low and a dispute arose.

As to the validity of TIG’s application for payment, the court agreed with Jawaby in particular that TIG had described its valuation as an ‘Initial Assessment’, the court found that it could not be construed as a statement by TIG of what it considered it was due. The impression of provisionality was also supported by the incorrect labelling of the summary sheet, and the fact that the valuation went up to the 7 January, and not the 8 January 2016.

The court held that TIG’s interim application was invalid because it differed from previous applications in several respects; most notably it was named ‘initial assessment’.
Such applications must be an application in ‘substance, form and intent’ and must be clear and unambiguous in their terms.

Although the Construction Act (as amended) and the Scheme provide a mechanism to enable a clear payment regime, Contractors and Subcontractors must ensure that they adhere to the strict requirements of the contract when making applications for payment.
You must ensure that you have a contractual entitlement to submit an application for payment.
The checklist below will assist Contractors and Subcontractors in making sure applications are submitted in the correct manner:
  • State the sum due at the relevant due date and include all back-up information
  • Submit applications at the correct intervals/dates as set out in the contract
  • Make sure that they are issued in the right manner (post/email etc and sent to the nominated person) as stated in the contract
  • Ensure they are clearly identified as an interim application for payment

Please note that this information provided is for general knowledge only and therefore specific advice should be sought for individual cases. 

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Member Blog: If you can think it, you can automate it

Automation isn't coming for your job. It's coming to make it better. Here, Howard Williams, marketing director of business process automation provider Parker Software, explains how to automate office efficiencies to better support both customers and employees.

As robotic technology becomes increasingly sophisticated — and increasingly affordable — fear is growing that humans will soon meet with mass unemployment. Every day, the business world hears fresh warnings that automation is claiming jobs across the board. With so much fuel added to the fire, automation anxiety is sweeping the professional landscape.
In truth, automation should be welcomed rather than feared. It won’t replace human roles – it will better support them. A McKinsey study highlighted that less than 5% of jobs could be fully automated — meaning that supporting employees, not swapping them with machines, is what’s needed. In offering this level of support, automation can actually open opportunities.

For example, research has shown that the average office employee only spends 45% of their time on primary job duties. The other 55% of the time, they’re tied up with secondary tasks like emails, meetings, admin and general ‘interruptions.’  The plain truth is that we’re all wasting our working days on lesser chores, without any other alternatives.
That’s where automation software becomes invaluable. Where once office workers would spend extended periods of time occupied by administrative processes, such as updating central databases or answering customer queries, these time-consuming activities can now be automated with software to streamline the working day.

By removing the need for business professionals to perform repetitive, frustrating tasks, business process automation software can support the workforce – freeing up time to focus on the bigger picture. In doing so, company, customer, and employee alike benefit.
To demonstrate this, we’ve created the infographic below. Highlighting various ways to automate office efficiencies, the infographic demonstrates the cost benefits of staying close to customers via smarter technology applications.

In a world where the average business wastes a total of four weeks a year on slow technology costing around £2,100 per employee — these cost benefits cannot be emphasised enough.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Member Blog: Should Banks Remove Their Headphone Jack?

By Nizam Yusuf, Senior Content Creative and Social Media Manager, AccessPay

Just like Apple has brushed the headphone jack under the carpet in its latest iPhone 7 release, should banks look to eliminate old-fashioned cheques from their dusty shelves?

In 2008, when the CD drive-less MacBook Air was pulled out of a brown paper envelope, Steve Jobs accurately predicted that software delivered over the internet would soon replace the faithful disc.

In the same style, when Phil Schiller, Apple’s Marketing Chief, took to the stage in San Francisco for the iPhone 7 release, he described the 3.5mm headphone jack as a 19th century component that was standing in the way of 21st century technology.

So here’s a question for you:

Should banks eliminate Cheques as a payments service?

They nearly did…

In 2009, UK Payments Council set a target date of 31st October 2018 for the closure of the central cheque clearing system, which would have effectively abolished payments by cheque.

However, in 2011, following a public outcry and intervention by MPs and ministers, the plan was abandoned – with the UK Payments Council announcing on 12 July 2011 that cheques would continue “for as long as customers need them”.

Okay so they’re here to stay – but for how long?

Appealing to people with traditional payment preferences, cheques continue to be used as a form of payment – with over 500m cheques written in 2015. While this figure seems astronomical, the use of cheque payments decreased by 13% in 2015.

To bring cheques into the 21st century, some banks, such as Barclays have introduced a cheque imaging service, which allows people to pay in by taking a photo of the cheque on their smartphone.

Is “Cheque Imaging” satisfying a stopgap?

Did You Know? Following the passing of The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill on 26th March 2015, all banks will be expected to process cheques as images from October 2017.

Just as the Apple Lightning to Headphone Jack Adapter is filling a much needed gap for those reluctant to let go of their headphones, it seems like Cheque Imaging will fill this opening in the banking industry until such a point that cheques are no longer deemed a viable method of payment.

Tell us what you think?

We would like to know your opinions on Cheques and their place in the UK Payments sector. Complete this short survey and enter your details at the end to download a FREE comprehensive Beginners Guide to Payments – Tell us what you think?