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INVESTMENT AND A YEAR OF COVID-19

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Oliver Woolley is CEO and Co-Founder of Envestors

 

The number and value of fundraisings have dropped since 2019, a decline that started in March 2020. There are few sectors that have escaped unscathed by the global pandemic. However, some have fared much, much worse than others, the obvious being leisure, hospitality, transport operators and retail.

 

Tracking the impact of COVID-19

Research firm Beauhurst has tracked Covid-19 impact in high growth businesses, and they place eHealth and EdTech as those sectors to have benefitted most.

The low number of businesses which have been able to turn the fallout of the pandemic into an opportunity is unsurprising given the pattern of uncertainty we have experienced over the last 12 months. Uncertainty has ebbed and flowed, presenting an inconstant and difficult-to-predict environment for all businesses. While things looked dire in March, by June the mood began to change with promises of normality by September. This was short-lived with the country returning to uncertainty by mid-October as case numbers rose. While the vaccine has brightened the outlook, the challenges of a national rollout and the lingering uncertainty over the impact of Brexit will likely continue to fuel feelings of uncertainty for the near future.

 

Losing sectors

As uncertainty hit the market, investors began favouring later stage deals. A lot of investment activity was focused on follow-on funding for existing portfolio companies, in order to help see them through the impact of COVID-19. On top of that trend, weary of risk, investors shied away from earlier stage deals and backed more mature business.

This left seed-stage businesses out in the cold. Whilst the number of seed investments was steady between Q4 2019 and Q2 2020, they fell by 20% between Q2 and Q3 2020.

The number of newly registered businesses remained fairly stable up to and including Q2 2020. In Q3 2020, however, the number fell 32%.

This spells trouble for the next generation of growth businesses. Without the capital they need to move from the concept state, many great ideas will never get off the ground – and that is a shame for the UK who holds a strong international reputation for innovation.

 

Winning sectors

COVID-19 has inevitably had an impact on where investors are choosing to channel their funds. As The Times emphasises, there has been a shift towards investment in healthcare, in part due to the disastrous impact COVID-19 has had on even the most developed nations, highlighting the importance of innovation in healthcare.

Beauhurst has identified four areas which, for private companies, have seen rising investment as a result of the pandemic, the first being video conferencing. Whilst newer services, such as Hopin (an online platform which allows hosting of live events at a large scale), have seen some investment – Hopin has recently received a $2.1 billion valuation, just 8 months since its founding – established companies such as Zoom have remained dominant in the market. eHealth and EdTech have, unsurprisingly, seen increased investment. This rise has been stronger in eHealth, which has seen 11 and 15 deals monitored by Beauhurst in Q2 and Q3 respectively.

EdTech on the other hand has not seen as large an increase as expected – possibly due to reopening of schools, resulting in less home learning – with 12 deals at a combined value of £14.4 million in Q2 and 8 at a combined value of £7.2 million in Q3, compared to 10 in Q3 2019.

Finally, companies that facilitate ‘community sharing’ have seen increased investment – Farmdrop, a business allowing consumers to buy food directly from its source, received £6 million in equity fundraising in June. This trend, according to Beauhurst, likely came as a result of stockpiling at the start of the pandemic, resulting in “calls for people to become more community-minded”.

 

There has been help

The government has rolled out several programmes to help early stage businesses. Designed for growth business, the Future Fund received a lot of attention and applications when it was launched.

While the scheme allows eligible companies to apply for a convertible loan from £125,000 to £5 million, the eligibility criteria ruled it out for many businesses – particularly those seed stage businesses which were already facing hardship in raising investment.

Three requirements were problematic. First, funding had to be matched by private investment. Second, since investment needed to be structured as a Convertible Loan Note (CLN) it was not compatible with the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) which made it less attractive to UK private investors.  Thirdly, the business had to have raised £250,000 within the past five years. This requirement left a large number of entrepreneurs out of the equation.

In addition to this high-profile programme, the government made available a number of grants and loan schemes for businesses, including its Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, The Small Business Grant Fund and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough), which have no doubt prolonged the life of many high-potential businesses.

Obviously, a successful vaccine rollout is good news for everyone, and with the approach of the end of the tax year, investors will have been looking to take advantage of tax savings through the EIS and SEIS schemes, which is likely to result in an uptick in investment. However, expect to see continued caution by investors and continued hardship for scaling businesses.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Oliver Woolley is CEO and co-founder of Envestors. Envestors’ digital investment platform brings together entrepreneurs and investors across geographies, communities and sectors – creating the single marketplace for early stage investment in the UK.

Envestors partners with accelerators, incubators and angel networks to provide a white-label platform empowering them to promote deals, engage investors and connect to other networks.

Founded in 2004, Envestors has helped more than 200 high growth businesses raise more than £100m through its own private investment club.

Envestors is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

 

Top 10

HERE’S HOW INSURANCE IS SET TO CHANGE

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By Adam Goldsmith, Insurance Specialist, SAS UK & Ireland

 

Making predictions about the state of any industry in the coming year is a nigh-on impossible task. But looking to the longer-term, the patterns we’re seeing in insurance firms, which have been inspired by the pandemic, have revealed in no uncertain terms that the industry is in flux. Change is here, and its impact will be felt for many years to come.

Woken up by the sharp jolt of the pandemic, insurance will experience dramatic change by 2025. But not all firms will adapt fast enough to the new insurance landscape or new expectations from customers. Those that pay attention to long-term predictions like the following could reap the rewards post-pandemic.

 

1. Knowing customers inside-out through their data will be non-negotiable

A typical Insurer today is set up in very traditional manner. There remains distinct, separate departments for the key functions: including assessing risk, acquisition, customer engagement, claims handling, customer protection and renewal.

Yet very few insurers have a truly joined-up view of a customer’s full journey with their organisation, let alone what can be done to optimise each interaction. What’s needed is the ability to understand each customer touchpoint as they traverse through their journey, as well as the ability to make decisions as to how best to engage them.

Insurers often cite legacy policy admin and claims systems as the biggest barrier standing in the way of this approach being adopted. By 2025, however, the most successful insurers will have broken those barriers down, gaining an unprecedented understanding of their customers’ needs and preferences, and the ability to offer pricing plans that are both fair and competitive.

 

2. Automation and algorithms will become the bedrock of all insurers

We’ve long heard of ‘digital transformation’ being a key objective for insurance executives. However, by 2025 it’s expected that successful insurers will have completed this transformation. Digitalisation will no longer be the differentiator, it will be the default. As a result, a new way to drive business advantage will have to emerge – and it will be centred on the use of algorithms to drive business decisions.

This is not a new concept. Gartner describes ‘algorithmic business’ as the ‘industrialised use of complex mathematical algorithms pivotal to driving improved business decisions or process automation for competitive differentiation’.

We’ve already seen some insurers start this journey in their claims function. Companies, including Aviva, have long automated decisions concerning whether a vehicle is deemed a total loss or not. However, the trend will become much more prevalent, with Gartner research predicting that, by 2023, over 33% of large organisations will have analysts practicing decision intelligence, such as decision modelling.

 

3. The customer will see positive change as they interact with their insurer

It’s clear by now that COVID-19 will fundamentally change how insurance is done – both in terms of how customers want to interact with insurers, and also how insurers need to adapt. While we hope this pandemic won’t be with us forever, it has opened the eyes of many executives to what is possible within the customer-facing parts of their organisation.

From my discussions with insurers, many have commented on how well employees and customers have adapted to the new normal. While there were initial logistical hurdles in virtualising contact centres, they’ve been impressed at how well staff have adapted under pressure to deliver what customers and shareholders expect. Many are likely to follow the approach of Lloyds in allowing staff to work remotely for the foreseeable future.

 

4. Prevention will be prioritised over payouts

Insurance has long been society’s safety-net, protecting us when something goes wrong in our lives. Yet, it would be to everyone’s benefit if risk could be avoided altogether. The use of telematics to assess the risk of younger drivers was the first big industry push here, but by 2025 we will see this becoming ubiquitous across many other products and customer demographics.

The recent example of Munich Re’s acquisition of IoT service provider Relayr will benefit manufacturers with a ‘pay as you use’ model. This will enable them to be more flexible and react faster to market changes. The IoT Observatory is also exploring new ways that data extracted from connected sensors and devices can help to transform risk assessment and empower insurers with data.

This is no small step for any traditional insurer. But it is one that puts a truly customer-centric lens on the service that insurers deliver. Data-driven risk prevention allows for significant product differentiation, taking insurers out of their comfort zone and enabling them to explore whole new opportunities.

 

5. Fraud prevention must shape up for a post-pandemic world

Come 2025, we will be living in a very different world with new risks that require novel insurance solutions to resolve.

One of the largest looming threats is insurance fraud. Analysis from the Insurance Fraud Bureau shows that fraudulent claims rose by 5% in 2019, and there are concerns the current economic climate could see this rise even further. In the aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis insurance fraud rose by 17%, and there’s no guarantee this won’t happen again on the back of growing practices like crash for cash fraud and ghost broking.

Putting in place an effective defence mechanism to intelligently detect, prevent and investigate potentially fraudulent claims will be an essential requirement by 2025. A soft defence is a liability while those that take fraud detection seriously will drive a more profitable outcome. This is especially true when it was announced recently that close to 20% of each policy premium is goes to cover the cost of fraud.

Insurers must be holding a finger to the wind during this unusual time, as many of the themes and patterns emerging now will shape the industry going forward. Insurers must figure out how to adapt their decision-making processes now, to take on an unpredictable and exciting future in insurance.

 

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BRAND CONFIDENCE: HOW HAS OPEN BANKING EVOLVED AND DO CUSTOMERS TRUST IT?

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By Geoff Boudin, Director at Revive Management

 

The open banking industry is growing by 24% year-on-year, and is expected to be worth more than £31 billion by 2026. The implementation of the 2018 Payment Services Directive known as PSD2, was intended to boost competition in the name of open banking. The directive, which set out to make payments more secure, by requiring banks to share the data of customers who authorise it with third parties. This allows customers to share their financial information with authorised service providers such as budgeting apps and other third-party money management tools. It was initially called for by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to level the financial playing field and empower consumers by giving them more ownership over their financial data.  So, two years on, what impact is open banking having on consumers? Do they trust it? If so, how can brands build on this trust to offer more a more personalised yet non-intrusive experience that delivers the data to further improve their service offering.

 

What difference has open banking made?

Prior to PSD2, which came into force on 13 January 2018, banks had full authority and jurisdiction over their customers’ financial data. The idea of a bank giving up some of that data to a third party for the benefit of their customers was unheard of. This closed ecosystem, however, runs against the drive towards digital openness, connectivity and convenience. Our digital worlds were opening up and data was becoming democratised, and banks were being left behind. Challenger banks such as Monzo and Atom, which embraced innovative new apps and features, had been making headway for years, and there was a sense that third-party customer-focused innovation was rumbling away under the surface. However, that innovation was stifled until PSD2 laid a path for it, requiring banks to open up access to customers’ data at their behest.

It’s thanks to PS2D and open banking that customers are now able to connect their bank account to a third-party app that can help them better manage their money or sign up to a platform that allows them to access all of their accounts and credit facilities in one place. This allows customers to control their finances as never before.

 

Driving innovation

Empowering and improving the customer experience is one great achievement of open banking. Another is the innovation it has prompted across the entire financial sector. Even traditional banks like HSBC prepared for PSD2 by rolling out its own ‘Connected Money’ app, which allowed its customers to view data from all of their bank accounts – as well as mortgages, loans and credit cards – all in one place. This value-add to the customer experience probably wouldn’t have seen the light of day if not for the competition spurred by PSD2 and open banking. Many other banks and financial services providers have followed suit, offering new customer-centric features based around convenience, visibility and control.

Open banking is a huge step forward in the financial world. So why do some still liken it to a sleeping giant? What’s holding it back?

 

Managing trust and data security

More than 2.5 million consumers in the UK are now happy to connect their accounts to trusted third parties in exchange for some value-added benefit. That’s up from 1.5 million in 2020, no doubt driven by the competitive innovation brought about by PS2D. However, open banking adoption across the rest of Europe seems to have been much slower, and even growth here in the UK is beginning to plateau. While some might blame this on Brexit-induced regulatory changes, such as UK firms no longer being able to use the EU’s certification standards to share customer data after June 2021, there is much more at play.

A Europe-wide survey by thinktank ING polled 13 countries – including the UK – and found that only around 30% of consumers were happy for companies to share their data even after they had given consent. What’s more, only 35% of those polled had even heard of open banking capabilities. This points to issues surrounding data security, trust and awareness – all hurdles that can be overcome by banks, financial services providers and fintech innovators.

To make the most of open banking, banks will have to innovate and forge fintech partnerships with companies using their data sets. That will enable them to enhance existing products and leverage new fintech products being created with their data which will, in turn, benefit their customers.

This process of innovation has already largely begun, but if brands are to take full advantage of all that open banking has to offer, they still need to bridge the trust gap with consumers. We see consumer education, especially in the field of security, as having a key role to play in building confidence and consequently optimising uptake of open banking.

 

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