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BOOST YOUR BUSINESS IN POST-LOCKDOWN BRITAIN WITH BROADER PAYMENT OPTIONS

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By Kaushalya Somasundaram, Head of Payment Partnerships and Industry Relations, Square UK

 

For every country, community and industry, the future showed up early. COVID-19 has been a catalyst for digital engagement – and payments – as many businesses, both large and small, were forced to move their operations online in the face of national lockdowns.

Be it virtual cooking classes, personal training sessions, or cakes delivered to your door, consumers have embraced this shift. In the process, by accelerating digital transformation initiatives, businesses have unlocked new revenue streams – with the potential for further digitally-driven growth.

In order to realise this potential, an omnichannel sales strategy has become a must-have for many, rather than a nice-to-have. By expanding the range of payment options, such as online, contactless, invoice or mobile, businesses can sell in more ways and give consumers the ability to pay in a way that best suits their ever-evolving needs and expectations.

We found that more than half of surveyed Britons said that having a broad range of payment options would increase the chances of their return to that business. By enabling customers to transact anyway, anyhow, on any device could be the key to unlocking a sharper competitive edge, more revenue streams and a larger, more loyal customer base.

 

A pivot in customer behaviour and expectations

As the nation went in and out of multiple lockdowns, businesses who were previously only selling in person soon realised that a multi-faceted, digital approach was the best way to continue ‘business-as-usual’.

In fact, our own research – Cash and the Pandemic 2.0 – found that, between a 12 month period from February 2020 to February 2021, the share of Square businesses that went cashless rose by more than 4x, with the number of businesses accepting online payments seeing a 79% increase in the same time frame. To add to this, research from UK Finance found cash usage to have dropped by more than a third in 2020, as six million opted to pay with card or online banking.

This shift was primarily driven by businesses moving online in response to the restrictions placed on the indoor use of brick-and-mortar locations during most of the last 16 months. It was also the result of changing consumer payment preferences, brought on by health and safety concerns. For example, we found that the majority of Brits bought more goods and services online during the pandemic than they did prior to it.

The same data suggests that this is a trend that is here to stay. Two-fifths of UK consumers agree they are more likely to shop online in the future, rather than in physical stores. However, despite this shift in payment preferences, the majority of Britons would still like cash as a payment option to exist in the future. This represents an opportunity for businesses to be flexible when it comes to the payment options they offer their end-customers.

Businesses across the UK have had to compete with accelerated changes in consumer behaviour. But many have been able to unlock new revenue streams by expanding the payment options they offer to suit the different needs of customers that shop in-store and those who choose to shop online. As we move forward, these changes present an opportunity for businesses to maintain digital growth.

Take Mrs Mac’s Sweetshop, a Square seller in Woburn Sands as a prime example of this. Mrs Mac’s Sweetshop had never sold online prior to the pandemic. Selling online has meant that the small business now reaches customers on a national level, not just locally. By adopting digital payments Mrs Mac’s Sweetshop doubled its overall turnover, money that the company is now reinvesting to get more treats to their growing customer base.

 

Adopting a hybrid approach to consumer payment options 

While different in each area, the general ‘re-opening’ of the UK certainly signals positive steps towards things turning back to some sort of normality; however, it is already clear that some consumers are not entirely comfortable doing their shopping in physical stores just yet. Many have also become accustomed to the convenience and ease of online shopping. According to new research from Nuance, 55% of UK adults are more likely to interact with brands through digital and virtual channels rather than face-to-face despite the lifting of restrictions.

On the flip side, recent ONS retail sales figures found that, whilst the proportion of retail sales conducted online remained substantially higher than before the pandemic, all retail sectors reported a decrease in their proportions of online sales from the previous months. For this reason, continuing to sell both in-store and online will be important in the months ahead.

As we continue to follow the roadmap out of lockdown, businesses nationwide will be looking to adapt once again. By staying agile and continuing to listen to the needs of their customers will be one way businesses can build back stronger in the months ahead. Being flexible with payment options will be key to this – giving businesses the opportunity to better optimise their business in order to re-engage current and reach new customers.

 

A more promising future for UK businesses 

This is an opportunity for businesses to explore new avenues, reach a wider audience and experiment with new payment options. As with all businesses around the world, we too have had to pivot our business in some ways during the pandemic. The retail industry has seen some of its biggest shifts in history with its relationships with consumers changed for the better. That’s why, throughout it all, our priority has always been on supporting our customers in any way we can to enable them to continue to adapt and grow their business.

Looking long-term, the omnichannel customer experience will be a crucial element to the success of UK businesses. By offering customers the best of both worlds, finding the perfect balance between the benefits of in-store and online, as well as providing a variety of payment options, will ensure they are able to gain a competitive edge in an continually changing business landscape.

 

Business

BECOMING THE CEO: THIS IS HOW CFOS CAN SECURE THE TOP JOB

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Mark Freebairn, Partner and Head of the Board and CFO Practices at Odgers Berndtson, explains what CFOs need to do if they want to become CEOs 

 

For some time now, there’s been a very clear trend in CFOs progressing onto CEOs. It’s a trend that should come as no surprise to executive leaders. With more CEOs under increasing pressure, many CFOs have become the nominal second in command, often taking non-finance related responsibilities off their CEO’s plate.

As result, CFOs have begun playing a more strategic and commercial role which has inevitably broadened their remits beyond the finance function. With many CFOs breaking out of the traditional financial management confines, executive teams and boards have begun to realise that finance and general management are more closely aligned than they previously thought. This has given CFOs more opportunities to gain experience relevant for the CEO position. From owning P&L business units to engaging with external investors, the CFO’s evolving remit is making them likely candidates for the top job.

That’s not to say it’s a done deal for anyone who is currently a CFO. The CEO jobs market is comparatively small, CEO turnover is typically slow, and competition is intense. So below, I’ve outlined the key areas CFOs should gain experience in and the opportunities they should capitalise on if they want to compete for the CEO positions out there.

 

Mark Freebairn

Take responsibility for P&L business units 

Overseeing specific business units is a natural extension of the CFO’s responsibilities. It provides experience of managing products, costs, and revenue generation – all of which are staple requirements for the CEO role. But it also provides operational credibility internally, which will prove advantageous for any CFOs lining themselves up as a succession candidate to their own CEOs.

If possible, CFOs should take on responsibility for turning around a failing business unit. This is the fastest way of gaining commercial experience relevant for a CEO role. Particularly as economies emerge from the pandemic, boards will be looking for leaders who can demonstrate an ability to drive growth and new business despite significant internal and external challenges.

Likewise, CFOs should involve themselves in other business functions. Whether it’s procurement and the supply chain, or facilities and security, CFOs should play a role outside of the finance function in order to gain broader business experience.

 

Build a highly-autonomous finance team 

The CFO’s role within organisations and their ability to easily expose themselves to other P&L units makes them suitable candidates for CEOs. However, CFOs are only as good as the team around them. Building a high-performing finance team that can drive the day-to-day operations of the function will have several outcomes. Firstly, it will free up a CFO to take on more responsibility around the business and gain more time with their CEO. Secondly, it’s a valuable proof point that CFOs can use in any interview to demonstrate their ability to build strong teams – as a CEO, building a strong cadre of trusted executives is crucial for success.

This should be a team that can be trusted to perform autonomously, with a strong second in command that the CFO can rely upon.

 

Take on a non-executive director (NED) role 

While financial management is central to any successful organisation, CFOs still need to develop expertise outside of the function if they are to step up as CEOs. Taking responsibility for P&L business units will provide this, however it won’t provide a CFO with the same board-level perspective that a NED role will.

Taking on a NED role will not only help CFOs to understand what boards expect of CEOs but it will also provide experience of a different kind of leadership; one that is less hands on and more about guidance and mentorship.  Within the commercial sector, there are board roles among smaller quoted companies, those backed by private equity, or family owned businesses. Advisory boards and subsidiary boards are also a good option.

On the public sector side, board roles exist within organisations owned by or reporting to government. These include major infrastructure operators, the NHS, regulators, museums and other arts institutions. Likewise, a charity trustee role (while unpaid) is similar and will help to develop both a CFOs network and board skills.

Auditing, budgetary reviewing and balance sheet responsibilities are often sought after skills in non-executive directors, making CFOs ideal for these positions.

 

Take on internal leadership positions 

These types of leadership positions should be separate to the finance function and can include things like internal workstreams, strategic initiatives such as I&D and sustainability, or CSR projects. The benefit of taking on this responsibility is two-fold. It helps build necessary leadership skills and provides leadership experience. But it also showcases a CFO within the business in a leadership capacity outside of finance. The later will be beneficial for any CFOs looking at internal progression onto the CEO position.

Mentoring achieves similar outcomes. This helps build leadership skills and can lead to greater exposure around the business. What’s more, any mentee may later become a useful contact in a CFOs network.

 

Network outside of the organisation 

CFOs often underestimate the power of a personal network. Building relationships with other senior leaders will enable a CFO to generate career opportunities that can lead onto CEO appointments. While professional networks within the CFO community are valuable, networking outside of these types of environments is likely to be the most profitable for career advancement.

Any CFO looking to make the jump to CEO should build relationships with a variety of third parties. These include shareholders and brokers, investors, M&A specialists, bankers, and even lawyers. A CFOs experience and perspective can be incredibly valuable to these types of professionals so getting on their radar shouldn’t be difficult. Making the effort to build a relationship with them will pay dividends in the long run, and may lead to hearing about, or if you’re good enough, even being recommended for a CEO position.

 

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REDUCE CUSTOMER DISPUTES WITH DATA TRANSPARENCY

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By Gabe McGloin, Head of Business Development EMEA at Verifi

 

The digitisation of commerce has escalated the need for card-not-present (CNP) businesses to bring proactive customer communication to the fore. From digital receipts to high-tech AI chatbots, sellers have more options than ever to interact with customers. Not only will embracing these efforts heighten transparency, but also improve customer service and foster better relationships which plays an important part in preventing disputes, preventing disputes, and ensuring ongoing custom to the seller.

According to a recent report by KPMG, 90% of consumers regard a complete resolution of transaction issues as one of the most important qualities of great customer service[1]. Providing customers with clear information at the precise point they need it should be a central part of all companies’ dispute strategy, as resolving the issue early is in everyone’s best interest.

Keeping customers informed through proactive communication and delivering clear transaction information can lead to reduced friction in returns and refunds. Such efforts should be coupled with greater sharing of transaction data between seller and issuer, allowing purchases to be easily confirmed and understood. Clear but not invasive communication pre-empts disputes and can prevent the escalation of many far-reaching problems related to disputes.

 

Prevention is better than a cure

A company’s disputes strategy should feature preventive tactics at the presale experience. Sellers should ensure at the point of purchase that customers have all the appropriate information needed for a complete and satisfying purchase. Ensuring customers are making well-informed decisions is not only important as best practice, but a good measure to help minimise returns, refunds, and disputes.

At or before checkout, sellers should provide easy access to policies. Clear and concise terms & conditions allows customers to understand their rights and what is expected of them. Likewise, returns & refunds policies should outline the procedures for customers to take in the event a product or service does not meet their expectations. Subscription services must also be clear around commitments and cancellations. A key area of needed clarity is in the scope of free trials: unclear rules can leave customers feeling cheated when they see an unfamiliar charge on their billing statement. To avoid disputes, service providers should clearly outline the end date at the outset and remind customers at the appropriate time of the pending close of the free trial period.

By giving customers clear information about their rights and available actions up front, confusion and speculation leading to disputes may be reduced. In the unfortunate event a dispute does occur, clearly presented presale terms and customer purchasing history can provide sellers with important compelling evidence for successful representment and recovery of funds from unwarranted chargebacks.

 

Did I buy that?

Unrecognised transactions can often lead to consumers disputing charges with their issuer. Far too often, customers contact their bank to submit a dispute, simply because they do not recognise transactions on their statement. This type of activity is a key driver of friendly fraud. Research shows that 77% of heavy online shoppers who reported a problem transaction on their statement are in favour of having access to enhanced transaction details. In fact, 75% of credit card users will do research on an unrecognised transaction before they call their issuer (83% for debit card users). It should also be noted that 25% of calls to the issuer could be prevented with clearer seller transaction descriptors on billing statements[2]. The ability to effectively head off confusion around transactions is the most cost-effective way to reduce customer disputes.

After the point of sale, proactive and continued communication is key to reducing disputes. Sellers should follow transactions with purchase confirmation and transaction details via email or text. If possible, confirmation should include business name, contact information (email, phone), purchase amount, date of purchase, item(s) quantity and descriptions. Also, if applicable, sellers should provide tracking and shipping information and receipt confirmation of goods/services. These standard practices should leave customers no doubt about the purchase they made, as well as instil confidence in the sell with whom they have conducted a transaction.

Sellers must embrace technology in their communications with consumers. In a recent survey, 60% of customers thought a digitally posted picture of the printed receipt would be most helpful in validating a transaction[3].

Despite best preventive practices, some disputes are inevitable. Sellers that provide data transparency throughout the sales process – maintaining all documented communications and records of customer purchase history and behaviour – can provide compelling evidence to build effective dispute responses for improved revenue recovery.

 

Reduce disputes with collaboration

To be most effective, all communication should be coordinated across consumers, sellers, and issuers. By practicing transparency and opening the lines of communication, consumers can self-resolve disputes or address them directly with sellers. Sellers can share information with issuers, so issuers can deliver vital purchasing data to their customers, thus minimising customer confusion that could result in disputes. Such collaborative technologies are now coming into the payments ecosystem, fostered in large part by major card brands.

It isn’t just sellers that benefit by supporting data transparency for their customers. 70% of customers contact their issuer’s call centre at some point in the dispute process[4]. This creates an unnecessary workload for issuers, as many questions and disputes could have been expediently handled by the seller by providing their customers with essential transaction information.

Data-sharing solutions enable sellers to provide purchase information to card issuers, which in turn can be delivered to customers through online banking channels or reviewed by customer services personnel at the point of transaction inquiry. Not only can these services help prevent unnecessary disputes, but also provide a more enhanced experience for customers in the post-transaction phase of the payment lifecycle.

 

Don’t lose touch

Dispute strategies should be underpinned by efforts to build a bridge of trust with your customers – using email, text, digital receipts – which includes, and in some ways depends on, issuer collaboration. Embracing digital alternatives is key; as multichannel retailing becomes commonplace, so should multichannel customer service.

 

[1] Customer experience in the new reality, KPMG

[2] Aite Improving the Dispute Experience May 2020

[3] Aite Improving the Dispute Experience May 2020

[4] Javelin Report – Optimizing Dispute Strategies / October 2020

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