Rob Straathof, CEO, Liberis
In the face of tough competition, cutting costs often seems like the quickest and easiest option for standing out in the market and winning customers. However, while slashing prices may make sense in the short term it is a huge risk to a business’s long term health as it ignores the need for sustainability. Add to this the high likelihood that competitors will start to catch on and cut their prices to keep up and soon any competitive advantage is lost. The race to the bottom is an age-old problem that we, as financial professionals are all too familiar with. Yet time and again we all fall into the trap, particularly when it comes to dealing with our small business customers.
With this cost-cutting mindset, it is no wonder that in sectors that compete almost exclusively on price end up with a high churn rate. One such area is the provisioning of payment solutions for small business customers. Over time, this can seriously threaten the profitability of a payment provider as the cost of acquiring and replacing small business customers is expensive. With price often being the only differentiating factor though between payment providers, customers have little reason to remain loyal as long as the service works. Ultimately what happens behind the scenes of a transaction is of little interest to a small business owner. To counteract this, payment providers must ingrain themselves more into the operations of a small business and act as a critical component to its success.
Easier said than done
Nonetheless, the reason that we all too often fall into a race to the bottom is that becoming ingrained into small business operations is far easier said than done. Yet, it can be made easier via the help of partnerships. The growth and innovation in the alternative financing sector coupled with open banking legislation have opened the door for fintech partners to use existing data from payment providers to pull valuable customer insights. Data is often an underused resource for many businesses as it can be hard to sort through and even know where to start! This is particularly the case for payment providers as they often hold so much data, it can be a real challenge. This is where fintech partners can help. For example, technology platforms can now identify how much a small business customer generates and when their busiest times are. Identifying and using these data points can be the start of developing a powerful value-added service.
So, once a payment provider has selected and been fully set up with the right fintech partner, they can begin to tap into specific pain points facing small businesses and look to address these issues. One issue, in particular, that is often the biggest pain points for small businesses is the access to funding. In fact, recent research has shown that less than a quarter of small businesses feel credit was readily available in 2018. With the pressure of increased business rates, rising wages and late payments, the need for extra funding has never been greater for nearly 6 million businesses in the UK. Couple this with the fact that traditional banks are reluctant to offer smaller loans due to their unprofitability and the struggle to keep afloat is very much an everyday fight for many small businesses.
Realising the potential
Payment providers can therefore not only help small businesses keep afloat but also reduce their own customer churn by offering funding products that meet and fit the needs of small businesses. In doing so, payment providers will no longer be competing over price and can instead differentiate themselves in the marketplace.
Furthermore, by reviewing historic customer data, fintech partnerships can even enable payment providers to offer small businesses pre-approved funding. This not only makes it more likely that a small business will take up funding, but also helps position payment providers as being more of a partner and less of a line on a bank statement.
Thanks to the introduction of open banking and the rise of fintechs and data analytics technologies, payments providers have a huge opportunity to end their price war. Partnering with innovative fintechs that understand the needs of small businesses, how to use payment data while also being quick and easy to connect to existing systems providers is a powerful market differentiator. It’s time for the price war to end and better products and services to be offered to our small business community.
MAKING THE (ENTERPRISE) GRADE IN LOW-CODE SOFTWARE
By Willem van Enter, Vice President EMEA, OutSystems
We all use software applications every day, all the time. That part should make sense to everybody. With many of us now happy to call ourselves digital natives, the question is not whether we are going to use apps to make our lives better; it is now a question of which apps we will choose to build our personal workflows around.
This ubiquity of software penetration is a good thing. It allows us to automate our work (and indeed personal) lives in a manner that we may never have considered, even as recently as the turn of the millennium.
But there’s a bigger challenge here.
More users need more apps in more places with more functions spanning more data sources connected to increasingly complex analytics engines, and all of that software has to be deployable across an ever greater number of device form factors and platforms.
Once an IT shop is empowered with low-code efficiency, the speed of development and release can rise sharply. But no business should expose themselves to this level of power without first thinking about all the control mechanisms needed to be able to accommodate new low-code-created apps.
Policy, provenance & policing
We’re talking about areas such as user provenance checks (so that we know who built which piece of software and if they were supposed to), policy controls (so that we know which software is accessing which data sources and whether it is supposed to) and areas like scale-provisioning (so that an organization’s IT estate can cope with a much higher throughput of information) and so much more.
The move to taking advantage of low-code software development is happening already. But, for enterprise organisations large and small to truly take advantage of the efficiencies it offers, they need to have faith in the ability of any platform’s ability to ultimately deliver workable, serviceable, functioning enterprise-grade software.
They need, to coin a phrase, to know that low-code makes the grade to enterprise-grade. So, what elements of core form and functionality should they look for?
Making the enterprise-grade grade
Building secure enterprise-grade low-code software is imperative; obviously, it is. Secure software development in this space is so fundamental that efficient low-code platforms will always be presented with security controls as an inherent and implicit part of their core functionality.
Nobody expects business applications designed to serve potentially millions of users with digital experiences to let them down, so enterprise-grade security, scalability, governance and performance should form key elements in the platform and toolsets that are used.
Because low-code is typified by a high degree of automation, an effective low-code approach should offer hundreds of automatic security and risk controls in its portfolio. But implementation is just the first step; an always-on monitoring and operations source also needs to exist for the customer to be able to assess their risk factors at any given time.
Climbing the scalability peak
Enterprise-grade low-code software may start off as an experimental application or some level of prototype or test case. Its speed of development naturally gives rise to its use in this type of development. But when an application (or some other code-based data service) hits the spot, the team behind it will need to know that it can scale.
Let’s say a small medical tech lab develops an application that helps track some aspect of disease outbreaks that takes a radically new approach in some way. If a viral pandemic ensues, then that software would need to scale seamlessly from something smaller than departmental level to an Internet-wide deployment – all without rewriting any code or hitting a wall.
Climbing the peak to true enterprise-grade scalability with low-code software involves taking advantage of technology that includes containers and microservices. Only by ‘thinking small’ in this sense can you consider being able to ‘think big’ later on and build mission-critical apps that scale to support millions of concurrent processes.
Within all of this discussion, it will be crucial to keep an eye on governance so applications built with low-code platforms can comply with controls such as GDPR, Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI, FedRAMP and more. The proven way of doing this is to use low-code development tools that offer a fine-grained control of your software portfolio with the ability to perform dependency checking, audits and validation.
There’s a human factor here, too, i.e., organisations can rely on low-code automation advancements for a lot, but they also need to think about establishing teams that can work simultaneously and keep conflicts to a minimum.
Finally, let’s mention performance. It’s a key measure of how and why any piece of software was developed in the first place. Software needs to work, it needs to drive business forward, and it needs to do so at a pace that is commensurate with and proportionate to the use case requirements behind why it was developed in the first place.
In the low-code universe, we have the ability to deploy enterprise applications that are automatically optimized to ensure they perform as designed and expected. We also have the ability to use pre-built connectors that integrate with automated enterprise logging technology, which gives developers real-time performance monitoring feedback to help avoid possible bottlenecks.
Low-code software application development can offer all of these features, controls and characteristics, so organisations can be assured that low-code does make the grade for enterprise-grade. All that’s needed is for the customer themselves to know how high low-code can go to be able to graduate to this new grade of efficiency.
CORONAVIRUS: FURLOUGHED WORKERS AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR BUSINESS
by Tina Chander, Wright Hassall
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is designed to help businesses that would otherwise be forced to lay off staff in the face of the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19.
All businesses with a PAYE scheme in place on 28 February 2020, regardless of size or sector, will be able to benefit from the scheme with the government reimbursing employers up to 80% of their employees’ wages, to a maximum of £2,500 per month, plus employer’s NICs and auto-enrolment pension contributions.
Employees on agency contracts and flexible or zero hours contracts can also benefit from the scheme. In addition, the scheme also covers employees who were made redundant since 28 February 2020, if they are rehired by their employer.
Furloughed workers: what does that mean?
Businesses have to ‘designate affected employees as furloughed workers and notify your employees of this change’. However, employers still have to heed employment law which means that, having designated those employees whose jobs were at risk, they will need to agree with those employees that they will be ‘furloughed’.
Given the extraordinary situation prevailing at the moment and given the alternative to being furloughed, it is likely that most employees will agree to the terms.
For those workers who do not agree, they will either have to take unpaid leave for an indeterminate period or employers are likely to have to go down the redundancy route. It should be noted that furloughed workers are designated by the employer – an employee cannot ‘self-designate’.
Employees hired on or after 1 March 2020 are excluded from the scheme, presumably to stop people ‘gaming’ the system by hiring family members after the scheme was announced and then furloughing them.
However, those businesses that have made people redundant since 28 February 2020, can re-employ them and then furlough them. To qualify for payment under the Job Retention Scheme, an employee must be furloughed for a minimum of three weeks in order to prevent employers putting staff on a furlough ‘rota’ i.e., one week on furlough, one week off.
Who can be furloughed?
Normal employment law still applies so employers must not discriminate when deciding who to furlough. Employees returning to work after a period of sickness absence, or self-isolation, can be furloughed, however they cannot be furloughed whilst they remain on a period of sickness absence or self-isolation.
Furlough will only take effect when this period comes to an end. Employees who are “shielding” however, will be eligible to be furloughed. Employees on maternity leave can be furloughed if they agree to return to work early or change to shared parental leave, alternatively they will remain on Statutory Maternity Pay where this is applicable and will not be furloughed until their return.
When agreeing changes and moving to furlough status, it is important to remember that normal employment law processes apply. Employers must be careful not to discriminate against any employees when deciding who to offer furlough to.
Furloughed workers remain employed but must not work
Assuming the designated employee has agreed to be furloughed, they cannot undertake any work for their employer at all. If the employee continues to work, even reduced hours, they are not eligible for the scheme. The good news for furloughed staff is that they can volunteer or undertake training providing neither activity generates income for their employer. Whether or not people can take advantage of this while confined to their house is, of course, another matter altogether.
How it will work?
While furloughed, the government will pay related employment costs including pension contributions and NICs (but not commission or bonuses) in addition to wages. All furloughed workers will remain employed by their employer for the duration of the scheme.
Employers can make up the missing 20% of their employees’ salaries but that is their choice (or ability to pay). There is no legal obligation for the employers to top up the salary to 100%, but any contractual clauses regarding withholding pay and deductions should be taken into account when this decision is being made.
For those employees who are furloughed, their employment status will change but their employment record remains continuous.
Employers need to give HMRC a list of furloughed employees. Employers pay their workers as usual, via PAYE, and then apply for funding, every three weeks (not weekly) to cover 80% of their wages (up to £2,500 of gross pay).
You will receive a grant from HMRC to cover the lower of 80% of an employee’s regular wage or £2,500 per month, plus the associated Employer NICs and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that subsidised wage. Fees, commission and bonuses should not be included.
For workers whose pay varies, the 80% is based on the higher of:
- the earnings in the same pay period in the previous year; or
- the average earnings in the previous 12 months (or less, if they’ve worked for less).
If employees paid the minimum wage are furloughed, the fact that 80% of their earnings will bring their wages below the NMW does not contravene the legislation as people are only entitled to the NMW if they are working. They can, however, claim the NMW if undertaking training.
The HMRC system through which payments can be made should be up and running by the end of April. The scheme is expected to run for three months, subject to review.
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