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SOARING ENERGY PRICES AND UNIVERSAL CREDIT CUTS – WHY PROVIDERS MUST PREPARE FOR AN INCOMING WAVE OF PAYMENT SUPPORT REQUESTS

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Yad Jaura, Product Marketing Manager at Netcall

 

Following the collapse of several energy companies as gas prices continue to soar, accessing and managing payment support is likely to become a pressing issue for thousands of households across the UK. In today’s economic climate, more people than ever are finding themselves in financial difficulty, meaning payments are becoming increasingly hard to manage. Indeed, a recent survey found that for over a quarter of households, an increase of more than £10 a month in energy bills could force them into debt. Further findings revealed that 17% of households have struggled to pay for their energy over the past year. And with November’s impending cuts to Universal Credit, more customers look set to face financial distress.

Whilst missed payments and managing payment support are part and parcel for any energy provider, after a slew of recent price hikes, their contact centres are likely to feel an additional strain. Energy providers must ensure they work with customers to make accessing payment support as smooth and stress-free process as possible. Those who overlook this risk being relegated to the bottom of the pile when it comes to customers’ mounting bills.

The knock-on effect that recent price hikes has had on energy providers, and their contact centres, should not be underestimated. Though unpredictable, it can be managed if providers have the right infrastructure in place.

 

The challenge faced by utility providers

Whilst consumers and businesses are struggling, utility providers, which keep our nation running, will do so too if unable to recoup payments. Unfortunately, however, the reality is that current repayment systems aren’t often up to scratch. Many companies require customers to print off and complete multi-page forms, disclosing their current circumstances to arrange a suitable payment plan. As well as being overly complex, this process can take weeks, if not months, to process, incurring further delays for both the customer and provider. Instead, it’s important that utility providers put customers at the centre of their processes – offering a range of options that work for customers, including self-service methods.

There is also the issue of changing government guidance for utility providers. Many are currently being encouraged to consider payment holidays and payment matching, whilst also helping customers pay their bills through the Warm Home Discount scheme, social tariffs, and other affordability initiatives. This adds extra complexity to existing processes.

 

How innovation can help

In order to overcome these challenges, utility providers must implement innovative solutions that allow them to build automated, digital platforms that not only make it easier for them to manage payment support processes internally, but also improve the customer experience to keep customers onside. Flexible, quick-to-implement Platform as a Service (PaaS) technologies, such as low-code, can help utility providers respond with agility, enabling them to build platforms accessible from a range of devices to access information, check bills, payment statuses, and set up payment plans. Low-code enables businesses to easily make changes to a process dependent on changing government guidance, due to its agile nature.

When combined with Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technologies, systems built on low-code can also help to gather information from customer relationship management (CRM) systems about customers who are having problems with payment. RPA technology is particularly beneficial as it can be implemented over existing systems and data, minimising the disruption of current IT infrastructure.

 

Solutions for the long-haul

Being able to modify processes quickly and simply is an important requirement in today’s volatile climate. Moving forward, utility providers must look towards a long-term solution that can help both customers and their own bottom line. Again, low-code technology can help here as it provides utility companies with the ability to easily implement change, adapt and scale internal and external processes according to business needs, all while keeping the customer at the centre of their thinking.

 

Supporting customers through financial turbulence

As we continue to navigate the pandemic’s aftereffects, managing payment support will be a relatable issue across businesses in many sectors, including banks, credit card companies, landlords and legal companies. The end goal for these companies should be to provide a seamless customer journey that enables consumers to manage repayments easily and effectively. By introducing simpler processes, as well as managing existing repayments, providers can also help customers tackle debt much earlier. For utility providers, this means managing the flow of information, whatever its origin and destination, and being available on a range of communication channels.

Finally, with young people having been reported as the hardest hit by the financial squeeze of Covid-19 and expected to be disproportionately affected by the end to the £20 Universal Credit uplift next month, businesses must ensure their contact centre offering integrates with a range of communication platforms – from chatbots to social media, especially as two-in-five consumers now prefer to use self-service channels rather than phoning a call centre. Understanding customer preferences and building solutions that enable companies to manage this whilst recouping payments will be essential in the weeks and months ahead.

 

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SET YOUR BUSINESS UP FOR SALES SUCCESS IN A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD

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SET YOUR BUSINESS UP FOR SALES SUCCESS IN A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD

Dean Fiveash, Head of FinTech Sales, IFX

Without doubt the Coronavirus pandemic impacted every aspect of our lives and fundamentally changed the way in which we all conduct business.

From the widespread adoption of working from home, to the amplified focus on employee wellbeing and work life balance, to simply acknowledging that people are more than their job titles and are often juggling childcare, pets and terrible wifi issues all whilst trying to do their job. The last 18 months have altered the way we work forever and in order to set our businesses up for success we have also needed to rethink how we operate.

Dean Fiveash

In a people facing sector like sales,  it’s  clear that the loss of face-to-face interaction is perhaps the biggest loss and an impending challenge as we slowly emerge from the confines of the pandemic. Gone are the days of instant downloads from ‘water cooler’ conversations with the team discussing deals or general matters. Instead, our inboxes and diaries are full of zoom catch ups. This isn’t to say that success has dwindled. Flexibility of working from home has helped many businesses to grow rapidly. In fact at IFX we have enjoyed our ten best months of company sales, but there is no denying the way in which we work within our teams has shifted. So how can you set up your sales teams to maximise its chances of success?

 

Adapting To The Times

For many businesses operating during these unprecedented times the shift towards the work from home culture has seen its benefits. Speed is key in the fintech industry and video calls on top of isolated working has greatly improved our time efficiency allowing us to do more for our clients in the long run. Equally, with the workforce being spread around the country and in some cases even globally, came the need for further rigorous checks and processes to ensure the high standards set in the office environment are still being met.

Despite this I would argue that this made us better sales people, and in turn a more successful and thriving sales team.

Post-pandemic success is grounded in not just the talent of your employees but also how you choose to structure your teams. For me, the old adage ‘People Buy People’ remains the most relevant factor for developing a slick sales team. At the end of the day, the technical stuff can be learnt over time but the proficient people skills needed in client facing roles is more innate.

When evaluating team skills, individuals who demonstrate determination and the ability to keep smiling through adversity are a vital asset, especially in the fast paced fintech industry.

Having worked in numerous team leader roles within the sales industry,  I know the difference that a collegiate and supportive team can make to successfully securing deals. The key is to have people at your disposal who are going to pitch in to help others, in turn making the team more robust. In the post-pandemic world, this will remain the key quality to look for and embed as a core value across the business.

 

Fostering A Successful Culture 

Whilst the team structure and core skills are an important part of the team set up, good management and personal development structure is crucial to success. At IFX, our sales leadership team all have client portfolios and are regularly signing and navigating deals. It’s through giving my team practical experience and regular client interaction that we can gain far better market insight than through managing team activity or KPIs alone.

More discipline is also required when working at home to retain the sales focus whilst navigating domestic distractions. As such, maintaining your employee motivation and focus is something each business should work on. A difficult feat without the physical presence of your team and one balanced on knowing your employees and their individual needs. But little things go a long way, so incentives and perks such as company socials, bonuses or simply a free breakfast can work wonders to motivate others. Another tip is to set  attainable goals and regular check-ins with your team to keep motivation on track to reach peak productivity.

 

Looking Forward

Team dynamics will continue to change to adapt to the ever-changing and rapidly evolving landscape, the secret to success will remain the same.

Something to look forward to in the next couple of years as a movement,  is the greater adoption of smarter contracts and embedded FinTech, which of course as businesses and as a team we will have to adapt to.

Ultimately, my biggest piece of advice to others is to get the basics right.  A leading-edge solution fails to achieve greatness if it isn’t backed with competent sales/relationship managers and attentive operational support. Traditional ingredients for success such as reputation and trustworthiness are built over time, often through word of mouth, but building a competent team who can make your clients happy is essential to that mix

 

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THE EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY NEEDS OF THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

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THE EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY NEEDS OF THE FINANCE DEPARTMENT

Jennifer Sims, Senior Consultant at Xledger

 

The world of finance software is evolving quickly, but with many new software contenders entering the market it can be a mindfield for organisations. Many finance teams are already using multiple accounting apps and software packages for bookkeeping, payroll and invoicing to service individual needs. Whilst it may work fine for now, this segregated approach isn’t sustainable for long-term growth. The world is swiftly moving to agile, automated ways of working. As a result, there is a growing need to choose suppliers that can fulfil multiple functionalities within the one platform.

Financial software is evolving at such a pace that it can be difficult to keep up. Changing up a finance solution is a big step and ease of migration can be a substantial factor in determining which solution provider to go with. But how do you choose a solution that will grow with your business and still offer something innovative in five or ten years down the line? The fear is always that non-techie organisations will end up falling behind, but in such a highly concentrated industry, how do you decide which solution would work best for you?

 

Cloud-first: the term that makes all the difference 

You could find a ‘cloud-based’ service with an application that comes with automated audit trails to make it easier to meet compliance and record-keeping obligations, for example. But for a solution to offer all of the many future benefits promised by the cloud, it needs to have been built specifically for a cloud environemt from the outset – ie. not an on-premise built system that has been later adapted. Cloud-first services (true cloud) were always intended to leverage economies of scale, cope with live updates, be accessible from anywhere with an internet connection, and to scale rapidly, to name just a few of the many benefits.

When we talk about innovation in financial technology, we’re not just talking about software that makes it easier for the financial controller to create reports. If eliminating reliance on Excel spreadsheets is the only tangible benefit you have to really shout about, you are missing out on the real deal. With ‘true’ cloud finance software the sky is the limit.

Finance and accounting technology needs to directly meet the needs of the finance function and support the wider business needs.  When looking at accounting software platforms you’d be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t now promise ‘cloud-based’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) capabilities. The cloud is nothing new, but it’s the way that a solution harnesses this environment that makes a real difference. And here is where there is a need to read between the lines.

 

Automate more with true cloud 

Historically, repetitive and manual tasks are typical of the finance role – from invoice postings to expense claims handling – these can overwhelm the finance team. Research by Xledger[1] has found that an enormous 91% of CFOs and finance decision makers are carrying out at least one of these repetitive tasks as part of their job. What’s more, senior finance leads are averaging a whopping 25 hours per week carrying out repetitive and manual tasks, compared with 15 hours for other finance decision makers.

A modern, true cloud finance system can enable your business to automate repetitive tasks and provide one source of truth so that teams can make informed business decisions that will help to scale a business. Bank reconciliation, dashboard creation and reporting are just some of the tasks that can be handled automatically.These capabilities are aiding overtasked finance teams and saving hundreds or thousands of hours a year.

Whilst different companies are at different stages in their digital transformation what is clear is keeping up with the latest technology is fundamental to the future success of an organisation.

Xledger is a true cloud finance solution. The basics include invoicing, robust general ledger accounting, detailed slice and dice reporting, purchase orders, billing, VAT reporting, and cash and bank payments. It also adds process and structure to the enterprise with procurement and inventory, budgeting and forecasting, and project accounting. Users are always on the latest version of the software and with regulation more stringent than ever today, Xledger is ISO 27001 accredited.

Choosing the right provider for your financial ERP solution comes down to whether it has the fundamentals right. When hosting all of your vital data in the providers’ own servers, it should evidence a highly tested security process that comes with backup services as standard.

As our demand for technology capabilities grows and as ERP models progress, innovation will become the structure for growth – and there is no end to the possibilities.

 

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