Monday, 10 December 2012

Manic Monday

Over the past few years, the first Monday of December has become a reference in the Christmas calendar and is now know as Cyber Monday (Mega Monday here in the UK). It marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping fever and has become established as one of the busiest online shopping day of the year. A source from indicates that Mondays in December are the busiest days for online retailers. It also breaks records year on year, and this year is no exceptions, especially when we look at the Mobile Commerce channel.

At the beginning of November, IMRG, the UK retail association forecast a £920 million spend by consumers using mobile devices in the first two weeks of December alone; nearly a quarter of all £4.6 billion in online shopping.

This can be illustrated by reports from ClickTale which indicated that QVC (a leader in catalogue retail) saw overall sales jump 25.6% last year, resulting mainly from consumers shopping from mobile phones and tablets. Reportedly, QVC announced that some $380 million of its $2.16 billion in global online sales (almost 20%) came from mobile users.

It was also covered on Finextra that Department store giant John Lewis has seen mobile traffic and orders to its site more than treble over the last year and a third of customers are now shopping using handheld devices.

For some companies, Christmas even came earlier than expected. Take for example PayPal, who has seen its greatest sales day in company history - for mobile payments - on black Friday. PayPal’s mobile payment volume increased by a whopping 193 percent compared to 2011.

If these examples don’t convince you of the increasing trend of mobile shopping and the prominent place it is taking in the way we shop these days, maybe these figures will: Mobile Payment:

The infographic from Developing Revenues reviews the 6 key current mobile payment options and shows their potential rating if used to optimum effect...

It will therefore be an understatement to say that mobile commerce has come a long way since it was born in 1997 when coca cola vending machine first accepted payments via SMS in Finland. In 2012, one-third of people have made a purchase with a Smartphone and with the sales of smart devices expected to reach 686 million by the end of the year, now is the time for any business to consider mobile commerce (if not already done) as it is fast becoming one of the favourite buying channel for consumers.

With this in mind, here are our top tips for a happy mobile shopping this Christmas:
  • Do your research –  ensure you choose a payment provider that offers mobile acceptance as part of their standard offering so you are not left behind
  • Look out for additional promotional services – QR or Mobile Bar Codes can also be a powerful tool for businesses. These enable customers to make instant purchases, from offline marketing material like TV or magazine ads, exhibitions and brochure ware.
  • Must have – Mobile landing page. Mobile landing pages give businesses the ability to serve their mobile customers with personalised and search-specific content. These will engage your customers and provide them with a unique enhanced shopper experience which is a necessity these days.
  • Choose the security option that suits your business best – Prioritise a mobile-friendly payment page. Partner with a provider of a validated solution (i.e. P2PE solution) or use an Approved Point of Interaction Device.

Monday, 3 December 2012

12 tips for a profitable Christmas

It has been well reported that online is certainly becoming the consumer channel of choice, with a recent IMRG survey showing 96% of consumers will be shopping online this Christmas. So with this record number of shoppers being expected to shop online this Christmas, creating higher traffic through a business’s website can also mean increased costs of processing card payments.

To help businesses manoeuvre their way through this challenging time we have created 12 top tips to help you cut the costs of your payment services this Christmas.

  1. Do your research and be informed – be sure to look around for what your competitors are offering. Since the recession, consumers are forced to be smarter than before. They will use comparison website to compare prices. You don’t want to be left out in the cold.
  2. Keep a spending diary and a festive spirit – Keep a record of all your spending this Christmas. You can do this on paper or electronically. This should help you spot some simple opportunities to cut your spending and improve your cash flow.
  3. Seasonal offers – Many Online retailers will use all promotional tools they can lay their hand on at this period of the year to boost their sales. They will offer the popular promotional vouchers (favourite for 31% of Christmas spenders) or Cashback incentives. Make sure you are following the trend.
  4. What’s in your stocking? – Make sure you take advantage of all the services your provider offers. Many providers offer additional services on top of a merchant account and the payment getaway i.e. store builder, PCI DSS Compliance. These could help you save money by not relying on a third party to provide these services to you.
  5. Christmas all wrapped up – with 70% of shoppers hoping to save cash this Christmas every little help will make the difference. Have you thought about offering free delivery? This will help them avoid the crowds, blisters and last-minute panic and motivate them from buying online rather than from the high street.
  6. Merry MOTO – If you accept payments over the phone or by mail order (sometimes called MOTO), make sure your solution includes a Virtual Terminal, designed to accept these types of payments.  You should not pay any more for this.
  7. E-invoicing – Electronic invoicing is a great way to get paid quicker than relying on cash and cheques, look for a payment provider that offers this at no additional charge.
  8. Going international – Planning to price your goods or services in different currencies? You can open multicurrency merchant accounts. Guess what, you should not have to pay extra for this either!
  9. Happy shoppers – Make sure delivery of goods is within the timescales you advertise, you display and honour a clear refund policy and your website displays customer service contact details – all this helps reduce costly disputes with cardholders and will make the perfect Christmas shopping experience for your customers.
  10. Fraud prevention tools – From additional passwords to voice biometrics, payment providers offer a range of methods to reduce losses arising from fraud. As their risk is reduced so should your costs which should brighten up your Christmas!
  11. Trust your instinct – Take precautions & reduce the risks. Do everything possible to validate the order before it is shipped and don’t be negligent. We know Santa can deliver presents to any remote part of the world, but if you receive a large order from Lapland paid for from a card issued in Japan, you should be worried. If it is sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
  12. Have a happy profitable Christmas 2012 – and to help you achieve this check out CashFlows Christmas offer.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Oh, the weather outside is frightful.....

Christmas is a season of joy. For small businesses, however, it is also a period of staff holidays, increased workload, snow days and sick pay. And these aren’t the only problems British businesses face this year. What are the seasonal issues impacting small businesses and how can SMEs dodge these festive curveballs?

Recent retail figures tell us that sales volumes dropped 0.8% month-on-month in October, suggesting that Britons are gearing up for a bumper couple of months of Christmas shopping. While this is great news for the British high street, this type of inconsistent spending pattern wreaks havoc on business plans and cash flow, especially for smaller businesses.

What’s more, this year the pressures are even greater, as consumers look to technology to help them handle their Christmas shopping. Research out last week from IMRG and Capgemini tells us that £4.6 billion is forecast to be spent online in the first two weeks of December alone, representing a huge potential missed opportunity for small businesses which aren’t operating online. Not only that, but 20% of this figure, approximately £920 million, is expected to be spent on mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets.

While these sorts of numbers bring about positive cheer for retailers and their revenues, we cannot ignore the challenges.

No one wants to feel they are missing out, and with an increasing number of consumers looking to take care of their shopping on the move, offline retailers need to keep up with the pace. IMRG and Capgemini also revealed that in the first quarter of 2012 8.2% of total e-retail sales were made through a mobile device; by the end of the fourth quarter this figure is anticipated to reach around 20%.

Merchants must have an online presence and mobile application for payments – two integral weapons in retailers’ arsenal this Christmas.  Traditional and alternative payment players are entering the scene to assist in this vocation, in a bid to help businesses grow.

Take this Christmas as an inflection point – the way consumers spend will change, and the impact of this is going to be felt far after Christmas and into 2013. Do not leave yourselves out in the cold.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Emptying Wallets

For as long as I’ve worked within this industry, there has been incessant talk of mobile wallets and how they are going to redefine our everyday payments. Last week saw the battle lines redrawn at Cartes as a whole host of banks, mobile operators, global payment schemes and new players exhibited their latest offerings.
The fundamental issue with many of these solutions that, by their nature, they operate within a limited circle and still do not possess the global reach that a simple piece of plastic still has. The lessons that came through so loud and clear in the Spring at Mobile World Congress about collaboration being key to success seem to have been stifled in Autumn. It may be simplistic but it remains easy to see m-wallets as a solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

The most memorable metaphor I’ve heard on this issue was a conference speaker who drew a parallel between mobile wallets and handbags. Yes, there’s nothing to stop you owning as many m-wallets as you like but you’re only likely to use one at a time…which I assume is also true of handbags (although happy to be corrected!)  

That’s not to say an m-wallet can’t thrive in Europe today, but in order to generate both awareness and advocacy amongst a largely apathetic consumer market, it will require best-in-class convenience or rewards if it is going to displace established payment methods. Maybe this means having ID documents, reward cards, organisation memberships, season tickets and a whole host of intuitive discounts all in one place or maybe it means having a wallet that also starts your car, locks your door and turns off your lights…the case has not yet been proven either way.

Seeing the range of – competitive – solutions now available, there are also uncomfortable echoes with the NFC paradigm. Mintel’s research earlier this year showed that only a quarter of people with a contactless card have actually made an NFC transaction –  despite repeated efforts from the banks, there are no guarantees if you build it, they will come. Overcoming the usage challenge for m-wallet operators becomes tougher when you consider that, unlike NFC, providers are not working towards a common standard and, unlike NFC, operators do not have the Olympics as a ‘Big Bang’ showcase for the technology.

As with most accessories, the danger for the m-wallets of 2012 is that consumers’ attention switches elsewhere and they end up consigned to the back of the closet. That said, the battle between m-wallets should result in greater innovation and consumer focus and it will be intriguing which solution becomes the must-have accessory for 2013.  

Friday, 2 November 2012

Business bank accounts - free vs. fee?

Banking has been hitting the headlines in all manner of guises over recent months – from IT problems through to bonuses, the UK’s banking community has never been under more scrutiny. This is why it came as little surprise a few months ago when attention turned to banking fees and the idea of ‘free banking’. Of course, there are strong arguments on both sides – whilst some customers are stung by high ‘hidden’ fees, there are plenty of responsible and prudent banking customers who have never encountered a bank charge and would resent paying for what was a previously free account service.

Yet, the plot thickens when we consider where businesses fit into the free banking debate. The high fees and charges often attached to the standard business bank account delivered through our five incumbent banks are starving businesses of key funds. Business bank accounts often require an upfront fee and yet businesses still end up paying over the odds in additional fees, in the form of interest rates, foreign transfers and overdraft charges. In fact, a recent YouGov survey revealed that small businesses in the UK are paying £2.3 billion every year to banks in business account fees. This is a shockingly high number, especially when one considers that Project Merlin, which was intended to encourage lending from the top 5 banks to small businesses in the UK, actually missed its target by a whopping £1.1 billion.

In the world of business banking, paid-for accounts have not necessarily resulted in fairer banking – businesses still face overwhelming fees and charges and they don’t even receive the financial support they need from banks in terms of lending. This is why the key to banking, both business and personal, lies in transparency. Customers, whether business or consumer, should never receive a charge they weren’t expecting, and absolute transparency would ensure this is the case.

This is a situation which banks need to be aware of – after all, the same YouGov survey revealed that over half of businesses would move their business current accounts to another provider to reduce account cost outlays. Given the number of new finance companies which are currently chipping at the banks’ heels, keen to offer businesses lower charges and more innovative banking solutions, we are definitely now faced with an era in which implicit loyalty to our banks is over. Business banking will never be ‘free’ but now is the time to free banking of complicated and unclear charges using bank account models that help organisations drive funds back into the balance sheet.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Today we jumped off the bridge!

We have re-engineered business banking and payments and re-purposed the way they work. UK business can now start to work with us in exactly the same way as their bank. They use our sort code, they have their own account number, they do Faster Payments and can support a customer that needs to pay them with a Visa or MasterCard.

To us it’s all the same: it’s one solution that fully consolidates core business banking services, simplified by operating a single self reconciling account and then we reward our customers. Our pricing resembles a mobile phone plan and we are offering 1% interest on business current accounts.

The £1bn of savings is also there, free cash flow waiting to be used. To help that get circulated, we even managed to get CASH (GB 2L) as our Swift  IBAN. I know that this sounds like a sales pitch but to explain what we have done means I have to explain sorry!


We do know already that we can generate additional cash flow of approximately £1billion from  money that is already being spent on paying for financial services today.

How do we know this? Because businesses are using our CashFlows calculator right now to find out for themselves. That money can be recycled and re-invested into the economy to help move businesses slowly forward.

We do know that according to data from HSBC and the Ernst and Young Item Club that the pinch point between UK inflation and wage increases is closing and, if current trends persist, will collide in Q2 2013. We also know that SMEs have to dig us out of the hole (taking us to 2017 at least) but if the collision does occur within 2 calendar quarters, the game is back on!

Boing Boing

I forget to mention the bungee cord we are attached to and so we are still bouncing around a bit and will soon settle down. If and when we do, every penny that we can recycle back into our economy is really going to matter.

We didn’t launch a bank today but we copied Michael Dell. He didn’t invent computers but addressed the supply chain, re-designed it, got cost down and shared the benefits with his customers. As the Nationwide TV ads say, everyone needs banking, but not everyone needs a bank and in 6 months time we will see where we are.

What we do know however is that we have already helped some business find free cash flow in their business today, and it wasn’t achieved using the old financial wizardry that got us in this mess either!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Can we trust our banks?

Can businesses and consumers trust their bank when it comes to providing them with the best services at the best price?

I am not so sure! With an industry that has been tarnished by many scandals, negative headlines and endless reports of miss-selling, sometimes we are left wondering when we will see the end of this cloud of mistrust  and return to good old customer service driven firms who put their customers’ needs first.

I have been a customer with my bank for over 15 years with several bank accounts and services with them and have never been in the red. You would think with this background I would be referred to as a good customer, wouldn’t you?

Being a native French person, I also have a bank account in France, where I have to transfer funds from time to time, to avoid me carrying too much cash with me when going back home. I also have friends who run small businesses with an international clientele and with the majority of them being based in Europe.

For many years now, we have been paying a standard transfer fee which varies depending on the amount you are sending. So when we found out about the SEPA payment system (where transfer fees are waivered for Euro payments within the Euro transfer zone and within participating EU

countries and banks) we were over the moon, as we thought high transfer fees would become something of the past.

I was stunned when I called the international transfer department and was advised the fee would not be waived or reduced as it was standard and it was business as usual. Same result from my friends, who had greater hopes due to the businesses they are running and thought this would save them substantial amount of money going forward.

So I asked myself, when will the banks start passing some of their benefits to their customers? Why do we stick to the same bank if there are never any rewards to be reaped? Is it because we are so busy we can’t stop for a minute and shop around for a better bank, with better services which will reward us for being loyal customers?

Well, I have news for you! The Financial system is just about to be shaken up. For companies who have been following the market closely, be prepared for a revolution in our industry with the next generation of products that will change the face of banking.

If you don’t believe me, watch this space for next week’s blog post where we will keep you updated with more details on the imminent launch of our innovative product.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The business banking landscape is changing – are you keeping up?!

With all the pressure being placed on the financial industry at the moment there are two alternative courses that can be taken by the banking industry. Either banks can start innovating and providing businesses with the products they need, or alternative providers will enter the market and start eroding the near-monopoly enjoyed by the high street banks.
We have already seen evidence of the latter with the likes of Metro bank, Virgin money and even the newly proposed state backed bank being championed by George Osborne, which will surely inspire optimism in the business community.

But the real question is in where these new financial service providers can make an impact.
For starters, with the newly created competitive environment amongst the banks, one of the first changes to be seen will be in the fees businesses are paying for their banking and payment services, which until now have been in an ever increasing spiral.

The extent of these rising fees came to light in a recent YouGov survey commissioned by CashFlows, showing that the top quarter of UK SMEs were paying an average of £1,792 per year for their financial services. This figure can be very painful for businesses cash flow and provides more fuel to the argument of a more transparent and tailored approach to business banking pricing.

The other big advantage of new providers to the banking and payment market is they aren’t encumbered with the outdated processes and ways of thinking that cause dissatisfaction amongst businesses currently. What this means in tangible terms are that businesses can expect to be set up faster, offered a greater range of services relevant to accelerating their cash flow and crucially, offering these products at a lower cost.

Like all economic changes, it will be a gradual process, and to expect the grey cloud that is currently hovering over the financial industry to be lifted over night is very far from realistic, however things are moving in the right direction. With all the recent shake ups in the industry, change is the only certainty, and with heightened competition being stimulated amongst financial services providers there is an optimistic future of innovative business banking services that really will benefit businesses and consumers.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Growing Pains for UK Businesses

Summer 2012 is not a time banks will look back upon with any fondness.  Following the Natwest shutdown and LIBOR scandal, the latest rallying cry is “free banking for all” and an ever more forensic examination into the charges banks levy.   For anyone interested, there has been an explosion of self-help guidelines explaining these charges, although how sneaky some of these charges truly are is debatable.
However, one article that did shock me appeared in British SME magazine.  This highlighted how international bank transfer fees are worth £2bn to British banks every year...that’s £2bn that comes straight out of the pocket of British businesses.   From a quick bit of research on the big banks’ websites, charges vary between £20 - £40 per transfer, not to mention dubious exchange rates.  It doesn’t take a particularly adept mathematician to calculate what that could balloon to for businesses with a growing overseas presence.

Back in 2011, the Payments Innovation Global Jury noted that one of the largest missed revenue opportunity in payments is the tremendous opportunity to make cross-border B2B payments flexible, lower cost and faster.  Customers would love it.”  Great theory but even now half of all businesses are willing to accept the charges associated with transferring from a business bank account and were willing to reject other methods (e.g. foreign transfer specialists) on the grounds of time and hassle.
As an outsider it is easy to treat this with incredulity but equally, I don’t run a small business and have to deal with the raft of daily challenges.  The true cost of saving a few pounds per transfer could well be outweighed by the time and hassle of setting up accounts with multiple providers for different functions.  That’s before we even consider managing these accounts and trying to get them to reconcile.
The ideal solution would be for a provider of business bank accounts to be able to provide the global transfer coverage needed by an increasing number of SMEs but not at a cost that is scandalously high.  A single account for all incoming and outgoing payments would also enable a business to simplify their financial management, achieve substantial savings and – most importantly – get on with the far more critical task of running their business.
One account for everything.   Customers would love it.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Improving customer loyalty - let's get back to business

Earlier this month, the Bank of England launched the Funding for Lending scheme, to lend money at below market rates to financial institutions. It is designed to prompt banks and lenders to make more money available to homeowners and businesses.

This renewed focus on bank lending to British businesses has intensified since Project Merlin, the attempt by the Bank of England to force banks to increase lending to British small businesses.  Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, RBS and Santander UK were tasked with making it easier for smaller firms to access credit. Yet in reality total net lending from the five main UK banks' fell in every quarter of 2011, with £74.9 billion lent to smaller firms, as opposed to the £76 billion target.

Compare this £1.1 billion shortfall with the YouGov figures released last month which revealed that British small businesses pay over £2.3 billion to banks in fees every year. The research showed that 24 per cent of small businesses pay an average of £1,792 on business banking services every year.

When we consider the recent GDP figures which revealed that the UK is in the deepest recession of more than 50 years, this flagrant disregard for the needs of small business owners by banks is unsettling.
The truth is that public trust in banks is at an all time low and the customer loyalty banks have enjoyed in the past simply does not exist anymore – in the same survey, 52 per cent of those asked said they would move their business current account to another provider in order to receive lower cost business banking services.
There is plenty that our banks could do to improve their own image - supporting the British small business economy is just one example. 

This research suggests that banks should start by lowering business banking charges, but there is also scope for banks to start thinking outside the box –what about offering a payment of a base rate interest on business accounts? Our research showed that this could contribute £330 million to the UK economy – no small sum in the current climate.

Business secretary, Vince Cable, said last month that Britain’s banks are ‘throttling’ the economic recovery because of an anti-business culture. Evidently banks and financial providers have a long way to go in convincing the public and business community of their merits. Given the strong impact it would have on both public relations and the wider economy, it seems to me that banks need to get back to business.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Part 2 – Choosing the right merchant account for you

Following on from last week’s blog post on shopping carts, the next vital component to accepting payments online is choosing a merchant account.

Currently in the industry, to accept payments online you will need to get a merchant account from a merchant acquiring provider.  There are seven of these in the UK and they are usually banks, however there are a few non banking providers such as CashFlows and Elavon who offer the same service. A number of payment gateways can also source a merchant account directly.

Essentially the merchant acquirer acts as a go to between you and your customer’s issuing bank to authorise and verify each transaction and collect the funds from the cardholder, including paying any fees to the issuer. They also act as an intermediary if there are any card disputes or refunds.

It is important to keep in mind the following key points when you are looking for your merchant account:
  • What is the set up cost of the account and are you tied into a contract for a set period of time? Some acquirers insist on contracts of 36 months but hide this away in the small print.
  • What is the set up time for the account and what information do you need to send in? The fastest providers can set you up in less than a week, whereas some banks can take over a month!
  • What is the cost per transaction charge (sometimes called Merchant Service Charge or MSC)? Make sure you compare this against at least another two providers.
  • Do you get any other services integrated into the merchant account such as e-invoicing or a virtual terminal etc?
  • What gateways can the merchant acquirer plug into and are one of these compatible with the gateway you are using for your site?
All the points I have highlighted vary dramatically from one acquirer to the next so it is essential to shop around in the same way you would your phone contract or electricity bill before you choose to ensure you get the merchant account and provider that suits your business needs.

It is also important to remember that there are a lot of changes happening in the financial services industry, as I am sure you are all well aware of. This shake up will bring about some pretty dramatic changes in the service and products businesses will be offered. This will mean only great things for you as financial service providers will be forced to become more competitive and innovative with their products and services.

It’s worth keeping this in mind when looking at tying yourself into lengthy contracts for a merchant account and other services, as if a more appealing offering comes to the market with a fully integrated account for example, you would want to be able to switch provider easily if it was a better fit for your business.

With all the uncertainty in the industry it is a great time for you to shop around and find the best merchant account and accompanying service for your business. Happy shopping!

Watch this space out for next week’s blog!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Understanding the FSA

A while ago I attended a really good workshop run by Neopay at the Prepaid 2012 conference. As regulatory workshops are deemed to be boring, I was quite surprised that this one was not at all. I’d like to share my learning with you all on what you will need to apply for a licence to be an Authorised Electronic Money Issuer (AEMI). This will give you the authorisation you need to become an issuer for prepaid cards.

To give you a bit background on the FSA - as many of you may know, FSA stands for Financial Service Authority. It is the UK Financial Regulator. Since December 2001 it exercises statutory powers given to it by the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and the Electronic Money Regulations 2011. It regulates investment firms, banks, insurance agents, mortgage lenders and more.

Bye bye FSA - it is now undergoing a transition. Its responsibilities will be split into two new agencies called the Prudential Regulatory Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority. While the Prudential Regulatory Authority will look after the c1000 largest firms the Financial Conduct Authority will look after all other firms. Until these new bodies come into the swing of things, you should process as normal (keep on reading the article).

The FSA takes a risk based and outcome focused approach, which you should always bear in mind when you are applying for a license with the FSA. What does the FSA want from you? No more than what you should have already in place as a well-run, well-organised and even well-resourced company. Be always a step ahead if you submit papers, ask yourself which questions might arise and try to be always a step ahead of the person who approves your case.

Give an overview of what your company is doing and what type of payment services you are performing. You will also need to provide a business proposition and a 3-5 year plan. You need to demonstrate that you have the skills, knowledge and the experience to execute your plans. For that, it will be crucial that you have enough resources not only people wise but also in capital. Have your financials ready and if you don't have one yet, prepare a company structure diagram. It will help your case officer to understand how your business works.

Make sure you demonstrate how your business will identify, manage, monitor and report any risks your company might be exposed to. Possible risks might be operational, counterparty, liquidity, market, financial crimes and foreign exchange rates. Don't hold back. There is not a single organisation which does not face risks. Show that you have thought of all the potential risks your company is facing and be transparent on how you will deal with them if they occur. Highlight the top risks in your business plan and do not forget to state which categories they fall into. The four main categories are Governance controls, Financial Controls, Internal Controls and Money Laundering Controls.

You might ask yourself now how many people you will need to keep up with all these controls. The answers is "It depends..." but you always include three key people - chief executive, chief financial officer and a money laundering reporting officer (MLRO).

Last but not least few tips on how to increase you success changes:
  • Be ready! Don't submit the application if you do not have at least 80% of your application complete. Incomplete applications can be declined by the FSA and you don't want that happen especially as the FSA will list all declined applicants on their website!
  • Present it! A good presentation is everything.
  • Own it! Take ownership of your application and the application process. Once your application is submitted don't lay back just now.
  • Be quick! If possible return queries from your case officer on the same. It is more likely he will pick it up straight away and the two weeks SLA is undercut.
Good luck with your application!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Part 1 – Accepting payments online - where do I start?

As I promised this blog post is going to be one in a series of hopefully useful plunges into the sometimes daunting world of payments and finance!

After deciding you want to start accepting payments online, the mass of information that can be found on this subject can seem quite overwhelming. You are confronted with types of shopping carts, types of accounts, varying rates and lengthy tie-in contracts as a starter.

At the moment, in order to accept payments through your website you have to go to a different supplier for each of the services you need. This means you need to ensure the suppliers you choose give you the maximum services for the minimum cost.

The first things you need to remember when setting out on the online payment journey is to accept payments you will need the following things:
  1. Online shopping cart facility integrated into your website
  2. Merchant account – this is provided by an acquirer for funds from your online payment transactions to be paid into
  3. Business bank account – for funds transferred from your merchant account for you to use when paying suppliers, employees, business fees etc.
You need to shop around when looking for these three key elements as monthly charges and cost per transaction charges will vary from company to company. Some companies can also provide more than one of these elements which will save you valuable money and hassle, so worth looking out for this too. It’s also worth remembering that your high street bank isn’t necessarily the best or most cost effective solution. There are some great alternative providers such as Metro Bank, CashFlows and Virgin Money who provide very competitive services, so do investigate these too when you’re shopping around.

When taking the first step of creating the online shopping cart facility, you can add this while building your website, or as an add on to your existing site. There are many e-commerce providers who have their own shopping cart facility and will also combine web hosting and software packages for you. In many cases you get what you pay for, so ensure you research exactly the kind of facilities and features you want on your site before committing.

You may also need to use an external design and development company if you have really complex technical requirements so they can ensure they are integrated into the website with your existing systems. This could be expensive so ensure you shop around and get at least 3 in depth quotes including length of delivery time and precise tasks.

Alternatively you could look at free options to build your shopping site including open source shopping cart software packages such as: Zen Cart, OXID eShop Community Edition, osCommerce, On4, OpenCart and PrestaShop.

As mentioned earlier, there is a whole host of information if you are setting up your website to accept payments. One of the best sites for information on accepting payments from your website and general payment information for me is Business Link.

Watch this space for next week’s blog!

Friday, 22 June 2012

The long tail of Mobile Commerce

I watched Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference last week in anticipation of the unveiling of the new iPhone with NFC. I was sorely disappointed but in no way surprised when said device failed to appear, but watched on to see what iOS 6 had to offer later this year. iOS if you didn’t know already, is the underlying operating system which all iPhone’s and iPad’s run, so any new features are eagerly dissected by the blogging community ready to second-guess Apple’s strategy.

Out of the 200+ new features coming in iOS 6 one stood out to me, that being Passbook their new Mobile wallet. The App digitally stores loyalty cards, gift cards, boarding passes, movie tickets and coupons directly on the phone. With the details saved within Passbook users can present their phone at the till to take advantage of special offers.

For example Starbucks loyalty card holders can be prompted with an offer whenever they walk near a store, once inside they can use their stored card to pay for a coffee via a QR code. The Starbucks loyalty scheme has long existed before, so Apple isn’t necessarily providing an end-to-end solution for merchants with new point-of-sales equipment or NFC readers. Instead they’re providing an elegant solution to aggregate all these cards under a unified banner for the user while using what infrastructure the merchant has already at the point-of-sale.

Loyalty Apps and e-wallet solutions have existed for a while but they’ve always felt like isolated silos with the user needing to use individual Apps for specific merchants and stores. Apple’s solution pulls these together into a central App with tight ties to the operating system of the phone.    

Standing back for a moment it’s clear that this could be an early toe-dip into the world of payments perhaps in time utilising their 400 million iTunes accounts with cards on file. We still have no idea if the next iPhone will come with integrated NFC so until then Passbook is likely to stay as it is, feeding back our habits to Apple.

And it’s with these habits that Apple will unlock the true value for Passbook on its iOS ecosystem. This will undoubtedly flow on through to the Mobile advertisers, campaign managers, high-street retailers, and of course the end-user. By leveraging functionality such as location Apple can help advertisers target campaigns to individual users and purchases.

After all commerce is not just about payments. Instead there is a long tail of actions and decisions starting from the initial offering or advertisement leading to the purchase, and not forgetting aftercare. By inserting Passbook in the center of this, Apple can help businesses reward loyal customers while inching consumers to the inevitable holy-grail of Mobile payments.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Opening the lid on the payments industry!

The payments and especially the financial industry can seem a mind field to navigate at times, especially if you are a business new to the industry. We often find businesses who are looking to start taking payment online or just want to re-asses the tools they use to manage their money, say there is so much information out there but it can be daunting to know where to go and who to trust.

With so many much needed changes on the horizon arising from the banking reforms, it seems that banks, who businesses have traditionally relied on for their business bank accounts and indeed merchant accounts may not always be the safest or most value for money option out there.

So with that in mind, I am going to be writing a series of blogs on how to navigate the payments industry, with practical advice on where businesses can find useful information, what solutions are out there, and most importantly how to gain value for money services to improve cash flow.

Watch the space for next week’s blog post!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Are banks truly supporting UK businesses?

There is certainly a lot of focus in the UK on small businesses at the moment.  Given the massive potential for small businesses to plug the hole in the UK economy, it is unsurprising that the failures of high street banks to provide affordable loans has attracted both questioning and anger. It seems interesting then that there has been so little discussion about the wider role that banks can play in supporting small businesses.

The top four banks hold over 80 per cent of small business bank accounts in the UK.  But non-bank business finance is having its moment, and with new players now stepping in to fill the funding hole that banks have left UK businesses with, now is the time to question – are banks truly supporting UK businesses?

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog looking at the current customer demand for innovation in banking – the market is awash with new players, from PayPal to Amazon, all vying for a slice of the banking pie and happy to offer new and exciting banking products. 

Competition is definitely hotting up and banks need to offer more – especially to the UK’s small businesses who entrust so much of their capital to them.

There are a number of ways for banks to improve support for small businesses.  Overdraft and loan interest rates are just one example. 

Most banks offer short-term financing solutions, but these are often tied up with high interest rates and prohibitive fees.  At a time when all businesses, whether small, growing or giant, are struggling with a harsh market environment, short-term financing is critical to business stability – and there are plenty of players looking to take advantage of this gap in the market. 

The fact is that businesses, particularly fast-growth companies, need funding to survive, so if banks are not providing affordable options, these companies will be forced to look elsewhere.

Other business support options might include some of the innovative solutions I have previously written about: online banking, mobile payment support or contactless payment capability. It could even include ‘soft’ support, like Barclay’s free ‘Start-up Guide’, which it gives to new business customers.

One thing is clear – the banking industry needs to buck up its ideas and commitment to the customer if it is to fight off competition from new non-bank players.  This is especially important if banks are to support small businesses, which are increasingly happy to look elsewhere for the financial support that they require.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Paying through the Personal Area Network

Last week I wrote about my first-hand experience with Barclays Pingit App and how it failed at the final hurdle while I tried to enrol to the service; I still haven’t visited a branch to produce my documents as for me at least this defeats the whole purpose of Mobile banking.

The other day while researching I spotted Pingit was number 1 under the iTunes Finance section clocking up more than 400,000 downloads in its first 8 weeks. Why is Pingit proving so popular you may ask? I have a little theory that this is one of only a few services which verges on the use of a personal area network (PAN). PANs are computer networks organised around an individual and typically involve a mobile device; laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

Traditionally the PAN has shared our digital content around using technologies like QR codes, Bluetooth and MMS. With today’s always connected smartphone your PAN usage is rapidly expanding through to your social networks allowing you to share that content in seconds. With Pingit using the same PAN to make payments cashless, something the industry has been longing to make possible, how long until peer-to-peer payments with Pingit are conducted over Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn?

Leveraging the personal area network has its advantages but it may also introduce unforeseen problems. Pingit payments are irrevocable and final so the onus is on the consumer who needs to makes sure the details are correct. But what happens if their Pingit account's PIN is compromised? Consumers need to have confidence and know that any new payment channel has an equally developed fraud prevention tool behind it.

There are now a range of mobile payment fraud prevention tools in the market but the most secure way of accepting payments is with the use of biometrics, like the awarding winning VoicePay service. VoicePay won 'Best Security or Anti Fraud Development' at the Cards and Payments Awards this year and clearly demonstrates that voice verification is no longer science fiction. The use of a voice signature removes the need for consumers to disclose card details, account passwords or even their PIN and can provide a truly mobile experience.

As banking becomes more personal and reaches out across our digital lives, so too will our interfaces with it. With services like VoicePay it's pleasing to know that despite the technology revolution and the digitisation of banking ultimately payments through my personal network will still be as approachable as talking to my friend. After all, my word is my bond.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Internet World 2012: Is Mobile Commerce the new frontier for payments?

It was clear from attending the Internet World exhibition and seminars last week, and from speaking to a variety of people at the show, that E-commerce and more prominently M-commerce were the two big talking points of the exhibition. One of the most thought provoking seminars “Beat the Bankers. Financial Services Evolution” proved to re-iterate the fact that great innovations and advances are happening in the payment sector and not necessarily from the usual places.

One of the biggest drivers to creating these advances is the rapid adoption of smart phones and mobile commerce which are now starting to impact the way businesses make and accept payments.  For SME’s this additional payment channel is gradually becoming more accessible and now enables businesses to accept card payments directly after completing a job, using just their mobile phone.

A relatively new innovation which was very prominent at the show and is now starting to be more commonly seen is near-field communication (NFC), which is designed to support the increase of mobile payments.  NFC technology allows contactless payments to occur, and ever-more mobile phone manufacturers and operators are beginning to include NFC technology into their phones as a standard feature.

Other advances in this sector have enabled accepting payments on your mobile which currently requires either a Chip and PIN device or authorisation from an e-wallet, like PayPal or VoicePay. A business now has the ability to convert a mobile phone into a portable payment terminal, which has provided businesses with new ways to sell their products and services on the move. It has also enabled certain industries and trades to start accepting card payment where previously no such option existed.

It is clear that mobile commerce will soon move to the placement of a mobile wallet onto the phone. Customers can then top up their mobile wallet directly from their bank account, allowing them to make unlimited mobile purchases securely and with speed and ease.

So what will be next?

The real power of mobile commerce is in the enabling of customers to make instant purchases not just from a physical shop but from offline marketing material like TV ads, magazines, exhibitions and brochure ware. Using QR Codes, customers can receive both additional product details but also they can make an instant purchase using either the funds loaded onto their phone/e-wallet or by being redirected to the businesses online payment page.

The speed in which this industry is moving and the great steps that have already been taken in both the e-commerce and m-commerce space, I personally can’t wait to see what next year’s show will bring us... Instant purchase and control from anywhere with any device perhaps? Watch this space!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Security, Reliability, Accessibility -
RNIB Accessible Banking Guide Launch

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB)’s Accessible Banking Guide, which CashFlows sponsored. The year since we started working with RNIB has introduced me to the concept of accessibility and drawn to attention how sidelined blind and partially sighted people can be when it comes to ever-expanding innovations in e-commerce and mobile, particularly in shopping and making payments. 
In what was a thought-provoking event, I thought the most interesting insight of the evening came from Lesley-Anne Alexander, CEO of the RNIB.  She pointed out that the priorities for blind and partially sighted people are wanting to the ability to manage their money confidently, confidentially and with ease – all of which apply equally to the population as a whole!
So what does accessibility really mean and how does it fit in with what we do? Entering card details into an online payment page can be extremely difficult for a typical RNIB user. This is where VoicePay comes in. By associating a card with your unique ‘voice signature’, a user is able to sign for transactions just by speaking into their phone, removing many of the issues a blind or partially sighted people face and providing a more convenient solution to everyone shopping online.
The challenge with any biometric technology is in moving from a place where it is more akin to ‘Mission Impossible’ (the only reference for most people when I talk about voice biometrics!)  to a technology that is well-known and, more importantly, trusted . The core reason why I see such opportunities for voice biometrics is that it is almost unique in combining security for a business and usability for an end consumer.    
In developing accessible banking and payment solutions, some small adjustments are needed – examples on display last night included talking ATMs, easier to view online banking portals and our own voice authentication technology. We are not talking about fully alternative solutions, indeed the feedback we received on VoicePay from an RNIB user group will benefit every one of the growing number of users signing up for the service!
In the words of Rosemary Thorndycraft, an RNIB Ambassador, making small adjustments “makes you feel the same as everyone else”, which is incredibly important when coming to terms with losing your sight. If VoicePay can play a small part in helping the RNIB reach their accessibility goals, I would be exceptionally proud.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Banking innovation and the customer

Banking is not a world often associated with innovation.  If anything, banking customers have previously sought out stable and conservative banks – the ones that you can trust with your money.  Furthermore, few question their banking loyalties, happily sticking with their long-trusted bank, regardless of offers and products elsewhere.

Account switching is more prominent amongst businesses than consumers but even then, banks benefit from a high level of indifference from their customer base when it comes to moving banks.

A combination of the financial crisis and technological advances has changed this. The growth in innovative financial tools has also increased competition, with the emergence of new players looking to capitalise on business and consumer appetite for improved banking products.  But what are these tools, and how are they impacting different types of customers?

Mobile banking is comparatively new, but is already regarded by many, especially the new generation of consumers and businesses, as an essential tool.  It is not, therefore, too difficult to imagine that customers could switch banking provider in order to gain access to more user-friendly online or mobile banking solutions.
Contactless payment capability (NFC) has been long-talked about, in terms of the convenience it will provide to customers and businesses, but few banks have really put themselves out there to promote such a service on a large scale implementation.

For small businesses and the self-employed, mobile payments offer the opportunity to improve their business models; take the example of taxi drivers who can take payments via a touch pad in the back of their cabs, or plumbers who can ask customers for an immediate mobile payment, rather than send an invoice or receive a cheque.

Innovation for consumers is often the focus but small businesses can also reap the rewards of technological breakthroughs. E-invoicing, the ability to check and pay invoices online, generates both cost and time savings, improved accuracy and cash flow improvements for businesses.  Ultimately, e-invoicing offerings could be a key deciding factor for businesses when choosing a bank, for example.

It is clear that the times are changing, with a wide range of products and financial services to satisfy tech-hungry customers. It is great to see banks and financial institutions providing innovative solutions for small businesses. Everyone has a right to choose the financial services most appropriate to their needs – are banks finally realising that the customer is king?

Monday, 23 April 2012

The human voice, as game changer

Siri IconI read an interesting article in The New York Times called  'The human voice, as game changer'. Obviously it's about the human voice as you might guess from the title but what will our voice change? It's almost 30 years ago that commercial speech recognition systems became sophisticated enough to transcribe spoken words into text. Now Siri, the virtual personal assistant on the Apple iPhone 4S, has opened a whole new level of that technology.

Only a few years ago the idea of telling your mobile to send a receipt to your mum sounded like something out of a science fiction movie. Thanks to Nuance technology this is no longer a topic for a science fiction movie, it has become reality. Undoubtly this technology will be taken on by many more mobile device companies and it will change other industries thereafter. Search engines, for example, will have to reinvent themselves because services such as Siri are getting the information straight from the website and only use search engines when they cannot find the requested information.

Siri makes it easy and convenient to find a florist to order flowers for a loved one. Imagine you can go one step further. You not only find the florist you were looking for, you also order a bouquet and pay for it with your voice. The time is over where you have to carry cards around or have to rembember PINs. All you need is your mobile and an active VoicePay account to make secure payments.

While Siri's voice recognition software breaks down spoken words into sound waves and uses algorithms to identify the most likely words formed by the sounds, VoicePay goes a step further and identifies the unique signature of your voice. A voice has over 100 separate characteristics, two and a half times more than the 40 characterics a fingerprint has, which makes it one of the most secure authentication technologies available today.

While the technology is complicated VoicePay is pretty straight forward for anyone to use. The voice verification process should take no longer than 15 seconds, all you have to do is say your name and mobile number. If you want to find out more about VoicePay go to

Let's change the future of how we make payments...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Creating a Cashless World

Back at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona, Eric Schmidt the Google chairman revealed that the company had once toyed with the idea of issuing its own currency. Google Bucks, as it was to be called, was intended to be a virtual currency for peer-to-peer payments.

Google however soon discovered a mire of regulatory and legal issues which varied from territory-to-territory; governments are obviously concerned on how easy monies could be laundered within such a system. Unable to easily fulfill these requirements Google shelved their Bucks idea…

Meanwhile that very same week Barclays launches its Pingit service on the UK with Apps on iPhone, Android and Blackberry. If you haven’t heard already, Pingit gives consumers an easy way to send money to family, friends or small businesses using just a mobile number. With 20,000 downloads in the first 48 hours Pingit has certainly chimed with some consumers and has left other UK banks scrambling to launch similar services.

If that wasn’t enough last week the service was opened up to all current account holders in the UK whether they’re with Barclays or not, suddenly the service has a potential market of 93 per cent of the UK adult population.

With this is mind I signed up to Pingit in the hope of trying the service but eventually found the whole experience falling short of my expectations; although I have a current account with Barclays I chose to use Pingit with another provider, and this ultimately was my downfall.

After following the various on-screen prompts, keying in my personal details, tying the App to my phone number and the service to my current account I finally found myself dropped from the digital dream back into reality. Reason being the very last requirement before I could taste the Pingit experience was for me to take into a local branch my driving license and paper copies of bank statements.

Learning this at the end, from a user experience, is poor and will undoubtedly curb Pingit’s adoption but worse for me was knowing that this final hurdle could had been overcome using alternative digital services such as KYC Secure.

KYC Secure allows the existing manual processes that are used to meet Know Your Customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering checks (AML) to be automated, therefore reducing the need for customers to produce physical utility bills, driving licenses and passport to prove their identity.

Allowing a customer to securely validate their identity using Voice biometrics is almost a match made in heaven for Mobile orientated service like Pingit. Innovative services like KYC Secure can span the gap which Google and Barclays couldn’t bridge and I for one am looking forward to seeing peer-to-peer payments in peoples hands soon.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Mobile payments – is the public ready to trust yet?

On the surface of things, it is unsurprising that figures released this week suggest that mobile payments are the future.  KPMG predicts that global m-payment transactions will grow 97% per year, over the next three years, reaching a value of £591 billion by 2015. They are not the only ones who think this is true; business intelligence consultancy, Berg Insight, says there will be 894m worldwide users of mobile banking by 2015.

Yet, when Barclay’s Pingit, a mobile app which allows the peer-to-peer money transfer via a mobile phone, was released in February 2012, the reaction was mixed.  Naturally there was much fanfare about this innovative step; the videos showing a group of friends going out for a meal and splitting the bill with their mobiles made many wonder how we have ever survived without such a tool.  Yet the announcement also raised questions, specifically around how secure such payment methods are.

Barclays assured the public that Pingit payments are as secure as any regular banking transaction, yet public reaction remained varied.  At the time of the announcement, The Telegraph ran an online poll entitled, ‘Do you trust mobile phone banking?’ 49.05% stated that they trust this method, whilst 22.83% said no.  A significant 28.12% said they will trust mobile phone banking in the future, but they aren’t there yet.  These figures, and our experience from Internet banking, suggest that the public will come round to trusting such services, but financial institutions and telecoms companies still have to reassure and educate users.

The forecasts released this week allow us to assume that consumers will be won over in the battle between convenience and security.  It’s not hard to see why; the next generation of consumers coming through expect to be able to make real-time, cashless payments.  It is also clear when we look to other markets – in Japan about 50% of all grocery payments are already made by mobile phones – that there is public demand for this service.  Furthermore, there is the argument that mobile payments are at least as secure as any other financial transfer. In which case, once the convenience factor is demonstrated, it won’t be long before consumers start to leave behind their security worries and embrace mobile payments.

No, the public may not be ready to trust yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Cybercrime and online fraud: your tools against the fraudsters

Last week saw a number of reports released about the UK’s continued battle against cybercrime and fraud, with the financial services sector highlighted as taking the brunt of the problem.

PricewaterhouseCooper’s global economic crime survey shows that cybercrime is on the rise, accounting for 38% of economic crime incidents in the financial services industry.  The Annual Fraud Indicator from the National Fraud Authority was also released last week, with the shocking statistic that fraud in 2011/2012 cost the UK economy £73 billion.  At a time of economic hardship, Government cutbacks and a difficult trading environment, this is money that the UK can ill afford to lose.  

Such surveys will inevitably result in headlines that focus on the staggering cost of fraud in relation to the UK’s flat-lining economy, but hopefully they will also open the door to a serious discussion about how to tackle this problem.  There are a range of fraud-tackling technology solutions available and it is imperative that we all have full knowledge of the options available to us.  

Take the example of biometrics.  Biometric security in identification processes is not a new concept.  The unique nature of an individual’s fingerprints has long been recognised as an accurate form of identification.  Indeed, 50% of the public is aware of biometrics, and of those, 85% understands fingerprint technology.  But the appreciation of voice biometrics as a valid security tool is still growing.  Whereas a fingerprint has approximately 40 unique characteristics, a voice has over 100 separate characteristics, making it one of the most secure authentication technologies available.

Yes, fraud is on the rise, but the technology to combat it is ever more sophisticated.  Biometric identification is no longer a future possibility, but a realistic solution to a growing challenge, and banks, business owners and consumers alike need to recognise this, if they are to stay ahead of the fraudsters.

Friday, 30 March 2012

CashFlows big move!

CPC1 Capital Park Cambridge

Well we have all survived our first week at our new office in Capital Park in Cambridge! With such rapid growth in the number of CashFlows employees in the last few months, the move was welcomed by all who had to squeeze into our old offices. The transition was relatively smooth with no disruptions to merchants which of course was our biggest concern and we are all now seeing the potential that lies ahead in our new offices.
Within our new site we have some superb facilities, so if you are passing by let us know, and the coffee is on us!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Mobile internet: don't leave your business out in the cold

Business 2012 this year saw the UK’s best and most innovative businesses gather in London for a three day event of exhibitions, speakers and seminars.  The speakers this year gave us plenty of food for thought, with Sunday’s keynote, Richard Branson, dominating discussions and press coverage. The whole event was filled with interesting seminars on how to set up your own business, with legal and marketing workshops.  Yet, there was one seminar that particularly stuck out for me that I wish to look at in further detail.

The third day of the event saw Chris William from First 4 Apps take to the stage, to present a seminar entitled: ‘Why Businesses cannot afford to ignore mobile internet in 2012’.  It is, of course, unsurprising that an event focused on helping people to grow their businesses should place a spotlight on mobile technology.  As Chris highlighted, smart phones will shortly outsell PCs and laptops and 20 percent of online traffic comes from mobile phones.  With 15 million smart phone users, it would make no sense for a business to eliminate itself from the mobile phone market, instantly losing out on this potential customer base.

Of course, utilising mobile technology within your growth business could mean a number of things.  For a micro business, perhaps a local decorating firm, this could mean using a mobile phone as a point of sale, either via an NFC capability or a mobile payments application.  For a larger business, perhaps an independent retailer, this might be a mobile friendly website.  All of these mobile internet technologies increase a business’s ability to capitalise on this ripe market, allowing better engagement with customers and as a result, the potential to increase revenues.

Seminars like this should be compulsory for the UK’s entrepreneurs and business owners.  The payments landscape is ever-changing and so critical to driving business revenue.  Mobile phone applications, in particular, have the potential to generate strong revenue; they are unique to the business and the easier they are to use, the more likely customers are to make payments.

2012 is set to be a year of economic stagnation, but this does not mean your business needs to stand still.  Innovate, adopt mobile and stay ahead of the game.