Friday, 27 September 2013

Is the future of shopping, T-commerce?

Recent reports show that UK shopping habits are changing and we are now making more and more purchases not on the high street at the weekend but sitting in our lounge.

With the increase in internet enabled TV's, the television is entering an entirely new era, with additional opportunities for advertising, marketing, revenue generation, and viewer participation.

A recent report from Conlumino suggests that up to ¼ of UK consumers will make online purchases from interactive TVs before the end of 2014, this is known as T-commerce.

T-commerce allows TV-viewers to respond directly to offers delivered on their TV screens, and instantly purchase products by using their existing remote controls and set-top boxes. But T-commerce goes further than just selling products via the television. With the additional customer interaction that you would not get from any other channel, you can get instant feedback from the viewer meaning an immediate response for the merchant. You can also deliver additional information on products, services or events directly from the content they are watching on the television.

The television is becoming a powerful commerce channel enabling merchants to sell over television and a lower cost than before.

To help stay ahead of the curve and develop an e-commerce platform ready for T-commerce, we recommend:
  1. TV apps
    Many of the Smart TV manufactures now offer software development kits (SDKs) enabling developers to create application designed for the TV. With this ability to develop applications merchants could create extensions of an online catalogue, greater social sharing experience, video-content marketing, or even games that introduce users to a their products.
  2. Responsive design
    Responsive design is a website philosophy and technique focused on giving users the best possible experience relative to their device — be it a smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer. With much of the focus for responsive design to work on small device screens, merchant websites should now also focus on the larger HD TV screens to optimize a website for television viewing.
  3. Piggyback on existing marketplace
    Many of the large marketplaces, like eBay or Amazon, have already started to enter the t-commerce space, therefore to get you started place some of your products on their marketplaces and piggyback on their system like the  “Watch with eBay” application.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Online Fraud: Is Your Business Safe?

As the internet continues to develop into the most viable channel of commerce for many businesses, the risk of payment fraud remains to be a growing concern. Risk of fraud may be more evident in businesses that offer higher-value products; however, fraudsters don’t usually discriminate, which makes all online businesses potential targets. This can create serious financial repercussions for your business; with fraud estimated to cost an average of £500 per year and in some cases as much as £25,000, according to a recent E-business Benchmark Report.

Utilising the latest fraud screening tools is imperative as your business will be held liable for any fraudulent transactions. UK businesses use a range of different tools to combat the various cyber fraud threats including: card verification value (CVV2), 3D Secure, and address verification system (AVS). When searching for a merchant services provider, look for these tools to be included in their offering.

Incorporating the above fraud screening tools into your payment processes can help shift the liability of fraudulent charges to the customers’ card issuer. Otherwise, your business risks losing money to chargebacks from the customers issuing bank. Despite chargebacks being relatively inexpensive, too many can result in either increased merchant account rates or being dropped by your merchant services provider altogether.

To protect your business and customers from fraud, here are five key things to consider:
  • Adhere to the PCI Data Security Standards. These standards provide the structure, support, and materials for handling cardholder information and developing a secure transaction process. Your merchant services provider should be able to assist your business in becoming PCI compliant.
  • Incorporating a 3D Secure check into the transaction process. 65% of fraudulent transactions in the UK during 2011 occurred when the card was not present, and businesses had no way of verifying the person making the transaction is actually the card holder. 3D Secure requires online shoppers to input a password which provides an additional level of authentication
  • Cross-check the given telephone number and delivery address with the billing address. This can be done through an address verification system (AVS) or other third-party systems (e.g., Equifax, Avoid shipping to an address that is different from the billing address.
  • Manually review unusual transactions to identify if they may be fraudulent. Common cases include:
    • Purchases that vastly exceed the average value of your businesses’ normal orders
    • Requests to ship orders outside your own country
    • A customer who orders more than once in a given day
    • A customer who refuses to confirm their credit/debit card and billing address details
    • An existing customer who suddenly orders a substantial volume of goods
  • Display details of your returns/refund policy on your website. Honour the policy, and respond quickly to customer queries. This could help your business reduce the number of disputes and chargebacks you may receive.
Whether your business uses the internet as an additional sales channel or is solely e-commerce, the above considerations will help your business mitigate the risk of fraudulent transactions. It will also ensure that your customers’ credit/debit card and other sensitive information will be safeguarded when making a transaction. Take careful consideration in choosing your merchant services provider as they should be an effective partner in reducing fraud and helping your business grow.

Friday, 28 June 2013

How to Take Control of your Cash Flow

With British businesses being hung out to dry when it comes to the recurring issue of late payments, it’s no wonder that hopes continue to fade for recovery of the current financial climate. Legislation to reduce payment terms and bind in the contracted parties still doesn’t formally or legally exist, and has adversely affected the cash flows of businesses all across the UK.

A recent survey by BACS Payment Scheme found that 44% of SMEs are currently experiencing issues with late payment, waiting on average 38 days for payment after the agreed terms. With the recovery from the recession widely reported to be hinging on the prosperity of UK SMEs, these issues must be resolved before we continue to see more downward pressure on everyone’s margins.

So how can businesses become proactive towards handling payment issues? Signing up to the Prompt Payment Code, which is a government scheme of commitment to timely payment and encouragement of best practice between organisations and their suppliers, would be a good place to start. However, more can be done by individual businesses to implement the aims of the payment code.

How can this be achieved? Provided below is some guidance that will help your business improve its own financial position and speed up cash flow:
  • Commitment to the best payment practices outlined in the Prompt Payment Code will put pressure on large suppliers to change their buying behaviour and minimise the bargaining power they currently exert over SMEs.
  • Consolidation of payment services through a single provider will speed up settlement times and reduce the hassle of managing multiple relationships and reconciliations.
  • Selecting a merchant acquirer who prioritises prompt settlement of funds from card payments will enable your business to access those funds more quickly.
  • Using an electronic invoicing service can be far more efficient than traditional paper invoicing for both you and your customers to make and receive payments. Invoices can be settled instantly online, allowing your business to get paid faster.
  • Ensure that your business has the ability to accept payments through your customer’s preferred payment method. Electronic payments are fast becoming the norm, so it is important that you possess a variety of payment acceptance facilities.
Amending your businesses’ financial processes in conjunction with the aforementioned guidelines will boost your cash flow and inspire confidence in both your customers and suppliers. Certainty of payment is essential for staying afloat in this time of recovery, and will create numerous opportunities for growth throughout your supply chain. If you are to prevail through these rough economic times, your business must be proactive in creating a positive change in the way payments are handled and processed.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Business Support – are you feeling it?

One of the biggest aspirations for most businesses is to grow. This at times can seem like an unachievable task, especially in a climate fraught with barriers and limited support. So the question I ask is, does there need to be more support to help guide businesses through the murky waters to growth?

It is clear when speaking to businesses that there is a definite gap in the providers of support and advice being given to SMEs. If you need business advice and guidance, where do you go? The banks, who have traditionally been seen as a reliable source of business support have reduced the decision making power of their bank managers, - or in some cases removed them altogether - leaving businesses to fend for themselves when it comes to sourcing the right financial services for their businesses.

Just one example of this, which highlighted the issue of awareness, or lack thereof, of government lending schemes, came after a conversation with Alan Todd, Director of Cambridge Business Advisers. He made a very good point that “There’s still little knowledge of what Government schemes can offer. Despite all the money that is going into the various schemes there has been little promotion of the schemes themselves. The two examples of Start Up Loans and grants to manufacturing companies – often SMEs are totally unaware these exist. Going back a few years, organisations like Business Link and its advisor network would have been advising local companies on what support was available. Business Link has now all but disappeared; it’s just a website. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills now has to consider how they communicate with SMEs.”

This just goes to prove that even in an area as crucial as advice on sources of business finance, there is a serious lack of knowledge share transferred to businesses. This is seen right through to lack of more general business advice, with a recent FSB survey showing that 37% of businesses go to friends and families for support and guidance, as they don’t know where to turn. Of course, the people they’re speaking to are likely not trained professionals with vast years of experience in managing and running a business, so are usually not the most reliable source of information!

There are however some companies who are seeing this unnecessary and potentially fatal gap for businesses and filling the void. Just one example is the business advisory group IBD who offer a full business advice service for businesses of all sizes. These type of companies are going to be crucial in not only providing support for businesses now, but also in bringing about change at a higher government level to ensure businesses are better served in the future.

CashFlows is also stepping up to the plate by creating a Business Growth Guide. This is full of information and top tips for online business or those thinking of using e-commerce as an additional sales channel. Check out the business growth guide here.

It is clear that more needs to be done to support businesses in their struggle for growth, and offering useful and intuitive advice is what is desperately needed. The government has the power to change and improve the support system for businesses, and this needs to be a priority, or the economic growth targets will not be achieved.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Putting The Brakes On British Business

I wrote a blog last month that spoke about the unnecessary friction within our industry and the simplicity that all of us who shop online crave. Having taken some time to think about this, I’ve come to realise that this friction isn’t just for consumers but is also prevalent for businesses in their dealings with financial services providers.

Let me give you one example. A new business wanting to sell online will require both a merchant account (for accepting card payments) and a business bank account. Simple? However, all but one of the banks have sold off their merchant account divisions. So what impact does this have? Well, it means two separate application forms (most likely paper), two sets of separate correspondence to keep up with and (more often than not) two, three, four, five, even six weeks before their accounts are approved and you're ready to trade. Throw in a web developer, accounting software a shopping cart and that’s enough friction to start a bonfire!

Once up and running, things don’t get any easier. You start growing and see a potential customer base in Europe, so want to open a Euro account. Repeat the above process all over. You want to integrate your expense reports and payroll into your banking? Best of luck, you’ll need it! Want to see the sum total of your business transactional activity in one place to save you time and hassle? You’d better be good at Excel or know someone who is!

I’ve previously written about new entrants into financial services and the success they’ve had in shaking up the market. One of the inherent advantages these providers bring is the speed at which they make decisions and can adapt to business’s needs. Clearly there are regulatory requirements that cannot and should not be avoided in setting up and managing business bank accounts. Sometimes though, innovation should be simply about solving the real issues that customers have, rather than creating solutions to problems that don’t exist.

Consolidation within the UK financial services industry has caused many of the banks to sell off their merchant account division together with other services deemed peripheral. Unfortunately the requirements to source these same services remain identical for businesses wanting to trade online. Business owners have no real love for their financial services provider – and after the last five years, who can blame them? – but it’s difficult to disagree with the argument that they are being short changed by cumbersome processes and legacy systems that at best are an irritant and, at worst, result in unnecessary friction turning into the brakes being clamped onto a business’ growth.

Any financial service provider who can remedy these issues truly would be innovating.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Rise of the Alternative Payment Solutions

With consumer behaviours rapidly evolving, the ability to choose how, when, and where to pay for goods and services has never been so important. As alternative forms of payment are emerging, a flexible approach to accepting payments is vital to the customer shopping experience. Whether it is online, mobile, e-wallets, or contactless payment acceptance channels, businesses have opportunities to generate increased sales by offering these options to their customers.

The global economy has seen significant growth from the emergence of electronic payments, with additions of over $983 billion between 2008 and 2012 according to a recent Moody’s report. This can be attributed to increased convenience, greater access to an increasing number of channels, and guaranteed payments for both consumers and businesses. The content below is to inform you on methods of alternative payment used by consumers that should be considered by your business:

Online: E-commerce has driven significant economic growth in the UK, with contributions by this channel to the GDP expected to reach £225 billion by 2016 according to a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group. Accepting online payments through your website will provide your customers with a convenient, secure way to pay for goods and services with just a few clicks of their mouse. Online payment processing can be integrated with your business bank account, making it easier to reconcile your funds and accelerate your cash flow.

Mobile: Developments in mobile commerce have allowed businesses to offer improved access to their products and services via mobile apps making it easy for consumers to make payments on their mobile devices. Consumers can now make purchases anytime and anywhere, without sacrificing efficiency and security. Businesses can also take advantage of mobile Point of Sale solutions allowing them to accept card payments whilst they are on the move.

Electronic Invoicing: Electronic invoicing is a highly efficient way to accept payments from your customers, accelerating the speed of incoming payments and reducing the time and hassle of chasing customers. It will enable your business to track and manage your invoices and balances, while also dramatically reducing the time and costs associated with invoicing. Look for a solution that is integrated with your credit card processing for easier management and quicker access to your funds.

E-Wallet: Electronic wallets are used for online and mobile purchases where a customer can securely save their credit or debit card details, automating the order form process. This eliminates the need to re-enter card details when making multiple purchases, and can be accessed by password, PIN, or even voice biometrics. Protecting the contents within the e-wallet is the responsibility of the e-wallet provider, allowing you to avoid situations regarding mishandled or misused customer information.

Contactless Cards: Although they can only be used in a physical store, contactless cards allow consumers to make low-value purchases quick and easy by just placing their card in front of the card reader. Contactless provides a more efficient transaction process, allowing you the opportunity to serve more customers through reduced queues.

Flexibility towards emerging and alternative payments can become a huge asset for your business. Only accepting cash and cheques will limit how and when you can serve your customers, and will put you in a competitive disadvantage to those businesses that have already embraced the emerging technologies. Prepare your business for the future, and adapt to customer expectations. You don’t want to be in a position where you are scrambling to catch up.

Written by: Ronnie Kondub

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Unnecessary friction with businesses cash flow

One of the interesting things about industry conferences is when guest speakers, who, free of the baggage carried by most of the attendees, tell you exactly what your customers want based on evidence, empirical data and examples from success stories from other industries. Whether these opinions tally with your own product and development road map is another matter and is a topic best left to another day!

At the Visa Insights conference last month, there were two such examples. David Rowan, Editor of Wired magazine, was clear in his belief that the buzz words among businesses and consumers when it comes to payments are ‘friction free’. Apple and Amazon already lead this; everyone else is playing catch up. This got me thinking about what ‘friction free’ would actually mean to businesses.  
Most likely, they would agree with an earlier speaker from Facebook that ‘3D Secure – the process whereby a cardholder goes through an extra step of verification for online purchases – was a good idea at the time. That time has passed.'  They would probably also comment that it’s all very well one part of their payment cycle working smoothly but if the remainder remains trapped in a web of bureaucracy, slow processes and systems that don’t talk to each other, it’s irrelevant anyway.

Increasing competition in financial services is a concept much lauded by government, trade groups and regulators alike. In the business lending space, the likes of Funding Store, iwoca and Platform Black are harnessing business demand and clever technologies to provide genuinely innovative lending services to SMEs that are being taken up rapidly. In transactional banking though, the reverse is true – competition has actually decreased in the last ten years. The banks (who still control 91% of the UK market by the way) have bought up smaller rivals and new players are put off by the complexity, cost and the high degree of regulation. Surprise, surprise, the victims of this are UK SMEs continue to suffer from slow cash flow, difficult access to lending and the perception that there is a real lack of support for their business.
So, having laid out the issue, what exactly would ‘frictionless’ mean for a typical UK business. My own view is that this would mean being able to use all the services they need to make and accept payments from one account. This account provides timely and detailed reporting and can easily fit with their accounting package. They have the ability to pay or be paid by any customer or supplier around the world, they know where their payment is and their cash flows freely. Is that really so much of an insight?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Broaden your business horizons

In amongst all the reports of a never ending tough economic climate for businesses, there are still some big opportunities out there that, if taken, can make a big impact on your business. This is supported by the aspiration of the 6 in 10 businesses that are targeting growth for their business for the next 12 months, according to a recent FSB survey.

With that in mind, here is a round-up of the top financial and business opportunities to support SMEs as we see them:

Funding schemes – There have been many changes and introductions of Government backed schemes for SMEs, designed to boost growth. These include: Community Development Finance, Enterprise Finance Guarantee, Business Finance Partnership, Start-up Loans, Regional Growth Fund (RGF), Growing Places Fund and EU funded sources of Finance. Depending upon your business, you may be eligible for several of these schemes, so if you are looking into start-up or additional sources of funding, they are well worth looking into.

Going global – Many businesses are seeing the rewards of entering into overseas markets, which allows them to both diversify their business and broaden their potential customer base. When looking at international opportunities, businesses will need to carry out considerable planning and research before attempting this step but support is close to hand. The UK Export Finance and UK Trade and Investments are government departments dedicated to providing support to UK exporters on all topics of international trade including financing solutions and are a good starting point for advice.

Government programmes – There are a number of government backed schemes that have been introduced to support the UKs SMEs. The Growth Accelerator scheme is a £200m programme aiming to help 26,000 SMEs over 3 years to overcome barriers to growth. In addition a further trade-specific example is the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS), a national service to support manufacturing businesses grow by providing experienced advisors.

Changes in buying channels – As you know, consumers are moving towards online and mobile methods to browse and shop, with internet retail sales estimating to grow from £28.3bn in 2011 to £33.7bn by 2015 according to a recent report. There are many ways you can incorporate these channels into your business with little hassle including a payment app on your smartphone to allow you to take payment on the move, or having an online shop to allow your customers to purchase your goods and services online using any device. Ensuring your business develops in line with your customer’s behavioural changes will be key to securing new customers and retaining existing business.

New technology – There are continuous advances in new payment technologies that if implemented correctly can be key in supporting your business to grow and potentially save you money. These technologies can range from streamlined e-invoicing to enable your business to get paid quicker and accelerate cash flow, to creating a mobile app to reach a considerably wider customer base. The size of the opportunity created will depend upon the scale and purpose of the technology and how you choose to use it within your business. Looking at ways to use payment technology to streamline your finance systems will make a huge difference in time spent running the day to day elements of your business, as well as save you valuable money on fees and unnecessarily high monthly fees.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Post-Budget Blues for Businesses

Another budget goes by and commentators are still picking over the bones of the Chancellor’s announcement. As it is to be expected, spin and hubris emerges from all the expected channels but cutting to the heart of the message, it looks like 2013 will be seen as a good budget for small businesses, with the cuts in corporation tax and National Insurance being nearly universally welcomed.

Taking the budget in isolation, not many would disagree with John Walker from the FSB that this helps ‘businesses grow and create jobs’ but is this really enough to resolve the years of apathy, neglect and mistreatment many small businesses have suffered over the last five years? Who is to blame for this malaise can – and will – be hotly debated right into the next election and is certainly a complex picture. Looking at things from within the Financial Services industry, a clear and uncomfortable hypothesis has emerged:

The Global Financial Crisis and the subsequent Financial Services ‘overhaul’ may ensure that the big banks are more resilient BUT it has only made life more difficult for the average UK small business. 

Think about it. The payment issues faced by SMEs – late payments, increased fees and unavailability of credit - are getting worse whilst many sectors are facing a collapse in demand as their customers tighten their belts. In parallel, banks have begun divesting many of their business units to third parties, either for commercial reasons or because the government has their foot firmly on their throats!

To give just one example of what this means for a UK SME - you’d have thought that a business deciding to accept credit and debit cards via a merchant account from their website would require a single call to their bank who would arrange to set up this facility within a couple of days. Not so. All but one bank has sold off their card processing arms.

This means a call to a completely new company, a lengthy application process of 4-6 weeks and once you have the merchant account and it bears nothing in common with their business current account they already have. Double the number of accounts the business has to manage, double the reconciliation, double the hassle and – more likely than not – double the costs!

Throw in other financial services that a an SME may require like loans, corporate card programmes, currency services and the network of suppliers quickly becomes unmanageable. There’s a clue in our name but we believe that cash flow truly is the most important (two) words for any business and yet the status quo only serves as blocks to businesses accessing their money.

Over the next few issues, we will be investigating the payments issues facing British SMEs and how the market is shaping up to help ... or hinder ... them in their quest to make their businesses grow. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your opinions and suggestions on what businesses like ours should be doing to help SMEs. Join the debate at @cashflows_news

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Part 3 – So how does an e-commerce payment work?

In the third installment of our new to e-commerce series of blogs, we thought the natural next step for this week would be to explore exactly how an e-commerce payment works.

We know it is important for a business to understand and be able to manage every process it goes through, and the journey of a payment is no different. By understanding the route a payment takes from your customer to your bank account it enables you to highlight any potential hold ups in this process, which ultimately means a better buying experience for your customers and faster cash flow for your business.

So in order to dispel the mystery surrounding the path of a payment, we have outlined this process below so you can start to cut through some of the jargon that you may hear.

Accepting credit or debit cards from your website goes through a number of different stages that are described below. These steps debit your customer's account and pay the funds into your bank account.

  • Company website: the online shopper adds a product/service that they wish to purchase into the websites shopping basket. Once the customer is ready to a make a purchase they go to the website checkout. The purchase details are then sent to a Payment Gateway to process the payment.
  • Payment Gateway: the shopper is directed to the Payment Gateway where they choose a payment method and enter their payment details. The Payment Gateway sends the payment details to the business's Merchant Account provider, who sends them via the card schemes to the shoppers card issuing bank for authorisation.
  • Card Issuer: the card issuer will check if the card details are correct, the cardholder's account has sufficient funds and that the card hasn't been reported lost or stolen. If everything is OK, the card issuing bank authorises the payment requested, and debits those funds from the shopper's bank account.
  • Payment confirmation: the confirmation of the payment is sent to the Payment Gateway, which notifies the shopper and the business that the payment has been authorised - normally via a confirmation screen and an email. Businesses should only dispatch goods to the shopper once they have received notification of the payment's authorisation.
  • Merchant Account: the funds for the purchase are then sent from the shopper's card issuer, to the business's Merchant Account. This can take 1-2 days to show in the Merchant Account.
  • Business Bank account: from the Merchant Account, the funds are paid into the business's bank account, normally with a short delay that's specified by the Merchant Account provider. The Merchant Account provider will deduct the cost associated with processing the payment with the card schemes - normally a small percentage of the value of a credit card transaction or a flat fee for a debit card.
The journey of a payment is just one small element in the financial set up and running of a business, however if it is understood and streamlined then it can make a significant positive impact to a businesses cash flow.

Friday, 8 March 2013

How to avoid the pitfalls of E-commerce! Part 2

As promised, here is your second instalment of guidance CashFlows has created on e-commerce and how your business can make the most of it.

Hopefully by now you will have had time to read last week’s blog post on what you should know before taking your business online? We thought this would be a great place to start our journey of guidance through the sometimes tricky world of e-commerce.

So where next? As the flipside to top tips before starting to sell online, we thought we would explore the common pitfalls that businesses fall foul of when setting up and running a business online to hopefully stop you from making those same mistakes!

So what are the common pitfalls and how to avoid them?

  • Poor marketing: internet and mail order start-up costs can be low compared to conventional retail, but you must ensure you market your business effectively or you will not make a profit. There are many ways you can achieve this without having a large budget, including:
    • Content driven marketing: This includes creating impartial useful content aimed at your target customers in the form of whitepapers, infographics and top tip guides.
    • Social media: This is also a great way of interacting with your customers, but make sure you don't fall into the trap of spreading yourself too thin, identify which sites are most applicable for your business and concentrate on them or you are in danger of creating content on sites that don’t contain your target audience and you just create irrelevant noise! 

  • Poor stock management and fulfillment: a customer places a lot of trust in your business when ordering online that they will receive it in the timeframe and condition you state. Ideally your website should be linked to a back office stock control system so when a product runs out, it will automatically be clear to customers on your website so you’re able to manage their expectations. Equally important, you should avoid overstocking, buying equal amounts of similar products regardless of their sales potential as this will just create an unnecessary backlog of products.

  • Failure to meet customer service requirements: unless you deliver on time and have good practices and procedures for handling returns and customer complaints, you won't win repeat business and could cause unnecessary and time-consuming disputes.  Ensure you are always honest and clear with your customers on your website so that they enjoy a consistently positive and memorable customer experience. Make sure you also display your terms and contact information clearly on your website so customers know what to expect, which will help to and reduce the amount of complaints. This also helps protect your business in the event of disputes arising over non-delivery.

  • Not asking enough questions at the start: This is the biggest pitfall that many businesses fall into when starting an e-commerce business is not asking enough questions from all suppliers and providers who will be effecting their business. Knowing what terms you have, what the penalties will be to exit from a provider, what your monthly fees will be, what flexibility you have to grow with a provider are all key questions you need to be asking before signing any contract whether it is for a shopping cart or a business bank account. The more questions you ask the more you know whether that provider is right for your business, so it pays to be pedantic!

Look out for next week’s instalment!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

What should you know before taking your business online? Part 1

Setting up an e-commerce business or taking your existing business online is a must for growing businesses seeking to attract new customers. However with a whole host of information and different suppliers out there to choose from, it can seem a daunting task. But fear not – we have created a two part blog that will share some top tips and common pitfalls to help you navigate the sometimes tricky task of taking your business online.
Here are our top tips to E-business success…
  • Plan – ensure you research who you will be using for e-commerce services such as: website hosting, payment gateway and merchant account provider, which you will need to process payments from your website. Being able to select one provider for all services should not only save you costs but also minimise the hassle involved.
  • Look after your customers – when you aren't face to face with your customers, the customer experience is even more crucial. You need to ensure you use clear and concise language on your website, be realistic about delivery timescales and ensure your site is a true reflection of your business and products and services.
  • Ensure your website is seen – lots of new online businesses don't think about how potential customers are going to locate their website. Online advertising using banner ads and PPC adverts on search engines are the quickest way to get visitors to your site, however they are costly and require full time management. Also you need to make sure you are up to date with the latest website SEO trends that can help customers find your website easier.
  • Website usability and content – it is important that potential customers can find what they are looking for on your website as if they can’t they won't stay on your site or re-visit. To do this, ensure you plan your websites navigation and layout and ask potential users to test it in advance to make sure it is easy and appealing. Keeping your content fresh and accurate will also encourage customers to return.
  • Tackle fraud – if your customer’s details are used fraudulently on your website you will be responsible for refunding them. So it is very important to protect your business and your customers from fraud. There are many steps you can take including extra security measures on your website, strict fraud and delivery policies and close monitoring of the transactions and orders placed on your site.

Look out for part 2 next week which will cover the common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A Guide to Transfering Money Abroad: Part 2

Following on from last week’s blog, this time around we will be looking at the options to send money abroad from a business perspective.
If you think more choices for businesses make things easier, think again! There are so many options out there that offer varying services and rates that making the right choice can be quite tricky.
Most businesses will turn to their bank first, as the obvious choice of partner. However there are substantial savings to be made if they spend some time researching other providers and selecting the one that offers the best possible deal.
The costs largely depend on how much you want to send, where you are sending (whether inside or outside the EU), how often and how quickly you want the funds to reach your chosen destination.
Most banks offer international payments platforms as well as options to send money abroad. Here again is where the cost will vary tremendously, and sometimes will even double depending on how you wish to send the payment (online, by telephone or in a branch) or if you choose to send an international draft or open an international bank account (also known as an offshore account).
The elements you want to compare when looking at providers are the following:
  • Cost of Single Euro Payment Area payments (within the EU)
  • Cost of international payments (falling outside of the EU)
  • Monthly payments or maintenance fees for business accounts
  • Exchange rates (this changes at a regular basis so you want to keep track)
Before transferring money abroad, always remember that both you and the beneficiary (the person receiving payments) may have to pay some transfer fees, so you need to establish this up front and agree who pays with the receiver. If fees are paid from both sides, you will need to choose the option that will be most cost-effective for both parties.
Companies can also use business credit or debit cards to pay suppliers when traveling abroad. In most cases, you can use your card abroad as you would do at home and this can be cheaper than sending money overseas.  Prepaid cards with special deals on foreign exchange that I talked about last week are also a good option for businesses, as well as consumers, traveling overseas.
If you cannot get a competitive service through a high street bank, you still have the option to use a foreign currency specialist.  Most of the advice given last week pertinent to consumers is also applicable to businesses: compare the different providers out there to ensure you uncover any commission costs, as well as comparing the actual foreign exchange rates used.
This leads us to our top tips for businesses sending money abroad:
  1. Do you research and make sure you get the best exchange rate, lower transfer fees and uncover any other fees that aren’t immediately obvious
  2. When possible check if the company you are using is regulated by the FSA or not. This means that for large transfers, should the company handling your payments suddenly go bust, you will be able to get your money back.
  3. Ensure you are clear on which party (you or the recipient) is responsible for the payment of fees and charges.
  4. Compare! Compare! Compare!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Guide to Transfering Money Abroad: Part 1

With the deadline for companies to adopt the Single Euro Payment Area (SEPA) payment format fast approaching and the omnipresence of money transfer providers both online and offline, it is clear that this is a subject that cannot be covered in one blog. As a result this will be one of a two part blog that will explore the best options for transferring money abroad from both consumer and business perspectives.

If you are escaping the UK winter weather on a sunny holiday or simply sending money abroad to friends and family: what are the best options available to you?

The first thing that comes to mind when talking about money transfer is charges, which are generally summarised by the fees or commission you pay to the company performing the conversion and the exchange rates. It is important to bear these in mind as once added they can make transfers very expensive.

The other factors to take into consideration are the different methods of transfers that can be used. Here is a quick summary of the types of methods that are available:

  • Instant cash transfer: useful for short and urgent money requirement (to send to a member of family in need for example). Not necessarily the cheapest but probably one of the quickest ways to transfer money abroad
  • Foreign currency brokers: these companies specialise in currency conversion and there are many of these online or present in tourist areas. Unless you’re in a rush, make sure you compare several before handing over your money as the difference in the amount  received in your chosen currency can be huge depending on the fees previously mentioned
  • Credit card purchases abroad: in some situations these can be cheaper, based on the exchange rate which is often reasonable although many credit card issuers levy one-off charges and an additional percentage for such transactions, resulting in them being more expensive than cash
  • Pre-paid currency cards: these are fast becoming a cheap and secure alternative to travel money as they are denominated in the currency of your destination currency so there are no foreign exchange fees to worry about and often extremely good exchange rates when you are transferring funds onto the card. The following site is useful for comparing prepaid currency cards:

So if the January blues have caught up with you or if you merely want to help a friend in need by sending them money abroad, ensure you do your research and follow our top tops to get the most out of your money:

  1. Compare overseas online money transfer methods (including transfer fees and how quickly the transfer can take place). Please refer to a comparison site like:
  2. Request a quote from all accessible Foreign Exchange providers to get the best exchange rate possible
  3. Check if there is a minimum spend requirement or any commission that will be charged – often exchanging more gives a better exchange rate
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t do anything you are not comfortable with.  Speaking from personal experience, I have recently declined a debit card money transfer transaction. A particular bureau de change had in print and on their record all my personal details (card number, registered address, security code, expiry date). I felt very uneasy, so I cancelled the transaction. So be vigilant and do not give away more information than you really need to!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Reducing the pain of payment processing

As we are all aware, e-commerce is fast becoming the preferred shopping channel for both consumers and businesses, accounting for 16.9% of the total sales in 2012, according to Index.

With businesses placing more emphasis on this channel, increased revenue and usage will be seen. However this good news, also results in growing costs of running these payment services, which include ever-increasing: transaction charges, gateway fees and merchant account monthly fees.

But fear not! There are steps you can take to help minimise your monthly bill and still have a payment service offering that supports and enhances your business.

Here are our top 5 tips to consider to reduce your payment processing fees:
  1. Switch and save: In January especially, many payment processors will be offering introductory offers to get you to switch to their service. These may include reduced monthly fees, reduced transaction and gateway fees, reduced or waived point of sale monthly fees, creating a very compelling argument to switching provider.
  2. Price can be negotiated: Even though you may think your current payments processor is offering you the best rates, it is always worth challenging them to see if you can negotiate the price you are paying. Even if they can’t reduce your processing fees they may be able to offer you additional services as part of your current package.
  3. Integrated services: When researching alternative providers, an important factor to consider is whether they offer an integrated service. This can be by offering your payment services integrated into one management system or by only having to go through one provider for all your services. If you have an integrated service it will save you valuable time when reconciling your accounts, and will crucially give you more access and control over your cash flow.
  4. Research new solutions: With all the changes in the payment sector, new solutions are constantly being developed and released to support businesses. Some of these new solutions can help in reducing your payment processing bill, including mobile payment solutions that enable you to take payment ‘on the go’ without the cost of a standard bulky card processing machine.
  5. Bundled packages: It can be very useful to carry out a review of the areas you are incurring the most cost on your payment processing, as there may be savings you can make by adapting your package or going onto a bundled pricing package where you pay a single rate for multiple services.
If you are considering switching payment processing processor as part of reducing your monthly bill, have a look at our 10 reasons to switch article and our guide to switching.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Tis the season to be switching

Top of the New Year’s resolution list for many businesses will be to drive down their costs by switching their core services. Electricity supplier, mobile phone contract, stationery provider are all up for grabs. Yet, in this rush for savings, card processing services are often overlooked. It has been notoriously difficult in times gone by to change financial services providers – as Ed Balls put it, individuals are more likely to change their spouse than their bank account!

So is it really that complicated to switch your card processing?  No, it’s not but, frankly, companies offering card processing don’t make it easy! 
We can’t even agree on what we call the services (acquiring, card acceptance, merchant services, credit and debit card processing) let alone how the charges are named (Merchant Service Charge, transaction fee, merchant discount rates!) 
Add to this a diverse range of services being offered and the perceived hassle of switching which can be quite a technical challenge, and it’s no wonder the reaction of most business owners is to glaze over and shy away from looking at switching their payments provider.
That, however, would be a mistake. The good news for businesses is that it’s really not that complicated to save money on your card processing by following a few simple tips. During January 2013, CashFlows will be helping you decipher the jargon associated with accepting credit and debit cards from your website and understand what to look for in a new deal. Top of our list are some key do's and don'ts: 
·        Check the key prices of any provider to make sure you really are getting a saving, particularly:
o   Set Up Fee
o   Monthly Fee
o   Merchant Service Charge (a percentage for credit card transactions, a flat fee for debit card transactions)
·        If you need support re-integrating a new service, make sure you get a dedicated Relationship Manager, who can guide you through the process
·         Stay on the lookout for promotional offers at this time of year – this can include waived monthly fees or savings guarantees
·         Don’t accept being told that it’ll take 3-4 weeks to set up a new account  
·         Don’t assume that the bank that provides your business banking service will offer the best deal on your card processing
·         Don’t pay any kind of set-up fee – why should your business be penalised for switching your card processing?
At this time of year, many businesses will get an unpleasant surprise when they see their December card processing statement and realise how much they are shelling out each month to accept credit and debit cards. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be providing some insider information to help you source the best deal and with a bit of persistence, you can kick-off 2013 with some savvy switching and sensational savings!