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The Bank with a tagline: The Moments That Matter  experienced a technology ‘glitch’ (a description adopted for anything that has a wire attached, but doesn’t work) when a part of Lloyds Banking Group’s technology managed to disable some of their hundreds of thousands of customers from using debit cards and cash points over the weekend.

Apparently, two out of seven servers went down for TSB, Lloyds and Halifax customers who had cards declined in shops, and cash declined by the hole-in-the-wall.  The impact from underpinning technology problems goes beyond the Bank’s customers being let down (I’ve been there and it IS very disconcerting).

The effects ripple out into business,  with losses of sales and necessity of negotiating payment of ‘consumed’ products (i.e. petrol/meal out, etc) … out into the realms of confidence in the Bank … out, for some, even into the realms of  (for moments that matter) Customer Relationship Management .

Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF 2014 ©

With inflation falling to the Bank of England’s 2% target for the first time in four years and numbers from Bank of England Credit Conditions Survey (2013 Q4)  continuing an upward trend, the notion of  ‘positive’ outlook has (for some) been reinforced.

Could it be that Default Rates on lending to small businesses  being reported as ‘fallen significantly in Q4’,  with  medium-sized companies unchanged and large PNFC’s falling over the quarter,  was due to re-structuring of existing facilities being part of the reclassification for 2012?  Alongside a statement which shows spreads on corporate lending falling in Q4, with  ‘significant reductions’ for medium-sized companies and large PNFCs, and a slight reduction for small businesses’ it’s worthy to  question an attribution to re-structures into the figures behind the numbers.

Depending on the questions asked and the answers given some results are ‘not directly comparable’ therefore perhaps some statements are too narrow?  Maybe an insightful survey is one that focuses on the survey participants’ business attitude, their plans and strategy in achieving that objective. Would that offer a stronger perspective and wider field of vision into the UK economy or would it  tell us what’s happening in business rather than what’s happened?

Image credit: Pilot Theatre  Article credit: Copyright SUF 2014 ©

Pollex’s Up! Time Thief

Where is the human Pollex situated?

First day away from the office and, blessed crackers, I was exposed as a lazy thinker… I’d have to Google that one… I had no idea

Thinking takes practice  –  When it comes to cramming certain facts, I’ve never managed to hold the map of routes that circumnavigate burning midnight oil. Although even if I’d realised that higher intelligence (and by that I’m not referring to myself) isn’t insurance against the necessity of putting in practice, I’d still have skipped school in favour of seeing Bowie live. By the time I was a parent I hadn’t even given a thought to parenting needing practice so, as a naive parent, ‘kinaesthetic learner’  was welcomed as enthusiastically as child given a puppy for Christmas  and now, thanks to the Great God that is Google  we’re  all one click away from information overload …. and exposure to more lazy thinking.

Why bother problem solving by exploring ideas when there’s so much ‘knowledge’ readily available?  –  In business I’m sometimes as guilty as the next in giving out (accompanied by involuntarily inside mouth biting) ‘well… it depends’. The reason is (usually) simple: something is beyond my control; I have to surrender to an, in effect, legion of androgynous troopers, who waiting on the doorstep – ‘outside forces’.  For as frustrating as it can be (for all parties), I can’t always give a definitive black and white determination. But, just as I’ve experienced sufficient to realise that time is of the essence in business, I’ve also come to recognise, you’re going to have a hard time if a job isn’t done properly. Hence, I have a more frustrating time when a person emits (often with side of the mouth chew to infer they’re giving thought), ‘well… it depends’ as their camouflage for sitting on the fence – time wasting.

Ground control to Major Tom…   Can you hear me Major Tom?

Sometimes it does depend.

Without balanced thinking, pros and cons are useless  –  Take marketing  for example.  As each trend, strategy, plan, and measurement, expands, increases, decreases, the general shift  becomes, as with each element of a business’s evolution, more complex; especially when (like you and me) the customer factored in to the ROI is increasingly savvier in using online search for information, solutions and comparison. Then take what is now an elemental marketing platform, the website. Every business owner will have their own opinion about the notion that a business without a website is said to be non-existent. A website for some is easy entry into marketing, for others it can be too difficult to even consider, different perspectives, both derived from a ‘thinking’ process relevant to itself. However, the value judgement of ‘thinking’ resides in the overview, which is measured by considering the positive points of having a website and the negative points, or lesser positive. When something hasn’t been tried before, or experience tells of mistakes, messy experience, or similar, the ‘thinking’ balanced viewpoint might go along the lines of ‘it might be worthy of more information for further consideration’.Thumb

When thinking isn’t practiced surely it goes the way of any unpractised skill, meaning it can’t be put into operation from experience. Using the analogy of the well-practiced acrobat with an ability to rotate many hula hoops, all at once, quickly enough to make the hoops look as one – that’s what a Venn diagram of the scope of my service business’s crossovers would look like (elements overlapping one another, plus elements overlapping with other service businesses) –  just as other business owners’ Venns will have overlaps for how and what they operate. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s difficult to want to only direct my attention to the interesting bits of my business. The way I try to manage this tendency (and maintain direction) is to think about the decisions I have to make …. and make those decisions. And, as I don’t like to limit my thinking, the information I need mustn’t be limited or biased….

Thumb2 The point is, it’s not only the information that’s important. We all want a derivative black and white determination AND at the same time choice, alternatives to consider. The route of least resistance means that we don’t get distracted, decisions can be made quickly, time won’t run away further than it already has. Searching amongst constraints to find hidden, unobvious, possibility and informed decision making takes thinking about (time) which (as the inside of my cheek will attest), on the occasions of forces being beyond my control, can be frustrating – But as, in my experience, confident responses aren’t guarantee of certainty. Saying ‘well…. it depends’ can, depending on where you sit, be fence-sitting or thinking beyond the most likely.

 “You ask yourself not if this or that is expedient, but if it is right”  – Alan Paton

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Image credits: Celestine ChuaKevin KMarc DalmulderJin.

Article credit: Copyright SUF  2014©

The month of predictions is here… so while we get down to business…. here’s a roundup of what’s being said…

Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF 2014 ©

The Banking Reform Act, ring fencing retail and investment banking, and implementing recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking standard (including criminal offences for senior bankers misconduct), has become law.

As is said, this is just the beginning.

Although, ring-fenced banks will not be able to hold or own the capital of other non ring-fenced banks etc., it won’t be fully in force for another four years during which a new authorisation process for staff will be introduced and effectiveness reviewed.

And, a banking union plan has been agreed for managing Eurozone banks (UK plus 10 other countries are not part of the plan). The ECB (European Central Bank) has been put in charge of European Union regulation rules for banks in the Eurozone

Image credit: WetWebWork  Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2013

Businesses Break Up All The Time – Not Always for The Right Reasons

There are some get-togethers of which I’m partial to.

But, unless the invitation is from nearest and dearest, sometimes there can be a palaver of what bottle to take (are these folks wine buffs…?). For those I know better I’m usually safe in the knowledge that providing the label looks interesting, never mind the contents (don’t judge me) and, therefore the opportunity to reconnect at a family gathering is usually safer ground….. Auntie Sue can always be relied on to admonish Uncle Joe for one-too-many beers (in her unique one-too-many wines way)…. and there’s always a younger family member providing general distracting entertainment in demonstrating the latest `how to wriggle away’ from Auntie Sue’s lipstick enhanced hugs.

Over time there’s been a noticeable change synonymous with some gatherings.

There seems to have been less proud moments of proffering re-introduction to offspring last seen in a pushchair and now sporting full exhibit for Movember, and more (when enquiring about other halves) looking to the floor, feet shuffling and announcing ‘…. we’re separated/separating’. Any awkward moments of bringing the wrong bottle or giving flowers to an allergy sufferer are insignificant by comparison to these cues.

A breakdown isn’t always obvious.

Much the same process as a business’s breakdown, when connections no longer work, visible signs aren’t automatically noticeable. Broken connections in long-term life relationships have a commonality with businesses breaking down, easily going unnoticed amongst other pressures, communication is the first to be let go of. Only last week I spoke with a business manager who hasn’t seen the businesses owner on the premises for over two years!  With no obvious reason, the manager concluded (and I agree) the ‘relationship’ between owner and business was over (also manifesting as ‘relationship’ with owner and staff straining at the seams).

It’s a shock.

Any business owner drifting away from a ‘relationship’ with their business is like leaving a baby unattended – in short, risk is left unmanaged.  A symptom of realisation is anger. And, just as someone might be prepared to spend time looking at the situation, the ball has started rolling. They might be ready to take action but quicker than expected, third parties have entered. Realisation’s anger is fuelled by a compounding realisation of the reduction in informed decision making prospects. Adding frustration fuel to anger, the unwanted third party intervention is necessary as damage limitation, both parties want to take decisions but the anger often gives out confusing and conflicting information. With increased animosity…. a vicious circle starts, to which the only benefactor is ironically all too often the cause: Wasted time.

Is the end is inevitable?

With compromises, adjustments have in their core unsettling processes; some people come through their experience tired,  others stronger. Much as looking to the floor, feet shuffling and announcing  ‘…. we’re separated/separating’ can be followed by pointing to a baby covered in lipstick kisses ‘and that’s our new offspring!’  The business owner might be re-affirmed that being an employee isn’t an option.

Mitigating the blow.

We’ve all had shocks of one form or another which in hindsight can sound easier to have come through than it actually was. But, by acting upon the realisation of something not working, the blow can be lessened, leaving time for revival.  A conclusion usually starts with re-evaluation (and wound licking) – No matter how awful the realisation is that either a relationship within a business is breaking down, or that the relationship with a business is breaking down, the sooner it is acted upon the sooner the effects can be mitigated.

Carry on or act upon the realisation.

Connections in the breakdown of long-term life relationships have a commonality with businesses breaking down.

Image credit: NinaZed   Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2013

To sustain or grow business, owners need to continually invest; However, 2013 has maintained a vein of general turbulence for business… with a finale to the year (unless something else turns up before Big Ben’s midnight striking in the New Year….) on the heels of the Co-Op’s disgraced former Chairman’s scandal,  culminating in RBS being accused of deliberately wrecking viable small businesses to make profit.

My concern has always been for those businesses that were indulged by their banks, like spoilt children at a party; overeating and over-excited to the point of bursting. Then, needing support, (often feeling sick) they’d return to the bank for assistance – Only to find themselves overlooked and thrown out of the ‘house’. Good viable businesses and so-called zombie business equally hit – Any who have spoken with me over the last decade will know that the RBS story is very old news.  And now, earlier than the 2018 target, the Bank of England has been asked to review its powers over the banks’ balance sheets – the Leverage Ratio – to rein in risk-taking banks.

With access to finance via traditional bank funding still having barriers, businesses have done well to keep their heads above water. So will the 2014 opening of The British Business Bank  offer some innovation as an institution? Or will dependence on its infrastructure Velcro it to the various other Government initiatives which have had little impact in their contribution to accessing working capital or asset purchase?

2014 will be interesting to watch as a juncture to continued ‘extreme’ risk aversion.   The Banking Reform Bill  (in the House of Lords) with its measurements to ‘improve’ bank governance is to come into effect.  One element proposed to enter the Bill is the criminal offence of ‘reckless misconduct in the management of a bank’ (should a senior banker’s behaviour fall below that which could be ‘reasonably expected’).  That could be an interesting one – We all run our businesses in the belief that we’re doing the right thing at the time (to run our businesses) and, banks being businesses will probably counter the same argument. Which, considering the few spot-the-differences in the 5+ years since the financial carnage, there’s probably plenty of time  for those at high levels to haul this one around before  any movement is seen in the management culture of those lofty level bankers.

Analysis Paralysis 2014?

Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2013

 

With the reality of business economics being under increased pressures, the debate on the sustainability of small businesses will continue.

There is no silver bullet for businesses with models at tipping points; competition and alternative channels, profit margins and budgetscash-flow  and supply chains, each have an impact on the demand. Customers want convenience and efficiency all wrapped up in value with an added smiley face.

But there is no doubt, not adapting to all those demands will only place a business in jeopardy to altered trading conditions.

Small companies that have become reliant on systems (including their banks) believing that their business is safe are, in general, unrealistic. By optimising opportunity and developing strategy  businesses assist themselves in being complicit in managing business.

Implementing change for improvement creates transformation and can build the necessary confidence for business decision making when there is any uncertainty.

Image credit: Jan   Article credit: Copyright © SUF 2013


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