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Carving a Story: Fact is Stranger than Fiction 

Bring It Down Warning: I once had the misfortune of speaking to a man about life insurance a week before he died, his death hadn’t been anticipated; he was the victim of an accident.  The family holiday was much more inviting and distracting than talking with me, besides, he knew enough to know that he knew enough, the gaps were filled, there was (it seemed) plenty of road ahead to deal with the gaps he’d missed, at a similar stage in life I empathised his thinking.

A cheerless example of not all things being known and, when something unknown becomes known, what we do with the information becomes part of our story.

I’m reminded of this incident because I was recently distressed to hear of the death of a friend, a man who talked with passion about trees, for he was a tree sculptor. The world being an ever a smaller place, I’m certain if I’d commissioned him at a time of the internet most of my questions could have been answered via the all knowing Google, but, it’s the knowledge he imparted that I didn’t know I needed to know that stays with me (as well as the trees he brought to my garden), amongst all the ways to receive information his has stayed with me (and the reason coppicing contributes to my story).

Amongst the wealth of motives for business ownership and entrepreneurial spirit there are all manner of stories, from short through long narrative via pantomime script, stories unfold of treasures and curses, sometimes switching between the two, and each reaches beyond the commonality of theme to a common association.

The glorious stories are stored in personal living libraries.Sheep

 

Methinks though, too often the delights of these stories are ignored and left unread for the instead preference which fixates on immersion in template information  (part of the ‘going forward’ corporate jargon movement) and some of the useful stuff  (another personal technical term) can be overlooked.

It’s the overlooked stuff that draws me to a proposal because, in my opinion, there’s nowhere else to be able to understand a business better than from its head and through its eyes. Leaving the story out is the equivalent of going into a black hole without a torch. The legacy to leaving out the unknown is that something’s existence might never be known, or its existence is learnt of too late.

What’s the most important factor businesses rely on?  Indeed, it is the financial structure, for without safe structures  ‘design’ is robbed of opportunity.  And it stands to reason that putting together a structure with products you want is way easier than putting together a structure with products you haven’t stumbled upon, those being the products you didn’t know you wanted. Finding financial products you think you want is easier when they’re crammed in (go to any mortgage or loan site, the obvious will be stated), it’s the equivalent of taking up darts as a sport because arrows were the first thing to hand when you swung by the sports shop to do some research.

Machine

No ‘spacing’ or recommendation and information is withheld, with the resulting unknown remaining so.

A business is a personal creation, in the hands, under the management and exposed to the experience and ambitions of whoever is running the show. I find that one of the best ways to learn about a business is to listen to its story.

People shape their own stories, the carving of the stories become part of our own stories.

Images and Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2014

The Bank of England stress test results on the British banking system are being issued December 16, alongside its half-yearly financial stability report. The tests focus on the housing market and the Bank’s ‘adverse scenario’ which has a correction factored in.

Tenancy checks for private landlords in the West Midlands are liable for a ‘Civil Penalty’ of up to £3,000 if a residential tenancy is given to a person ‘without the right to rent’, from 1 December.  Landlords may still be liable if premises are sub-let, despite the tenancy agreement being applicable to a person with the right-to-rent, however,  responsibility for the checks can be given to an agent to remove the liability from the landlord to the agent, but a written agreement (between the landlord and the agent) stating the agent has the obligation to make the applicable checks, must be in place.  If successful as a scheme it will be rolled out nationally during 2015.

Started in the US with the support of American Express, the second of what is an annual event now for the UK, is happening on 6 December. Intended to encourage and highlight the support of shopping locally, keeping trade local and the importance of small businesses, Small Business Saturday has marketing materials available to make the most of the event.

The beginning of December (1st) sees Leeds Building Society changing its lending criteria  for borrowers subject to Section 106 (S106) Agreements. This is being applied across its whole range of mortgages including Shared Ownership.

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill having being approved by Commons, has its second reading during December. Contained within the Bill is the appointment of 50 Small Business Champions, to handle appeals against decisions by the regulators; including publicans pay disputes, or tied tenants’ right to request a rent review (if they haven’t had one for five years), additionally it contains an amendment to allow pub landlords the right to buy beer on the open market. Will pub companies and brewers work together with their landlords?

Currently seeking a new Chairman and recently fined £56m from the FCA and the Bank of England, RBS continues to make the headlines. Likely facing more fines in the New Year connected to Forex, the most recent fine was connected to its 2012 IT ‘glitch’ which saw millions of its customers unable to make payments for up to three weeks.  Apparently, since the incident, some £500m has been spent on the system, although whether that means the system has been fixed, ‘patched’ or replaced, isn’t clear (the system being IT and not a reference to service and products). IT and software can be labour intensive, yet RBS have laid-off staff so there seems to be quite a lot that’s not clear in that quarter.

The European Commission has approved Britain’s new Business Bank, saying that it would address small firms’ access to finance without distorting completion. Its aim is to put all current Government schemes under one umbrella and use a funding boost to stimulate lending.

Autumn Statement (December 3rd), has whisperings of an announcement regarding financial support to cover the cost of SME business rates, as a way of encouraging business back onto the High Street, but, as a final statement before an election the press is mainly guesswork… with a lot of Scrooge or Santa headlines thrown in.

Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2014

How Squeezing In Your Business Works

Market trends continue to be inconsistent with the consequential effects showing a lack of consistency. No, really!?  Who’d have guessed?
And then what happens with such elementary information during our times?  Yet more talk of the better business bastion: planning? Pleeeeze….Change the story!

Shifts happened. Measuring returns on investments can be a nightmare, marketing can look like a sink hole and the 80/20 rule… what’s happened to that? Profits continue to be challenged because margins are squeezed, margins are challenged because profit is squeezed – it’s obvious, isn’t it?  Talk with anyone, being squeezed is par for the course of business life, however, talk with someone whose own, and their employees livelihood, is dependent on a business which has gains that aren’t worth the resources they use up, any squeeze can easily feel like choking.

Entrepreneur or in general business practice, when it comes to making a move, if you can’t measure it, don’t buy it.

Be it marketing, making a purchase, recruiting staff or any other of the key ingredients to a business, the conditions a proposal enters under alters the angle of the route taken for that proposal: vertical barriers create steeper angles to reach a goal.  Without the right entry points and contacts, barriers make unfamiliar practices considerably more difficult, whereas with the knowledge that practice and experience brings, because the ‘solution’ is understood, the difficult steeper angle is prevented and the barriers are reduced.

Steep angles can’t hold much information, they’re the deal breakers.  InformationSuperhighway

There’s no shortage of businesses out there wanting to ‘help’ us become profitable (you might even be one of them). My perspective (in terms of finance for business owners) has lenders who measure (by differing methods) the cumulative impact of investment and risk, the saving of a few pennies is significant to them and the bottom line is, `can’t measure it, don’t buy it’.  In the main, my and your customers do the same (as a customer I do), we want our money’s worth; can’t measure it, don’t buy it.

Why then do some business owners deny themselves such a simple tool when they’re readying for the right moment to strike out; are they sincerely unaware of the wider contexts of business? There might, for the entrepreneur whose waiting in the wings surveying opportunities, seemingly be advantage over the established business owner, whose misinterpreting reliance on formulaic for reliable. But does that make either of them any safer when they’re being measured, than those having the squeeze put on them?  Does being overlooked make a business less or more vulnerable in the greater context of business?
Taking my cue from a 3 year old  in a squeeze, trying to reason with his mum the necessity for a cupcake, Listen! Listen!  You’re not listening to me!  Developing control over his world, `You can trust everything at Grandma’s house’ is his assertion in defiance of his mum. He’s expresses his opinions, questions, shares his thinking and after pleading with his mum for several minutes, she gets the measure of him ‘I’m the parent…I’m done arguing with you!’ and he gets the measure of her, ‘I’m done arguing with you’.

Who bought it?

TheBoss3

Image and Article credits: Copyright SUF © 2014

B of E has said that mortgage approvals for house purchase fell in September, from August, with the biggest drop since July 2013. A tougher leverage ratio is anticipated in specifying the minimum amount of core capital a bank must hold as a proportion of is total assets, regardless of how risky or safe a lending policy may be, as part of the Basel 111 reforms. The ratio is set at a provisional 3% but there is an expectation, for some, of between 4% and 5%. There is an argument from some Building Societies that their balance sheets, whilst large, are made of low risk home loans; a high leverage ratio is unfair.

Although no UK banks failed the EBA tests, the upcoming Bank of England tests (results due 16 December) may prove differently with their focus on the UK economy.

Change in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) being  the main indicator of economic growth showed an increase of 0.7% in Q3 2014 compared with growth of 0.9% in Q2 2014, with output increasing in all four main industrial groupings ; services, production, construction and agriculture. The next estimate is due 26 November.

Sweden has cut its interest rates to zero, stating that inflation is too low. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, one of the Bank of England’s policymakers has said interest rates should increase for the UK, in order that it’s kept ‘gradual and limited’.  MPC minutes show members voted 7-2 to hold interest rate at 0.5%

Quantitative Easing (QE) has left the room  of the US Federal Reserve; there will be no more purchasing of bonds, as happened after 2008. Closer to home, Europes’ bank stress tests  gave, in effect, ‘nil points’ to 25 of their banks. The ECB hasn’t fully implemented QE however, with persistently low inflation; there is some chatter amongst the chattering classes of action that encroaches into the area of QE.  Introduced in the UK in 2009, the B of E purchased £375bn Government bonds up to 2012.

The DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) has amended Planning Practice Guidance  for councils on identifying appropriate land to meet development needs.  A question put forward (not in isolation) is `Do housing and economic needs override constraints on the use of land, such as green belt’?  The changes from the Right to Build plan mean that, for those wanting to build their own home, the council should be able to help in identifying a suitable plot.

Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2014

Bank Rejects’ Offer

 

When does the one syllable, four-letter words into minute-long sentences, yelled out in single syllable breaths monster surface?

Think about the last time you were on the receiving end of rejection.Finger

Did the ‘it’s- not- fair!’ Monster surface when you were reminded that the world’s not fair, and this time, it’s not fair in your favour?

Deserved and fair or undeserved and unfair, it’s an uncomfortable place to be, with an uncomfortable word placed hanging in the air: Reject.  A powerful word with disrespectful connotations that’s used in high places and, the considered term for those whose bank loan application is turned away: the rejects.  However, any bank rejects may feel slightly more comfortable about their tag when they hear about the proposed forcing for some banks to close the Billy-No-Mates zone and offer their cast-offs to other lenders.

Can you go forcing something if it’s just not right?

Mothership
Apparently ‘tis so, the plans have been confirmed. The Treasury is drawing up their strategy in preparation for legislation and announcements during the Autumn (sometime when leaves are on the line, hay fever has turned to flu, blankets are being brought out because there’s a reluctance to put the heating on, and an Autumn Statement is due).

I can’t even begin to guess how many business groups and trade associations are linked with recent business statistics that show there are 4.9 million UK businesses, of which 4.7 million are categorised with micro status and  (though some are incorporated for deposits) there are somewhere in the region of 181 ‘banks’ (not including Building Societies) listed as active in the UK by the Bank of England. From amongst all those glorious numbers there were a magnificent ‘over 45 responses’ (I’m not certain whether ‘over’ means 46 or whether somebody decided 45 was enough before it was time to put the kettle on) rallying to the call from the consultation, to answer questions on  ‘help to match SMEs rejected for finance with alternative lenders’. WatchOut2

Sounding remarkably similar to the processing of victims in stocks (although it’s an image that might work for some, that would be the wooden pillory variety not the trading type) the proposed linking to ‘alternative lending opportunities’ suggests, for the mandatory process, ‘SME’s will be forwarded on to platforms’, whenceforth by their visibility, be sped to open market (I added that bit).  Similar to how some banks already operate (i.e. Santander and Funding Circle), ‘rejects’ will be asked if their details can be shared on Government designated private sector platforms for exposure to those who have an interest in staking their claim for a lending opportunity.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the mandate wants a `Guide for the Innocent’ creating which would be placed at various points of the youthful open spaces that have replaced privacy discussion areas in banks; no applicant will be left unturned and no applicant will be deemed capable of understanding why (notwithstanding unfavourable times) their business might be viewed by a particular lender as unfavourable. The leaflet’s headings likely something along the lines of How to improve your Chances for a Successful Application, Prepare your Business Plan, Know your Numbers, to a final If Your Application Fails. Then, more Disney than Dragon a simple statement ‘don’t worry, somebody will want you – ubiquitous smiley face’. 

Smiley
Finishing with:  If Your Application Fails:  OK, expect to see the taxi with no brakes waiting, not certain how much fuel will be in the tank. Destination? How should we know?  We want to close the door ASAP, you’re an unwanted guest. No guarantees but, if you’re lucky someone will pick you up, to cosy up over the spreadsheets, won’t (but maybe should) happen.

Despite HM Queen Elizabeth II stating (4 June 2014) ‘The Bill (Enterprise and Employment Bill 2014-2015) will support small businesses by cutting bureaucracy and enabling them to access finance” I humbly ask (not wishing to spend any time in those stocks), am I alone in an ever sceptical viewpoint?

Any bank, with new goals of bigger fish, being forced to share data with other parties about an applicant they deem a reject will definitely cut bureaucracy. But, (and this is the big but, possibly with a double T) to manage a referral system that treats all applicants equally, that is mindful of them falling down open gaps left over from perceptions of ‘non-quality’ custom, that ensures the Guide for the Innocent has all the lines in between read, that clears the applicant’s path of stumbling blocks to avoid a missed opportunity, means managing the difference of enabling them to access finance and enabling finance to access them.

Businesses (and not forgetting that lenders are businesses) are exposed to all manner of risk; market, operational, financial, consumer and pure liabilities; all contributing to continual and continued exposure.

Some businesses will manage to hide from some risks, some are on a hiding to nothing; the risk is, what do you expose and what do you reject?

 Image and Article credits: Copyright SUF © 2014

Some statistics  and studies for September – Make of them what you will…..

56% of a recent Future of England Survey felt public spending in Scotland should be reduced and 66% think Scottish MPs should be prevented from voting on English laws if it decides to remain part of the Union after the Scottish Independence Referendum.

Giving a balance of plus 25, a CBI Survey shows retailers optimistic about sales, with more shop owners with expectations of sales rising over the next three months than expectations of sales falling. The highest figure since May 2002, sales have grown at their fastest pace in six months.

London owes the highest amount in mortgages according to The Royal Mail Postcode 40th Anniversary study. The Royal Mail’s online Postcode Finder is one of the UK’s most used webpages with around 100,000 visits a day – more than 40 million a year.  There are 3,000 postcode districts in the UK. The postcode HD7 5UZ in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, covers seven streets, more than any other in the UK and Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford, East London, is so big it has its own postcode, E20, which was previously the fictional location for BBC soap EastEnders.

14% of the 993 of Europe’s largest public companies Accounts showed improved days working capital (DWC) for three consecutive years, shows the European Working Capital Survey.  Businesses are benefiting from an increased focus on working capital but sustaining working capital remains a major challenge.

The results of a study in Australia  (the first country to standardise packaging for cigarettes) suggests there  is ‘no evidence’  behind many of the “fears” proposed by opponents of standardised ‘plain’ packaging of cigarettes and that no evidence was found of small retailers being hurt by the change.

House prices average is now £189,306  according to Nationwide, with a +11% comparable to August rise. Property values were +0.8%, a sixteenth monthly increase and Land Registry figures suggest price increased by +1.7% in July, the biggest monthly upswing in five years, with Merthyr Tydfil beating London as the area with the strongest house price growth at local authority level.

Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2014

Know Anywhere I Can Get It Cheaper?

 

Hello – My name is Mike and I’m an addict.

 

I realised I had an addiction when I’d reached for something stronger than face-palm.

And as it seems, rarely does a week go by when I remain ‘sober’, and my head doesn’t take and involuntary rest on the desk because someone always swings by to tell me they’ve done the maths, know the numbers and all they now need to know is…. ‘can it be done cheaper?’

That’s my relapse cue for some surface impact, now being achieved through the namely Headdesk (known to some as BHOD – Bang Head On Desk), an extreme form, which for those who partake be warned – taken too swiftly can almost knock you out.

The root cause for my habit comes from back in the day and some novice landlords: there is no rationale where there is no experience, therefore I shouldn’t have allowed this to be be sufficient reason to start using facepalm and, had I managed to find some form of alert to those coming to me with bad habits, I might not have compromised myself by moving on to double facepalm.DoubleFacePalm

I admit that my drug of choice is a crutch. It gets me through when I’m dealing with  those who don’t want me sharing my impartial knowledge, offering honest feedback or benefit from my working world’s experience. But, although it’s a dependency spurred by people following their own bad habits, doing things they might not want to do but not knowing how (or wanting) to let go, it’s not a vicious habit and only happens when I witness opportunity, strategy and long term thinking being sidelined. For example, when I’m presented with a cost-saving notion because it’s a snapshot to a quick fix or deemed the cheapest option, I take my own quick fix; which doesn’t impair my work performance, and hasn’t caused any short term damage (not certain about the long term!). Except that, now, because I’ve turned to Headdesk, with its giveaway thump, I realise my downfall might be around the corner,  “Hey Mike, is that the sound of you wracking your brain because you didn’t know this already?”

When we want to find the cheapest option and the easiest route, our expectations deflect away from wearisome bureaucracy and finding gateways, it appears easier to spend time with a comparison site. And, when I’m asked to confirm if something can or cannot be done cheaper, there is a bonus for these prospectors because I’m happy to confirm to them the comparison site is indeed a straightforward way of getting information. Comparatively, before any hard surfaces meet my forehead, I’d be focusing on features that mitigate costly blunders, the things which aren’t found on comparison sites and the things which by their very nature aren’t straightforward.  When I notice an equation is missing some numbers which can make a difference in yields, it’s not always received as helpful information: the response lever releases an exit where sheep are separated from goats.

“Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind” (Seuss)

These are confusing times, who to trust and who not to trust is difficult enough without involving one of the most emotive commodities: Money.

That’s the reason you’ll sometimes find me with my head deeply embedded in my desk!

BangHeadHere

Image credits:  Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2014

Stuck in a Rut?

In the intervening years since I last viewed an end of year school report, things may have changed. Rarely containing a personal comment, they had to be scrutinised for hidden meanings to talk over on parent’s evening. Promises of trying harder were made for after the summer break… the fresh start of un-graffiti-riddled folders and un-bitten pen sets.

Similar to an end of year school report, commercial lending annual client reviews have content which rarely deviates too far from standard statements. Comment of the, could do better or has the ability but needs to focus ilk is made to those whose promises go unfulfilled, with the more usual fare being about fiscal sustainability and continued improvements, steady and measurable progress, operational effectiveness and manageable growth.

To sustain trying harder away from being an abstract concept, the follow through is measurement.  Numbers3

Capital, cash flow, credit, reserves, liquidity, surpluses and reorganisation are boring (for the most of us). It’s only when I get my teeth into a project that the structure of those elements take on a different shape, when their life-cycle comes alive, then I get interested. But, for the smaller business owner, when there’s little or no co-operation from the channels or instruments used for these elements, it can be very frustrating – and easy to see why focus disappears. There’s a trajectory to the great unknown which is daunting enough without increasingly hearing the latest in vogue F-word lavishly bandied about.

Distracted focus from a commercial liability can undermine its strength when the base-lines used to measure creditworthiness or business performance keep shifting.

Aversion, happening further up the food chain of global markets, acts to exacerbate the problem of financing for the smaller business owner. Limitations are trickling down in the real economy, at the same time as costs rising; disconcerting the independent business owner and disorienting general financial conditions. Even with positives to a business investment, even for the risk-averse and even in an F-for-Frugal environment, sustaining profitability can suffer from caution as businesses are being forced to operate differently.

Lending banks won’t deviate from their deposit base as they shore up their capital base. The UK inflationary pressures are low, with a likelihood of interest rate increases looming ever nearer.

CanaryWharf6
Banks, and other lending sources, are businesses – hugely complex businesses. They have a business plan or operating strategy (that includes a marketing presence). They’re run with strategic focus, which has strategic objectives and a perception of risk. They have lending profiles and use cost control. Targets seek returns and are derived from KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators), monitored by KRI’s (Key Risk Indicators) for losses (immediately and effectively).  They often have a mix of funds and borrowing, debt and equity to operate with. They use monitoring systems for their operating expenses and price margins. Sometimes mid-term reviews are implemented for corrective measures to their targets. They look to minimising their cost of capital and balance their own capital, borrowed funds or reserves and their internal management systems expect customers to operate similarly.

What happens when a businesses system doesn’t have those elements available or implemented?

The only difference between a Rut and a Grave…. is the depth.

Image credits: Sonny Abesamis and SUF   Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 


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