Blog Archive

Home
Newsletter

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

How to Match Science with Finance

 

Pure gold, my Sunday lay ahead with no pressing commitments…. and what better start than good coffee alongside pastries in sufficient size to alert the diabetes police. This is the time my brain gets to defrag, even occasionally managing its level of a Newton moment (akin to looking at the famed apple tree).

SundayRead

I read.  It was an article which reinforced the notion that nothing stays the same.

 

Kilogram measurement, the metric measure normalised as a physical object (called International Prototype Kilogram IPK), is kept in Sevres, France (a replica is in Britain’s National Physical Laboratory) and it is the last SI unit (Systems of Unit) that is defined by an artefact rather than physical constant. So far, so good?  Take the original IPK and six copy IPKs, then leave for 125 years. What do you get? A  reaction, not dissimilar to leaving me with a plate of Danish pastry. The caged kilogram is no longer the same; it, and its clones, increase in mass.

 

 

And, where there is change, there is disruption and where there is disruption, there is opportunity.

By redefining the IPK, theoretically, everyone in the world of science will have access to (if I understand correctly) uncertainty.

The article managed to explain how the change – to something which sounds like performance motor engine oil (Plancks’ universal quantam constant) – would benefit all the other SI units on the outside looking in;  they’ll be certain to join the party of scientists, calibration laboratories, pharmaceutical companies and electrical engineers who’ll have something to celebrate. It also managed, with a swift scientific phrase or two, to take me back to the workings of business: Two ‘methods’ need to agree… at a level to be confident in the results…the moment there is a single point of failure in the system…there isn’t another one. Additional ‘management speak’ endorsed my thinking: ‘define the Volt…elementary charge will have zero uncertainty’.

 

 
 
Weightlifter

Deservedly famed for his observations on weight, motion, gravity, the cosmos (and being a fantasy dinner party guest), Newton was distinctly aware of change and applied opportunity arising from it to his working life.  At a time when the weight of minted money had fallen to half the legal standard, fakes were a-plenty, silver from coins was worth more in Europe than the coins, so those coins were being melted down and their metal shipped abroad, with the proceeds used to buy more coins.

England’s silver currency was in crisis. The economy was in crisis.  ‘Who ya gonna call ?’   The man with a mind that could redefine the way we think about our solar system – that’s who. Newton became Warden of the Royal Mint and turned detective on the massive counterfeiting operations to thousands of pounds, England’s silver was to have re-coinage.

One particular successful counterfeiter had a plan, which, activated, would be sufficient to bring down the currency. He was in a powerful position, so a pamphlet was prepared and, inferring Newton as incompetent, he declared to Parliament that the mint had within it ‘villains’ (you can almost hear the boo! hissing!). The counterfeiter should be permitted to demonstrate his claim, to provide a new counter-proof method of making money (for if anyone knew the workings, he surely did). What he hadn’t expected was that he’d be working with the Warden, who was a meticulous record keeper, keeper of accurate accounts and had methodically started at the bottom of a pile of suspects and worked his way through the gangs (his criminal detection expenses 1696 – 1699 reach over £626 – somewhere in the region of four times the national average  annual salary for the time).  Newton, possibly the greatest mind ever, had, similar to the seasoned entrepreneur, experience of having his ideas quashed. He understood what he was up against and probably, (being a superb scientist) made a mean cup of coffee to add some adrenalin to his genius.

The two ‘methods’ needed to agree. Certain he was confident in the results, because if there was a single point of failure in the system, he wouldn’t have another opportunity. Finance was to meet science.  He acted upon the opportunity that change (no pun intended) had given him.  The counterfeiter was taken to the gallows. Newton secured the lucrative position of Master of the Mint.

 

If I didn’t know I only manage to confuse myself,  I’d try to finish by noting  history repeats itself hence the only constant is change. The problem is that the devil is on one shoulder and angel on the other, both are slugging out the argument that shaming and blaming is counterproductive…. all while I’m reading financial news and eating pastries (plural!).

Pastries

Credit: Newton and the Counterfeiter (Levinson)

Image credits: DonkeyHotey, Joe Goldberg, SUF.

Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2014

It’s anticipated that sometime during October the Government-run British Business Bank will unveil its first deal with a lender.  The scheme offers to share the risk of certain losses on a portfolio of new loans made to small and medium-size businesses. In effect the smaller banks (i.e. challenger banks) could be enabled to lend more ‘easily’.  Over to you, lenders.

If you’ve seen anyone hawking tax disc holders cheaply it’s because the paper tax disc is no more. As from October 1 cameras will be relied upon to detect number plates and DVLA will rely on digital records.  Unless people turn to displaying their nearest and dearest on their windscreens, the space can be officially cleared   as part of the DVLA’s promise to be more efficient for the motor trade and  ‘a better digital platform enabling more self-service’.  Over to you Motor Traders.

The Financial Policy Committee will be publishing it’s response to the Chancellor’s request of advice, on any new Direction powers to guard against risk in the housing market, and it’s annual review of the Help to Buy Mortgage Scheme. Over to you BoE.

New rules for Lettings Agents, who from this month, must be a member of one of three government approved re-dress schemes, similar to the Ombudsman. Members can be expelled for misconduct and compensation awards made to victims as part of the consumer protection measures. Over to you Landlords.

Changes to stamp duty and land tax relating to valid Local Authority codes mean that paper returns with a non-valid code will be rejected. Over to you Solicitors.

Sobriety is being encouraged with a sobering October of no hangovers. Go Sober for October the charity initiative given to this month, along with Stoptober (no smoking). Over to you willpower.

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

Difficult to think about December in August however, Saturday 6 December is Small Business Saturday, the celebration day of ‘shop local’ and use independent-owned businesses, an initiative that promotes at all levels the support of small firms and have started their 100 countdown.

Santander apparently had an issue with the ‘moral problem’  of the aptly named Circus Uncertainty (you couldn’t make this stuff up!) when they wanted to set up a business account.  It seems that burlesque-style outfits worn by the showgirls of the 40 strong troupe might have made the bosses backtrack (wonder if that was at risk assessment?), that the bank didn’t want to be associated with. But ‘committed to supporting the local business community’ (and some press coverage) the bank has now re-opened discussion with the circus owner.

Money’s still too tight to mention according to the BoE,  who began collecting data on loans to non-financial small businesses in 2011. Consequently,  there is to be a wide-ranging regulatory probe (their words not ours) into the UK banking sector that will focus on personal and business accounts.  Still with the BoE, new plans have been revealed for Bankers who break rules (following alleged Libor rate-fixing) to face potential bonus clawback, and the prospect of custodial sentencing as part of risk management and regulation. The next MPC meeting  to August 7 will see the next interest rate decision. New Deputy Governor Nemet Shafik, who will join the bank on 1 August, had said the bank was likely to revise down its estimate that spare capacity in the UK economy is equivalent to 1% to 1.5% of GDP in its August update – a sign that the time for a rate rise is moving closer.

The Tax Office is to go on strike because of backlogs, delays and apparently private debt collectors. Strikes will be spread across the country on different days.  Plans are also being introduced by HMRC for new Direct Debit recovery powers under which they will be able to deduct tax owed directly from the accounts of debtors (providing £5,000 remains across all accounts including ISA’s).

HSBC is closing accounts to some Muslim organisations with a reasoning given of the service provided would be outside the bank’s ‘risk appetite’.  The bank has said that it was ‘applying a programme of strategic assessment to all of its businesses’, following a fine over poor money-laundering controls.

With 25% of small businesses still not online, the UK’s largest domain registrar is on campervan tour around the UK to highlight the importance of having a digital presence.  Starting in July (Newcastle) and finishing in London (12 August), they’ll apparently be demystifying the online world.

Image and 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The FPC (Financial Policy Committee) has proposed new rules for mortgage lenders which caps loan-to-income ratios and includes interest rate stress tests. Lenders will not be able to have more than 15% of new mortgages at loan-to-income above 4.5 times and it applies to all Help-to-Buy loans. Coming into force 1 October, the test ruling applies to the first 5 years of the loan and assesses the borrower being able to afford repayments, if their interest rate rose by 3% above the rate at origination. The stress tests are generally in line with those already implemented by major lenders as part of their affordability calculator and are part of policy measures being taken to limit the risk of house prices being detached from earnings. The restrictions cover owner-occupier loans however the FPC minutes  state ‘The FPC considered the need to monitor mortgage lending activity beyond the scope of the recommendation…This included close monitoring of the buy-to-let market….’

Payday lenders and other firms offering high cost, short-term credit will face new rules applied to rollovers, continuous payment authorities and risk warnings, from July 1. Such high-cost short-term lenders are restricted to two unsuccessful attempts to use CPA (Continuous Payment Authority) to take a repayment and can’t use CPA for part-payment. Similar rules are applied to loans repaid in instalments.

UK house prices increased by 1% in June (11.8% higher than June 2013), according to Nationwide Building Society; all regions showed annual price gains in the second quarter of the year. Their current figures state the average price for a home is £188,903, with price increases 14 months in a row.

According to a survey of 1,000 NLA members the average void period experienced by UK landlords has continued to fall and is down to 2.7 weeks, bringing it to 2012 levels. High tenant demand is credited to keeping the time a rental property is empty between tenancies. The survey was to find the top factors that landlords consider when getting ready to make a BTL purchase. Quelle Suprise!  Landlords prefer to invest in areas where they have local knowledge and understanding of market trends. Other factors were cited as strength of tenant demand in the chosen area, local rent levels, capital growth prospects, local transport connections and almost ¾ of the participants said they’d be looking near their own home.

The British Retail Consortium has published recommendations for the reform of business rates. Calculated on the rental value of properties in 2008 (before the recession) it is therefore thought not fair to businesses competing against online-only businesses. The recommendations include reducing the total amount of business rates and that they are shared more fairly between different industries, including incentives for energy efficiency.

The Market Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI)  showed a score of 57.5, up from 57.0 in May. Any figure above 50 indicates growth in the industry and the UK manufacturing sector has grown at its fastest pace for 7 months (June) with job creation growing at its fastest for 3 years.

That’s the serious bit….. now, on a more flippant note…..

A 55 year old Entrepreneur / Consultant has recently joined LinkedIn with an apparently list of more than 150 careers. The former astronaut and fashion designer always has a ‘smartphone, tablet and briefcase by her side’;  she is apparently a ‘smart, stylish career woman’ whose business is named Dream Incubator. And (for those who like management speak) her tagline ‘If you can dream it, you can be it!’ might inspire a LinkedIn invitation…… to the plastic lady known as Barbie ….. she might be dressed, but is she ready to work?

Image and Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2014

Money Spiced with Llama Spit

Some fifty four pages of analysis, trends and developments across the economy are patiently explained and in a matter of fact manner, and inflation projections are translated by a patient and informative Agent….  yet, even with an A4 glossary, I left the meeting with my brain shrieking the same way it does reading isolated EBIDA figures.

I’d been to the Bank of England quarterly inflation report meeting where coloured diagrams and graphs that appear to go all over the place, at one brief point illustrating seismic waves for an earthquake potential, are shown.

There are no instructions for reading Inflation Reports (or EBIDA figures) and no warnings stating `This is an educated appraisal which contains potentially nuclear information, therefore as you may not be fully informed, you may experience a sense of foreboding’.

WatchOut2

As financial needs for a business owner are as different as a full economic analyses and ‘our survey said’, or a single EBIDA figure heading up a report and the same figure coming after the pluses and minuses, although full analysis or single figure are created to give some clarity, without an accompanying mix of information that can set the full picture, and stop me feeling as though I’ve just swallowed something that tastes like lavatory cleaner spiced with Llama spit, they may as well be written in hieroglyphics.

As well as being at the heart of my business, the smaller employer  is close to my heart (my grandparents and parents owned and were involved in operating smaller businesses, my extended family have local businesses or service-based businesses) and the non-corporate business is incredibly important to our economy. I don’t understand everything about the economy  but…..  Brace yourself if you’re of a nervous disposition about your business…. I’ll tell you what I do know…. and I’ll try not to be too graphic.

  Gingerbread

The day after the meeting when I got to speak with a mix of business owners and lenders’ people and I was unsettled, in a full-face Llama cleansing way. There was no mention of mention of the economy (…and some weren’t aware of EBIDA figures, single or full).

With that purple line, on the current B of E probability of inflation above target chart, being almost as straight as a straight road named Stagnation,  unless those earthquake potentials are realised, interest rates are in a good place for businesses to set their stalls for their futures. And, because some lenders traditionally set their stalls as a ‘one size fits all’,  being aware of EBIDA type metrics  is an essential for the business that wants to successfully negotiate a way through finance and funding options for their future.

I’ve likely told you about the same as you’d tell me: there’s no explicit detail about what’s going to happen in the economy and as boring as it is for a cow to chew its cud, financial forecasting is a necessity.

 

Parts of our financial system haven’t changed; from the good ‘ol days of the local bank manager, through the dark days of the five horsemen of the apocalypse and into the IT platform future, they’ve just got a whole lot more value attached to them for anyone who wants to stay ahead of times that are-a- changing.

I can’t promise that, by understanding how the cash flows: the differing forms, uses and structures, seat belts would be needed for meteoric rises but I will say that small steps moving further away from running on empty is, when (as someone noted) ‘this is all temporary’ (would that be the same person who said ‘who knows what tomorrow will bring’?), a way to get an extra gear …. which,  as far as I can tell, is better than being stuck in first gear when you’ve an irritated Llama closing in.

Images and Article credit: Copyright SUF © 2014


1 2 3 4 16
Copyright 2013 © Step-Up Finance | Financial Services Register: 303044 | CCL: 615495 | DPA: Z4997922