Akoni selected for the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab

The Akoni team is excited to announce we are one of five Retail Banking fintech startups selected for the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab in London, amongst the cohort of twenty across categories including CIB, Insuretech and Tech4Tech.    The Lab is a three month accelerator and mentorship programme uniting fintech startups with global financial services institutions, including HSBC, Barclays, RBS, Lloyds Banking Group, Citibank, Santander, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, amongst others.      The programme focuses on meeting the top execs and decision-makers at partner banks as well as legal, pitching and proof of concept mentoring.

Further information on the programme and the other startups selected can be found at https://newsroom.accenture.com/news/fintech-innovation-lab-london-kicks-off-largest-programme-in-its-five-year-history.htm

The Akoni team is ensconced in our new offices, and surrounded by an awesome environment and passionate teams, with the bonus of incredible London views.    We are looking forward to the acceleration of the experience!    Our team is working on several product releases and collaborating with various new partners over the next few months, aiming to deliver value for the UK’s 5.3 million businesses!   We are already thoroughly enjoying the shared experiences with other startups, the awesome Accenture lab team and our mentors and banks.

About Akoni:

Akoni is an innovative fintech startup which aims to improve financial outcomes for businesses while at the same time providing banks with benefits including customer loyalty and increased margin through Basel III LCR reductions.

The Akoni platform is a digital cash treasury manager and uses technology and data science to provide customers a cash portfolio manager, business marketplace which is updated daily, and personalised cash report and dashboard, as well as innovative cashflow projection tools including algorithm-based allocations, automated monitoring and utilising statistical techniques and neural networks for projection outcomes.

Akoni’s chairman and lead investor, Duncan Goldie-Morrison, is a seasoned banking CEO and Chairman. Mr. Goldie-Morrison  was previously CEO of The Americas Credit Agricole CIB, Head of Global Markets and Asia, Bank of America, Chairman of Newedge Group SA and Newedge UK, President Ritchie Capital Management and Director Kleinwort Benson Bank. The business is further supported by the Deputy Chairman, Yann Gindre, previously CEO of Natixis UK and the Americas and financial services veteran.

Founder and CEO, Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, explains: “Scientific tools are changing the way we work in financial services, right down to conventional cash management activities that are traditionally based in Excel.  Akoni plans to be a key leader and driver in delivering these changes. At last, corporates and SME businesses have access to similar cash management facilities to institutions with in-house treasurers and Treasury management systems. We are delighted to be part of the Accenture fintech lab, working with people and organisations of such calibre and looking forward to the programme innovation drive for our business.” 

Banking sector undergoes disruption

The UK banking sector is already facing a range of issues, including ‘banking as a service’, ongoing cost reduction pressures, opportunities and challenges as a result of CMA requirements, open APIs and PSD2, and the Challenger Banks bringing a new approach to services and customer solutions. Businesses are part of this change, with the latest Accenture 2020 SME Banking report showing that 70% of businesses are prepared to pay non-banking customers for financial services.

To date, fintech innovation has been focused primarily on consumer banking for B2C and lending for B2B. Now, for the first time, Akoni brings technology benefits to UK SMEs and businesses for cash treasury management, with further business products planned in future roadmap.

For more information, please contact Felicia@akonihub.com

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

Brexit, the US Election and British Business

After a seemingly endless trail to these fraught US elections – which have featured more turbulence, twists and turns than a series of Game of Thrones – businessman Donald Trump has become the 45th President of the United States. Indeed, 2016 will go down in history as one of the most volatile financial years ever. With the uncertainty of Brexit dangling over their heads like the Sword of Damocles, hundreds of Britain-based SME’s are now facing the impact of “Trumponomics” on top of Brexit uncertainties.

As expected, the dollar immediately plummeted after Trump’s victory, and may be unstable for a while. The US economy may take time to settle before changes start to kick in. The main European markets ultimately ended the day up – as such the expected meltdown did not occur. Experts are saying that radical change is unlikely to happen immediately – which is good news for stock markets. How the US economy reacts over the next few years will be interesting to watch, however.

Trump’s victory speech certainly soothed some fraught nerves, and towards the end of the day many markets were calmer. The President Elect spoke of healing and uniting the nation, he offered his thanks to Hillary Clinton for her service and hard work over the years, and talked about global relations.

While a Trump presidency is likely to add to global economic uncertainty, analysts believe the impact on the UK economy will – at least in the short term – be limited. Capital Economics has left its forecasts for UK growth unchanged 1.5pc in 2017 and 2.5pc in 2018 following the US election result. Outside the EU, the USA is the UK’s biggest export market, with a fifth of UK goods and services sent to the world’s biggest economy, equivalent to 6pc of UK gross domestic product (GDP). But Jonathan Loynes, an economist at Capital Economics, argues that there are several reasons why a Trump presidency would not be as painful for the UK, as it might be for other European countries. He sights factors such as the plunge in the value of the pound following Brexit – ultimately helping the UK to regain it’s competitiveness; a weaker dollar against low yielding currencies could help the pound to “find a floor”, easing concerns about runaway inflation. He also added that the political consequences for the UK, due to our good relationship with the US, plus the bonus that the UK has already had its “revolution” against the establishment, as positive factors. Brexit inspired the Trump vote, while mainstream politicians in the euro-zone – especially France, Italy and Germany – will be looking on with considerable unease while populist parties take encouragement from the events that have unfolded in the US and teh UK.

Britain’s main stock index, the FTSE 100, recovered from it’s early-morning slump, gaining 0,7 percent, while Germany’s DAX was up 0.5 percent and France’s CAC-40 gained 0.5 percent. This pattern has echoed the reaction to the Brexit vote – only it happened much faster: complacency, surprise and panic followed by swift recovery. Maybe Trump will prove to be less controversial than he has promised? Let’s hope so.

Practically speaking, there is a bit of breathing space before all these policy changes would come into being. In a Brexit scenario, the process of leaving the EU will take two years before it is phased in. The US president is sworn into office in January 2017, after which policies that President Trump has mentioned in his campaign will need to be passed by the Senate – and his revolutionary policies may or may not be approved by the extremely conservative administration in place.

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Extraordinary times call for caution and sensible business practice.

In terms of practical advice for businesses, it is crucial that they use this period to renegotiate, reassess and re-strategise to manage all foreign exchange risks. Many companies buying US dollars have already shortened the length of their forward contracts significantly, dropping these from an average of 90 working days per contract to less than 70 days, in anticipation of financial upheaval. Some 75 per cent of the earnings of the UK’s largest 100 companies come from overseas with many reporting their results in dollars. If we are faced with a situation where the pound becomes weaker, the knock-on effect may be felt down entire supply chains.

It is also on businesses to make sure that these supply chains are performing super-efficiently and cost effectively. It is a good idea to try and renegotiate future deals with one’s current suppliers, or in some cases, seek new suppliers who can offer the best possible deals.

It seems that UK business owners are relentlessly carrying on with business as usual. Given the difficult economic conditions in the recent past and the unpredictability of the future, business owners here have come to believe that with a combination of new technology available (i.e. access to effective ways to market their products online and many business tools) together with their own hard work, an innovative approach and good business management, there is every chance  of succeeding in this economic climate. After all, small businesses are essential to the economy of the UK, and the government knows it. Trump is all about business, hence the world is all about business as never before.

One part of Britain that will have their eye firmly on developments in the USA is Wales. For 70 years the US has been Wales’s top investor, accounting for 40% of the foreign money invested in it, and therefore the ramifications of the Trump administration’s economic policy are of massive interest there. Around 275 US companies are employing 48,000 people operating in the region – a significant chunk of the economy. Welsh exports to the USA are around £2.7bn while imports from the US to Wales are valued at £0.6bn.

Theresa May’s diplomatic message to the President Elect was that Britain and the USA have had an enduring and special relationship based on the values of freedom, democracy and enterprise in the past. The USA has been a close ally of the UK, with British foreign policy being closely coordinated with the US.  This special alliance has been strengthened by close cooperation through the World Wars, the Korean conflict, the Persian Gulf War, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and in Afghanistan, and through trade agreements such as NATO. The two countries are in constant contact on foreign policy issues and global problems.

After Trump’s election result was confirmed, the UK government has made it clear that it is open to beginning a new trade relationship with the US. Keeping an eye on the business ball but adopting an optimistic outlook, wouldn’t it be excellent if trade relations with the US were favourably negotiated for Britain – offering new and favourable markets as an alternative, or an addition, to existing European markets after Brexit kicks in?

As long as businesses are prepared for the inevitable ups and downs ahead by having various risk mitigation plans, including buffers and insurance strategies for padding, there is a great chance that the effects of these upheavals can be minimised – even optimised.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

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Onwards and Upwards: StrongJones renames itself Akoni

There are many advantages to being involved in the very first stages of a startup: the buzz of pitching to potential investors; the pressure to innovate and invent new and improved product on a regular basis; the kick of meeting new recruits to the Dream pretty much every time you see each other. You form a formidable posse knowing that each of you has a common belief in the vision of your startup’s success.

Ours is a startup company in the earliest phase of development. The idea behind the business is feasible – we’ve proved that with our model works well: we’ve identified our target market, and it looks promisingly large enough to sustain a business – in fact the more research we do, the better it looks. No doubt changes will be made and pretty much every aspect of the company will be revised and reviewed many times until perfected, but the point is, the ball is in motion, and it’s direction is being determined by our little team. 

As part of the development process, we’ve been trying out names for our startup. We’ve all been looking at the market reactions to the original name, StrongJones, and we’ve been engaging in much “new name” banter. This has lead to much team hilarity, as you can imagine – but it has also lead to much thought about our brand essence, and where we are heading.

As a consequence, it has been unanimously decided that StrongJones no longer suits us, we have moved on. Our target market is More in so many ways. We need a name that is more inclusive – more accessible and more current, after all our target market is professional, money-savvy, forward thinking and innovative.

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OLD LOGO AND NAME: StrongJones is being replaced with the more up-to-date name, “Akoni”

 Out with the old, and in with the new

We have decided on “Akoni” as our new business name (in case you were wondering, Akoni is pronounced: [ 3 syll. a-ko-ni, ak-oni ] ahKOW-Niy- †). Akoni is often used in the Hawaii as a name derived from the longer version Akonani – however its language of origin is Latin, it being a variant form of the English male name Anthony. Akonani, Akoni and Anthony all mean (more or less) the same thing: “inestimable or priceless”.

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NEW LOGO AND NEW NAME: Akoni means “Invaluable”

Akoni has been born out of a real need to help SME owners to find a better way to maximise the cash savings they have worked so hard to accumulate. The driven and experienced team is headed up by Felicia Meyerowitz Singh, no stranger to the finance world. Felicia, chief tech genius, Panos Stavvos, and experienced banking industry advisor, Yann Gindre, met whilst studying at London Business School, and have managed to set up an experienced and skilled team, bringing in Duncan Goldie-Morrison as the chairman. One could hardly wish for a better grouping of capable business brains whose combined extensive experience covers global and UK banking, insurance, financial accounting and systems and technology, data analysis and especially SME businesses.

So – watch out for the next steps in our Akoni evolution. This is a startup now – but just you wait. Akoni will make an enormous difference to SME businesses across the UK – and further afield – in the near future. In the meantime, the team behind the new name will keep those innovative ideas coming, because they’re passionate about making Akoni a success.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

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#timetorebalance: Your Work/ Life Depends on It

As a small business owner, you are most likely a Jack of All Trades and a Master of Most. Managing your business often implies that you multitask and cope with production crises, cashflow nightmares and so much stress that you never sleep properly. Well – this is National Work Life Week, and having been a small business owner myself, I understand why it is necessary to create a national campaign around Work/Life Balance – because SME owners are far too busy and stressed to notice it otherwise!

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Here are some tried and true tips I have practiced – hopefully you’ll find them useful too. Listen Up – it’s time to take stock, #timetorebalance:

Remember why you started your company in the first place. You spend a large percentage of your life working – you go through stress and sacrificing many things for your SME to succeed. You need to remember the passion that lead you to getting it off the ground. Keep coming back to that. That is what will get you up in the morning.

Learn to delegate. You won’t believe how liberated you’ll feel when you hand that work that you hate doing and aren’t very good at anyway to someone who specializes in it! Now you can concentrate on what you are best at, and this will be much more rewarding and enjoyable. By delegating, you will lower your stress levels. Use tools and apps to cut down on one’s workload and money spent on travel and outsourcing significantly. Here is a range of some that may be useful:

  • Cash management and accounting tools such as Xero, Freshbooks, Quickbooks, Sage are the most widely used, and all are excellent products, well worth investing in. (Have a look at our Akoni blog on Cashflow Tips for SMEs for some more on this subject).
  • Try Skype, Google Hangouts, ClickMeeting for online meeting and webinars. These can be used to conduct webinars, teleconferencing, online meetings and presentations. No more travelling out of town or even across town – saving you money and time.
  • Asana is a task and project management productivity tool for team collaboration and communication that eliminates the use of email. Free for up to 4 users. With Asana, you can set up projects, and tasks within projects. Add staff or clients to tasks and projects to keep everyone up to date.
  • Apps like Producteev and Harvest let you see how you’re spending your time, what’s on target and what requires follow-up.
  • Pocket – this allows you to store videos, articles or anything else you find of interest. It’s all in one place and ready to look at when you have time.
  • Evernote – one of the most popular apps for managing a to-do list and keeping notes. It even has an app to make it faster to read blog posts and articles by showing them in a simple format.
  • WorkflowMax: An end-to-end time tracking and invoicing solution, seamless integration with Xero Accounting software.
  • Hootsuite for social media management
  • For some more interesting tools, have a look at useful tools for SMEs

Learn to set boundaries. If you are open about realistic timings at the beginning of each project, explaining why you need that time to do a good job, your clients are far more likely to understand – because they need the best quality product you can deliver.Turning down work is hard, but is it worth taking on if you and the client are going to be dissatisfied with the result? Your reputation may suffer, which affects future work and client relationships.

Write things down. In this age of electronics it sounds archaic, but often the simple task of writing down ideas and thoughts or tasks that you think of suddenly will reduce your stress levels. Write a  TO DO list before lights out. It clears your head, and facilitates sleep, knowing that you will have your list when you wake up. Same goes for those 2am thoughts – write it down and there is a good chance you’ll get to sleep again.

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Activate your brain and body. Your body can’t take stress for extended periods without it having often serious health consequences. Find something that you enjoy doing. The brain and body benefit far more if you practice an activity you prefer instead of dreading your training sessions. Yoga, running, lifting weights, walking – just get out and do something fun. Your brain needs blood flow to function at it’s best, and different environments are stimulating.

Family is important.  As a small business owner, speak to your employees about what they would suggest in terms of flexible hours and/or the option to work from home. Being flexible in one’s approach will have benefits all round: happier employees, better quality work, you’ll attract quality talent when recruiting and your clients will ultimately benefit from dealing with a motivated company. Have a look here for some more tips as an employer.

Remind yourself what success is. Ian Sanders, author of Juggle: Rethink Work, Reclaim Your Life and Mash Up says,I recommend creating a personal dashboard where you set out the things you want in life and the reasons why you are doing them. You should write down all the things that are important to you, whether it is making money, creative stimulation, spending time with your kids or playing tennis. These are your definition of happiness and success. Then you can monitor this regularly to see how you are doing.” 

In this frenetically-paced age, it is important to keep your eye on what Really matters – your health, your happiness, your family and your goals in life. Enjoy what you do, otherwise change it. A frazzled, crabby and stressed business owner is not going to be any good to anyone. You owe it to your family, your staff and clients to be the Best Version of You possible. And that means gaining perspective by getting away from work every now and then – really make an effort to unplug from all those digital devices, look up at the sky and B-R-E-A-T-H-E deeply. Your life depends on it.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

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Cashflow Tips for Your Expanding SME

As an owner of a small business for over ten years, I’ve seen my fair share of cash flow crises. It’s the one thing that all small and medium (and large) business owners experience somewhere along the line, and dread.

Here are some tips we’ve compiled to help SME business owners plan ahead, and may help avoid the cash flow crunch:

ONE: Cash Flow Forecasting

The first thing to do is to predict where and when the business’s cash is coming in to cover what is going out, and make some profit on the side. Imagine if a client didn’t pay on time and plan for that. Set realistic earnings targets a year into the future, planning ahead week by week. List your SME’s income and expenditure on a spreadsheet, taking factors such as the peaks and troughs of trade, the overhead costs of running the office during the various seasons and staff leave, amongst other factors, into account.

TWO: Accounting Software

Cloud based tools allow SME’s to scale up and migrate their software as the company grows. Depending on your business profile, some of the most popular cloud-based tools out there are Xero, Freshbooks, Quickbooks and Sage, which provide solutions that are affordable and easy to use. They feature time-saving features such as automated entries, invoicing, bill payments, expense reports, financial reports and reconciliations – all key to keeping your cashflow fluid.

THREE: Strong Business Process

By definition, a business process is an activity or set of activities that will accomplish a specific organizational goal. Ensuring that your business has a strong business process, and is focussed on growth and  financial success makes the company more streamlined and efficient – which will translate directly to  your cashflow, as you will be getting the maximum out of your company to earn the best turnover for the least amount of input possible.

Ensure fiscal control by segregating duties in the financial department –  i.e. separate people working on the bank reconciliations and invoice billing.  If the SME is small, the business owner should always check the bank reconciliation, making sure they keep up to date with company finances. Enhance the business process by, for example, integrating CRM programmes that facilitate and streamline one’s marketing and client relations strategy, or by using cloud based invoicing which link your marketing and sales teams.

FOUR: Optimal Payment Terms

Always remember that your clients have different business priorities to your company’s. The longer they can delay paying your company, the better for their business. Negotiate terms with your clients that suit both sides – and bargain hard. On long-term projects, explore progress payments, never accept back-to-back payments (you get paid when the client gets paid) and make sure you are getting the most agreeable terms possible from your suppliers. Negotiate the best deal woith suppliers, but keep them on your side by settling their bills within their terms too. Business is all about relationships, and building up a loyal supply base is one of the secrets to success.

Offering clients incentive to pay early is a good way to ensure bills are settled timeously – small discounts or free delivery for early payment goes a long way to fostering good client relations, and getting the payments in quicker.

Make sure that you are using the most cost effective manner of payment – bank charges on card transactions can be steep, online payments may take days to clear – ultimately you need something to investigate the most effective payment method for your business needs.  You can speak to your bank relating to the most efficient services provided and the costs per transaction.

coffee-cup-mug-deskFIVE: Funding Your SME

When your business needs funding, the first place to go is the high street banks -still the largest funding source for SME’s. There are also a number of challenger banks out there, offering great deals. Should you need alternative funding sources, then consider  financing though companies like TradeRiver or FundingCircle (who provide a thirty second eligibility check, with no impact on your credit rating, and has a £60million facility via the government-back British Business Bank) or BoostCapital (online application and an answer within 24 hours, with access to the funds within two days).

SIX: Deliver the Goods

Make sure the customer has no excuses not to pay. Deliver a good quality product, on time and within the brief. Realise that without customers you don’t have a reason to exist. Customer complaints should be taken seriously as these will alert you to problems that could indicate a serious leak in your cash flow. Disputes hold up payments, which leads to cash flow problems.

Listen to your clients – if they have suggestions to improve your User Journey, or your product, implement them. You should see the difference in your bottom line. Ask your happy customers to write company review on TrustPilot or Which.co.uk or s similar website. Good reviews are what drive sales. Sales translate into cash. Regular cash coming in helps your cash flow.

SEVEN: Make Your Cash Work

SME business savings are often a blindspot when it comes to the banks, and now there are an increasing number of alternative savings accounts out there that are tailored towards the SME market. If you have your business’s cash savings stored in a savings account earning next to nothing, we at StongJones suggest you shop around for a better deal. There are many banks such as Investec, ICIC, SBI as well as the challenger banks which are offering competitive rates. There is a growing awareness amongst financial institutions of the need to cater for SME’s, recognising that they are the future of business in the UK.

Finally…

Being an SME owner comes with many challenges. Well known businessman and entrepreneur Sir David Tang once said that the three most dreaded words in the English language were “Negative Cash Flow “. However, if one can get the basics right, and gets a good operating system in place, then your business has a far better chance of surviving the first few crucial years, and will be well prepared for future expansion.

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

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Savings Hit as Interest Rates Halve

There have been significant challenges to businesses over the past few years – austerity, changes in regulation , minimum wage and more recently the EU referendum – all within a climate of global uncertainties as the major world economies are in recovery. Most of these factors have some impact on almost all businesses within whom we interact.

The Bank of England has now cut rates from 0.50% to 0.25% – a move that has previously been expected, and priced accordingly by the markets since the results of the Brexit were announced.  Head of BoE, Mark Carney, has also ruled out negative interest rates, and has provided business savers with some certainty going forward.

Business Savings have been worst affected, with interest rates for U.K. Savings accounts from High Street banks being in the low and in some cases, nil percentages.  Fortunately there are still many banks offering reasonable returns in the current climate and we encourage SMEs to review availability, particularly bearing in mind government protection up to £75,000 per banking institution. Currently, the highest Easy Access business rates are 1.10% to 1.35% for business interest rates.

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Shop Around for the Best Rates Available

Last week, the Royal Bank of Scotland wrote to 1.3 business owners, saying that it may be forced to charge on credit balances, should the Bank of England take on negative base interest rates – mentioning they may charge businesses for holding deposits. This announcement was currently limited to only two High Street banks, concerned with their own margin pressures.      

There is still ample opportunity for business to work the unutilised asset – cash.   At the same time as the above announcement, there are a large range of banks offering relatively significant returns from overnight to 1 week 1 month and 1 year plus terms, so it is worth shopping around for the best returns.    

“For now, it’s unlikely a cut in the base rate to 0.25 per cent will result in charges. But this is certainly something to be wary of further down the line if you are a small business owner with cash in the bank. It may be a good reason to shop around for a different bank, one that commits not to impose charges,“ writes Ben Chu, Economics Editor at the Independent.

We at Strongjones urge all businesses spend time reviewing market alternatives for their cash surplus. This would be as simple as a marketplace review – taking a few minutes, allowing you to continue your primary banking relationship without any change. This combined with straightforward cashflow management allows the business to extract additional income for minimal effort.

We provide SMEs solution to manage cash and maximize returns and are happy to discuss our solutions further and we aim to provide solutions that every business should be seeing from their banks in some form. Our startup is presently taking on Beta Group customers – contact us to learn more.  

Akoni helps businesses make the most of their cash. Follow us on Twitter @akonihub or connect with us here.

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