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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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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CMA Pave the Way for an “Open Banking Revolution”

This is a real banking revolution: the CMA (Competitions and Markets Authority) announced some stringent rules for banks in the UK to comply with by 2018. This throws the gates wide open to competitors, and will have banks scrambling to attract customers.

As the banking industry has been slow to respond with innovations, the CMA has made it clear that it expects to utilise its own enforcement powers, in addition to expecting reform from the government to push through change. While some commentators believe the change is not far enough, I am of the view that steps in the direction of major change start slowly and momentum builds quickly.

These changes include:

–       Open Banking by 2018 – by which the CMA means to accelerate mobile banking in the UK retail banking sector.  SME’s and individuals will be free to share their banking data securely with other banks and third parties, enabling them to manage their accounts with a range of providers through a single App – thus having more control over their money and also being able to shop around for better deals. Banking on the move, having your bank in your phone is the way of the future.

–       Accurate, unbiased information about their services and truthful information about products and quality of service – from their branches to their websites. there is much agreement that with a significant range of fintech investment both within the industry itself, as well as new players, banking as it currently stands will undergo drastic change.

–       Making event- based communication compulsory – for example if a branch closes or there is an increase of charges, they have to send their customers notice of these happenings.  THIS was raised to provide trigger points for review of banking products – like the insurance sector which has an annual policy renewal as a trigger to prompt considerations of cost, cover, benefits and performance of an insurerer.

The CMA has also made it clear that it is to be made easier for customers to search for banks offering more competitive rates and to enable easier account switching.

Apparently only 3% of individuals and 4% of businesses ever change their banks in a year, despite the huge savings this could provide.

A range of other measures has also been announced – for example, those of you who may have been surprised to find that you are in an unarranged overdraft, without ever having arranged one, the CMA has introduced specific measures including that the bank needs to alert you before this happens, and offer you a grace period. It was found that banks in the UK make an unbelievable £ 1.2billion a year from unarranged overdrafts.

Businessman-in-Istanbul-000052231446_LargeBy 2018, SME’s should be in a much better banking position after the Competition Marketing Authority’s findings

Businesses and individuals win all round with the banks having to provide accurate information on banking services and charges for small business.  One of the key assessments is that small business had lacked the tools needed to assess fair credit and availability and service quality.

In order to progress further, the CMA will be supporting Nesta.  This requires banks to provide financial backing and technical support for this innovation-supporting charity that aims to partner and work with organisations who need information and expertise on the practice and theory of innovation.

This initial level of game-changing recommendations will make the United Kingdom the most attractive banking hub for customers as well as provide another example of leading the way in innovation, particularly relating to small and medium businesses.

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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