Here are the week’s main news stories in the world of small business and digital payments:
Small businesses feel impact of living wage requirements
Small-business owners are cutting profits and productivity-enhancing investments in an attempt to absorb inflation-beating wage increases, according to research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB). The survey of more than 1,000 business owners shows that just over half (51 per cent) of small firms were paying all staff at least £8.21 per hour prior to this becoming the National Living Wage rate in April. The figure rises to 56 per cent among microbusinesses (those employing up to 10 staff). The research shows that, among small-business owners directly affected by the change, 71 per cent lowered profits or absorbed costs in an attempt to handle the hike. The other most-frequently cited responses are increasing prices (45 per cent), delaying investment (29 per cent) and reducing hours worked by staff (23 per cent).
FCA confirms delay to strong customer authentication rules
The Financial Conduct Authority will delay enforcement of new online payments regulations by 18 months, but rejected proposals to give even more additional time to particularly unprepared sectors like the travel industry. New anti-fraud rules are being introduced across the EU in September, but the finance, retail and travel industries have been lobbying local regulators for delays because they are not ready for the changes. So-called ‘strong customer authentication’ rules require most online payments to go through an extra level of verification, such as responding to a push notification on a mobile phone. The proposals were outlined several years ago but some technical requirements were not confirmed until earlier this year, prompting complaints that companies hadn’t had long enough to prepare.
Retailers urge overhaul of business rates system
More than 50 major UK retailers have demanded action from the government to fix the “broken” business rates system. Bosses from companies such as Asda, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have written to Chancellor Sajid Javid calling for “fundamental” reforms to the taxes paid by businesses on the properties they occupy. It comes the day after new figures showed the number of empty shops in town centres had risen to the highest level since 2015, with the vacancy rate hitting 10.3 per cent last month. Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, which co-ordinated the letter, said the current business rates system “holds back investment, threatens jobs and harms our high streets”.
Other concerns trump no-deal Brexit for SMEs
Despite the looming possibility of a no-deal Brexit, the majority of UK SMEs (53 per cent) are preoccupied with other, global concerns, according to data released by international payments company OFX. The survey of 500 senior SME decision makers found that 18 per cent consider a global economic slowdown to be the biggest threat to their business over the next year. For 19 per cent, this synchronised slowing of the global economy has actively decreased their appetite for international trade. However, most of the businesses surveyed said Brexit uncertainty has had no effect on their company’s international strategy (39 per cent), in spite of the impact a no-deal could have on global trade. Almost half (48 per cent) of SMEs have increased overseas sales by an average of £45,000 in the last year, with 44 per cent expecting to increase international sales within the next 12 months.
Online SME retailers embracing flexible payments
UK online SME retailers are becoming increasingly open to new technologies and innovation to help drive growth over the next year, with 49 per cent stating that they plan to invest in flexible payment options over the next 12 months. Research from global payments provider Klarna, conducted with 100 UK SME decision makers, found that small online fashion retailers in the UK are open to embracing innovation, but state that “barriers”, including cost, market uncertainty and uncertain ROI, prevented widespread adoption. More than half (53 per cent) said the cost of introducing flexible payment options was the biggest barrier to adoption.
Barclays releases £100,000 for unsecured SME lending through app and online banking
Barclays has announced the availability of £100,000 in unsecured lending for SMEs via its app and online banking platform, with thousands of SMEs set to benefit from access to faster finance. With 44 per cent of SMEs surveyed by the high-street bank saying they would have more confidence in applying for a loan if they could see a pre-assessed limit, Barclays is offering over 360,000 customers pre-assessed limits on their digital channels.