Here are the week’s main news stories in the world of small business and digital payments:
PayPal leaves Facebook’s Libra project
PayPal has pulled out of Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency project. The worldwide electronic payments giant was one of the linchpins of Mark Zuckerberg’s crypto masterplan under the Libra Association – a group of 28 organisations such as eBay, Visa, Vodafone and Uber. Facebook aims to launch Libra next year to its two billion worldwide users after announcing plans to throw its hat into the cryptocurrency ring in June under a newly-formed umbrella organisation called Calibra. PayPal had been a founder member of the project which has been peppered with criticism from dozens of financial regulators.
UK SMEs face £145,000 skills gap in ongoing war for talent
The average UK SME faces a skills gap that would impact total revenue by £145,000 in the next year, rising to £318,000 in the next five years, according to research from recruitment company Robert Half. The skills gap is one of the most pressing issues facing UK businesses today. According to Robert Half, this gap has widened as a result of macro challenges, including a shrinking talent pool due to Brexit, increased digitalisation and economic influences. The skills gap is impacting the nation’s productivity, which is now the lowest among the G7 countries, as well as stifling innovation and preventing SMEs from entering new markets. The required skills include data analysis and digital skills, as well as softer skills such as resilience, adaptability to change and critical thinking.
Metro Bank improves SME offering via fintech partnerships
UK challenger Metro Bank is boosting its offering for small business customers with three fintech partnerships. To help make the most of the £120 million it secured from the £750 million RBS bailout fund earlier this year, the lender has teamed up with three firms. A deal with Funding Options means firms that cannot get financing from Metro will be able to scan a lending marketplace in minutes and easily compare financing options from more than 70 providers. A partnership with Conance gives SME customers specialist trade advice and finance solutions. Finally, in 2020, Metro Bank will deploy DueDil’s predictive company intelligence platform for a speedier account opening process, with quick-search functionality and auto-populated company information.
IKEA accepts supply chain transaction via Ethereum blockchain
IKEA has accepted payment in digital currency using the Ethereum blockchain to settle a transaction with a local retailer in Reykjavik. Tradeshift, the blockchain-powered supply chain, payments and marketplaces organisation that facilitated the transaction, said the event marked a "major step forward in business payments and finance". Tradeshift's platform completed the transaction using an ether-based version of the Icelandic krona created by Monerium, the first and – so far – only fintech company authorised to issue regulated e-money on blockchains.
Visa enables small businesses to access cash instantly
Visa has announced a new feature that enables real-time disbursements for small business owners using QuickBooks Payments to directly access funds with their eligible debit card. The Instant Deposit feature integrates Visa Direct capabilities, allowing merchants using QuickBooks Payments to deposit their funds immediately into their bank accounts linked to an eligible debit card. Instant Deposit is initially available to customers of QuickBooks Payments in the US, and will be generally available by the end of the year. Visa says the service is aimed at serving the immediate cash flow needs of small businesses, something that often poses a significant challenge to their growth.
Alipay expands outside Asia for digital payments
Alipay, one of China’s dominant digital payments providers, is to expand outside Asia for the first time through an e-wallet joint venture with Russian internet firm Mail.ru. Mail.ru will take a 40 per cent stake in the venture, making it the largest shareholder. Apart from Alipay, other partners include Russia’s sovereign wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), mobile operator MegaFon and Russian international holding company USM. Alipay already partners with local e-wallet providers such as Hong Kong’s AlipayHK, Indonesia’s Dana and Malaysia’s Touch ‘n Go. Alipay is operated by Ant Financial, the financial affiliate of Alibaba Group.