Investment Pitching – Ten Ways to Get It Right

Why Pitch? Pitching is a crucial part of the investment journey. Fail to pitch well and fail to learn may set you back. So be prepared!

Before we explore the pitching process, let’s consider what stage of your business life cycle you are in and therefore what the investment requirement might be. Business start ups often involve personal cash and time, as well as borrowing money from friends and family (love money). This is often referred to as bootstrapping. You might also be relying on loans and overdrafts and more than likely tapping into non-refundable grants. The pitch often comes when you are looking to start-up or more commonly looking to scale up – that is, getting your business idea off the ground, or growing quicker than your baseline and projections suggest.

So you now want to consider investment in your business? This means you are giving away part of your company and you will share ownership and therefore many of your company’s future decisions. So you need the right investment partner. Accepting investment is not like a loan when you can walk away after fulfilling payment. Investors are typically involved for a number of years until a successful buy-out or if unsuccessful, liquidation. Is your investment partner a crowdfund campaign, a sole angel investor, an angel syndicate, a family office, with or without co-investment funds, or perhaps a corporate venturing company or a venture capital fund?

Confusing, yes? Think carefully about how these types of organisations differ as your approach to them will need to differ also.

Which Investor?

Individual angel investors and/ or angel groups are less institutionalised. They may come from a finance background, but likely to be successful entrepreneurs and will be very commercially minded. They will insist on meeting you face-to-face and you will be expected to peak their interest in your investment proposition almost immediately.

Family offices behave in a similar way to angel groups but will often require a trusted introduction and your investment proposition will most likely to be a very good fit with their investment principles.

If there are co-investment funds in the mix, these organisations may be public funded or form part of a University Fund and will again have a different approach based on alignment with their permitted sectors and criteria for investment.

Corporate venture funds is popular particularly in the technology sector, and often a good solution for early stage technology companies to bolster their balance sheet and begin growing sales and/ or advancing new technology, but it is not always right for start-up companies for a number of reasons, often due to conflicts of interests.

Venture capital funds are perhaps the toughest route for a start-up company to pursue given that they are usually focused on investing in more mature investment propositions and their process will almost certainly be more drawn out than the options previously outlined.

Innis and Gunn Crowdfunding Campaign 2019

Crowdfunding has been popular, and has been successfully applied when a brand is strong and can attract interest from a LOT of small investors. You will normally be expected to have a minimum level of investment secured before the crowdfunding campaign, and require a good handle on PR and online marketing. In terms of pitching, you may have one chance at a first impression as your ‘pitch’ will be recorded and uploaded, and may not even meet your investors face-to-face. Innis and Gunn had a successful crowdfund campaign in 2016 and have recently launched another campaign to help build a new brewery.

There has never been a better time to consider investing. Ten years ago the choices were far more limited, and who knows what the investment landscape will look like in ten years time. For example, the UK Government’s SEIS and EIS investment schemes continue to give early stage investors plenty of down-side protection.

It is a good time for a female founder to approach potential investors. BUT the proposition still needs to be sound!

The Pitch Deck

So, onto the pitch. Critically, some investors will provide a template to use, so you will need to revise your pitch to use a format they are comfortable with. But let’s assume you are invited to pitch without any documentation provided.

Pitch decks can range from short and succinct to long and detailed, and one very important point is not to use the pitch deck you would normally make to customers as investors want to see different things!

The most common pitch deck headings include:

  • The problem your business is solving
  • Roadmap (showing time to achieve milestones)
  • Your solution or product
  • Market size and potential
  • Route to market
  • Competitors and points of difference
  • The management team
  • Historical finances and projections
  • The ask – investment proposition

Additional areas that may also be covered include:

  • Purpose of company – why you set up the company
  • Investment and funding history
  • Testimonials and PR coverage
  • Board of directors and advisors

Ten Ways to Get Your Pitch Right

Investing relies on choosing ingredients

Let us consider your investment journey like a recipe for a chocolate cake. Each cake might look and feel different depending on the quality of ingredients, the amount of chocolate you use, how you mix it and the oven itself. And finding that magic extra ingredient to make it unique, whether a splash of whisky or spice. So the following themes are your ingredients for each pitch, use as much or as little as you need depending on who your audience is. Apparently, investors spend on average 3 mins 44 seconds on reading a pitch deck! So it’s a challenge.

And remember that extra special ingredient of patience will be needed! Extra chocolate anyone??

#1. Do your due diligence on them!

What’s the investor’s criteria, geographic and sector limitations, and track record? Who is in the room and do they have particular interests? Some investors focus on sector, some on stage of business life cycle, and others on differentiators such as social purpose and/ or gender. Weave this information into your pitch so they know you are talking to them not a generic investor. The Rose Review in 2019 highlighted only 13% of senior people on UK investment teams are woman, and almost half (48%) of investment teams have no women at all. Less than 1% of UK venture funding goes to all-female teams and just 4% of deals. So currently, you are more likely to be pitching to a male dominated investing organisation. So make sure you know who you are pitching to and that they are the right fit with your business and it is the right time to invest.

“At ESM Investments we receive 20 pitch decks per month and we estimate circa 10% had researched our organisation thoroughly for alignment with their own organisation. Alignment saves a great deal of time for both concerned. Investors often don’t have enough time to read through volumes of information in order to find that all important reason why they should contact the entrepreneur to make the next step. Being concise makes life easier for everyone. Oh and a warm introduction to the investor can be very helpful as a third party endorsement can be valuable. In summary, be aligned, be concise and try to be introduced if possible.” – Steven Morris, founder and Chair of ESM Investments Ltd

#2. Ensure your leadership team is aligned

They are investors not mediators. Most companies are led by more than one founder, so they will want to see that your personal motivations and growth plans fit the company’s vision. Is there a clear consensus on growth, diversification and exit? Get a trusted advisor to test all founders so you are able to confidently respond to any question.

“The challenge is keeping everyone on the same page. Investors ask questions and it can be a tortuous journey so being focused and aligned is important.” – Brian Williamson, award-winning entrepreneur

#3. Have a resilience coping strategy

No one said investment pitching would be easy. Remember all pitches give you exposure to experience. You might be lucky first time, but it’s unusual. It’s not about you! And even if the investors liked your pitch, they may not invest for other reasons such as timing, conflict with another investment they have or a feeling they won’t add any value as an investor. Make sure you don’t go into your second pitch deflated. Research by Harvard Professor Tom Eisenmann suggests companies need on average 40 investor meetings and over 12 weeks to close a round. A 2015 study of UK angel networks noted that only 30% of funding proposals went beyond the initial screening process, and overall, fewer than 3% attracted funding.

“My biggest challenge is the rejection and getting conflicting advice – go for investment now, no, wait two years etc. And if you have a social purpose its complicated. It’s ok and normal to be tired by it all, it can be very lonely.” – Avril Chester, Founder, Cancer Central

#4. Tell your story well

This is a story about you as well as your company. What are you passionate about? Why did you get involved in the company? Can you bring your product or service to life? Investors remember people and remember stories. Think also about props – your phone, a pen, a book, and weave it into the pitch. And how you tell it is as important as the ‘what’. And aim to be as authentic as possible otherwise it may come across as false even if it is polished.

“Be a compelling speaker. Practice. Know your story and how to tell it. Get the emotional connection.” – Russell Wardrop, The Pitchmaker

#5. What is the problem you are trying to solve?

How ambitious is it? And can you explain it succinctly? The pitch aims to complement your business plan that (hopefully) most investors will have read. But don’t assume they have! Use your time wisely. Too much detail might switch your audience off, too little looks lightweight.

“People fail to explain 1. What does the business do 2. What is the business model 3. Future strategy 4. What do you want.” – Atholl Duncan, investor

#6. Defensibility strategy

Who are tomorrows competitors? These are usually companies that do similar activity or an aspect of what you do, or new entrants that take advantage of your leg work. How can you protect what you do? What is stopping an established company creating the same thing to compete with you? It can be easy to be arrogant and state what you do can’t be replicated or done as well as you, but can you prove it?

“Understanding our competition is vital. We’ve spent a significant amount of time researching who’s there, how they’ve grown and pivoted, and why. Learning from this, we can confidently demonstrate our ability to compete in the marketplace with a product that’s both robust and ahead of the curve.” – Catherine Ann Reid, founder Life’s Back Up

#7. Show off but don’t be a show off!

Investors want credibility – how do you show you know your market and product? Using statistics and testimonials can demonstrate your expertise and knowledge. But humility goes a long way. If you are pitching to angel investors, do you want an active investor that can support or fill a gap in your skillset? So the pitch may also become a reverse interview. For this reason, some pitch decks will place the team near the beginning to confirm its importance, and show active investors an opportunity for their skillset. Having an active investor as a partner can be invaluable as they can mentor you, provide much needed contacts or simply offer advice. But equally if it is the wrong fit, it can create more difficulties for you in your business journey.

“We’ve been approached and offered investment, but its not right for us at the moment. It’s important to leverage investment at the right time and with the right partner.” Anne MacColl, founder, Saint Amans Gin

#8. Investor chemistry

The F factor. Females generally have higher Emotional Intelligence (EQ) than men, so use it! Engage, converse, make eye contact, smile. Recent research from Stanford suggested women had 8% greater expressions of interest when approaching venture capitalists than men. However, we also know that this does not translate into actual investment funding so the pitch is a real opportunity to secure investment. Research undertaken in 2016 into UK angel investing confirms that people factors are the dominant ‘deal killer’ so a focus on engaging with your potential investors is vital.

“People buy people not products. You can have the best concept or business in the world but if investors can’t engage with you they will shy away.” – Victoria Russell, coach and advisor

#9. Pitching

Brevity, clarity, impact. What is your style for pitching to an audience? Is it to focus on your slides, or is it a theatrical performance? How you pitch is as important as what you are pitching. Ensure your slides don’t have typos and has a suitable font size and colour for the presentation room. Are you able to let investors experience your product or service? Why rely on slides when you can let them see it.

“Investors only skim slide decks. Start bold ‘solving world famine’. End bold ‘save a billion lives by 2025’.” – Gary McAuslan, pharma advisor

#10. Communicate the future but don’t lose sight of reality.

It is easy to show graphs and numbers projecting growth, and investors want ambition, but can you justify it? Who are you benchmarking against, and what proof of demand is there. Make sure you are knowledgeable about market demand not just your capability to deliver. While financial information is often captured in later slides, research suggests it is the slide investors spend longest reading.

“Calculate the market potential carefully. Numbers can often be unrealistic and don’t stack up.” – Simone Barnett, sales advisor

The Pitch – Other Considerations

  • Duration – how long do you have? 3 mins, 15 mins? Are you the first presenter? Do you have a separate Q&A? Is there a visible clock or do you have someone to advise when you have a minute to go?
  • Projection – does your attire reflect your business? Can you position yourself so you are able to view all audience members? Are your vocals clear? Can you engage with your audience easily enough?
  • Slides – are you talking and clicking? Can you talk without having to stop and revert back to your slides? Are you saying verbatim what your slides say? Are you using the right visuals? Brand? Quality photographs?
  • Media – do you want to use a video clip? If so, this eats into your presentation time. Can you forward beforehand to those attending?
  • The End – how you end the pitch is as important as you begin. Don’t be afraid of The Ask.
  • The Questions – be prepared. Questions can vary from asking about your differentiator, your cash burn rate, your personal motivation, margins, stress test sales, bottom up projections to industry track record and exit plans.

Victoria Russell is a global consultant and coach. She has supported companies with pitch decks, pitching skills and business plans, has helped with crowdfunding preparation, and is an active member of an angel syndicate supporting members and companies, as well as investing herself. She is particularly passionate about supporting fellow female entrepreneurs. This article aims to offer an insight based on experience from herself and other investors, and does not represent the views of any investment group or intermediary.

This article was produced for participants at RBS Venturing Forward Conference, November 2019 attended by around 300 participants. Victoria facilitated the Investment Pitching session.

Thanks to Criona Courtney, Gill Rattray, Helen Fullerton and Jackie Forbes

CFO Agenda – Profitability and Active Overhead Management to drive Your Company to Success

Profitability is the key to driving a successful business, and how you do this will undoubtedly make or break many a CFO, with many sleepless nights trying to unlock the secrets to this success. Unless you are an NFP (Not for Profit) business you get up in the morning, get dressed, and off to work to play your part in driving success and delivering sustainable profits. And so, the cycle continues …

However, this cycle can easily become broken via a large variety of means, for example; new competitors, threats from competitor product innovation, customer migration, poor quality product manufacture, reputational risk and customer dissatisfaction, macro environmental impacts i.e. have you heard of Brexit?

As a Director and CFO of Merlin Consultancy (Global) Ltd I would like to provide you with insight and tools ‘as your extra pair of safe hands.’ These blogs will provide you with ideas and thought inducing opportunities for how a CFO can play their part to risk mitigate the aforementioned cycles. However, the focus today is on cost control and specifically overhead management within your company.

From our experience the curse of overheads in any business can generally follow a life cycle which trends the following six stages;

  • High overhead to sales ratios in the initial year of start up
  • Overhead focus and maximizing returns post start up
  • Sales focus takes priority as the business matures, and the business tackles opportunities and threats
  • Leaving overheads to their own devices to accumulate and spread like a disease across the company
  • Sales start to plateau and the business settles into a planned trajectory.
  • Immediate realisation that overheads are too high, out of control, or that Macro threats mean that you need to cut your cloth accordingly and all aspects of the business addressed

This may resonate with CFO’s who have often grappled with fellow execs over wage constraints, marketing budgets, premises decisions, travel & entertainment levels, procurement decisions etc, which have seen all of these, and more, increase to unsustainable levels or to levels that are completely out of cinq with sales volume and business activity.

Fast forward to 2019 and it’s time to cut the clutter and spread of the overhead disease and drive them back down to a level commensurate with business activity and to a cost which beats your sector competitors and gives you that competitive edge again. I know that many CFO’s are still grappling with ongoing regulatory environment demands, planning for/assessing Brexit, and trying to deal with a myriad of other challenges. I know, because we are actively helping clients with these very demands too.

I’ve used and can recommend various tools and methodologies which are available to help get more control on overheads and understanding their absorption across your business. Many of my clients have adopted these with fantastic results, so for starters;

Understanding your cost base and driving down overheads

Good discipline is needed across the following;

  • Engagement and Communication of the company’s priorities:  When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.  Communicating and driving from the top down the need to control overheads is a great starter for ten. However, this needs careful thought around the messaging and delivery, and attention to tracking how this is embraced across your fellow C-Suite and senior management.
  • Clear definitions of success: Everyone in the company may agree that “delivery of a 5% reduction in overheads” may be the goal but differ on what exactly constitutes success.  KPI’s and metrics which underpin the delivery are just as important as the £ reduction itself. The KPI’s will also help you track and maintain the hard-won rewards and keep the menace that is ‘creeping overhead disease’ from returning too soon.
  • Motivation: Most people are driven by finding purpose in their work and a desire to succeed.  A small team who own the communication and KPIs for your overhead reduction programme will provide clear and constant feedback on progress towards the goals and help enable everyone in your company and culture to play their part in the immediate success, the rewards, and ongoing war against overheads.
  • Activity Based Management (ABM):  You need to quickly establish what exactly is driving your cost base and particularly your overhead consumption. A simple yet effective ABC/M model can get to the nub of the key issues quickly with typically a 70%+ confidence level. Having implemented and delivered many of these, my advice is not to expend huge efforts of time and money on bespoke Activity systems (unless already in place within your organization) at this stage. A prototype model can be built within MS Excel or similar – build time totally dependent on data availability and buy-in from your C-Suite peers. Don’t aim too high at this stage, 70%+ accuracy is more than enough to provide pointers to what parts of your business are driving the costs and overheads. Engage a third party to lead and drive this work as it’s critical that the business see the output as being independent as this will provide you an immediate ‘antibiotic’ with a step-up achieving buy-in and confidence.
  • Chart of Accounts (COA) / Trial Balance: ‘What’s not seen is not heard………’ – this truism is all too prevalent in business these days. Standard cost centre reporting often rolls up data from your COA’s and for reporting on a page reasons the ‘devil in the detail’ is hidden. Lines of overhead as reported at nominal level in your trial balance can go unmissed as they are rolled up into Management Reporting line items which often hide adverse variances and deep-rooted problems. As the saying goes, “What gets measured and reported gets managed.”  The commitment of the company to elevating certain nominal codes and reviewing these means that nothing is left to chance and you can achieve that extra ‘stretch’ to attack those overheads.
  • Use a set of SMART metrics: (will delve into these in more detail in my next blog) and link these to overhead controlling KPI’s which are simple for your peers to understand and buy-into, yet effective and easy to maintain and report on.
  • Engage an independent firm to undertake a simple and cost-effective Business Diagnostic (BD): a further blog on these, which considers your whole value chain, not just costs/overheads to be issued. From my experience of implementing/delivering BD’s these will more than pay for themselves several times over from the insightful management information (MI) you will receive and bottom-line improvements in a very short time period.

Characteristics of Successful Cost/Overhead Management Programmes

Clarity

The scope of the programme MUST be clear and everyone needs to fully understand what the programme is going to achieve, including their input and commitment requirement.  It’s not motivational if it’s unclear, then it’s not even useful and will certainly fail before you even get off the starting blocks. Engage a 3rd party firm to take the time and effort away and let the CFO focus on other priorities.

Leads to Action

Everyone needs to know how their actions, whether individually or as teams can help the company meet the objective of fighting the overhead disease. As a driver of the activity levers each and every C-Suite member has an impact on how quickly, and from where, the overhead disease can spread. Informing C-suite of how these levers work and their degree of impact will lead to action and acknowledgement of the problem. – this is a good place to be.

Simplicity

I have seen so many such programmes fail because they tried to be too complex and methodological. ‘KEEP THEM SIMPLE’ is my mantra and best advice. Yes, downstream, once the business is wholly on the same page then you can start to incorporate the shiny suits, the designer clothes, the salon haircuts, but please keep it simple to begin with. As soon as you start building in complexity then fellow C-Suites will lose interest and think it’s, ‘just another finance fad thing.’

Communicate, communicate, communicate is so important throughout all stages of the programme lifecycle. Regular working groups from across the C-suite, and C-Suite updates are essential to winning your war on overheads.

But that’s just the start.

Then it’s time to communicate throughout the company and set up monitoring systems. 

Are You Ready to Win the fight with Overheads and prevent the disease from spreading?

You know how to manage your day to day operations and are undoubtedly mired in a plethora of other priorities.  We are here to help and be ‘your extra pair of safe hands’ so please ‘click here’ if you would like to bring in the wizards from Merlin to win your war on costs and overheads.

The Killer App

I’ve been working with a client on their PSD2 / Open Banking project for over a year now as a Fraud SME, and despite the recent announcement by the FCA delaying enforcement of the regulation, things will undoubtedly improve in a couple of ways following implementation;

  • Reduced online fraud
  • Increased competition through sharing of bank data, given the low levels of current account switching.

What has left me more intrigued however is how it will be embraced by the general public?

Having all your accounts with different providers in one place isn’t a new concept, and the extra layer of security that Open Banking will provide will get a few more people on board, but what will be the watershed use for Open Banking? What will be the Killer App?

Below are some thoughts on a potential future but please feel free to agree or disagree and engage with this post.

There are good use cases for age verification and affordability assessment, but compliance tends to be imposed onto a business rather than embraced by them.

To consider the future for Open Banking first consider how you save the consumer money. The rise of aggregators such as Moneysupermarket demonstrates the appetite from customers to change providers to save money. From my experience, I tend to receive weekly emails from them with top 10 offers followed by increased activity around known renewal dates and preapproved/ high chance of being accepted offers. These all rely on the customer realising they are paying to much and acting accordingly, and people do it in their droves.

Now imagine you could outsource all of that by letting someone else interrogate your data? Savings rates you’re getting compared to best in the market. Changes in payment amounts on credit cards showing your promo rate has just finished. Knowing insurance payment data. Bring all this together and you could get marketing from these companies which will be specific to how much they can save you, guaranteed. From a GDPR perspective Open Banking will need to convince both us, and the authorities that personal data is being managed and protected appropriately, with increased protections versus the current being a game changer for many.

Great for consumers, but what will that mean for the providers?

Some will bury their heads in the sand, pat their acquisition teams on the back as they see their market share soar via competitive advantage, but at what cost? Customer behaviour will undoubtably change suggesting those accounts will be less profitable than forecast, in all likelihood being unprofitable. This will mean a contraction of the market in terms of teaser rates and potentially a reduction in switching due to price. So where might we end up? More aligned deals for new and existing customers? More of a focus on customer experience to retain business? We’ll soon see.

Andy Brock is an Associate with Merlin Consultancy with over 15 years experience of retail banking experience, with particular specialism in fraud.

GDPR – One Year On …

Regulation, Fines, and the Way ahead.

25th May 2018 was a momentous date in the world of data protection, and has proven to be a watershed moment in re-aligning the rights of individuals, and increasing the duties of care from those controlling, passing through, or handling personal data. The UK’s Information Commissioners’ Office (ICO) has also gained far-reaching powers and grown significant teeth in how they can now tackle and regulate data violations and breaches, as well as hundreds of additional inspectors and offices covering all of the UK to help audit and check that businesses are complying with the regulations. The duty of care on the majority of employers and businesses are no longer optional, but mandatory.

The level of high-profile cases, with significant fines being applied by ICO, has steadily increased since May 2018 and our view is that this will increasingly rise as ICO seize the opportunities now afforded to them to help improve, and deter, the previous fairly lacklustre data protection environment.

If you are still wondering what all the fuss is about, here’s a quick recap:

What is GDPR?

The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR for short) is built around two key principles.

  1. Giving citizens and residents more control of their personal data
  2. Simplifying regulations for businesses with a unifying regulation that stands across the European Union (EU)

It’s important to bear in mind that GDPR applies to any business established in the EU and may apply to companies based outside of the EU that process the personal data of EU citizens in certain circumstances. This latter point is critical to appreciate for those businesses who may perceive the rules don’t apply to them if they are located outside the EU.

Separately, in case you think Brexit provides a way out of all this new regulation, think again…, the UK government has confirmed that Brexit will not affect GDPR. It’s also confirmed that post-Brexit, the UK’s own law (or a newly-proposed Data Protection Act (DPA)) will directly mirror GDPR.

GDPR overview

  • Businesses whose activities involve ‘regular or systematic’ monitoring of data subjects on a large scale (in other words processing extensive personal information), or which involve processing large volumes of ‘special category data’ must employ a Data Protection Officer (DPO). Their role will be to ensure the company complies with the obligations under the GDPR. They’ll also be the contact for any data protection queries.
  • The above mentioned DPO can also be employed via what we refer to as a Virtual DPO – someone who undertakes the role of DPO for you in line with a service agreement without your business having to invest in employing a full time DPO. This is a service, we at Merlin, can cost- effectively offer to all of our clients.
  • GDPR may apply to any business that processes the personal data of EU citizens, including those with fewer than 250.

Serious breaches (that is, any breach which has an impact on the rights of data subjects) must be reported to the regulator (in the UK this is the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)). This should be within 24 hours where possible, but at least within 72 hours and the report must include information regarding what led to the breach, how it is being contained and planned next steps

  • Individuals will have more rights on how businesses use their data. In some instances, they have the ‘right to be forgotten’ if they no longer want you to process their personal data and you have no other legal grounds (for example the individual is no longer a customer so your contract with them no longer gives you a legal right) to keep the data
  • Failure to comply will result in harsher penalties. Before, the ICO could fine up to £500,000 but the GDPR allows fines of up to €20 million, or four per cent of annual turnover, whichever is higher

GDPR checklist for UK small businesses

Remember, your checklist needs to take into account past and present employees and suppliers as well as customers (and anyone else’s data you’re processing which includes collecting, recording, storing and using the personal data in any way).

  1. Know your data.
  2. Identify whether you’re relying on consent to process personal data.
  3. Look hard at your security measures and policies.
  4. Prepare to meet Subject Access Requests (SARs) within a one-month timeframe.
  5. Train your employees, and report a serious breach within 72 hours.
  6. Conduct due-diligence on your supply chain.
  7. Create fair processing notices.
  8. Decide whether you need to employ a Data Protection Officer (DPO), and/or consider speaking with us about our cost-effective Virtual DPO (vDPO) services.

What constitutes ‘large-scale’ data processing?

GDPR doesn’t yet fully define what constitutes ‘large-scale’, but some examples include the processing of patient data by hospitals, travel data and transport services, and customer data by an insurance company or bank.

Hanging on to old data?

One of the key principles of GDPR is to require companies not to hold on to personal data for longer than necessary, or process it for purposes that the individual isn’t aware of. Identifying your data categories – what personal data you have, and why – will be very helpful in ensuring you’re compliant with the GDPR. We can help with templates, guidance on retention policies, staff training, guidance on what you should and shouldn’t retain, compliance audits etc.

How does the GDPR define ‘consent’?

Customer or individual ‘consent’ has been redefined and has become much tighter as a result. On top of this, requests for consent can no longer be hidden in small print but must be presented clearly, and separately to other policies on your website or communications – so no more pre-ticked boxes.

Consent may not be required for pre-existing personal data, as long as you have a legal basis that’s compliant with the current legislation (the DPA).

The principle here is that inactivity is no longer a legitimate way to confirm consent. Remember, this applies to you too, as a consumer with personal data rights of your own, and may be a welcome change!

Fair processing notices

It may sound complicated, but a fair processing notice is about giving people clear information about what you’re doing with their personal data. Your fair processing notice should describe:

  • why you’re processing their personal data (the purpose), including the legal basis you have, such as consent (check the ICO’s privacy notices page for more information)
  • the categories of recipients you may be sending the personal data to (customer, employee, supplier, etc)
  • how long you’ll be holding onto the data (the ‘retention’ period’), or the criteria used to determine these time periods

You’ll also need to notify individuals of the existence of their personal data rights.

I employ fewer than 250 people. What should I do?

Being a small business doesn’t mean you fall out of the GDPR scope. It’s recognised that small businesses have fewer resources and pose less of a risk to data protection, so there may be more leniency by the ICO in relation to any non-compliance.

However, you’ll still want to ensure you’re compliant with the principles of the GDPR. This is because your business must still comply if it’s involved in regular processing (which includes collecting, storing and using) of personal data. It’s easier to follow the GDPR and get compliant, than to spend time figuring out how you can avoid complying, especially if you’re working without legal guidance.

It’s also important to note that even if your company falls under one of the exemptions, if you’re contracting with a larger company that conducts large-scale processing you may also be subject to the harsher end of the GDPR’s regulation.

Aside from the law, responsible data handling is a basic principle of good business upkeep. If you’re a one-person band but aware that your records are a bit all over the place, have you thought about how you’d explain a breach to your trusted customers?

GDPR consent – how do I get consent from my customers to use their data?

Consent is a key concern tackled by the GDPR and an area in which is still quite open to interpretation..

GDPR consent checklist and principles (at-a-glance):

  • Check your consent practices and existing records. Refresh where necessary
  • Offer individuals genuine choice and control
  • Where using an opt-in, don’t rely on pre-ticked boxes or default options
  • Explicit consent means a very clear, specific statement of consent
  • Keep your consent requests separate from other terms and conditions
  • Be specific, granular, clear and concise
  • Name any third parties who will rely on the consent
  • Make it easy for people to withdraw consent (and tell them how)
  • Keep evidence of the consent (who, when, how and what you’ve told people)
  • Avoid making consent a precondition of your business services
  • Consent should put individuals in control, build trust and engagement and enhance your reputation

What are the GDPR penalties?

The GDPR toughens up penalties already existing under the DPA. These existing penalties include:

  • Maximum fines of £500,000
  • Prosecutions, including prison sentences for deliberate breaches
  • Obligatory undertakings, where your company has to commit to specific action to improve compliance

With the introduction of GDPR, these penalties got heavier.

Businesses in breach are liable to a dramatic increase in fines, with penalties reaching an upper limit of €20 million or four per cent of annual global turnover, whichever is higher.

Insolvency will be a real risk for non-compliant businesses as a result of these fines. But bear in mind the possibility that individuals can also sue you if they suffer as a result of your data management. This could be for material damage or non-material suffering, such as distress.

The Way Ahead

Since May 2018 more and more businesses like yours have woken up to just how much GDPR can actually benefit them and deliver real, tangible opportunities and competitive advantage in the marketplace.

GDPR will only continue to make the headlines and evolve, therefore, you should ensure you fully understand the business implications, ensure you are always undertaking Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs), undertake regular GDPR compliance audits, you’re your SAR’s process, and have ready access to a DPO for friendly advice and help at all times.

Did you know that Merlin can offer all of these, and that in virtually all cases the cost of GDPR compliance audits will be recovered through data process re-engineering, improved and more targeted Management Information, cost savings, staff compliance and training, and the reassurance that your business has demonstrated that it has remedial plans in place for ongoing GDPR compliance to help alleviate potential breaches and fines.

More importantly, use GDPR to make data work on your behalf, using it in strategy and forward planning. We work at executive level and can help you realise the risks and potential involved with your data.

For a confidential chat to discuss your specific needs, contact Partner/CFO Director Doug Moodie directly, and see how we can help your business flourish in the world of GDPR.

Transforming the Retail Banking and Insurance Customer Journey

The financial services industry faces ever-increasing levels of technological (Fintech), regulatory and oversight change. This is against a backdrop of challenging economic conditions and falling levels of trust.

At the same time, customer expectations of improved quality of service through their channel of choice are demanding rapid responses from banks, building societies or insurers.

Unsurprisingly financial services providers are forced to re-think current strategies, amend their business models and review process efficiencies and systems. Without constantly seeking to be ‘best in class’ for customer experience, an organisation’s competitive position will erode more rapidly.

Recent Example:

A major Building Society faced challenges through lack of understanding of customer behaviours especially through digital channels. This was resolved by introducing an integrated channel strategy that delivered multimillion savings on branch redevelopment and a more cohesive Omni channel strategy creating a better customer and colleague journey for the organisation.

These unabating challenges mean organisations need to dramatically improve the customer journey whilst simultaneously lowering the cost base, creating multi channel consistency, and exploiting digital technologies to win and retain customers.

Example challenges in retail banking and insurance include:

  • Customer driven processes – Is the ability to deliver good customer experience being undermined by the increasing complexity of processes and poorly aligned distribution channels and operations? How do you use customer feedback to drive customer focussed change?
  • Cost to serve –The role of face-to-face and the branch is evolving to focus upon building customer relationships to drive sales. As a highly expensive component of the distribution mix, how are you maximising sales opportunities and driving out efficiency improvements within the branch network?
  • Digital channels – How far progressed are you on the digital journey? How effectively are the digital opportunities integrated into the overall distribution channels? Are you maximising the return from your digital investment or simply layering in additional costs?
  • Data insights – The sheer amount of customer data can be overwhelming. Data often resides in disparate locations; analytical capabilities may be immature and links to customer interfaces poor. This means the asset of readily available information fails to be leveraged. How are you using customer insight and analytics to deepen customer relationships?

What does this mean for you as a key fintech player?

Whether you are an emerging player or established market leader, technology will continue to evolve, it will continue to change the way you do business. FinTech will support Financial Services in streamlining operations, getting digital and fast access to money and services. But the winners will be the organisations who continually review their operating models. To provide customers 24×7 access to the channel of their choice and with a better customer experience.

With over 25 years of experience, including leading multimillion digital transformation programmes for leading Banks and Insurance companies, I am passionate about sharing best practice with practical insights, most institutions will invest in short-term experienced contractors, our strength is applying our extensive knowledge working with you as a partner to provide sustainable expertise. Our team have worked at senior level and can add real value to your thinking, before, during and after your transformation timeline.

  • We can apply strategic thinking and sense-test your vision with you
  • We can help establish your business case and help develop the structure of your programme including requirements and system selection
  • We can provide an independent review of your transformation programme mid-stream to assess
  • We can provide communication tools to support training and education towards your new operating model
  • We can provide mentoring and coaching to key individuals to ensure successful go live realisation

A True Partner

Merlin Consultancy has its core focus on ensuring we can deliver tangible benefits including:

  • A better customer experience together with improved customer advocacy and improved operational performance
  • An increase in your net promoter score (NPS)
  • Increased customer retention
  • Increased sales performance
  • Cost reduction through a reduced cost to acquire and service customers.

We can discuss in greater detail how we have supported other individuals and institutions in the Fintech community which has led to the above benefits.

This includes:

  • Increasing customer satisfaction from 59% to 85% and staff satisfaction 75% to 91%
  • Designing new target operating models with improved 30% efficiencies identified.
  • Reducing repeat contact demand by increasing first point of contact resolution.
  • Using data driven information to deliver significant cost reductions via a self-service shift.

What Next?

Ian will lead and engage the Merlin required resources to deliver a diagnostic review that is appropriate for the transformation programme life cycle. Ian has 25 years business transformation experience, delivering operating models, business change, digital transformation, customer journey, training, systems implementation and data migration. Recent clients include Gard, Medical Protection Society, Thinkmoney, Yorkshire Building Society, Co-operative Bank and Insurance and Lloyds Banking Group. He has worked at senior levels for KPMG, PWC, Capita, Unisys and Sapiens. Contact Ian direct.

Coaching the CFO: From Custodian to Future-Leader and Agent-of-Change

The CFO role has traditionally been perceived as the organisational ‘compliance police’ (I am sure many CFOs will not see this as their only purpose) an individual tasked with protecting value for shareholders first and foremost.

The typical CFO is often seen as an analytical pragmatist with strong technical skills that oversee the production and interpretation of detailed spreadsheets and metrics to effectively forecast scenarios.

“Cashflow”, “rules and regulations” and “risk” are common vocabulary in almost every discussion.

However, the CFO landscape has been changing markedly over recent years.

The demands and interests of markets, customers, technology, investors and people are no longer the preserve of the CEO and COO. The finance function continues to drive more of the strategic agenda and consequently, the CFO increasingly assumes the role as the closest partner to the CEO. More than ever, the CFO is an important team player, needed to educate and influence their Executive Team.

What does this mean for the demands placed on the CFO?

Whilst the hard skills of cost management and other accounting disciplines are still very much required, there is increasing realisation that finance experts’ social skills need to be fostered.

The Institute of Management Accountants have highlighted that in order to progress to CFO level they perceive there are four key skills needed:

  • effective communication
  • time management
  • influencing other departments
  • leading change

These “social competencies” often clash with the more clinical approach to problem-solving upon which accountants rely.

However, there is some good news!

Whilst IQ (Intelligent Quotient) levels can stagnate during our professional careers, EQ (Emotional Intelligence), which covers such social competencies described above, can be strengthened.

The use of Executive Coaching is a powerful way to increase self-awareness to support the CFO as a proactive leader, able to drive change and develop talent. This is particularly relevant for CFOs who are being nurtured as a future CEO and who need to think differently within their working landscape.

Recent research identified CFOs remain confident about growth prospects with 89% making investments to manage change. In addition, around 39% identified the need to manage the impact of automation and new digital technologies. This reflects other articles and discussions within accounting literature, including CA Today who note that keeping pace with changing technology is a focus for CFOs, and that breaking down silos is the key to ensuring success.

Quite a shift from traditional CFO strengths.

The role of an executive coach provides a trusted, safe partnership to help balance the technical competencies that have been built up over years.

Coaching will positively impact social competencies – often a myriad of feelings and behaviours regularly exposed to peers and investors. Coaching has grown significantly in the past decade as an important organisational consulting intervention. Alongside other training and development tools, the tool can accelerate and embed the CFO agenda. A coaching process allows a partnership to be forged, inspiring commitment, growing skills, promoting discipline and shaping the environment.

In my experience of coaching executives, many of whom being CFOs, I find myself drawn to Marshall Goldsmith’s mantra that the key challenge isn’t understanding the practice of leadership (KNOW HOW) but practising the understanding of leadership (SHOW HOW). This can often be the biggest challenge for a CFO, who relies on facts and data, rather than demonstrating proactive behaviours, to influence decision making and leading transformational change.

The Stakeholder Centred Coaching approach – developed by Marshall in his extensive experience coaching Fortune 500 executives – is an effective tool in the Executive Coaching process. It has been specifically designed to develop social competencies, whilst not ignoring the technical experience.

The approach is unique. Its baseline is on feedback mechanisms, such as 360-degree feedback report and observer (stakeholder) interviews. Moving forward, real-time, ‘feed-forward’ mechanisms are applied to support, challenge and develop over a period of weeks and months, thus ensuring regular sense-checks to behavioural change are verified outside of the coach perception.

Having coached across different sectors, I have found that many CFOs approach the process with a level of scrutiny at the start of coaching, based around validating evidence, particularly when using psychometrics. Responses are often focused around what they perceive they need to undertake their role successfully, rather than the needs of others or indeed the business itself from a culture or change perspective. However, executive coaching delivered by an expert can ensure that the outcomes are constantly in view and the effort is focused on the findings and developmental needs and not diverted by a scrutiny and challenge of the process. Coaching the CFO can have the greatest impact over other C-Suite Executives.

If you are a CFO prepared to measure yourself against a global benchmark of executives, perhaps in your first 100 days or planning succession to the role of CEO, with the drive and commitment to self-improvement, contact us for some further information on the methodology and experience.