What Every Small Business Should Know About Accepting Card Payments

The way in which people pay for goods and services is evolving rapidly. With the traditional cheque looking increasingly outmoded and people carrying smaller amounts of cash in their wallets, there is a growing demographic of consumers for whom plastic is becoming the exclusive payment method of choice.

That even the smallest startup accepts card is now an expectation rather than a convenient extra. For such entrepreneurs, whose chief concern may be trading and building their business, embracing card payment technology can aid in boosting their bottom line. These are some common questions that often arise when retailers are considering offering their customers the option of paying with card.

Do my customers care about what payment method they use?

In short, the answer is ‘yes’. A recent YouGov survey carried out on behalf of CardSave revealed that, 62% of people carry £20 or less in cash on them, yet almost everyone (93%) carries a credit or debit card. On top of that, nearly a third (30%) of the UK public said they had been inconvenienced by a retailer not accepting cards with 16% admitting to having walked out of a shop for this same reason.

Our data shows that people spent an average of £64.27 at small, independent merchants in February – more than three times the amount of cash they carry. When this figure is considered alongside the statistics above, the message becomes clear: businesses not offering card payment as an option are falling short of the expectations of a growing demographic of modern consumers who hardly carry any cash. These merchants risk losing out on important business.

How do I start accepting card payments?

The first step to take is to make an agreement with a card services provider, who will process your business’s card transactions on your behalf.

Startups should be mindful that card service providers vary in the services they offer, the charges they levy and the amount of help and support they will give retailers. The UK Card Association can provide further advice on this topic, but if you are a new business, consider first a service provider that operates with the small business merchant in mind. Choosing one which meets your specific needs will make process simpler and more cost effective.

How can I expect taking card payments to change my business?

Choosing to accept card payments brings benefits above and beyond offering customers another method of payment. Some merchants may feel that, while card payments benefit their customers, they come at a cost to their business. However, while it is true that there are costs involved, such as transaction fees and terminal rental charges, it should be pointed out that banks often charge businesses even more for banking cash and cheques. As charges made by card service provides are relatively small, they will more than likely be offset by the increase in revenue from card-paying customers.

Accepting cards has been shown to change customer spending behaviour. For example, electronic payments allow customers to spend more than the amount of cash they carry in their wallet. This encourages customers to make higher value transactions and impulse purchases: as already pointed out, the average card spend in small retailers is double what consumers carry in cash. Moreover, the convenience and speed of being able to pay by card positively affects customers’ retail experiences, encouraging them to return for further purchases.

Are there any legal or legislative considerations that I must take into account when taking cards?

In accepting card payments, business owners must recognise that they are handling customers’ sensitive personal information and take appropriate steps to ensure that it doesn’t get into the hands of data thieves. The potential fallout from experiencing a data breach can be grave and include fines, loss of credibility and ultimately lost business.

The best way of keeping customer data safe is to become compliant with PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards), a set of practical measures such as using not writing down a customers’ account details, that must be adhered to in order to achieve ‘compliance’. Cardholder data security is important and businesses can be fined by their card acquirer if found to be non-compliant.

There are card service providers that are specifically geared towards the needs of smaller or independent retailers and startups, and who will explain the steps required to become compliant, in simple, uncomplicated terms. They can provide support with administration and set up the certification appointment to make the process as easy as possible. So don’t be put off if much of the information you read on PCI seems like jargon!

Choosing to accept card payments allows new businesses to tap into a lucrative market and reach a broader range of customers. While there are things to consider before taking this step, they shouldn’t put you off. It is vital that small and independent businesses keep up with consumer trends, and choosing a card services provider that understands the needs and requirements of your business is your first step.

By Clive Kahn, CEO of Cardsave, specialist in card payment solutions for small businesses

Technology Headlines: TIm Cook Not Trying To Be Steve Jobs

Research in Motion (RIM), the company behind the Blackberry smartphone, has warned it will make a loss in its latest quarter. This news comes following a loss of ground as a number of customers are switching to iPhones and Androids.

Talking at the Wall Street Journal’s annual All Things Digital conference in California Apple’s new chief executive Tim Cook has said he is not trying to be the next Steve Jobs.

He also said that TV is an ‘area of intense interest‘ for the company looking forward.

A top Israeli minister has fed speculation that the Jewish state could be responsible for a powerful new virus said to have been used in a fresh attack on computers in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Bring Your Own Device Will Free Workers

Employees should be liberated and be given the opportunity to use their own devices at work, according to communications specialist and cloud computing company Qubic. The company’s Managing Director said that an archaic IT policy is unhelpful for workforces that want to be more flexible.

As more businesses consider the introduction of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to enable staff to use their laptops, tablets and smartphones at work, managers are being warned that old fashioned IT protectionism is no longer relevant. As long as due diligence is paid to security issues, workers should have the freedom to work across a variety of devices, it is argued.

Chris Papa, the Managing Director of Qubic, said, “BYOD is an incredibly useful concept. Our working patterns and environments are changing and as a result, we need access to tools that will enable us to cater for that. Accessing networks via a remote cloud system really showcases the capabilities that cloud computing provides.  As long as a secure private cloud is used, and data security remains stringent, it provides a great deal of freedom for workers and can deliver cost savings for businesses in terms of equipment costs.

“BYOD will be as successful as the security that underpins it. The risks should be assessed and devices monitored. This way, employees can be productive without putting their companies in unnecessary danger.”

Chris warns that there is still a large amount of awareness that needs to be created in regards to compatibility issues when it comes to using an employee’s own device to connect to a Local Area Network (LAN).

“One issue that can become problematic and can in some cases slow things down is when companies overlook the suitability of their personal devices for work, particularly when it comes to laptops. Quite often this process can be made easier at the buying stage to ensure that workers know the right equipment and specifications they should look for. Of course, current machines can be upgraded but if it is the employer left with the bill for this, it could become a stumbling block for adoption. When these aspects are taken into account, firms can benefit hugely from employees using their own devices in a professional capacity.”

Chris Papa, the Managing Director of Qubic

That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles

Saturday 26 May marked the deadline for compliance with the EU Cookie Law, one year later than originally planned. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office can now enforce an EU directive which will make it illegal to use cookies on a website without first obtaining the visitor’s “informed consent”.

Whilst the law is designed to protect internet users’ privacy, its implementation has severe implications for UK companies.  But, with around 95% of UK sites, including the majority of government sites, failing to meet the deadline, and the cost of compliance for UK SMEs estimated at £10 billion, the cookie is starting to crumble.

Cookies are small text files placed on a computer when users visit a site – they are used by the majority of websites for a variety of reasons, from keeping users logged in to tracking browsing habits. Whereas previously websites had to allow users to opt-out of cookies, the change in legislation means that users must now opt in before cookies are placed on their computers and mobile phones.

The law now requires a user’s “informed consent” before websites can deposit cookies on their device – however “informed consent” can mean different things in different circumstances, and presumes a certain level of understanding on the part of the user. With this ‘open to interpretation’ nature of the regulations, simply getting up to speed and understanding what the law now requires will be the first of many hurdles for UK SMEs.

Existing cookies will have to be audited and website privacy policies will need to be updated to present clear information about the cookies. Businesses will also need to ensure their website now includes a mechanism for obtaining consent, and may have to make additional technical changes in order to test for consent. This undertaking is not insignificant and could negatively impact small businesses that don’t have the resources to comply.

User experience will be compromised by an array of different consent solutions, which could ultimately impact on user retention and uptake. Data for commerce driven websites, such as metrics and return visitor statistics, will be lost.

Some third party apps will also be affected. Google Analytics, estimated to run on over 50% of websites, is an entirely cookie-based solution so is not compliant with the legislation without website users’ consent. Websites dependent on sales from advertising will also be badly hit.

The legislation will give those outwith the EU a usability, advertising and reporting advantage over UK domestic websites. Additionally, the cost of compliance is estimated at £10 billion and it is a burden that only EU companies will have to bear. At a time when the UK economy needs every assistance, it seems absurd to be enforcing a law that will put British firms at a clear competitive disadvantage.

Notwithstanding the law being deferred for a year, it was estimated that 95% of UK websites would fail to meet the deadline. Considering this included most of the government’s own websites, the punishment for non-compliance, fines of around £500K, seems unlikely until the government gets its own house in order.

The law needs to be revisited to specifically target the problem it’s trying to solve, instead of this broad-brush approach which disadvantages UK companies that are simply using cookies for site analytics and to improve user experience.

By Michael Newman, my1login CEO

It’s Not All Fun And (Olympic) ‘Games’ – SMBs Need To Take Device Security Seriously

An AVG survey of 1,000 US- and UK-based small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) conducted by GfK in 2011 shows that the adoption of mobile technology is a visible trend with one in five SMBs (19%) employing Android smartphones and an equal proportion using BlackBerry devices.

The survey called SMB Market Landscape Report 2011, reports that on average, employees are spending one day a week (20% of their time) working away from the office.

With the Olympics fast approaching, SMBs in and around London will be affected by the increase in traffic on public transport. Many have begun to think of ways to keep workers productive and remote and mobile working has become an increasingly attractive option. With people from all across the world coming to London, the Olympic Games can also potentially become a haven for criminal opportunists looking to steal mobile devices and data.

Whilst the majority of SMBs may have an Olympic travel strategy it is important that they also have an adequate IT security plan that will keep their data secure outside of the office. Despite numerous high-profile cases of hacking into corporate databases in recent years, only about six in 10 (58%) SMBs said they were worried about loss of company or customer information, social engineering or employee identity theft. SMBs seem to assume their larger competitors are more likely to be targeted by data thieves.

The SMB Market Landscape Report highlighted losses relating to security breaches including 22.1 million man-hours of labour responding to them. This equated to £1.18m spent on replacing damaged hardware and £2.19m in lost sales or revenue opportunities. Furthermore, stolen data can be used by criminals for financial gain or malicious intent and could result in a loss of reputation for the SMB.

There are ways to keep SMBs mobile workers secure and an antivirus solution should be the first point of implementation within the SMBs IT security strategy. Security software can be installed on devices such as the mobile phone, tablet or laptop easily and quickly and in the event of a stolen device, software can be installed that allow a user to lock, locate and wiped their devices to avoid further security threats.

In addition to using antivirus security software, AVG has created ten top tips for effective mobile working to help SMB employees stay protected during the Olympics:

1. Count the items you take out of your bag out and count them back in if you are working while on public transport — don’t forget your power cable or any other important item!

2. Think about where you are sitting and whether anyone can look over at your screen — this might sound like an obvious thing to point out, but thieves steal credit card PIN numbers by looking over peoples’ shoulders all the time, so be aware of the details you have on your screen.

3. As use of personal mobile Wi-Fi hotspots grows, users should not be tempted to connect with an apparently free wireless connection in a public place unless it is advertised by the web café owner etc. If you don’t know where your connection comes from, then you don’t know what you are connecting to.

4. Shut down your Bluetooth connection (unless you need it) when working in a public place. So-called ‘Bluejacking’ and ‘Bluesnarfing’ attacks are not the biggest information security risk around, but they are a consideration to be aware of.

5. If you have to use a “public” (or kiosk) computer then make sure that you never access your online banking details, make electronic purchases, or enter ANY personally identifiable information (including your address) on the machine. Be equally careful on your own laptop if using public Wi-Fi.

6. If your smartphone has Internet access, have you enabled filters and other onboard protection barriers? Similarly, turning off GPS capabilities can also limit location-trackers attempting to connect with your phone.

7. Don’t ask a stranger to “look after” your laptop while you use the restroom or go to the bar in a web café. Similarly, keep your laptop bag close to you throughout an evening event if you have to keep all your equipment with you.

8. Password protection should be enabled on your laptop and smartphone — and 12345678 or password or admin are not sensible passwords. Opt for an alphanumeric mix with special characters in upper and lower cases such as “puppyLove567$.”

9. Make a note of your smartphone manufacturer’s emergency phone line so you can call them to have your phone immobilised in the event of a loss.

10. Most important of all, make sure that you have a fully updated anti-virus suite installed and fully operational on your PC at all times. Protection should cover not only Internet security for web browsing, but also firewall technology, email defences and shields to guard against threats carried via Instant Messenger services.

By Mike Foreman, SVP of global sales at AVG

Technology Headlines: Huge Cyber Attack Discovered

A large-scale, complex targeted cyber-attack that collected private data from countries such as Israel and Iran has been uncovered, researchers have said. It is believed that the malware could well have been open for almost two years.

Russian security firm Kaspersky Labs have said that the malware, known as Flame, is ”one of the most complex threats ever discovered”.

Reports in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper say that Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry phones, is preparing for a major restructuring that will see it eliminate at least 2000 jobs worldwide.

And finally there are fresh reports that Facebook will launch their own phone next year. The New York Times cited unnamed sources, including Facebook employees, suggesting that the network had been hiring several smartphone engineers.

SaaS Accounting Technology

As the economy continues to struggle organisations are turning their attention once again towards cost reduction and efficiency improvements. And while many may believe that costs have been squeezed as far as possible over the past few years, there are still opportunities to transform operations. Technology has developed significantly since the recession first hit in 2007.

Software as a Service (SaaS) has become an increasingly accepted way of sourcing technology, offering organisations such as accountancy firms new ways to interact with clients. Small businesses now have access to a range of real time services, from cash flow forecasts to tax planning, that bear no resemblance to the traditional annual accounts provision and discussion of old.

Yet few accountants, or their clients, have yet to address the issue of automated invoice processing. As Kevin McLoughlin UK Country Manager, Twinfield, explains, by combining SaaS based accounting technology with electronic document management that provides both invoice automation and e-invoicing, accounting practices and small to medium businesses can process invoices automatically, reducing costs and providing faster insight into operational performance.

New Model

Many accountants are struggling to create a business model that reflects the demands of a changing market whilst still retaining profitability. Having been undercut by the providers of basic book-keeping services, many companies opted out of providing this service – the shoe boxes – only to discover that these companies had also been a good source of additional service based revenue.

As a result, many accountancy firms, including some of the largest firms, are looking at ways back into this market. But the traditional, annual accounts preparation is an expensive process that offers little if any margin – especially given the general drop in fees the market is now willing to bear. So what are the options? Some companies have opted to outsource these services to other countries, leveraging lower personnel costs to achieve a cheaper model.

But this has limitations – from client concerns regarding the security of sensitive financial data to the difficulty in then addressing client questions regarding specific aspects of the audit.   And this is key: if, as these organisations have discovered, the provision of book-keeping work is a critical way of winning additional service-led business, farming it out to a third party defeats the object.

With the right model, organisations should be able to leverage the book-keeping to deliver the raft of services that clients are increasingly demanding to deliver real, quantifiable value and tangible, day to day business support – from daily or weekly cash flow forecasts, to proactive advice on profitability or tax planning.

Integral Scanning

Key to this process has to be rapid access to client information. Document scanning technology, together with self learning software, can transform the cost base for accountancy firms and their clients and provide a platform for the delivery of these new services.  There are two options – firms can either opt to outsource invoice scanning to a third party (this could be the accounting practice); or clients can be empowered to scan their own invoices. Critical to this model is the integration of the document scanning technology with a Software as a Service (SaaS) based finance solution that automatically posts the invoice and streamlines the entire process.

Scanning purchase invoices in this way – either in bulk or by each client – drives down the cost by automating and streamlining processes, enabling accountants to compete with low cost book-keeping services.  More critically, by encouraging clients to scan purchase invoices on at least a daily basis, accountancy firms have access to the timely business information required to deliver added value services.

The ability to provide any business with near real time insight into performance is incredibly powerful. Simply accessing the accountant’s portal to discover how different parts of the business are performing, to track cash flow or assess the impact of currency fluctuations provides unprecedented confidence in decision making.  In addition, the accountant can publish the client’s accounts on the portal, providing anytime, anywhere access not only to the accounts – useful when talking to investors – but also the ability to drill through the information to attain a full financial history.

Conclusion

Rather than simply cut fees in response to both the financial climate and the squeeze from growing numbers of cut priced book-keepers, or exploit off shore resources to drive down costs, there is a massive opportunity for accountancy practices to leverage their expertise to deliver real financial insight to customers.

By automating invoice processing through document scanning, standardising processes and using self learning software, accountants can change the pricing model and, critically, create a near real time resource of client financial information that can transform the customer relationship, providing a depth of financial expertise that will be essential to help SMEs maintain or even grow the business during this sustained economic downturn, whilst delivering quantifiable additional service revenue to the bottom line.

By  Kevin McLoughlin, UK Country Manager at Twinfield

New App Calculates Your Tax And How It Is Spent

The Government is launching a new tax calculator enabling people to work out how much tax they pay and how the Government spends it. The tax calculator can be downloaded as a free mobile phone app and is also available on the HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) website.

The launch comes as new research reveals that over half of taxpayers (57%) do not know how much income tax and National Insurance they pay in a year, suggesting that many people find the personal tax system remote and confusing.

The new calculator uses online technology, makes it easy for taxpayers to see how much they can expect to pay and is an important step towards achieving the Government’s vision of making the system more transparent, open, and easier to understand.

The research published was carried out as part of the Government’s consultation on ways in which people could more easily access information on their personal taxes. It found that although 70% of those who receive bank statements said that they always check their transactions, just 26% of taxpayers are as thorough in checking how much tax they have paid, and only 10% would be able to put an exact figure on it, if asked.

“We think it is right that people know how much tax they pay and what the Government spends it on,” David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said.

“At the moment, over half of taxpayers do not know how much income tax and National Insurance they pay in a year. Our new tax calculator will allow them to find out, which is a big step towards a more transparent, 21st century system.”

The calculator can be found at www.hmrc.gov.uk/calcs-tools/index.shtml

By Marcus Leach, Head of Editorial at Fresh Business Thinking

Vocal Support For CRM And Sales Automation

While CRM and sales automation software suites are a boon to business, they’re not without their drawbacks. Chief amongst these is the frustrating lack of automation in the software itself. After a call with a customer, a typical CRM system requires users to manually key in detailed information about the contact or transaction, relying on them to remember the details of the call – which, considering that the bulk of sales and service transactions are made by phone seems bizarre.

The problem here lies in that the CRM system will only prove effective, for both individual and business, if this process is not only completed, but done so consistently and accurately – ideally within minutes of the phone call ending. There is only a small window of opportunity after the call’s completion in which to enter an accurate account of the information, and it goes without saying that as time passes the specific details from a call, let alone hundreds of them, become much harder to remember.

But it’s part of the sales or service person’s job to make these notes, isn’t it? Perhaps, but it’s not realistic to expect larges teams of sales and services staff, dealing with hundreds of calls per day – each involving an ongoing trail of dialogue and follow-ups – to devote themselves to their CRM system updates.  Good intentions don’t always lead to good practice.

Couple this with an unpredictable work schedule, and things are bound to get delayed. It is far more likely that staff will enter call-specific information into the system days, or even weeks, later rather than minutes – and whilst some data is better than no data, the detail of a conversation may be lost when reduced to a couple of lines of garbled notes, keyed in after the call has finished.  This leads to inaccurate and muddled records, and frustration for managers and colleagues that may have to piece together the facts from jumbled notes if the original contact person isn’t available.

No pause for thought

So why not take an alternative approach – and have a recording of the call accessible in the CRM/sales software, alongside the customer record?  Having the full detail of each telephone call captured automatically not only provides a comprehensive log of transactions and issues discussed, it also cuts out of inaccuracy and ambiguity – and relieves the burden of data entry for staff.

Even better if these records can be presented in an online dashboard, and categorised by date, time, the number dialled, the employee making the call, and so on – making them easy to search and retrieve. This dashboard can be integrated into existing CRM systems using a simple interface, enabling the detail of calls to be accessed and reviewed alongside other records of contact with that customer, such as emails.

Bringing voice to CRM and sales automation means that staff no longer have to rely on memory in order to retrieve the detail of calls they’ve made.  It also has the potential to increase ease of use across the business, whilst improving the quality and enriching the overall database.

Bridging the gap

It’s also of real benefit if an employee is away from the office, be it a scheduled holiday or unforeseen sick leave.  In either circumstance, the responsibility of maintaining communication with an absent employee’s client-base falls directly upon his or her colleagues.

This can often pose a big problem when sales software or CRM systems contain inaccurate and inconsistent data, or at worst, have no data record on file at all for a particular client.  Not only is this detrimental to the valued customer relationship, it severely limits access and utility – which isn’t ideal when the stand-in agent needs to close a deal, quickly resolve a question or handle a dispute with a key customer that involves a contentious phone call.

Having voice integrated with CRM or sales automation software enables the stand-in agent to maintain communication with the absent colleague’s clients without disruption, as records of previous calls are quickly accessed.  It can also help resolve issues with clients, by providing managers and staff with real time, recorded evidence of each conversation that has taken place – which can be called upon in the event of a future query or dispute.

So when it comes to sales and services environments, where so much traffic is unavoidably phone-based, the call of duty is clear – it’s time to speak up for voice recording, to add vocal support for CRM and sales automation.

By Mark Seemann, CEO of SYNETY

Technology Headlines: Cookie Law Deadline Approaches

Friday marks the last working day for UK businesses to prepare their websites for a new law governing the use of cookies. As of Sunday, under the new laws, sites must obtain “informed consent” from visitors before saving cookies on a machine.

In what has been a bad week for Facebook, there is some ‘good’ news. The social media giants have launched a new camera photo app that is remarkably like Instagram, which Facebook brought last month for a staggering $1 billion.

In a refreshing change from the usual stance shown by chief executives, Apple’s Tim Cook has opted to forgo the $75m (£48m) dividend payments that he was set to earn on the 1m shares he has received from the company.