At the beginning of 2020, Covid-19 caught many businesses off guard and their historical strategies were simply not able to cope with a global pandemic on this scale. Companies began scrabbling around setting up new ways of working and harnessing technological innovation to keep their business engines running.
CFOs around the world set about conducting a cost reduction exercise at scale, making tough decisions around their suppliers and staff to combat the decline in sales, cashflow and supply chain disruption.
Among these struggling businesses, SMEs – the backbone of the global economy – have become the hardest hit victims of the virus. According to a recent Covid-19 survey of UK SMEs conducted by McKinsey (2020), more than half view the country’s economy as very or extremely weak, and half expect market stagnation or recession.
Technological innovation: a beacon of light for global business
For many businesses across the globe, the Covid-19 pandemic has been their darkest hour. But for these same businesses there is light at the end of the tunnel - a beacon of light in the form of technological innovation.
As a response to the crisis, it is estimated that around a third of SMEs moved their businesses online in April 2020. Businesses have also harnessed technological innovation in lockdown to provision for remote working - either using Zoom or Microsoft Teams to stay connected with their clients and to keep their workforces stay motivated and engaged.
Meanwhile, companies that rely upon on premise data storage solutions have needed to invest in cloud technology to ensure their employees and clients can access the vital data that their businesses are built on.
As many of these new ways of working have sunk in as a response to a physical necessity, CFOs have begun to realize the opportunity of technologies that enable remote working to reduce costs. Many businesses indeed will continue to implement these policies across the business as we come out of lockdown as a cost-driving initiative, encouraging a remote working infrastructure and a reduction in non-essential travel.
Recently there has been news that Microsoft has needed to obtain six website domains to prevent phishing attacks on Office 365 customers. This shows the magnitude to which hackers are attempting to capitalize on the Covid-19 crisis. Elsewhere, there have been ransomware attacks on corporations including Fortune 500 companies where hackers have specifically been targeting home workers.
Meanwhile, Action Fraud, the UK’s National Fraud and Cybercrime Reporting Centre as of 8th July 2020 has received 13,820 reports of coronavirus-related scams, mostly online, totaling £11.3 million in losses.
It’s essential that if companies continue with remote working they invest in the right technology to protect the data of their employees and customers, as well as educating and training workers on how to prevent cyber-scams from occurring.
With the news that a second wave of Covid-19 may be coming and to protect against future pandemics, we will continue to see businesses prioritize the payment for goods and services using online payment methods.
However, many traditional banks and payment companies have been slow to respond with a competitive offering to provision for international payments, failing to adapt to market conditions particularly when SMEs are concerned.
Any foreign currency transaction typically incurs an associated fee, levied directly by the bank. These fees vary between providers, and can be either a percentage of the transaction value or a flat fee. These fees can be high in themselves, particularly for small businesses, but the real trouble comes when banks hide the real cost of foreign currency transactions in the exchange rate offered. Ultimately, banks have not changed this model in the crisis resulting in many SMEs looking elsewhere for competitive rates.
At the same time, transaction fees are only one piece of the jigsaw when it comes to the cost of international payments. Currency hedging is a vital element of risk management for organizations which engage in transactions in foreign currency. Such solutions have traditionally been seen as only relevant for large enterprises, but in a world where even the smallest organizations have an increasingly international outlook, this is a short-sighted approach on the part of the banks.
As a result, fast and flexible fintechs and neobanks are scoping up with competition, offering competitive and timely B2B payments. The costs of making international payments all add up, ultimately affecting profit margins. If we truly want SMEs to thrive in a post-Covid-19 world - and continue to contribute a huge amount of revenue to the global economy and the employment market - it is imperative that those SMEs are able to make their foreign currency transactions as efficient and cost-effective as possible.
Business resilience post-pandemic predictions
For those that have been able to stay resilient during Covid-19, the battle has only just begun. As we deal with the fallout of returning to the ‘new normal,’ businesses will need to re-model their business continuity strategies with technology at its heart to keep themselves alive.
Technologies such as virtual conferencing, mobile connectivity and social media will keep businesses in contact with customers and stakeholders. In 2019, 2.7 billion people owned a smartphone enabling continuous data connections and 3.4 billion people use social networks. We expect this number to grow drastically in the context of the global pandemic.
We will also observe a huge shift by companies to online. The internet is a gigantic market of 4.4 billion individuals sharing an ever-larger quantity of data. 12 billion emails are sent every hour. According to IDC, the data specialist, by 2025 there will be 5 times more data stored on the planet than there is today. The total volume will stand at 175 ZB, i.e. 175 thousand billion GB. Global pandemics which promote remote working for survival could make that figure even higher.
Meanwhile, artificial intelligence and machine learning will be applied to company and client data sets will yield better insights to inform post-Covid-19 business strategies – to understand better the new way of working and how to capitalize on it, while ensuring that the data is secure and compliant with regulations such as PSD2 and GDPR.
Innovations in the fintech sector will have a truly transformative impact on small businesses and their ability to make cost-efficient payments. Rapid onboarding processes and real-time currency fluctuation monitoring will help even the smallest businesses scale quickly and increase profitability. ‘Open Banking’ will enable a variety of payment options to capture the needs of each and every customer on a global basis. More broadly, the promise of transparency of options and freedom of choice.
Pierre-Antoine Dusoulier, CEO and Founder, iBanFirst