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  • Startup Growth Via Remote Working

    What do you do when one of your best team members from the tech team suddenly needs to return to their home country? It’s an unavoidable situation like… a family crisis. Do you simply let them go and hope you’ll find someone to replace them? Or do you offer them remote work to minimize disruption by putting into place a remote working arrangement? Many start-ups are opting for the latter.  There is a good reason to implement more remote working: reduced turnover. The State of Remote Work recently showed that companies that support remote work often observe a 25% lower employee turnover when compared to companies that don’t. Interestingly, most of the companies using the remote working approach are startups. In the same state of remote work approach, the report found that smaller companies were twice as likely to hire remote workers than large companies. Also, recent data done by Upwork shows that up to 63 percent of companies in the United States allow some form of remote work. Of course, when assessing their level of development, innovative tendencies, and hiring demands, it is relatively easier for startups to adapt to the cultural shift and work ways to facilitate smooth remote working. Another interesting point to note is that by allowing its workers to work-from-home or a preferred location, the startup also enjoys a number of other benefits of remote working.  Firstly, allowing remote working expands the startup talent pool. An important responsibility for startups is finding the best team member for the job. Hiring can be a long and costly process: hiring remotely can avoid that. Moreover, the reduced costs of remote enabling technology, cheaper flights and the normalcy of such practices have made them increasingly popular. Start-ups have found that by allowing such a small ‘concession’ they can keep a team intact and keep a valuable employee motivated. Although, it is important to note that the more the work the team handles remotely, the better the relationship between members and the overall efficiency of the team. For instance, Hotjar; a growing start-up in the tech space, allows her workers to work remotely. However, the organization also hosts physical retreats and meetups to further improve relationships between members. Allowing staff to work remotely has also been shown to build employer-employee trust. By allowing an employee work from a remote location, the employer is placing the employee on a higher level of trust than he normally would if such an employee had to do the job strictly under the close supervision of the employer. Building trust early enough is important to improving the productivity of the establishment early enough.  Trust is very important in organizations, a study on the psychological contract of trust revealed that; “Trust in organization strategies and top‐management direction is the critical component in creating a commitment towards a common goal.” The study also argued that senior managers should place a high value on trust and be able to communicate this value to everyone. This is even more important in remote working.  Apart from all this, allowing remote working enables Startups to be able to achieve some level of flexibility in the course of their work. The State of Remote Work report showed that about 51% of remote workers chose to work remotely to achieve good work-life balance. This balance can be a big deal for startups. Remote working helps this life-work balance in workers with the ultimate goal of improving overall productivity. Lastly, could repatriative remote working could prove useful for other reasons? From a talent perspective, they could open the company up to new pockets of skilled workers, especially if the company is able to tap into the wider network of that newly remote team member. The remote team member’s new location might be another new market to enter or highlight a previously unnoticed market. Companies shouldn’t be afraid to seek gains beyond the obvious and look for other benefits.  
  • Flat Organisations and Employee Retention

    Flatter organisations are better at creating more transparent work environments. Communication across and between departments and teams are quicker and generally better than in traditional hierarchical structures. They are also perceived to be less ‘bureaucratic’, though I’m less convinced about that one. But, they have one weakness… career progression! One friend of mine recently told of how a large commercial brand with a flat structure was nurturing “horizontal progression”(!) It was strange for both her and her colleagues to imagine progression being sideways rather than upwards. She left the firm within two-weeks of that meeting. Though it didn’t work out for my friend and this company, it’s an exemplary model, if done well. ‘Horizontal Progression’ may mean being able to complete internal internships in other related departments to improve interdepartmental communication. It will also help in developing more rounded team members that not only understand the intricacies of their functional areas, but also possess a great overview of closely linked departments. It is this type of information exchange which encourages innovation, better collaboration and a more dynamic workforce. It’s important that flatter organisations not forget these aspects: their greatest weakness can turn out to be a source of major strength.
  • The Neobank Starter Kit

    As consumers have lost confidence in traditional banks over the past decade, and new regulatory laws are in place, the banking industry is in the midst of major disruption. Neobanks or traditionally “mobile-friendly” banks are taking this opportunity to target a broader customer base of millennials. These banks don’t have any physical branches or the legacy technology systems which hinder innovation.  Not all these FinTech firms possess a banking license. Some only provide a ‘user service’ relying on ‘traditional banks’ for processing payments. However, some Neobanks such as Monzo are properly licensed and provide end-to-end services to their customers. Banks such as Monzo, Starling Bank, Revoult, etc. provide a standard set of features to their customers. These features provide them with the competitive advantage they require over traditional banks. We have compiled a list of features offered by most Neobanks in the UK.
    1. Minimal Fees – As the overheads of Neobanks are low (website maintenance only), they can afford to charge low fees to their customers and still be profitable. Therefore, most neo banks charge considerably fewer fees than traditional banks. For example a Neobank Revoult has three pricing packages; standard, premium and metal. Even the standard package offers minimalistic fees such as no exchange fees or ATM withdrawal fee up to a certain limit.
    2. Easier Sign Up Process – Neobanks have a simple, paperless sign-up process. The Neobanks use N26 paperless signup process, which hardly takes eight minutes and doesn’t require you to visit the bank. You could make your account simply via your smartphone. If you’re using your smartphone to scan passport documents and face unlock, it’s high-time the financial sector catches up – exactly what Neobanks offer.
    3. Built-in Budgeting – Neobanks allows users to set up their budgets and categorize their expenditures. This is one of the first features which is quickly being adopted by more mainstream banks e.g. Santander’s banking app now includes this feature too.  It allows the user to see exactly where their money is being spent so they could work more proactively to save more money in their account.
    4. Real-Time Notifications – Neobanks provide immaculate customer service by reducing processing time. Therefore, you’ll receive a notification once you use your card sometimes even before the actual receipt has been printed! They would also notify you in case you are overspending from your budget. Many people have credited this as one of the main reasons for Monzo’s success.
    5. Send Money Easily – Neobanks offer customers more flexibility and control over their payments. With a minimal fee of .5 -1%, most banks would send money in multiple currencies at the current exchange rate. In case you have any recurring payments such as rent, Neobanks allow you to set those up, so you’re never late on any of your payments. Money sending and receiving requests also have fast processing times, and you could do it with just a click of a button.
    6. Security of Account – Unlike a traditional bank, if you lose your card, you could simply freeze it from the app instead of calling the helpline and waiting on customer support. Monzo also gives you an option to get a new card a day after you freeze it Also, most neo banks have location-based security; therefore if anyone uses your card in any other location, the payments would automatically be blocked. Traditional banks rely on two-step verification processes and haven’t inculcated advanced security protocols. As Neobanks are online banks; therefore, they are less prone to hackers as they spend considerable budget on improving their technology and ensuring the safety of their customers.
    The potential impact created by Neobanks in the UK can be huge similar to China. However, they need to emulate the financial model of Ant Financial (Biggest Neobank of China), so customers are inclined towards switching from their current account. However, the long-term profitability of such banks is still a question to be asked! If the Neobanks expand from their standard set of features and offer custom services to their customers. Their future is certainly quite bright.
  • Ongoing socialisation

    One of the unspoken purposes of work and companies is that they continue where education left in the socialisation of people. If we look at schools and education systems in general, they (should) prepare us for the wider world in terms of tolerance/ acceptance, exposing us to new ideas and peoples and providing a structure which we may all of us to succeed.  Work and organisations carry on this purpose: filling in the soft skills gaps where we’re lacking. For me, the best organisations do not just provide access to tacit knowledge or indeed technical expertise, but actively invest in softer skills which are often more difficult, and necessary, to cultivate. Though I often support teams and individuals with finding technology specific training, by far the most important skills are soft or people skills — communication, empathy, time management, leadership and creativity. Few, if any, of these are taught as ‘direct’ modules within schools, we’re expected to ‘develop’ them organically.     But, this organic development doesn’t always happen and organisations meet the shortfall through various in-house training (e.g. leadership, cross-cultural or inclusion, communication training etc.), careful induction programmes and lastly reprimanding systems. When I think of it this way, I begin to realise just how vital a role learning and development plays in not only shaping companies, individuals, but to a lesser extent, society. 
  • Future of cards and contactless payments

    Contactless payments are becoming standard in the UK, with the region spending over £7.75 billion in the past few years using this payment method. The rest of the world is yet to follow, but it’s inevitable that the consumer landscape is heading towards this direction. Contactless cards have become commonplace in Australia, Canada, and several countries in Europe. Oddly enough, the US is taking a long time in expanding its use of this payment method. The forced migration to include an EMV chip in cards issued by major credit card networks like American Express, Visa, and Mastercard is said to be behind the slow shift to contactless payment EMV (Europay, Mastercard, and Visa) is the name for the chip technology used to authenticate card transactions. Unlike magnetic stripe cards that use static data to validate transactions, EMV cards use a unique and dynamic code that cannot be used replicated.  In preparation for the eventual shift into contactless payments, EMV cards have also been equipped with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. Merchant terminals are also being prepared to take contactless transactions. Mobile payments also continue to gain ground as retailers adopt the use of Samsung Pay, Android Pay, and Apple Pay. Using the NFC technology, users can tap their phone on a terminal similar to how it’s done with a card. In the near future, people can completely forget about their wallet because everything they need is on their smartphone. Other modes of contactless payment can be found in wearable technology like key fobs from French car manufacturer DS Automobiles and fitness bands from Fitbit and Garmin. Companies like Gemalto and Blaze even use NFC-embedded stickers which can be slapped on anything to make almost anything capable of contactless payment. Contactless payment is very useful in high-volume, low-price transactions wherein convenience and speed matter most. Shopping for grocery items, taking out food in quick-service restaurants, and going through prescriptions in pharmacies benefit the most from contactless transactions. Some countries are also starting to use it to pay for transportation. Experts say that this is where the use of contactless payment will really take off as users will become more familiarized in its mechanics and see its benefits in everyday transactions. A major concern on the use of contactless payment methods is security. One solution is to put a transaction cap on how much you can spend when ‘tapping’ the card. Amounts exceeding the cap will require authentication from the user to process the transaction. This, however, creates confusion among card users since limits for contactless transactions vary per country. To remedy this issue, Visa is currently experimenting on the use of biometric payment cards to strengthen transaction security without sacrificing convenience. Banks in the UK and in France are also doing pilot trials on how to remove the payment cap while improving security. The tap-and-go nature of contactless payments offers incredible transaction convenience. Cards and payment terminals ready for this technology have already been issued and the world is just waiting for their widespread usage. With the way things are going, it’s not far-fetched to see cash as a thing of the past.
  • Pride! Pride! Pride! 🙂

    One of the primary functions of the education system is the socialisation of children. It gives children the skills and knowledge; but some would argue, more importantly, the attitudes and behaviours required to be successfully live in the ‘future’. This is one of the reasons why protests made earlier this year by the well-meaning, but misguided parents, on the reforms to primary Health&Sex education was so sad to see. The Relationships Education, Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education’ document provides guidance on how to introduce primary school children to different family/ household forms (e.g. single parents, sexual minority/ LGBT parents, families headed by grandparents etc.), defines caring and respectful friendships and tackles appropriate relationship online. With each Pride Month more and more firms seem to filter their logos in rainbow-hued colours. They demonstrate their increased openness to sexual minorities. These rainbow logos are becoming normal because sexual diversity is increasingly viewed as ‘normal’ and it will be more so in the future within which these primary school children will live and work. It’s wonderful to know that sexual diversity will be associated more with acts of celebration and support than a past of repression, fear, and confusion. Wishing You A Happy Pride Month! 
  • Chinese Regulation on Cryptocurrency

    In late 2018, the Chinese government implemented a blanket regulatory ban on all Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) and local bitcoin trading activities. This is not surprising since regulations have been heading in this direction since 2013 when authorities prohibited banks and payment institutions from dealing in Bitcoin.  Major policymaking developments were seen in 2017 when government regulators issued warnings about the risks associated with engaging in ICOs, citing the possibility of fraud, pyramid schemes, Ponzi schemes, and illegal fundraising. In the same year, restrictions on cryptocurrency trading platforms were enforced, including the registration of new clients and the conversion of fiat to digital currencies.  All websites related to ICOs and cryptocurrency trading, both local and foreign, were blocked from public access. Similarly, social media accounts of cryptocurrency exchanges like OKEx were also shut down.  Feeling trapped, people who were already into trading digital currencies found a way to circumvent the blockade by accessing cryptocurrency exchange platforms through Virtual Private Networks (VPN). However, this is considered illegal in the country and the recent protocols have even made it harder for crypto traders to use this workaround. The new regulations were the government’s answer to the rising concerns about scams tricking citizens,  not well-versed in the crypto market, to invest their hard-earned money on a highly-speculative asset. There’s also the threat of digital currencies being used for black market transactions and similar illegal activities. According to a circular released by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), around 90% of ICOs launched in the country were found to be fraudulent. Illegal fundraising programs boomed especially when bitcoin’s price spiked to a dizzying $19,000 per token in 2017. Many investors were hyped to quickly get into the cryptocurrency market to get a shot at becoming overnight millionaires.  Due to its low power costs, a huge deterrent for many miners in richer countries, China accounts for around 70% of the hashrate in the whole Bitcoin network.  But with the ban on cryptocurrency trading and the government’s plan to close in on mining as well, cryptocurrency mining companies are looking to relocate to countries with more favorable regulations. According to the National Development Reform Commission (NDRC), mining consumes astounding amounts of energy that pollutes the environment which is why the industry needs to be eliminated. Amidst the halting of cryptocurrency-related activities, China still supports research and development on blockchain technology. According to several sources, the Chinese government itself has invested more than $3.5 billion in blockchain technology in the last 3 years. Their plan is to release a digital fiat currency that will be totally legal and will be valued as much as the Chinese Yuan.  The Chinese president, Xi Jinping himself, said that blockchain is a breakthrough technology which the country will be focusing on in the coming years. It’s clear that the government is all for the development of blockchain technology, but not for its use as an alternative currency that challenges the rudiments of established financial systems.
  • The Next Employee Challenge: Loneliness in the Workplace

    This week, 17-21 June, is Loneliness Awareness Week. The concept, founded by the Marmalade Trust, started this week in 2017 to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of loneliness. The campaign aims to create a culture in which people can openly talk about feeling alone. Loneliness is a significant problem within many countries due to many factors: an isolated aged population, technology and increasingly fragmented family structures. But, there exists another concept of loneliness which is not often tackled — workplace loneliness. Loneliness is a relatively new epidemic affecting workers worldwide. Research published in the Perspectives on Psychological Sciences, reveals that loneliness can be as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In the UK alone, 9 million people (a fifth of the population) have expressed “always” or “often” feeling lonely. Lonelier workers perform poorly and feel less satisfied with their job, which costs employers more than £2.5 billion ($3.5 billion U.S.) in the UK alone. Human interaction is on the decline, and workers feel isolated from the organisation as well as their colleagues. Yet we give a blind eye to this hidden condition. Social isolation poses several mental, physical, and psychological hazards. Lonely workers tend to overthink and feel disconnected to the organisation. Such feelings are dangerous for the individual and often have negative consequences for organisations in terms of losses to both productivity and performance. However, there are several ways that companies and individuals can help to improve the situation by reducing loneliness within workplaces.

    Get An Infrastructure That Provides Privacy

    An open floor plan fosters interaction and introduces brightness. However, it has can cause disturbance and distractions to coworkers. For instance, an employee on her phone can cause disturbance to other employees. To overcome these types of intrusions, companies can put up cubicle walls to allow private spaces for employees. Additionally, these walls help in absorbing noises too.

    Encourage Social Interaction

    Encourage more social interaction at work. Companies can do this by having more events and activities. Ideally these will be informal, but even ‘Company Town Halls’ or ‘Internal Training Sessions’ introducing people to one another can go some way to reducing loneliness. However, best of all are fun social events out of the office allowing people to know each other on a more personal level. Create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing if their workload is beyond their capacity. Give team members outlets to discuss these issues: one-to-ones/ reviews, internal mentors and counsellors are great options. Similarly, team leads should not be afraid to bring up uncomfortable issues to discuss them through. If the company is able to, an external counselling service can also prove useful for team members to address such issues confidentially.   

    Leverage Technology

    Both in and out of the office, we are all hooked to our tech devices! Technology can both reduce and increase loneliness. In wider society, technology has proven very useful as a means of reducing loneliness for older population group. Similarly, technology may be used in companies to encourage more discussion: internal blogs, newsletters or forums can be a good place to meet others and express some concerns. Having music, in some circumstances, has also been proven to help general wellbeing. Background music also encourages interaction and talking, especially if there are interesting tunes being played or great topics being discussed.   Or, why not leave the technology behind altogether and create tech-free periods e.g. at lunch time, forcing the team to interact more with each other(?)

    Start Joining In

    Grab all opportunities to step away from your desk and indulge in a conversation with your coworkers. Instead of sending emails or text via Skype to the person sitting next to you, get up and talk to him or her. Don’t sit back and wait for invites. Instead, organize one yourself! It’s everyone’s responsibility to create a culture where team members feel engaged and are more productive. A right mix of work and leisure, such as social events can attain this. It will prevent loneliness, make people healthier and create an overall better company!
  • Racist: The ‘R’ word

    There’s been a recent ruling on a case related to racial discrimination that’s very interesting. As part of her induction training, Georges (the Claimant), went through some discrimination and diversity training. During the course of the training the trainer wrote a racial epithet on a flipchart. The word was then repeated thrice during the course of the training by other participants. Is that racist? And is saying a racist word acceptable for demonstration purposes? Well… the ruling upheld Georges’ claim agreeing that using the word so frequently had the “effect of creating a degrading and offensive environment”. The tribunal believed that the strategy used in the training was not only risky, but also insensitive. It’s ironic (and unfortunate) that a training programme focusing on diversity and inclusion and with well-meaning intentions will create the opposite effect. There have been a number of stories about famous people using racist terms/ language. This is not because they are racist, but because they feel they don’t harbour any racism themselves. They rationalise that they have a vari-ethnic friendship group or family whom they admire and therefore cannot possibly be racist. However, this doesn’t negate the discomfort those words have on people.
  • Australian and African Tech startups forge Blockchain-Powered partnerships

    Bitcoin can be considered as the “premiere” coin in the cryptocurrency world. The fact that it is the most popular coin makes it the de facto benchmark when talking about blockchain based digital currency. Although bitcoin and other altcoins still appear to have a long way to go before they can genuinely establish themselves as the mainstream mode of transaction. However, the technology behind them, blockchain, is proving useful in providing various alternative solutions across many types of industrial sectors.  

    How the Success of Bitcoin is driving the Startup Ecosystem.

    Bitcoin is opening up a new pathway in the world of technology. Bitcoin’s success has resulted in its steady inclusion in trading markets around the world. Online trading sites and mobile trading apps now allow traders to trade in contracts for difference (CFDs) while speculating on its price changes. Although Bitcoins can’t yet be bought on many trading markets, this is likely to change very soon as the price of Bitcoin has surged pass gold in the past year. Australian Startups are not left out of this Bitcoin revolution as they are now utilizing Bitcoin and its underlying technology in various ways to partner with upcoming African companies.

    The Australian-African Tech Startup Linkup

    We are getting to see more interest, deals and partnership in the Africa fintech ecosystem, especially from the Australian fintech companies. This could be due to the fact that both regions have seen a booming growth in their fintech ecosystem. Australia and Africa experienced a 396% and 376% (year-over-year) growth in vc-backing funding for fintech startups respectively in the past year. This is huge when compared to North America and Europe that experienced 43% and 24% respectively. In addition, the financial regulations in Africa which were formerly a significant deterrent for firms aspiring to enter the African market, are improving. The Australian government has also made a marked effort to improve on its strategic partnership with Africa. This was most notable when the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade created Australia-Africa Relations (AGAAR) in 2015. The Advisory Group’s aim, according AGAAR’s strategy is to capitalise on “Africa’s influence… [and] increasing regional and world-wide impact”. Many Australian Fintech companies are following AGAAR’s lead into the continent. Several are using blockchain technology to partner with their African counterparts. For example, Fintech Company like Power Ledger is combining blockchain technology and renewable solar energy to deliver P2P energy solutions. They already boast of presence in Europe, Southeast Asia, and North America and are seeking to expand further. They were present at both the Athletes, Conservationists, Technologists, Artists and Innovators (ACTAI) and Bitfury’s Annual Blockchain Summit in Morocco which took place last year. At the latter event, they spoke of how blockchain and bitcoin-based technology can contribute to the transformation of the African region and the world. Another example is the collaboration between ClickPesa, a Tanzanian fintech startup, and Novatti Group, a fintech and Telecom Company based in Australia. They facilitate cross-border transactions for Australian mining companies operating in Tanzania using an Australian Dollar utility token and the blockchain-based Stellar protocol that enables the transactions of crypto-to-fiat currency. ClickPesa, which is targeting East Africa, primarily Congo, Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi, carried out a trial transaction in conjunction with Novatti to test the AUD utility token as a form of new payment protocols. It will help facilitate a faster, cheaper and more transparent business transactions between companies as well as the government .

    Utilizing The Blockchain Technology for Developing Unique Tokens

    As mentioned earlier, the Stellar protocol used by ClickPesa and Novatti group is also used by other industries. Companies such as IBM and Quantoz, an IoT blockchain, company have also embraced the Stellar protocol. Startups such as SureRemit, a Nigeria Fintech company, make use of Stellar based blockchain technology to carry out various types of transactions such as mobile top-up, paying a utility bill, donating to a cause, etc. as well using the company tokens, which is inspired by Bitcoin. That is not all! The growing strength of blockchain technology is creating new and exciting partnerships in the fintech sector. Recently, NaturesCoin, which is an Australia based Startup Company, announced they are meeting with organizations in Ghana. The company stated its intention to partner with NGOs in Western Africa to establish its stablecoin economy plan. The company created a crypto coin connected to assets, which promote ecology, accountability, and sustainability for corporations. All these successful partnerships are creating momentum for a new set of Africans and Australian fintech companies aiming to collaborate on blockchain based fintech products and services and promoting a stable economic relationship between the two regions. As blockchain and bitcoin-based technology expand, so will the technology partnership among fintech companies. Many success stories are now prompting new set African and Australian fintech to explore partnership in blockchain-powered fintech products and services.

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