Cash versus card payments

It is common knowledge that in recent years card and electronic payments have become more prevalent. The question is, what are the benefits and pitfalls of cash and card. Knowledge is power. To make informed decisions about your payment processes is a key step in streamlining your business and finding the most cost effective solution for your business.

Cash

Payments reached a historic milestone in 2004 where debit card spending (£272 billion) overtook cash spending (£269 billion)(Source The UK Card Association). However this takes into account business and financial organisations. Among private consumers, cash is the most popular payment method. In fact private consumers account for 99% of cash payments and used cash for 52% of their transactions. 56% of all cash payments were for £5 or less (Source: Payment council).

The organisation which represents the payment industry, states that by 2024 cash will be used for 30% of payments. Despite this ATMs increased to a new peak in 2014 at 69,382 with consumers withdrawing a total of £189 billion. Moreover only 4.4% of adults rarely use cash at all. David Hensley, the director of the payments industry body said “Cash remains a vital part of our day-to-day lives and is still the most attractive or only option in lots of situations. We continue to value notes and coins so highly for their familiarity and widespread acceptance.”

The type of business also has an impact on cash usage. 8 out of 10 purchases in pubs, clubs and newsagents were paid in cash, however 3 out of 10 purchases were made in cash at petrol stations. Payments under £1 for telephone boxes and car parks have dropped sharply. It is worth noting cash in the UK will see a large revamp with the introduction of new polymer banknotes and the new £1 coin which is suspected to make a dent in the cash usage decline.

Cash has been around since the 15th century, everybody knows what it is and how to use it. Consumers will choose cash because it is convenient, it has less security risks i.e. you never lose more than what you have in your wallet, it allows consumers to be more attuned with their spending, there is no need to reconcile receipts to your credit card statement and the list goes on. For this reason it is an attractive option to pay in cash. It also costs very little for a business to accept cash if the business has effective cash handling processes in place.  The result is cash is a widely accepted, popular and cost effective way to accept payment.

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As I mentioned, accepting cash payments costs very little when effective cash handling processes are in place. With the help of POS systems and cash handling equipment, handling cash payments has become easier, more efficient and reduces the risks associated with cash handling. For example counting and checking money can be time consuming however a banknote counter or a coin counter & sorter can do the same task more than twenty times quicker. From small to large volumes of cash it’s always worth investing in effective cash equipment and establishing clearly defined cash handling processes for staff to follow.

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One of the disadvantages of accepting cash which causes problems for businesses around the globe is counterfeit money. Nearly £5 million worth of counterfeit banknotes in the UK were removed from circulation in 2015. In fact, percentage-wise British pound sterling is one of the most counterfeited currencies in the world. The most counterfeited UK banknote was the £20 banknote. Ever since banknotes were invented they have been forged. Consequently it is always a good idea to check your banknotes when you are accepting them to make sure they are genuine especially in situations where you cannot see the banknotes clearly.

Counterfeit banknotes are worthless and if accepted there is no compensation which ultimately is deducted from your net profit. It is a criminal offence to hold onto or trade counterfeit notes. If you think a banknote is counterfeit you must hand in the banknote to the police where they will give you a receipt and send it to the Bank of England for analysis. If the banknote is genuine they will reimburse you.

In order to detect a counterfeit banknote, The Bank of England designs security features on all banknotes that can be checked to see if a banknote is genuine. Below is an example of the security features for a £20 banknote.

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(Source: Bank of England)

The majority of the time checking security features is too time consuming especially if you have a long queue of people wanting to be served or there is a high volume of cash to be checked. As a result many retailers use counterfeit detectors which can detect counterfeits in less than a second with up to 100% accuracy. Below I have explained the advantages of each type of counterfeit detector in order for you to make a more informed decision.

Banknote checker pens are the cheapest form of counterfeit detection. They detect if a banknote is made from paper (used in some counterfeit banknotes) or fibre based paper (used in genuine banknotes). A dark stain appears on the banknote if the banknote is made of paper. If the banknote is genuine it cause little or no discolouration. Although cost effective, pens can be unreliable. A seasoned counterfeiter will almost certainly use fibre based counterfeits to avoid detection by counterfeit detector pens.

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UV (ultraviolet) banknote detectors illuminate invisible UV marks printed on banknotes. If the UV marks do not illuminate, the banknote is very likely to be counterfeit (unless it has been through the wash or similar). Also used to detect non-currency such as driving licences and bank cards, UV detectors are a cheap and effective way to verify items. It is worth noting the Bank of England advises that UV detectors should be 365nm (the correct UV frequency) and LEDs should not be used to effectively detect counterfeits.

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Automatic banknote detectors are more expensive than pen and UV detectors, generally costing from £80 to £100 however they are the most accurate and fastest way to detect a counterfeit banknote. They take less than half a second to verify a banknote. If the banknote is counterfeit it will alert you with a visual and audio warning. You can expect to detect a number of counterfeits, so they more often than not offer a healthy return on investment. They also take away the hassle and time consuming task of checking banknotes manually.

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As well as counterfeiting, cash needs security to reduce the risk of robbery or even internal theft. Again, cash handling firms have the answer. POS safes are specially designed to be mounted to your countertop so any excess cash from your cash drawer can be conveniently put into the safe below.

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Overall it is essential to accept cash payments in most brick-and-mortar establishments. It is the most cost effective method for small businesses and it is widely accepted. However many retailers forget that cash handling can be streamlined to save a lot of time and money. To accept cash and not streamline your cash handling process is a costly mistake for any business.

Card

Card payments started in the 1950s aimed at diners that operated as charge cards (Source: The UK Card Association). Since then card payment technology has advanced rapidly so much so that at the end of 2011 there were 165.1 million cards in issue (Source The UK Card Association).

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Research by EE in 2015 found that 25% of shoppers have completely abandoned a purchase because they did not have cash and the shop didn’t accept cards. The same research found 4 out of 5 consumers expect to have the option to pay by card with nearly a third of consumers preferring to pay with contactless because of its speed.

Its easy to see why card payments have become increasingly popular over the years. Consumers can access their bank accounts 24/7 and cards are accepted just about anywhere in the world. They are a fast, simple and safe way to make a purchase. Card issuers also offer different types of cards to suit different needs; Credit cards replace cheques, debit cards replace cash and prepaid cards are used by stores as gift cards. Another clear advantage of card payments is that it enables consumers to clearly track expenses. Card companies will also argue that cards are safer than carrying cash or using cheques since they can be replaced and consumers have limited liability if a card is stolen.

The statistics and market research heavily support the argument to accept card payments however it is all too easy for a business (especially a SME) to overlook the disadvantages and not prepare accordingly. Firstly, it is not as easy as simply opening an account and voilà you can accept card payments. It can be a frustrating and lengthy process. It was found that the 83% of businesses that do not currently accept card payments said they considered using them but 77% said they had little or no understanding of how card payments work (Source: British SME).

If you are in the vast majority of SMEs who have little understanding of card payments it is worth knowing that UK card payment providers can pull the wool over your eyes all too easily. For example they may hide fees in your merchant statements which add up in the long run. PCI fees can be unnecessarily high and minimum monthly service charges can also add to your costs. Miscellaneous fees can also be charged and it can be difficult to find out what they actually refer to. Furthermore long contract periods make it hard for you to leave. Setting up card payments is a topic in itself. For now I intend just to point out that accepting card payments is not all plain sailing.

In addition to setting up an account, there is the risk of card fraud. Fraud is a significant problem in the UK which costs millions of pounds. Cards are stolen at various places, the most popular places being restaurants, retails stores and at ATMs. Although UK card holders are not financially liable for fraud, small business owners and the banks get the tab. Firstly if the business delivers the product, the business already loses the product unless the police are able to recover it, which is unlikely. Secondly the bank may look to the business for reimbursement for permitting the fraudulent transaction.

There are however preventative measures you can take. An effective technique to spot a counterfeit card is to check the UV mark under a ultraviolet light detector. Most cards have a UV marking which illuminates under ultraviolet light. If there is no UV mark, be very cautious. It is worth noting most cards are chip and PIN which is a new security measure to reduce fraud. Be cautious if the customer is using a non-chip and PIN card and be sure to implement extra checks.

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If you are unsure about the authenticity of the card you can also ask the customer to write their signature without looking at the card and then check this alongside the signature on the card. Often you can tell straight away if they can’t reproduce the signature. Another underrated method of detecting card fraud is simply using a gut feeling. If theres a new customer making a large order and they look uneasy or nervous, consider calling their cards provider to verify their identity or even get the bank to call the card owner for verification.

It is worth noting some legitimate cardholders will purchase goods then claim they didn’t receive the items so they get them for free. This is especially prevalent on online purchases. You can prevent this type of fraud by choosing delivery methods that are “signed for” and tracked so that it proves they received the item. Alternatively, if the product is purchased in-store, be sure to keep internal records that can prove the item was purchased e.g. receipts or CCTV footage.

Overall due to the increasing popularity of card payments every business should now accept this method of payment in order to future proof their business. However it is key to read your contract in depth and highlight any areas of concern with your point of contact. If you don’t, you risk entering into a long contract with high fees which is hard to leave. It is also always worth enforcing fraud preventative processes in your business so that you have a consistent level of protection against fraudsters.

Last word

It is clear that cash and card should be accepted due to their widespread popularity. Both can be a safe and efficient means of payment however both have their clear disadvantages that need to be tackled head on. A misinformed business owner could easily lose money through inefficient cash handling, accepting counterfeits, high card payment fees, card fraud and so on. This article has highlighted the key pitfalls however I encourage you to research the specific areas that are most applicable to your business to understand the step by step actions that need to be taken.

References

http://www.theguardian.com/money/2015/may/21/card-automated-payments-overtake-cash-first-time-payments-council

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-32778196

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/Pages/home.aspx

http://mainlinepayments.com/why-take-cards/

http://blog.payleven.co.uk/interesting-facts-about-card-payments/

https://www.mastercard.com/us/company/en/docs/Benefits_of_Payment_Cards_to_Consumers.pdf

https://www.barclaycard.co.uk/business/accepting-payments/payment-security/fraud-management/types-of-fraud#tabbox0

http://smallbusiness.chron.com/can-business-prevent-credit-card-fraud-1524.html

https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-cards/merchants-victims-credit-card-fraud/

The real truth behind finding a viable business idea.

Have you got the motivation but haven’t got the idea? Have you tried to execute an idea but it just seems to fizzle into nothing or make a measly profit? Do people give you business advice and supposedly smart ideas but they never have any real substance? Welcome to one of the most frustrating times of being an entrepreneur. I was that person once. In this article I aim to tell you the hard truth about finding a business idea and the real factors you need to take into consideration. I don’t believe in waiting for a lightbulb moment, I believe in creating your own opportunities here and now.

Are you wasting your time?

Firstly you need find out whether you’re wasting your time. Ask yourself the question “what do you want to accomplish and why are you looking to start a business”. Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the most successful people on the planet, once said the answer you want to hear is “I want to be a champion and I will do whatever it takes to become a champion” he went on to say “you can detect right away those that are going to be shakey and will fall behind”. Click here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOUVkISESKc) to watch the full video.

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This attitude is fundamental. It is the most powerful tool you will have to becoming successful. In business but also in life. Not having a business idea is a minor setback but your attitude is everything. You have to know deep down in your bones that you’re not going to give up until you find a feasible idea. I know that attitude is what enabled me hit on an idea and develop it into a successful business. It all depends on how bad you want it. I would go so far as to say that if you are extremely determined and learn from your mistakes, you will eventually set up a successful business, it’s simply a matter of time.

Very successful people, think in absolutes. It helps get rid of the distraction of plan B so they can focus on plan A. Will Smith is know for his work ethic and describes in 4 minutes in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVdEQrKrEms that the only difference he sees in himself that is different to others is that he will not be outworked. Once you understand the attitude and mentality of successful people, it will take you to the next level and enable you to successfully find and develop a business idea.

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In summary, you can’t be one of those people that dabble with ideas here and there and doesn’t fully commit. If you’re going to land on an idea and develop it into a successful business that can actually pay your mortgage and eventually make you wealthy, you have to commit 100% to it. Your work ethic has to be spot on, you have to be consistent and you’re going to have to believe in yourself no matter what. Do this and you have created the foundation of a successful entrepreneur. If you feel this just isn’t you then you may want to reconsider setting up your own business.

Its all about you

There are various ways to find the right business idea for you. The first place I would start is to ask yourself what you are passionate about. Dig deep down and have a good think about what you really like. What turns you on. Its important that you don’t put limitations on yourself, I find that sometimes you have to imagine asking yourself at age 10 or 12 “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. Granted you may have said something ridiculous but more often than not you can find a truth about yourself. At this age you haven’t developed a perception of what is realistic for you so it will give you an honest interpretation of what you really did love before life got in the way. It may not be a business idea, it may be a hobby or a sport, but its likely to be something you’ve always been interested in, something that you’ve always gravitated to. 

Some entrepreneurs are passionate about their product or service but some are passionate about business as a whole. Making money and being in business in general can be a passion. For example Richard Branson is not passionate about the product or service every one of his 400 companies offers, but he does have a talent and a passion for business in general. The key at this stage is to know what you’re passionate about however broad it may be and try not think of it as a business idea. It just has to feel right.  Have a good think about your passions and write them down.

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Gallup, a Washington, D.C. based polling organisation polled over 25 million employees and found only 13% felt engaged with their job or in other words felt a sense of passion for their job. To be truly passionate about your business idea will already put you leagues ahead of others and enable you to persevere when others can’t. Not to mention, you will be happier! Doing a job you love can change your life. Finding your passion should be a top priority in your life, yet so many of us put it to the bottom of our to-do-list. Its always surprising how the most fundamental questions in life are often ignored and the most distracting/non-important issues are pursed. Why? Because it’s hard and it takes time. It may mean you have turn your life upside down to pursue a crazy passion of yours and the pain of doing that is too much for most people. But deep down, under that fear, you know pursuing your passion is the right thing to do. Its worth noting, the younger you are, the easier it is to pursue a passion, so if you are young capitalise on this. Younger people have less commitments and are judged less, but have no more reason than others to pursue their passion.

The next task is to understand what you’re good at. Sometimes there are one or two thoughts that spring to mind, sometimes not. If you struggle to know what you’re good at try asking your friends and family that you trust. Don’t get trapped into thinking you’re not good at anything. You’re always going to be better at some things than others. Even if you’re not above average at anything, you need to find a few things that you are better at. What is your strongest area, not in relation to other people, but a strong area for you as an individual. Try not think about learned skill sets from your previous or current job, try to think where your natural talents lie. Things that you seem to pick up straight away and are comfortable with.

Remember none of these task should be taken lightly. It may be a long process finding what you’re good at. It may mean you have to try different areas e.g. it may be finance, a sport, business acumen, persuasiveness, being funny. It could be anything. You may have to look far and wide. Write everything down you’re good at or anything you see yourself having potential in. Sometimes it may not be necessary to look far and wide to know what you’re good at, it may already be clear to you, which in that case is perfect, just make sure you’re being true to yourself.

You may even be very talented at various things but you’re never going to be great at everything. Once you know what you’re good at, you can then delegate the work you’re not good at. Such a simple concept yet such a fundamental one. Richard Branson is classic example of business man that delegates exceptionally well. He is not a professional in every one of his companies, but the people he employs are. See in 20 minutes 10 seconds in the video here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNtGnO-xV3c) of Richard Branson stating if he had to choose the most important factor to success it would be looking for the best in the other people.

Finding the right idea

Now you know what you are passionate about and what you are good at, this is one of the very few times you will be able to create wonderful synergies. Once you are already committed to a business its a lot more painful to go back to the drawing board. So its important to get this right now rather than later. Firstly prioritise your lists so you put what you are most passionate about and good at, at the top of the list. You want to be looking at the list and start making connections. Your passion may be that you love business so then you marry that up with an area you’re good at. For example if you love business and you’ve always been good at writing, you could look to create a blog and eventually monetise traffic. Another example is if you’ve always loved driving and you’ve got a warm personality, you may think of setting up a youtube channel reviewing cars. you’re going to be more involved at the early stages of starting your first business so any pervious experience is very useful (but not mandatory).

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it has to be in a sexy or up and coming idea. In fact, there are often lucrative opportunities in the less attractive markets. For example if you’re passionate about business and you have no other real interests, you may want to enter markets others don’t want to e.g. the waste industry. For this reason, unattractive markets often have great opportunities. And remember after a few years you can employ people to do the dirty work for you.

Look far and wide at the markets surrounding your areas on your list. Try to narrow down a specific industry that suits your strengths and passions then look for gaps in the market. There is an abundance of opportunities, there is a just a lack of people that are willing and able to execute them. In order to find gaps in the market you have to look at various factors. For example are prices too high in the market, is the market lacking innovation, is there a lack of competitors for a certain product, are there no strong brands in the market, has the market got a weak online presence, etc. Keep looking for what the market is lacking and use your common sense. It is likely there will be a niche in the market that has not been capitalised on. If you can offer a product or service that the market is lacking, it allows you to to gain market share and from there on it is much easier to expand into other broader areas. It is critical to find your unique success factor that will set your business apart from the rest. This will form the core of your business.

To land on an idea that has clear potential and matches your passion and strengths is the holy grail. The most underrated way to find this idea is to make it your job to find it. Contrary to popular belief, you should not be waiting until you get a light bulb moment or wait until you feel you have experience. You should be actively looking for it day in, day out. You should be researching your chosen markets in depth and pursuing all possible opportunities to see if they are viable. Look all over the web, visit business to business sourcing websites, telephone competitors posing as a customer to glean information, try selling one or two products on ebay or to your next door neighbours to test the market, work out profit margins, research what people really want, etc. Hustle your way to the right idea, don’t sit back and wait for it to happen. Regularly watching interviews of successful entrepreneurs is great way to gain valuable advice and keep motivations levels high.

Consistency is where most people fail, they may not hit on an idea for a day (or even a month) and they give up. It is all about consistency, it is generally a long process but if you keep searching and learn from your mistakes, you will eventually find something. This stage will test your character because there are no perceived results until you land on an idea. Instead think of it as a numbers game, the more you research, the higher chance you have of landing a viable idea. Its also good practise to take a step back and see if the logic adds up. Don’t go ahead with an idea just because you’re desperate to start a business, this is not smart and it will waste your time. Be patient and regularly take a step back to see if your idea really makes sense and has a genuine chance of being profitable.

Another common problem is that your ideas may seem farfetched. They’re not. For that very reason many people will not attempt your idea because they don’t believe it can happen. You have to stop your limiting beliefs from shrouding your judgement and think to yourself what would you truly love to do. Entrepreneurship is a long journey. You may think it is farfetched now, but if you worked on your idea for the next 10 years with a clear passion and belief, it starts to become realistic.

In fact the bigger the dream the better. See at 1 minutes 27 seconds in the video here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oggBuErk1Wk) of Larry Page (co-founder of google) stating that you have to have a big enough goal that you will be excited to be working on for the next 10 years. If your idea doesn’t get you excited, it is not for you. Generally when you think big, you get more excited of the possibilities. Its also important to generate a vision of what your company will look like in the future and that vision has to excite you. Arnold Schwarzenegger repeatedly mentions that having a vision was a key to his success and that he didn’t even need to motivate himself much, rather his vision was so exciting it pulled him towards his goal. See at 1 minute 49 seconds in the video here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5_iSrU7or8) he talks about his vision for bodybuilding (which he also stated that he used in acting and politics).

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Last word

Being an entrepreneur without an idea can be extremely frustrating and depressing. Life is too short to wait for the perfect idea and situation. Leaving your dream life to chance is not something you should be willing to do. Find what you’re passionate about, find what you’re good at, research markets extensively and don’t give up. Confucius, the most famous Chinese philosopher once said “He who says he can, and he who says he can’t, are both usually right”.