After surviving the first few years as a start-up, things may be running smoothly. But, warns SANDRA SWANEPOEL, Vice President for Midmarket Africa at Sage, if you want to grow you will have to start implementing strict business processes.
You conduct your performance reviews over a casual lunch or coffee meeting with employees, get expense reports and payroll done on Saturday mornings and record customer information on spreadsheets. You have survived your first few years as a start-up, and business is on the up and up.
The last thing you feel like doing is complicating things by adopting formal business processes – after all, that’s what you and your employees hate about big corporations – restricted agility and unnecessary complexity.
The reality, unfortunately, is that unless you can support growth from a processes point of view, your business will stagnate. There comes a point when your customers will start having higher expectations from you. Your employees will, too.
To survive, you’ll need to have suitable software systems in place, start documenting policies and formalising other aspects of the business to ensure compliance and productivity and reduce the risk of reputational damage.
What you will gain
Done well, formalising the company’s structure and processes gives management better visibility and control of the organisation’s finances, speeds up paperwork, and helps align everyone in the company behind its values and strategy. It can be good for employee morale because people will feel confident about their purpose and responsibilities.
What you stand to lose
Resisting the need to formalise processes could harm customer service, make it hard to comply with various laws and regulations, and restrain the company from reaching its true potential in terms of profitability and revenue. It could also make it difficult to monitor your team’s performance or leave gaps for reputational risk, human error, insider fraud and other risks to creep into your day-to-day operations.
How to tell when the time has come
Here are three signs that it’s time to formalise your business processes:
1. Your headcount is growing rapidly
As your turnover and headcount grow, so do your responsibilities in terms of legal and regulatory compliance. The tipping point usually comes at a turnover of around R5 million and a headcount of more than 50. For example, the Companies Act exempts smaller, owner-managed companies in South Africa from needing an external audit. The act provides a Public Interest scoring system, taking into account how many employees you have, your revenues, your liabilities and your external shareholders.
As your business grows, you may need to meet the tougher demands of an external auditor, which will be far easier if you have a proper business system and formal processes in place. Likewise, it will become subject to requirements such as the Employment Equity Act and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Codes and regulations. Compliance with these will be much easier with formal processes in place.
Quite apart from the compliance angle, a larger headcount and turnover means that managing your business by filing papers in a shoebox or chatting to employees over the tea break will become increasingly impractical. To remain in control, you’ll need to do things in a standardised and consistent manner and ensure that you can monitor financial and operational performance. Formal processes and systems are also essential to HR functions such as performance appraisals, succession planning and career paths.
2. Your business is multifaceted
If you run an intricate, geographically dispersed or heavily regulated business – for example, certain forms of complex manufacturing or financial services – you may need to fast-track formalising your business processes. Your customers and funders will demand it and you’ll need to have the process discipline to deliver accurate reporting, ensure consistent product and service quality, and monitor performance.
3. Your growth is accelerating
Companies cannot afford for their businesses processes, employees and management to fall behind the growth of the company. If growth is accelerating, your company is probably starting to compete with bigger companies that have economies of scale, established systems and robust business processes. That means you may also need to retool your company with formal processes and systems to boost productivity, ensure staff retention and deliver your product or service with a predictable quality level.
It’s about the right solution. If your business has survived to a point where you need more formal systems, you should congratulate yourself. Not all companies manage to survive their first few years; you can consider yourself a business hero because you are helping to grow South Africa’s prosperity. Apart from documenting standards and procedures, one of the keys to ensuring your future sustainability is usually to put systems in place to automate processes.
It is also worth remembering that just as not having the right systems in place can slow you down, so will having a system that is too sophisticated. Often these systems are also expensive and resource intensive, choose your software well, making sure that it fits the maturity of your business
The best system is one that saves time and makes you more agile, with a direct ROI that can be seen as soon as you are live on the product. This is one of the topics that we will be discussing at the Sage Summit as we seek to advise business builders how to reach the next level. The Sage Summit takes place at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg from 7-9 March 2017.
VoD cuts the cord in SA
Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.
That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.
The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.
Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.
Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”
The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.
“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”
New data rules raise business trust challenges
When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.
The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.
GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.
The fundamentals of trust
GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.
The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.
This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.
What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.
The risk of compliance
Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.
A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.
A three-step plan of action
So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:
Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.
Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.
Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.