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Is your payment platform keeping customers from buying?

“When it comes to online commerce, the point at which money changes hands has often been the moment a sale falls apart,” says Kurt Bilafer, Global Vice President Sales and Success at WePay. In his own words, Bilafer gives us some insight on what a customer-intimate payment process looks like (and conversely, what it doesn’t look like).

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When the sale falls apart

“When it comes to online commerce, the point at which money changes hands has often been the moment a sale falls apart,” says Kurt Bilafer, Global Vice President Sales and Success at WePay. How does this happen? Why does this happen? And what can your company do to fix it?

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In his own words below, Bilafer gives us some insight on what a customer-intimate payment process looks like (and conversely, what it doesn’t look like):

Payments: The last mile of online customer intimacy

What was a carefully crafted brand experience becomes off-putting and complicated. There are confusing redirects, forms that clash with the rest of the design, and a lot of sensitive data that needs to be entered.

But that’s now changing, and fast. Innovative companies have stepped up their game, using technologies that make a much easier payment experience possible. That in turn is changing consumer expectations about what a payment transaction should be like.

You now need to bring your payments experience up to this new standard, or risk getting beaten by competitors who do. Why? Because removing barriers for your customers is a hallmark of customer intimacy, and customer intimacy is one of three value disciplines that every company must master to dominate their market. A customer-intimate company has to get to know its customer at a deeper level with every interaction. It must understand what they want and need, sometimes even before they do. Payments are the last mile of customer intimacy.

Come fund me

GoFundMe, the world’s largest crowdfunding site is a great example of a customer intimate company.

GoFundMe’s customers are ordinary people trying to raise money to deal with adversity, support causes they care about, or follow their dreams. They’re accepting donations, but they aren’t traditional nonprofits, or traditional merchants. They want to enable a single campaign to accept payments for a limited time. Asking them to go through the traditional business process of signing up for a merchant account, handing personal financial data, and going through an underwriting process is overkill for what they’re doing, and it puts a big obstacle in their way. They just want to raise money, fast.

At the same time, GoFundMe has another set of customers with a different set of needs: the donors. They don’t have the time or the ability to investigate every campaign to assure it’s on the up and up before they give. And they don’t want to have a bad checkout experience when they’re trying to do a good deed.

GoFundMe gets it. They’ve built the simplest possible onboarding experience, which gets the payments stuff out of the way quickly so fundraisers can start collecting money in minutes. Yet they’ve also built in trust and safety. Behind the scenes, they’re leveraging our risk technology to verify that fundraisers are who they say they are, so that donors can give with confidence.

The way they’ve managed to balance the competing priorities of the two sides of their user base proves they really understand their customers. And that’s the sort of change that’s coming to payments. It’s not acceptable anymore to just move money now. You have to do it in a customer intimate way.

So not intimate

Contrast that experience with the historic way of making payments online using a credit card or PayPal. Credit cards were not designed to be secure in card-not-present transactions, and adding the necessary layers of security makes onboarding hard and checkout tedious.

The big consumer innovation with PayPal was that you could set up an account you could use at a variety of different sites without having to reveal your credit card information. But that adds another account to maintain and another set of passwords to remember–both challenges to customer intimacy.

Another challenge is that when you’ve filled your shopping cart and want to pay, you’re kicked over to a form on another website to complete the transaction, then kicked back to the original website once the transaction has concluded.

The original merchant, who has invested a lot of time and money in getting the customer to that point, loses their consistency of branding and customer experience because they lose control of the customer while the transaction is happening.

As a sales guy I can tell you, that’s a bad way to close a deal. You’re counting on someone else to take care of your hard-won customer. Even if the transaction goes well, the reality is when they’re sent back to your site, their experience is different than before they left. That’s not a customer-intimate payment experience.

With you all the way

In the traditional payment model, if something goes wrong, the customer may not know whom to call. They don’t know if it’s a credit card issue, a PayPal issue or an issue with the site itself. It doesn’t really matter because it reflects on your company. It’s your customer, and you may very well have lost the sale and made them angry.

Even if the customer completes the transaction, there’s still a lot that can go wrong. They think they paid, but don’t get a confirmation email. Or they get a call from the credit card company asking if they really meant to spend that much money. Or the product or service they wanted isn’t delivered. All these scenarios create uncertainty, confusion, and friction — none of which you want associated with your brand or your customer experience.

Customer intimacy isn’t just about making it easy to pay. It’s maintaining security, transparency and accountability across every facet of the experience. It’s making sure you stay close to your customer, and they know it’s you and you’re with them all the way.

Managing the last mile

Payment is not the main objective of any transaction. It’s just the last mile of a decision that has already been made, but it’s a big part of that whole experience. It needs to be valued and curated and managed in the same fashion as the rest of your customer experience.

In the past, customers accepted payment struggles as part of buying online, because that was the industry standard. That standard is rapidly changing as new technology gives companies the ability to extend customer intimacy to payments.

At minimum, you have to make it so payments aren’t part of what the customer is struggling with. But there’s also an opportunity to exceed expectations and use a customer-intimate payment experience as a competitive differentiator. In the platform economy, the companies that understand and execute on that will win.

Bilafer is a sales veteran with more than 20 years of experience in direct sales, channel and partner development and business strategy. Prior to WePay, he was Global Vice President of Sales at SAP, previously serving the company as Vice President of Analytics for Asia, Pacific & Japan and Global Vice President of Business Analytics and Technology solutions, Ecosystem and Channel Partners. He was also SAP North America’s Vice President, heading up enterprise performance and risk management and spent a year with PricewaterhouseCoopers to rebuild their SAP National Practice. Bilafer joined SAP after its acquisition of Pilot Software.

#PositivePaymentExperience

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Jenna keeps the machine well-oiled as the Operations Coordinator at The American Genius and The Real Daily. She earned her degree in Spanish at the University of North Texas and when she isn't crossing things off her to-do list, she is finding her center in the clean and spacious aisles of Target or rereading Harry Potter for the billionth time.

Business Finance

You got an LLC and you’re ready to hire – 3 things lenders look for

(FINANCE NEWS) Yes, securing a small business loan of any kind is tedious and depends on varying lending organizations and business needs, but there is a list of general requirements small businesses should be aware of before getting knee-deep in conflicting information about lenders.

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If you are reading this, you probably have an LLC for your small business already, or money talk gets you going. If it is the former, let me say CONGRATULATIONS, and insist you pat yourself on the back in honor of your small business’s progression. Your arrival at a point where expansion is necessary is no small feat given half of small businesses fail in the first year. So, kudos to you.

Now, back to the money talk…

For LLC businesses looking to expand, please don’t fret about all of the information you’ve seen on the web. Yes, securing a small business loan of any kind is tedious and depends on varying lending organizations and business needs, but there is a list of general requirements small businesses should be aware of before getting knee-deep in conflicting information.

After some extensive research posing as the owner of imaginary businesses and annoying every loan officer who’d take my call, I’ve found three general lending requirements. I also provide a collection of the tangible information banks will likely review to meet those requirements. Take a gander:

Assets
Small businesses must have necessary assets: steady cash flow, financial reserves, personal collateral to support a variety of business fluctuations (i.e. unexpected employee loss), and a realistic pay off plan. These assets and financial safety nets are necessary for any lending organization to be confident in your business’s ability to support employee expansion in lieu of current expenses.

Proof of past
Just as you will come to expect from your soon to be employees, lenders want proof of the past and how you’ve managed past loans to align with your business goals. Historical evidence will further determine if your expansion is feasible, but also if it is worthy for the company to accept the lending risk.

Specific plans
Finally, be prepared to provide your small business’s explicit expansion plan, including how you arrived at your suggested loan amount and how you intend to divvy out the funds. It is important that you are as specific as possible in your projected numbers, seeing as one employee could make a $60,000 difference, and largely affect your expansion plan and financial need.

Before you go…

Now that you’re equipped with the magic three, you’re probably feeling empowered to walk into your nearest bank and demand your small business loan. Let’s first be sure you have all of the necessary information on-hand and ready to produce.

Lending companies that look for the magic three before investing arrive at their conclusion after collecting data from the following pertinent information:

– Proof of collateral
– Business plan and expansion plan
– Financial details
– Current and past loan info
– Debts incurred
– Bank statements
– Tax ID
– Contact info
– Accounts receivable information
– Aging
– Sales and payment history
– Accounts payable information
– Credit references
– Financial statements
– Balance sheet
– Profit and loss history
– Copies of past tax returns
– Social Security Numbers
– Assets and liabilities details

Now, my friend, do I release you as proud as a parent unto your nearest bank to secure your small business loan and begin growing your staff the way you’ve dreamed. I’m confident you will find the aforementioned information helpful in said quest, and would like to wish one last time (because it’s impossible to over-congratulate) a sincere CONGRATULATIONS on your businesses growth.

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Business Finance

How cryptocurrency works – basic vocabulary and concepts

(FINANCE) Cryptocurrency is a concept that dates back a decade, but as it becomes newly mainstream, many are struggling to catch up – knowing the basic concepts can get you up to speed.

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One of the most exciting things to arise out of new technology is the idea of better ways to optimize and improve concepts that we already find in the real world. None of us should be surprised when that includes currency.

With cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Litecoin, Dash, NEM, Ethereum Classic, Monero, and Zcash (to name a few), it may be hard for the average consumer not to just keep up, but to know what’s going on in this revolution in our modern day economy. Knowing how crypto works makes you a better consumer, as well as investor in your future. Let’s get started with the basics.

What is a cryptocurrency?

To ask what cryptocurrency is, one should also contemplate what modern day paper or coin currency is. At its most basic, all currencies share this core trait: you can exchange a unit (or units) which has predetermined value for either goods or services. Whether it’s dollars, Yen, the gold standard, or Dogecoin, all of these currencies allow you to complete basic transactions.

Where cryptocurrency is different, is how these transactions are completed and how cryptocurrencies are processed.

How does crypto differ from common currencies?

Cryptocurrency allows you to send money directly peer-to-peer (p2p) electronically instead of operating through third-party systems like banks or governments.

The technology that makes this happen is called Blockchain. Blockchain technology is the primary difference between the dollars in your wallet and the virtual currencies in your crypto wallet. The Litecoin School of Crypto uses a great analogy to explain how blockchains work:

“In its simplest form, blockchain is data. It’s a list of recorded information called “blocks” strung together in a chain. Think of blocks as folders stuffed with information i.e. how much Litecoin was sent, who sent it, and who received it. The great thing about blockchains is that it’s public and anyone in the world can see it.”

How does a normal crypto transaction work?

Here’s an example using the fictional cryptocurrency, bitquarters: Karen owes Jamal 10 bitquarters for her movie ticket, so she’s going to pay him back. Karen first requests the transaction through her digital wallet. Because of the nature of cryptocurrency, she can’t send him bitquarters she doesn’t have (there is no “overdrawn” account status in crypto, like modern banks), so it’s a good thing she just got paid!

When Karen initiates the transaction, she uses her private key to virtually “sign” it. When a transaction is completed, an individual will “sign” their transaction with their private key – the reason why cryptocurrency is called as such is because of encryption, after all. The requested transaction is sent via peer-to-peer (p2p) sharing to a network of computers called nodes. These computers validate Karen’s key and verify the transaction.

After the transaction is verified, it is added to the blockchain, the virtual ledger, that all bitquarter users have access to. After that is finished, in only a matter of seconds, Jamal is paid!

What is this cryptocurrency “mining” thing I’ve been hearing so much about?

Mining is a vital part of the cryptocurrency transaction. Miners are the only individuals in the crypto process that can confirm transactions. Their job is to take a transaction, to verify that it is legitimate, and spread them p2p in the network.

To make it a part of the public ledger (the blockchain) every node has to add it to its database. Because mining takes a computer’s energy and electricity to perform, miners are rewarded with small amounts of cryptocurrency per transaction (like how you pay to pull money from an ATM). However, to prevent fraudulent transactions, a computer must solve an encrypted puzzle in order to add it to the blockchain.

What are other important crypto terms I need to know?

Address: the only piece of information that needs to be used for a transaction, similar to a user name or email address. Each transaction uses a different address.

Block: a unit of data in the blockchain that holds and validates transactions. A blockchain is where all blocks of transactions reside.

Double spend: the action of trying to spend cryptocurrency to two different recipients simultaneously. Mining as well as the blockchain prevent malicious actions such as this from taking place.

Cryptocurrency is held up by some as being the currency of the future, while many others think that due to over-speculation, that it will be a investment bubble with irrevocable consequences for brick and mortar institutions. Regardless of any market forecasters perspective on cryptocurrency, the technology is here to stay and knowing the basic vocabulary can help you understand where things are going.

Don’t be intimidated by all of the language around this concept – if you choose to dive into the crypto waters, you’ll learn as you go along. If you invest in stocks, you know a specific concept and vocabulary list, and crypto functions differently but is just another finance mechanism, both of which can be overwhelming but learning the parts necessary to your goals is all that matters.

PS: If you’re more of a visual person, there’s a short video available that has circulated that explains Bitcoing well, and applies to crypto in general.

This story was first published in February 2018.

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Business Finance

Private unemployment insurance exists – it’s limited, but it exists!

(FINANCE) Entrepreneurs – you know you’re supposed to have six months of income saved up in case of emergency, but another cushion is private unemployment insurance – it exists!

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Everyone knows that it’s important to have that reserve of funds stashed away in case of an emergency or a layoff, but it’s often hard to establish it—especially as a young professional or an entrepreneur. Even more daunting is building that reserve of funds to cope not only with a potential emergency, but a job loss.

If you lose your job, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits from your state — depending on a whole host of factors, including cause of termination and your classification as an employee. Often those state benefits are very limited in either duration or in payment, which doesn’t provide the newly minted job seeker with much in the way of time or funds to keep things afloat while they look for their next job. To offset that limitation, there are private unemployment solutions that do exist, albeit limited in scope.

For years, IncomeAssure, which began in 2011 and was issued by SterlingRisk and backed by Great American Insurance, was the largest private unemployment insurance policy. With about 1,000 active policyholders and over $1 million in claims paid out as of 2016, the policy is no longer accepting new applications for coverage as of late 2018, but is still insuring those with an active policy.

“It has been disappointing that we haven’t been able to find a cost-effective way to get the word out that this exists,” David Sterling, SterlingRisk’s Chairman and CEO, said, speaking to The New York Times in 2016. “It’s also understandable. If nobody is aware that something exists, it’s hard for people to find it if they don’t know to look for it in the first place.

With the closure of IncomeAssure as an avenue for new coverage, SafetyNet is another possibility for private unemployment insurance, depending on where one lives. Presently available in 10 states, SafetyNet provides their policyholders with a one-time lump sum payment between $750 and $9,000, depending on the coverage option selected at the time of inception. The monthly cost of SafetyNet varies by state and protection level, and is far less than the traditional policy that was offered by IncomeAssure, as the payment is correspondingly reduced as well. However, as a lump sum option, the ability to quickly access needed cash is a boon to those who may find themselves in need of it.

As with most insurance plans, there are certain exclusions to the SafetyNet policy. These include:
• A pending job loss that the client was informed of prior to purchasing the coverage, or job loss due to acts of war, criminal misconduct, or nuclear/natural disasters
• Job loss due to quitting or retirement, or are termination for cause, including for poor job performance and improper workplace behavior
• Any job loss within the first 90 days of coverage
• Any disability that starts within the first 6 months of coverage if caused by a pre-existing condition treated in the 6 months prior to coverage
• Any disability that occurs in the first 90 days of coverage, or any disability due to normal pregnancy, alcohol or drug use, or elective surgery
• Normal and routine downtimes and workforce reductions for seasonal and other jobs (like construction) or job loss because the task the employee was hired to do was completed or the time period covered by the employment agreement came to an end.

While no one would argue an insurer’s right to protect itself against issuing a policy to cover employment loss for those who sought to quit, retire, or get fired through poor choices on the job, some of these terms should be a caveat emptor for those who have medical conditions that may extend beyond FMLA coverage or whose workplaces are in areas prone to natural disasters, as neither of those conditions may be covered.

For those who are classified as independent contractors, however, the market for private unemployment insurance remains limited. In most states, independent contractors aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits, and neither IncomeAssure nor SafetyNet extended their protections to that segment of the workforce either.

For independent contractors, facing periods of unemployment is one of the hazards of the role. When such a period comes, the independent contractor should invest the time to review the conditions of the work that they did for their last employer to ensure that they were classified correctly as independent contractors, and weren’t mis-classified employees, who would be then eligible for state unemployment protections. (The IRS has simplified the independent contractor test to three broad factors with 11 conditions: behavioral control, financial control, and type of relationship).

Although the marketplace for private unemployment insurance appears to be limited, it’s worth it to ask your insurance professional of any options that may be available to you in your segment of the workforce as a part of your annual insurance review.

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