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A sojourn in a cashless future – The Good, the Bad & the Unexpected

On a recent holiday to a campsite in France I had the opportunity to experience what a cashless society might look like at some future point. The site had taken the decision to move to an entirely cashless site for all their facilities and in doing so created a look into the realities of the potential experience of a future without cash. As a long-term advocate of a cashless future society, it has given me plenty of food for thought around what a cashless future might look like in a wider / everyday context. Certainly, the trend in the Irish context is towards less and less cash usage as a proportion of overall transactional spending, whilst cash withdrawal values are reasonably static, there is consistent growth in the level of usage of card transactions year on year. But the question is, could we ever get to a situation where there is no cash at all in the real world?

The benefits of moving to a completely cashless society are clear,

  • Less security risk for individuals and businesses in holding handling and transporting cash
  • Greater accuracy on reconciliation of payments to transactions for businesses and productivity gains in counting cash
  • Strangles the lifeblood of petty crime which thrives on cash due to need for those handling non-cash payments to be correctly registered, vetted and their service provider to be the same.

On the downside there are of course the risks of social exclusion, cost of services, lack of infrastructure availability that may serve to make it difficult to access and make a fully cashless scenario a reality.

However, in this instance I had the opportunity to operate in essentially a fully live experiment, without a fallback option. The obvious disclaimers around this are that there were consistent control mechanisms – it was a fully controlled environment with full common infrastructure deployed across the park, the payment service providers were limited, and the transaction values were not significant for the most part.

So, what were the good, the bad and the unexpected outcomes?

Let’s start with the good,

Strangely one of the first impressions was one of safety / security. Bearing in mind a holiday parc / campsite is already a very safe & perhaps even sanitised, environment it did immediately give me the sense that there was less risk of losing cash / something untoward happening in terms of a break-in etc and that in general terms the park was less attractive for petty criminals.

Secondly, I felt confident that I could provide my kids (7 & 8) with an allowance that permitted them to gain some independence and learn how to manage their own money within reason which was a great learning experience for both. Ironically it also gave me a glimpse of their respective attitudes to money – my 8-year-old is of the “I got this” persuasion whereas the 7-year-old was much more prudent. Either way, watching 2 children learning to budget a float of €30 each was an entertaining experience but also gave them some good initial understanding of budgeting.

I don’t need my wallet! As most transactions were low in value, I could go to the shop / bar / takeaway with just my phone and my keys and utilise Apple Pay for contactless transactions. The advantages of travelling light were two-fold. 1. I couldn’t spend more than €30 at a go so there was a built in control mechanism and 2. I wasn’t unnecessarily carrying around my driving licence, and the other junk that lives in my wallet which meant less chance of losing something of value that resides in said junk! The unintended consequences of this was also that I started making greater use of my digital banking app which provided me great real time analytics on where I was spending my money and on what (ice-creams, coffee and beer if you are curious!).

The biggest (and perhaps unintended) result what that that as a result of never having cash within the experiment zone, I never had it outside the experiment zone (i.e. in the markets, boulangerie, supermarket, fairgrounds etc) which lead to less impulse / nonsense purchases and even greater usage of utilities that I already had.

From the vendor / business operational standpoint the benefits were tangible –

  • Quicker digital reconciliation of receipts to transactions at the end of the day
  • Reduced risk of employee petty theft from tills etc
  • Centralisation of cash handling and less small denominations to be counted and managed
  • Lower insurance risk of moving cash around.

 

So, so far so good, but what were the downsides?

Infrastructure needs to be nearly common, always on and ubiquitous

Ubiquity of easy to use and understand technology is critical to make the experiment work. Local EWallet’s with an accompanying bracelet / tile were a necessity in an experiment zone as a means of “carrying” your funds and largely proved convenient for those who normally carry cash, Two things struck me about this, firstly, any wide scale cashless society will be completely dependent on having infrastructure that not only works but is also ubiquitous (as an aside, I found myself completely stranded abroad a couple of years ago when Visa had an outage for a couple of days leaving me unable to pay for anything). Secondly, I almost immediately stopped using my EWallet once I had emptied it the first time due to the clunky mechanic to load it, in deference to my phone and apple pay so it doesn’t necessarily change the behaviours of those that have adopted this way of working already anyway and also it brought into stark reality that early technology adopters and the reluctant laggards preferences might necessitate different infrastructure platforms.

Disenfranchisement is a real risk.

It can be very unerring / unsettling for those that are unaccustomed to budgeting by what they have in their hand in terms of cash. My mother-in-law, who spent some time with us, likes to operate like this, and has done so all her life. The tangibility of cash in hand is important to her (and many more) so this forced adoption of a new way of operating a critical part of your life may be challenging and drive some aspects of social exclusion. It also requires a tacit confidence in your ability to budget without necessarily having visible checks, remembering that those less digital savvy are perhaps also less likely to adopt digital utilities such as emoney / banking apps, and in our case drove increased necessity to use limited human interfaces to check account balances. IE it was significantly more cumbersome for her.

Hidden Costs.

Until the personal banking commercial models further adapt to a more cashless type world some otherwise less significant costs started to become apparent in this experiment zone. Over the course of our stay there I encountered numerous people (who like myself had deferred to the trusted card – or digital version of the same) who had incurred significant costs per transaction based on the pricing structure of their bank account. One individual in an extreme case noted to me that they had paid for a baguette (€1.05) only to find that their bank in the UK had charged them an additional £1.25 in fees for a contactless transaction on a non-UK network. Others quickly found that they had exceeded monthly transaction volume caps and were into the punitive pricing zone per transaction and indeed there will be another cohort that will be unaware that they have incurred these costs until the monthly statement lands this month…Undoubtedly this is an issue pertaining to pricing and charging models in the banks that have not necessarily evolved to changing market preferences and clearly they will (and would do at an accelerated rate if forced to by the market) but it does beg the question as to whether the cost benefits of cashless society will be tangible to consumers in the short term to encourage greater usage?

 

What was the unexpected?

Traditional Banks Propositions need to evolve, quickly.

Within the confines of the experiment area it became very apparent very quickly that cost of services could act as a barrier to adoption. The aforementioned extreme cases of significant cost of transacting digitally abroad for UK bank’s customers became common knowledge quickly and lead to two outcomes in terms of behaviour modification. One group opted for the economies of scale approach by withdrawing a large sum of cash from the ATM in the local village and loading the EWallet with large amounts to mitigate usage of costly services provided by their banks and the second group began serious investigation and conversations around alternative banks propositions, which was primarily with the challenger banks (Revolut, Monzo, Starling etc), all of whom provided the benefits of digital cards, quick sign up and low cost transactions. Either way, the awareness of the cost of banking began being more apparent and intent to move was strong for those that felt punitively impacted.

…and UK Banking Propositions Drove Cash centricity

The caveat on the findings here is that that the test group is limited to those in the area covered by the experiment, but those that had traditional GBP denominated banks were essentially disincentivised by the charging mechanics and FX rates applied by their service provider banks.

Single European Currency has more benefit than just common cash

Perhaps the fact that it has been around for about half of my lifetime, means that I had forgotten about the benefits of a single currency bloc. The experiment and my exposure to it impacts of those accustomed to working in Sterling and dealing with FX fluctuations, the costs of those transactions outside of the base currency  levied by their banks and the general level of uncertainty as to exactly how much (in real terms) they were spending made me reflect on the things I take for granted in terms of the simplicity of being part of a single currency bloc. The clearing system is common so transactions are as quick to clear in France as they are at home & there is no FX to do the mental maths on which provides for a much more straightforward adoption process of digital payments (i.e. I can operate exactly the same way as I do at home without a worry on costs etc)

Visibility is key

Being a heavy user of card and contactless, I am accustomed to being able to quickly check my current spending / balances etc. However, the vendor used for the EWallet mechanism on the site we visited did not provide a means by which you could easily self-serve for balances etc which lead to many people abandoning it in favour of their cards / Apple Pay etc as it provided greater visibility and thus control around current position. Even if there had been an app etc available, I am not convinced that it would have been sufficiently attractive for me to add another utility onto my phone (and another password to remember!) So perhaps more integrated solutions and first mover advantage are key here in establishing how we will operate in a cashless society.

 

Overall

Reflecting on the experience with a couple of weeks away from it, I have come to some conclusions on the viability of a truly cashless society and what it might mean for the greater part of society. I have always been a big believer, and advocate of a move to a more cashless society but there are definite considerations that need further thought,

  1. Mandated Change forces widescale adoption, but may have a disenfranchising impact. The guillotine approach has definitely forced the issue in terms of wider scale usage, but it certainly made it difficult for certain cohorts to adopt. For those that budget based on what is in their hand / wallet and take comfort in the tangibility the move to cashless is somewhat disorientating, particularly given the potential overlap with those that are less likely to adopt the tools that might make this transition easier.
  2. eWallets certainly ease the adoption and provide a low risk tool to get up and running but it appears that “subsequent mover advantage” with the providers of NFC technology (i.e. mobile handset providers) linked to real bank accounts / credit cards have already potentially got this market sown up. In my experience in the experiment, the EWallet seemed a little redundant (and clunky even) compared to the ease of Apple pay linked to my bank account and indeed adoption of usage of that as a payment mechanic increased among those in the experiment area as the superior user experience became apparent.
  3. Ubiquity of technology is key. Without consistent, easy to use, easy to understand, interoperable and robust technology infrastructure / frameworks in place cashless society can’t function. You cannot store digital payment tokens for use like cash so if it goes down there is no alternative if you are truly cashless. Similar to the Visa Europe outage on a smaller scale, we had this experience one afternoon when the power went when a transformer beside the site tripped out meant that the fast-melting ice-cream couldn’t be sold as the shop had no facility to accept cash (and indeed the holiday makers didn’t have any to hand anyway!)

Good, Bad and Unexpected outcomes, and indeed some work to do and some changes to make and further trials on a larger scale are necessary but overall a positive experience and tentatively, it appears that a cashless society might indeed be possible, we just need coordinated action to deploy the infrastructure and a will to bring everyone on the journey in a way that sensitively addresses their concerns but without an opt-out.

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Le Tour de France 2017 (of beer!)

Now that, is a serious, potentially clickbait-esque, misleading, title for a blog, so allow me to preface this by saying this is the first in a series of blogs around a selection of beers sampled in France. For the purposes of the narrative however, let me explain the similie a little by outlining the differences and similarities to Le Tour for you!

Much like “Le Tour”, I recently spent a number of weeks in France, with very few “rest days” (try a holiday with 2 young children and you will see what i mean – “not so much a holiday as a change of venue”), the tour of the beers offered something a little distinctive each day with no two beers the same, and like the tour there was a mix of good and not quite so good stages!

Unlike “Le Tour”, it wasn’t so much France but a limited number of regions of it, the work wasn’t exactly much of a hard slog, it was generally limited to evenings and all of the content of the best beer was 100% organic with no added chemical substances!!

Anyway, I digress!

Thanks to my new pal Alain, of the travelling Cheri Pense au Vin Cave in Aizenay , Vendee, I managed to sample some fantastic organic beers from the range of local beers that he carried. Fortunately for me, Alain visited a location once a week that was just 200 metres from my front door. Unfortunately, I perhaps got a little too involved in the sampling to keep any consistent, sensible notes / references, of what I had sampled to be able to write anything sensible or even remotely helpful…

However, and thankfully for the sake of this blog, I did remember to pick up a sizeable selection of those beers that I sampled from Vendeen breweries Les Coureurs de Lune and La Piautrewhilst on Le Tour to bring home and I am going to put in the hard work all over again (in Dublin) to write up a couple of reviews! I may also have a couple of thoughts to add too on the output of the industrial brewers in France in response the evolving market there but more on that another time!

 

In the short term, my initial thoughts and observations as follows,

 

Small Batches – made with care and attention

The product is produced in small batches and thus there is always some little distinctive variances between these batches. Fans of industrial, generic, consistent product would no doubt despair of this but I have to say I was charmed by the thoughts of it being so handmade that there could be small variances due to the nature of production. I also love the idea of supporting a small business do something they are passionate about (particularly where their passion is beer!)

 

Fresh beer tastes best!

The fact that the beer was brewed in small batches, means that it was always extremely fresh and refreshing with crisp, distinctive flavours. There is no understating the importance of this; I am no poster child for clean eating but honestly fresh produce in the world of beer tastes absolutely fantastic, clean and allows the individual flavours to shine through.

 

Organic was the name of the game!

I may have been a little steered by the aforementioned, Alain’s penchant for all things “Bio”, and the fact that he only carried organic beer. However, I am also the kind of person that resents paying a 10% premium in the supermarket for mucky carrots because of some organic provenance. In the case of the beer, this organic production matters enormously however because, fresh, organic product means less (or no) chemicals and no hangover from the beer as a result – regardless of the alcoholic strength or volume consumed (and I am also at pains to point out that the “10% organic tax” seems to be lacking too!)

 

A selections of styles and flavours!

The variance of styles (even from small brewers) is enormous. I can only surmise that due to some cultural pre-disposition to regional styles and variants for other forms of alcohol and the more recent emergence of a wider demand for beer that there is a demand for varying styles. Either way, this is largely at odds with a lot of what we see in other markets where the preference tends to be to produce IPA’s, Lagers and iterations of these.

 

That’s it in terms of initial thoughts. As for overall impression….suffice to say i was very impressed! I will get the first few reviews up over the coming weeks as I work my way more diligently back through the selection (all brought home purely for research purposes of course!) so please keep an eye out for my updates…as i get them out!

Cheers!

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BREXIT – Will its bark be worse than its bite for Irish business?

As something of a political junkie, I sat in a hotel room in Newcastle and watched as the initial results of the UK referendum on continued membership of the EU were announced, and it is safe to say that I was pretty shocked at what was transpiring in front of my eyes. Whilst the Gibraltar result was first known and comprehensively in favour of Remain, it was never going to be a good indicator of the likely overall result.

Two real bellwether constituencies were locked in something of a local rivalry to see who could get the votes counted and result announced the quickest – Sunderland or Newcastle. The sense of the commentators was that whilst a close outcome in Sunderland would probably indicate a vote to remain; the opposite was true of the Newcastle result. As the tension mounted and the light-hearted local rivalry was discussed by the political panel on the TV, it became clear that Newcastle would get a result out first – 65-35 in favour of Remain (if I remember correctly). This result was indicative of perhaps a shift to the leave camp but remained inconclusive. I retired to bed assuming that whilst it was closer than expected that the Remain camp would just scrape through with a narrow margin, after all, the bookies  rarely get it wrong and they had predicted a Remain result!

Fast forward a couple of hours and as day broke it became apparent that the unlikely had happened and the UK had indeed voted to Leave the EU. This was not the result that I personally expected nor had many others in fact in my immediate circle either. However, within a couple of days of the result being announced the real truth became apparent

  • Few people had anticipated this outcome and as a result,
  • Even fewer had any sense of what the implications of the result might likely be (beyond the resignation of David Cameron of course!)

So what now?

Well, the answer is that we still don’t know with any certainty; from both an economic and political perspective we are in unchartered waters.

One might be inclined to think that the response of the EU might be somewhat heavy handed in terms of negotiating an exit deal for the UK as a means of protecting the benefits of membership of the EU bloc (not to mention to serve as a deterrent to other countries with secessionist groupings). Indeed there have been calls from within the EU to have the UK trigger the secession process sooner rather than later.

One might also be inclined to think that the result might also trigger some political instability within the UK, but the timing over the summer political recess seems to have taken some of the impetus out of this process. However, given the fractious nature of the result in terms of geographical split, in terms of preference, and a more Euro sceptic look to the UK government this may again flare up in the coming months.

There are lots of other potential impacts in addition to the above, such as the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK, EU migrants’ right to work in the UK and many other issues, however, the reality at this point, in relation to all of the above, is the following, the only certainty is that we are in for a period of uncertainty whilst the details around the new status quo are thrashed out….and the markets do not like uncertainty.

But what are the immediate impacts of this uncertainty?

Firstly, the lack of certainty around the future prospects for the UK economy outside of the EU trading bloc has led to an ongoing decline in the value of the pound Sterling against currencies such as the Euro and the US Dollar.

Secondly, it would appear that uncertainty has driven a level of reduction in Economic output in the UK. This has been reflected in a number of the key economic surveys in recent weeks, and is sufficiently of concern to the Bank of England for it to act in the last couple of days to slash interest rates to 0.25% to try to drive spending in the economy to boost activity (which also has the impact of weakening the value of Sterling as it becomes less attractive in terms of its immediate value payback for investors.)

A strong Euro against Sterling is not a good thing for Irish exporters to the UK or indeed any Irish business with links into the UK market. Higher costs mean that Irish exports to the UK become less competitive versus UK competitors meaning exporters will face either decreasing demand or tighter margins.

Irish exposure to the UK economy is (whilst not as large as it was in previous decades) still extremely significant. There is over a billion euro in trade between the UK and Ireland every week, Dublin to London is the second busiest international air traffic route in the world, and many businesses trade across the now invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic every day as if it was never there. The UK is our closest neighbour, we share a language, cultural reference points, and citizens move freely between the entities due to a common travel area that pre-dates the EU.

However, how all of these elements will be managed in the future remain uncertain, and from a business perspective the sensible (or at least most common) approach in uncertain times is wait and see what transpires, meaning delaying investment decisions and reduced volumes of business to minimise potential exposure risks.

The often used phrase

“it’s the not knowing that kills you”

seems apt in this case for Irish businesses.

What we are certain of is the following

  1. The uncertainty from a UK perspective as to what happen next with their relationship with the EU is impacting confidence in Sterling which is making our exports to the UK (our biggest export market) more expensive.
  1. The uncertainty regarding the future ability to exercise the EU’s 4 Freedoms in dealing with the UK is hampering informed decision making in every facet of dealing with that market into the future for Irish businesses
  1. The cumulative effect of the above is damaging economic confidence leading to reductions in the forecast economic growth rates in the Irish economy (which has the potential to negatively influence inward investment)

Perhaps the least-worst outcome for Irish business right now would be for someone in the UK to “Rip off the Band-Aid” in triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and the kick-off of the exit negotiations between the UK & the EU with a definitive timeline of 2 years in order to provide answers & certainty so we can finally understand if the threat of #BREXIT is indeed worse than the reality.

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#Brexit – What are the implications for your business? (Irrespective of the result?)

The media momentum is gathering in the lead up to the UK’s historic referendum on continued membership of the European Union, or #BREXIT as it has become known, on Thursday June 23rd.  For a political and economic spectator, with no input on the result, such as myself, it makes for fascinating viewing. Currently polls are showing the remain side with a slim majority however this is narrowing all the time as undecided voters begin to feel a preference one way or the other. However, we do know that polls can be misleading or indeed can influence voter behaviour in the run up to polling day. Also we have seen in recent times that certain polling companies in the UK, for whatever reason, badly misjudged the likely outcome of the UK general election so the margin for error is tight.

Overall, it would appear that there is much to play for over the coming weeks, however, what is interesting at this point in time is the types of arguments for and against that are likely to have an influence over the decisions of the business community in terms of how they decide to vote.

On the remain side, we see lots of the multi-national entities with a presence in the UK warning that a UK exit may lead them to reconsider their ongoing market presence, particularly in the area of financial services. Whilst these businesses are making statements on this matter it unclear as to the likely course of action that would be followed or the timeline associated with it.

However, on the leave side we see that many small businesses feel that EU mandated legislation perhaps makes for a challenging operating environment as EU regulations become transposed into UK law that are perhaps more onerous than is maybe necessary where they trade domestically only. What is unclear, is to the speed or extent to which EU regulations could or indeed would, be unravelled from UK regulation and indeed to what extent those UK businesses exporting to the EU would be in a position to stop applying EU regulations easily.

Similarly, in terms of movement of people it is unclear as to the likely impact of changes to the UK’s relationship with the EU might have. In the first instance it is clear that the movement of migrants is a hot topic here, however, it should also be borne in mind that there is massive movement of people for business purposes within the EU and most significantly between Ireland and UK. The significance of the Irish British relationship should not be understated particularly in a situation whereby there is a UK decision to leave the EU and Ireland remains a member. Notably with regards to the facts that,

  1. The UK’s only land border is with Ireland
  2. Ireland and the UK remain within the top 5 trading partners of each other
  3. It is estimated that there is somewhere between 250k and 400k citizen of each country currently resident in the other
  4. The Dublin – London air route is reportedly the second busiest in the world.

Without doubt, a changed situation between the UK and Ireland in terms of freedom of movement as a result of a UK exit would significantly change the business environment between the two nations.

These are just a couple of examples of likely impacts as a direct result of the outcome referendum on June 23rd. What is certain is that on the basis of the changes to the terms of the UK membership of the EU negotiated recently, even if the popular vote is to remain it is clear that the relationship will be much changed between the UK and EU.

I’m interested to understand your business position with regards to #Brexit via the comments section.

What are the likely impacts for your business? Do you have a preference either way? Do you believe it will have any material impact on you personally or from a business perspective? What are the likely changes that you anticipate from an operational perspective?

*Note: any view expressed above are entirely personal and may or may not reflect those of my employer.
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Payment change in Ireland – A perfect storm is brewing!

I have been a long term advocate of the need for both Irish society and business to move to more modern payment methodologies and away from the love affair with cash and cheques. The reasons are pretty compelling. Electronic payments are;

  • More secure
  • Rapidly becoming less costly than cash or cheques
  • Mitigate against petty crime
  • And ensure that more money stays in the economy and is collected via indirect taxation, benefitting all of society.

As a nation, we Irish, have historically struggled to divorce ourselves from cash and cheques entirely, for a number of valid reasons. In most recent times in a period of, never before seen uncertainty, around the liquidity of banks worldwide we probably became even more tied to using cash….but times are changing fast..

I had the good fortune of participating in a working group around the IrishNational Payments Plan in a professional capacity which engaged the major stakeholder communities around initiatives to drive greater usage of electronic payments in the Irish economy, and while that working group is no longer in place, the recent pace in terms of the deployment of initiatives and adoption of the kinds of measures it proposed and discussed have really proven to demonstrate to me that fundamental change around our usage of cash is starting to happen.

I won’t be tempted to compare our usage of cash with the usual suspects such as the Nordic countries, however 2 facts relating to this part of the world are telling,

  1. The BBC reported earlier this year that cashless payments have already overtaken the use of notes and coins in the British Economy – THIS YEAR!
  2. Last week, Visa announced that there was 1 contactless payment per second in Ireland this year.

We have also seen a slew of moves through legislative activity in Ireland aligned to the budget and other activities to up the ante in terms of the transition to ePayments in recent weeks, namely,

  • Increasing limits on contactless payments to €30 from €15 from the end of October
  • The rolling out nationally of a rounding scheme in order to phase out the use of the 1c and 2c coins
  • The scrapping of Stamp Duty on Debit cards replacing it with a transaction charge on ATM transactions to incentivise greater use of contactless payments and less use of ATMs from January 1st
  • And lastly the much needed reduction in transaction fees for those accepting card payments so as to not dis-incentivise those offering that alternative.

When these measures are added to the introduction of the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) in August 2014, the upcoming mandating of SEPA for Euro transactions in non-Eurozone states in October 2016 and the implementation of eDay in September 2014 to kick start the divorce of the cheque from the state financial operations with business, all of which have made it more attractive to go electronic and less advantageous to continue with paper based payments and are aligned to the clear consumer demand for electronic payments it is becoming clear that the potential for a cashless society is no longer merely a pipedream.

A perfect storm of legislative drivers, changing consumer preferences & behaviours, and technology evolution is driving a step change in our relationship with the payments instruments we use. From a business perspective it is surely now the right time to accelerate the process of ensuring that you are ready for it or perhaps be prepared to be left behind by changing consumer behaviours.

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The Impact of Taylor Swift on the SAAS rules of engagement for the Product Marketer….

Towards the end of 2014, Taylor Swift took a decision to ask for her content to be removed from Spotify, citing the imbalance of return for the artist from the revenue streams created around their content. It was a notable move at the time as it appeared to fly in the face of the new conventional wisdom that control of the content no longer lay with the artist in terms of generating a return from it and that they should simply ride the wave of the incremental merchandise and ticketing opportunities it created. However, she has spoken out again in the last couple of days against the fact that Apple’s new music service was due to offer 3 months service for free to the end users as a means of attracting users but in parallel expecting the artist to foot the bill by means of not receiving royalties. Interestingly, in this case, Apple have backed down, reversing the decision around artist royalties, and effectively taking the cost burden on themselves.

 

So how could this have an implication in a business (and specifically a SAAS) context?

The effect of the stance taken by Taylor Swift against both Spotify and Apple creates an interesting pretext for the commercialisation of SAAS products more generally. The accepted wisdom of SAAS products, be those consumer or business products, in terms of the go to market offering, is such that a free period (which varies from one business, country, product to another) is usually offered as a teaser to get customers onboarded and using the products before they begin paying, in other words….try before you buy. The question around this business model has perhaps thus been, who foots the bill for the free period? Conventional logic would dictate perhaps that in the case of a smaller player that they hold little sway over their stakeholders in terms of the value chain and thus have to foot the cost of new customer trial / free periods and conversely for the bigger players (such as Apple or Spotify) the imposition of the cost of the trial period is on the service providers. However, it would appear that Taylor Swift has inadvertently struck a blow for the providers of the service components, levelling the playing field, and putting the cost implications of the provision of free trials to would be users back on the service owners.

 

So, now that the rules of engagement are set, what are the realistic implications for providers of SAAS products?

My personal view, as a result of this quite visible backing down by Apple, on the cost implications of free trials is that these costs are fast becoming a marketing cost or a cost of sales. Effectively, cost of service provision, unrecouped by customer revenues during free trial periods, become a cost of to the business of acquiring and securing the customer and as such, depending on what way the business accounts for this cost, this effectively either becomes a cost of sales or a marketing cost. Either way, this means that cost of service provision during trials, effectively should be measured as part of the overall Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) of the customer to be played in against the customer Lifetime Value (LTV) to provide the metrics by which cost effective customer acquisition should be measured.

For those of us familiar with the world of marketing and selling SAAS products, the key to success is not actually in attracting customers to trial and use your product while it is free, the trick is in fact in driving the conversion from trial to paying through the onboarding process. Whilst a responsibility for driving conversion from trial to paying sits with the UX and product design teams there is equal reliance on marketing and product marketing functions in enabling the discovery of value in order to turn a triallist into a paying customer. As a result this gives greater control of the customer journey from discovery to onboarding to the expertise (and budget line) of the marketing functions and thus greater expertise and budgetary bandwidth perhaps needs to be played in as well as making this element of the work remit more clearly defined for the product marketing function.

 

The key take away for the product marketer?

Beyond assisting in driving the customers from trial to paying, the product marketers ongoing role is then to drive the “surprise and delight” factors in ensuring that customers that are less financially committed to your product than ever before remain sticky…and its for this reason that us product marketing professionals must be more aware than ever of the key metrics of CPA and LTV…and the rule setting of Taylor Swift of course…

Taylor Swift references aside, the key take away is this,  a rounded understanding of customer experience from acquisition to retention has never been as important as it is in the current SAAS environment, and as such, the management of the flow of the customer journey needs multiple touch points and engagements from all those involved in the product marketing function with a vested interest in the customers ongoing success to ensure this is realised.

I’d appreciate any thoughts on this from others in the SAAS space via the comments below

 

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Top Tips for Air Travel Zen!

I previously wrote a piece on here about debunking some of the myths around business travel being fun and it appeared to resonate with people. I have recently had an increase in the frequency of that travel for a variety of reasons and as such I have noticed a marked increase in the sheer number of people travelling progressively week on week but also have noticed the number of people travelling for non work related reasons increase. What is noticeable about these less frequent fliers is that things that have become second nature to me in terms of negotiating the airport and flying experience in a stress free manner are sometimes not all that clear to the infrequent flyer. So, given that holiday / vacation season is upon us, here are my top tips for less stressful air travel….

Time….

– Enough is enough

There are 2 types of people in this world when it comes to time keeping, those that like to be just in time and those that like to be well in time. The reality is that when travelling through airports you need to accept that your time is not entirely within your control. Yes, give yourself time for the unexpected, such as long queues, busy periods due to things like charter flights but also recognise that airports handle lots of flights to different places not just your flight so, at certain times of the day & parts of the year, the airport in going to be busier than other times – past performance is not an indicator of future performance and all that..

Bear in mind that some people just find the experience of flying and negotiating an airport a little stressful and as such aren’t as “clued-in” as they might otherwise be. In this respect the top tip is expect to be a little delayed at some point in the journey and pre-plan in terms of getting through the pinch points. A really good example of this is at security screening, you will have to go through this so think about that when packing your carry-on bag so that you can get at what you need to easily and also the type of clothing…the most regular holdups at security that I see are ladies trying to take off boots and blokes rooting for washbags underneath all their other stuff, those kinds of things invariably add to stress levels with others waiting impatiently behind in the queue!

Expect queues everywhere, airports excel at creating them for everything…its a fact of life and once you accept it things become much easier! Patience is your most underestimated ally in airports!

On the flip side, those who like to give themselves lots of time can suffer the challenges of the airport too. Whilst I do advocate giving a little extra time, there is nothing fun about being in the airport 3-4 hours ahead of a flight. Invariably being too early means that check-in desks are not yet open, security sometimes will restrict how soon pre-flight you can go through and increasingly (in an effort to get you to spend more money on stuff you don’t need at over inflated prices) boarding gates are not displayed until just before the flight closes and there is less and less seating around!


Tech

Technology should be about improving your life, making things easier and creating more options for you, my top tip for when you’re travelling?  – Use It!

Mobile

Most major airlines now not only allow you to check in remotely using a mobile device but also allow you to get a mobile boarding card, this means you can carry less scraps of paper and in reality you are also far less likely to misplace your phone as a scrap of A4 paper! In terms of your mobile boarding card, a shout out to a former colleague who’s top tip was to take a screenshot of your boarding card so you are not relying on mobile data connections to retrieve it while a queue forms behind you at a boarding gate! Do make sure your phone is charged however if you are depending on it and obviously if your battery is dying avoid Candy Crush!

Google!

Google your flight number or use flightradar24 to keep an eye on your flight (or indeed the inbound one that your flight will become), it will absolutely keep you better informed that he airport screens or PA system will. I have no idea how it works (voodoo or black magic i suspect!) but it never fails to give you early warning of any likely delays!

My Personal “Must Haves”

At some point it is likely that you will be bored, and your tech should be something to help keep the boredom at bay at least for a while. My current armoury of stuff to keep boredom at bay is as follows, iPad with; kindle app and books downloaded for future reading, spotify app in offline mode with few playlists synced, SkyGo app or equivalent with some stuff stored to watch later, simple games – Bejewelled, Angry Birds etc. In ear headphones, airlines will always ask you to remove over the ear ones and to be honest they take up loads of room in your carry on anyway. A paperback book for when your tech battery dies (and it will!), and lastly using your email in offline mode, dont worry, it will all send when you are back in internet coverage and you will have the benefit of being ahead of the game!


Peace of mind…

Travelling causes incremental stress levels for everyone, no matter how experienced at it you are so here are some handy hints that I suggest to help minimise it and keep you on an even keel!

– €5/€6 quid is cheap for peace of mind – use the fast track if nervous about, queues, travelling in groups etc

– Everything is premium priced – accept it. You probably don’t need whatever you are eying up in the duty free and it is more than likely cheaper elsewhere!

– You honestly don’t need all your clutter immediately accessible at the top of your carry-on bag or handbag – keep only the essentials accessible in a particular section (passport, boarding card, money) everything else is only going to get in the way when you are looking in a hurry for one of the aforementioned!

– Airports are highly regulated places for safety and security reasons, don’t expect anyone working in that environment to bend any rules for you or even to be woolly with the interpretation, they simply can’t do it and all it will cause is additional stress and holdups for everyone else!

– Write your parking location (section, row number etc) on the car park ticket, you wont remember it a week later, and having walked around the long term carpark in Dublin airport in the dark for hours dragging a bag behind I can attest that it is no fun!

Got any top tips? Please share them in the comments below! Bon Voyage!

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The Other Referendum….Why I Am Voting Yes

On Friday 22nd May 2015 the eligible (and registered!) voters of Ireland will be asked to vote in favour or against 2 amendments to the constitution. I am proud to say that I live in a democracy that places the power to decide on the content of the ultimate reference (the constitution) with respect to the laws that govern us as citizens of this democracy. Only the people of Ireland have the right to change or amend that laws that govern us and it is a fundamental power of self determination that we perhaps take for granted. This requirement to state the preference for or against any change to our constitution does mean on occasion that we are required to make decisions on elements that we believe to be trivial or less important than others but this coming Friday we are being asked to vote on what I believe are two fundamental questions on the rights of the citizens of this state.

The forgotten referendum?

Whilst there appears to be enormous coverage on the question posed under the marriage equality referendum from both domestic and international media, and the arguments for and against have been played out in almost every conceivable forum, there is a second referendum that will be put to the voters on Friday 22nd and that is around the question of whether the right to hold the office of President of Ireland can be amended so that the minimum age of the office holder is reduced from 35 to 21 years of age. As a result of the low level of coverage, it would appear that the public has not been as well informed as possible on the arguments for and against the proposed amendment and as such, it would appear that, in the absence of fullness of information, that the voting public will opt to retain the status quo, a belief already being echoed by senior politicians up to and including the Tanaiste.

Why I am voting Yes

Perhaps I am being flippant in suggesting that the lack of awareness is triggering the preference to retain the current wording of the constitution, however, I genuinely find it difficult to comprehend how the concept of equality is getting (according to the polls at least) such a high preference in the marriage equality referendum but that this is not being translated into similar levels when it comes to equality on the basis of age. As a society, we allow the citizens that live in the country to choose the type of government that we would like on a proportional representative basis, the right to amend the constitution that is the ultimate legal reference point, get married, drive a car, purchase alcohol and tobacco etc yet as it stands, that proportion of the population under the age of 35 does not have an equal right to hold the highest elected office in the state and for me that strikes me as inequality on the basis of perception of ability based on age.

I could easily rhyme off a list of well accomplished individuals in their various fields of expertise all under the age of 35 from Mark Zuckerberg to the Collison brothers of Stripe fame. Equally looking back in history one of the greatest leaders in recent Irish history, Michael Collins, would not have been eligible to hold the office of President, and throwing out examples such as this can perhaps change some perceptions of the actual importance of the “life experience” that is the fundamental concept behind the current age restrictions and perhaps how the logical basis of this restriction is flawed. Either way, in an equal society, why should age be a barrier to the ability to hold office?

I don’t believe that age matters all that much; we are already arbitrarily deciding that 18 years of age defines the lower boundary of independent and mature thought, and that is why I will be voting Yes on Friday 22nd on the proposed amendment to the constitution concerning age of eligibility to hold the office of president, and would encourage those of you that have a vote to do the same.

If the referendum on the minimum age does pass and, horror of horrors, a callow youth of less that 35 years of age does have the gumption to run for office, you can count yourself lucky that we are in the fortunate position of living in a democracy that empowers us to vote for others we believe more suitable!

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Gold, Silver & Bronze for Kinnegar in Commonwealth Cup, Kentucky

Kinnegar Brewing

BB_3267

Well, we’re still blinking in the limelight after stepping out onto the international stage for the first time in Alltech’s 2015 Commonwealth Cup in Kentucky. We entered five beers and four of them have medalled! Gold for Black Bucket, Silver for Rustbucket, Bronze for Devil’s Backbone and Yannaroddy. (There’s a free T-shirt for the first person who can guess which was the fifth beer we entered!)

A massive clap on the back for our brewers, Rick, Rachel and David, and another for Tom, Louise and Sandra who made sure the prize beer was perfectly packaged.

See the full list of medal winners here.

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Why the result of a UK General Election has never been so important to Ireland

The electorate of the United Kingdom go to the polls tomorrow to vote in an election that has the potential to bring about the biggest political landscape change in a generation. Although no votes have yet been cast, the polls all indicate that we are entering something of uncharted territory with the rise of multiple smaller parties that will consign the concept of single party government to the past in the UK for a long time.

So what are the key differences this time around?

  • The arrival of the nationalists

After a near miss in their campaign for independence the Scottish National Party (SNP) have the potential to make the biggest single impact in Westminster since the Irish Home Rule Party held the balance of power pre World War One and used it to sue for the concession of Home Rule for Ireland. Fast forward just over a century and the SNP have the potential to adopt a similar position, pushing for greater autonomy for self determination through a similar means. Based on the current polling, the SNP could feasibly take almost every Westminster seat available in Scotland primarily on the back of, frankly, the most charismatic leader of all the party leaders (something which has been reflected in her ratings in every poll post debates), a sense of opportunity to get a better deal for Scotland as a part of the UK and also the approach taken by the No campaign backers (the 3 main UK parties) in scaremongering to drive the No vote and then being overtly triumphalist in celebrating a marginal win. For the good of the Union or not, it would appear the SNP will be the king makers this time around.

  • The rise of the right

Not since Enoch Powell’s famous speech in Wolverhampton have politicians as far to the right as those belonging to UKIP had as much media coverage. The uneven distribution of the positive economic upswing in the UK in the past couple of years has proved fertile breeding ground, (along with their more acceptable position) for UKIP in terms of creating a sense of jingoism around a sense of Britishness, immigration more tightly controlled and the sovereign (and her presence on the currency) being someone to be revered. UKIP policies (agree with them or otherwise) are finding support across England and they are potentially on the brink of become a sizeable political force on the right in Westminster with potentially the ability to influence a more right of centre agenda with the more mainstream parties.

  • The demise of the centrists

The populism of UKIP has also had an effect of drawing the mainstream parties away from the centre positions that they had been drifting towards ever since “New Labour” came to power in 1998 on the back of a highly centrist manifesto. This polarisation has meant that whether in power or not, UKIP can succeed in achieving many of their policy preferences by proxy as the Conservatives seek to win the hearts and minds of their more conservative supporters that they would likely leak to UKIP. Similarly for the Liberal Democrats, their encompassing politics of the centre allowed them to make huge strides in the last general election. However, they have been badly damaged by being the junior party in a coalition for the last number of years. No one will blame them for seizing the opportunity to have a period in power to implement some of their manifesto, but their swing voters will more than likely abandon them for something a little more neutral at the polls this time around.

So what is the potential impact of this changed political landscape?

As a single vote has yet to be cast, there is still a chance that nothing will greatly change. Realistically, what is likely to happen is that despite an electoral system that is setup to almost protect the sanctity of single party government, through single seat constituencies and first past the post system, that no single party will have anything like a sufficient number of seats to even form a minority government. This means that there will inevitably be some horse trading in order to reach the magic number, where pre-election pledges are forgotten and some manifesto items severely diluted in exchange for a seat in power. While this is nothing new for Irish people as there has been a history of coalitions and the ebb and flow junior parties in these coalitions taking a pasting in the immediate aftermath of their period in power (PD’s, Greens, Labour??) this kind of situation is certainly something new for the UK electorate which conversely may lead to polarisation to the left or right.

The likely outcomes?

Based on the polling two scenarios are starting to look equally feasible,

  • A right wing coalition of Conservatives, UKIP (and possibly Liberal Democrats if required) with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party.
  • A centre left coalition of Labour & SNP with the support of Plaid Cymru, Green Party and SDLP

What are the potential ramifications for Ireland of either of these scenarios?

A  right wing coalition would more than likely lead to a renegotiation of the UK’s position within the EU and its adherence to the rules thereof. What the Conservatives have committed to is a straight Yes/No referendum on ongoing EU membership within 18 months, UKIP would certainly be supportive of this and it would appear that the Lib Dems are positioned to drop any opposition to such a referendum in return for retention of power. On the basis that they have sufficient support to make up a majority government and assuming continuing policy support through their support base, it is entirely feasible that the UK could opt to leave the EU. The consequences for Ireland of any such result are grave indeed. Figures produced just last week outline that the UK is the destination for more than one third of all Irish exports. A UK outside of the rules and beneficial trading environment of the EU could place Irish exports at significant risk in terms of competitiveness. From a simple logistical perspective it would also create the UK’s only land border with the EU and has the potential to place significant barriers to cross border trade on the Island of Ireland. Whilst there is no certainty on how this may manifest itself and when, a period of uncertainty will create a challenging market environment for Irish trade with the UK (not to mention to UK’s ability to act as a safety valve for Irish workers in times of economic challenges domestically)

A centre left coalition presents an entirely different dynamic. Despite protestations to the contrary it is inconceivable that the Labour Party will forgo power for another 5 years simply to avoid working with the SNP and it is entirely unlikely that they will be able to cobble together sufficient support in the other non-right of centre parties to make a workable majority. Under such a scenario we will undoubtedly see a push for greater federalism within the UK with greater ability to set taxation and policy in a wider variety of areas. We already know that the SNP view the Irish model as something to work towards in terms of corporate taxation regimes, pro-european approach and attracting high value FDI to an English speaking location within the EU. This would create an opportunity for Wales to act similarly and all of sudden some of Ireland’s USPs are under threat from our near neighbours.

Essentially, the enormous change that is potentially coming in the UK political landscape will impact Ireland directly within a short period of years. In the short term I believe that having our neighbours in the same club is hugely beneficial to Ireland given the fraternal relationship between the UK and Ireland and the impediments that would come into place by virtue of the UK leaving the EU. I suspect however that the right wing will hold onto power in this election and this creates a period of enormous potential change for Ireland in terms of our relationship with our nearest neighbour that will potentially draw us closer to the EU and under the influence of the key power brokers there.

Two things are for certain, single seat constituencies and first past the post remain one of the most undemocratic approaches to representation of the diversity of views but it still appears have been somewhat overcome this time around, and also, things will never be the same again after UK GE 2015, for more than just those in the UK!

**Disclaimer: This is my personal blog, and the content and opinions offering herein in no way reflect or claim to be representative of the opinions of my employer (pro or contrary)**

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