SME news in brief: HR, scams, finance, tech

SME news in brief
SME news in brief

Demand for office space in UK remains high

Demand for office space in the UK regional office markets has remained strong at the outset of 2016 despite uncertainties surrounding a potential Brexit. A total of 1,381,350 sq. ft. of office space was taken in the ‘Big 6’ regional cities in Q1, marginally below the final quarter performance of 2015 but 27% higher than the five quarterly average.

Commenting on the report from CBRE Research, associate director Emma Jackson said: “We have seen a strong level of occupier activity in the ‘Big 6’ regional office markets in the first quarter of 2016.

“Indeed, the strength of activity in Birmingham has led to an increase in prime rental levels to £32.00 per sq. ft. Given these volumes and the positive amount of pre-let activity we have seen, occupier appetite is clearly resilient. Any effects surrounding the uncertainty of a potential Brexit have yet to materialise.”

Switch scams are on the rise

Switch scams or mandate scams have been around for a long time, but the recent rise in incidences means businesses should be more alert to the potential risk – this is the message from RSM director or fraud risk David Foley.

The BBC recently reported that incidences of this type of fraud have risen by more than 70% since last year, and SMEs are increasingly falling victim to this type of scam.

“A typical approach is where a junior member of staff in the finance department receives an email supposedly from the chief executive or another senior member of staff asking them to make an immediate payment to a supplier,” says Foley.

“This can often be on a Friday afternoon when defences are down and when staff members can be pressured into completing a payment before the end of the working week. Other common methods are a purported supplier contacting you to notify you of a change of account details, in order that future payments can be made, resulting in payments being made to a fraudster’s account.”

HSBC scheme highlights strength of the alternative finance sector

As recently reported on the Maven, HSBC has launched a £10bn lending fund to support SMEs in the UK. The fund has been structured to ensure it’s truly UK-wide so that ambitious SMEs in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are able to access the funds they need to grow their businesses.

P2P lender ThinCats founder and chairman Kevin Caley has welcomed the move, claiming that the bank has kept a low profile in the SME lending sphere for several years.

“If anything,” he said, “the proposed funding programme highlights just how big the market for business lending is, and how much room for growth there still is for the alternative finance sector. This is particularly the case for the burgeoning peer-to-peer platforms that enable investors to lend directly to businesses.

“HSBC’s injection of capital into this end of the market may well lead to a slight dip in interest rates on some P2P platforms targeting SMEs, but high as they are at the moment, this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.”

Lack of opportunities for women in tech sector

A new study of women working in technology careers has revealed that a lack of opportunities for advancement (43%) is the biggest challenge they face today.

In addition, more than 51% of female leaders agreed that having more women on their teams would be beneficial. The global study was commissioned by Pluralsight, the global leader in online learning for technology professionals, in conjunction with Women Who Code, a global non-profit dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers.

When asked what issues they felt were holding them back in their career, 1 in 5 (22%) women ranked a lack of confidence as their biggest concern, followed by male-dominated work environments (20%). In addition, more than 50 per cent felt uncomfortable asking for a raise and nearly 43% felt uncomfortable asking for a promotion.