Fintech is Changing Money Management for the Better

Are you stressed about managing your money? Most of us are at one time or another. Whether you are trying to track your spending or invest spare change, fintech is here to ease your money worries. That’s the promise of the entrepreneurs and engineers working in one of Silicon Valley’s fastest growing industries.

Fintech (a combination of financial and technology) startups are introducing simple ways to invest and track your finances while established institutions are creating and using new technologies to offer personalised recommendations to customers. Using a smartphone to make a purchase or comparing loan rates online can make your life simpler and save you money, and that’s just scratching the surface of what fintech enables.

Technological innovation in finance is in substantial growth with no signs of slowing down. An Accenture report found fintech investment in the first quarter of 2016 grew by 67 percent compared to the first quarter of 2015. That’s a continuation of the year-over-year increases that’ve taken place over at least six years.

The investments are helping people at all levels of the economic spectrum. According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, even those living in extreme poverty are poised to benefit from changes in mobile banking. Over the next 15 years, it expects two billion people to open their first bank account and start saving and spending money with a phone.

 

Six Ways Fintech Can Help

There are many ways to manage your personal finances, and here are just a few examples of how fintech services could help you in everyday life.

  • Banking online.Online- and mobile-only banking can offer you limited fees, low or no minimum account balances and a relatively high-interest rate on your savings. You’ll often be able to access your money for free using an associated network of ATMs, or get reimbursed for ATM fees, and deposit money by taking a picture of a check or making an online transfer.
  • Budgeting easily and efficiently.Instead of relying on a paper notebook or spreadsheet, you can use digital budgeting apps. There are apps that sync with your bank, credit and other financial accounts to let you track your spending and savings in real time. You can even track spending in different categories, receive notifications when you exceed your budget and analyse the data to see what categories eat up most of your paycheck.
  • Saving money automatically.Online and mobile apps can make it easy to grow your savings. Some services use algorithms to calculate how much money you can afford to save at a given time, and then automatically transfer the money to your savings account.
  • Investing your money with minimal effort.Technology has made tracking and managing your investments easier. Robo-advisors are computerised investment management services that offer low fees, an easy setup and a customised investment strategy based on your information and goals. You can let a computer create and manage your investment portfolio with just a few clicks and make adjustments based on your desired risk and when you’ll want to withdraw their funds. Additionally, some companies can round up every purchase you make with your debit card and automatically invest the money with a robo advisor.
  • Getting paid back quickly.Say goodbye to the 10-minute post-meal negotiation as you and your friends try to split the check. Mobile apps linked to checking accounts let you send and receive money instantaneously. One person can pay the bill and the others can send him or her money from their phones.
  • Comparing loan offers.If you’re looking for a loan, there are services that allow you to enter your information once and receive loan offers from competing lenders. The easy-to-use shopping tools can make it easy to find out which lender will give you the lowest interest rate, saving you money over the lifetime of the loan. Choose the loan with the best terms and you may be able to complete the entire loan process online.

These are six examples of how you can use new financial technologies, but you might also be benefiting without even realising it. For example, a startup could power your bank’s online chat service or send you notifications when there’s suspicious activity on one of your accounts.

Keeping Your Funds and Financial Information Secure

Even if a new app or service seems reputable, it’s important to take steps to safeguard your finances and personal information.

  • Always research an app or service before you use it.Search the name of the app or company and look for reviews. Positive reviews by major media outlets are usually a good sign that the service is considered to be reputable and reliable.
  • Improve your password security.Password protection is a deceptively simple, but very important aspect of online security. Don’t use the same password for two accounts, financial or other. Wherever possible, use two-factor authentication, meaning security is double-layered and someone can’t log in with your password alone. For example, see Google’s password tips for more advice on keeping your accounts safe.
  • Use biometric authentication.Some banks offer various forms of biometric authentication that you can use to log into your account from your phone. Rather than type in a password, you can use the phone’s camera or microphone to verify your account with your fingerprint, eye, face or voice.
  • Enable location-based alerts.Geolocation tracking can easily add an extra layer of security to your account. With your permission, banks can use GPS data from your smartphone to verify that you’re with your card when it’s used for a purchase. As an added bonus, your bank might be able to easily notify you where the nearest fee-free ATM is and send you discounts or offers from nearby merchants.
  • Don’t put all your money in one place.Keeping your assets in several accounts can help limit your risk. Even if one account is attacked, you’ll have access to your other money while the financial institution looks into the matter and makes you whole. If you think your account has been compromised, consider the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau(CFPB)’s advice for reporting suspicious charges and avoiding future losses.

Bottom Line: Fintech is changing the way people interact with money, and there’s something for everyone. Though there are important security risks to consider, the innovative and intuitive services can help you save and manage your money.

This article is originally published on HuffingtonPost.in at 14 September 2016.

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Step-by-step guide to use Unified Payment Interface (UPI) App

Unified Payment Interface (UPI), launched by National Payments Corporation of India, which is expected to bring revolutionary changes to the payments landscape in India has gone live recently. Several banks, including ICICI Bank, Canara Bank and Yes Bank, have already announced the launch of UPI-enabled apps, which can be used by both customers of the respective banks or an account holder of another bank to transact payments. UPI allows both sending and receiving money through the new mechanism.

But how do the new apps work? Many of us would be asking this question as more and more banks come up with their UPI apps. NPCI has listed out detailed steps on how a bank customer can use the various app. It has explained in a simplified manner how money can be sent or received right from registration to concluding the transaction.

Here is how it works:

Steps for Registration:

  • Download the UPI application from the App Store / Banks website
  • Create profile by entering details like name, virtual id (payment address), password etc.
  • Go to “Add/Link/Manage Bank Account” option and links the bank and account number with the virtual id

Generating M-PIN:

Select the bank account from which you want to initiate the transaction
User clicks one of the options:
a. Mobile Banking Registration/Generate MPIN
b. Change M-PIN

For registering or generating M-PIN:

  • You will receive One Time Password (OTP) from the issuer bank on his/her registered mobile number
  • You have to enter last 6 digits of debit card number and expiry date
  • Enter OTP and preferred numeric MPIN (MPIN to be set) and clicks on ‘submit’
  • After clicking submit, customer gets notification (successful or decline) for changing M-PIN
  • Enters old MPIN and preferred new MPIN (MPIN to be set) and click on ‘Submit’
  • After clicking submit, customer gets notification (successful or failure)

How a UPI transaction is performed:
PUSH – Sending money using virtual address

  • Log on to UPI application
  • After successful login, select the option of Send Money/Payment
  • Enter beneficiary’s/Payee virtual id and amount and select account to be debited
  • You will get confirmation screen to review the payment details and clicks on ‘Confirm’
  • Enter MPIN
  • Get ‘successful’ or ‘failure’ message

PULL – Requesting money

  • Log in to the bank’s UPI application.
  • After successful login, select the option of collect money (request for payment)
  • Enter remitters/payer’s virtual id, amount and account to be credited
  • You will get confirmation screen to review the payment details and clicks on confirm
  • The payer will get the notification on his mobile for request money
  • Payer now clicks on the notification and opens his banks UPI app where he reviews payment request
  • Payer then decides to click on accept or decline
  • In case of accept payment, payer will enter MPIN to authorise the transaction
  • Transaction complete, payer gets ‘successful’ or ‘decline’ transaction notification
  • Payee/requester gets notification and SMS from bank for credit of his bank account.
This Article is originally published on Financial Express on August 31, 2016.

What’s New in Bitcoin Core 0.13.0?

What’s New in Bitcoin Core 0.13.0?

Bitcoin Core 0.13.0, the thirteenth generation of Bitcoin’s reference client as first launched by Satoshi Nakamoto almost eight years ago, has now been tagged for release. This is one of the final steps in the software release process and initiates the Gitian build process.

Bitcoin Core 0.13.0 was developed by some 100 contributors over a period of about five months. And while much of the development effort over this time has also been focused on Segregated Witness, which will be activated only in a future minor release of the software, Bitcoin Core 0.13.0 includes about a dozen notable improvements compared to Bitcoin Core 0.12.0.

These are the most important changes.

Child Pays for Parent

The number of transactions on the Bitcoin network has been steadily growing over time. As a result, more blocks have been filling up, and miners typically charge higher fees to include transactions into blocks. Transactions that don’t include sufficient fees usually take longer to confirm, or perhaps even never confirm at all. This has proved to be somewhat problematic, especially in periods where so-called “stress tests” were conducted on the network, with spikes in the total number of transactions on the network and substantial transaction delays.

Individual users can solve this problem by including a higher fee on their transactions, incentivizing miners to prioritise these transactions. This is possible even after a transaction is sent, using Opt-in Replace-by-Fee (RBF); however, not many wallets include this option yet. Additionally, RBF is only an option for the sender of a transaction. Up till now, the receiver had no way to bump the fee for an incoming transaction to speed up confirmation.

This problem is effectively solved with a trick called “Child Pays for Parent” (CPFP). CPFP is a policy used by miners to select which transactions to include in blocks. With CPFP, miners don’t necessarily pick the highest paying (and valid) transactions, but instead, pick the most profitable set of transactions. In other words: they will select a low-fee transaction if a subsequent transaction that relies on the low-fee transaction offers a high enough fee to compensate. The miner will include both at the same time.

In practice, this means that the receiver of a low-fee transaction can “attach” a high-fee transaction, spending the same coins to himself. Incentivized by the new, high-fee transaction, a miner will include the set of transactions. As such, the receiver won’t have to wait as long for a confirmation, while the miner can increase his income.

Compact Block Support

Bitcoin’s peer-to-peer protocol is currently somewhat inefficient. Nodes send each other most transaction data twice: once as a transaction as it is initially sent over the network, and once as part of a block when the transaction is confirmed.

This has some disadvantages. For one, sending transaction data twice requires more bandwidth than it really should, which adds to the cost of running Bitcoin Core. Second, and perhaps more importantly, forwarding new blocks to several peers at the same time can cause significant outbound bandwidth spikes. This potentially disrupts internet-usage each time a new block is found, which is potentially annoying for users. And perhaps, more importantly, it can slow down block propagation over the network as well. Slow block propagation can, in turn, favour bigger mining pools, thereby incentivizing a more centralised mining landscape.

Compact Blocks (BIP 152), developed by Bitcoin Core and Blockstreamdeveloper Matt Corallo, are designed to decrease excess data-transmission. When a new block is found, nodes initially only communicate very compact hashes of transaction data. As nodes have already received the full transaction data when it was originally sent over the network, they can use these hashes to figure out which transactions are included in the block and reconstruct the block themselves.

This trick does not always work out perfectly, however. If a node did not yet receive the initial transaction before receiving the hashes, that node, of course, can’t select the transaction. Additionally, in rare cases a wrong transaction may hash into a right hash, fooling the node into believing it received the right transaction until it tries to reconstruct the block and finds it doesn’t add up.

In both these cases of failure, the node simply requests the specific transaction data after all. Even with only some complete transactions in them, Compact Blocks will transmit over the network much faster, and require significantly less bandwidth.

Hierarchical Deterministic Key Generation

Up till now, Bitcoin Core generated a new and completely random public and private key pair for each new Bitcoin address. While this is important for security and privacy reasons, it can also be a bit of a burden for users. In order to secure all private keys against loss, they need to make regular backups.

Hierarchical Deterministic (HD) Key Generation (BIP 32), a cryptographic trick developed throughout 2012 and 2013 by Bitcoin Core developers Gregory Maxwell and Dr. Pieter Wuille, and Armory-developer Alan Reiner, solves this problem. With HD key generation, Bitcoin Core creates a completely new key pair for each new address, but all these keys are derived from a single, 12-word seed. As long as users remember this 12-word seed, they can re-generate all private keys and access all their funds.

It should be noted that HD Key Generation is not a new feature in the Bitcoin world. Many wallets already included the option for several years. It just never existed in Bitcoin’s reference client — until now.

Performance & Security

And of course, Bitcoin Core 0.13.0 introduces a significant list of performance and security upgrades. The full extent of these improvements is beyond the scope of this article (see Bitcoin Core 0.13.0’s release notes for all the details) but in short…

The database cache memory has been increased, which allows nodes to speed up transaction validation and more. The Bitcoin command line tool now allows users to type passphrases and other sensitive information interactively, improving security by not storing this information in plain text. The software is updated to use C++11 and Python 3, newer versions of the programming languages, that allow for more powerful features. ARM (a specific microprocessor architecture) binaries for Linux are now part of the release, so users don’t have to compile this for themselves. Data concerning which transactions in a mempool rely on each other (as utilised with CPFP) can be communicated to external programs. Nodes on the network can request to receive only transactions that meet a certain fee threshold to prevent DoS attacks. And, lastly, there have been a lot of low-level improvements to the peer-to-peer, remote procedure call, and messaging system (ZMQ) protocols.

This blog is originally published at Bitcoin Magazine on Aug 22,2016.

 

You Should Know About Bitcoin and Digital Currencies

You Should Know About Bitcoin and Digital Currencies

Bitcoin has injected itself into a lot of conversations about the future of technology, economics, and the internet. The future of digital currencies remains a controversial topic. After reading these 10 things to know about the confusing world of digital currencies, you’ll feel confident joining the conversation.

  1. The difference between virtual, digital, and cryptocurrencies

Virtual currencies were developed because of trust issues with financial institutions and digital transactions. Though they aren’t even considered to be “money” by everyone, virtual currencies are independent of traditional banks and could eventually pose competition for them.

First, there are three terms that are sometimes used interchangeably that we need to sort out: virtual currency, digital currency, and cryptocurrency.

Virtual currency was defined in 2012 by the European Central Bank as “a type of unregulated, digital money, which is issued and usually controlled by its developers, and used and accepted among the members of a specific virtual community.” Last year, the US Department of Treasury said that digital currency operates like traditional currency, but does not have all the same attributes — as in, it doesn’t have legal tender.

Digital currency, however, is a form of virtual currency that is electronically created and stored. Some types of digital currencies are cryptocurrencies, but not all of them are.

So that leads us to the more specific definition of a cryptocurrency, which is a subset of digital currencies that uses cryptography for security so that it is extremely difficult to counterfeit. A defining feature of these is the fact they are not issued by any central authority.

  1. The origin of Bitcoin
Digital currency Bitcoin
Image: gbtimes

Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, a number associated with a Bitcoin address. In 2008, a programmer (or group of programmers) under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto published a paper describing digital currencies. Then in 2009, it launched software that created the first Bitcoin network and cryptocurrency. Bitcoin was created to take power out of the hands of the government and central bankers, and put it back into the hands of the people.

There are currently about 12 million Bitcoins in circulation, though when it was created, the programmer said there is a finite limit of 21 million Bitcoins out there. They are currently valued at around $460 each, according to Bitcoin Charts, which tracks the activity. The value surged as high as $1000 each in December 2013.

  1. The origin of Dogecoin

Dogecoin is a form of cryptocurrency that was created in December 2013. It features Doge, the Shiba Inu that has turned into a famous internet meme. It was created by Billy Markus from Portland, Oregon, who wanted to reach a broader demographic than Bitcoin did. As of March, more than 65 billion Dogecoins have been mined, and the production schedule of this cryptocurrency is in production faster than most.

Earlier this year, the Dogecoin community raised funds for the Jamaican bobsled team to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics when they could not afford to go. The community also raised 67.8 million coins (about $55,000) to sponsor NASCAR driver Josh Wise, who drove the Doge-themed car in several races.

Because there’s a lot of them, Dogecoin is valued pretty low — 1,000 Dogecoins are worth $0.46.

  1. Other types of digital currencies

There are other types of digital currencies, though we don’t hear much about them. The next most popular is probably Litecoin, which is accepted by some online retailers. It was inspired by Bitcoin and is nearly identical, but it was created to improve upon Bitcoin by using open source design.

There are many other types of cryptocurrencies, such as Peercoin, RippleMastercoin, and Namecoin. Cryptocurrencies get some flack because they are often replicates of other versions, with no real improvements.

  1. Bitcoin regulations

Who is in charge of Bitcoin? The point of the currency is that it is decentralized, but there are legalities that differ in every country. Law enforcement and tax authorities are concerned about the use of this cryptocurrency because of its anonymity and the ease of using it for money laundering and other illegal activities. Bitcoin was the prime currency on Silk Road, which was used to sell illegal goods, including drugs. It was shut down in 2013 by the FBI.

The US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) hasn’t yet issued specific regulations on digital currencies, but it often warns about investment schemes and fraud. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an agency under the Department of Treasury, took initiative and published virtual currency guidelines in 2013. Many countries are still deciding how they will tax virtual currencies. The IRS is specifically concerned with virtual currencies being used for unreported income.

  1. How Ben Bernanke changed the Bitcoin game

In late 2013, the first congressional hearing on virtual currency was held to outline the pros and cons of Bitcoin. The hearing ended up providing a financial boost for the currency, because US officials talked about it as a legitimate source of money, as opposed to only discussing its role in illegal activities.

Although he didn’t attend, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a letter to US senators that virtual currencies “may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure, and more efficient payment system.” Bitcoin, which was valued around $13 in the beginning of 2013, jumped sharply after news of his comments broke.

  1. How to get Bitcoins

There are three ways you can get Bitcoins: buy them on an exchange like Coinbase, accept them for products and services, and mine them. We’ll get to the latter process in the next section.

To start, download a Bitcoin wallet. There are many websites where you can download an app on your phone or computer to store Bitcoins. MultiBit is an app you can download for Windows, Mac and Linux. Bitcoin Wallet for Android runs on your phone or tablet. To store the Bitcoins, you have three options:

  1. Desktop wallets leave you responsible for protecting the currency and doing your own backups.
  2. Mobile wallets allow you to travel with the Bitcoins anywhere, and you are responsible for them. Mobile apps allow you to scan a QR code or tap to pay.
  3. Web wallets are transacted through a third party service provider. If anything happens on their side or it gets hacked, you run the risk of losing the Bitcoins, so extra backups and secure passwords are suggested.

Problem is, Bitcoins can be stolen in huge quantities, just like money, and with no centralized bank, there’s no way to recoup the losses. There are several types of Bitcoin ATMs, which exchange Bitcoins for flat currencies. Most machines are expensive and rare, ranging from $5,000 to $2,000. Skyhook, a Portland, Oregon-based company, demoed a $1,000, machine at a conference this month. It is the first portable, open source ATM.

  1. How to mine for Bitcoins

It’s like mining for gold, just on the computer. You need a Bitcoin wallet and specific software, which is free and open source. The most popular isGUIMiner, which searches for the special number combination to unlock a transaction. The more powerful your PC is, the faster you can mine. In the early days, it was easy to find Bitcoins, and some people found hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of the cryptocurrency using their computers. Now, though, more expensive hardware is required to find them. Each Bitcoin block chain is 25 Bitcoin addresses, so it takes a lot of time to find them on your own. The exact amount of time ranges depending on the hardware power, but mining all day could drive your energy bill up and only mine a tiny fraction of a Bitcoin — it may take days to mine enough to purchase anything.

To tackle that problem, there are now mining pools. Miners around the world can band together to combine the power of their computer systems and then share the profits between participants. The most popular one is Slush’s Pool, where smaller, more steady payouts are given instead of a lump sum.

  1. Where you can use Bitcoin

There are many places you can use Bitcoin to purchase products or services. There’s no real rhyme or reason to the list, which includes big corporations and smaller, independent retailers including bakeries and restaurants. You can also use the currencies to buy flights, train tickets, and hotels on CheapAir; upgrades to your OK Cupid profile; products on Overstock.com; gift cards on eGifter. There’s a list on SpendBitcoins that shows all the places that accept the cryptocurrency.

  1. The future of virtual currency

The value of Bitcoin has fluctuated drastically throughout the last year, and there are still 9 million of the coins out there in cyberspace. However, many security issues remain, and that will continue to be a problem. In 2013, Mt. Gox, a Japanese exchange, handled 70% of all Bitcoin transactions, but they lost some 750,000 Bitcoins in February 2014 and filed for bankruptcy, and nothing has been proven in the case. Since it’s universal, it’s useful for international transactions, and could be helpful for transactions in developing countries.

Some experts suggest putting a few aside if you have them and see what happens in the coming months and years, because there are sure to be regulations on the currency soon. With businesses jumping on the bandwagon and investors becoming interested in cryptocurrency, look for momentum to grow, but it will take time for the situation to stabilize as governments, the international community, and the people of the internet decide on how the next generation of currency will transition to a digital world.

This article is orginally published on techrepublic

Security Should Be Paid for digital world?

Security Should Be Paid for digital world?

When performing their daily banking routines, customers don’t want to be bothered by complex security features and authentication procedures. Today, they expect simple and fast user interfaces and often take for granted that their financial resources are protected. However, at the UK’s leading FinTech event last month, a question was posed on whether security should be paid for, like how we pay a premium for our home security systems every year. As important as security is for creating a seamless customer journey and user experience, should customisation be offered to suit each customer’s needs? Could security as a service (SECaaS) drive the future for personalised customer experiences in financial services, and should the customer pay extra for more sophisticated protection?

In today’s cluttered financial services landscape, where products offered by most banking providers are very similar, consumers are spoilt for providers but not with choice. Heritage financial institutions are diversifying their portfolio and new challengers entering the market, like Starling in recent weeks and Atom earlier this year, offering alternative versions of core banking products.

Every little bit helps when banks are trying to differentiate themselves. Banks such as Capital One and Vietnamese Timo (Time Is Money) are basing their entire operations around the nurturing and taking care of the customer, delivering their services with a cup of coffee to attract new business and prevent churn.

merchant online payments security
Image Credit: mydigitalshield.com

Though less visible than front office customer interactions, cyber security is a vital part of the customer experience. Protection of both funds and sensitive personal data is often taken as a given, until a breach occurs. A breach is disastrous to any banking institution, especially legacy banks whose main strength is that they are regarded as more trustworthy than newer, technology-driven disruptors. Trust from customers and investors can be tough to repair and cause real financial damage. When JP Morgan Chase experienced a data breach in 2014 the company’s shares dropped 1.1% following the news and the company’s value was down 1.3% two months after the announcement.

However, as the way we bank continues to evolve and more processes move onto digital platforms, the cost of technology to protect data and respond to regulatory demands is putting financial institutions under pressure. According to a report by Capgemini, worldwide spend on compliance technology will rise to nearly $100 billion by 2018.

Security should be reliable in the applications provided by financial service companies from log-in to payment authentication. Whether the customer has a hectic urban lifestyle or located in the countryside, far away from bank branches, on-the-go banking is now a natural part of our everyday lives. In London, the 7.01am commuter train from Reading has become the busiest bank branch as commuters try to fit banking into their schedule as they head into the City. SECSaaS could offer customers the choice to scale security based on expectations, while helping banks reduce costs of keeping up with the complexities surrounding adequate data governance and ward off cyber attacks in an increasingly digital world.

To have a better experience, users are requesting more openness and insight into banking services and continue to identify areas of improvement in traditional banking processes. The hype around blockchain technology and its potential uses for authentication and verification of transactions speak to a desire for transparency in banking.

End-to-end visibility of transactions was named as a main trend for the future of banking at the highly regarded FinTech conference, as this is a security process with direct impact on the customer experience for financial services on web and mobile. Open banking APIs can bring this transparency for banking, moving on from the notorious days of an industry run by the ‘old boys’ club’. In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority has issued an order for Barclays, HSBC, Nationwide, Santander, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, Danske, Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks, to adopt common API standards by the end of Q1 2017.

Another aspect of authentication which needs to be simpler is identification. As banking moves into the digital sphere, proving your identity with paper documents and plastic cards becomes a hindrance to fast access to financial services, critical to those who are new to a country. Biometrics, such as fingerprints or iris recognition, is an exciting field for customer focussed developments for identification options. Barclays is rolling out voice biometrics at its call centres to simplify identification and Mastercard is now accepting selfies as ID for verifying online payments.

For all these processes, security is at the core.

Ownership and responsibility over security in the FinTech world is still being decided and regulations in this area are nascent. This is a great opportunity for banks to step up and lead. Who will be brave enough to do this?

This article is originally published on finextra.com

Steps Toward Starting Your Own Business

Steps Toward Starting Your Own Business

A lot of people think starting a business is hard. Too many would-be-entrepreneurs get stuck early in the process because they think only a certain type of person has what it takes to make it as a successful business owner. The reality is, most people have what it takes: a good idea, the right amount of capita and the creativity.

What most people lack, however, is the patience, determination and ability to plan. It’s easy to become overwhelmed in the early stages of starting a business. The key is to have a working plan to stick to. Use something simple to guide you along the way.

Here are seven key first steps to starting your own business:

1. Take time to brainstorm.
An idea is great, but you need to be able to give it legs. Your job as a new entrepreneur and future business owner is to think about every aspect of your business. Come up with answers to every question a stranger or potential investor might ask you. For example try to answer these questions:

Who is the target market for the product?

What could go wrong and how will you solve it?

Are there additional products or services that could tie into your main offering?

What are the main things you want your customers to know about you?

By preparing answers to these questions ahead of time, you’ll come across as a more confident and trustworthy business owner when it comes time to try to attract the attention of the right stakeholders.

2. Create a business plan.
After you’ve taken the time to answer questions about your business or product idea, put together a concrete business plan.

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, the main parts of a business plan include the executive summary, a company description (what makes the company unique), a market analysis (the competition and target demographics), the company’s structure, a description of the service or product line, the marketing and sales strategy, financial projections — plus any additional useful information.

Entrepreneur also has a section of free business plan templates that can help you get started.

tips for starting a small business
Image Credit: cloudnineurbanwear.com

3. Gather needed resources.
If you’re planning to start a one-person business, you don’t necessarily need to worry about hiring anyone. But it might be helpful to create a plan for the future when you want to scale the business.

No matter what the size of your business is, you’ll need a few essentials to start operating. Create a list of everything you’ll need and its approximate cost, Whether it’s an office space with a new desktop and printer or a warehouse to hold the products.

If you are purchasing something that will solely be used for business, then likely it’s tax deductible. Be sure to check with the IRS, an accountant or a tax attorney to be sure you are properly deducting expenses.

4. Launch marketing and brand-awareness campaigns.
Before you launch the business off the ground, start planning the ideas for marketing, sales, and branding efforts. Because social media is used by much of the U.S. population in most age groups and continues to grow in popularity globally, having an online presence is key.

Create a Facebook page, Twitter profile, Google+, and LinkedIn page for your business, depending on the appropriate social media channel for your company. For instance, a dry cleaner may not find a LinkedIn page useful but could connect well with a local community on Google+ and Facebook. Be sure all your web pages have a cohesive feel and are updated regularly.

All other communications with your clients should have a cohesive feel. Use the company’s brand colors and logo to create business cards, letterhead and email signatures to demonstrate to customers a professional operation.

5. Get the finances in shape.
Not setting up proper accounting, bookkeeping and tax records up front can be dangerous and costly to a business in the long run. Set up the business as an limited liability company, an S Corp or whatever structure fits best to protect personal assets. Use bookkeeping software like GoDaddy Bookkeeping or Quickbooks that make it easy to export records when doing taxes.

Hire an accountant for your business who can ensure that taxes are done correctly. While doing your own business taxes can be relatively easy when running a solo business, laws and regulations vary by state. Consult with an expert to make sure you’re in the clear.

6. Create a maintenance list.
When you finally have your business up and running, keep track of regular tasks that keep a business running, namely doing payroll, keeping up with inventory, updating the website and regularly blogging and using social media. Create a list of these regular tasks and schedule them on a project management dashboard or an online to-do list like ToDoist, which lets someone list a task’s due date as “every fourth Wednesday” and then it regularly appears on a daily task list.

This ensures you will continue the regular housekeeping tasks of the business so it runs smoothly.

7. Set future goals.
Whether your business is a day or a year old, continuously set goals in order to move your business forward.

Examine the competiton, employees, investors and peers to help you decide what new goals need to be set and what needs to happen so as to be successful.

This article is originally published on entrepreneur.com

The Government of India and RBI’s plan to promote electronic payments

The Government of India and RBI’s plan to promote electronic payments

The biggest challenge in the Indian market is the consumer’s dependence on cash. Electronic payments account for 5 per cent of the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE), in India, so there is an opportunity to convert the remaining 95 per cent from cash to electronic modes.

T. R. Ramachandran, Group Country Manager, India & South Asia, Visa, says there is a need to work together with all industry players, regulators and the government to achieve the objective of increasing the penetration of electronic payments in the country.

ePaisa Mobile Point of Sale from ePaisa on Vimeo.

How do you plan to promote electronic payments?

The Government of India and RBI’s collective resolve to move to a cashless society is very encouraging. A 2016 study conducted by Moody’s and commissioned by Visa Inc. analysed the impact of electronic payments on economic growth across 70 countries between 2011 and 2015. Overall, the study showed that there is a direct correlation between implementation of electronic payments and sustainable growth, and this change is most prominent in emerging economies.

The study estimates that migration to electronic payments added nearly $300 billion to GDP across 70 countries and 2.6 million new jobs globally.

In India migration to electronic payments added nearly $6.08 billion to its GDP and created 1.4 million jobs. Countries like South Korea that provided tax breaks to consumers and 2 per cent reduction in VAT to merchants for card payments have benefitted from an accelerated pace of e-payments, strengthening the overall ecosystem.

The Indian government has already proposed an ambitious plan to incentivize electronic and digital payments. Once implemented, these measures would propagate tax compliance, increase Citizen-to-Government payments, reduce the cost of managing cash and encourage consumers to transact electronically. The key to achieving this vision would be efficient infrastructure and delivery mechanisms (mobile phones, small and payments banks, financial correspondents), which will help achieve the scale of acceptance of electronic payments

Can you throw some light on the latest global trends in mobile payments?

In the past decade, no technology has transformed consumer lifestyle, across the globe, more than the smartphones. Smartphones have already revolutionized messaging, photography and media, and payments are next. India is currently the second largest smartphone market in the world, with over a billion smartphones expected to be sold in the next five years. The increasing popularity and adoption of mobile devices present a huge opportunity for the growth of mobile-based digital commerce.

In line with the vision of growing the footprint of electronic payments in the country, Visa launched mVisa in India, last year. As per the data from RBI, the total transaction volume from mobile banking in India, accounted for Rs.1,035.30 billion for the year 2014-15, which clearly shows the trend of ‘payments on the move.’

Some key global trends in mobile-based payment solutions are Near Field Communications (NFC) and Host Card Emulation (HCE). These technologies have transformed the way people are paying and getting paid. We believe payments will become so invisible that people won’t need to know their account number to make a payment. Card numbers will still exist as identifiers, but they will be completely in the background. People will use a password, PIN or their thumb to authenticate payment from their mobile phone or smart device.

How is mVisa different from mobile wallets?

mVisa is a bank and card agnostic payment solution. It is an acceptance mark which indicates to consumers and merchants the standard experience of how a transaction will be performed using a mobile device. This separate acceptance mark differentiates the experience from other channel experiences available on the Visa network. Thus, mVisa is a transaction channel descriptor.

mVisa is neither a digital wallet nor a prepaid wallet. The mVisa name is not indicative of the underlying store of value (account types) involved in the transaction. The underlying account as the source of funds, which can be of any type: savings, line-of-credit, transactional, or even a card.

On the other hand, a mobile wallet requires a customer to store a value on it, to be able to transact. Through mVisa, our aim is to build an ecosystem where digital payments are seamlessly accepted and adopted. Considering that mobile phones are ubiquitous in India, this solution will help drive India’s cashless economy goal, by creating universal acceptance ecosystem for digital payments.

mVisa was introduced as a pilot in Bengaluru last year. How do you evaluate the response so far?

Since its launch, mVisa is now available through the mobile banking apps for customers of SBI, HDFC Axis Bank, Bank of Baroda and Bank of India.

In the next 4-5 months, we plan to launch mVisa with almost 7-8 more issuers there by enabling an increasing number of customers to secure, digital commerce on their mobile phones.

Visa has launched several new use cases with acceptance for F2F expanded to include large merchants like Health & Glow and Food World, and new online enablement for recurring usage categories like fast food and bill payments. The mVisa payment option is now available online on Pizza Hut, Dominos and Idea Cellular. The most recent use case added is of recharge options using mVisa for subscribers of Tata Sky.

How do you see the market growing?

The market is growing. Overall, the government’s intent to move to a less cash society is encouraging. With over 600 million debit cards in India, more and more Indians have access to digital currency. The opportunity to shift to electronic payment is huge.

There are many challenges on the road to achieving a cashless society. What are your thoughts?

The three key challenges that need to be addressed are: Creation of infrastructure – Acceptance and cost of PoS terminals; How do you make transactions easier and more convenient for consumers, without compromising security; Apprehension to use electronic modes of payment and Indians being culturally inclined to spend in cash.

This article is originally published on thehindu.com