No-one will sue me or blame me

Posted by 27 December, 2014 (0) Comment

Business is easier to do when people are getting on yet it pays to keep everyone happy when relationships start to falter. This article is about money, the fact that it talks when opinions differ and why it is a foreign language for some.

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I’ve had an idea…..but I can’t do it on my own

 

Inventors are not just stuck in sheds. Some of them are hugely creative and have big idea after big idea. I am contacted by inventors when they want to protect an idea they’ve created. Most of them are in “start-up” mode and it takes time for the income to pour in.

However, they still need services to help them lift off and it is not uncommon to reach bartering agreements or agree profit or equity shares with those that help them out. Wonderful isn’t it? In an ideal World, yes, in the real World it depends. Recently, I’ve been contacted by two different companies who both had similar issues with such agreements . They were both being taken to court when such “contracts” had gone sour, they were very loose unwritten agreements.

We can’t agree about everything

 

But it pays to sit down and agree the basics. The first indication that something was going wrong was the receipt of a legal document outlining a case of a service provided that hadn’t been paid for. In each case the inventor thought they had “come to an agreement” yet the complainant asserted that nothing had been written down and they expected a prompt realisation of profits, which is rare. Both inventors were upset as well as being annoyed. One was being asked for £40,000 in fees for work they had “ordered”. The other was being invoiced for £18,000 fees for time spent “assisting” the start-uo.

Even after the first legal notice was issued, the inventor contacted the person that was “owed” the £40,000 and came to another agreement. They were somewhat surprised to learn, soon after, that the complainant had obtained a judgement against them and bailiffs were chasing them for money they didn’t have. Sometimes, the courts do odd things. Launching an appeal has proved fruitless for at lease one company facing a wind up order. Their business was closed down by a judge before the appeal date arrived. It is beyond belief.

You owe me, I sue you

 

Eventually, the money was found yet it had been earmarked for marketing so the launch had to be delayed in one case. The debts were paid when they may not have been legally liable to pay them. They were forced to settle because they didn’t have the resources to defend themselves.

Defending yourself doesn’t have to be ridiculously costly but it does take up time. High quality legal resources have to be paid for. It’s not only about what you sign, it’s about what you agree.  Verbal agreements are often considered binding by one party and failure to defend a corner means louder voices are likely to be heard. The balance between defending and paying up doesn’t always leave defendants between a rock and a hard place. I have plenty of clients who have successfully defended  spurious allegations.

Wrap up; Contracts aren’t always big documents and verbal agreements are often taken seriously. It’s really difficult to juggle all the tasks when unexpected legal issues arise. Not to mention the upset if you don’t know where to turn.

Top tip; Do not ignore issues that are on the “too difficult list”. They have a habit of resurfacing  and investor shareholders hate that too. It is not fair but the deepest pockets usually win.

Categories : After The Event,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Design Insurance,Domian name protection,Intellectual Property Insurance,Legal expenses insurance,Liability Insurance,Litigation expenses insurance,Patent Insurance,Trade Secret Protection,Trademark Insurance Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Efficient insurance isn’t always friendly

Posted by 23 June, 2014 (0) Comment

This article is about how improvements in technology should help providers improve the service to their clientèle. Read on to find out how IT has made life easier, where it has failed, and the backlash that is “in the post”.

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Treating customers fairly?

 

Recently I have been learning how to use a new IT system which will increase our efficiency and profit. The people showing us how to use the system are terribly nice and say some nice things, yet also some very surprising things. One that really did surprise me relates to the way the system allows us to meet all the compliance regulations that are bestowed upon us, by the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) I was pleased to find that the system made our life easier when ticking the compliance boxes.

It was during a discussion about “treating customers fairly” (TCF) that I was so surprised. TCF involves doing what it says on the tin – making sure that the customer is at the centre of what you do. This ensures that they are well treated and their aims are met whilst your business meets its aims too. For me, this is the most valuable thing you can do in a business, because customers are always right and when they are wrong, its usually because they have not been well informed. This is a statement that most business owners don’t want to hear, yet when they are the customer they realise that it’s actually true.

What’s the surprise?

 

The comment that surprised me so much was after I complimented the trainers on showing us how to add efficiency into our compliant processes. Our training lady announced that no one usually cares about this, to which I exclaimed “pardon!” because I couldn’t believe that a sector so beaten and bowed by criticism still fails to take its customers’ rights seriously. I enquired what the lady meant by “no one usually cares” and she reiterated that all the other people she trains (all is probably an overstatement) find ways to avoid ticking the compliance box of TCF. I am not surprised that this happens, but I am surprised that it is an industry wide problem. However, it does explain one scenario that has puzzled me somewhat.

Why is it important?

 

When I first went “alone” I carried out research and found that a healthy percentage of people that had purchased insurance were not sure that it was right for them. This meant there were people who would find our service useful. This gave us immense confidence as we ploughed our furrow and provided a service that isn’t available to all. It still isn’t available to all, because we could not possible service the entire commercial insurance buying public, not by ourselves. But watch this space. We have no immediate plans to dominate the UK, yet what I have discovered over the last few years has shown us that the vast majority of people who buy insurance are not treated fairly. There is work for us to do in changing that. It is a challenge, but one I am ready for.

Wrap Up: Not all insurance policies are the same. Not insurance companies are the same. Not all businesses are the same. So ensure you get what you need, before you need it.

Top Tip: If ever you do have a problem with insurance ask your supplier how they are treating you fairly, whilst dealing with the problem.

 

Categories : Accountants Insurance,After The Event,All Risks Insurance,Building Contractor,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Contractors Insurance,Customer Service,Design Insurance,Domian name protection,General Requirements,Health & Safety,Intellectual Property Insurance,Legal expenses insurance,Liability Insurance,Litigation expenses insurance,Patent Insurance,Personal Insurance,Solicitors indemnity,Solicitors insurance,Trade,Trade Secret Protection,Trademark Insurance,Uncategorized Tags : , , , , , , , , , ,

Travel for business is rarely pleasurable

Posted by 20 December, 2013 (0) Comment

Recently a intern from the United States got appendicitis while he was seconded to us. This article highlights the inconvenience this causes to an individual, the business, and everyone.

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Knowledge is not power every time

 

Stephen had majored in bio mechanics. It didn’t stop him coming a cropper when his body decided to give out whilst in the UK. He had never had issues with his stomach before, and who knows what actually caused his appendix to grumble. No one was more shocked than he, when he was told he needed a surgical intervention. To say I was shocked was an understatement. The people who look after him called me to say that he had been hospitalised and that he wouldn’t be able to work for 48 hours.

Little did we know, this was just the start of his problems. The first thing to consider when an employee falls ill is their welfare. Fortunately, we have the NHS, and I knew Stephen would be well looked after. However, after he had been stabilised the boredom set in, and his real nightmare began.

Completing projects benefits everyone

 

Stephen wasn’t exactly overjoyed when his mother arrived. Who can blame her, she was really worried about her still teenage son. However, Stephen was more concerned about his father and brothers, who would, at first, starve for a few days. His other concern was that they would give him a lot of grief for removing their carer for a few days. When it became evident that doctors were too quick to discharge Stephen, he headed back to A&E with an issue that could not have been related to his missing appendix. The doctors were more concerned this time, as surely, they hadn’t removed his appendix for nothing.

It was at this time that Stephen became extremely apologetic and was more than a bit miffed. He had intended to show that he was not a one trick pony, by completing a project that we had agreed upon before he arrived in the UK. It was evident that he would be able to start the project, but certainly not complete it. So after the welfare of a sick employee is resolved, there is still the lost time and productivity to think about.

Why do clients trust us with their travelers?

 

Usually I’m dealing with clients whose staff have been taken out of action whilst they are abroad. The things that have happened recently include someone in the USA cutting their hand on a tin of beans (I kid you not!) and had been relieved of $4,000 by US hospitals. More pressing was the cost of the employee who had to be sent to replace them. The presentation they could not complete still had to be delivered on time. Don’t even get me started on the issues that clients had with a volcanic ash a few years ago. That was the week when everyone who thought that it would never happen to them, realised that it had. The one issue a client raised with me that I thought would never happen, is probably the most tragic I have ever been involved with.

Luckily, I did not have to deal with the issue on the day it arose. Before I ran my own business I worked for brokers who spent a lot of time working with charities. Imagine my horror to hear on the news one day that a young person had been attacked by a polar bear whilst on a field trip in an inhospitable region. Your thoughts turn to the family of the injured at times like that.

There was a fatality in this case, yet I was also certain that the emergency assistance that I had arranged for this particular charity had the resources, including helicopters, to make sure that everyone on the ground was helped as soon as possible, and that the students were spirited away from the area as soon as was practical. I also know that a counselling service was available for those traumatised by the issue. It’s not often someone in my industry can take pride when something goes wrong. You really, sincerely, hope it never does. Yet knowing what you have done professionally has helped people personally is what we strive for.

Wrap Up: Some of my clients go as far as covering the holiday travel arrangements of their staff, as they don’t want them to be left stranded in a foreign clime because their personal travel arrangements fell apart. If you run a tight ship then all of your staff are absolutely necessary, you don’t want to be without them for a few days just because a travel insurance company decides to wriggle out of their promise to get all travellers home when they need to be back.

Top Tip: Planning for the worst might seem pessimistic, but it pays to be prepared. Make sure you are covered for every eventuality – if you can imagine it it can happen.

Categories : Accountants Insurance,After The Event,All Risks Insurance,Building Contractor,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Contractors Insurance,Customer Service,Design Insurance,Domian name protection,General Requirements,Health & Safety,Intellectual Property Insurance,Legal expenses insurance,Liability Insurance,Litigation expenses insurance,Patent Insurance,Personal Insurance,Solicitors indemnity,Solicitors insurance,Trade,Trade Secret Protection,Trademark Insurance,Uncategorized Tags : , , , , , , , , ,

Will Intellectual Property lead the UK out of recession?

Posted by 12 July, 2013 (0) Comment

This article is about the true value of intellectual property, the risks and advantages when leveraging it, and the solutions available.

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Intellectual property is Marvellous

 

Every week I meet someone who has had a great idea.  Not all of them will make as much money as Coca Cola, yet some of them are simply amazing. Naturally, these conversations are private and confidential, and I am often asked to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), before I am party to the secret. I don’t mind doing this because it helps build trust with entrepreneurs and inventors.

I think it is vital to protect the intellectual property in any country, UK Plc. seem to have more nurtured good ideas than most. The gentleman who designs Apple products is British, although he is an employee of Apple, so he is handsomely rewarded for giving them the rights and it makes sense to leverage an idea by partnering with someone who has the means to make the most of it.

The UK authorities are aware of just how much tax revenue they make when ideas created in the UK are well protected in the UK, so they have invested in grants making it worthwhile to protect intellectual property, because they make money when we make money.

Intellectual property risks examples

 

One inventor has designed a new water bottle for athletes. Another has invented one with a filter that means that it can be filled from a puddle, yet still be drinkable. When they initially approached me they had similar concerns, someone might copy it and they wanted to enforce their patent, design and trademark rights. Perhaps another manufacturer would try to flood the market with cheap copies that would damage the brand if people were injured whilst using an inferior bottle.

Social Media searches helped another inventor determine people who were jealous of the invention and were using very similar names to promote their product. In each case they can enforce their rights because they arrange protection to close down the miscreants or, at least, stop the fake or suspiciously named goods reaching consumers.

Sometimes this is achievable by a warning shot across the bows, commonly known as a cease and desist letter; this doesn’t always work. Authorities will act upon injunctions and stop goods leaving a factory, impound them at a distributors warehouse or prevent them being loaded onto a ship if the Intellectual Property owner has the means to enforce their rights. Sometimes this is avoided by the miscreants and the legal costs of enforcement mount up.

Some inventors have told me that they believe people will think twice when they have signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and that is certainly true for the vast majority of people. Large companies and corporations have taken advantage of the little guys and will stop at nothing to make a buck. Just a little research unearths companies who brought their manufacturing process back to the UK from abroad to find that aggressive companies in England started copying their top four selling items and promoting them on the internet.

Whoever let the copycat have the designs probably signed an NDA. It will take time to find out who the culprit was or if the data was stolen by hacking, employees or “external forces” have been known to do this. Without legal costs protection in place, even though they had protected their unique features and registered their designs, it costs a considerable amount of money, time and effort, to stop this happening.

The same applied to an Irish game designer, doing business in the UK, who was courted by a US publisher with a hawkish side. It cost $380,000 to get the game they “copied” removed from the shelves and they eventually gained a licence agreement for a share of the sales of his original ideas.

Intellectual property advantages

 

It is understandable that some companies do not want to register a patent because they know that there are really aggressive companies, especially in the US, who have a habit of copying ideas as soon as they are registered.  I don’t mean registered as a patent, I mean patent applied for. How they find out about such things is fraudulent, of course, and I share tweets noting those that get caught or the sectors that are at the biggest risk.  Savvy intellectual property advisors often recommend that registering be left until the last minute, yet this also carries the risk that someone else may have come up with the idea on a completely opposite of the world, and register it first, obtaining Worldwide rights, if they have the ability to do so.

When discussing these issues I let people know that there are ways of protecting such inventions without them being fully registered.  Get a registration in first, and inventors or designers can enforce their rights before they are registered. This makes patent attorneys and intellectual property lawyers very happy because it gives them a significant tool in their armoury and also enables them to generate fees when the protection process takes too long.

Large companies do not wait for small companies to enter the market before they attack them. A client is in the UK and bought a US Company and made it their branded subsidiary. The players who had the largest share of that particular US market instantly issued “malicious” proceedings against the UK Company before they had even started promoting their products.

 

Wrap Up: Intellectual Property is a real bargaining chip, if it is adequately protected.  Aggressors often try to tie new entrants up in legal process – which is a huge cost – especially in the US, to prevent them from spending their money on marketing and eroding the established leaders market share.

Top Tip: Having a non-disclosure agreement is great, yet you will need to enforce it if someone breaches confidentiality or trade secrets. This is simple yet not easy. Registering patents, marks, brands, domain names, or other unique features of a product or service, and the way it is marketed, can all form part of Intellectual Property protection.

 

 

 

Categories : Accountants Insurance,After The Event,All Risks Insurance,Building Contractor,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Contractors Insurance,Customer Service,Design Insurance,Domian name protection,General Requirements,Health & Safety,Intellectual Property Insurance,Legal expenses insurance,Liability Insurance,Litigation expenses insurance,Patent Insurance,Personal Insurance,Solicitors indemnity,Solicitors insurance,Trade,Trade Secret Protection,Trademark Insurance,Uncategorized Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tailor-made insurance

Posted by 18 May, 2013 (0) Comment

This article highlights why it makes sense to review the risks a business faces, check that insurance policies are fit for purpose and what can happen if this is not undertaken regularly.

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I have this cover – what is it for?

 

After successfully covering something that the incumbent broker couldn’t, without too much trouble, I was invited to visit their premises, take a look around, and undertake a review. A reasonable way to reduce the time it takes to undertake a business risk assessment is to look at current insurance documentation.

Having collected the information, there was one piece missing, and I received an email to say it would be forwarded on to me as soon as it was received from the broker. At the same time the gentleman said it includes “x cover, and I don’t know what that is”. This is not unusual in my industry. A lot of people build relationships with their brokers and then buy what they recommend. Yet it appeared that the broker had recommended this particular cover, but had failed to remind the client what, or how, it actually protected them.

Does a review mean rates will increase?

 

When the document arrived it was pretty standard. After discussing various cover with underwriters, we got some options. The next step on such a large insurance programme (we are talking about a company who export £1.7million of high quality product to America), is to sit down again and discuss the terms and conditions of the options available to us. The rates we had obtained were 25% less than they were used to so it made sense for the Finance Director to invite us back to discuss in detail.

During this meeting I asked about previous incidents. It had previously been declared that there hadn’t been any in 5 years, apart from a mobile phone being lost. Whilst I collected information about staff, including health and safety arrangements, the Director sighed “staff, our biggest expense and liability.” I enquired how they proved to be a liability if no claims had been made and he said “we don’t have to tell them about things that aren’t insured, do we?” I ventured that they may not have to, yet insurance companies were not that kind. Insurance company requirements often mean that every issue has to be disclosed, no matter how trivial or whether it related to the cover they were providing or not. So the client regaled me with the tale of the dissatisfied employee who had threatened starting a tribunal alleging stress they were suffering was related to their work, and they had settled for £15,000 on the recommendation of their Human Resources consultant.

What do you mean we are covered?

 

I asked the client if they had discussed the stress related claim with their broker. “No” he replied, “we are not covered for this.” I felt it would be cruel to tell him that one of the policies he had in place would have provided him with advice on how to reduce the cost and time spent on such issues. Another may have provided cover for a legal defence and paying compensation if it were awarded. If only it had been explained to the client before the incident happened. This is because some policies only pay out if an issue is reported to an insurer as soon as it crops up.

As I said before, this is not unusual in my industry. Whenever someone tells me that they have insurance, but are unsure of what it covers, I realise that their broker has been order-taking, rather than providing an assessment of risk or any advice. What really sticks in my craw is that the previous broker had sold them a policy which wasn’t much use to them, yet by taking one of the optional extensions they would not have had to pay this £15,000 themselves So, with their current broker they invested over £100,000 and still had to fund a £15,000 claim from their own pocket.

At the last minute, the incumbent broker did try and persuade the FD that he should stay with them, and even resorted to the underhand tactic of trying to approach the insurance company I had recommended so that they could copy the work I had undertaken, and pull the rug from under us. Luckily they were not successful because we have strong relationships with underwriters and they give us exclusive terms and conditions, that order taking brokers cannot access.

The most alarming thing about this rather typical scenario is that the broker could have prevented his client from obtaining the cover he actually desired by trying this underhand tactic. The broker would have known this was the case, but was far more concerned with keeping the business than helping the client protect his.

Wrap Up: At the beginning of the process I had explained that his incumbent broker would probably try underhand tactics and it was best he didn’t tell them that we were involved in a review because it may prejudice his position if he did. He agreed that that was the case, yet when put under pressure by the incumbent, who begged for one more chance, he nearly shot himself in the foot. It happens, regrettably, all too often – yet not to us.

Top Tip: When seeking an assessment of risk, it’s important to request assistance from someone who has a reputation for looking after their clients rather than being an excellent salesperson. The hard sell is all too evident in this industry and masks the underhand tactics that too many brokers participate in, to protect their not so hard earned income.

Categories : Accountants Insurance,After The Event,All Risks Insurance,Building Contractor,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Contractors Insurance,Customer Service,General Requirements,Health & Safety,Legal expenses insurance,Liability Insurance,Litigation expenses insurance,Personal Insurance,Solicitors indemnity,Solicitors insurance,Trade,Uncategorized Tags : , , , , , , , , , ,

Insurer’s blind eye leaves business owners vulnerable

Posted by 12 October, 2012 (0) Comment

This article looks at why it’s vital for companies to protect their reputation. Employee accusations can really hurt, especially if word spreads that you’ve acted immorally, just because someone is being vindictive.

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Who protects the boss?

 

It’s a real nightmare for business owners when employees get upset. Business is Business yet allegations of discrimination or mistreatment can be quite frightening. This is especially so if word were to get out that a business acted questionably or immorally, simply because someone is disgruntled or being vindictive.

Rumours can easily reach clients, and frequently do, so we often help business people who want to nip these issues in the bud. They reduce the chances of unexpected legal costs, by asking us to help them reduce the impact, if malicious rumours are being spread about them. This is a sensible approach, that proves extremely cost effective, should it ever happen.

Does it always work?

 

Usually it does… yet recently I found an insurance company who wasn’t providing the cover I expected. I was discussing the merits of a policy with the company that issued it. When I congratulated them on having more generous cover than their competitors they seemed surprised.

They went on to look into the policy, and informed me that their generosity was a typo and the cover they mentioned didn’t apply. This was a real shame because I had already mentioned it to my client. Of course I had to withdraw my recommendation.

What about those that have already invested in this protection?

 

I pushed a bit further and decided to enquire “what are you going to tell those that have already purchased this cover?” Nothing, they told me. “not even at renewal?”. Nope, they said.

So there are now businesses up and down the UK whose insurer knows their contract might be inadequate yet their insurer doesn’t care. Regrettably, this is quite often the case. I’ve reported to the FSA and I’ll let you know how I get on if they ever answer my letter.

Wrap up: Insurance companies have very little idea about customer service because they don’t deal direct with business people.

Top tip: At least annually, you should aim to review the risks to your business assets and business income, and think about what could cause damage to your reputation too.

Who to share this with: Managing Directors, Business Owners & Human Resources specialists.

Categories : Accountants Insurance,All Risks Insurance,Business Insurance,Company Insurance,Customer Service,General Requirements,Liability Insurance,Personal Insurance,Uncategorized Tags : , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,