Trust in the robots

Some 89% of business leaders working in finance believe robots can improve their firm’s profitability by detecting fraud, creating invoices and conducting cost/benefit analysis.

A survey by Oracle also found that 77% of business leaders put more trust in robots than their own finance teams to manage their organisation’s finance needs.

And 49% of those surveyed in the UK believe robots will replace finance professionals in the next five years. However, it is a different story in China and India, where 72% and 67% see this happening by 2026.

The study of more than 9,000 consumers and business leaders in 14 countries found that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased financial anxiety, sadness, and fear among people around the world, and has changed who and what we trust to manage our finances.

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Families urged to use Tax-Free Childcare accounts

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Thousands of families across the UK are missing out on a government childcare top-up worth up to £500 every three months, according to HMRC.

Almost 248,000 families across the UK saved money using Tax-Free Childcare in December 2020, an increase of almost 43,000 families from December 2019.

Tax-Free Childcare allows parents or carers who have children aged up to 11, or 17 if their child is disabled, to pay their childcare provider through the scheme, and receive a 20% government top-up on any money deposited.

For every £8 per child a parent or carer deposits, they will receive £2 in top-up, up to the value of £500 every three months, or £1,000 if their child is disabled. That equals £2,000, or £4,000 for the care of a disabled child, for a whole year. The top-up is paid directly into the child’s account and is ready to use almost instantly.

Myrtle Lloyd, HMRC’s Director General for Customer Services, said: “As children return to their schools, after-school clubs and nurseries, help is available towards the cost of childcare.

“Families using Tax-Free Childcare to pay their childcare provider are already benefiting from the 20% government top-up on deposits, and you could too. To find out more search ‘tax-free childcare’ on GOV.UK.”

Tax-Free Childcare is also available to families with pre-school aged children attending nurseries, childminders or other childcare providers. Parents and carers can check their eligibility and register for Tax-Free Childcare via GOV.UK.

SME Brexit Support Fund opens for applications

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Smaller businesses can now apply for grants of up to £2,000 to help them adapt to new customs and tax rules when trading with the EU.

The £20 million SME Brexit Support Fund enables traders to access practical support, including training for new customs, rules of origin and VAT processes.

HMRC’s Katherine Green and Sophie Green, Directors General, Borders and Trade, said: “We recognise that changes to customs rules have been challenging for small and micro businesses, and this is why we are encouraging business owners to apply for support through the SME Brexit Support Fund.

“We do not take for granted that the UK’s small businesses – from designers creating bespoke handmade pieces from their kitchen tables, to those selling sweet treats – are vital to the growth and prosperity of our economy, so we look forward to supporting them with practical help to do business with our European partners, on top of a wide range of support available from the government.”

Small and medium sized businesses that trade solely with the EU – and are therefore new to importing and exporting processes – are encouraged to apply for the grants.

To be eligible for funding, businesses must import or export goods between Great Britain and the EU, or move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

This follows the government setting out a new timetable for introducing import border control processes to enable UK businesses to focus on their recovery. Full import border control processes will now be introduced on 1 January 2022, six months later than originally planned.

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Royal Mail to trial Sunday parcel deliveries

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Royal Mail is to launch a Sunday parcel delivery service – but only for major retailers. A number of retail brands – including Amazon – will trial the new service across the UK in the coming weeks, while additional retailers are in talks to join the roll-out.

Online shopping has increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic, with Royal Mail delivering a record 496 million parcels in the third quarter ending 27 December 2020.

The company is also in the process of creating its second and largest parcel hub in Daventry in the Midlands, which once completed will have the capacity to process over one million parcels each day. Its current main hub is in Warrington.

Nick Landon, the chief commercial officer at Royal Mail, said: “We always listen to our customers, both senders and recipients, and the ask here was clear: we love what you do Monday to Saturday, so please do the same on a Sunday. So that’s what we’re doing, as quickly as possible so we can offer it to more and more customers across the course of this year. It’s another really exciting change delivered by our trusted people and network.”

NatWest faces criminal charges over alleged money laundering

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The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has begun criminal proceedings against NatWest Bank over what it sees as compliance failures with the money laundering regulations. The allegations date back to 2011, and run through to 2016.

The watchdog says NatWest’s systems and controls failed to pick up on increasingly large cash deposits (over £250 million) being made into UK accounts.

The FCA revealed the case was the first criminal prosecution under the money laundering regulations, and the first against a bank.

NatWest has said it is co-operating fully with the FCA, explaining it “takes extremely seriously its responsibility to seek to prevent money laundering by third parties and accordingly has made significant, multi-year investments in its financial crime systems and controls”.