Business of Love

START-UPS TAP A BIG POTENTIALIF BUSINESS is your first love, the coming time is yours to woo. The hesitant flirting the Indian entrepreneur started with February 14, St. Valentine’s Day, a few years ago has now turned into a fullfledged affair. Varied trades spruce up their offers in the run-up to the Festival of Love, which industry experts say has become the second-biggest business opportunity in the calendar, even surpassing Diwali and New Year. Businesses, so it seems, aren’t falling behind the changing festival mix of Indian youth.For K Vaitheeswaran, who co-founded online retailer Indiaplaza, business around valentine’s Day has been growing by leaps since 2006. “Direct spending on Valentine’s day is nearly 30-40% more than Diwali, making it a rich opportunity for retail entrepreneurs to boost their topline,” he says. From gifts, candies to expensive gadgets, Indiaplaza helps lovers exchange articles through the internet, across boundaries and even away from their parents’ eyes. The first time Indiaplaza tried to cash in on Valentine’s Day was in 2002, but it was a washout then, with not much ‘awareness’ about the day.In 2003, there were protests and agitations over Valentine’s Day celebrations across the country, Mr Vaitheeswaran recalls. But the tough beginning was soon followed by a surge in the day’s appeal and business started to boom. “(The protests) created more excitement about the day’s importance. And because the protests were offline, people switched to the ecommerce website to send their gifts across. Thereafter, the sales started showing a rising trend on this festive day,” he says.According to US National Retail Federation, US consumers alone spent nearly $13.7 billion last year on Valentine’s Day shopping. This was a 22% rise from the past five years. As for the domestic market, an independent study on the consumer markets in India, presented at the 2007 International Marketing Conference, suggests that the Western fancy has started to take roots in Indian markets as well. The study noted that Valentine’s Day sales in 2007 were about 15% higher than that during Diwali at these retail outlets and this is expected to increase by 20-25% in 2008.Only the Christmas season rings in bigger revenues. And it seems entrepreneurs in the country clearly aim to boost the day into first place as more and more start-ups start to capitalise on the opportunity.Despite the pressure to buy gifts, most of the money spent on V-Day this year would keep up the trend set in the previous years. Spending would go to tokens of affection – cards, candies, flowers and nightouts. Floricultural start-up Ferns ‘N’ Petals, for instance, is gearing up for the Cupid’s arrival in a manner unlike any other. Apart from selling flowers, Vikaas Gutgutia’s company is banking on service as a major differentiator for this year. The company has planned to offer midnight delivery service, in addition to selling cakes and chocolates with its flowers on Valentine’s Day. It is also offering its customer the choice of buying gold-plated flowers. Says Pawan Gadia, vice-president at Ferns ‘N’ Petals, who jump started the company’s much-touted franchisee model, “Product innovation for such days is the key to success. You always have to think what different can you do this year which would excite the customer. A mundane run-of-the-mill product line each year does not help when you are working in such a business environment.” F’N'P is hoping to increase its Valentine’s Day sales by 40% this year, adds Mr Gadia.What is a day of gifts without cards? According to Anil Moolchandani, founder & MD of Archies, Valentine’s Day sales account for nearly 12% of the company’s full-year sales, making it the single-biggest occasional sale period for his company. “The trick is to promote and market as much as you can when your business is linked to an occasional sale,” he says. “Essentially, occasional sales help you build a brand presence and to add to this with more and more companies joining the occasional bandwagon for this day, it is becoming easier for any start-up in this space to cash in on the Valentine’s Day sales,” he adds.Archies, founded in 1979, introduced its first Valentine’s Day card in 1984 and it took sustained marketing efforts till 2000 for this occasion to “become critical mass for the company,” recalls Mr Moolchandani. Somebody once wondered cheekily why Valentine’s Day comes exactly nine months before the Children’s Day on November 14? The guys who make it all happen, the matrimonial websites, are also tapping into the business potential of Valentine’s Day.Bharat Matrimony, one of India’s largest matrimony websites, sees the day as a raw material for its business. Says Murugavel Jankiraman, founder and CEO, “We are planning to ramp up the promotional activities around Valentine’s Day period considering that online activity for our website picks up around this period. Unlike other festival days, Valentine’s Day is connected directly to our core business, and it always helps to use such events, which directly relate to your core business as effective marketing tools.”Like Bharat Matrimony, luxury bags maker Baggit too plans to leverage on this opportunity, “More than anything else, it’s an occasion to gift and dress up and clearly a fashion brand would see synergies in that. In fact, we are timing our sale this year on February 12, very close to Valentine’s Day,” says Baggit founder Nina Lekhi. “In case you have a product targeted for the youth, Valentine’s Day would be the point to test response to a particular campaign, which you might want to roll out on a larger scale later,” she adds. In short, what has worked for these entrepreneurs is the packaging of their products. “On days like the Valentine’s Day, there may be little sale in terms of quantity for many business start-ups, but the trick is to fix yourself a niche area and make it high margin business for yourself, as events like Valentine’s Day do not tend to be mass market phenomenon,” says Mr Vaitheeswaran. “With Love’s Light Wings Did I O’erperch These Walls,” said Shakespeare’s Romeo to his sweetheart Juliet.For a start-up with aspirations to make a big mark on the competitive business stage, Valentine’s Day can give wings and plant a kiss of success on the entrepreneur’s cheeks of desire.

Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.

SPDN: An Inexpensive Way To Profit When The S&P 500 Falls

Summary
SPDN is not the largest or oldest way to short the S&P 500, but it’s a solid choice.
This ETF uses a variety of financial instruments to target a return opposite that of the S&P 500 Index.
SPDN’s 0.49% Expense Ratio is nearly half that of the larger, longer-tenured -1x Inverse S&P 500 ETF.
Details aside, the potential continuation of the equity bear market makes single-inverse ETFs an investment segment investor should be familiar with.
We rate SPDN a Strong Buy because we believe the risks of a continued bear market greatly outweigh the possibility of a quick return to a bull market.
Put a gear stick into R position, (Reverse).
Birdlkportfolio

By Rob Isbitts

Summary
The S&P 500 is in a bear market, and we don’t see a quick-fix. Many investors assume the only way to navigate a potentially long-term bear market is to hide in cash, day-trade or “just hang in there” while the bear takes their retirement nest egg.

The Direxion Daily S&P 500® Bear 1X ETF (NYSEARCA:SPDN) is one of a class of single-inverse ETFs that allow investors to profit from down moves in the stock market.

SPDN is an unleveraged, liquid, low-cost way to either try to hedge an equity portfolio, profit from a decline in the S&P 500, or both. We rate it a Strong Buy, given our concern about the intermediate-term outlook for the global equity market.

Strategy
SPDN keeps it simple. If the S&P 500 goes up by X%, it should go down by X%. The opposite is also expected.

Proprietary ETF Grades
Offense/Defense: Defense

Segment: Inverse Equity

Sub-Segment: Inverse S&P 500

Correlation (vs. S&P 500): Very High (inverse)

Expected Volatility (vs. S&P 500): Similar (but opposite)

Holding Analysis
SPDN does not rely on shorting individual stocks in the S&P 500. Instead, the managers typically use a combination of futures, swaps and other derivative instruments to create a portfolio that consistently aims to deliver the opposite of what the S&P 500 does.

Strengths
SPDN is a fairly “no-frills” way to do what many investors probably wished they could do during the first 9 months of 2022 and in past bear markets: find something that goes up when the “market” goes down. After all, bonds are not the answer they used to be, commodities like gold have, shall we say, lost their luster. And moving to cash creates the issue of making two correct timing decisions, when to get in and when to get out. SPDN and its single-inverse ETF brethren offer a liquid tool to use in a variety of ways, depending on what a particular investor wants to achieve.

Weaknesses
The weakness of any inverse ETF is that it does the opposite of what the market does, when the market goes up. So, even in bear markets when the broader market trend is down, sharp bear market rallies (or any rallies for that matter) in the S&P 500 will cause SPDN to drop as much as the market goes up.

Opportunities
While inverse ETFs have a reputation in some circles as nothing more than day-trading vehicles, our own experience with them is, pardon the pun, exactly the opposite! We encourage investors to try to better-understand single inverse ETFs like SPDN. While traders tend to gravitate to leveraged inverse ETFs (which actually are day-trading tools), we believe that in an extended bear market, SPDN and its ilk could be a game-saver for many portfolios.

Threats
SPDN and most other single inverse ETFs are vulnerable to a sustained rise in the price of the index it aims to deliver the inverse of. But that threat of loss in a rising market means that when an investor considers SPDN, they should also have a game plan for how and when they will deploy this unique portfolio weapon.

Proprietary Technical Ratings
Short-Term Rating (next 3 months): Strong Buy

Long-Term Rating (next 12 months): Buy

Conclusions
ETF Quality Opinion
SPDN does what it aims to do, and has done so for over 6 years now. For a while, it was largely-ignored, given the existence of a similar ETF that has been around much longer. But the more tenured SPDN has become, the more attractive it looks as an alternative.

ETF Investment Opinion

SPDN is rated Strong Buy because the S&P 500 continues to look as vulnerable to further decline. And, while the market bottomed in mid-June, rallied, then waffled since that time, our proprietary macro market indicators all point to much greater risk of a major decline from this level than a fast return to bull market glory. Thus, SPDN is at best a way to exploit and attack the bear, and at worst a hedge on an otherwise equity-laden portfolio.