Welcome to ‘Tough Challenges, New Possibilities’, the interview series that asks business leaders for their advice for small businesses to adapt and thrive in these challenging times. We spoke to Al Lukies CBE, our Founder and Group CEO, a UK businessman and entrepreneur best known as a pioneer and champion for the UK’s global fintech industry.

About Alastair Lukies CBE

Founder of Monitise in 2003 and recognised as a ‘Technology Pioneer’ by the World Economic Forum, Alastair was appointed as a Business Ambassador to the Prime Minister for the financial services industry in 2014. Alastair was awarded a CBE for services to mobile banking and charity in June 2014, and was named Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2011 Growing Business Awards. Alastair was also a co-founder of epolitix.com, the portal for Westminster, Whitehall and the devolved institutions.

What’s the biggest challenge small businesses face coming out of the pandemic?

The pandemic has served as a catalyst for many small businesses to expand into digital channels. As businesses mix online and offline, and their potential customer base grows, it’s imperative that they work out how to maximise that opportunity. Check that their products and services resonate with their new audience, and check how they can effectively reach that new audience with their marketing strategy. There’s also an opportunity for increased possibilities for access to capital – there are so many different channels of funding now.

What’s your advice to small businesses in this pandemic?

It’s understandably an incredibly frustrating time for many small businesses thanks to the disruption caused by the pandemic. However, if you’re able to, use the enforced downtime to think about your business, products and target customer. Then learn how to use digital channels to reach those customers. Instead of being constrained by your physical location, rethink your business around your main products and services and work out who is likely to want them and how they can access them.

What more should banks and financial services companies do to help small firms throughout a pandemic?

Banks must think about what they’re providing and what value it brings. The days of banks only offering banking products are over. Banks have to leverage data so that they’re able to offer small businesses services and products that make their lives easier. They’ve lost connection with their customers but, through tech and touch, they can become relevant again.

How important is leadership in coming out of this crisis?

Leadership is a great change agent but it’s evolving. From being ego-driven, it’s becoming more meritocratic, open and humble, which is essential as machines handle work previously done by people. It’s been wonderful to
see these new models for strong leadership emerge, focusing on nurturing and support – often led by women.