Kaushalya Somasundaram is Executive Director and UK Head of Payments Partnerships and Industry Relations at Square.
Tell us about your role at Square and your journey into the digital payments space.
I’ve been with Square for over two years and have always enjoyed both the challenge and the opportunities presented to me in my role as Head of Payments, Partnerships & Industry Relations, UK . I have worked in the wider financial industry for over ten years and have always been enthusiastic about the power it has to positively shape the lives of consumers and businesses. There are also huge opportunities for innovation in the industry, which I continue to witness firsthand at Square, where we seek to combine creativity and technology to create tools that can help businesses of all sizes to succeed.
There are so many changes happening in the digital payments space right now. How do these innovations boost/help business and trade?
It’s an exciting time for payments, and fintech in general! At Square, we’re always looking for ways to make life easier for business owners. It really means getting into the shoes of those who use our products and discovering what motivates them, as well as their daily challenges. We are constantly on the lookout for innovation and recently announced a new partnership with Codebase; a partnership that will allow aspiring UK entrepreneurs to make full use of Square’s ecosystem of hardware and software tools, enabling them to start their business with products that anticipate their needs and help them streamline their business processes. Likewise, our latest hardware launch, the reimagined square bracket will help business owners reduce their reliance on too many tools by combining several key pieces of technology in one place.
What is the impact of the current situation and the past two years on the digital payment space, and how is Square responding to it?
The the needs of British consumers have changed considerably over the past two years; therefore, the needs of business owners have also evolved as they need to keep up with consumer trends and protect themselves in an unpredictable economic climate, which have undoubtedly been very challenging.
Our research on the future of retail shows that online shopping has become popular over time for consumers, with 97% saying they make an online purchase every month. This is something retailers have noticed and are responding to ensure consumers have a decent e-commerce offering when they want to interact with their business. Our data reflects this, showing that 87% of retail managers and owners have started offering online in response to the challenges posed by the pandemic. Tools like our free website builder, square online have been incredibly helpful in helping businesses establish an official online presence that makes it easy for people to find them and buy their products. Many small businesses we work with, such as household goods company Moussem, are taking this step after initially being engaged primarily through social media channels, i.e. Instagram.
We’ve also seen that businesses continue to struggle with reducing noise to attract new customers and retain existing ones, so we’ve launched new products in the market like Square Loyalty and Square marketing to help them do it, but in one click. Not only do products like these make marketing content easier for businesses of all sizes to understand, they also make it easier to execute marketing campaigns, no matter how complex.
Please describe a major trend that is having a significant impact on the digital payments space – and will continue to do so over the coming months.
This is not a new trend, but rather an ongoing trend that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Half of all payments made in the UK in 2020 were made by card, according to UK Finance. This suggests that people are actively adopting contactless payments as a way to pay for their purchases – behavior made possible by the government’s decision to raise the contactless payment limit to £100.00 at the end of 2021. ‘Before, this means being able to accept such payments is increasingly becoming a necessity, even for venues traditionally known to be cash-only, such as Marketplace stores. Not only does this benefit consumers by providing more choice, but it also helps businesses in their operations since, compared to cash, contactless payments provide more cash flow visibility.
What are some of the common issues that affect users of your products, i.e. business owners?
One of the most pressing issues affecting business owners today is the rising costs of running a business. Our recent research shows that those in the hospitality industry, in particular, are feeling the pressure with many UK restaurants experiencing ‘lunch flatation’ where popular lunch items have increased dramatically; for example, soups on average increased by 36%, from £3.38 to £4.61. Burgers and salads have also seen rising costs as business owners are forced to raise the prices of their products/services to meet operating costs.
Fintech tools can be one of a number of steps business owners can take to protect themselves from economic hardship. Having tools that automate processes, for example, our invoice management software, can help streamline processes in a business and thus increase operational efficiency. Likewise, our Square Appointments software allows customers to schedule appointments for a company’s services, taking care of simple administrative tasks so staff can focus on more important tasks and interacting with customers. .
QR codes have had something of a mini resurgence during the last pandemic – how exactly have they changed the way businesses operate?
QR codes at the height of the pandemic have proven to be a vital lifeline for many businesses who needed to find a way to ensure a high quality customer experience while respecting
Government restrictions and guidelines related to COVID. With the codes in place, consumers were able to order food on their phone with minimal contact with company staff and surfaces (i.e. menus, banknotes, etc. ), this helped provide business flow to many stores, but also helped alleviate health-related concerns for consumers, many of whom were hesitant to shop or visit in person. It’s no surprise then that 39% of consumers want to see QR codes used more widely by businesses in the futuresuggesting that they are well received by buyers.