At Rix & Kay, as corporate lawyers, the conversations we are having with our clients are changing and it is clear that this shift took place around April 2020: just as the impact of the global pandemic came into sharp focus. Recently, I sat down to consider what does this “new normal” everyone is talking about mean for the entrepreneurs and business owners we serve, and how can we best support them to ensure the survival and protection of their businesses?
In this two-part series I am going to look at some of the things entrepreneurs and business owners are worried about in the context of the new business landscape and what you, as a business owner, can do to ensure you adapt to the new normal and protect your future. The list of course is not exhaustive, but hopefully gives some food for thought.
Towards the end of March 2020, we saw business leaders concerned about how they would continue to operate amidst restrictions on workforces operating from their offices and workspaces in the same way they had traditionally. Similarly, many of our clients wondered how they would be able to visit our offices for meetings, if they would be able to complete transactions or simply how they were going to sign legal documents that we were advising them on. What we saw in response, which at the time was intended for many to be a temporary fix, is certainly a shift that appears to be lasting: the digitalisation of operations.
As a business owner or manager, whether you are providing a product or a service, it is increasingly important that you identify ways in which you can move your business, or aspects of it, online by using digital technologies and data to transform how customers and companies engage with your company or business and also how your staff can work effectively. On one level, for us as a legal team, that meant swapping in-person client meetings for video conference calls. “You’re on mute” quickly became the most-used phrase in our department!
Whilst video conference calls took care of one aspect of business, that didn’t address the problem of document signing. Late in March 2020, we published an article to answer the question of whether contracts can be signed without meeting face-to-face and we talked our clients through the use of electronic signing for legal documents. As we move towards the new way of doing business, it seems electronic signing of documents and filing of documentation is here to stay and so we would encourage you to take a read of our previously-published article to ensure you are set up as necessary.
Top tip: identify aspects of your business interactions that you can safely undertake online.
New processes for HMRC
It appears even HMRC have decided that temporary measures put in place in 2020, in response to the pandemic, are here to stay. For anyone transferring shares in their company where stamp duty is to be paid, HMRC has recently confirmed that from July 2021 the 300-year-old process of stamping documents to show the correct duty has been paid, is going digital, permanently. Stock transfer forms should no longer be posted to the stamp office and legal teams and individuals are to now submit evidence electronically. The guidance, in circulation at the time of writing, makes it clear that e-signatures will be accepted and HMRC now has a dedicated mailbox for the receipt of notifications for the payment of stamp duty on the transfer of shares: stamp presses decommissioned by hmrc
In the next part of this series, I am going to look at some of the other issues some business owners have been thinking about, including shareholder expectations, sustainability and succession planning for entrepreneurs.
If you would like to discuss any of the points mentioned above in more detail or would like advice in connection with business affairs, please contact Jamie Tavares, a solicitor in our Corporate and Commercial department via email firstname.lastname@example.org or tel 01732 440855.