Dip your toe into the luxury superyacht market and your adventure will be onboard what is, in effect, a floating business with a turnover of millions. Set amid the sheer grandeur and miles of soft furnishings of these superb vessels is audio-visual technology that races ahead of your average land-based business office or home. Here is a world of virtual aquariums; integrated waterfalls; AV theatres; all alongside audio systems which can automatically set the music and lighting of a room to your specific tastes. Internet is at a premium when owners and guests are onboard, therefore high-speed, high-bandwidth internet connection is essential on a modern-day superyacht; not an easy achievement when you’re hundreds of miles out to sea.
Superyachts are travelling further afield than ever before with Asia, the Pacific North West and the Indian Ocean all now in easy reach. Ocean-going vessels can seem remote from the everyday experience of most businesses, therefore, superyachts can find themselves under-served in areas other businesses would never be. This is especially true in the world of finance and FinTech, where to find a business with a turnover of millions largely untouched by the FinTech revolution would be surprising, to say the least.
Ian Flanagan, Group CEO of the leading accountancy solution within the superyacht industry, Voly Ltd, is on a mission to address this anomaly. “Many superyacht owners,” he explains, “are dealing with expenses amounting to millions each year. Yet looking at a typical superyacht captain’s day you might see them exhausted by administrative tasks, spending hours of valuable time each month manually inputting transactional data into Excel spreadsheets before emailing that information to the yacht’s management company or family office.”
“Specialist sector knowledge,” he reveals, “has been a crucial factor in successfully integrating into this market. Captains and crew have limited time for the complex task of managing the finances of vessels with multi-million-pound turnovers, and in most instances, they’re not trained accountants. Designing software, therefore, that handles such complexities in a way that is intuitive, user-friendly and highly efficient has been key. These yachts operate in many different countries, which potentially results in them not always getting the most competitive FX rates a result of poor foreign-exchange rates, so providing a multi-currency which offers considerable savings is essential.”
Accounting efficiency and cost reduction is, of course, highly desirable, but of even greater importance for many superyachts is the issue of cybersecurity. The maritime industry, in general, can sometimes be seen by criminals as a soft cyber-target because it relies so heavily on global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), and when such vessels’ signals are weak, and lacking in encryption or authentication, the vessel and her crew could find themselves effectively under constant (cyber) fire.
Meanwhile, back in the calmer waters of superyachts, it’s not unusual for crew members to submit expenses, purchase requests and invoice approvals by unencrypted email. This can mean that vast amounts of data – which could include everything from fuel costs, owner’s food and beverages figures and entertainment bills – are insecure. Needless to say, much of this information is highly sensitive and personal, and at the potential risk of cyber opportunists. “For this reason,” says Ian Flanagan, “Voly have made cybersecurity integral to their development. All of our information is protected using end-to-end encryption, which ensures the safety of transmitted data. Voly can only be accessed with two-factor authentication ensuring our servers are highly secure.”
Overlooked and under-served until now, the superyacht industry appears relatively untouched within the revolutionary FinTech industry. But it begs the question, are there other stones as yet unturned by FinTech? “That’s a good question,” says Ian Flanagan, and one he regularly reflects on.
“People often have a traditionally held notion of what constitutes a major ‘business’ and tend to explore less into areas that are little known about – in other words, niches. You have to get under the skin of these niche markets and have knowledge of the sector in order to serve them effectively and have an adaptive approach to your product so that you can tailor your solution to fit their needs. The journey has been rewarding and has worked well for us so far – who could have imagined that the business of accountancy solutions would lead us into the world of the high seas, cybersecurity and next-generation technology!”