Communicate your needs — While the steps above provide more practical advice for business owners worried about financial distress, the best thing they can do is talk to someone if they are feeling overwhelmed or need advice. That includes personally or professionally, for the business or their staff. There will always be someone — whether a friend or family member or a professional — that can lend an ear and provide advice when things start to look like they’re spiraling out of control. Keeping feelings bottled up is never the answer.
With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. A time of high inflation, a recession, or unemployment can be particularly stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. What are stress management strategies that people use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate financial stress? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, business leaders, and financial experts, who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating financial stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Paul Holland, Managing Director of UK Fleet & ANZ at FLEETCOR.
Since joining in August 2009, Paul has held a variety of positions including Executive Vice President for Corporate Development when he first joined, to spending a year as Managing Director of International Partners. He later spent three years as Managing Director of FLEETCOR’s business activities in Australasia. Paul also served as Managing Director at Fuelserv, before joining ReD Fuel Cards as Managing Director, a position he held for four years.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!
After leaving school, my first roles were in transport & mobility with a UK rail company and that was transformative for my career. I worked with some truly inspirational people who not only helped to point me in the right direction, but also opened my eyes to other prospects both within and outside of the industry. As a result, I pursued a career in transport and logistics, and spent value time working with some of the largest companies in the industry, including one that had a payments subsidiaries, which was niche but something I was very interested in developing further in. I was lucky however as it was a growing market with lots of opportunity, so I was able to carve out a good role for myself in sales, marketing and building a customer base in fuel card payments, which is ultimately how I got to where I am today with FLEETCOR.
What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?
Something that took me a long time to work out — and have only done so with the benefit of hindsight and experience behind me — is to understand the opportunities in front of you. I would therefore want my younger self to know that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve as long as you apply yourself appropriately. The only thing that stops you from progressing is really you.
Often, we’re the product of our circumstances and environment, but I would have liked to have focused earlier on what I wanted to achieve rather than what I thought I couldn’t. Today, I love seeing my own children have some incredible ideas and dreams, much more than I did at their age, and it’s great to see that they’re not afraid to run after them. All kids should be fully motivated to shoot for the stars!
None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?
One example is from very early on in my career, when I was working in the rail industry. I was always eager to start a new project and climb the ladder — always chasing the next best thing. However, a colleague and mentor suggested I slow down; that opportunities are plentiful and encouraged me to develop myself academically while still working to help raise my profile and improve the quality of the opportunities I was open to me. Great advice!
I also learned from that time that no-one is an island, and you can achieve so much more when you bring people with you on the journey. You may have a clear idea in your head, but teamwork and collaboration can allow any goal to be achieved more efficiently and more creatively.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?
Our work in the electric vehicle (EV) sector has been a major theme for the last few years. It’s a global trend, a global movement and the number of companies who are switching to EVs is growing exponentially. Therefore, we need to have solutions for them. It’s not just a case of having fuel cards that work for charging EVs — though of course we have those — we needed to help create a whole new infrastructure through strategic partnerships to give our fleets the best possible service. Last year, our UK brand, Allstar, passed the milestone of having 10,000 charging stations on our network and this is growing rapidly.
Most recently, after two years of investment and partnership we finalized the acquisition of Mina, that creates cloud-based EV charging software. Our UK customers will now have access to Mina Homecharge, the UK’s only EV charging solution that captures, calculates and pays for at-home, business-use charging directly to the energy provider. It also means they will benefit from a full suite of comprehensive payment and reporting solutions for on the road and at home charging regardless of whether they operate ICE, EV, or mixed fleets. We also partner with companies in the industry that are working to improve the lives of those using EVs — Zap Map for example provides EV drivers (including consumers) in the UK with software to locate, plan, and pay for EV charging, making longer journeys far less stressful.
Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?
There are so many reasons why we feel stressed; we may feel under immense pressure, be in a situation that we feel is out of our control or feel burdened by too many responsibilities. We all have our personal problems but there have been so many factors that have impacted us all collectively over the last few years too. For example, the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, a volatile political climate, the war in Ukraine, and the cost-of-living crisis to name but a few. So, while it’s important to recognize when we ourselves are under stress, we must also be cognizant of those around us and the pressures they may be under, and treat each other with kindness.
Whatever it may be, we all react to stress in a unique way, and have different ways of managing those stresses too. I find it helpful to categorize my stresses into those that I can manage with a practical solution, those that will get better given time, and those out of my control. If possible, I would advise trying to let go of those stressors we can’t control and apply a strategy to manage the stress that is within our control.
In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So, what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?
I believe we’re suffering from a collective information overload — we’re exposed to news, data, and adverts almost constantly, and much of this can be distressing and challenging. Think about how many screens you own too — a smart watch, phone, TV, tablet, laptop — each with its own set of demands for your time whether that’s interruptions through app alerts or just their presence being a distraction.
I also mentioned earlier some of the national and global crises we’ve experienced collectively over the past couple of years. They have all made a significant impact on the way we live our lives and how we feel. In more recent times, instances of fuel poverty have been widespread due to oil shortages and can be associated with poor mental health, while during the cost-of-living crisis many reported feeling they have been overworked.
Research by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that stress at work can occur when excessive demands and pressures are not matched to workers’ knowledge and abilities, where there is little opportunity to exercise any choice or control, and where there is little support from others. That’s why at Allstar, it’s our priority to minimize those work-related headaches that come with cumbersome reimbursement processes, eliminating the need for staff to use their own hard-earned money on company spending whether for fuel or other expenses. We also work to make refueling and recharging as easy and convenient as possible, while staying within company spending policies. These solutions provide clear frameworks for employers and employees to know the boundaries. The overstepping of boundaries create further stress at multiple levels within organisations.
What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?
In my experience, sleep is always the first thing to be affected, and that has knock-on effects to every other part of your life, increasing your stress. Not being able to concentrate and making mistakes, drinking more caffeine (which has been shown to increase the stress hormones in your body and keep them there for longer) and having an overall poor mood is only going to make things worse.
Then there are the more physical symptoms: a higher heart rate, higher blood pressure, indigestion, headaches. If somebody isn’t living a particularly healthy life, then they’re already going to be having these problems anyway, and stress will only add to that.
This shows a way to combat stress head-on: if you get the basics of your health right then the physical symptoms of stress won’t be as severe, and you will be better able to handle sudden shocks.
Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?
Stress is negative by definition — if it’s good for us it can’t be stress. When people say that they ‘thrive under pressure’ or something similar, what they really mean is that either they have a very high stress tolerance or have learned, probably the hard way, how to deal with stress. The issue comes when managers assume that everyone reacts to stress the same, or that their employees need to just buck their ideas up and get on with it. Stress is just as much biological as it is mental, and we can no more learn to handle everything our work life throws at us than we can run as fast as Usain Bolt with the right attitude.
Let’s now focus more on the stress of a challenging economic time. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate what causes financial stress?
One of the key motivators of stress is powerlessness, and financial stress underlines how powerless you are without money. When you have money, you have options: you can order food instead of making it, you can go out instead of staying at home. However, if you don’t then you don’t just lack options, you won’t be able to prevent bad things from happening to you — you can default on debts, have your utilities cut off, even lose your home.
We’ve seen the same volatility and rising energy costs that are causing so much stress to consumers, are also affecting the companies we work with. They are paying more for the fuel that they need, and that puts them in the same position as people looking at electricity bills that have doubled. As we head into 2023, we hope the economic downturn will bring prices down — but exactly when is highly questionable. Anxiety caused by financial distress can be a contributing driver of market forces; rumors around fuel shortages last summer for example caused long queues at fuel stations.
Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 Things You Can Do To Reduce Or Eliminate Financial Stress?” Please share a story or example for each.
For businesses, managing cash flow is critical to protecting their bottom line, but it also eases the burden of financial stress that companies can often find themselves in. However, this isn’t just a problem for businesses, it’s a major pain point for employees as well.
Allstar works to solve these issues for UK businesses that operate a fleet with fuel, EV (electric vehicle) and business expense cards that align with FLEETCOR’s goal of simplifying payments. These are some of the ways that Allstar achieves that:
- Assess outgoings — One of the most obvious ways of minimizing financial stress is to reduce costs. While fuel is a major and unavoidable cost for any business operating a fleet of vehicles, fuel cards offer the simplest and most cost-effective way of buying it. I’d also advise companies to take this approach across the board of business operations and source partners that can actively bring down the cost of those inevitable expenses.
- Spend within company policy — Companies should set policies for any company expenditure, particularly when it comes to managing expenses when out and about on business. Our customers can apply limits to their fuel, EV and expense cards by ascertaining how much the card can be used in a day, the type of transactions that can be made, the amount of charge or volume of fuel, and even the specific days and hours of the week it is used. By setting out a clear approach to expenditure it can better educate employees on suitable spending boundaries, safeguarding company finances and, importantly, help ensure employees don’t feel left out of pocket when they come to submit their receipts.
- Company credit is valuable — For many organizations, particularly those that are newly established, they may not have immediate funds to be able to pay all suppliers on the day of purchase. Similarly, their own customers may not yet have settled their bills, so many businesses rely on credit to keep their cashflow moving. Without it, business leaders may start to experience financial distress.
- Convenience — Maximizing convenience is key to driving down costs and time spent. One example is how we have approached the surge in EV uptake — not only have we created an expense card suitable for electric charging but we’ve taken into consideration the semantics of it too. As such, Allstar partnered with the likes of Zap-Map to help customers search and find charging stations, save routes and simplify payment for charging when on the road. This saves time manually searching and lowers cost by eliminating driving out of their way to get to a charging station. We’ve also mitigated the blurring of lines when it comes to charging at home by launching Allstar Homecharge which enables drivers to take their company car home. Payments for company only charging are made directly to a driver’s energy supplier, taking away the complication out of settling payments when drivers charge at home.
- Communicate your needs — While the steps above provide more practical advice for business owners worried about financial distress, the best thing they can do is talk to someone if they are feeling overwhelmed or need advice. That includes personally or professionally, for the business or their staff. There will always be someone — whether a friend or family member or a professional — that can lend an ear and provide advice when things start to look like they’re spiraling out of control. Keeping feelings bottled up is never the answer.
Can you help address some of the potential obstacles that get in the way of implementing your ideas? What can be done to clear the way and remove those roadblocks?
Much of my practical advice would really only need the right minds within a company to organize putting those practices and tools in place. I do appreciate just how time-strapped many business owners and fleet managers are, however, so recognize that this may be easier said than done.
That being said, running a successful enterprise means ensuring you have happy staff, and prioritizing their concerns and needs is a major factor. They say to invest in your health, and I take that quite literally for myself, the business and our staff. I’d encourage others to adopt this mantra too.
Thank you for that. We are nearly done. Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?
I’m a big sports fan, in particular cycling and enjoy getting lost in professional sporting biographies. What I find fascinating and inspiring is the commitment, focus and drive that elite sports people have to achieve their goals. With cycling there is a strange combination of personal achievement and team achievement, but I think sport resonates hugely with the world of business. The two are heavily correlated so I love understanding how sports people operate to achieve something very exceptional.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Personally, I would want to start a movement that focusses on kids in underprivileged areas, helping them to understand the opportunities that are ahead of them. Speaking from experience it can be hard to see the potential in themselves so I would like to see them educated in such a way that they understood that their life is in their hands and to give them the faith in themselves to go out into the world and do it. It’s all too easy for kids to get mixed up in bad situations and many lives go under-utilized, so I’d love to see all potential to be fully realized.
What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?
To find out more, you can follow me on LinkedIn here: linkedin.com/in/paul-holland-10a8114
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.