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Feature Interview

Enterprise Ireland’s Julie Sinnamon is preparing for a hard Brexit, but that isn’t the only challenge on her agenda.   When Julie Sinnamon assumed the top job at Enterprise Ireland back in 2013, Ireland was steadily crawling out of a recession and the future looked bright. Now, in the aftermath of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU), many of the state agency’s clients have a fight for survival on their hands. Sterling is on a seemingly inexorable downward path, with parity with the euro by Christmas not such an outrageous proposition. Meanwhile, the very terms of the UK’s divorce from the EU remain uncertain, raising fears about possible customs and tariffs on Irish exports to the UK. Unlike previous crises, Sinnamon is clear that this is not simply going to go away. “It’s not a blip; it’s a permanent restructuring of Irish enterprises in global enterprise,” she says, refusing to sugarcoat the challenge ahead. “It’s a massive problem for Irish companies,” she says, adding that with sterling having touched 93p to the euro, “it’s really difficult”.  What Brexit might mean for Irish exporters is as yet unclear; but what it most definitely does mean for Sinnamon and her staff at Enterprise Ireland, the agency responsible for developing and growing Irish companies in global markets, is a sharp uptick in its activities. A perfect storm Sinnamon recalls the day it all changed. On 23 June 2016, she went to bed before midnight with the polls showing a win for remain. Three hours later, she was woken from her reverie with news from her husband that it was going the other way. Born in Co. Down and a graduate of the University of Ulster, Brexit also has a personal dimension for Sinnamon. “I realised it was real, and it was a matter then of looking at what we had prepared... and it’s been hectic ever since,” she said. Indeed, Enterprise Ireland has since recorded a 50% increase in its internationally-focused work. But while Brexit may have all the makings of a perfect storm for Irish exporters, Sinnamon and her team are taking a common sense, practical approach to helping companies weather that storm in the coming years. According to Sinnamon, the approach is three-pronged: first it’s about boosting competitiveness, then working on innovation, and finally helping companies diversify their market footprint. On the competitiveness front, it’s about cutting costs – something many Irish companies have experience of coming out of the most recent downturn. “A lot of the stars of Irish industry would not be here today if it hadn’t been for working on the lean programme,” she says. However, given that this happened in the recent past, it also means that there isn’t much “low hanging fruit” left to be picked as many companies have already removed excess costs. This means that innovation may be even more important this time around. As Sinnamon notes, enhancing the product offering can enable a company to charge a higher price – and this is a “massive part of the solution”. Entering new markets is also part of the strategy, with Sinnamon citing role models such as forklift manufacturer Combilift’s expansion in Germany and animal pharmaceutical producer, Chanelle, working on expanding from the UK to Europe. “We’re working to help companies diversify, but it takes time, particularly the more sophisticated your product is.” Nonetheless, Enterprise Ireland and its client companies are making headway, with a clear goal to boost exports to the eurozone region by 50% by 2020 while exports to New Zealand, Australia and Canada are growing strongly. “Companies are increasingly showing interest in those markets,” Sinnamon says. And even if the UK market has become more challenged, companies are also finding opportunities with Sinnamon pointing to some companies who may have traditionally gone to the southeast of England seeking out more lucrative work in the north of England and Scotland. International markets week, held in early September, is a key part of this approach as all of Enterprise Ireland’s international team comes home to talk to Ireland-based companies about the opportunities around the world, hosting over 2,000 meetings in just two and a half days. Taking action When it comes to Brexit, one problem has been the reluctance of Irish companies to take action. In the aftermath of 23 June 2016, people tended to think that “common sense will prevail”, Sinnamon recalls. With Brexit negotiations in full swing, companies now need to rise to the challenge – even if they don’t know what a Brexit will actually look like.  “Nobody knows where it’s going to end up, but I keep saying – and have said so from the start – that the actions you take are for a hard Brexit,” she says, adding that even if this doesn’t end up being the case, it makes good business sense to be “as competitive as possible”. Somewhat surprisingly, however, given currency fluctuations, Sinnamon notes that while the larger companies are hedging their currency risk, many smaller ones still aren’t doing so. “We’ve had companies saying maybe it will get better; today it’s 92/93p so we’re going to wait till it comes back down.” One way companies can assess their level of preparedness is to check out Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit tool on its website, which takes about 15 minutes to complete. It shows where you might have the biggest issues and by going back to it in three to six months, you can review your exposure. Enterprise Ireland is also offering a consultancy grant for companies who need help in putting a plan together. “If the relationship with the UK changes permanently, then you need to have a plan. Then it’s about innovation, about becoming more competitive, and out of that will come lots of actions,” advises Sinnamon. Government support is also helping, with Enterprise Ireland getting approval for 39 new staff members last year, about half of which have been placed overseas, while the Government also plans to double Ireland’s overseas diplomatic presence. Enjoying the role But it’s not just about Brexit. Coping with the challenges it brings is just one arm of the state agency, which also has other targets on its mind. And bringing companies into new markets has gotten easier with the good reputation Ireland now has at an international level for its economic recovery. “I came into this job in 2013 and we were still talking about the downturn and apologising globally for the issues we had whereas today, if you’re being introduced anywhere in the world, people will talk about the Irish turnaround,” notes Sinnamon. Indeed Brexit is not the first challenge Sinnamon has seen during her years with Enterprise Ireland. She first joined the enterprise agency when it was established back in 1998, having previously spent 10 years on the other side – targeting international companies to move to Ireland through her work with the IDA. For Sinnamon, the joy in her current role is seeing client companies succeed against tough global companies. “It’s seeing companies grow from small companies and seeing the impact of those [companies],” she says. Leading women Of particular interest to Sinnamon is encouraging female entrepreneurs. When the top job at Enterprise Ireland first came, she concedes that she had to think about whether or not it was something she really wanted. “I’m probably no different than anyone else in terms of a lack of role models,” she says, noting that women have to convince themselves that they can make it work rather than trying to emulate readily identifiable role models who they can clearly see have already made it work. Now, Sinnamon is helping female entrepreneurs find the ambition within themselves, and her efforts are starting to pay dividends. Back in 2011, just 7% of Enterprise Ireland’s start-ups had a female founder. Fast forward to 2016 and the figure has jumped to 22% – a figure that compares well to international standards. TechCrunch, for example, found earlier this year that just 17% of start-ups worldwide had a female founder. But there is still a difference that Sinnamon is hoping to erase. “The applications we get in from women are typically smaller projects,” she says. “The lack of ambition and confidence is a real issue, so we put a lot of focus on spotlighting successful ones.” Sinnamon likes to tell female founders that “your projects are important, but at least as important is the impact you will have on female entrepreneurs going forward.” Also of assistance are Enterprise Ireland’s efforts to encourage more females to take the step of starting their own business. This year, for example, Enterprise Ireland has a €750,000 start-up fund for female entrepreneurs with up to €50,000 equity funding available. Scaling up While Ireland has undoubtedly been successful in creating a start-up hub, one area where it hasn’t quite risen to the challenge is in helping start-ups to grow into world leaders. Flotations on the Irish Stock Exchange remain few and far between while companies like Strype, the $9 billion payments service founded by Limerick brothers Patrick and John Collison, have opted to locate in the US rather than Ireland. Sinnamon is aware of the challenges and notes that Enterprise Ireland is increasing its focus on this area and giving targets to get companies to certain thresholds. “One of the big issues we see for start-up companies is when someone comes and offers them a cheque and they sell out,” she says, noting that the people in the start-up have taken the risks – but it is the company that comes along and buys them that makes the real profit. “It’s about having role models and increasing the number of companies who hang in there and don’t sell out too early,” she says. The availability of follow-on funding was one hindrance to growth oft-mentioned in the past, but this issue has dissipated. “More growth funds are now available than at any time in the past,” Sinnamon says. “I don’t think it’s as big an issue as it was”. The very competitiveness of the Irish economy is also an issue. On the day we meet, traffic has snarled to a standstill in Dublin’s city centre on the back of new traffic management measures, while the ongoing housing crisis is beginning to bite foreign direct investment. Sinnamon concedes that both are an issue, with rents of particular concern to some clients when they look to bring in talent from overseas. “It’s linked to infrastructural development that didn’t happen for a while,” she says. Competitiveness is on Sinnamon’s mind, and she’s also looking to the forthcoming Budget to improve the offering for entrepreneurs in Ireland. While the Government has made some moves to enhance the capital gains tax regime for entrepreneurs, Ireland is still “not as competitive with the UK in that space” she says. After all, driving entrepreneurship reaps many rewards for a country. With the pressure on Dublin to cope, Sinnamon notes that 65% of Enterprise Ireland client company jobs were created outside Dublin last year. “There are towns in Ireland that really need to grow, and local business will drive that turnaround,” she says.

Sep 28, 2017
Press release

Chartered Accountants Ireland, Ireland’s largest accountancy body, has renewed its Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) with AICPA, the largest professional association representing the US Certified Public Accountant (CPA) qualification and NASBA, the organization representing US Boards of Accountancy. Chartered Accountants Ireland is currently the only professional accountancy body in the UK or Ireland to achieve these prestigious mutual recognition rights with the US CPA professional bodies.  The agreement provides Irish Chartered Accountants with an accelerated pathway to use of the ‘CPA’ credential in the United States, to set up in practice as CPAs in the US and to perform statutory audits there, once agreed qualifying conditions are met.  In return, US CPAs may practice in Ireland and are entitled to use the designation Chartered Accountant once agreed qualifying conditions are met. Representatives from the US bodies formally signed the agreement with the Chartered Accountants Ireland delegation in the historic Constitution Room in Dublin’s Shelbourne Hotel on Thursday 10 August.  With 418,000 members worldwide, the prestigious American Institute of Certified Public Accountants is the equivalent of Chartered Accountant Ireland, and this agreement is a renewal of long-standing links between both professional bodies.   The right to use the CPA credential in the United States is governed by the State Boards of Accountancy, which the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy represented at the August signing.  It is up to each of the State Boards to enact this agreement and several State Boards have done so, as the agreement was originally signed in 2004.  The State Boards of Accountancy collectively license to practice over 660,000 Certified Public Accountants in the United States and unlike the Irish system, only those who are licensed to practice public accountancy can use the credential. Mutual Recognition Agreements facilitate cross-border reciprocity by streamlining the process for qualified professionals with accounting credentials to become certified and licensed in each other’s countries.  This is only the sixth agreement that the US CPA bodies have completed with non-U.S. professional bodies. Irish Chartered Accountants are among the select group of accountants in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Hong Kong and Mexico. Chartered Accountants Ireland President, Shauna Greely who signed the MRA on Thursday, said: “On behalf of my fellow members across the globe, I welcome the successful completion of this important MRA.  The agreement confers significant and unique benefits to our members and will similarly facilitate American CPAs to enjoy the Chartered designation here in Ireland.  This further strengthens the professional relationship with our fellow American bodies and we hope to welcome many American CPAs to Ireland in the years to come.  “This agreement yet again marks Chartered Accountancy out as the premier business qualification available in Ireland today, offering a truly global brand.  Irish Chartered Accountants can be justly proud of the exclusive recognition in this agreement.  We are currently the only professional accountants in Ireland or the UK to enjoy this special recognition with our equivalent Institutes in the United States.  This MRA recognises the increasingly global nature of the profession and the career mobility of both our respected qualifications. It underlines the high esteem in which the Chartered designation is held internationally, and is a tribute to the quality of the Chartered Accountants Ireland qualification. “This agreement is good news for our existing students, many of whom work with international organisations and consultancies and who may have ambitions to progress their career in the US. It is equally an important development for future graduates who are considering their career options – for them, the recognition and opportunities now available for Irish Chartered Accountants are extremely impressive.” Signing in Dublin, NASBA Chair Telford Lodden noted: “Our initial agreement with Chartered Accountants Ireland was signed in 2004.  However, we felt that the previous MRA was not as transparent and intuitive as we wanted.  We have worked hard at developing a new agreement that addresses those issues. We believe this renewal agreement clearly maps out what is expected from each applicant. It also specifically identifies the gaps and the process to mitigate those gaps during the MRA period.  Our intent is to eliminate the gaps when this MRA is renewed.  The State Boards of Accountancy were established to protect the public and we believe an agreement that recognizes a reasonable pathway for qualified professionals who can well serve our public falls under the Boards’ charge.  Similarly, we believe that US CPAs, who are licensed by the State Boards, can add to the public’s protection in other countries. We live in a global economy and this agreement will be an integral part of that.  We have always had a close relationship with the Chartered Accountants Ireland and have a high degree of respect for their professional accountants.  We are thrilled to sign this agreement.” NASBA President Ken L. Bishop observed: “NASBA/AICPA IQAB has been working toward international professional recognition for more than 20 years.  However, we realize that there are differences in the education, examination and experience requirements and laws that hold those differences in place.  It is a slow process of seeing how those laws can be interpreted to fit different environments, but we are trying to do that with willing partners.  We were fortunate in having had Pat Costello, newly retired chief executive of the Irish Institute, working with us and we look forward to working with Barry Dempsey, your new chief executive, to close up the remaining gaps in this agreement that will enable CPAs to attain all the rights Chartered Accountants can exercise in Ireland.” AICPA President Barry Melancon added: “The American Institute of CPAs is pleased to join the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) in renewing our Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) with Chartered Accountants Ireland. We believe that our members, and Irish CAs, will find the renewed agreement to be more transparent and user-friendly than the previous one. The MRA clearly sets out who is eligible for the accelerated pathway to the reciprocal credential and the steps necessary to obtain practice rights. I want to thank our member volunteers who serve on the International Qualifications Appraisal Board (IQAB) and NASBA’s Ken Bishop for his leadership of IQAB throughout the renewal process.” The agreement follows on previous work done to provide Irish Chartered Accountants with access to the biggest international networks of professional accountants.  Chartered Accountants Ireland is a founding member of both the Global Accounting Alliance and Chartered Accountants Worldwide. CAW brings together the members of leading institutes to create a community of hundreds of thousands of Chartered Accountants in more than 200 countries. Chartered Accountants Ireland is a leading voice in all the international accountancy forums and is a leading member of the ‘Common Content’ project in the EU to give common practice rights to members of the various accountancy bodies across the EU. ENDS Reference:  Bryan Rankin, Marketing Manager, Chartered Accountants Ireland: T: +353 1 637 7268

Oct 13, 2017

Chartered Accountants Ireland published the CAP1 September 2017 re-sit exam results this morning. Overall the results are good and follow the good results in May 2017. In reviewing the results Ian Browne (Head of Assessment & Syllabus) noted: 63% of students achieved a pass in all papers sat with a further 18% achieving a credit (i.e. passing one or more of papers sat). This compares to 66% and 14% in 2016.  The number of students failing all subjects sat remained fell to 19% in 2017 from 20% in 2016; Paper pass rates: The pass rates on individual papers are broadly in line with the performances of September 2016. The individual results by paper ranged from 40% to 97% for first attempt candidates. The weighted average pass rate across all papers (1st attempts only) was up this year at 82% which was 77% in 2016. On an annualised basis the weighted average pass rate for all papers was up from 82% in 2016 to 83% this year. On an annualised pass rate per paper basis, only Financial Accounting and Tax NI, showed a drop year on year with a -3% and -1% fall in annualised pass rates respectively; The flexible route candidates have continued to perform well; Mr Browne congratulated all students on their achievement and he thanked all the training firms, lecturers, examiners and staff for their contribution towards this excellent result. More highlights available.

Oct 13, 2017

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  • The One Young World experience exposed me to our international Chartered Accountancy colleagues and highlighted that this is a network we must capitalise on to make global change
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