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Comment

Brian Keegan considers the poignant parallel between Brexit and New Zealand in the 1970s. "Earthquake? Best thing that ever happened to us.” This isn’t the best response to the damage done to the city of Christchurch in New Zealand in the wake of the terrible earthquake in 2011. My man had the grace to acknowledge as much after he remembered the appalling loss of life and limb from this particular natural disaster. Nevertheless, as someone who was deeply involved in the New Zealand construction industry, he was all too happy to see the opportunities created by the devastation. It isn’t the first time that New Zealanders suffered due to powerful circumstances outside their control. While the memories of the 2011 earthquake are clearly fresher, there is also a folk memory among New Zealanders of the economic damage caused to them when the United Kingdom joined the European Union in 1973. For a country largely dependent on agriculture exports to its former Commonwealth headquarters, the British accession to what was then the European Economic Community some 40 years ago was a disaster. The economic disruption of 40 years ago is comparable to the threatened damage from Brexit to the food industry of Ireland – north and south. In the 1970s, New Zealand’s main exports were butter and lamb. Despite being on the other side of the world, the UK was a key market for these goods and, in fact, accounted for some 30% of New Zealand’s exports. Being members of the Commonwealth, New Zealand had preferential access to UK markets. That access was to be a casualty of Britain’s accession to the EU. In fact, so great was the problem for New Zealand that London committed to doing what it could to protect New Zealand’s vital interests in the course of negotiating the British accession treaty. The so-called Luxembourg agreement guaranteed limited access for New Zealand produce for a five-year transition period. The idea was to give New Zealand breathing space to negotiate free trade deals with other markets and diversify its export offering, but the economy tanked nevertheless. If all this sounds familiar, that may be because we are witnessing history repeating itself in a way that would have considerable entertainment value if the issues weren’t quite so serious. Leo Varadkar’s mischievous remark that Westminster should offer pay-per-view wasn’t that far off the mark. We may, however, be watching the wrong channel if we are to learn from this repeat – it’s the New Zealand experience we should focus on. In the 1970s, New Zealand wine was virtually unobtainable in Europe and kiwi fruits were a rarity. Now they are mainstream. 40 years on, New Zealand’s export destinations are Australia, China, the United States (US) and Japan in order of importance. The country’s volume of trade with the UK has declined by over 60%. Our Brexit discussions must now move on from brinkmanship and dead-in-a-ditch rhetoric. We are going to have to figure out how to co-exist and trade with our nearest neighbours, culturally and geographically. Business will have to work out how to diversify and establish new markets, and hopefully avoid a repeat of the worst aspects of the 1970s suffered in New Zealand. I doubt very much that any of us will ever be exclaiming, however thoughtlessly like my earthquake man, that Brexit was the best thing that ever happened to us. That’s because there’s one other point about the New Zealand experience. Even though it was clear for about a decade that the trading relationship with the UK would inevitably change in 1973, the New Zealanders seem to have done precious little about it until the hammer fell. Sometimes it takes a crisis to deliver change. Dr Brian Keegan is Director of Advocacy & Voice at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Oct 01, 2019
Comment

Brexit deadline The 31 October Brexit deadline is fast approaching and clarity on the issue is as far away as ever. At the time of writing, many options seem possible, including a Brexit delay and a UK general election, but perhaps the most likely prospect is a no-deal or limited-deal Brexit. Both the Irish and British governments have urged businesses to prepare for Brexit, particularly those that import, export or transport goods, animals or animal products. It seems that the UK government is operating on the assumption that a hard border will return to the island of Ireland, as revealed in a UK no-deal contingency document codenamed ‘Operation Yellowhammer’, which was eventually published in mid-September after leaks to the press. The document warns of potential unrest in Northern Ireland along with road blockades, job losses and disruption to the agri-food sector, as well as an increase in smuggling and the potential for disruption to electricity supply. We must hope that this is a dire overestimation of a worst-case scenario. Meanwhile, in Dublin, Institute President Conall O’Halloran recently met with Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, to discuss the post-Brexit scenario as well as the Institute’s 2020 Budget submission and other business issues. Brexit support Our Institute will do everything it can to support members and member firms at a time of great uncertainty. You can read our latest updates on www.charteredaccountants.ie, particularly in our Brexit Web Centre and our page dedicated to no-deal Brexit planning. We are encouraging businesses across Ireland and the UK to ensure that they can continue to trade with each other post-Brexit. Applying for a customs registration (an EORI number) is just the first step in the process. Getting an EORI number takes between three and five minutes and can be completed online. While some traders have experience in the customs formalities required to import and export outside of the EU, it will be a first for many – particularly smaller enterprises. Businesses need to upskill in the area of customs using Government supports. They should also assess whether they have gaps in customs knowledge. Revenue estimates that customs declarations are expected to increase from 1.4 million to 20 million per year post-Brexit. HMRC estimates that declarations will grow five-fold to around 250 million. It’s best to be as prepared as possible. New academic year As we move into October, our Institute is about to welcome a new crop of students following a campaign to recruit the brightest and best to the profession. A new programme of specialist qualifications covering areas as diverse as corporate finance and cybersecurity are also getting underway. A central part of our strategy is to train the very best business professionals so that they can make a significant contribution to the economy on the island of Ireland, and further afield. We’re working hard to ensure that whatever the economic climate, we’re providing high-quality Chartered Accountants who will make a valuable contribution to firms and businesses. On behalf of my colleagues in the Institute, I’d like to offer our best wishes to all of our new students as they start out on their Chartered journey. Barry Dempsey Chief Executive

Oct 01, 2019
Comment

Charities in Northern Ireland may have to provide more detail to the Charities Commission in the near future, but any initiative that restores the public’s trust is to be welcomed. By Angela Craigan On 27 August 2019, the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland opened a public consultation in respect of new questions charities must answer in their annual returns plus additional information that organisations applying for charitable registration online must answer. The proposed questions cover topics such as safeguarding, data protection, loans and payments to related parties, and the use of commercial fundraising partners. The Charity Commission NI advises that the questions are designed to help it gather important information on individual charities and the charity sector as a whole. The format of the proposed new questions requires each charity to reveal if any trustee owes money to it, whether any of the charity’s assets are leased from a trustee, and whether a trustee has been paid for carrying out their role. These questions are already asked in the annual monitoring return, but will now be asked when applying for registration. The Charity Commission NI also intends to ask charities if they have reported a data breach to the Information Commissioners Office in the past year. It will also collect information on what percentage of charitable expenditure relates to charitable purposes for organisations of less than £250,000 a year. All of the new and revised questions Charity Commission NI propose to include in the registration application and the Annual Return Regulations 2019 are available to view in the consultation document. The public consultation will focus on the most significant questions, and will allow an opportunity to voice opinions on the proposed changes. The consultation process will run for eight weeks, closing on Tuesday 22 October 2019. The changes will be of particular interest to members working in the charity sector and those who are trustees of Northern Ireland charities. The consultation has arisen as a result of increased risks within the charity sector including safeguarding, cybercrime and fraud. These increased risks have had a negative impact on the public’s perception of the charity sector. A key role of the charity commission is to increase public trust and confidence in charities. The commission is of the opinion that the additional questions will increase transparency and, as a result, public confidence in charities. The recent safeguarding failures in some high-profile charities have highlighted the importance of trustees being aware of their responsibilities and the safeguarding standards expected of them. The commission has added questions in relation to the ‘expression of intent’ form that is completed by those waiting to be called forward for registration. The commission also proposes to add more questions to the classification section of the charity registration form. In this section, applicants describe their charitable purpose, the focus of the charity and the beneficiaries of the organisation. It is important that trustees understand their responsibilities in respect of the information filed with the Charity Commission. Trustees may delegate the task of submitting an application or annual monitoring form, but they cannot delegate the responsibility of making sure they are accurate and submitted on time. If an annual monitoring form is late, the register of charities shows them as being in default. Once submitted, the register will read “Due documents received late”. This is of increased importance as funders are now using the register to check if forms are being returned late and will look less favourably on charities that file late when awarding grants. As an advisor to a large number of local charities, and as a trustee of Action Mental Health and New Life Counselling, I firmly believe that this sector is invaluable. I therefore welcome any move to increase public confidence in the charity sector.  Angela Craigan FCA is a Partner with Harbinson Mulholland, the accountancy and business advisory firm.

Oct 01, 2019
Feature Interview

Claire Fitzpatrick FCA looks back on her career, from trainee auditor to the frontier of blockchain technology innovation. What’s wrong with me?” For someone who has enjoyed a varied and successful career in professional services and large corporations, it might come as a surprise to learn that Claire Fitzpatrick asked herself that very question in her 30s as she watched her peers move into senior roles. “You just need to get on the track,” she was told – a less than subtle reference to the perceived linear path to CFO/CEO roles. But as Claire readily admits, this isn’t how she operates. The Dublin native has made serendipitous career moves since leaving PwC in 2000 to work with one of her audit clients, Point Information Systems, but the draw has never been status or salary. Instead, her career has been guided by two things – people and culture. Venturing out While working as a PwC Audit Senior with Point Information Systems, Claire saw the culture she wanted to work in – ambitious, fast-changing and transformative. “I remember coming back after a year and the company had changed completely, whereas some other companies I audited would be the same year-on-year,” she said. “It was evolving at pace and the energy there just stood out for me.” Claire joined the company and her role expanded her knowledge base in a variety of new disciplines from engineering to sales and marketing. This diverse exposure would be of great benefit to her later in her career, not least when she returned from a working holiday with Nestlé in Australia and New Zealand to a role in O2. The company was in expansion mode at the time and Claire managed to experience the full life-cycle from early adoption to the sale of the business, which she was centrally involved in. From there, Claire moved to Wayra, Telefónica’s start-up accelerator, to accelerate digital embryonic businesses. As Claire recalls, it was a move that raised some eyebrows at the time. “A lot of my peers thought it was a step down for me in career terms, but I really wanted to get involved in the innovative digital space,” she said. “It reminded me of the energy and pace I felt in Point Information Systems and I had experience of both start-up and corporate environments, so I was able to bring a lot to the table.” Start-up life In her first three weeks in Wayra, Claire met with hundreds of entrepreneurs and developers across the tech ecosystem and this intensity continued unabated for three years. The hub was a success, investing €6 million in the Irish start-up ecosystem including 33 equity investments while returning the same amount. “For early-stage start-ups, that’s a great return,” she said. However, following the sale of O2 to Three in 2014, Telefónica ultimately closed its Wayra hub in Ireland and Claire decided to take on a new challenge.  The idea of starting her own business had never entered her mind, but the closure of Wayra meant that Claire and her two colleagues faced a fork in the road. “We saw real value in what we were doing at Wayra, and we were good at it,” she said. “So, we decided to set up Red Planet and to flip the accelerator model on its head. We started with the corporate to understand the problem it was trying to solve, and then sourced the best start-up talent to solve that particular problem.” The venture was successful and it achieved what Claire describes as “the holy grail” for start-ups – being sold to a large corporate. Red Planet was acquired by Deloitte in 2017 and Claire continued to work with the firm for 18 months. “Selling our start-up was a tough decision, but the right one. Deloitte was really good at the strategy piece and identifying the challenges facing their clients, while Red Planet was able to find the solutions in the start-up world and develop them to scale. We were very good at curating diamonds in the rough.” Blockchain calling At this stage in her career, Claire faced an inflection point. Not content to simply go with the flow, she began plotting her next move when an opportunity arose to join a new blockchain venture headed by the co-founder of Ethereum, Joseph Lubin. The company was founded in 2014 and was at the forefront of Ethereum blockchain technology innovation. It needed someone to establish its base in Dublin and build its team, and the company ultimately chose Claire as its Director of Strategic Operations. The Dublin hub, which is known as ConsenSys Ireland, is developing the products that will enable society and enterprises to advance to the next level of blockchain adoption. Claire is very excited about the bigger picture. “In the future, you won’t even know you’re interacting with blockchain. It will be just like the Internet where nobody really thinks about or considers the infrastructure or protocols – they just see the applications,” she said. “Blockchain will be as transformational as mobile telecommunications was 25 years ago. We are part of a new industry, a new technology, new products, and a market which we have to create and educate. That’s a big challenge, but a very exciting one.” Leadership style But amid the excitement and potential lies ambiguity, and it takes a certain type of person to thrive in an ambiguous environment according to Claire. “Given the nascent nature of blockchain technology, we’re continually refining our vision and new industries are constantly wanting to explore new directions with the technology. So, although everyone in the company has goals to achieve, some are set in stone and some evolve to meet the needs of our clients,” she said. “That’s no different to a traditional organisation but we do differ in that we could have to tell staff to drop projects and pivot in a new direction at a moment’s notice – and some people find that challenging.” Luckily for Claire, working in a maturing industry adds to the allure of her new role in ConSensys – one she believes will contribute to a decentralised, democratised future for individuals. “It’s a rollercoaster, but with experience and age comes perspective and balance,” she said. “And the most important thing for me, throughout my career, has been the people I work with. My colleagues today are not necessarily wired like me but we work well together in the good times, and the challenging times, to make something great happen. That’s what it’s all about.”   Claire’s advice for Chartered Accountants Chartered Accountants will have a central role in the deployment of blockchain technologies and rather than wait for mass adoption, Claire believes the time to upskill is now. “The conversation around blockchain has moved from proof of concept to pilot schemes so when we’re talking to clients, we’re discussing real systems as opposed to hypothetical ideas,” she said. “So, I wouldn’t recommend waiting to start blockchain projects because we will reach the point of mass proliferation quicker than most people expect.” “The first step for all Chartered Accountants is education. There are free educational resources through ConsenSys Academy and Blockchain Ireland is working to raise awareness of what’s coming down the tracks,” Claire added. “But it’s vital that Chartered Accountants realise that anyone can quickly become a laggard in this dynamic environment.” “Finally, I would stress the point that Chartered Accountants don’t need to worry about losing their heads in the weeds trying to understand the programming and coding side of things,” she said. “They should educate themselves with regard to the characteristics and applications that they can see for blockchain in their business.”

Oct 01, 2019
Tax

With Budget 2020 fast approaching, what – if anything – could be on the table from a tax perspective? By Peter Vale & Oliver O'Connor At the time of writing, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure & Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, had already flagged that we can expect little by way of tax cuts in the upcoming Budget. So, from a tax perspective, are we looking at a damp squib or could there be a mix of tax cuts and increases that net to zero? And if so, who are the winners and losers likely to be? Income tax In the authors’ view, we will see some modest tax cuts next month benefiting primarily lower and middle income earners, with higher earners likely to see some of this cut back – perhaps via a restriction in tax credits. Depending on the scale of the adjustment for higher earners, this could mean they see a net decrease in take-home pay with all other taxpayers seeing a modest increase. So, in summary, we don’t expect to see much either way in terms of income tax adjustments, with lower and middle income earners likely to be the main beneficiaries of any cuts. We also don’t expect to see any longer term statement committing to a reduction in our high marginal tax rates of 52% and 55% for employees and self-employed respectively. Nor should we expect to see a broadening of the tax base; indeed, successive budgets have taken more and more people out of the tax net. The concept of broadening the tax base was a recommendation of the Commission on Taxation report almost 10 years ago, but it has not been embraced by governments since. While the idea of more people paying a little has merits, it is unlikely to be a vote winner. Pensions and investments On the investment side, we are all aware that deposit rates are derisory at present and unlikely to increase any time soon. We are also very keenly aware (as is the Government) that there is a potential pensions time-bomb in the coming decades. The auto-enrolment regime, planned for the early 2020s, is a step towards ensuring that people are more sufficiently funded from a pension perspective and thus, not as dependant on State support in their later years. To this end, it is crucial that the current pension rules are not adjusted (downwards) but rather, that all are maintained at a minimum. A possible concession, which would be of long-term benefit to all, would be to increase the net relevant earnings from the current €115,000 to even €125,000. Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurs would ideally like to be given an increase in the Entrepreneur Relief from €1,000,000 to a more substantial figure. As importantly, they would like to know that there is a roadmap over the coming three to five years to bring this relief more in line with our near neighbours, which is 10 times greater than our current level. We pride ourselves in being the best small country in which to do business, enabling this crucial economic grouping to thrive and create yet more economic prosperity for the country as a whole. Corporate tax We know for certain that new transfer pricing legislation will be introduced in October. The new provisions will implement 2017 OECD guidelines into Irish law and also make certain other changes. While the nature of the other changes is still uncertain, it is very likely that transfer pricing will be extended to non-trading transactions, in particular where tax is being avoided. Certain grandfathering provisions for arrangements in place in 2010 will be removed while it is also possible that transfer pricing will be extended in some form to SMEs. Ireland is also obliged under EU law to bring in anti-hybrid legislation on 1 January 2020, which broadly prevents deductions for payments that are not taxed elsewhere. A further change required under EU law is to restrict tax relief for interest to 30% of a company’s EBITA. At the time of writing, it is still unclear whether this legislation will be in place at 1 January 2020. It should be noted that there will be a de minimis limit (expected to be roughly €3 million), group provisions and certain other carve-outs from the scope of the new legislation. Other changes We don’t expect to see significant changes in the VAT space. There isn’t the fiscal space to provide a VAT reduction to a specific sector (similar to the lower rate previously provided to the hospitality sector), while our headline rate is already relatively high and hence not likely to be used as a revenue-raising measure. It would be positive to see some targeted tax reliefs introduced in the Budget, despite the negative press that some of these reliefs have received in the past. However, sensible tailored reliefs have a role. Improvements to some of the existing reliefs should also be considered. Overall, it is possible that this Budget will be seen as a damp squib. But the devil will be in the detail and there is an opportunity to make changes that will bolster key sectors of our economy. Peter Vale FCA is Tax Partner at Grant Thornton. Oliver O’Connor FCA is Partner, Private Client and Wealth Management at Grant Thornton.

Oct 01, 2019
Member Profile

Paul Duffy, Ding’s new Head of Finance, discusses his move from practice to industry and life in an entrepreneur-led environment. What enticed you to move from practice to industry? I spent 10 years at PwC. I worked in the audit practice in Dublin for five years, specialising in the technology and telecommunications industries. I then spent the next five years working in the deals practice in Boston, advising private equity and corporate clients on their M&A deal execution. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, I felt a move to a new industry would provide a fresh challenge. I’ve always wanted to work for an entrepreneur-led company in the technology sector and, preferably, one going through a period of accelerated growth. Ding seemed like a good fit all round. What does your new role at Ding entail?  As head of finance, my role covers a wide remit. My colleagues in finance are much more than retrospective number-counters at Ding. The team is central to how Ding functions. It is a complicated machine, due in no small part to the number of jurisdictions in which it operates. I also oversee the financial operations function, which comprises a team of 15 employees in Dublin, London, Barcelona, Paris, New Jersey, Florida, Dubai and Dhaka. Our financial operations team acts as a business partner to our business development team, so the tasks can vary from on-boarding and negotiating with new mobile operators to implementing new systems to support business growth. What do you find most challenging about your role? It is probably the demands that come with having such an international business. Ding operates in more than 140 countries and works across multiple time zones, in over 100 currencies, and across a myriad of complex regulatory environments. This brings its challenges. It’s been an adjustment just getting used to the various time zones and holiday schedules alone. We sell operator airtime so we hold stock for over 500 operators around the world, which the finance team manages. To facilitate this, we buy and sell in multiple currencies every day, and we need to forecast demand to determine stock levels.  Describe your typical day. Given the international nature of our business and the demands that brings, no two work days are the same. I try to start off the day with a quick gym session, then to the office. I tend to catch up with our CFO mid-morning to discuss the status of ongoing finance projects and the latest business performance. Each day, I try to speak with our various teams around the world so I have to work within the time zones. Before lunch, I usually have a video call with Dubai to chat through any issues or ongoing projects. In Ding, we try to promote collaboration across different business functions. I’m a believer in doing things face-to-face where possible and we have an in-house barista and coffee bar, so it’s a nice place for regular meetings with colleagues. In the afternoon, I could be working through the key commercial terms of a new customer agreement with legal, or meeting with business development to discuss things like banking and tax requirements for a new region. In the evening, I usually log on to answer emails from our US team, who are often on the road meeting potential new customers. What traits do you value most in your colleagues? Intellectual curiosity, which isn’t always encouraged as people come up through the ranks in finance. In today’s business world, speed and efficiency are often a key focus but possessing an intellectual curiosity encourages critical thinking and ultimately yields better results for the business. Flexibility is another trait that I value. In a fast-paced environment such as Ding, deadlines and targets change frequently and having the ability to be flexible and agile is important. It makes for a better team player, and a better partner for customers. What is your best piece of business advice? Build a meaningful network.

Oct 01, 2019