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With spring just around the corner and vaccinations on the rise, everything seems more hopeful. Now is the time to reinvigorate your team and get them to engage in their work in a meaningful way, says Anna O’Flanagan. We’ve made it through a long winter, and while it may not feel like it yet, spring is just around the corner. Some team members may be coming out of hibernation and engaging more. Others have perhaps fallen off the radar altogether. This third lockdown has been rough, so people will be reacting differently as we ease out of it over the next few months. Regardless of where your team members land, in order to bring the whole team together, leaders will need to encourage engagement over the next few months. According to The Progress Principle, which promotes creating meaning in our everyday work lives, we need to find ways of working that foster progress while also improving our work life on a daily basis. Strangely, these two things are not mutually exclusive. Creating meaningful work So, how do we create work that has meaning? Set goals and KPIs Setting clear goals and having ways to measure and mark milestones is an excellent place to start. This will help your team to understand the ‘why’ of their work. They will start to recognise the benefits of the work being achieved and will become fully aware when a goal is reached. Prioritise and collaborate If a project is deemed critical to your organisation, demonstrate its importance by clearing the decks and relieving the team of other responsibilities for now. Progress is also more visible and rewarding when teams are given the opportunity to collaborate on parts of their work. Give acknowledgement Remember to recognise all contributions to a project and acknowledge each milestone as it is reached. This gives clarity and purpose, helping people connect to the shared vision and experience and giving them the drive to continue. Celebrate! Finally, when all the hard work is done, even on a short-term project, it needs to be celebrated. Enrich your team and keep them focused by recognising all achievements and setting time for “events” that uplift them. There doesn’t need to be a big party, but time does need to be allocated for this to happen in a thoughtful and authentic way. So, how about setting some time aside this week to figure out with your team how and when they would like to be recognised and celebrated? Make their work meaningful and it will be worth the investment. Anna O’Flanagan is Founder and Chief Squirrel at Red Squirrel Team Building.

Feb 18, 2021
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Negotiating is seen as an innate skill, something people are born with. This isn't the case, however; anyone can negotiate if equipped with the correct tools. Alan Nelson tells us how. Whether you’re negotiating with budget holders during the annual planning cycle, or worried about a difficult conversation on an audit assignment, negotiating has always been a key skill that accountants must acquire. For many of us, that has become more apparent during the recent lockdowns, with difficult conversations with suppliers and customers all being conducted under intense pressure. Many think that negotiation is a talent you either have or do not have, but nothing could be further from the truth. Negotiation is a process. You improve by learning key negotiation skills. What's more, there are some simple tools you can use that will help you learn how to negotiate, five of which are outlined below: 1. A bit of empathy goes a long way Try to put yourselves in the other person's shoes. Thinking about the situation from their point of view as well as your own will help you to anticipate their position, and find a solution that is a win for both parties. 2. Speaking, listening and understanding Successful negotiators employ three keys skills: speaking, listening and understanding. You must articulate your position, listen to the other party, and understand what they are saying and why. Very few people are good at all three of these skills. The key, however, is to reflect on your weaknesses. If you are a nervous talker, then prepare for negotiations by thinking about the words you might use. If you tend to talk too much, then prepare some questions. If you find it hard to understand what the other person cares about, make notes while they speak. 3. Understand the trades Negotiation is all about trading concessions. We start in one place and then we trade concessions. So, make a list of all the things you have to trade. Make sure you include everything; some things may be easy for you to concede, but could be of great value to the other party. 4. "If" is the hardest word Once you have your list of possible trades, think about phrases you could use that include the word “if”. For example: “If I could reformat the data to make it easier for you, could you get me your response a couple of days earlier?” "If we set this up so that you get your report before lunchtime every Tuesday, could you commit to this format for the next six months?" This will help to ensure that you don’t give anything away for free. 5. And finally: plan, plan, plan! Planning is something that finance people should be good at. Spend time before the negotiation planning your approach. The four tips given above provide a pretty good list of headings for your plan. In the end, always stay calm and professional, and try to remember that you want to work with these people when lockdown is over. Good luck with your negotiations. Alan Nelson is Managing Director of accountingcpd.net. He is the author of the course Negotiating Skills for Accountants.

Feb 18, 2021
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With a digital revolution in full swing, how long will it be until our currencies go fully digital? Tristan Perrier examines what central bank digital currencies are and when we might expect to use them. The goal in creating retail central bank digital currencies (CBDC) is to give the public access to a digital currency that retains a certain number of the characteristics of physical currency. Like physical currency, and unlike bank deposits, retail CBDCs will constitute a direct liability for the central bank, eliminating, in principle, any credit risk for the holder. Depending on the selected architecture (direct or indirect account of the end-holder with the central bank, and/or a digital token that can be used online or offline, etc.), such currencies could offer similar advantages of portability and confidentiality to notes and coins. However, their immunity to different undesirable events would differ. For example, CBDC and physical currency would not be vulnerable to the same types of criminal activity. Despite this, it is very unlikely we will see a major country introduce fully functional retail CBDCs this year, although central banks, including some of the larger ones, seem to be speeding up their preparatory work. The People’s Bank of China, for instance, has conducted CBDC tests in several large cities in recent weeks, while the European Central Bank recently concluded a vast survey to decide whether it will launch a concrete project in the second half of 2021. While the US Federal Reserve’s communication on the subject remains more cautious, stating that there is no “need or urge to be first”, certain central banks of smaller countries are at a more advanced stage. What does this mean for banking systems? Economic agents holding domestic CBDC alongside bank deposits (which are also dematerialised but are liabilities of private sector financial institutions) raises the issue of the respective roles and interactions of these two asset categories. Central banks will, in fact, have to define the future terms of competition and plan for or prevent the changes that their coexistence could bring on banks’ cost of financing, risk profile, and the mechanisms by which they normally create currency. They will also have to determine the extent of the role of intermediary played by banks in giving the public access to CBDC (since central banks thus far have not been equipped to interact directly with individuals, it is generally envisaged that commercial banks would be given this role). These are complex issues that, in addition to the technical and operational aspects, warrant a cautious pace of progress by the authorities. A new instrument of monetary policy At present, no major central bank seems to view CBDC as serving a primary role as a new monetary policy instrument beyond the strengthening of the legitimacy and use of the official national currency. Nevertheless, many observers (including the central banks) are reflecting on such a possibility and its major implications. First, CBDC could lower the “effective lower bound” – point beyond which further monetary policy in the same direction is counterproductive – of monetary policy if, for example, they carried negative interest rates or, by contrast, increase it to zero if they constituted zero-rate assets which are less costly to hold (in terms of storage and security) than physical currency. Second, CBDC could, in theory, become a “programmable currency” whose possibilities of use (time-limited, restricted to certain expenditure, etc.) could be managed dynamically by the authorities. Other possibilities, such as new interactions between monetary policy and fiscal policy, are also envisageable. Visibility in this domain is as limited as the theoretical possibilities are vast. CBDCs could have many consequences, some of which would be complex and difficult to figure out. Considerable work and additional testing are vital before they are introduced. However, with the gradual reduction in the use of physical money and the rapid development of digital rivals for traditional currencies, it is very likely that we will see CBDC introduced within a few years. This could impact on many sectors of domestic economic and financial life, as well as international financial equilibria. Tristan Perrier is a Global Views Analyst at Amundi. A version of this article was originally published in The FM Report.

Feb 18, 2021
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COVID-19 and Brexit have meant many businesses had to adapt to a different environment – fast. As 2021 progresses, what will the future look like and how can businesses seize new opportunities? Mairead Connolly explains. We are well into the new year and the business landscape remains dominated by COVID-19. Many companies, especially private and family businesses, are also battling with the post-Brexit trading landscape. However, times of change are also an opportunity to reshape, and we are seeing an acceleration of a range of trends that had been brewing. As businesses assess the new landscape, positioning for future growth should be a priority. Here are five key considerations for private businesses to continue to scale-up and become fit for the future.  1. Strategy for growth  It is important for businesses to reassess and set a growth strategy with clear targets. This should include sensitivity analysis for different levels of sales, products, month-by-month reports and geography. Headcount and training costs, along with new customers and markets you may target, should also be factors.  The old adage “cash is king” still holds resonance, and any additional funding requirements should be considered with plenty of time allowed to prepare projections and attend to formalities.  Don’t forget about sustainability in your planning. Adopting sustainable approaches can help differentiate and build confidence in your brand, as well as generating cost savings. 2. Upskill your people   Your people are critical to your growth and success. Availability of key skills remains a challenge for many businesses. PwC’s 2020 NextGen Survey, published prior to the pandemic, highlighted that a major concern for family businesses is gaining the skills required – with leadership and strategic thinking regarded as the most essential skills needed.  Upskilling the people you have and who understand your culture is critical for plugging any skills gap. Family or team members who have the potential and agility to help grow the business into the future should be identified. While formal training may certainly be warranted, the power of shadowing and mentoring should not be underestimated.  3. Digitise  Any business wishing to grow and scale must keep pace with technology, and the COVID-19 backdrop has brought home how this investment can pay dividends. We have seen many family and entrepreneurial businesses creating or expanding their online presence, initially as a lockdown survival strategy. Now positioning for post-COVID-19 growth, the same companies recognise that this pivot to digital is also an opportunity to futureproof their business.   Digitisation can also take place in smaller steps, however, starting with automated reporting or dashboards for real time financial data, for example. Levering technology to have meaningful information available at the touch of a button allows valuable management time to be spent on proactive strategy, rather than distilling and reacting to historic data.      Successful digital transformation will give companies the competitive edge they need to become world-class.   4.  Maximise cash flows today  As your business grows, it is important to ensure the controls you have around spending and other day-to-day decision-making remain robust. Rigorous debtor and creditor administration ensures that cash is available when needed, and can minimise the level of dependence on debt or other third party funding. Tax should be carefully considered, as well, with any available reliefs and benefits claimed. For those companies which suffered losses during the pandemic period, a review should be undertaken to ensure that loss reliefs are utilised to trigger refunds where applicable. 5. Protecting wealth for the long term  As well as strategising for the business today, developing a clear succession plan for the medium- to long-term should remain a priority for ambitious family businesses and SMEs. This is something that is overlooked by many businesses. Tellingly, PwC’s latest Irish family business survey highlighted that less than one fifth (18%) of respondents had a robust, formalised and communicated succession plan in place. Key elements include structuring for ownership transition, with/without retirement of key founders, ensuring governance frameworks are fit for growth, and identifying the correct next generation or non-family management to drive the business forward.    The succession journey is an opportunity to reinforce the broader business strategy, digital and upskilling objectives. If proactively managed, the “perfect storm” of disruption via COVID-19 and Brexit uncertainty could well become the accelerator for business and family success in the long term. Mairead Connolly is Partner of PwC Entrepreneurial & Private Business Practice.

Feb 12, 2021
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Many businesses are wary of automation and artificial intelligence dehumanising client relationships. Larissa Feeney says, however, that embracing this new technology will lead to more meaningful and personal interactions with your customers. Many owners of small – and even bigger – practices feel that automation or artificial intelligence (AI) has no role to play in their workplace, worrying that it can lead to a dehumanisation of work practices that will result in a poor connection with clients. However, I believe that the introduction of digital practice management and ‘lean’ systems – minimising waste while maximising productivity –  can streamline and grow your business, as well as help build more lasting relationships with your clients. When we established our business 10 years ago, one of our aims was to systemise as many processes as possible, including tasks that used to be manual, such as emails to clients, record collection and payroll. We looked at every process to see what could be automated. At that time, there was a fear across the industry that automation and the use of AI could result in a less personalised service. The fear that robots will take over our jobs and clients will pay less for automated services is still prevalent even now; however, we have found the opposite – AI frees up the team to give better service to clients. Lean principles Over the past 12 months, we have implemented lean principles (value, the value stream, flow, pull and perfection) across our own business. This has cut down on the administration and support functions that are needed which means the core team can focus on servicing clients better. This freedom allows you to build a real and lasting relationship with clients, making you part of their team rather than an external service that could be completed by anyone. It creates a different relationship entirely; you become more like a trusted advisor rather than a bean counter processing numbers. Importantly, clients will like the fact that you are putting in more time thinking about their business strategically rather than spending time on processes that could be automated. How to implement a lean structure There are quick and easy savings to be made by implementing a lean structure for any business at any stage.   For instance, one of the processes we implemented under our lean structure was examining a simple task that would take three days over the course of the month to complete. We have now automated that process and it takes one member of the team one second to press one button. Another easy win has been the automation of emails to clients. I did struggle when we started to automate emails – and sometimes I still do. I wanted to keep that personal contact with each and every client. However, as the business grew, I knew it was impossible for that to continue; instead of spending all my time writing out personalised emails, I can spend time in other crucial areas of the organisation. Both simple automations outlined above have saved team members’ time that can now be focused towards building a personal, meaningful relationship with clients and putting their priorities first, which is the cornerstone of good customer management. Larissa Feeney is Founder and CEO at Accountant Online

Feb 12, 2021
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What can SMEs outside of Ireland’s bigger cities do to prepare for a post-pandemic landscape? Linda Doran outlines a five-step plan.  The timetable for Ireland’s COVID-19 vaccination programme is firming up. No doubt there will be ups and downs. However, business owners and entrepreneurs are starting to realise that we are roughly two-thirds of the way through the crisis. It is essential, therefore, to think about a business plan for the post-pandemic business landscape. Outlined below are five keys points for a post-pandemic plan for small businesses outside of the country’s cities: Get ready for the ‘staycation’ Counties all over the country are known for their tourism, from the Wild Atlantic way to Ireland’s ancient east. It is important that businesses in all regions remember where its strengths lie, and for 2021 this will involve capitalising on ‘staycations’. Foreign travel looks unlikely and areas outside of Dublin are well-placed to attract strong domestic tourist numbers. Protect local jobs Unemployment is the biggest issue the county will face in the second half of 2021. We need to treat the cash flow boost from the staycation spend as the springboard that will keep as many local businesses afloat as possible. For the most vulnerable or worst hit businesses, this may involve a local Circuit Court examinership process or the Government’s new Summary Rescue Process, due to be introduced in the latter part of the year. One way or another, we need to protect the most vulnerable businesses in our communities. Get young people back into the workforce Protecting businesses will facilitate getting as many young people back into the workforce as possible. The younger generation have shouldered an enormous burden in the crisis, in terms of both educational and work opportunities. To avoid a lost generation, we need to do everything we can to bring young people back into the productive local economy. Look for sustainable recovery Looking medium-term, we need to be ready for the bounce back. However, we must avoid a Celtic Tiger-esque mini-boom. A sustainable recovery is required; we need to be wary of inflation and the increase in interest rates that inevitably follows, as the pent-up demand in Ireland is unleashed. Get ready for ‘2022 normal’ We need to be ready for what “2022 Normal” will look like. It is likely we will see more flexibility in terms of working from home arrangements, less business travel, more video conferencing, more online selling and less appetite for waste or non-productive areas of business. All small businesses need to adapt, evolve and be ready for these challenges. The light that we can finally see at the end of the tunnel should form the basis for a bright future for all counties, but only if the planning starts now. Linda Doran is the South East Partner in Baker Tilly.

Feb 12, 2021