Articles

Ethics and Governance

Francis McGeough reports on a study of governance practices in fifty of the largest charities in Ireland which reviewed the information contained in their annual reports.   The importance of good governance in charities was highlighted by shortcomings in two well-known charities last year (Rehab and the Central Remedial Clinic). Bad publicity from these events had a serious impact on the fundraising efforts of all charities with many reporting a substantial drop in donations. Donors to charities need to be assured that their funds are being used appropriately and the requirement for increased accountability highlights the importance of governance practices in charities. Charities must not only apply the highest standards but must also be seen to be behaving appropriately.   A key task of the recently established Charities Regulatory Authority (CRA) is to increase public trust in the charitable sector. The legal framework under the Charities Act 2009 gives the CRA legal tools to do this. However, the essence of good governance lies in the culture of an organisation rather than following the letter of the law.  Governance The word governance originates from the Latin word meaning to steer or to give direction. While, there is no all-embracing definition of governance, there is agreement that governance involves taking responsibility for managing the organisation, balancing the needs of stakeholders, ensuring accountability to stakeholders, and ensuring that the organisation achieves its objectives. Therefore, the Board should have a strategic focus; with a focus on organisational performance, and a clear division of responsibilities between the board and managers.   Charities have a valued status in society due to their good deeds. Consequently, charities are likely to be held to a higher set of standards. Thus, when things go wrong, they are particularly susceptible to public disillusionment. Therefore, charitable organisations must ensure that they maintain their reputation. Good governance practices can help in this process by underpinning public confidence in the charity, and reduce the likelihood of scandal.  Complexity of governance in charities  In publicly quoted companies, the Board represents shareholders and they hold the management to account for their performance (measured by profits and share price). However, for charities, there are a number of complications: Firstly, there may be many stakeholders with conflicting views on how the organisation should be run; secondly, there may be no agreed measure of performance and stakeholders may have different views on what is good performance which increases the difficulty for the board in holding the managers to account; thirdly, many charities rely on the goodwill of their volunteers and managers who may become resentful if their actions are constantly questioned by the Board.    Therefore, charities must find the right balance between trust and control. Too much control can lead to distrust and poor relations with the board. On the other hand, too much trust can lead to complacency and potentially bad behaviour. Survey The annual reports of fifty of the largest charities in Ireland were reviewed to determine the level of disclosure of the key elements of governance. The charities were identified from the Boardmatch Ireland listing of the hundred largest charities in Ireland. The annual reports were downloaded from the charities’ websites in October 2014. Therefore, it would be expected that the latest reports would be for 2013; however, 30% of the charities had annual reports relating to 2012 or earlier (Table 1). While there may have been a delay in uploading the accounts onto the websites, it is surprising -- given the importance of the website as a communications tool -- that the websites did not have the latest annual reports.    In relation to the disclosure of the key elements of governance, Table 2 sets out twelve elements of governance are derived from governance codes such as Boardmatch Ireland and the UK’s Charity Commission’s Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) and shows the number of organisations which reported each element in its annual report.    Most of organisations examined provided the names of the board members in their annual report (forty three organisations representing 86% of the sample).     In relation to the elements that could be used as proxies to determine the effectiveness of the board, the level of reporting by the organisations examined is mixed (the percentage of organisations disclosing these details is outlined in brackets following the element). Board effectiveness can be measured through the recruitment process for board members (26%) biographical details of the board members (6%); length of time on the board (6%); the existence of induction processes (16%); the number of board meetings (24%); and the existence of sub-committees (52%). Therefore, readers of the annual reports would have difficulty in assessing board effectiveness in managing the organisation.    Notwithstanding the recent controversy about pay levels for managers in some charities, only fourteen organisations (28%) disclose the pay levels for their senior managers.    In relation to resource management, the level of disclosure is again quite low, with 44% of organisations identifying their key risks and outlining how they manage these. In addition, only 20% of the organisations outline what their policy in relation to reserves is.   In relation to the disclosure of non-financial information, a majority (58%) disclose some information. The study does not attempt to evaluate the quantity or quality of the non-financial information disclosed but simply examines the existence of non-financial information.    The final element examined is whether a statement of compliance with a governance code is made. The research finds that just 22% of organisations disclose such a statement. This may be due to the relative newness of a governance code and as such, it is expected that this will improve in the future.   Table 2 shows that only three of the twelve elements are disclosed by more than half the organisations. Overall, this suggests that the level of disclosure is limited and this is further emphasised by Table 3 which outlines the range of elements disclosed by the organisations examined. Table 3 shows that thirty of the organisations (60%) disclosed three or less of the twelve elements. While, only four organisations (8%) disclose ten or more elements. Conclusion The research suggests that there is considerable room for improvement. In relation to the dates of the annual reports, it is a matter of concern that fifteen organisations did not have their latest accounts available on their websites. The research suggests that organisations are publishing a very limited amount of information. Thirty organisations (60%) disclose three elements or less, while four organisations (8%) close nine or more elements. Furthermore, only three elements are disclosed by more than half of the organisations.    In overall terms, it would be difficult for the readers of the annual reports to be able to assess the effectiveness of the board. Furthermore, given the recent controversies about remuneration levels in two Irish charities, it is somewhat surprising to see that only 28% of the organisations surveyed disclosed remuneration details of their senior managers.    The annual report provides a window into what is deemed important by the organisation and is also an opportunity for the organisation to account to its stakeholders for its stewardship. If that is the case, the evidence presented here would suggest that Irish charities place limited emphasis on presenting information on governance and performance. In today’s environment, this is a missed opportunity. However, this does not imply that there is a problem with governance standards in Irish charities but it does suggest that charities must review the information provided because they should not only apply the highest standards but must be seen to do so. In this regards, there is much room for improvement.    Francis McGeough PhD lectures in Accounting and Finance at the Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown. This article is a shortened version of a paper to be presented at the British Accounting and Finance Association annual conference in Manchester in March 2015.  

Sep 13, 2019
Ethics and Governance

Justin Moran explains why private sector boards need a sharper focus if they are to perform optimally in the best interest of the company. The benefits of effective governance for private sector companies includes more strategic thinking, improved decision making processes, proactive risk management and, ultimately, leveraging investment and capital at more competitive rates. Yet many private sector companies, which are not subject to regulation, operate outside any mandatory governance codes and are typically reliant upon a smaller governance structure to help direct and control the activities of the company. For small- to medium-sized (SME) and large companies, this places a significant burden on the board of directors. The present business environment also means that the board must: Be more proactive in the establishment and monitoring of strategy, including those objectives which underpin growth; Assess how well the organisation is positioned to attract and retain the skills and resources necessary to deliver the strategy; Remain alert to developments in competition and innovation; Be aware of new and emerging trends in the use of technology and data, digital marketing and social media; and Identify and monitor risks as they develop and emerge, including financial, operational and compliance-based risks. Overall, board effectiveness plays a key role in ensuring that companies are adequately positioned to face these challenges and opportunities. Improving board performance and outcomes To enhance board effectiveness and outcomes, private sector companies should start by considering the following elements of an overall governance framework: Aligning the governance structure with the growth of the company: Identifying where the company is positioned within the corporate life-cycle is key to determining its governance needs. However,it is something that is commonly overlooked. It is imperative that companies strike a balance between what has been effective in achieving their success so far, and what strategies can sustain longer-term success. If the governance approach results in too much bureaucracy, organisations will inadvertently create a potential downside risk. Identifying and promoting the intangible asset of culture: One of the significant challenges facing boards is identifying how to strike the right balance when seeking to understand and develop the intangible asset of culture. It is informed by the levels of support and challenge around a boardroom table. It has also been recognised as serving a key role in determining the effectiveness of the board in leading and directing the business and its ability to achieve its full potential. Boards can start by asking: what are the vision, mission and values of the organisation and how well is this articulated? What behaviours are desired and undesired within the organisation? And how is the ‘tone at the top’ set and is it permeating throughout the organisation? When considering these questions, the board should assess the type of culture that is desired and suited to their implementation of governance measures relative to their position in the corporate life cycle. Board composition and structure It is well recognised that not having the correct people with the necessary skills is a huge impediment to development as a board. While its effect on boardroom behaviour and culture should not be underestimated, any private sector enterprise seeking to grow new markets, build wider networks and harness experience based on a proven track record must carefully evaluate whether the board has the necessary skills in place. To develop and build upon the capabilities of the board, a key step is the decision to invite external directors (non-executive directors) onto the board. A more diverse board composition generates a significant impetus towards better governance and is likely to have a significant impact on the culture of boardroom decision-making. In terms of overall structure, the vital relationships that must function efficiently include the chair and the CEO, and the CFO and the audit committee. The implementation of Companies Act 2014, including the requirement for directors of all large companies to establish an audit committee (or disclose otherwise), will further highlight the importance of developing these structures and relationships. Similarly, board dynamics are complex and ever-changing. Board changes can affect relationships; therefore the need for succession planning remains strong. Maintaining the appropriate balance of formal processes It is important that the board implements a combination of both formal and informal processes, which are reflective of the maturity and culture of the organisation. Examples of key formal processes include setting a board agenda that does not focus purely upon short-term objectives. The agenda should be set by the chair and should also be informed by input from non-executive director(s) where required. Risk and opportunity management (ROM) should be embedded within the board agenda to promote engagement and discussion on scenarios that impact upon organisational strategy and objectives. Attention should be paid to the conduct of board meetings to ensure that meetings are adequately chaired, engaging and ultimately adding value to the organisation. It is hugely counterproductive if meetings evolve into ‘talking shops’ without effective decision-making processes. The distribution of the agenda should also allow adequate time for board members to consider the agenda and review the supporting board pack. Doing so will maximise the effectiveness of the meetings. High-quality and up-to-date management information, which helps the board understand and analyse key performance data and indicators, should be used. The development of board-level management information should be agreed with the CEO and/or senior management so that there is a clear understanding of board needs and what existing information and data can actually be provided. This is an important area that is often overlooked and can cause significant tension between the board and management. Such tension may arise from a perceived view of the board of not receiving the full picture. A clear understanding and focus upon performance data can also underpin the board’s role in setting and monitoring CEO and executive-level performance objectives and the approach to remuneration. The importance of informal processes Many boards often overlook what may be considered ‘informal processes’ when seeking to improve board effectiveness. It should be remembered that board conduct, decision-making and effectiveness are dependent on a combination of factors including relationships, teamwork and communication. In this context, any investment of time and commitment in building strong relationships among board members will normally lead to improved outputs and performance. Examples may include structured away days, planned visits by non-executive board members to different parts of the business, or making use of time away from the formality of board meetings to get to know each other. Private sector governance codes The UK Corporate Governance Code is primarily aimed at listed companies rather than SME or larger unlisted companies. While it is recognised as the leading corporate governance framework, it may not always be suited to organisations that require different considerations to function cohesively. The NSAI Swift 3000 code provides an alternative governance framework and involves rigorous assessment of the board in areas including appointment, composition, competence, independence, remuneration, information, reporting, accountability and audit. In making use of any governance code to facilitate benchmarking or the review of governance processes, the board must avoid a ‘tick-the-box’ approach and should carefully consider what may be described as the softer elements, as outlined above. Conclusion As companies begin to challenge their existing governance processes and systems, the benefits should become evident. If implemented correctly, improved board effectiveness and outcomes will have positive impacts on the long-term sustainability and growth of the company. Justin Moran is Director, Governance, Risk & Internal Controls Division, Mazars.

Sep 13, 2019
Ethics and Governance

Penelope Kenny outlines the ethics and governance issues that will likely be under the spotlight in 2017. As the new year takes off, social media is overflowing with reflections on the past year and learnings for 2017. Thoughts on governance and ethics take the long view and it is so delightfully tempting to make predictions. I propose to look at trends for 2017 based on recent developments, with consideration on where the trends may lead our thinking in 2017. This article addresses corporate governance and the ethics agenda. It attempts to identify trends and issues which professionals are likely to see unfold in 2017. Observations from the business of corporate governance Intense activity from legislators and enforcers continues apace. There have been recent updates to legislation; publications on corporate culture, corporate governance and stewardship; and Government requests for corporate governance reform. Of high impact and concern for individual directors and boards are:   The broadening of directors’ responsibilities; The roles and duties of directors being more thoroughly defined; The inclusion of ethics and culture in more corporate governance conversations; and The conversation between corporation and the State. These observations are based on new Irish legislation codifying directors’ responsibilities and recent reports from the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) in the UK. There is also heightened interest in ethics at the core of corporate governance conversations and this is evidenced in the observations contained in the FRC’s 2016 report entitled Corporate Culture and the Role of Boards, which is discussed further below. Directors are now more specifically accountable than before following the codification of directors’ duties and responsibilities in the Companies Act 2014. The new Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, which was published in August 2016, makes directors specifically responsible for all internal controls: financial, operational, compliance and risk management. Previously, directors specifically reported only on the financial controls and the broader responsibilities were implicit. Corporate culture is also being defined as an area of specific responsibility for directors. Last July, the FRC published Corporate Culture and the Role of Boards and this interesting document comments that strong governance underpins a healthy culture. It also states that boards should demonstrate good practice in the boardroom and promote good governance throughout the business. The report examines some thought-provoking questions: How can the board influence and shape culture? How does the board bring corporate values to life? How can the board build trust with stakeholders? How can boards assess, measure and monitor culture? The report suggests that the tone from the top determines organisational culture and furthermore, boards should assess the culture and determine indicators thereof. The board is therefore responsible for the culture, values and ethical standards in their organisations. This gives directors the very broad responsibility of not only setting the culture and values, but also of measuring and assessing organisational culture. The report requests that investors and other stakeholders engage constructively to build respect and trust, and work with companies to achieve long-term value. Investors therefore need to consider carefully how their behaviour can affect the behaviour of the company and understand how their motivations drive company incentives. As board members, a brighter light is being shone on our broad responsibilities to the organisation and its stakeholders. We are also charged with the ongoing quest for effective measures of corporate culture and the implementation of corporate values throughout the organisation. Corporate and individual ethics In practice, the role of the board in “bringing values to life” is problematic. 61.5% of boards do not regularly make ethics and culture a full board agenda item according to the FRC’s report. Corporate values and ethics have been keywords in lamenting the recent large corporate scandals, which continue unabated at home and abroad. Media reporting focuses not only on corporate governance and the board, but on the ethical standards of the board and the individual directors. In an article published by Reuters last September entitled “Wells Fargo scandal reignites the debate about big bank culture”, it was reported that two former Wells Fargo employees filed a class action in California seeking $2.6 billion or more for workers who tried to meet aggressive sales quotas without engaging in fraud and were later demoted, forced to resign or fired. “Wells Fargo knew that their unreasonable quotas were driving these unethical behaviours that were used to fraudulently increase their stock price and benefit the CEO at the expense of the low level employees,” the lawsuit said. All this was reported in The Guardian in September 2016. Closer to home, Fintan O’Toole expressed his outrage in the Irish Times on 2 January 2017: “The appalling scandal in which the banks deceived at least 15,000 of their customers into moving from tracker mortgages to considerably higher interest rates, often at dreadful personal as well as financial cost. It is clear that this defrauding of customers was systematic and deliberate. It operated in 15 banks – essentially the entire Irish system – and so far as we know there is not one case of a “mistake” favouring the customer. It raises in the starkest way exactly what [Matthew] Elderfield was talking about: individual accountability for misselling and overcharging”. Apart from the human misery which we as a society are accepting, what this means for Ireland is that – despite our high levels of compliance and regulation – we have not created corporate and individual accountability nor a culture of ethical behaviour in our institutions. There is much to be done to align corporate culture and individual ethical standards. In Leading with Integrity: A Practical Guide to Business Ethics, Ros O’Shea firmly positions corporate ethics as the responsibility of the individual directors on the board. She links individual leadership values to the values which filter down through the organisation. This conversation is likely to gain momentum in 2017 with ongoing lawsuits and as we continue to further review, question and discuss our ethical guidelines and our own professional ethics. Corporate governance reform We can expect further corporate governance reform from the UK. Prime Minister Theresa May states that: “for people to retain faith in capitalism and free markets, big business must earn and keep the trust and confidence of their customers, employees and the wider public”. This quote is part of her introduction to Corporate Governance Reform: Green Paper 2016, which sets out a new approach to strengthen big business through better corporate governance. In the foreword, the UK Secretary of State, Greg Clark, summarises that “the green paper seeks views on three areas where we want to consider options for updating our corporate governance framework: first, on shareholder influence on executive pay, which has grown much faster over the last two decades than pay generally and than typical corporate performance; second, on whether there are measures that could increase the connection between boards of directors and other groups with an interest in corporate performance such as employees and small suppliers; and third, whether some of the features of corporate governance that have served us well in our listed companies should be extended to the largest privately-held companies at a time in which different types of ownership are more common”. Certainly the thinking in the UK, surmised from this report, indicates that Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is left far behind, and society and democracy are not separate from, but are an integral part of, the values and actions of corporations. The wider societal responsibilities of companies and boards are under scrutiny. There is a recognition, certainly in the UK, of companies’ responsibilities to employees, customers, suppliers and wider society. Diversity Diversity on boards remains an area of huge interest for researchers and policy-makers. We are starting to accept the causal link between board diversity and better profitability. The green paper referred to above suggests that board composition should better reflect the demographics of employees and customers. Implicit in that statement is a board more representative of the community it serves. According to a McKinsey report published in September 2016, workplace diversity would improve gross domestic product (GDP) in the UK: “Bridging the UK gender gap in work has the potential to create an extra £150 billion on top of business-as-usual GDP forecasts in 2025, and could translate into 840,000 additional female employees. In this scenario, every one of the United Kingdom’s 12 regions has the potential to gain 5-8% incremental GDP”. Robert Swannell, Chairman of Marks & Spencer, is quoted in the Hampton-Alexander Review of FTSE Women Leaders as saying: “I certainly believe having more diverse boards and senior teams is right and brings better perspectives, challenge and outcomes. It is right for business to reflect the world in which we operate and so we should just get on and do it”. Adam Smith’s support for maximising profits by harnessing employee expertise is replaced by boards, executives and management addressing and including the concerns of all stakeholders in the corporate world. Stakeholder engagement Considering the FRC statement below, directors are being charged with aligning the interests of business and society as part of their corporate governance responsibility: “We share the objective of wider stakeholder engagement by companies and are considering how corporate governance principles can best meet the demands of all stakeholders or be amended to do so. We look forward to responding to the Government’s consultation later this year and will propose measures to realign the interests of business and society… the FRC supports the need for change in the relationship between business and society. As the guardian of the UK Corporate Governance and Stewardship Codes, the FRC is keen to explore how it can ensure governance and investment are more closely aligned with the broad public interest”. This statement goes way beyond the corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes which corporations heretofore were content with. Corporations are now charged with holding obligations to all stakeholders and being accountable to society as a whole. Similarly, directors are therefore held to account in relation to their obligations to all stakeholders. The UK Stewardship Code, while not updated since 2012, is under continuous review for its impact and implementation. Directors: some key concerns The broadening and better definition of the role and responsibility of directors is a likely interest area for the future as directors are increasingly responsible for a much wider range of legislation and compliance. Recent surveys show that role clarity, complexity, sustainability, changing business models, corporate culture and business reputation in the community are key concerns. Recent research undertaken by Chartered Accountants Ireland, published in the October 2016 edition of Accountancy Ireland and written by Mary Halton, suggests that role clarity in the boardroom is a driving factor in board effectiveness. It states: “In theory, this should be a relatively straightforward issue, particularly in light of the significant legal, regulatory and good practice guidance available. In practice, however, boards and their members face a number of challenges in delineating roles and ensuring that these are consistently understood by all”. Increasing complexity and the time commitment involved in non-executive directors’ roles is the key finding from a survey by the Institute of Directors in Ireland of 385 of its members in 2016. The Institute of Directors surveyed non-executive directors from private state and public boards. The Australian Institute of Company Directors, meanwhile, surveyed its members in December 2016 on the issues most likely to keep them “awake at night”. The results were identified as follows in order of importance:   Sustainability and long-term growth prospects; Structural change or changing business models; Corporate culture; Business reputation in the community; and Legal and regulatory compliance. Directors are not only showing interest in the business environment which delivers profits, but also showing an increased self-consciousness about themselves as directors and their roles and responsibilities. Formalising this trend, the board self-assessment questionnaires mandated by the Code of Practice for State Bodies 2016 requires boards and the audit and risk committees of state boards to self-assess for effectiveness. Corporation and the state In 2016, we saw the rise of a populist, anti-establishment voter. In Ireland, the water charges were an example. The tussle between states and corporations was exposed with the Apple Inc’s taxes and Deutsche Bank’s fines, both of which resulted in a dialogue between European and American legislative and tax authorities. As our corporations change their goals and purpose and our governments struggle with the corporate environment, this tectonic abrasion between corporations and governments looks set to continue. Conclusion Corporate governance reform is under way in the UK, and indeed in Ireland, against a background of government-led reforms. There is a corporate interest in being more responsible and more state-like. This suggests that the lines between corporation and state may be blurring. Boards are under pressure to represent a more diverse opinion and to mirror the communities which they serve. Meanwhile, these communities are becoming more vocal. Peter Cosgrove of CPL showed the recent Chartered Accountants Tech Forum how employees at Mozilla effectively fired their CEO, Brendan Eich, through social media pressure, which looks remarkably similar to a form of popular voting. (Eich maintained a public stance against gay marriage in 2014, and employees disagreed). Similarly, the US elections were beleaguered with accusations of corporations wielding influence on the outcome via large funding for the candidates. Certainly the future lies in greater regulation of corporations and greater expectations of corporate governance standards. This is occurring at a time when corporations are gathering more power, money and influence than sovereign states and at a time when the workplace is becoming more transparent and more democratised. Chartered Accountants are charged as professionals and often as board members to navigate in this increasingly political space – not just to direct and govern, but also to influence, guide and comment on compliance and regulation. The duties and responsibilities of board directors require more professionalism and more knowledge. We know our responsibilities do not increase or decrease with the size of the organisations we direct and govern, nor with remuneration for these roles, yet those responsibilities are expanding. The boundaries of the study and discipline of corporate governance itself are widening and shifting. We have seen from the UK Prime Minister’s comments on the reform of corporate governance that better corporate governance is seen as a driver for such issues as corporate responsibility, improved profits and more stakeholder engagement to name but a few. Interesting opportunities abound. Penelope Kenny FCA is author of ‘Corporate Governance for the Irish Arts Sector’, published by Chartered Accountants Ireland. 

Sep 13, 2019
Spotlight

While diversity is the buzzword of today, it will soon be replaced by inclusion. Dawn Leane explains how both diversity and inclusion can be integrated in organisations of all sizes. It is virtually impossible to write an article on workplace diversity without referencing equality and inclusion. If diversity is the current hot topic in the workplace, then equality was its predecessor and inclusion will be its successor.   In a workplace context, equality is often associated with compliance. It suggests that as a society, we must legislate for our differences and sanction transgressions. The term “equality” is synonymous with the nine grounds on which discrimination is outlawed.   Diversity is a different concept. It is about valuing our differences, and it has a broader frame of reference than equality, including matters such as personality, cognitive style, education and socio-economic status.   Inclusion, while closely related, is still a different concept. The Society for Human Resources Management defines inclusion as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organisation’s success”. It is the deliberate act of welcoming diversity and creating an environment where all different kinds of people can thrive and succeed.   But diversity is the buzzword of the moment. Employers have progressed from complying with equality legislation to recognising that a diverse workforce brings many benefits: innovation; balanced decision-making; reduced group-think; retention of key staff; and improved risk management among others.   Perhaps unsurprisingly, the technology sector is leading the way in creating workplaces that are genuinely diverse. While Apple contends that “the most innovative company must also be the most diverse”, Intel declares that “innovation begins with inclusion”. It’s easy to see how the technology sector readily benefits from diversity but other areas, including the professions, are also embracing the fact that diversity is good for business.   Nonetheless success rates for diversity initiatives are still low. A report published in January by the ESRI highlights the fact that the unemployment rate for the Travelling community is 82%. None of the community is employed in a profession and just 3% are employed in managerial or technical roles compared to 28% of the general population.   In March, the Central Bank of Ireland published a report which analysed the gender breakdown of applications for pre-approval as part of the fitness and probity regime. Of the pre-approval applications received by the Central Bank since 2012, over 80% have been from male applicants.   Why is it that so many diversity initiatives fail to deliver the desired outcomes? One reason is that many organisations take a ‘top down’ approach to diversity initiatives. While tone at the top is crucial to ensuring success, the top down approach can often manifest as policies and procedures that attempt to redress balance rather than encouraging a change in attitude.   A recent Harvard Business Review article outlined the negative impact of such policies, claiming that they are often counter-productive. The article suggests that the reason most diversity programs aren’t increasing diversity is because organisations are still utilising the same approaches that they have always used and relying on diversity training, hiring tests, performance ratings and grievance systems to support the diversity agenda.   Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace can mean changing the culture of an organisation. The best results are achieved when the focus is less on control and more on challenging existing attitudes, providing supports and encouraging accountability to ensure that good practice becomes embedded in the organisation. The following outlines specific initiatives that are delivering results. Accountability This is the most fundamental change an organisation can make. Without it, the other initiatives can fail to have any impact. It’s the old maxim – what gets measured gets done. For many organisations, publicly committing to diversity and publishing results – whether positive or negative – is driving change. Apple is among a number of organisations that publishes its hiring trends, highlighting areas such as representation among ethnicities and pay equity. While Intel also publishes its hiring rates, exit rates, promotion rates and pay equity, it goes a step further and ties a portion of its executives’ pay to achieving the organisation’s diversity goals. Education versus diversity training Organisations continue to provide diversity training, although it has been proved that such training doesn’t make people discard their biases – at best, it ensures that they are compliant. No-one is immune to unconscious bias; it is a manifestation of our life experiences. However, it often leads the best and brightest to feel unwelcome and not part of the success of the organisation. Rather than diversity training, progressive organisations such as Adobe are delivering enhanced awareness programmes to help eliminate hidden biases. These programmes cover topics such as how to identify bias, strategies and tactics for better decision-making, and how to speak up. Individualised development Most women say a clear path to career progression is important at work and, in response, organisations are now developing personalised, modular development plans to foster future leaders and improve gender diversity in leadership roles. Sponsorships Organisations are evolving beyond mentoring programmes towards sponsorship as a means to help level the playing field for under-represented groups. Sponsors serve a different purpose to mentors or coaching – they advocate for the advancement of people in the workplace, championing their work and potential with other senior leaders, helping them to secure optimal work allocation and opportunities to be more visible. Sponsorship is of particular help to women in the workplace and many relationships focus on women helping other women to gain profile at work. Returnships Returnships are a relatively recent development. Essentially, it is a professional internship designed specifically for people, most often women, returning after an extended career break. The position is relatively short-term, usually six months or so, and it allows the returner to refresh their existing skills and experience while deciding whether they want to return permanently to such a role. Returnships provide the returner with an opportunity to build their confidence and gain recent experience for their CV, while employers benefit from gaining access to the skills of experienced professionals. Inter-generational networks While many organisations were fearful of the impact millennials would have in the workplace, the more forward-thinking embraced the change and developed programmes to integrate existing and new generations. Such programmes include reciprocal mentoring, where younger people partner with longer serving ones to achieve specific business objectives. Generally, the younger person teaches the older person about the power of technology to drive business results while the longer serving person shares their experience and organisational capital. Over time, millennials will become a demographic bridge between Generation X and subsequent, more diverse generations at work. The ability of millennials to advocate and become accepted will be key to the successful transition from diversity to inclusiveness. Accessibility Trinity College Dublin established the first third-level programme for people with an intellectual disability in Ireland. The Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities provides access to education and ultimately to the workplace to people who previously would have been excluded from both. Employers such as Bank of Ireland have recognised the contribution that can be made by those from such marginalised groups. Promoting family-friendly policies Most fathers in the workplace belong to a generation of men who place more value on work-life balance and taking time off with their children. Yet most family-friendly policies tend to be aimed at women and it is usually women who end up leaving the workforce to care for children or ageing parents. President and CEO of New America, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, agree that, in order to support women’s progression in the workplace, men must be allowed to take more responsibility at home. Organisations are beginning to encourage male employees to avail of family-friendly practices by “normalising” such practice. In the US, Facebook offers four months of paid leave to both male and female employees. Its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, made a very public statement by taking two months’ paternity leave when his daughter was born. Conclusion The key to creating a diverse workplace is really quite simple. The starting point is to look beyond compliance and do what is right, rather than what is required. The role of senior management is to set the tone, to educate people and empower them to act; to make them accountable and trust them to do the right thing. Then, pay real attention to the results.   Intel’s Chief Diversity Officer, Danielle Brown, suggests that, “For diversity and inclusion work to really be successful and really break through, it absolutely can’t be an initiative that is buried in HR. Diversity and inclusion absolutely has to be an integral part of culture and part of everything that we do.”   With the implementation of such positive initiatives and future generations shifting attitudes and expectations, workplaces are being reshaped to become not just diverse but inclusive, closing the circle so that the term ‘equality’ reclaims its real meaning – the state of being equal, especially in status, rights or opportunities.ty and inclusion can be integrated in organisations of all sizes.  Dawn Leane is Director of People and Resources at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Sep 12, 2019
Strategy

There has never been a better time to start your own business. Let me explain why… By Michael J. Walls Lately, I have focused on how cloud technology can transform an existing business, but what if you want to start your own business? How can cloud technology help a start-up? The good news is that there has never been a better time to start your own business. As a Chartered Accountant, you only have to take look at various job sites where numerous ‘finance transformation’ roles are listed. This is a clear indication that businesses recognise the need to embrace new technology, including cloud technology and robotic process automation (RPA), if they want to maintain their competitive advantage into the future. For a budding entrepreneur setting up their own business, embracing cloud technology from the outset can give their start-up a competitive advantage over existing businesses yet to embark on a digital transformation project. Technology has tipped the scales The introduction of cloud-based technology has drastically changed the way businesses operate. Starting a new business no longer requires a significant investment in IT infrastructure such as on-site servers and telephony. Nowadays, all that is required is a laptop or mobile device, and a good internet connection. Cloud-based technology enables businesses to access the following benefits, which will give them an edge over existing competitors: Flexible working: employees with a mobile device and an internet connection can work anywhere. This widens the talent pool when recruiting employees or hiring freelancers; Collaborative: cloud-based tools enable teams to work on the same document in real-time from anywhere in the world, negating the need for multiple document versions and making the process more efficient; Business continuity: operating in the cloud means that business data is not stored on-site or on devices. If your premises or laptop are destroyed, all you need to do is pick up another laptop, log on, and continue to operate your business; Scalable: in the past, start-ups would have been at a disadvantage against larger companies with on-site IT capacity. Now, start-ups are on a level playing field without the need to invest heavily in physical IT infrastructure; and Future-proofed: with the growth of emerging technologies (such as the Internet of Things), the amount of data businesses collect and process will increase exponentially. This will require big data analytics to provide vital information on driving business development and growth. Cloud computing will make it easy to deploy the necessary applications to process big data. Cash is king, but data is queen As Chartered Accountants, we are all familiar with the phrase that ‘cash is king’. While I agree with this sentiment, in a digital age, I would add that accurate and timely data is queen when it comes to creating realistic cash flow forecasts for your business and making decisions. Businesses have traditionally used spreadsheets to manage their cash flow forecast, which can take a lot of time and effort to update and maintain, and may not be accurate or realistic. Operating in the cloud enables businesses to utilise open APIs (application programming interface) on cloud-based accounting systems to integrate bank feeds and other third-party applications. Business owners can easily integrate a cloud-based cash flow forecasting solution with their accounting system. This will ensure that the information used to create the cash flow will always be up-to-date and reliable. Some of the solutions I have used also include the following features: Dashboards: at a glance, business owners have the most pertinent information in relation to their cash flow. Data can include current and future available cash balance; upcoming receipts and payments; forecast for the next 12 weeks; or any bank reconciling items; Forecasting: this is made simple as the solution analyses the data in the accounting system to create a forecast, which can be easily adjusted; and Scenarios: various ‘what if’ scenarios can easily be created and layered over the main forecast to help with future planning (for example, an increase or decrease in sales receipts). Investment ready Start-ups that embrace cloud-based technology from the outset are more agile. This, coupled with having up-to-date information on your start-up’s performance, means that when you are ready to seek investment, you will be able to respond to due diligence queries more efficiently. This will give investors more confidence in how your business is operated and will help them make an investment decision much faster. Conclusion If you are setting up your own business, you should adopt a digital-first approach to gain a competitive advantage on existing businesses that have not yet made the move to the cloud. This will also ensure that your start-up is built for scale and future-proofed vis-à-vis emerging technologies.  Start-up tips You’ve got an idea, developed your business plan and are ready to incorporate your company. What advice would I have appreciated when I reached this stage? 1. Choose the name The Companies Registration Office (CRO) is strict about your company’s name. If it is too similar to an existing entity, the CRO may reject your application to incorporate. My advice is to check the CRO register as soon as possible and reserve the company name if it is crucial for your business. 2. Secure the domain Once your business name has been decided, assuming there are no issues with the CRO, you should purchase the domain name. There are various sites, such as godaddy.com or 101domain.com, where you can search for and purchase your company’s domain. You will note that a lot of the dot-com domain names have already been purchased by individuals seeking to make a significant return. Businesses are getting around this by using ‘wearecompany.com’ or ‘thisiscompany.com’. 3. Banking can take time Setting up traditional banking arrangements can take two to three weeks, as there are various anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) procedures to complete. You should have a contingency plan for taking customer payments. 4. Digital banking There are many online banking and payment solutions that are a lot more efficient to set up. For example, I was able to set up Revolut Business Banking for Dappr within 24 hours, which included the AML and KYC checks. 5. Don’t forget tax You will also need to register your company for tax. Form TR2 is relatively straightforward to complete. However, the email address to submit the form was deactivated and I had to post the completed form to Revenue. Michael J. Walls ACA is the Founder and CEO of Dappr.

Aug 01, 2019
Strategy

Blockchain represents both an end and a beginning for the accountancy profession. By Fearghal McHugh and Dr Trevor Clohessy Transparency can be considered the holy grail of governance best practice. The codes, acts and markets demand it as it enhances the view of corporate transactions, which has in turn affected issues such as environmental and sustainability reporting. Transparency is the core of blockchain, which will affect accountancy while satisfying this core principle and driver of good corporate governance. The difference is that it will not take the blockchain elements outlined below as long to become mainstream as it has taken to impact on environment and sustainability concerns. The consensus is that blockchain and its technologies will change the people skills, the processes, the systems and the structure of accounting practice currently applied to any transactions involved in the recording of any information. This has big implications for those in the sector but, significantly, gives a market opportunity to those who are not. Indeed, this opportunity is further enhanced when artificial intelligence integrates with blockchain. Scale of disruption The potential disruption is on the same scale as Amazon, which competes with all retail shops in the country. The first to market with the ‘Accountazon’ brand, named here first, will dent the current position of large or small practices. Accountazon requires accountants, but the ability to scale, integrate and generate output based on fully transparent and rules-based decision-making at the lower level of processing while, at the upper level, having the decision-making and knowledge base of a collective of highly-paid accountants will affect the accounting industry. This can drive the accounting industry to build on specialisation and value proposition offerings at a higher level than those currently generating income. In other words, intelligent computer systems will do what accountants currently do. The impact will force the industry to seek a new place away from rudimentary transaction-type roles of fundamental audit and tax processes. This will require in-depth knowledge (which artificial intelligence can replace) to pure decision-making; in essence, the better the decision-making, the higher one’s revenue and reputation. The purpose and role of accountants will remain, but will be implemented at a higher knowledge application and analysis level and further away from the current operations position and perspective. A personal approach There is no need for panic yet. As with Amazon, retail shops have continued in business but the pricing, delivery, support, convenience and speed we enjoy from the online retailer may also need to be addressed in the accountancy industry; we need to make accountancy accessible, friendly, convenient, productive and transparent. Either the market or the technology will drive the change, or the accountancy industry will embrace it first and deliver value. A Ryanair approach, encouraging a more direct business model using technology, could be applied in the accountancy industry and is more likely now with blockchain and artificial intelligence. The middleman remains the accountant, however, and if it is deemed that a lot of processes don’t add value, the middleman needs to present a value proposition that cannot be offered by the system itself in order to add future value. In the Ryanair model context, so many travel agents adjusted and seem to have found that personal service, customisation and the time taken to provide a tailored travel package for customers is what many consumers want. The drive for digitisation An example of a driver of this type of change arose earlier this year when the then-head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, urged central banks to launch digital currencies to satisfy public policy, financial inclusion, security, consumer protection and privacy in payments. While blockchain is mostly linked with cryptocurrencies, digitisation policies embraced by companies like Nestlé, Guinness and Glanbia are being encouraged by stakeholders but embraced in a controlled manner. Blockchain technology is part of the cryptocurrency system that actually worked. It is becoming embedded in many industries from manufacturing to web-based services, facilitating faster and more secure transactions on a growing scale. When companies and consumers have a better, easier, faster and more transparent way to do business, they will select it as time is a critical factor in corporate life. The practical elements and approaches to blockchain, as highlighted below, will be seen by clients as having the potential to reduce charges and the time involved in accountant reviews and advice, which Revenue could see as a means of speeding up returns. Public versus private Blockchain is not a mobile application, a company or a cryptocurrency. In its simplest terms, blockchain is a ledger that records transactions digitally and records details about the transaction. These details are recorded in multiple places on the same network. Blockchain comes in two flavours: public and private. A public blockchain allows anybody on the network to input transactions and data onto the blockchain. No single entity controls the network. A public blockchain operates like Wikipedia in that users have a composite view that’s constantly changing. Bitcoin, the tradename used to represent the familiar digital currency along with another called Ethereum are examples of public blockchains. Private blockchains work in a similar fashion to public blockchains, but with access restrictions that control who has access to the network. One or multiple entities control the network. Think of this in terms of a traditional database system that can only be accessed by specific authorised employees. Two features differentiate blockchain digital ledgers from traditional ledgers. First, the assets and transactions recorded in these digital ledgers are secured through cryptography. As an example, in season four of the Netflix drama, Narcos, Guillermo Pallomari’s financial ledgers records are taken as evidence by the Drug Enforcement Authority (DEA). However, due to the complicated coding system deployed by Pallomari within these financial ledgers, the DEA is unable to decipher the transactions and/or assets in order to use them as evidence. Pallomari holds the encryption key, which would enable the DEA to crack the code. In terms of blockchain, this also holds true. Due to sophisticated encryption keys, the transactions and assets are secure, immutable and unforgeable. Second, blockchain encompasses the disintermediation of traditional financial intermediaries (e.g. banks, brokerages, mutual funds). This disintermediation is made possible by smart contracts, which are complex algorithms that execute the terms and conditions of a traditional contract without the need for human intervention. This leads to a superior ability to prove custodianship and ownership of assets, which could potentially improve efficiency and enhance transparency while also reducing costs and income in the accountancy profession. Complexity and novelty Today, a number of multinational technology organisations enable businesses to implement blockchain practically. For instance, Microsoft currently offers a blockchain development solution that combines the advantages of cloud computing (e.g. virtualisation, scalability, pay-as-you-go pricing model) and blockchain. This service is called Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) and comes with a set of development templates (e.g. smart contract development and integration) that users can deploy and configure with minimal blockchain knowledge. However, prior to diving into the blockchain sea, accountancy organisations should adopt a caveat emptor mantra. History suggests that two dimensions impact on how a new technological trend and its business use can evolve. The first is complexity, which is represented by the level of coordination required by the organisation to produce value with the new technology. The second dimension is novelty, which describes the level of effort a user requires to understand the problems that the new technological trend can solve. The more novel a concept is, the greater the learning curve. Accountancy organisations can develop adoption strategies that map possible blockchain implementations against these two dimensions. Complexity and novelty can vary from low to high in terms of the stage of technology development. For instance, accountancy organisations that are new to the blockchain concept may want to introduce a pilot initiative that is low in novelty and low in complexity. One such initiative could encompass the inclusion of cryptocurrency transactions in a firm’s transactions processes. New skills While blockchain is spread across many systems, it is not public. It protects transactions because they are shared and copied on many parts of storage devices, and would require all parts and copies of the transaction to be amended and/or deleted to have an effect. Deleting a transaction in one place is easy, deleting it from several locations and tracking each one – while not impossible – would require some work. This capability could potentially scare some in that transactions cannot suddenly be erased, but it is encouraging for others. Apply this concept first to the level of payments and receipts and build that up to management reporting, budgets and strategic reports to ensure a higher level of accuracy and clarity. This will eventually lead to a sense of integrity, another governance ideal. With reference to speed, this can move business from reliance on past information to live analysis and if it’s faster, it will be cheaper in the long-run to produce. While a positive for business, it will not require the skill of a finance professional but a computing-finance professional. In a 2018 Irish industry report, one of the authors, Trevor Clohessy, identified that IT/education providers must do more to demystify blockchain and expedite the learning process. The report outlined how the core competencies and skills required for blockchain are broader than the core technology and encompassed skill sets, which fall under the following categories: Foundational technology (e.g. cryptography, public key architecture); Distributed ledger technology (e.g. mining, consensus algorithms); Forensics and law enforcement (e.g. money laundering, dark-net); Markets, economics and finance (e.g. business modelling, cryptonomics); Industrial design (e.g. supply chain, Internet of Things); and Regulations and standards (e.g. smart contracts, governance frameworks). From an accountancy perspective, it is envisaged that certain traditional skills relating to accountancy will be eliminated or reduced (such as reconciliations or provenance assurance, for example). Blockchain transactions will enable new value-adding activities but while the range of extant skills required will change, this change need not be Byzantine. It is envisaged that the markets and regulations categories outlined above will be important for bridging the blockchain literacy gap between various business and technology stakeholders. Looking ahead, accountancy practices can examine their business models in order to derive value from blockchain. Janus, the Roman god, contained both beginnings and endings within him. That duality characterises blockchain too. It will put an end to traditional ways of doing things and usher in a new era for business and for the world at large. It will be divisive, pervasive and transformational all at the same time, and will encourage accountancy professionals to look ahead and not base their operations and decision-making on past data. The blockchain future is one with present and predictive transacting data systems with in-built transparency and integrity.   Fearghal McHugh is a lecturer in Chartered Accountants Ireland and GMIT. Dr Trevor Clohessy is a researcher and lecturer in GMIT.

Aug 01, 2019
Personal Impact

In the first of a four-part series, Kate van der Merwe considers the interplay between Finance and sustainability against a backdrop of increasingly extreme weather events. I love the sound of rain and the fresh release as it makes way for breaking sunshine (on those days that it does make way!) So it is hard to imagine the ferocious cruelty people experienced when Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March, killing over 750 people, displacing far more and destroying infrastructure, livelihoods and businesses. Climate change equates to increasing frequency of such extreme weather globally and Ireland is also vulnerable to heavy rainfall frequency and sea level rises (Dublin Bay has risen at twice the global average over the last 20 years). Growing up in South Africa with an environmentally aware scientist as a father, sustainability is a familiar concept to me and one that has been brought into ever sharper focus in recent years. When I moved from Social Science to qualify as a Chartered Accountant in 2009, there seemed to be little awareness of sustainability within finance. I will investigate this intersection between finance and sustainability in a series of articles, while incorporating economic viability and social well-being. Why care? So first, should you care about climate change? As an inhabitant of this planet, whether you appreciate nature (where you holiday, how you exercise, how you unwind), believe in human rights (how climate change will impact society, particularly the young or marginalised), or are merely concerned with your own net worth (how risks, opportunities and frameworks will fundamentally shift in the future), climate change will affect you. Most will have a vague awareness of climate change at this point. It is hard not to notice Greta Thunberg’s FridaysForFuture movement (which saw over 10,000 protesters gather in Dublin on 15 March 2019), the frequent research warnings released or senior leaders speaking up on the topic. But let’s pause to ask what climate change is. Since industrialisation, population, manufacturing and consumption have significantly increased – all of which uses energy and resources, contributing to climate change. This form of growth mentality has excluded circular or design thinking, driving up greenhouse gas emissions (for example, CO2 emissions in 2011 were 150 times higher than in 1850). These greenhouse gases, when present in the upper layers of the earth’s atmosphere, exacerbate a “greenhouse effect”, whereby a barrier is created, trapping heat, causing climate change and resulting in more extreme weather patterns that are increasingly wet or dry, hot or cold. Growing urgency More than 95% of climate scientists agree that climate change is human-induced. While the first voices to warn of climate change back in the 1980s were dismissed as “tree-huggers”, the eccentric is now the denialist. Maybe the enormity of the challenge – its complexity and the global collaborative efforts required – paralysed leaders. Or perhaps the upfront costs of making fundamental systemic changes made career politicians overly cautious. However, if changes are postponed, consequences will continue to escalate with compounded costs and less successful remediation. It is commonly accepted that for businesses to thrive, they must continually innovate for the future and the future is climate change. There is an opportunity cost associated with denial or a failure to act. The UN’s 2018 IPCC report highlights the danger we face in starker terms than ever before. Impacts are stronger and unfurling quicker than previously predicted, bringing our current growth-based consumptive economy into sharp focus. Following the IPCC report, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released a report which found that 60% of the planet’s biodiversity has been destroyed since 1970. Considering the impact on the food sector alone, these two key facts need no narrative: The critical loss of pollinators; and More than 70% of the world’s most produced crops are reliant on pollination. This illustrates the significant ripple-effect consequences of climate change. It is not cost-beneficial. There is no opt-out option. Action is urgently needed from every pocket of society, and businesses have significant potential to be positive agents. The growing trend of both awareness and intersection with finance plays out alongside an increasing global sense of urgency. An existential threat Climate change is the single biggest challenge facing humanity. It is an existential threat, but shifting towards more sustainable alternatives will help stem the severity of climate change. Climate change is already on the agenda of major global accountancy bodies and is increasingly referenced by prominent business leaders. In February, the then-Central Bank Governor, Philip Lane, issued a warning on the dangers of delaying climate action, one of which included financial instability. Readers who have been following these developments will have noticed how the intersection between finance and sustainability has been growing rapidly. I firmly believe that this trend will increase to become a critical part of the professional role of Chartered Accountants. If my prediction is wrong, it will be the least of my concerns, as without meaningful engagement from the finance community, the challenges of climate change will not be met. Finance professionals have key roles to play in reporting critical information, directing funds, and making decisions. Over the next three issues of Accountancy Ireland, I will explore the intersection between the finance world and sustainability, beginning with an examination of our retrospective roles of reporting, including familiar areas such as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESGs) and sustainability reporting. Thereafter I will look at emerging trends that pose a blend of risks and opportunities.   In closing, to quote Charles Tilley, Chair of IFAC Professional Accountants in Business: “‘Business as usual’ is no longer sustainable”. Kate van der Merwe ACA is responsible for Global gFA Reporting Optimisation at Google. You can also listen to Kate on the Accountancy Ireland Podcast, talking about climate change and sustainability.

Aug 01, 2019
Personal Impact

Unconscious bias isn’t going away – and neither is the pressure for diverse and inclusive workplaces, writes Dr Annette Clancy. Companies are under increasing pressure to improve gender equality, level the pay gap and generally change their approach to workplace inclusion. Part of this demand stems from equality legislation, but there is also growing public pressure to act. However, research tells us that we prefer to be in the company of people who are similar to us. We assume that we will have more in common, that we will be understood and liked, and that there will be minimal conflict. Of course, most of these assumptions are in the realm of fantasy – we all know people who are very similar to us but with whom we have fractious relationships. We also assume that the opposite will be true when it comes to people who are dissimilar to us. Consider, for example, the many stories in the US media of white people calling the police to complain about black people going about their business in their neighbourhoods. Head over heels? Freud went one step further and told us that the relationship between leaders and followers was like the act of falling in love or the state of trance between hypnotist and subject. What Freud was getting at was that we are unconsciously predisposed (in our personal and work lives) to choose people with whom we have a strong emotional attachment. At first glance, none of that makes for very good practice when it comes to increasing diversity, improving recruitment practices or searching for a new job. Hiring the most qualified candidate based on their CV and how they interview for a position seems straightforward enough, but it isn’t just what’s written down or their skills that will always convince the panel to appoint a candidate. Biases based on gender, race and other factors can present unconsciously and influence the decision, even when the panel has the best of intentions. Quick judgements Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of and is out of our control. Our brain makes quick judgements about people and situations, and our culture, experiences and background influence these judgements. Everyone has unconscious bias and although training can increase awareness, research suggests that it has a limited effect on behaviour. One of the reasons why training is limited in its effectiveness is because the bias is ‘unconscious’. One afternoon’s worth of instruction is not going to eradicate a lifetime and a society-worth of unconscious programming. What has shown some promise is holding managers, teams and companies to account for the decisions they take. Other strategies include regular discussions on bias, making it an ordinary reflection point and not a ‘once-off’ conversation that is forgotten as soon as it happens. A good starting point for discussion is Harvard’s Project Implicit Tests, which will give you immediate feedback on your biases towards a wide range of issues. Mitigating bias Biases can affect your expectations of different groups. In hiring processes, it’s important to ask if you hold male, female or non-binary candidates to different standards. Assessing candidates ‘blind’ by concealing their name, for example, is another way in which organisations can mitigate bias. Likewise, as a jobseeker, do you have biases towards particular companies that are out of your conscious awareness and may be hindering your search? Biases can also affect how you manage your staff and may be a contributory factor as to why you retain or lose staff. Do you, for example, welcome challenges to your management style? Is it possible that you harbour different expectations of male and female staff members? How open are you to questioning your own unconscious bias? Unconscious bias isn’t going away, and neither is the pressure for diverse and inclusive workplaces. Bringing both of these topics right into the mainstream might be the first step towards having the conversation.   Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy. Annette’s research focuses on emotions in organisations.

Aug 01, 2019
Ethics and Governance

CEOs aren’t given instruction manuals when it comes to boards. Kieran Moynihan explains how CEOs and executive teams can give respect to the board while also demanding excellence for the shareholders and stakeholders. My board frustrates the hell out of me. We put a huge effort into producing our packs and I seriously question if they read them properly. They second-guess me and my executive team on a continuous basis, haven’t a strategic bone in their bodies and, to be quite honest, other than their watchdog oversight role, I seriously question if they add any value to this company.” These were the opening words from a CEO in a board evaluation I was leading some time back, and they’re nothing new. I have heard them from CEOs across a wide range of sectors, scale of companies and maturity/experience level.  I asked this CEO to place himself in the shoes of one of his non-executive directors (NED) and imagine how open and engaging the CEO and executive team were towards himself and board. What is the level of genuine accountability and performance culture? Is respect being demonstrated in terms of getting a big complex board pack out four or five working days ahead of the board meeting as opposed to 24 hours beforehand? Are you and the other NEDs expected to drop everything to prepare properly? Finally, how much opportunity does the CEO give NEDs to get them involved in the formation of the company's strategy?  The CEO responded very honestly that he had never really thought about the board in this way and that, in the cold light of day, he could see that he had been in a pattern of ‘managing the board’, and after many years, had arrived at a point where he basically had no expectations of them. This is a sad indictment on this board and the real losers here are the shareholders and broader stakeholders.  The reality is that often the shareholders and stakeholders do not even realise what is going on. I believe that the vast majority of CEOs are very conscientious, and understand the value of a high-performing board, but often struggle with genuinely partnering with their board to enable an outstanding combination of executive and non-executive board members so they can deliver outstanding value for their shareholders and stakeholders.  One of the reasons for this is that there is no 'Becoming a brilliant CEO' manual where CEOs can learn best practice for engaging with the board. As a former CEO, I can testify to the fact that in the early stages, I was very cagey with the board. I wanted to concentrate on the good news, demonstrate that I had the strategy all figured out, and so slipped easily into managing the board. This is a natural and understandable starting point for many CEOs. I was blessed to have an outstanding board chair who gave me a dose of salts early on and helped me engage with and leverage the board properly.   Best practice There are a number of key areas that I have found represent best practice for a CEO and executive team in enabling high-performing board teams. Respect for, and accountability to, the board It should go without saying that a CEO should respect the board but in reality, some CEOs are quite disrespectful, both to the board itself and the board members individually and collectively. In many cases, this can be an aggressive, dominant CEO who merely tolerates the board. In other cases, it can be a lot more subtle. Respect for the board is the key foundation for the CEO and executive team to demonstrate the highest levels of accountability (and, by extension, the shareholders). When a CEO and executive team are accountable to the board, they enable the non-executive board members to discharge their oversight responsibilities. When the CEO and executive team’s reporting is accurate, honest and timely in terms of the performance and progress of the organisation, it means the NEDs don’t have to deep dive into the operational and financial minutiae, or have to second guess the CEO. They can, instead, devote a far bigger portion of the board’s time to strategic discussion and, thereby, adding value to the executive team. Performance culture  Every time I see a high-calibre CEO properly engaging with the board, they not only set high expectations for themselves and employees across the organisation, but also set a very high bar for the board members themselves. Working closely with the board chair, a CEO is absolutely entitled to insist that the board works hard, is able to add value to the executive team and the company, has regular evaluations (both internal and external) and is continually looking to add that extra 10% to the board’s performance.  A partnership model between execs and non-execs  At the core of outstanding board teams is a genuine partnership model between the executive and non-executive board members, which balances a strong level of oversight and significant value-add by the board. The best boards simply embrace the highest levels of robust challenge and debate in order to stretch their brain cells and understand complex issues, get to the bottom of performance problems, see around dark corners and, ultimately, make the very best decisions. A progressive CEO will set the tone for this partnership. By working closely with the board chair, the executive team will be able to deliver their part of this partnership model. In return, the CEO and executive team are entitled to expect the NEDs to add strategic value, bring diverse and independent thinking and, ultimately, enhance the thinking and decision-making of the executive team. This partnership model is illustrated in Figure 1. High-quality information model and information flow to the board A progressive CEO understands that the board is highly dependent on the quality and timeliness of the information provided. In board evaluations, I regularly see the common problem of a very dense board pack with reams of complex reports but very little or no quality guidance from the executive team on what’s critical, the areas the NEDs need to focus on, the areas the executive team need help with or the areas of concern for the CEO and executive team. Combine this problem with the bad habit of sending board packs out late and you can understand why NEDs often feel that they have to second guess the CEO and ask detailed questions at the board meeting. Inspire NEDs to bring their independence and A-game If you read any of the memoirs of highly successful CEOs and entrepreneurs, you will often see the following phrase positioned prominently in the early chapters: “I made a very conscious decision to surround myself with people who were a lot smarter than me”. I often come across CEOs who are very sharp but yet quite happy to pack their board with mediocre NEDs who simply do not add any value. While this is clearly a failure of the board chair, the CEO in many companies has a key role in selecting board members.  Progressive CEOs see the critical value of diversity in their NEDs across age, gender, ethnic background, sector and, most importantly, thinking style. When it comes to NEDs, a CEO and executive team who are partnering extremely well with the board are perfectly entitled to expect each NED to bring their A-game consistently, underpinned by a strong work ethic and commitment to the company. Where NEDs are not doing this, a CEO should work with the board chair to replace those NEDs with ones who will perform and deliver serious value – shareholders absolutely deserve nothing less. Partnering with the board on strategy One of the biggest changes in recent years with how CEOs engage with their boards is in the whole area of strategy. High-performing boards have increasingly moved away from the traditional model of the CEO coming into the boardroom with the company strategy 90% cooked, looking for the board to rubber-stamp the document and allow the executive team to get on with it. Apart from the fact that this legacy approach is very disempowering to the NEDs around the table, and can lead to very serious flawed strategies and group-think problems, CEOs are realising that making big strategy calls in today’s marketplace is a lot tougher than five years ago. These days, the CEO and executive team develop a range of strategic options that they bring to the board at an early stage. This enables every single NED to be involved. In addition to encouraging high-quality challenge and debate around the strategic options identified by the CEO and executive team, it helps the NEDs to put other options on the table which the executive team may not have considered and could ultimately result in a stronger strategy being adopted. Crisis management and asking for help Most companies have to deal with a serious crisis (either self-inflicted or outside of their control) at some point. This could be a significant change in the competitive landscape (business model, pricing, innovation), technology disruption, serious quality problems in products/services, poor sales performance, financial problems, a cyber-attack or a business-impacting loss of critical staff in the company. No matter how strong and battle-hardened a CEO and executive team are, it can be very difficult in the eye of a storm to get an objective perspective on not only root causes, but the optimal way for the company to navigate stormy waters.  A high level of good will, respect and trust that the CEO and executive team have built up with the board over the years is critical in crisis situations. This is where a CEO and an outstanding board can turn to their NEDs, who will roll up the sleeves, get stuck in and provide high-quality help to the executive team and, most importantly, provide a cold, independent perspective to help with the tough decisions.  Setting the example in terms of culture, ethics and behaviours We are in a new era where the spotlight on the behaviour, ethics and culture being demonstrated by a company’s CEO has never been greater. The genie is definitely out of the bottle and the days of some CEOs feeling that it is perfectly acceptable to demonstrate disrespectful bullying, aggressive and passive-aggressive behaviours to their board, their employees and shareholders/stakeholders are coming to an end. Any board worth its salt should be setting the highest of standards for the CEO and executive team. Summary The impact of the CEO and executive team’s approach to the board has a fundamental impact on the effectiveness and performance of a board. I am always moved by the powerful impact it has on the board when a CEO and executive team partner with the NEDs in a respectful and accountable way, demonstrate the highest level of behaviours, ethics and integrity, provide high-quality information flow, partner on strategy, inspire NEDs to go the extra mile and integrate with them to excel on behalf of their shareholders, employees and stakeholders.    Kieran Moynihan is the Managing Partner of Board Excellence.

Aug 01, 2019
Regulation

Paula Nyland considers how Chartered Accountants involved in the third sector can improve transparency and prosperity to the benefit of charities and society at large. The third sector on the island of Ireland impacts directly or indirectly on the work of every Chartered Accountant, whether as a director/trustee, audit practitioner, employee or volunteer. In the Republic of Ireland alone, the sector includes 9,500 non-profits that are incorporated as companies, more than 4,000 primary or secondary schools, and 800 friendly societies, co-operatives, trade unions, professional associations, political parties or charter bodies. Another 15,000 or so are unincorporated associations, clubs and societies. Chartered Accountants are critical to supporting and directing this sector, and it’s important that they are aware of some of the impacts of changing regulatory conditions on their practice.  Greater financial transparency and accountability Since 2014, when it was established under the Charities Act, 2009, the Charities Regulator in the Republic of Ireland has been working to bring greater public transparency and regulatory accountability to the work of the charity sector – about one-third of all non-profits. The Regulator now plans to introduce new regulations that will clarify the reporting requirements for charities in the form of an Irish version of Charities SORP. Charities SORP is a module of FRS 102, which provides guidance on financial accounting and reporting for charitable entities. It is currently mandatory for UK charities, but only recommended for charities in Ireland. Based on our analysis of all of the financial statements filed by Irish non-profits since 2015, Benefacts has discovered that just 12% of Ireland’s incorporated charities currently file financial statements using Charities SORP on a voluntary basis. This will change when the forthcoming regulations are introduced. All larger incorporated charities (more than €250,000 in income or expenditure) will be required to meet these higher standards of disclosure, and will no longer be permitted to file abridged accounts. Currently, the level of abridgement in charities’ accounts here is running at 37%, and this is something the Charities Regulator has repeatedly spoken out on – most recently after the launch of Benefacts’ Sector Analysis Report in April 2019. For the audit profession, there is a clear need to become familiar with these reporting standards, because the question is no longer whether Charities SORP will become a requirement for larger charities in the Republic of Ireland, but when. Guidelines on fundraising and internal control Even in advance of the new regulations on financial reporting, the Charities Regulator has been active in setting standards for the charity sector, with guidelines for fundraising from the public issued in November 2017 and a governance code issued at the end of 2018. These measures, coupled with the Internal Financial Controls Guidelines for Charities, have created a strong foundation for control within the regulated charity sector, in particular for the people serving on the boards of charities and non-profits. VAT repayment scheme  Elsewhere in Government, there have been measures to respond to campaigns from within the sector. Following years of lobbying to change the VAT regime for charities, Government introduced a new scheme that has made €5 million available for recovery annually by charities against VAT paid from non-statutory or non-public funds for costs after 1 January 2018. The deadline for 2018 claims was 30 June 2019. DPER Circular 13 of 2014 Without having the full force of regulations, the standards for financial disclosures promulgated by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) nonetheless deserve to be more widely understood by the accountancy profession. Circular 13 of 2014 is the most important statement of the disclosure standards that are expected of all entities receiving State aid, and it is the responsibility of every government funder to ensure that these are being followed. They set out the requirements for reporting every source of government funding, the type of funding provided (loan, current or capital grant, service fee), the purposes of the funding and the year in which funding is being accounted for. Abridged accounts do not meet the standards of DPER 13/2014, nor do accounts prepared using the new standard for micro-enterprises, FRS 105. FRS 105 (micro entities) When the Companies (Accounting) Act 2017 was commenced on 9 June 2017, it introduced the concept of the Micro Companies Regime, which is provided for in Section 280 of the Companies Act 2014. This allows smaller companies (with two of the following conditions: turnover of €700,000 or less, balance sheet total of €350,000 or less, and no more than 10 employees) to prepare financial statements under FRS 105 instead of FRS 102. FRS 105 provides for minimum disclosures: no directors’ report, no requirement to disclose directors’ remuneration, no disclosure of salary costs or employee numbers. In 2017, 5% of non-profit companies reported to the CRO using this standard, including some that receive funding from the public or from the State.  Charities in the UK are not permitted to report using FRS 105, but as yet there is no such regulation in the Republic of Ireland. The burdens of disclosure Many Irish non-profit organisations receive funding from more than one source – some from many sources, as will be clear from even a cursory glance at the listings of well-known names on www.benefacts.ie. As well as multiple funding sources, most major charities are regulated many times over, if you count the oversight responsibilities of the CRO/ODCE, the Charities Regulator, the Housing Regulator, Revenue, HIQA et al. The high administration and compliance burden represents a real cost – including, of course, the cost of audit fees. At a minimum, of course, company directors must confirm that the company can continue as a going concern; Charities SORP requires that trustees disclose their policy for the maintenance of financial reserves and it is expected that these will reflect a prudent approach to maintaining funds to see them through periods of unexpected difficulty. These are sensible, indeed fundamental, principles and the annual financial reporting cycle is intended to give confidence to all stakeholders that the directors/trustees fully understand their responsibilities and are fulfilling the duties of care, diligence and skill enjoined on them. The €20 million or so currently spent by non-profit companies on audit fees (as yet the public has no access to the accounts of unincorporated charities) should be money well spent. The better the quality of the financial statements, the more these can play a role in initiatives being explored by a number of Government agencies to explore cost-saving “tell-us-once” solutions, supported by Benefacts. Who is accountable? Using current data from filings to the CRO and the Charities Regulator, Benefacts reported in Q1 2019 that 81,500 people are currently serving in the governance of Irish non-profit companies and charities. 49,000 of these serve as the directors of 9,500 non-profit companies, and the rest are the trustees of unincorporated charities. All are subject to regulation, and they include many members of Chartered Accountants Ireland.  By any standard, this is a large sector with more than 163,000 employees and an aggregate turnover in 2017 of €12 billion, €5.9 billion of which came from the State (8.4% of all current public expenditure in that year). Most of this funding was concentrated in only 1% of all the bodies in the sector. Voluntary bodies enjoy some of the highest levels of trust in our society, but it has become clearer in recent years that this trust does not spring from an inexhaustible reservoir. It must be continuously invested in and replenished by the work of every non-profit, most especially in the form of ample and transparent public disclosure – about their values, their work, its impacts, and the sources of their funding. Above all, the board carries responsibility for setting a tone of transparency and accountability, and directors/trustees need to be aware of their personal responsibilities in this regard. As professionals, we are often looked to by our friends and family, by our clients, or by our fellow directors/trustees for advice or leadership. We all know that in any kind of business, the consequence of a loss of public confidence can be dire; in non-profits, it can be fatal.   Paula Nyland FCA is Head of Finance & Operations at Benefacts and Co-Chair of the Non-Profit and Charities Members Group at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Aug 01, 2019
Spotlight

Accountancy Ireland started out as a replacement for the members’ and students’ bulletins. 50 years on, it is one of the most valued member services provided by the Institute. By Stephen Tormey & Liz Riley In June 1969 – the same month that General Franco closed Spain’s frontier with Gibraltar, Georges Pompidou was sworn in as President of France, and Joe Frazier knocked out Jerry Quarry in round eight to win the heavyweight boxing title – the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland published the first issue of Accountancy Ireland. In an understated ‘Word of Introduction’ on page 10, the magazine’s founding editor Ben Lynch described the magazine’s objective as being a “communications link” between the Institute and its members and students. 50 years and three editors later, the magazine remains faithful to its founding principle. Constancy amid change In the intervening years, Accountancy Ireland has helped the profession navigate a business and economic landscape that has changed utterly. From Ireland’s accession to the European Economic Community to dealing with the fallout from the financial crisis, our members – in sharing their insights and expertise through Accountancy Ireland – have supported and informed each other through one evolution after another. In this anniversary issue, we look back on some of the seismic events that have challenged the profession over the past five decades. Some are technical in nature while others are social and geopolitical, but the most striking thing about leafing through old issues is the realisation that, despite the changes brought about by technology, Chartered Accountants have been consistently driven by the same core value of integrity – which to this day remains one of the Institute’s five core values as outlined in Strategy 2020. “It is your journal” The pages that follow will take readers down memory lane with, we hope, a sense of nostalgia and enjoyment. And while looking back is always a useful exercise, it is incumbent on the editorial team to remain focused on the future. The information needs of the profession will continue to evolve, and we will endeavour to meet those needs as admirably as our predecessors did, but we will also consider how to share information in a way that is accessible, convenient and in keeping with modern news consumption as both trends and technologies change. While we can of course benchmark ourselves against similar publications and other international publications to which we aspire, our best source of guidance are the members we serve. Over the years, your input has driven many innovations within Accountancy Ireland – not least the launch of our podcast, which is now listened to around the world, and an increasingly tailored suite of publications that includes Briefly, Vision and Chartered Accountants Abroad. As we look to the next 50 years, your views and suggestions will help us shape our strategy and deliver information and insight in a way that meets your needs. To that end, please share your thoughts with us at editor@accountancyireland.ie – and criticism will be equally welcome, if not more so. As Mr Lynch quoted in 1969, “It is your journal. Contribute to it if you are able, praise it if it serves you well and criticise it if you must. By these actions you can help to make the journal a live force in the progress of the profession.” His words are as valid today as they were 50 years ago. You can see look into the past 50 years of Accountancy Ireland here. Stephen Tormey is the Managing Editor at Accountancy Ireland. Liz Riley is Deputy Editor at Accountancy Ireland.

Aug 01, 2019
Spotlight

Since the turn of this century, the accountancy profession has undergone exponential development and evolution. Not so long ago the stereotypical view (rightly or wrongly) of an accountant was of a dull, old, grey-haired man (not a typo!) crunching the numbers in a back office. Expectations were low; these accountants were not ‘people people’. They probably didn’t interact with customers. They had limited contact with other departments within organisations. Decision-making and the setting of the strategy was not the role of the accountant but of the sales and commercial team, which was the driving force in most organisations. Fast-forward to 2019, and there are some interesting facts concerning Chartered Accountants. Consider this, from the Institute’s 2018 Annual Report: Eight of the top 10 Irish companies have a Chartered Accountant as either CEO or Chief Financial Officer; 41% of the roughly 27,300 members of Chartered Accountants Ireland as at 31 December 2018 were aged 37 or under; 64% of the membership work in business with further analysis of the membership suggesting that roughly 700 are CEOs, 900 are business owners, and 2,800 are directors; and At 31 December 2018, women constituted 41.5% of the membership. Chartered Accountants are business leaders. Accountancy practices are recording unprecedented growth rates in both fees and employee numbers. So, what has happened in the last 20 years that revolutionised our profession and how we are perceived? A few key drivers have changed the skill set of the successful accountant: The impact of technology on record-keeping; The effect of technology on how we do things; The availability of data; and The expectations of clients/stakeholders. The impact of technology on record-keeping It is no secret that technology has changed the nature of accounting. The transition from the manual capture of transactions to the use of computerised application packages is one of the most significant changes in recent years. I remember my first assignment vividly as a trainee accountant. I had to prepare an organisation’s year-end financial statements.  The process went as follows: Record purchase and sales invoices manually onto a paper-based sales and purchases ledger daybook; Record all the payments made during the year by manually writing up all payments in the paper-based payments ledger using the cheque stubs; and Manually prepare a bank reconciliation, and so on and on. I wrote everything in pencil: no typing, no Excel formulas – all manual. One mistake in totting and I had to start over. My trainee days were not all that long ago, and it has been exciting to observe the changes in record-keeping in the intervening years. The accountant has evolved from a data processor to an analyst. Mundane processing no longer consumes his or her time, allowing the accountant to step out of the detail and begin to analyse, interpret, question and provide insights thereby meeting the current expectations of the accountant. While technical ability is still an assumed skill, analytical and problem-solving skills are now a standard requirement on any job description for an accountant both in practice and business. The form of examinations for trainee Chartered Accountants has changed in recent years, particularly at FAE level, to meet this expectation of our qualified accountants. The exams, through case study scenarios, reward students for their ability to apply technical knowledge to given situations and resolve problems identified rather than just regurgitating memorised material.  The effect of technology on how we do things In recent years, there have been significant changes in how we “do” our work (outside of record-keeping, as set out above) with advancements in technology. Basics such as email and social media have enabled easier and quicker communication and information flow. Take the audit profession as an example, which has transformed in the last decade due to an increased focus on technology in audit methodologies or simply as a tool to collate our audit documentation. It is impossible to avoid the phenomena of blockchain, robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence. All these have begun to change how we do things, but more is to come as these technologies start to unfold and usage gathers pace. RPA, for example, automates high-volume, low-complexity administrative tasks.  The use of RPA will not replace the entire job of the accountant, but it will save time in performing specific basic tasks which, as alluded to earlier, will allow the accountant to concentrate on analysing and interpreting data rather than producing it. The spread of digital technologies and their impact on business has transformed, and will continue to transform, accounting and the competencies that professional accountants require. Accountants will need to be technology-aware and embrace technology as part of their day-to-day work. 57% of those members who completed the Chartered Accountants Leinster Society Annual Salary Survey 2018 believed that automation would have a positive impact on their career. 40% felt that the same was true for artificial intelligence. Judging by these statistics, we possibly have further ‘embracing’ to do. The availability of data With the increased use of technology also comes a vast increase in data. Accountants are now required to decipher large volumes of data promptly and be capable of summarising and presenting that data in an understandable manner for the end user, often non-accountants. Presentation skills are, therefore, another critical capability. Data analytics is now an industry in its own right, with many of the larger accountancy firms employing hundreds of analysts to assist their accountants in analysing and interpreting data. 51% of members who completed the Chartered Accountants Leinster Society Annual Salary Survey 2018 believe big data will have a positive impact on their career. The expectations of clients/stakeholders With the advances in technology and the ever-changing world of business, the expectations from our clients and stakeholders have changed. We are no longer assumed to be in the back office processing but instead on the front line advising and challenging the status quo. Communication and interpersonal skills are no longer ‘nice to have’ qualities. They are now required competencies for successful accountants. The building of relationships with our clients and stakeholders is vital as we make that transition from back-office operatives to front-line advisors. Conclusion Technology will continue to influence the work of accountants into the foreseeable future, and application of existing and emerging technologies will be necessary. Technology should, therefore, be embraced and not seen as a threat. The role of the accountant will continue to be exciting and challenging. Technical ability will become an assumed skill alongside other skills such as analytical skills, problem-solving skills and presentation skills. These will become the ‘must have’ skills for the successful accountant of the future. Brian Murphy is Director, Audit and Assurance, at Deloitte and incoming Chair of Chartered Accountants Ireland Leinster Society.

Jun 03, 2019
Spotlight

Here are the 14 ways Chartered Accountants and the wider profession are likely to evolve into the future. In 1996, chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov was famously beaten by IBM’s supercomputer, ‘Deep Blue’. This event was heralded as the real dawn of the age of artificial intelligence (AI) and the beginning of the eclipse of human intelligence. Kasparov sees it differently. He believes that while the rise of AI heralds a change, this change will not see human intelligence becoming redundant. Instead, AI will “help us to release human creativity. Humans won’t be redundant or replaced; they’ll be promoted.” Kasparov’s vision is one where machines and humans work together to create smarter tools, and where human work will evolve and adapt to open up new careers and industries in fields that are yet to be invented. Although machines won’t replace humans, the impact of technology on the accountancy profession will be significant. Many reports have trumpeted the imminent arrival of new and powerful learning machines that will replace accountants. While accountancy remains one of the occupations liable to disruption, the future is less dramatic with a transformation of the role and impact of accountants more likely than wholesale replacement. Here are some of the changes we can predict. 1. The gig economy The concept of the ‘job’ is fundamentally changing with professional service firms increasingly utilising flexible resources such as contingent workers and freelancers. Platforms such as Upwork.com allow professionals to sell their services to a global audience. According to Forbes, there were 53 million freelancers in the US in 2016. By 2020, this will rise to 50% of workers (this does not mean they will be full-time freelancers, however). 2. No-code AI  Software engineers and data scientist are expensive and in demand, but a new generation of technology is emerging. No-code AI will remove the need for engineers, making AI far more accessible. Some tools, such as Lobe.ai, use simple ‘drag and drop’ interfaces while others require no more technical ability than that needed to create a simple macro. These tools will enable skilled but not specialist users such as accountants to develop fully automated scripts with no coding know-how required.   3. The end of reconciliations  The good news is that the end of reconciliations is in sight with the rise of distributed ledger technology. Blockchain is one such technology and is probably most associated with cryptocurrency. One of blockchain’s most exciting aspects is that it is immutable, meaning a blockchain ledger will be permanent with an unalterable but transparent history of all transactions. Each verified transaction is timestamped and embedded into a ‘block’ of information, cryptographically secured and joined to the chain as the next chronological update. Blockchain’s applications potentially include decentralised digital, secure identity systems; the verification of qualifications through personal ‘skills wallets’ and reliable records of property ownership. Another new application already happening in real estate is tokenisation, which, as the name suggests, is the representation of an asset or equity in token form, which can be fractionally divided and held. A tokenised property would be similar to a real estate investment trust (REIT), but more flexible and low-cost due to the reduction in intermediary fees. 4. No more late night month-ends As processes are automated and systems post data from several sources, consolidate and reconcile it, month-end cycles will become far quicker and more accurate. 5. The end of sample auditing Audits will become more efficient and accurate as the audit of 100% of companies’ financial transactions becomes possible instead of a sample. AI will provide unique insights and a complete view of the financial health of the company, uncover fraud, highlight inefficiencies and provide further value from the audit. 6. Drones and robots  Amazon is already embracing using robots in its warehouses and testing drones for customer deliveries. Power utilities use drones to survey their lines while surveyors use them for mapping terrain. Just this year, PwC used drones during the audit of RWE, a German energy company, to measure stock, including coal reserves at a power station in Wales. 7. From compliance to insight Technology will simplify many processes and augment our human capabilities. Over the next 20 years, there will be less focus on technical skills alone and a higher requirement for critical thinkers and those who can provide insights. Clients will likely prefer to deal with a human over a robot, and Chartered Accountants will have the opportunity to become a financial storyteller by bridging the gap between computers and the business. 8. Real-time, self-service data Cloud technology has made accounting software accessible to non-specialists on any device and in any location. Information is available in a format that most business owners can finally understand. As this becomes the norm, the role of the accountant will be to give peace of mind, to provide reassurance, and to act as a sounding board. He or she will also be someone who understands the capabilities of the technology, can ask the right questions, and can find the right solutions. 9. Lifelong learning will become an imperative Speaking at this year’s Influence conference, Ravin Jesuthasan, a thought leader on the future of work and automation, spoke about the impending changes to work. He said that while “we don’t know what is coming, we need to keep retooling ourselves”. We must change our mindset, he said, as the old model of ‘learn, do, retire’ is replaced by ‘learn, do, learn, do – repeat’. In this situation, lifelong learning is no longer optional; it will be necessary to remain relevant and employable.  10. The pyramid is collapsing  The familiar pyramid-shaped organisational structure will change. Traditional entry-level roles are unlikely to be needed in the same volume as routine tasks become automated. Conversely, the requirement for qualified staff is likely to increase. The challenge for organisations will be balancing these needs: how to train and develop individuals to the required level with fewer entry-level positions. The question for educators and those entering the workforce is how to bridge this gap effectively. 11. Thinking differently  While technical skills will remain crucial, a premium will be placed on soft skills, which are the skills that differentiate us from robots. Emotional intelligence, presentation skills and critical thinking will become even more valuable in the years ahead. 12. Chatbots and decision-making Instead of diving into CHARIOT for technical information, accountants may have a unit on their desk – think Alexa or Google Assistant – which will be there to answer questions instantly. We could also see AI take a role in the review of complex documents so that, rather than spend hours poring over a 500-page contract, a machine will scan a document in seconds and determine whether it contains compliance and risk issues, for example. 13. Planning cycles will contract Speaking at the Influence conference, Valerie Daunt, Human Capital Partner at Deloitte, said: “Long-term plans are gone”. Instead, organisations must be able to change course quickly. To underline this point, Standards and Poor’s recently reported that the average lifecycle of companies is shrinking, with the average lifecycle of companies on the S&P 500 expected to be just 12 years by 2027 – down from 33 years in 1964. 14. The changing nature of the workforce The workforce is fast becoming more diverse, more international and with different values. Today, over 20% of the Irish population was not born in Ireland, and this rises to 33% of the working-age population in Dublin. Attitudes are changing too – one recently published survey found that 60% of workers are willing to take a pay cut to work in an empathetic company, while 35% said they would consider taking a reduction in salary in exchange for more annual leave. It was also reported that 50% of millennials would take a pay cut to work for a company that matches their values and that this cohort values “experiences over stuff”. Joe Carroll is Head of Professional Development at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jun 03, 2019
Spotlight

There is a crisis of trust in and about our profession, but it doesn’t have to be an existential crisis writes Lynda Carroll FCA. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” So wrote Charles Dickens in his 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities. How apt a quote this is for the world in which we live today, and specifically for the audit and accountancy profession. Are we not in the best of times? Has there ever been a time when we appeared more omniscient and so integrated a part of commercial life, across so broad a spectrum? A time when scale and reach are valued (by us), when cutting-edge is where it’s at (according to ourselves), when ‘brand’ is everything (we convince ourselves) and when it’s cool to wield so much influence and have such a vast array of client opportunity. Everything from the statutory audit to tax to all forms of consultancy – management, organisational, strategic, merger and acquisition, people, procurement, cyber-risk, risk analytics, diversity and inclusion… the product offering suite seems endless; always expanding and intensely competitive. Yet, are we not also in the worst of times? There is a crisis, and it is proliferating; a crisis of trust and confidence in and about our profession. It is pervasive; it is not just something affecting practice, but it is in this area that it is most visible, public and controversial – it affects all in the profession, and it is corrosive. Even scary! Is this an existential crisis, or just another challenging phase? The answer to this big question is quite simple: it depends on which of these options we want it to be. What’s the problem? Let us reflect on some recent developments that have appeared large in the public domain. When an MP tells one of the Big 4 that “I wouldn’t trust you to audit the contents of my fridge”, as a profession, we have a problem. When we read on an almost daily basis about the failure of names like Carillion, Patisserie Valarie, BHS and see the integrity of their auditors called into question, we have a problem. When we see growing pressure from government and regulatory authorities in the UK to fundamentally restructure the accounting profession, to separate audit and consulting, to introduce meaningful competition and long-term changes to the regulation of audits, we have a problem. Why do we have a problem? I think it’s obvious, but let’s call it out. It’s a problem because it’s actually happening. It is of our own making; we have lost sight of the fundamental reason why we exist as a profession, what purpose and values we should have, and because it’s time to wake up. “Physician, heal thyself” or the cure imposed will be far more painful than one that is self- administered. The basis of trust In the ethical standards we have set for ourselves and our failure to meet them, we will find the basis for the current problem. IAASA’s Ethical Standards for Auditors sets out three overarching principles – integrity, objectivity and independence. These principles are the basis for user trust and confidence. Of these, independence is the bedrock upon which maintaining and demonstrating integrity and objectivity may perish. Who decides if the ethical outcomes required by those principles have been met? The answer – an objective, reasonable and informed third party. To this, in the 21st century, you may add the court of public opinion. Failure to demonstrate integrity, objectivity and independence in a clear and unambiguous manner is at the heart of the palpable erosion of trust and public confidence in the profession. How did we get here and why are we not ahead of the debate? Why are we not setting the tone of the discussion? How have we ended up in a reactive or defensive mode? Yet, this is how we appear to be, and appearance is reality in the 21st century. I think it is too easy to say it all got just too big, too multi-disciplinary, too difficult to manage, too many overlaps, too few competitors. It is a bit more fundamental than that – somewhere along the way, we lost connection to why we are here. Financial accounts preparation and audit are not sexy, but they are the reasons we are here.  Audit, let’s be honest, is a statutory obligation, not an elective option – but it is so for very sound reasons. It is a form of assurance to investors and the public at large that someone with a dispassionate eye has taken a look at the business and formed an opinion which it is willing to state publicly. For that opinion to have any value, reputation is fundamental. Reputation is built on sureness of purpose, values and a governance framework that acts to assure the assurance that the auditor can give. Communicating our value So, where to next? In Di Lampedusa’s masterpiece, The Leopard, we are told that in the face of great challenge and turmoil, “if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”.  We need a vision for our profession based on a collective review and recommitment to our purpose and values. We should undertake this review by taking back control of the problem, reaching out to a broad constituency of stakeholders to solicit their view on our purpose and what they expect of us. Because not only do we need to recommit, we need to understand what we need to do to re-engage the public positively and begin the journey of reputation repair and rebuild. If we re-establish the purpose and values that support the auditor and accountant, we will find the answer to how firms need to deal with and manage all the other non-audit and accounting services they currently provide. Lead from fundamentals and the answers to all other questions will surely follow – you might not like the answers, but at least you will know what they are. This is important for all in the profession – trust and confidence erosion, as I have said, is not solely a ‘practice’ challenge. We live in a world where awareness and action on environmental sustainability and governance (ESG) are lead indicators of understanding and living a business and a social purpose. We know that millennials are 60–80% (it depends on which survey you choose) more likely than any prior generation to want to invest in, work for and acquire product and services from businesses with strong ESG credentials. Governance is all about ethics, so go figure! We are at the heart of investor and regulatory confidence when preparing and signing off on financial statements, market disclosures, regulatory returns and, as members in practice, we are the fourth line of defence. We need the public to understand the roles we play in each situation – but if we don’t inform them as to what those roles are and how we deliver the outcomes expected, then who will? Too big to succeed? Perhaps it is time to realise that the ‘too big to fail’ mindset that framed the reaction to the banking crises could become the ‘too big to succeed’ reality for multi-disciplinary audit and accountancy firms. The big difference in the case of our profession is that few will shed a tear or seek to bail us out in the event of imminent demise. Looking at ourselves in the mirror in this way will not be easy, but it will be worth it. It is not the default way in which most of us confront a challenge, but if we are to get to a simple answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this article, it is probably the only way. I am reminded of Robert Frost’s wonderful poem, The Road Not Taken, and its final lines: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.” Let’s not make it an existential crisis. Let’s make it another challenging phase and let’s make a difference. Conclusion Finally, I write this article from a personal perspective. I have never practised as an auditor, never been involved in financial accounts preparation or worked as a finance director. However, I am informed by my training in a Big 4 firm, working in financial services, prudential regulation, as an independent non-executive director, and by my enduring curiosity as to the role and purpose of the profession of which I am proud to be a member.   Lynda Carroll FCA is the Head of Capital Allocation & Risk-Based Pricing at AIB. 

Jun 03, 2019
Spotlight

Following Microsoft’s transformational experience, organisations can create a growth mindset culture in five simple steps. In my seven years at Microsoft, I have seen our culture transform. Fundamental to this transformation is the belief in a growth mindset, which starts with the understanding that everyone can grow and develop; that potential is nurtured, not pre-determined; and that anyone can change their mindset. So, what is a growth mindset? Our mindset is the way we think and how we make sense of a situation. Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist, researched this area deeply and developed the term “growth mindset”. A growth mindset refers to a belief that understanding and abilities can evolve, and that our attitude and mindset have an incredible influence over our skills and abilities. Those with a growth mindset can push the boundaries of what’s possible and unlock new business and personal progression opportunities by being open to new ways of working. On the other side, a fixed mindset is one that assumes abilities and understanding are determined. Those with a fixed mindset may not believe that intelligence can be enhanced, or believe that “you either have it, or you don’t” when it comes to abilities and talents. What does having a growth mindset look like? People with a growth mindset believe they can develop by learning from others, taking risks, failing fast, but always learning.  They recognise that people may of course have natural talents, but anyone can learn and grow in any area. It doesn’t mean that anyone can become an Olympic athlete or CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but anyone can improve and strengthen their abilities. It is through feedback and learning from our mistakes that we learn and grow. With a fixed mindset, however, mistakes can be viewed as a failure and the person responsible deemed to be no good. People with this mindset like to avoid challenges by staying in their comfort zone, and can feel threatened by the success of others. It is easy to see the difference between the two mindsets outlined in Table 1 when it is black and white. While we can all aspire to have a growth mindset, if we are honest with ourselves, we will recognise that it is easy to slip into a fixed mindset in some situations. Have you ever told yourself that you can’t do something? Whether it relates to going for a new role, developing a new skill or speaking up in a challenging situation, there can often be times when we establish invisible barriers that limit our belief about our potential. Awareness of these self-imposed barriers is the first step in understanding what it is to have a growth mindset. Within the accountancy profession, there may also be a tendency towards fixed mindset thinking. In an article for Accounting WEB entitled “Develop Your Growth Mindset Practice”, Richard Hattersley mentions that accountants are prone to a fixed mindset because of the “tendency to label themselves in a pigeonhole”.  This label is attributable to the fact that a significant portion of the work of accountants is analytical, technical and sometimes routine. As with many industries right now, the accounting profession is entering a time of significant change. New technologies such as robotic process automation, artificial intelligence, data analytics and machine learning are changing the business environment.  The role of the typical accountant is also evolving and changing, and it is more important than ever before to have a growth mindset to transform and continue to be relevant in the future. How to cultivate a growth mindset In Microsoft, some manifestation of the growth mindset is almost always present. It can appear in how we engage with customers, how we interact with our colleagues, how we conduct our meetings, how we take on challenges, how we learn from mistakes and how we give and receive feedback. Having a growth mindset is an integral part of our ongoing cultural transformation, changing how we do things and how we work together to achieve more for our customers and society overall. This transformation has been a journey, however, which has been led by our CEO Satya Nadella and permeated throughout the Microsoft team.  Through this journey, the five tips I would share to encourage a growth mindset culture are: 1. Raise awareness Discuss these mindsets with your teams. Knowledge of these different mindsets is key to understanding your behaviour in certain situations. If someone says that something can’t be done, challenge them to see if they have a fixed mindset on an issue or play devil’s advocate to avoid groupthink. 2. Step out of your comfort zone Seek out new challenges and new opportunities to push yourself beyond your current capabilities. Be curious and embrace these challenges as opportunities to develop and strengthen your abilities. 3. Seek feedback Look for feedback from others and recognise this not as criticism, but as a gift. 4. Learn from your mistakes Reframe setbacks or failures as opportunities to learn. Every successful person has had to deal with setbacks along the way; it is how we view these setbacks that make the difference. Making mistakes leads us to a pathway to mastery.  5. Inspire and be inspired Leaders and managers have a significant role to play in how the growth mindset culture is nurtured within a team or organisation. How you, as a manager, react to your own mistakes or your team’s mistakes is critical. Are you defensive of your mistakes? Do you step back and allow your team to view a mistake as a learning opportunity? Do you ensure that the efforts and learnings of the group are recognised? As we enter times of change, whether political, economic or technological, there can be a focus on strategies to deal with this uncertainty. Nurturing a growth mindset culture can have a profound effect on the outlook of your workforce and therefore, how the chosen strategy is implemented.  How you, your team or your workforce view uncertainty, how you approach new challenges, and how you deal with setbacks are all driven by your mindset and the culture created within your organisation. The importance of the growth mindset culture for accounting professionals, as well as organisations, has never been more critical. As Peter Drucker once said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.   Susan O’Reilly FCA is Group Financial Controller, EMEA Operations, at Microsoft.

Jun 03, 2019
Innovation

Past issues of Accountancy Ireland have examined the transformative effect of technology on how we work, but what about the impact of technology on workplace culture? Technology is not only transforming the way we work; it is also changing how we work together. As technology companies flocked to Ireland to take advantage of the talent pool, they also introduced many new perks such as on-site gyms, free food and festival-style summer parties to name but a few. How can small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and the start-up community compete with such perks when it comes to attracting and retaining talent? In this article, I examine some of the ‘smart working’ initiatives deployed by companies to win the war on talent. Flexible working arrangements Today’s workforce is now more connected than ever. With the promise of 5G on the horizon, this connectivity is only going to improve. As long as we have an internet connection we can, therefore, work from any location on the planet. Removing the need to be physically present in the office enables employers to introduce flexible working arrangements. Remote working, for example, has increased in popularity over the last few years. There are many benefits for both employees and employers, such as cost savings and increased productivity. Utilising collaborative working tools such as G Suite or One Drive enables individuals in different locations to work together and, should they need to meet as a team, video conferencing makes that possible. Some business leaders still struggle to get comfortable with the idea of their employees working remotely (i.e. from home). This mindset tells your team that you don’t trust them, and it needs to change. Otherwise, employees are more likely to seek employment with an organisation that offers remote working. Many organisations also afford their employees the flexibility to set their working schedule provided employees work a minimum of 37.5 hours per week. How those hours are completed is the responsibility of the employee. This flexibility enables employees with a long commute to utilise that time as part of their working day. Organisational benefits There are many reasons why organisations should consider flexible working arrangements for their employees. They include: Higher output: organisations that focus on outputs, not inputs or attendance, tend to have a highly engaged and efficient workforce; Attract talent: traditional rules on office hours and attendance serve to limit the talent pool available to organisations. In a fast-changing world that requires a high degree of specialisation, flexible working arrangements can attract more talent; Employee retention: employees who feel more empowered and trusted with their working day will be loyal to the organisation that gives them the flexibility they desire; and Sustainability: organisations can do their bit to help save the planet. If employees who drive to work each can work from home at least one day a week, this will reduce carbon emissions. Unlimited annual leave Netflix led the way when it introduced an unlimited annual leave policy, with many organisations now choosing to adopt this policy as a means of attracting and retaining talent. Whenever I mention this to business leaders, the word “unlimited” brings fear to their eyes. It is a bit misleading; it would be more apt to describe it as a ‘take what you need’ annual leave policy. The overall aim of an unlimited annual leave policy is to create a results-driven culture of trust. The intention is not for employees to take weeks or months off work without proper notice and approval. However, it does remove the need to track annual leave, overtime and time owed in lieu. Employees can benefit from being able to easily take time off for personal needs, such as medical appointments or school visits. They will also be less likely to call in sick because they can take breaks when needed. This flexibility, if set up correctly, can help increase employee engagement and improve efficiency. The Don Draper clause The latest talent-attraction trend is to add a provision to employees’ contracts so that employees regularly receive a strange, funny or creative personalised gift paid for by ‘The Don’. The clause, which is negotiated by the employee, can include chocolates or vouchers. It could also include a day off work for the employee’s birthday, spa days or rollercoaster rides. Check out #DonDraperClause on Twitter for some inspiration. The thinking behind this trend, which has been around since 2014, is to reward employees and make them feel part of an organisation that treats them well and as human beings. Conclusion From the trends emerging from the tech and start-up community, one critical thing is the importance of treating employees as individuals, not as a resource.w Organisations need to stop using phrases like “our employees are our greatest assets”. They should instead focus on the individual if they genuinely want to create a workplace culture that is fit for the future. Michael J. Walls ACA is the Founder and CEO of Dappr and the 2018 Young Chartered Star. A new world of work A variety of emerging workplace trends can now be seen in non-tech environments. Here are five of the most notable developments: Ditch annual appraisals: back in 2014, Deloitte reported that only 8% of companies believe that appraisals are worth the time and effort devoted to them. So why are we still doing them? New approaches under consideration include a move towards employee-led coaching and mentoring, which is less formal and enables real-time feedback on performance. Bonuses aren’t the only way to reward employees: organisations are beginning to reject traditional bonus schemes in favour of reward practices based on a different set of assumptions. Bonuses now have an element of surprise. They are timely and based on what people value and want, and they are personal and not always about money. Chill-out area: modern offices are now setting aside space to encourage employees to take micro-breaks from work. The chill-out space is a designated relaxation area where employees can unwind. Usually furnished with soft seating like cushioned chairs, bean bags and sofas, it should be a stress-free zone and not merely a more comfortable seating area for high-powered business meetings. Digital learning: employees can get additional training from anywhere with the emergence of online learning. Tools such as LinkedIn Learning or the Institute’s online CPD courses enable employees to access courses from anywhere to learn a new skill or keep up-to-date with the latest CPD. Diversity and inclusion: it isn’t enough for organisations to tick boxes on their diversity checklist, ensuring that they have the desired quota of minorities for reporting. The inclusion part is now more critical than ever. I for one am delighted that employees and society are now ensuring that organisations follow through when making statements regarding diversity and inclusion.

Jun 03, 2019
Ethics and Governance

How can companies transform corporate social responsibility from a ‘nice to do’ activity into a strategic imperative? While corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a discretionary expenditure, leaders are increasingly tuned in to the corporate value of CSR. Indeed, in the current socio-economic environment, it can be argued that companies must be seen to be involved in CSR in some way. And there are many benefits for companies including improved company reputation, a more attractive employer brand and greater employee engagement. As a cost, companies should be able to evaluate the return on their CSR expenditure as they do for any other expenditure. However, many companies do not view CSR expenditure in this way. Instead, they see it as a moral obligation to give back to the community. Nonetheless, many companies are taking a more formal approach to their CSR expenditure. There is growing support for the idea that the measurement of CSR activity is important as it supports decision-making within the company, makes managers more accountable for CSR expenditure and generates support within the company by illustrating the company’s CSR achievements. Thus, companies can use measurement as a means of building a business case to justify their CSR expenditure, which in turn can help protect CSR projects into the future. How, then, can companies go about measuring their return from their CSR activities? One model or framework which encapsulates the process is the Impact Value Chain Model.  Inputs – Activities – Outputs – Outcomes Let us take as an example a company that wishes to employ staff members from minority groupings.  The objective is to reach a certain percentage by a specified date; the inputs are the resources devoted to this objective, in terms of money and employees’ time; the activities are the actions taken in terms of recruitment and retention practices; and the outputs are the number of individuals from minority backgrounds recruited and retained within a specified time period. The short-term outcome would be, for example, the achievement of the company’s goal of reaching the agreed target by the agreed date. Long-term outcomes, on the other hand, would include improved staff morale, a more appealing employer brand among minority groups and a boost for the company’s reputation. However, measuring outcomes can pose difficulties for organisations as there can be both intended and unintended outcomes. Furthermore, outcomes can be examined in the short-term or the long-term and there may be difficulties in linking long-term outcomes to company actions. For example, to what extent does a scheme to pay farmers a fair price in a specific area drive economic activity in that area compared to other initiatives that may have taken place at the same time? In summary, measuring the benefits arising from a company’s CSR activity can help the company assess whether it is achieving its CSR objectives; ensure that it does not waste resources; build support among employees; protect CSR programmes when resources are constrained; and ensure that a strategic approach is being taken. So, how can managers ensure that the right approach is being taken when evaluating CSR expenditure? Define your objectives Clearly define what you want your CSR activity to change. What will the activity achieve for the beneficiaries and for the company? The goals must be set out in quantitative terms as far as possible. For example, a company might want to be seen as an employer of choice. This goal can then be quantified by the number of applications received and whether retention levels have improved over the course of the CSR initiative. Identify the inputs You must be clear on the inputs required. And don’t confine it to financial resources alone – include staff volunteering hours and other resources, such as the company facilities used to provide the CSR initiative. Outline your activities It is also important to define the activities undertaken. Sometimes, more activities emerge from the inputs than was planned. As an example, let’s return to the recruitment initiative to increase the number of people from minority backgrounds. This initiative also adds to the company’s equality agenda and positively impacts the company’s reputation. Be clear on the outputs The outputs generally receive the most attention. If, for example, the aforementioned company is successful in the recruitment of individuals from minority backgrounds and they stay with the company for a specified period of time, or a fundraiser raised a certain amount of money for charity, the recorded metrics can provide a short-term measure of success and can be useful in boosting morale. Classify the outcomes It is important to outline the list of short-term and long-term outcomes accruing from the CSR initiative. These outcomes need to link back explicitly to the overall objectives of the initiative. Quantify the outcomes Difficulties in quantifying the outcomes can make managers shy away from this part of the process. The key question is: can we attribute the increase in the company’s reputation score to the company’s CSR activities? It is important to isolate the issue as much as possible. While the results will not be scientific and may be arrived at through an element of guesswork, it can help identify broad linkages. This exercise will assist in highlighting the value of the CSR initiative and, therefore, safeguard the future funding of the initiative. Ensure the participation of staff throughout the process The participation of staff in the above process is key, as it gives staff ownership of the chosen CSR initiative and thereby increases the likelihood of staff buying into the process. This in turn can lead to increased motivation and greater team cohesion within the organisation. Debrief The need to debrief in the aftermath of a CSR initiative is imperative. The idea is to step back and examine what was achieved, how it was achieved and what could be changed in the future to make the initiative more effective or increase the benefits to both the company and the relevant stakeholders. Conclusion In conclusion, the Impact Value Chain Model is a roadmap for how CSR can be evaluated. It provides a strategic lens through which management can assess the value of CSR initiatives and move CSR from a ‘nice to do’ activity to a strategic activity; one that can demonstrate its contribution in terms of the many benefits it brings and thereby ensure support and funding into the future. Dr Blath McGeough is a Lecturer in Management at the Technological University Dublin, Tallaght Campus. Dr Francis McGeough is a Lecturer in Accounting at the Technological University Dublin, Blanchardstown Campus.

Jun 03, 2019
Ethics and Governance

Chartered Accountants can bring a host of skills to their organisation’s CSR efforts. And as good business partners, they should. Chartered Accountants can use their unique skill set to help drive their organisation’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) agenda. Now, I know you are probably saying: “Does this guy not know how much work I have already?” Well, I can guess, but on the other hand, you know that you are already doing more than you have to; that you can do even more; and that you will get much satisfaction in making your organisation – and the world – a better place. How much you can help depends on your position in the finance hierarchy, but that’s the thing about being a good business partner: anyone can do it. I won’t go into the issues covered by CSR (for a comprehensive understanding, I recommend ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility). Instead, I will focus on the scenarios you are likely to encounter in business when dealing with your CSR department, which will typically comprise environment, safety, labour practices and business ethics. Earning legitimacy Your organisation’s CSR department may be chaotic. The subject is still relatively new, even though the Brundtland Commission’s report on sustainable development was published over 30 years ago. The department may struggle to establish legitimacy in the eyes of a management team that lies somewhere on the scale between sceptical and hostile. It may be trying to stay afloat despite being destabilised by the latest CSR issue, which it is likely ill-equipped to tackle. Such topics could include water extraction, tax payments, community involvement, plastic bottles, lobbying and so on. The department will probably feature environmentalists, human rights practitioners, labour rights specialists or business ethics aficionados – this will depend on what management sees as the “key CSR issue” – but will lack those with “pure” management or business skills. Because so many issues fall under the CSR umbrella, there will probably be insufficient coordination among these elements. In that context, Chartered Accountants may wish to consider the following: Get involved and make friends with CSR. They will be delighted that someone wants to help them; Comment on the suggested policies and procedures covering internal control, collection of information, budgets and so on. Chartered Accountants can write policies and procedures in their sleep, so consider how your organisation’s CSR policies can be made more robust; Challenge the CSR department on the appropriateness and objectivity of its chosen indicators. They shouldn’t merely be indicators that are easily achievable or collected out of habit; Critically review how the team sets CSR targets. Are they stretching yet achievable? Do they link to the business strategy? Has the organisation budgeted for the investments necessary to achieve the objectives?; Guide the CSR team on how to cost projects realistically. You will bring a dose of realism to the table and help your colleagues remove their rose-tinted glasses. You will do this not to scupper a project, but rather to ensure that, if approved, there is a fair chance of success; and Design appropriate graphs to help your colleagues visualise the organisation’s actual CSR performance. Encourage the team to move away from the useless-but-ubiquitous pie charts (at best, they add some colour to a report) and toward trend charts that show actual progress over time compared to the target. Working towards meaningful action Often, management’s commitment to CSR is shaky at best. The business is only “doing” CSR because an influential stakeholder has demanded it, which may result in lip service without any real commitment. Management will want to see “progress” – winning an award (any award) every year, reducing the number of non-compliances, or increasing the volume of CSR-related content in the annual report or on the organisation’s website – provided it doesn’t cost much or do anything to rock the corporate boat. If this paints a familiar picture, you may wish to consider the following: Challenge management by illustrating any lack of commitment and remind them of the risks associated with the weakest links in their approach. One example is the business that emphasises excellent progress in one area of CSR (gender diversity, for example) while remaining silent on another aspect it would prefer not to talk about (the absence of a whistle-blowing policy, for example); Push for a robust and objective CSR strategy that integrates into the overall business strategy. Ensure that it is real and motivates staff and other stakeholders, and is not just a convenient communications-friendly bolt-on; Develop and argue the business case for CSR with opponents who refuse to accept that there is one; Push for the inclusion of CSR targets in the strategy, budgeting and forecast cycles so that the business has a benchmark for actual performance; Challenge the mix of indicators used so that there is a reasonable balance between the following: Compliance (those for which there is no choice, such as the number of penalties for environmental transgressions); Capacity (measures indicating how the business is preparing for CSR, such as board attendance performance or implementing that whistle-blowing policy); and Commitment (realising a reduction over time in water use, CO2 emissions or the ratio of CEO remuneration to average employee pay). The reporting dilemma It is possible that reporting will also be chaotic, partly as a result of the department’s disorganisation but also because guidance rules on CSR are still imprecise – very much so compared to what you will be used to in accounting. You may, therefore, wish to consider the following: Help the department choose appropriate and objective norms and standards to use. There is a proliferation of these, usually set by profit-making organisations. The risk is that these standards may be too focused on one aspect of CSR or too heavy in specific sectors; Devise calculations in the absence of full information. For example, how much water is recycled? What CO2 emissions are attributed to employees’ travel to work or business travel?; Check that the indicators’ units of measure allow for consolidation at each level in the hierarchy. For example, there is little real benefit in collecting the number of female managers at each location or subsidiary if you don’t also know the total number of managers at each; Help the CSR department adopt reliable variance analyses incorporating volume, price, mix, efficiency and one-off elements. It is misleading to claim an improvement in an indicator by taking the change in the total value. You need to obtain an understanding of the drivers behind the change. It wouldn’t be acceptable for management to take credit for your business becoming greener if, in reality, legislation brought about the change; Push to get a standardised CSR reporting system, including what you would consider as standard input and validation checks (with blocking controls also). Data quality and data management will probably be dreadful: most data will be held in individuals’ Excel spreadsheets. Each element of CSR could well have different reporting routes and cycles that replicate information requirements, often with differing definitions. It would be best if you pushed for the adoption of one reporting system for all non-financial indicators; and Encourage the CSR department to collect information every month rather than in an annual free-for-all after year-end, so you can see trends emerging and do something promptly. Final thoughts Finally, there are some other ways in which Chartered Accountants can help CSR. You may wish to consider the following: Work to develop an annual report that gives a reasonable balance to each of the financial, CSR and other non-financial elements; Be a good citizen and push to ensure that the finance department applies relevant CSR policies; and Talk positively about CSR internally, as you will generally elicit a favourable reaction from staff who are willing to give their views or participate in initiatives. Peter Gillespie FCA is the founder of Meaningful Metrics. He worked in manufacturing and services in several countries for 30 years.

Jun 03, 2019
Ethics and Governance

Chartered Accountants Ireland is a proud supporter of the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities. In this article, we hear from those involved in the programme including Eavan Daly, who completed a very successful internship with the Institute last year. An introduction Shauna Greely, Chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee and a Past President of Chartered Accountants Ireland. Diversity has become an area of significant focus in the business world. Businesses recognise that having a diverse workforce with a greater variety of talents and experiences enables them to adapt to dynamic markets and be more innovative. A focus on diversity also allows under-represented groups to get their fair share of opportunity, and opportunity is a critical word in this regard. Chartered Accountants Ireland, through its Diversity and Inclusion Committee, ensures that the Institute focuses on the areas of diversity and inclusion that impact on and are important to its members. One diversity and inclusion initiative the Institute is involved with and which members may not be aware of relates to our involvement as one of the early business partners to a programme run by the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disability (TCPID). Over the past 10 years, the Institute has invited several students with intellectual disabilities to gain work experience in Chartered Accountants Ireland. During my involvement with Chartered Accountants Ireland, I have been privileged to attend many events, meetings, courses and lectures where I have learned of the positive difference the Institute makes on accountancy, business and the wider community.  However, the event that stands out for me was my attendance at a presentation in the lecture hall of Chartered Accountants House given by a TCPID student. Eavan Daly has an intellectual disability and had completed many months of work experience with Chartered Accountants Ireland. Eavan gave a presentation on her experience and I was struck by that fact that, although this was her first job, Eavan was making a professional presentation in a lecture hall to a large group of colleagues. The experience led to many firsts for Eavan, and I was incredibly proud that Chartered Accountants Ireland made this possible. I saw first-hand the benefits that participation in this programme has brought to Chartered Accountants Ireland as an organisation and the positive impact it has had on staff. Equally important are the enormous benefits afforded to Eavan and her family. The experience gave Eavan the independence and confidence to go to work each day with a staff ID card, a desk to sit at, a computer to log-in to, and buddies to have coffee or lunch with – things many of us take for granted. There are many accountancy, financial services, legal and other business organisations already partnering with TCPID to offer internship and work experience. This programme provides such wide-ranging benefits that I would urge other organisations to consider getting involved. My work placement with Chartered Accountants Ireland By Eavan Daly Eavan Daly is my name, and I completed an 18-week work placement with Chartered Accountants Ireland in September 2017. I travelled alone by train from Drogheda to Dublin on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I worked from 10am to 12.30pm on both days. I loved the whole experience of making new friends, learning new skills and facing new challenges. Most of all, I loved feeling included and being part of the workforce. In Chartered Accountants Ireland, I worked in reception as a member of the Conference and Facilities Team. It was my duty to meet and greet all visitors to the building. I showed them where to go or contacted the person they were looking for to let them know they were there. I received and signed for all deliveries and registered post. I emailed or rang the person whose delivery it was to let them know it had arrived. I visited the Publishing Department and sat in on a meeting, and I was invited to the President’s Dinner where I learned about networking. This was one of my highlights. At the end of my work experience,  I gave a presentation. My work colleagues, guests from the broader working community and my mentors from Trinity came to see me. Eavan has completed work placements in Chartered Accountants Ireland, Orix Aviation and Bank of Ireland. An employer’s perspective Bernard Delaney, Director of Human Resources at Chartered Accountants Ireland Chartered Accountants Ireland is proud to be an enabler of the TCPID programme – not just because of the benefits for the students and our staff, but because it is the right thing to do. Our proximity to Trinity College Dublin allows us to offer a safe environment where students have a familiarity with the locality while providing just enough challenge as they join a new workplace – a stressful event for most people. Our employees gain hugely by working alongside people with a different perspective and life experience. It informs and enriches our work experience by being inclusive rather than just diverse, and helps us challenge our ingrained views and work habits. We are a member organisation that values the contribution of every individual; this programme is a win-win for us, and we are privileged to be involved. A coordinator’s perspective Marie Devitt, Pathways Coordinator at the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities The Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities is an established not-for-profit organisation, operating a pioneering education programme for students with intellectual disabilities. We are part of the School of Education at Trinity College Dublin. Our Level 5 Certificate in Arts, Science and Inclusive Applied Practice covers a wide range of modules over two years. Our goal is to equip students with the requisite education and training for future employment or further education, allowing them to lead more independent lives. We have established a robust network of business partners, including Chartered Accountants Ireland, who work with us to provide student work placements, mentoring, paid internships and, in some cases, permanent employment for our graduates. Our business partners have allowed us to offer insight into potential career paths for our students and graduates. In the past, these young people were marginalised with few opportunities for meaningful paid employment. With the help of our partners, this is now changing. Not only are we able to offer supported career pathways for our students as they move on from Trinity College Dublin, but thanks to the range of the business partners, we can now offer them real choice and allow them to look at specific industries that might suit their particular interests and skills. We developed the TCPID Graduate Internship Programme with the support of our partners. Since launching this programme on a pilot basis in January 2017, we have had over 23 paid graduate internships, five of which converted into permanent roles. In addition to these permanent roles, a number of our graduates have been in paid internships with our business partners for more than six months with their contracts renewed. Our ultimate goal is to find permanent roles for those who want them and transition pathways into further education for those who may wish to explore other options.  Our business partners are a core part of our programme and have supported us in many ways. We are looking to expand our network of partners to help increase the options available to our students and graduates. Together with our TCPID business partners, we can make a real difference and build true inclusion within the workplace and within society. A parent’s perspective Olwen Daly, Eavan’s mother Eavan’s family, friends and her local community are proud of her achievements and are grateful for, and appreciative of, those enlightened employers who choose to give her a chance. To those who have no experience of anyone with intellectual disability, we believe that to become fully literate, as Eavan has, and to travel alone from Co. Louth to Dublin is a magnificent achievement. It is the accumulation of thousands of tiny steps, often supported by extraordinary individuals and organisations. Marie Devitt along with the TCPID Graduate Placement Programme and supporting business partners fall firmly into this category. Eavan’s goal is a job, and we know she will get there. Please continue to support her and other students in their endeavours. For further information about how your company can become a part of the TCPID Business Partners Programme, contact Marie Devitt, TCPID Pathways Coordinator at devittma@tcd.ie or (01) 896 3885.

Jun 03, 2019
Feature Interview

Conall O’Halloran FCA, President of Chartered Accountants Ireland, outlines his plans as he prepares for a busy year in office. After six years as Head of Audit at KPMG Ireland and more than 20 as Partner, Conall O’Halloran is very well-prepared to assume his position as President of Chartered Accountants Ireland. The timing is fortuitous given the feverish debate over the value and future of audit. But that is just one of the many issues the Cork native plans to address during his presidential year. Speaking at the Chartered Accountants Ireland AGM following his election on Friday 17 May, Conall noted that his tenure as President would also focus on broadening the public’s understanding of the role and value that Chartered Accountants bring to business and society, and widening access to the accountancy profession at graduate level. Building blocks of the profession At the core of his ambition for the profession, however, is quality. That, he said, begins with the profession’s trainees. “When I graduated from University College Cork with a degree in engineering, Chartered Accountancy offered the most flexible and most appropriate route into business with any degree of authenticity,” he said. “And over three decades later, that still holds true. The training, the discipline and the analytical skills are embedded in a foundation of ethics and integrity, and it is this that makes Chartered Accountants a very compelling proposition as business leaders.” Despite the negative publicity levelled at the profession, Conall points out that demand for the services of Chartered Accountants – particularly in the areas of audit and assurance – continues to increase year-on-year. This, he adds, is mirrored in the number and quality of candidates pursuing a career in the most versatile of professions. “We continue to attract top-quality candidates to this day and they are the profession’s basic building blocks,” he said. “If you don’t have the right foundations in place on day one, you can’t expect quality further down the road. Chartered Accountancy is very fortunate in that respect and that’s very precious to me, to the Institute, and to the wider profession.” Rising to new challenges However, Chartered Accountants and the profession as a whole are facing into an era of new challenge. From regulation to technology, the business landscape has changed in recent years but in Conall’s view, the biggest changes are yet to come. “While there have been huge advances in technology, most of what our audit trainees do today isn’t vastly different from what previous generations of audit trainees did,” he said. “But we are on the cusp of massive change. The larger firms have invested heavily in their data analysis tools and electronic audit capabilities, which are capable of achieving a transformational change in the quality of evidence available to the auditor.”   To help the profession thrive in this new data-driven environment, Conall plans to focus on enhancing the routes of access to a career in Chartered Accountancy in an effort to harness the profession’s full potential. “We are very fortunate that our large- and medium-sized member firms train the vast majority of our students, but there are many other very capable candidates who simply aren’t interested in that particular training mechanism and would prefer to begin their career in industry,” he said. “Training in professional practice is a wonderful discipline, but it isn’t for everyone so I will focus on working with senior Chartered Accountants in industry to reinvigorate our industry training programme while at the same time, the Institute will continue its work on the syllabus to ensure that we train Chartered Accountants who are much more IT savvy.” The value of audit Further change may be forced on the profession as the UK’s various audit reviews are concluded and acted upon. From the Kingman recommendations to the current review by Lord Brydon and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Study, the profession – and audit in particular – is under unprecedented scrutiny. Speaking on the issue following his election, Conall noted that he has recently been looking to the UK and reflecting on the fractured relationship with the regulator, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) and with society. “Many of the reforms recommended by Sir John Kingman’s recent independent review have now been accepted by the FRC and by the profession and politicians generally. However, the wider review by the Competition and Markets Authority and also the independent review into ‘The Quality and Effectiveness of Audit’ being conducted by Lord Brydon will be fundamental to our future and the future of business more broadly,” he said. “I think we need to be very careful here in Ireland that what works, and indeed what may be required to work in the UK, is not necessarily or automatically right for Ireland. I will work very hard as President to ensure the profession delivers what is expected of us by society and regulators and ensure the very particular strengths that we have in Ireland are protected and nurtured.”   He added: “It is very clear to me that the absolute focus of KPMG and all the large audit firms is on audit quality. We have had a very strong and robust auditor oversight regime in place in Ireland now for many years, and it is heartening to note that our audit regulator, IAASA, has confirmed that, following its recent complete round of inspections, the quality of audit here is generally of a good standard. However, we need also to recognise IAASA’s shared role in driving quality and take actions ourselves to reinforce public confidence in audit.   “Take for instance auditors’ provision of non-audit services to audit clients. The reality for almost all Irish public interest entities (PIEs) is that auditors do not provide any consulting services and only modest levels of tax services. However, because the profession campaigned for a more permissive regime over many years, the impression was created that audit was somehow a loss-leader for the provision of other consulting services. This is absolutely not the case in the PIE market here in Ireland but as a profession, I feel we could have shown more leadership and more respect for the societal role auditors play when we campaigned for more relaxed rules,” Conall continued. “While we need to do a better job of explaining what we do to the public, audit committees can also play an important role in representing and reporting to shareholders,” Conall added. “They understand what we do and the positive feedback from audit committee chairs with regard to the quality, robustness and integrity of our work is incredibly powerful and a great endorsement of what we actually believe about ourselves. What we as auditors read about ourselves in the press is completely alien to how we see ourselves and how we actually deliver our duties to the public.” Acting in the public interest Conall is also very clear on how auditors can play their part in rebuilding trust with the public and key stakeholders; particularly focusing on anything that could damage the perception of audit independence. “That’s the core area where society wonders if we are acting in their interest, or not,” he said. “While the quality of our audit work is difficult for the public to assess, any suspicion that our independence is impaired is easily understood and very damaging to our relationship with society and we do recognise that much more keenly now. I think that all firms and PIE auditors understand that they have an incredibly important societal responsibility and that they treasure the responsibility very carefully.” The voice of business Despite the dialogue and debate surrounding the profession, Conall is extremely optimistic about the profession’s prospects for the future and members can expect to see the Institute take a more prominent position on a range of issues affecting businesses and the economy on the island of Ireland. “Chartered Accountants Ireland is the largest professional body on the island and I think anyone would say that we represent the gold standard in accountancy,” he said. “But beyond our technical capabilities and business acumen, we can also add value by commenting on economic and tax policy, and by essentially acting as the voice of business to help Government and policy-makers understand the consequences of the many options placed before them. Yes, they have to listen to many interest groups also – but when they hear a view from a body like Chartered Accountants Ireland, they take it as being balanced, informed and fair.”   And as with past presidents, Conall will also lead the Institute as it navigates the unpredictable terrain of Brexit – but he has lauded Chartered Accountants Ireland for being to the fore and discharging its all-island remit in the best interest of society both north and south of the border. “We were one of the first business bodies to publicly express a view on Brexit and although there are members who may not have supported our position, we were very strong and very public,” he said. “I also think that while Brexit will certainly challenge our ability to operate as an all-island body, it will not prevent us and my sense is that there is little appetite in the UK to diverge significantly from EU standards in any meaningful way – there is no commercial rationale to do so.”

Jun 03, 2019

Was this article helpful?