Vision-Banner-Issue-2-min
News

Since the UK’s Brexit referendum in June 2016, businesses have faced a lingering threat of disruption to the usual commercial trading flows. In this time of uncertainty, companies have relied on the CFO as a central leader of the organisation to guide the most appropriate path forward through Brexit. By Paddy Stapleton Traditionally, the CFO was the guardian of the financial health of an organisation. Over the past decade, technological efficiencies have advanced the automation and sophistication of compliance and reporting. In turn, the role of the CFO has evolved into an increasingly value-adding one of strategic focus.  The role now includes anything from achieving organisational objectives to support strategic and operational decision making. The CFO now shares strategic leadership responsibilities with the CEO and is at the centre of any significant project. This central role requires the person appointed as CFO to have the capability to balance short-term concerns with long-term considerations – a skill regularly called on since the Brexit vote but made especially difficult in uncertain circumstances. Some might say Brexit woe for the CFO. The sector, complexity and size of the business, as well as supply chain operations are significant factors that influence how quickly the business, and the CFO, can implement an effective Brexit strategy.   So what Brexit-strategies have moved businesses to Ireland? Let’s take a high-level examination of Brexit-related inflows to Ireland and potential future developments. Financial services The large visible Brexit moves to Dublin have been in financial services. Corporate service providers and professional service firms supporting the industry are building new operations in Dublin. Leading global banks have moved significant operations to the capital, while others already here are building functions in response to Brexit. Fintech companies previously regulated in the UK have acquired e-money licences from the Central Bank of Ireland, and more are likely to follow regardless of the Brexit outcome. The need for certainty in being able to service EU business broadly determines the path of financial services. The decision for the CFO and other leaders in these businesses became a question of ‘where’ rather than ‘whether’.  Preparation for other sectors The common driver for other industry sectors is securing existing market share and holding a structure that minimises disruption and costs. Preparations involve legal entity planning, changing or developing new supply chains, stock management and recruitment or relocation of existing resources. For many UK businesses, it is a strategic decision to absorb costs and the additional compliance and reporting involved to ensure the existing business is secure in the event of a no-deal Brexit scenario. Others have made preliminary preparations, such as establishing legal entities that can be quickly resourced to house EU business post-Brexit.  Foreign direct investment The UK has traditionally been the EU’s number one destination for inbound foreign direct investment (FDI). Brexit is changing this. Research published by the UK Trade Policy Observatory in October 2018 showed that FDI inflows have reduced by 19% since the 2016 vote. While it’s too early to judge the quantum of impact on FDI inflow to Ireland, three factors – Ireland’s common law system, its position as being the only English-speaking EU country following Brexit, and its efficient corporate tax regime – places Ireland as the natural destination for a significant proportion of new investments. In my view, regardless of a hard- or soft-Brexit, it is likely that more CFOs making FDI decisions will look to Ireland and other competitor jurisdictions than they did before. It is difficult to plan for an unknown outcome. Taking on investment decisions in such circumstances requires leadership, especially so for CFOs operating in SME businesses managing in tighter conditions. However, as in any change environment, the cost of doing nothing is unaffordable. Paddy  Stapleton is a Tax Director in RSM Ireland.

May 13, 2019
News

How we spend our time matters. How do we start prioritising our time properly to make ourselves more efficient in the office so we can spend more time outside of it? By Una McDevitt We spend an average of eight hours a day at work. To break that down and put it into context, eight hours equates to only 480 minutes – and those 480 minutes have to be allocated across all of the many tasks that we are expected to complete in a working day. On top of that, research shows that people are interrupted, on average, every seven to nine minutes while in the office. When you consider the breadth and scale of the job that you do, you’ll agree that 480 minutes a day seems like quite a limited resource to allocate. It would seem impossible to get all our work done within such a limited period. Many people work overtime to get it all done and still find that they never get their ‘to-do’ list completed. Learning to manage yourself The key to effective allocation of each of those precious minutes lies in having clarity around your job role and key areas of responsibility. Good time managers are not good at managing time – instead, they are good at managing themselves within the limited time that is available to them. These people have a very important attitude towards time – they recognise that each minute is precious and used carefully. However, how do you figure out how to manage yourself? Here are five tips to get you closer to effective prioritisation: Role and responsibility: Be crystal clear on what your job role is and what your key areas of responsibility are within that role. Look at what you do daily and how that plays into the larger strategic plan of your organisation to really understand where your responsibilities lie. Focus: It’s easy to get caught up in other work that doesn’t fall under your job role, but you need to focus only on your key areas of responsibility. This helps you prioritise and keep your department or team on track. Discipline: Concentrate on becoming disciplined enough to ensure you continue to work on those key responsibilities and tasks even when you are interrupted or distracted. Manage others who steal your time: The best way to manage interruptions that could throw you off course is to deter them. Learn to say “later” when someone wants your attention when you’re in the middle of something important. Stop procrastinating and get on with it: At times, we can be our own worst enemies. It’s hard to pick up work that you aren’t interested in doing, but by just getting on with it, you could be adding value to your organisation and career. Finally, good time managers recognise that time doesn’t ‘leak away’ in large amounts – instead we lose minutes in small amounts, but the accumulation of those small amounts can be significant. It could be the meeting that starts three minutes late or the five minutes ‘lost’ doing something that isn’t in your key area of responsibility. As a result, you use personal time to make up the difference, ticking away the precious minutes you’re meant to spend on yourself outside of the office. Úna McDevitt FCA is the owner of Una McDevitt & Associates. She will be teaching the course Effective Prioritisation and Time Management on 29 May 2019 at Chartered Accountants House. Click here to book now.

May 13, 2019
Vision

Ambition is a key ingredient for success, and Martina Keane has it in spades. Originally from Ballygar in Co. Galway, the Chartered Accountant now leads the Irish assurance practice in EY EMEIA Financial Services having spent well over a decade specialising in financial services in both Ireland and the United Kingdom. Today, Martina is responsible for the development and leadership of a large group of professionals – a challenging, yet familiar role given her early start in leadership. The feedback loop “I was probably 21 years old when I started leading people,” she said. “I’m very driven and focused, but you need a stellar team with a mixed skillset if you really want to succeed.” Having been mentored from an early age, Martina is aware of the value in a positive role model – something she tries to replicate in her day-to-day work in EY. “In my work as a mentor, I focus on giving an honest view. That can only be done when there’s integrity and trust on both sides,” Martina added. “And face-time is extremely important in this context. You need to tell people that they have done a great job but you also need to point out areas for improvement, and you simply can’t do that by email.” Although some managers shy away from giving developmental feedback, Martina is living proof of its benefits. “It’s hard to take criticism at the best of times but people are motivated to achieve. They work best when they have a bar to reach and one of the roles of those in positions of leadership is to set that bar high and help people reach their full potential.” The importance of prioritisation To rise through the ranks at EY, Martina learned quickly that she needed to acquire a number of key skills. “I was appointed as partner in large part because I’m client-focused and solutions-driven. Nowadays, technical excellence is expected of the Chartered Accountant, so you need to build on that base and demonstrate your ability to lead if you want to advance your career,” she said. “One of the downsides of being solutions-driven is impatience. Once a solution is identified, I’m always in a hurry to implement it, but the reality is that people and processes don’t always move at a pace you would like – so I’ve had to work on that.” To help her team make valuable progress day after day, Martina’s daily routine begins with setting three tangible goals. “I would love to do a lot of things on any given day but if you spread yourself too thinly, you will fail. Now, I prioritise effectively,” she said. “I’ve also learned how to say no. If I’m asked to do something by a colleague, it has to align with my priorities and those of my team. If they don’t, then I am not as quick to accept. There’s a certain guilt that comes with that approach but at the end of the day, you can’t ruminate on it. You have to move on and stay focused on achieving your goals.” Future-proofing your business Amid intense debate about the role of artificial intelligence and robotics in the accountancy profession of the future, Martina is adamant that the focus on human skills will need to intensify in the years ahead. “The two critical challenges facing the business community are transformational digital change and the huge demand for talent,” she said. “Chartered Accountants need to consider whether the talent in their organisation is fit for purpose in an innovation age. The talent mix must align with the organisation’s innovation strategy because, as an example, the audit process will look entirely different in five years’ time. Coping with that type of transformative change begins with who we hire today and in short, they need to be adaptable, continuous learners and innovation-focused.” Stand by your values Despite the complexity of her role and responsibilities, Martina follows one very simple rule to help her maintain her commitment to ethics and integrity. “I have to sleep with ease at night, so I have to be happy with my decisions during the day. The world of leadership can be very challenging at times, but you have to stand by your personal values and never, ever leave them at the door,” she said. “I’m the type of person who needs to be very comfortable with the decisions I make from a values perspective and even when that brings you into conflict with the views of others, you actually get a lot of kudos from those who see you stand up for what you truly believe – even if they fundamentally disagree with you or your point of view.” Martina Keane FCA leads the Assurance practice in EY Financial Services, specialising in banking and capital markets. She works across the Irish and UK banking landscape, serving both assurance and advisory clients. You can read more articles from business leaders in the second issue of Vision, a publication from Accountancy Ireland for members in business, supported by FK International.

May 03, 2019
Vision

Brian Healy FCA, Managing Director at Atlantic Vantage Advisory, reflects on two decades of innovation and growth at the Irish Stock Exchange. Brian Healy has been described as a “veteran” of the Irish Stock Exchange. The Cork native spent 20 years at the heart of the organisation. Having initially passed on the opportunity while working at Arthur Andersen, a persistent recruiter convinced him to meet the management. Thus began a journey that led to the transformation of one of Ireland’s critical market infrastructures. When Brian joined the Irish Stock Exchange it had 30 staff, there was no electronic trading, no central clearing capability and it generated a small profit on its almost entirely domestic business. Although many predicted publicly the demise of the Exchange after its demerger from the London Stock Exchange, Brian had a contrary view. In his opinion, if managed correctly, the Exchange was potentially on the cusp of something big. “It was an opportunity to direct and guide the evolution of a business with a national impact, and that doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “But in 1998, I thought it would be a three-year project to launch the Irish equity market into the relatively new world of electronic trading.” After three years, Brian knew the job was just beginning. The first step for the Exchange was “obvious” to him – a successful transition to electronic trading. However, he had to do that in a business with no technological capabilities. “With a clear vision, ensuring stakeholder buy-in and after building a bright, dedicated and young team, it then took us six months to go live in June 2000 with a world-class new electronic trading platform,” he said. “That technology platform – fast, resilient, very cost-competitive and, critically, easily accessible internationally – was the cornerstone of subsequent growth. In addition, it forged a team and developed a confidence that we leveraged to further diversify and internationalise the business. Other key strategic partnerships negotiated with Euroclear Group and with Eurex Clearing were also  centrally important. This foundation also saw us through the global financial crisis.” In fact, the Exchange’s conversion to electronic trading remains one of the smoothest and most successful transformations for any exchange globally. Against the grain So, how did the Irish Stock Exchange go from being an analogue organisation to having a real fintech competence? According to Brian, it comes down to a combination of understanding changing market dynamics, excellent people, smart partnering and brave decision-making. “One of the key decisions I had to make was to build or buy,” he said. “Most people assumed we would either engage a large technology firm to build a platform or buy an ‘off the shelf’ solution. Instead, we decided to simultaneously partner with Deutsche Bourse on the core trading platform, ISE Xetra, while building proprietary systems that delivered more bespoke functionality. “There were raised eyebrows at the time as Deutsche Bourse wasn’t the global player it is today, but it was a very innovative model. Our mainframe was in Frankfurt as opposed to Dublin and you could describe that as a very early adoption of cloud technology,” he added. The ancillary systems also allowed the Exchange to develop unique and deep internal technology competences. “Within two years, we had internationalised our trading membership, trebled revenues, were winning business from London and were positioned to avail of further opportunities. This taught me a valuable lesson: great things can happen when you innovate and don’t go with the perceived wisdom – and, of course,  you rigorously manage key projects and maintain focus on strategic growth drivers.” Building a compelling business case Immediately after the launch of the electronic trading platform, Brian and his team set about developing a new platform for the Exchange’s funds and debt listing business, an important growth area. The Exchange faced an embedded competitor in Luxembourg. “Our strategy was to create an e-listing platform that would transform customers’ listing experience, converting from what was essentially a ‘people and paper’ business until then,” he said. “We also didn’t want to compete on price. The resultant solution was a proprietarily developed system that enabled the Exchange to handle, profitably and efficiently, greatly increased listing volumes and to become a world leader in this area.” The Exchange’s trading platform has suffered just eight hours of downtime in the past 18 years. The stock exchange is the cockpit of the market, its indices a bell-weather, and if its systems are unavailable – even for a millisecond – the market knows, and the tolerance is minimal. The Exchange’s enviable record, coupled with the success of its international listing business, suggests that this approach has paid off in spades. Indeed, the level of interest from potential acquirors during 2017 and the Exchange’s ultimate sale to Euronext NV in 2018 at a very strong valuation is further testament to the value created. Interestingly, such ground-breaking innovation was achieved with very modest capital outlay, an obvious attraction for shareholders. Brian notes, however, that the full backing and buy-in of the board, and of all stakeholders, was also a key enabler. “The board was very supportive. However, we ensured that there was a rigorous challenge and approval process in place. I always had to provide a compelling business case for any innovation or capital investment.”  In addition, as a fundamental market infrastructure regulated by the Central Bank, there was full regulatory oversight of all significant developments. Brian notes that “ensuring the full confidence of the Exchange’s regulators was always critical. I’m proud of the track record of delivery and of keeping a completely clean regulatory slate, including throughout the years of the global financial crisis.” Need for reinvention Over his 20 years in the Irish Stock Exchange, Brian’s ambition was to create a great business, delivering a leading-edge and internationally competitive infrastructure for Ireland’s securities market and for those around him “to make the Exchange a great place to do great work”. He grew his team from four to 80 staff covering the markets, operations, finance, technology and risk management functions. He left his COO/CFO role at the Exchange in July 2018 proud of a job well done: the group was robustly profitable with an EBITDA margin of 32%, had a diversified business, great staff and was well-positioned for future growth. His management style focuses on some simple principles: “Knowing your market and understanding what your customers need are obviously central. But for me, really good leadership is defined by integrity. It’s at the core of creating a high-trust environment.” He added: “I’ve always sought to hire and work with the best and brightest. A good strategy backed by the commitment and trust of the right people will consistently outperform.” Today, the Irish Stock Exchange is in Brian’s rear-view mirror and although it was a period of great success for him and his various teams, he is looking forward to new career challenges and developing his other interests. He is now focused on a portfolio of advisory, consultancy and non-executive work. This includes chairing a cross-industry group, which is working with Euroclear Group to develop a new post-trade model for the settlement of Irish securities after Brexit, as well as two other INED roles. He has also been using his Irish Sailing Association skipper’s licence to explore other horizons. “Last summer, as a family, we really enjoyed some charter sailing in the Mediterranean and I have a small boat in Kenmare Bay, which will be used much more in the next few years.” In conclusion, Brian notes: “Businesses more than ever need to re-engineer and reinvent themselves; a corporate is just a reflection of the people that work in it and we too need to reinvent ourselves. A bit like sailing – always wonderful until familiar land disappears under the horizon, and then it’s just you and the sea! But that’s when the focus shifts to navigating to your next port of call and to enjoying the journey. I’m now fully open to new opportunities and thoroughly enjoying setting that new course.” You can read more articles from business leaders in the second issue of Vision, a publication from Accountancy Ireland for members in business, supported by FK International.

May 03, 2019
Vision

Refereeing is much like leadership. While you have a small team of colleagues to support you, you are out in front. You are making decisions that have the potential to polarise opinion and you are often on the big screen – at times, the sole focus of hundreds and thousands of people. Donal Courtney has experienced both scenarios in his sporting and business careers. Having qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Arthur Andersen in the 1980s, Donal subsequently moved into industry and was involved in building several businesses from a standing start. His first role beyond practice was with the Japanese financial services company, Orix, a former audit client that had just established an aircraft leasing and lending company in Dublin’s burgeoning International Financial Services district. Donal spent five years as CFO of the company, which continues to operate from Ireland to this day, before being lured to Airbus. The aviation giant was also looking to develop its aircraft financing and leasing business in Ireland, and Donal – having enjoyed a very successful stint with Orix – duly deployed his skills and experience with the Toulouse-based company, which has also maintained its presence in Ireland.  During this time, Donal fell into an accidental second life as a rugby referee. The former Monkstown rugby player was in the stands ready to watch Belvedere take on Skerries when a call went out over the tannoy for a stand-in referee as the match referee had picked up an injury. Donal reluctantly took to the turf, which was the first step in a journey that led him to top-tier tournaments including the Heineken Cup, the Six Nations Championship and the Rugby World Cup. “It was a happy accident, but around the time I was starting to referee more seriously, I had an opportunity to move to Toulouse with Airbus,” he recalls. “My wife, Sarah, and I had just had twins so overall, we didn’t think it was the right move for us as a family – so I declined.” Instead, Donal joined GMAC Commercial Mortgages, a division of GM, which was involved in financing commercial real estate projects. “They had operations in the US and Japan, and they wanted to establish a presence in Europe by setting up a regulated banking operation,” he says. “But at that time, acquiring a banking licence for a non-bank entity was quite difficult and that became my priority when I joined the company as CFO in 2000.” GMAC Commercial Mortgages did secure the banking licence (it was one of the first non-bank entities in Ireland to do so) and Donal stayed with the company for eight years. Having been sold to KKR – the private equity house – and Goldman Sachs in 2016, GMAC Commercial Mortgages decided to exit its commercial real estate business in 2018 due to the global financial crash. At this stage, it was time for a change of direction for Donal away from the financial world. A fresh start and the importance of people Having retired from international refereeing in 2017 and with GMAC exiting the real estate business, Donal moved into the world of referee management full-time, taking up a position with European Rugby as head of match official performance for the Heineken Cup. He also became a referee selector for World Rugby and its international matches including the Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup. Donal now holds a portfolio of independent non-executive director roles at Dell Bank International, IPUT PLC (a commercial property fund) and Permanent TSB PLC, where he also acts as chair of the audit committees. “I’ve worn a few different hats in my various roles but one thing that has always struck me – and even more so in my work with boards – is the importance of people,” he says. “I’m reminded of Zig Ziglar’s famous quote: ‘You don’t build a business. You build people, and people build the business.’ This is absolutely true and there is a real need for a seat at the board table for people who are expert in the area of talent management, development and retention.” For Donal, how leaders deal with others is founded on a core set of values. “At one end of the scale, you need to identify talent, attract them into your organisation and incentivise them to do great work. At the other, you need to create a really great environment where your people feel valued and trusted; where they feel that they can speak up and have a say in the direction of the organisation. In many cases, getting the latter ‘culture’ piece right will make the process of attracting high calibre talent to your organisation much, much easier,” he said. To err is human Given his experience on the pitch, Donal is also very accepting of the fact that leaders will make mistakes. To err is human. However, he stresses the importance of communication and reflection in setting a positive example for colleagues at all levels.  “In today’s workplace, people no longer ask what they should do. Instead, they ask why they should do it,” he said. “The best way to answer this question is through clear communication as it allows you to define the ‘why’ and gives your people something to rally around. “And when things go wrong, and they inevitably will, it’s important for leaders – and everyone in the organisation, actually – to conduct a review of their own work,” he added. “It goes back to the question of ‘why’. If something did go wrong, why did it go wrong? Once we learn from our experience, there’s an element of positivity and progress in that, no matter how bad the situation might be.” You can read more articles from business leaders in the second issue of Vision, a publication from Accountancy Ireland for members in business, supported by FK International.  

May 03, 2019
Vision

From Dublin to Dubai, MetLife’s Yvonne Hill is responsible for a number of disparate teams that span both cultures and time zones. While some might baulk at the challenge – not to mention the necessary travel – Yvonne thrives on the diversity that comes with the role of Vice President and EMEA Controller at the Fortune 500 company. Yvonne joined MetLife in 2009, having started her career as a trainee Chartered Accountant in PwC. According to Yvonne, the experience she gained – both in practice and industry – made her the “rounded accountant” she is today. Stints in Kleinworth Benson in London and Eagle Star/Zurich Life and Canada Life in Dublin introduced her to many important aspects of business, but it is the human connections that she credits with much of her success. “When I went into Canada Life, I went in as a Senior Financial Accountant but progressed to Financial Controller within six months. I was fortunate enough to work predominantly with Brenda Dunne, who at the time was CFO and the company’s Appointed Actuary. Brenda had a great way of working that brought the actuarial and accounting pieces together so I gained a great appreciation for, and understanding of, the actuarial side of the business,” she said. “And when I joined MetLife, one of my first projects was to set up a small shared services team that covered Ireland and the United Kingdom. In 2011, Damien Cranwell came over from the US with a view to expanding the shared services concept for the company’s EMEA US GAAP reporting process and quickly saw me as a potential successor. He wasn’t only my manager, he sponsored me and that really made a difference – everyone’s career could benefit from a sponsor who will promote you behind the scenes.” A people person The human aspect of business has been central to Yvonne’s career over the years. From establishing the Irish chapter of MetLife’s Women’s Business Network to leading the company’s WellMet wellness initiative, she has always been a people-first manager. “I try to do the right thing for people and the team,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that every decision is easy. Sometimes the decision is more difficult because you have the competing interests of the individual and the corporation but for me, doing the right thing and treating people with respect is important.” This feeds into the role of diversity and inclusion in today’s organisations – something Yvonne is keen to encourage although she appreciates the challenges. “It’s very hard, especially if you are more junior, to push something like diversity and inclusion if there’s no appetite for it. In such a scenario, you will need to get a senior colleague to support you because if you are pushing alone against a culture, you will get demoralised very quickly. “But my one piece of advice, irrespective of your position in your organisation, is to pace yourself; don’t try to do too much too soon or expect results too quickly. The road to full diversity and inclusion is a long one.” Work hacks Another area of focus for Yvonne is work-life balance and again, she leads by example. Although her role requires international travel and her span of control covers several time zones, her flexible approach allows her to reach her goals in the longer term. “I’m usually at work and logging on at 7am when I’m in Dublin. For me, that quiet time is invaluable – it helps me get on top of emails before meetings start to creep in,” she said. “After that, it’s a juggling act. Sometimes I leave work early and make calls at home, and other times I stay late but for me, work-life balance is a long-term play. I tend to look at it over a period or weeks or months and then ask if I’ve been able to spend time on the things that matter to me. Flexibility on both the professional and personal sides is important, and perhaps work-life integration is a better way of putting it.” When it comes to international travel, which can easily disrupt one’s routine, Yvonne sees it as a necessary evil but one that has broadened her talents as a leader. “I’m very structured with it and because I travel to the same places, if I do have to spend time in an airport, I know I’ll be able to work while I’m there,” she said. “Being mobile in your career and working in multinational organisations can bring a breadth of experience that is much deeper than companies with smaller global footprints can provide, so it’s something I would certainly recommend to young Chartered Accountants in particular.” Navigating change Such experience will be a vital asset for Chartered Accountants who are already faced with a tsunami of change. The hot topics, in Yvonne’s view, include data analytics, robotics and artificial intelligence – but understanding how each can benefit one’s industry or function is the key. “Everybody wants to do more with less and we hear all these buzzwords in our professional circles and the business media, but how do you make something happen in each of these areas? It isn’t easy because they are difficult to put into action,” she said. “I firmly believe that we need to reskill our employees to become more adept at data analytics in particular. It’s a very fast-paced environment at the moment and people are adapting and changing, but you will need skilled talent if you want to exploit the potential of these technological advancements.” Not surprisingly, one vital non-accountancy skill Yvonne has developed over the years is in change management. From her early days in MetLife, building a small shared services centre, to simultaneously developing an EMEA-focused centre of excellence in Warsaw while strategically trimming the headcount in the Dublin office, Yvonne has been keen to put her EMEA locations forward for early-stage change initiatives. “I do this for two reasons. First, we are a small part of MetLife so if I can transform EMEA into a leader in all new things, that will increase our profile within the corporation and help keep us relevant. And second, because of our size, we can be used like a sandbox. If a project fails, it isn’t a major issue – at least we tried, and we can call it and move on,” she said. “Managing the change that this approach brings can be tricky. You need to set the vision early, choose your key battles and get people on board. But most importantly, you need to be prepared to call time on a project if it isn’t working – that’s absolutely vital if you adopt an experimental strategy.” And again, Yvonne brings the focus back to her teams. “Change gives people an opportunity to develop but allowing someone to fail can be very powerful. Yes, you need to be careful in terms of how and where the failure occurs, but failure in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it can be the most effective learning experience of all.” You can read more articles from business leaders in the second issue of Vision, a publication from Accountancy Ireland for members in business, supported by FK International. 

May 03, 2019