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Management

Eric O’Rourke explains why organisations should not fear the process of corporate cultural change, and how internal audit can play a pivotal role.“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. When it comes to changing a company’s culture, this quote from Peter Drucker is something I, as an Internal Auditor, have heard often over the years.However, culture can be viewed as amorphous and, therefore, difficult to define and alter. For an organisation’s governance structure (i.e. the board and senior executives), the inability to measure an existing corporate culture can create an apprehension and some degree of fear around how to best progress to a desired culture.Culture matters for any organisation but from a financial services perspective, a positive culture drives conduct by promoting the benefits listed later in this article and protecting against conduct risk. A positive culture provides a guiding light for an organisation, particularly when it faces challenges and difficult choices.Culture guides what you should do, not what you can do. It helps organisations do the right thing and, in the context of financial services, this involves restoring trust and protecting the industry’s social license.In May 2020, the representative body for the funds industry in Ireland, Irish Funds, published the ‘Irish Funds Culture Guidance Paper’ for its members. The paper aims to provide member firms with guidance on key themes and good practices to measure, monitor and embed culture. It considers the critical factors to take into account when implementing cultural change. They include defining culture (present and desired) in addition to metrics that can be used to measure/monitor culture and related changes.Existing culture vs desired cultureFor all organisations, the first step is to evaluate the existing culture while identifying the board’s desired culture, as its members effectively lead the organisation’s strategy. Based on this evaluation, the board can then decide whether a culture change programme is required.Employees at all levels should be engaged to ensure that the echo from the bottom matches the tone from the top. The tone from the top is critical to ensure that culture and values are articulated and hence, can be measured. A ‘cultural roadmap’ should then be created. This task should be championed by the organisation’s appointed culture champion or chief cultural officer from the senior leadership level.The advice of Internal Audit (IA) should also be sought at the outset, as the role of IA extends across organisational structures and can provide unique insight.The art of measurementTo measure culture, multiple cultural touchpoints should be amalgamated to give a full picture to key committees and the board. A ‘corporate culture report card’ should also be compiled every quarter and presented to the board by the cultural champion, as culture change is a long process. The report card should be reviewed thoroughly, and corrective action taken if required.Below are some of the metrics that were published in the Irish Funds Culture Guidance Paper. Evidence from the suggested mechanisms should form the basis of the corporate culture report card (see Table 1). Furthermore, IA should audit these metrics as part of any thematic culture audit, or question auditee culture as part of any audit undertaken.Benefits of a considered and defined cultureMany benefits accrue to organisations that embrace a healthy culture, including:Sustainable growth and improved profitability;A more engaged and motivated workforce;The ability to attract and retain top talent;Better and more transparent decision-making;Responsiveness to change and risk;Improved customer satisfaction; andA corporate image and identity that others aspire to.So the critical question is: what culture is desired? Determining the desired culture and measuring the existing culture are the first steps.In closing, I note the words of Dale Carnegie: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage”. The time is ripe to review and possibly enhance your organisation’s corporate culture. Do not fear change; instead, focus on what can be achieved.Eric O’Rourke ACA is Head of Internal Audit at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Group Global Asset Services and a member of the Irish Funds Internal Audit Discussion Forum.

Sep 30, 2020
Management

John Kennedy explains how Chartered Accountants can help their clients break free from the shackles of their current challenges and, instead, work towards a brighter future.As we continue to deal with the implications of the untamed coronavirus, we have all been forced to pause and take stock. Many things we historically assumed can no longer be taken for granted. We, therefore, need to learn new habits, develop new routines, and adopt new ways of thinking.At the core of that change is the need to secure our future by identifying, and wisely investing in, our most precious assets. Take a moment to pause and think of the most valuable assets your practice holds – what are they?In my opinion, there are two: attention and energy. Your future success will be determined by your ability to take control of your attention and energy and, in turn, by how you guide your clients to invest their attention and energy where it is most productive and provides the greatest return. You and your clients must stop wasting your attention and energy on unproductive, corrosive thinking.Corrosive and constructive thinkingThe world is flooded with corrosive thinking right now. And, like anything with massive oversupply, it has no value. Corrosive thinking keeps you in a closed loop of negativity, consuming your attention and energy by focusing on the missteps, the problems, and how costly they will be. You will get no positive return on the attention and energy you invest in corrosive thinking.Constructive thinking, on the other hand, is entirely different. It is scarce and, therefore, has an unusually high value. Constructive thinking moves you away from worrying about how you and your clients reached this difficult place and, instead, focuses your attention and energy on reaching a better place. To move from A to B, however, requires the wise and judicious investment of your vital resources.The key is to take control of your future decisively. This is not an invitation to undertake some form of positive thinking or encourage you to merely wish or hope for better times. It is quite the opposite. It is a specific and practical skill that will enable you to create a clear image of a better future and identify the steps to reach that destination.The kitchen testNeuroscience has helped us understand how to harness the power of our brain and use our capacity to think more effectively. If you don’t take control of this capacity, your brain can easily work against you or steer you off-course. But when you know how to harness the power of your brain and focus it on success, profound change is possible.Achieving the success you seek always begins with creating a clear image of that success. Let us put it to the test.Take a moment to think about a room you are familiar with. Your kitchen is a good place to start. As you develop a clear and vivid image of your kitchen, your mind will work with you and help you set out in great detail the many specific aspects of your kitchen. You will be able to give this image real substance – the colour of the walls, the type of floor, or any paintings, pictures or posters on the walls, for example. You can create an image that is clear, vivid and substantial – and that is a very useful talent.The kitchen test shows that you can harness your thinking to work your way through the recent crisis and create a clear image of a better future. This is key to your investment strategy, as you can create an image of future success that has the same level of detail and clarity as to the image of your kitchenWhy is this important in terms of your future success and your success with clients? Left uncontrolled, your mind will come up with detailed and comprehensive images of the difficult situation you are in. It will default to wasting your much-needed energy by placing too much emphasis on the worries of the present. However, the troublesome present is where the problems lie. You want to be in a better place, but you have – at best – a vague and hazy image of that destination.The difficulties of your current reality will appear more potent than any possible future success. And since the mind values clear and detailed images, it will be drawn to where clarity and detail already exist – in this case, on the difficulties of the present situation. This is why the strength and scale of your problems seem to grow and grow. The more you focus your attention and energy on your current difficulties, the more vivid they become to the point that you may not be able to discern a successful future at all.This is where your investment strategy can provide its most significant return.The high-return investment strategyIn taking active control of your thoughts, you can switch your attention and actively invest your energy where it can deliver a more valuable outcome. This is not a trivial skill – it is scarce, of high value, and the vital key to future success for you, your practice, and your clients.To get full value from this insight, you need to establish a new habit. From this point on, every time a client falls into the routine of talking about the worry and stress they face, take active control of the dialogue and help them create an image of a better future.Don’t waste their attention and energy on vague or wishful thinking. Instead, guide them to create a clear and vivid image of a better place, an image that is as clear and real as the image of your kitchen.Rather than dwell on familiar problems, set them on a quest to establish what a successful future would be like. Your client has already built a business that is successful enough to need your accountancy expertise. Now, you can use your insights to help them leverage their knowledge and experience to create an image of a successful future.Research has conclusively shown that this ability is central to the success of the very highest achievers, those who achieve great success and prevail at times of stress or uncertainty. By helping your clients invest their attention and energy in creating a clear and specific image of future success, you are providing them with an immediate and powerful resource. They turn their thinking, attention and, therefore, energy to what they want to accomplish.For more than three decades, I have encountered a habitual pattern of clients focusing on current problems rather than investing actively in future success. Ironically, this habit can be most pronounced at the very time when it is least useful – when the problems seem so large and so vivid and are the cause of significant corrosive stress.When managers, groups or teams spend their time thinking about their most challenging problems, they tend to become dispirited and demotivated. When you help your clients do the opposite, however, you will become a scarce resource: the route to a better place.John Kennedy is a strategic advisor. He has worked with leaders and senior management teams in a range of organisations and sectors.

Sep 30, 2020
Management

David Lucas explains how businesses can access funding and trade through the COVID-19 crisis.The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted businesses throughout the country. Cash flow is scant, debt is mounting, and many companies have yet to resume trading in any meaningful way. Those that are trading again have returned to a desolate and unfamiliar environment. Shops and high streets are empty, many stores remain shuttered and, with further restrictions in the pipeline, dented consumer confidence in certain sectors looks unlikely to rebound fully until a vaccine is developed.SME supportsWithout access to significant cash reserves, liquidity and cashflow are critical concerns for many small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Fortunately, SMEs adversely affected by the COVID-19 crisis can access a range of Government supports. The schemes listed below have been well-received by business owners, but preparation is the key to a successful application.SBCI COVID-19 Working Capital SchemeThis scheme offers loans from €25,000 to €1.5 million at a maximum of 4% interest to SMEs and small mid-cap enterprises. Applicants must meet at least one criterion related to the impact of COVID-19 on their business and one innovation criterion as per the European Investment Fund’s (EIF) standard conditions. No security is required on loans up to €500,000.Future Growth Loan SchemeThis scheme aims to make up to €800 million in loans available for terms of seven to ten years to SMEs and small mid-cap businesses. Loans range from €25,000 to €3 million per eligible company, with loans up to €500,000 available without security. The initial maximum interest rate is capped at 4.5% for loans under €250,000 and 3.5% for loans more than or equal to €250,000 for the first six months. The rates after that are variable.Sustaining Enterprise FundSupport of up to €800,000 can be provided to eligible companies that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Funding will be provided for five years using repayable advances, grant aid, equity, or loan note, comprising a combination of repayable and up to 50% non-repayable support. Administration fees on repayable support will be 0% over the first six months and 4% per annum after that. Repayments will be due in years four and five.Restart Grant PlusRestart Grant Plus is an expansion of the Restart Grant scheme. It provides grants of €4,000 to €25,000 to businesses with 250 employees or less, turnover of less than €100,000 per employee, and a 25% reduction in turnover as a result of COVID-19.Trading Online VoucherGrants of up to €2,500 (with 10% co-funding from the business) are available to companies with ten employees or less seeking to build an online presence. The voucher is targeted at small businesses with little or no online presence, turnover of €2 million or less, and at least six months’ trading history.Business Continuity VoucherBusinesses employing up to 50 staff are eligible to apply for a Business Continuity Voucher to the value of €2,500 towards third-party consultancy costs to assist with developing short- and long-term strategies to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund (PSRF)The PSRF is set up to invest in large- and medium-sized enterprises employing more than 250 employees or with annual turnover of over €50 million. Enterprises must be able to demonstrate their business was commercially viable prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that they can return to viability and contribute to the Irish economy. Investments are made on a commercial basis and they will seek a return for this and can invest across the capital structure, from equity to debt.Temporary Wage Subsidy SchemeBusinesses have also relied on the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS), which was replaced by the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) in September. The main elements of the EWSS are as follows:A €203 flat-rate subsidy per employee per week for businesses with a decrease in turnover of 30% or more;Employers in all sectors may qualify, subject to meeting certain qualifying conditions; andThe EWSS will expire on 31 March 2021. The legislation, however, provides that it may be extended beyond that date.CashflowThe measures above can provide critical relief and cash support to businesses. However, there are other proactive and straightforward ways in which companies can meet their liquidity needs before repayment moratoriums expire in Q4.Businesses can optimise by selling slow-moving stock to generate cash, for example. Also, debtor management might sound obvious, but assets can become tied up and the longer a debt remains unpaid, the less likely it is to materialise.Debt fundingMany people talk about loan-to-value and property, but at the end of the day, cash repays debt. Property and asset values are significant from a security perspective, and the banks draw comfort from having this as security. However, in recent years, cashflow (and its recurring nature as the first port of call in servicing debt) has been increasingly analysed. Banks are not in the business of selling companies or property unless they have to, but they do need to see cash being generated to service the existing debt quantum.In this volatile business landscape, SMEs may need to renegotiate covenants or restructure debt. Many businesses will find themselves over-leveraged and unable to make their debt repayments as they fall due. Banks expect this in cases where COVID-19 has hit businesses hard, but the key to success is open communication with the bank or funder.Think of it as a partnership approach. Businesses must be extremely well-prepared as approaching a bank can be painstaking and time-consuming. That said, they do understand the position you are in; all business owner/managers want to be able to pay down debt and keep their businesses alive.The standard suite of bank covenants comprises leverage (net debt/EBITDA), interest cover, and debt service cover ratio (DSCR), with the latter often proving the most difficult to manage. As a result of existing trading circumstances, all three may have been breached or be approaching a breach. The banks have provided moratoriums in many cases, but they will need to be looked at and renegotiated as they expire later in the year.The amortisation or repayment profile on debt may also need to be readjusted to match the company’s ability to repay. COVID-19 has devastated many businesses, and some may never return to the same trading levels as before. This outcome would, therefore, require a re-calibration of amortisation; back-ending or reducing it may be the only option. Banks will likely begin to pursue ‘cash sweep’ mechanisms to reduce debt positions in a restructure. Cash sweeps can be administratively cumbersome but show the bank that you intend to work with them to pay down debt.Meanwhile, businesses seeking access to further funding must become familiar with the various options available. Alternative lenders can be less onerous in terms of covenants. They tend to lend a little bit more than the traditional banks and offer increased flexibility, but they also charge higher interest, often as high as 7%.Invoice discounting, where banks lend based on an entity’s debtor book, has also become a popular form of lending from a working capital perspective. It gives the lender increased security, as they have direct access to the debtor book. The facility limits can also grow concurrently with business growth.Private equityEquity is another potential option for SMEs in need of a capital injection. This route has become increasingly popular in recent years, as investors provide experience and growth potential as well as capital.Many business owners are apprehensive about trading a piece of their business, but it is always better to own 70% of a thriving venture than 100% of a failing one.ConclusionOpen communication is crucial at this uncertain time. Lenders understand the position many businesses are in and will expect requests to pay down debt at a slower rate, given that earning profiles may have changed. The key to success, however, is organisation and planning.Seven tips for approaching a bank during a crisisSeek expert advice. A skilled and experienced adviser will know what the bank and its advisers want and will be able to communicate this effectively.Accept the situation. Look for the positives and work with the advice given to you to identify areas for improvement in the business. Listen to recommendations and have robust discussions about solutions.Be honest. A bank likes certainty and predictability. These are uncertain times, so work with the bank and do your best.Prepare a deliverable plan. Create a budget that is real and deliverable, with actions and assumptions clearly laid out. Communicate. Deliver the information clearly and precisely to reduce the potential for misinterpretation and confusion. Don’t ignore the bank and hope that the problem will go away.Prepare. Talking to your bank can be a very confronting and stressful process. Be prepared for hard questions, and don’t take it personally.Have back-up plans. Speak to your adviser about alternatives in the market, be it a direct lender or private equity investment.David Lucas FCA is Corporate Finance Partner at PKF O’Connor, Leddy & Holmes.

Sep 30, 2020
Management

John Convery discusses the important elements when creating a start-up and how you can improve its chances of success.Entrepreneurship is actively promoted and regularly encouraged. Being a business owner can be very fulfilling but starting a business is no easy task. This is a journey where you will meet a rollercoaster of highs and lows. It is a challenging, demanding, frustrating, testing, isolating, lonely, long road on the way to – hopefully – profitability and success.Research suggests 20% of start-ups fail in year one, just under 50% make it to year five, 66% have failed by year 10, and by year 15 only 25% are still surviving. Some businesses deemed to survive merely limp along for years, often referred to as 'the living dead'. However, with the right planning, mindset, and funding, improving start-up survival rates is achievable.Why start-ups failThere is a myriad of reasons why start-ups fail. In my view, it is usually due to a combination of factors rather than just one. Figure 1 summarises the most common reasons start-ups fail. They are broken into four areas:  market, founder, finance and other.Improving your chances of successTo improve your chances of having a successful start-up, you must get some fundamentals right.Sell a product/service that customers want A key reason start-ups fail is because there is an insufficient market need for the product or service. This can be mitigated through focus on the customer from the start. You must be customer-centric before you build, design, or develop anything. Take the time to put your ideas down on paper, and then go out to customers.Talk to potential customers or users, listen to them, try to identify their biggest pain points or struggles. Do market research.Build a basic, early version of the product.Go back to some potential customers, get their views and feedback.Refine, modify and enhance your product based on the feedback. Go back to potential customers again, get their views and any further changes or improvements needed.Enhance your product again.It is only with constant feedback and user reaction that you can improve the product and arrive at a point where it can begin to appeal to potential customers. It is a test and feedback loop. After the testing is done, you will begin to get a feel for a business model and pricing.Create a balanced teamFind good people with complementary skills who gel with one another – preferably a designer, engineer and marketeer. Teams build companies, not individuals. Investors also want to see a team, not a single founder.Control cashflow tightlyIt’s the job of the main founder or appointed finance person to make sure the company does not run out of money and to control finances tightly.Write a business plan The process of writing a business plan is not an academic exercise, it is a validation exercise on the product and overall business. The business plan should corroborate whether the product and overall business has potential. Appoint a savvy external business mentor or adviserTheir role is to ask hard questions, challenge you, objectively evaluate progress against targets set and hold you accountable. This person should not be a close relative or friend.Is entrepreneurship right for you?Creating a start-up is not for everyone. Like any career choice, not everyone is cut out for certain roles. It may not suit your interests, temperament, passion, or skills. The requirements or skillset for an entrepreneur are not specified, yet the skills required to be successful are rarely discussed other than in academic textbooks.Your character and resilience will be severely tested in a start-up, especially in the early stages. Delays, disappointments, criticism, rejection, frustrations, travel, endless presentations, knockbacks and 80-hour weeks with little pay is what a founder is facing. Fundraising is arduous, where it can take six months of meetings, calls, presentations and visits to secure investment. This takes a toll on you mentally and physically, and your ability to face these knocks and challenges while remaining optimistic is difficult. Successful entrepreneurs show some essential personality characteristics such as patience, an ability to listen, learn, accept criticism, and stay positive. They are a people person, and able to get along and deal with all types of individuals. Failure does not defeat them, and they learn from mistakes. They can take things in their stride and are willing to adjust or pivot when required. Successful entrepreneurs possess drive, ambition, and determination.Anyone who might be considering creating a start-up should do some self-examination as part of the planning. They need to ask themselves honestly if they have some or any of the requirements that an entrepreneur needs to have. Ask yourself questions such as:Do I have that entrepreneurial drive and determination?Am I cut out for this?Why do I want to start a business? You should only start a business for the right reasons. Self-indulgence, fulfilling a dream and pleasing someone else are not valid reasons.You fail and you learnThe aim of a start-up is to solve a problem for a customer. The customer comes first. Your starting point is talking to customers, discovering their pain points, and then using that feedback.If you are not getting good market traction, be prepared to pivot and change. If the business is still struggling to get off the ground, be prepared to disengage. This can be a difficult decision but necessary. You can always start again. Remember: you will pass failure on the way to success. A failed start-up is a valuable lesson. You fail, you learn, you start again and you do things better.I believe it is possible to improve start-up survival rates with good planning, the right mindset, and a funding plan. If your product/service is good enough, you will always secure funding. While the risks of failure in a start-up are high, the entrepreneurial spirit will nevertheless always be alive.John Convery FCA is a business adviser to start-ups and small businesses.

Sep 30, 2020
Management

As the pandemic continues to rage throughout the world, how are SMEs coping with maintaining their liquidity and cashflow? David Lucas explores finance options that are available to help Irish businesses thrive and persevere. The COVID-19 pandemic has uniquely impacted SMEs throughout the country. Cashflow is scant, debt is racking up, and many businesses have yet to resume trading in any meaningful capacity. Those that have recommenced have found a desolate and unfamiliar trading environment. Shops and high streets are empty, many stores remain shuttered, and dented consumer confidence looks unlikely to rebound fully until a vaccine is developed. Supports available to SMEsWithout access to the significant cash reserves available to larger enterprises, liquidity and cashflow are key concerns for many SMEs during this time. Fortunately, there are a number of supports available, and businesses should be doing all they can to avail of the Credit Guarantee Scheme, COVID-19 Working Capital Loan Scheme, Future Growth Loan Scheme, Fund, Trading Online Voucher, Local Enterprise Offices Grants and Microfinance Ireland Loans wherever possible.  Furthermore, the COVID-19 warehousing provisions, in particular, have been a very well-received benefit during this difficult period, allowing businesses to effectively warehouse their VAT or PAYE payments into an interest-free loan for 12 months and a 3% loan for the subsequent 12 months. Quick cashThese measures can provide critical relief and cash supports to businesses, but there are additional measures SMEs can take to meet liquidity needs as repayment moratoriums expire towards the end of the year. For example, businesses can optimise by selling slow-moving stock to generate cash. Debtor management sounds obvious, but assets can become tied up, and the longer debt remains unpaid the less likely it is to collect. People talk about loan-to-value and property, but at the end of the day, it is cash that repays debt.Managing debtIn this volatile business landscape, SMEs may need to renegotiate covenants, or even a complete a full restructuring of their debt. At times like these, open communication with lenders is crucial. Businesses need to be extremely well-prepared as approaching the banks can be painstaking and time-consuming, but they understand the position businesses are in – everyone wants to be able to pay down the debt and keep the business in operation. Further funding optionsFor businesses seeking to access further funding, it is crucial to know the different options that are available on the market. Alternative lenders can be less onerous in terms of covenants. They tend to lend a little bit more than the traditional banks, but they charge greater interest, often up to 6 or 7%.Invoice discounting (also known as invoice finance) has become a very popular way of lending from a working capital perspective. This is a process whereby banks or alternative lenders will lend money based on the business’ debtor book. This gives the lender increased security as there is direct access to the debtor book and no reliance on revenue or cashflow.Private equity is another potential option for SMEs in need of a capital injection. This route has become increasingly popular in recent years as these investors provide experience and growth potential as well as capital.  Many SMEs are apprehensive about selling a piece of their business, but it’s always better to own 80% of a thriving venture than 100% of a failing one.Above is a snapshot of a wide range of options for SMEs looking for ways to finance their business through this uncertain period. Not all options are suitable for every business, but a proactive approach in identifying the best available options will give SMEs with cashflow difficulties the best chance of survival.David Lucas is a Corporate Finance Partner at PKF O’Connor Leddy Holmes.

Aug 14, 2020
Management

With remote working here to stay, people leaders will need to understand the nuances of managing virtual teams and remote workers. Dr Annette Clancy explains.COVID-19 propelled remote working to the top of the agenda for every business. Overnight, virtual meetings replaced face-to-face interaction and have become the primary way in which work is conducted. This temporary solution to a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic is tolerable because we are in such unusual circumstances.However, some organisations such as Facebook and Twitter are now planning for permanent remote working. We are also likely to see remote working becoming more popular in non-technology businesses. For some people, and some businesses, remote working works. The ability to manage remote teams effectively will therefore be a critical skill in the new working world.What differentiates virtual teams from face-to-face teams? And what skills will managers need to ensure that remote working continues to work into the future?RelationshipsSustaining relationships in virtual teams is always a challenge due to the solitary nature of remote work. Research tells us that members of virtual teams have different ways of engaging with the team; not every member will engage and disengage at the same time. Also, people are coping with different types of emotions. We have seen, during the pandemic, how anxiety has taken hold and people have found it difficult to think. Managers of virtual teams must be attuned to these variances and work hard to help virtual team members generate a sense of belonging, which won’t naturally occur because members cannot meet in person or socially.TrustTrust is a critical issue for remote workers. Can you trust somebody if you have never met them? Recent research (2019) by Breuer, Hüffmeier, Hibben and Hertel tells us that trust is more important for virtual teams than face-to-face teams. The research identifies the factors most relevant for building trust in virtual teams. They are:abilitybenevolencepredictabilityintegritytransparencyThe authors offer some practical solutions to help with trust-building. These include creating a database listing team members’ expertise; providing more information about their ability; online profiles; information in email signatures; and online feedback systems and other processes designed to increase trust and encourage closer cooperation between virtual colleagues.Flexible workingFlexible working arrangements are at the heart of remote working, but this can be challenging for managers who have the job of coordination. In an article published in 2007, researchers Dyne, Kossek and Lobel suggest that collaborative time management processes can be ‘designed in’ from the start. Furthermore, employees can be asked to engage in ‘proactive availability’ where each employee is asked to take responsibility for identifying difficulties and notifying others on the team. For example, if a team member’s existing caring responsibility clashes with a meeting, they tell another team member and send questions/comments in advance to the meeting. In this way, time management and scheduling are organised within the team rather than by the manager.MotivationThe researchers also recommend ways in which managers can bolster motivation. Instead of focusing on how often people are present and available (i.e. virtually present and on camera), they suggest nominating specific events that occur at pre-determined times. Focusing on these events creates more flexibility, particularly for part-time workers, and re-orientates energy on outputs rather than on inputs. This, in turn, is likely to increase motivation and keep people focused on the bigger picture as opposed to who is absent from virtual meetings.Remote working is here to stay, and businesses that offer this flexibility will need to have managers who understand the nuances of managing virtual teams and remote workers. Managing people you have never met is enormously challenging, but there are big rewards for businesses in accommodating how people want to organise their work-life balance.Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor of Management at the School of Art History and Cultural Policy at UCD.

Jul 29, 2020
News

Burnout has been creeping into our workplaces and greatly affecting our lives, even before COVID. Noel O’Callaghan outlines how you can identify burnout and manage your work-related stress.Increasingly, we are hearing about how workplace stress is on the rise, especially where work and life both feel uncertain and unpredictable. In a new survey from the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the Kemmy Business School, 60% of employees in Ireland are feeling more stressed since the onset of COVID-19. As we become so ingrained in the day-to-day routine while meeting the needs of employers or customers, we can miss the alarm bells warning that what was a somewhat natural and manageable stress is now morphing into burnout, something considerably more serious. Work culture seeks to identify and label what they call ‘high achievers’ but, unfortunately, delivering more and more with less and less is often the only criteria needed to earn the distinction. Day to day, month-end to month-end, quarter-end to quarter-end, the relentless pace of work makes it seem impossible for someone to put their hand up and say, “Stop. I need to rest”. If you combine this with a personality that is wholly-committed to doing a good job, has a fear of failure, or is unsupported either at work or at home, then you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to excessive stress or burnout.Signs of burnoutWhat are the tell-tale signs of burnout? Burnout can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, a feeling of detachment, or a feeling of never being good enough no matter how much you deliver. Are you:terrified of going to work every day?always tired?disinterested in participating in hobbies outside of work?getting little enjoyment in anything and no motivation to seek it?feeling stuck, with little or no light at the end of the tunnel?(Sometimes these can also be accompanied by unusual physical aches and pains.)These are just a few of the more common red flags, but it can be different for everyone. The great news is that burnout is treatable. Taking breaks, knowing your limits, and watching out for situations or people that elevate the stress can help. However, there are also huge benefits gained from working on your relationship with work. I-It and I-ThouMartin Buber, a theorist and 19th-century Austrian philosopher, suggested that humans have two approaches to the way we interact with people, things and nature. One is an ‘I-It’ approach where we objectify whatever we are dealing with and seek to get as much out of it for ourselves as possible and the other is an ‘I-Thou’ approach, where we turn to the subject as a partner and seek to relate more to it for the mutual benefit of both parties. There is a recurring theme that I see is in relation to how people interact with their career and the workplace. A pattern emerges over years whereby one relates to their career, work or co-workers from an I-It standpoint, viewing it as a means to an end, which can cause the relationship with work to become so unhealthy that people become ill. Having a more constructive relationship can alleviate the symptoms of stress and burnout and instil a sense of nourishment into the workday. We should aim to shift the relationship from I-It to an I-Thou and think of work as something to be engaged in, enjoyed or experienced.  Noel O’Callaghan FCA is a qualified psychotherapist. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact the CA support team at CASupport@charteredaccountants.ie.

Sep 04, 2020
News

How can we support the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace? Alexandra Kane details what it means to be an ally and how it can make a huge difference. “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde The quote above sits among the desks on the fourth floor of the Grant Thornton Dublin building. It’s a poignant reminder and struck me a little differently reflecting on this year’s Pride month. What would it feel like if I couldn’t be myself in the office, that I had to hide a part of my life from my colleagues? What if I were afraid that a part of my life would create a backlash, negative reaction or possible career repercussion? The place we spend most of our time, albeit virtually and on video calls in the current climate, should be one of welcoming and support. To me, as a LGBTQ+ ally, there is not a single reason that anyone should feel that they can’t be who they want to be, who they identify as, and not face any adversity in doing so. In my organisation, there is a huge drive to stand as an ally with our friends and colleagues through our Ally Programme and Embrace initiative. We have marched in the Dublin Pride Parade for the last four years and, took part in BelongTo's ‘Come In’ campaign last year. This initiative flipped ‘coming out’ on its head by promoting the positive message that everyone should be able to come in and feel welcome as they are, rather than having to ‘come out’ as anyone other than themselves. To be an ally An ally can come in many forms, but should always come from a place of support, openness, kindness and ready to do the work. From recent global events in the Black Lives Matter movement, I have learned that it is safe to speak out and say that I didn’t know how to support or say the right things – and that is accepted when it is accompanied by a willingness and promise to learn, educate and support. It’s never too late to educate yourself, even if you have to start at the beginning. Learning about the Stonewall Riots, listening to the experiences of LGBTQ+ people of colour, and asking how you can support others is an important step to allyship. We can never under estimate the power of support in any form that it comes in, be it going for a coffee to listen to someone’s concerns, wearing rainbow colours in solidarity, attending the Pride Parade, and actively showing support to colleagues and friends in the workplace. Some recommended viewing for allies: Disclosure, found on Netflix. I recently attended a webinar ‘The L to A LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA’ which explored the ‘lesser known’ letters of the LGBTQ+ community. It discussed why gender identity and sexuality are intrinsically linked. The key take away I received from the webinar is that language is ever changing and our identity is a personal preference. The pronouns or letters we choose is exactly that: our choice. If being an ally makes one person feel more comfortable, supported and accepted as their true selves, I couldn’t encourage being an active ally more. Alexandra Kane ACA is a Manager in Financial Services Advisory at Grant Thornton, a Grant Thornton Ally and member of the Grant Thornton Ally Programme.

Jun 25, 2020
News

With no party or march this year, how are businesses showing meaningful support for the Pride movement? John McNamara tell us how can we adapt to actively support the LGBTQ+ community in a virtual space.  So how did you celebrate Pride this year? Yes, we are approaching the end of June, the month where people from all demographics, race, religion and, of course, sexual orientation take to the streets to come together and celebrate acceptance, and agitate for the rights still being fought for. (Unless you live in one of the 73 countries where that is still illegal.) Except, of course, we didn’t march this year thanks to the non-discriminatory nature and reach of COVID-19. Most businesses quickly scrambled to develop virtual programmes to keep staff awareness and engagement alive. Another Zoom call, another webinar, why not? But there are lessons still to be learned that are applicable across the full inclusion agenda, many of which will have the potential for positive enduring business impact. Year-round support Every year there is heated debate on the ‘corporatisation’ of what is, essentially, a protest movement. It will now be very clear which businesses do little else in this space except throw money at Pride parade participation. Now is the time for employees to call out this performative participation in the movement and encourage their organisations to refocus budgets on both active staff collaboration and engagement and support of community organisations throughout the year. LGBTQ+ young people are four times more likely to experience anxiety and depression, three times more likely to experience suicidal ideation and that happens in December as well as June. Creating long-term change If there is no party this year, there is the opportunity to develop meaningful digital messaging, to focus more on staff connection and conversations and to place a stronger focus on advocacy. We have shown more curiosity, shared more of our own lives, and our understanding about our colleagues’ personal circumstances is much deeper than when we sat in the office together. I have heard more conversations on mental health recently than at any time I can think of. The pace of change in many of these issues has historically been too slow. In recent months, however, we have shown our ability to quickly build new business models and our flexibility in remote working. How can we sustain these new ways of working that can, for example, access more women working from home rather than leaving the workforce or accept that highly talented people with neurodiversity need not be present in an office environment to shine in their roles? Intersectionality This year also brings greater awareness of intersectionality which, simply put, means we are complex beings that cannot be defined by one characteristic alone and, depending on the hand you have been dealt, can be disadvantaged by multiple forms of oppression, isolation or exclusion or, conversely, benefit from white privilege. Black Lives Matter is here to stay. The LGBTQ+ community is acutely able to recognise inequality of treatment, that sense of not belonging, and our allyship is evident through activism, protest and sharing the platforms we have through the month and beyond. Do better Most of us do not wish to emerge from this crisis without changing something for the better. We have perfected banana bread, know too much about Joe Wicks and got as far as we could on Duolingo. How about we become proactive in making a personal commitment to ourselves to do more? Become a volunteer, train as a mental health ambassador, develop charity trustee or board experience or become a visible LGBTQ+ ally at work. Do it and you won’t look back. Now that would be something worth celebrating. John McNamara FCA is Managing Director of Canada Life International and a member of the Chartered Accountants Diversity and Inclusion Committee. He is chairperson of the NGO behind SpunOut.ie and 50808.ie, the newly launched free crisis text messaging service funded by the HSE. He a member of the fundraising committee of BelongTo, which supports young LGBTQ+ people.

Jun 25, 2020
News

To truly embrace diversity, businesses must view inclusion through an intersectional lens. Deborah Somorin explains why this is so important, both personally and professionally. Intersectionality was first coined by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw back in 1989, and has gained common usage since. According to Womankind Worldwide, a global women’s rights organisation, intersectionality is “the concept that all oppression is linked… Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalise people – gender, race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability, etc..”. In 2015, ‘intersectionality’ was added to the Oxford Dictionary as “the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage”. What does that mean? While Pride is a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, it is also a protest, and intersectional Pride continues the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, as well as the rights of all marginalised communities in Ireland and around the world. Intersectional Pride Flag You’ll notice the Pride flag on the street and in some corporate Pride logos, such as LinkedIn and Chartered Accountants Ireland, look a little different this year. In 2018, designer Daniel Quasar started a movement to reboot the pride flag to make it more inclusive and representative of the LGBTQ+ rights we are still fighting for. According to Dezeen magazine, “Graphic designer Daniel Quasar has added a five-coloured chevron to the LGBT Rainbow Flag to place a greater emphasis on ‘inclusion and progression’. The flag includes black and brown stripes to represent marginalised LGBT communities of colour, along with the colours pink, light blue and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride Flag. Quasar’s design builds on a design adopted by the city of Philadelphia in June 2017.” Intersectional allyship To quote a recent GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) statement: “There can be no Pride if it is not intersectional”. If we want to celebrate Pride in our profession in an inclusive way, we must make an intentional effort to celebrate intersectional Pride. If Pride doesn’t include the acknowledgement of other marginalised other communities, it is performative. The LGBTQ+ movement doesn’t need performative allies – it needs authentic allies who care about making the communities we work and live in more inclusive of all races, genders, class, physical advantage and sexual orientations. I’m a gay, black woman who happens to be a Chartered Accountant. If your organisation or community is choosing not to view inclusion through an intersectional lens, you are unintentionally choosing not to include people like me. Deborah Somorin ACA is a Management Consultant at PwC, a member of the Chartered Accountants Ireland Diversity and Inclusion Committee and founder of Empower the Family.

Jun 25, 2020
Personal Impact

John Kennedy explains why knowing too much can harm your practice, and where you should apply your focus instead. When I ask Chartered Accountants to make a list of the problems that hold them back from getting new clients, I am sometimes surprised at the issues they include. One point never makes the list, yet it is often a challenge – they just know too much. How can that be a problem? Surely every client wants a highly knowledgeable accountant, someone who is on top of all of the details and knows all of the angles?This is partly true, but it hides how you can inadvertently damage your practice. Unless you take time to step back, think clearly from the perspective of the client and shape your words to meet their needs, you can quickly lose their attention. This problem is compounded by the assumption that your clients pay you for your knowledge of accountancy, but that is not why clients pay you. Why do clients pay you? This is a deceptively simple question. Is it because of the things you know or because of the things you do for them? Or is it because your qualifications mean you are empowered to authorise documents? Each answer constitutes some part of the reason, but each also obscures a vitally important point. There are two crucial distinctions. First, clients do not pay you for the things you do; they pay you for the value you deliver. Second, the value you provide is only partially expressed in monetary terms. The fundamental truth is that, in many cases, clients most value the way you make them feel. Where your real value lies When you were studying as an undergraduate, the emphasis was on increasing your knowledge. You bought textbooks, you attended lectures, you completed assignments and the focus was always on what you knew – more facts, more information, more knowledge. Your exams tested and confirmed your knowledge; the more you could prove all you knew, the higher the grades. And the more you knew, the better you felt and the better you were regarded by the training firms for whom you hoped to work. With this relentless emphasis on knowing more and more, it is unsurprising that you came to assume that knowledge was where your value as an accountant lay. Then you became a trainee Chartered Accountant in a firm. In your application, your interview and all of the tasks you were given, it was assumed that you had the knowledge required. At this point, the emphasis began to shift to the things you did. You were given specific tasks; what you did and the time it took was captured in timesheets. The emphasis of virtually every aspect of your work, your day and your value revolved around recording your activity in your timesheets. And then you set up your own practice. By now, the emphasis had become so engrained – entrenched even – that you assumed that the key to building a successful practice revolved around turning what you knew into what you do, and recording that in timesheets to bill your client. This focus transferred to your client, but the truth is that this is not where your greatest value – nor your greatest opportunity – lies. Your client wants your value, not your time To build a successful practice, you need to move your thinking – and the focus for your client – beyond what you do and towards the value you provide. This involves two steps. The first step is to consciously move the emphasis from the things you do to the value you deliver. This first step is widely accepted but poorly implemented in practice. The second step is perhaps even more critical if much less understood. To build a practice with strong bonds with long-term clients, you need to move the emphasis from facts to feelings. Human beings like to believe that our species is more rational than it really is. We believe that we see or hear something, we analyse it rationally, and we decide. But do you suppress your feelings at work and give dispassionate advice? Are you always logical and provide clients with clearly thought-out analysis? This is what we like to believe, but it is often untrue. The reality looks much more like this: we see or hear something; we filter it through our emotions; we interpret it and tell ourselves a story; and on that basis, we decide if it is right or wrong. This filtering process happens all the time and while every client wants the facts dealt with, they assume that this is the minimum level of service they will receive from their accountant. The bonds that make clients work with you and generate referrals are forged beneath the level of conscious thoughts. Even in business, the way we feel is of enormous importance so you can create a genuine edge by understanding and applying this. The positive feelings generated by your work include peace of mind, increased confidence in decision-making, or the anticipation of a comfortable retirement. These are important sources of value, yet few realise just how vital these submerged feelings are – even in the most dispassionate business transaction. Every interaction has a submerged, and usually unstated, emotional aspect. As a practice owner, you must understand this and use it to your advantage. When making the shift in focus from the things you do to the value you deliver, you must take account of the genuine feelings at play. Value is about more than money Feelings are always there and are an important part of the value provided by a Chartered Accountant – no matter how much we try to convince ourselves that it is “just business”. Everyone has clients they like and clients they do not like; phone calls they look forward to making and phone calls they hate making; tasks they like doing and tasks they hate. We are very skilled at telling ourselves stories that turn these feelings into apparently rational explanations supported by facts to support our conclusions – but there is no avoiding the reality that feelings are very powerful, and this is the same for your client. Let us take an example that shows just how powerful this concept is. Complete this sentence: “More than anything, I want my children to be…” I have used this example for decades and the answer is almost always “happy”. Occasionally, the respondent will say “content” or “fulfilled”, but in each case the answer is an emotion. It is never a financial or factual answer. This is a simple example of just how important feelings are. How to gain an advantage Gaining a client does not begin and end with you making clear all of the things you will do for them. For an individual to act, they must first feel confident that you understand what they want. And more importantly, they must also be convinced and motivated to the point that they are committed to working with you. Being convinced and motivated depends on your ability to address the feelings that so often remain submerged, unexamined, and unaddressed. I have heard about all the effort accountants put into planning and preparing for meetings with potential clients, often spending hours crafting a well-designed and high-quality document and accompanying presentation. But they then go on to tell me that, even as they are discussing the document or giving the presentation, they know it is just not working. Almost everyone has experienced this in some way, but many simply continue as if the submerged feelings are not there or are insignificant. The habitual pattern is to press on with more information, more facts, more details. The result is that you completely overlook the reality that the submerged feelings are the decisive factor in the ultimate success of any relationship. It is much more useful to bring these feelings to the surface. You do this by using questions to draw out how the work you are discussing with your client will make them feel. The truth is that few clients care about exemplary management accounts or pristine submissions. Some do want to use their cash more effectively or to have a clear tax plan in place, but everyone wants to feel the peace of mind or sense of security that these actions bring. Yet, many accountants spend too much time talking about the surface facts, the facts that – even when they are dealt with well – are, at best, efficient and uninspiring. The often-unacknowledged truth is that the feelings you create in your clients are just as valuable in building long-term relationships as the work you do. When you deal with the surface facts well, but the submerged feelings are left unattended, there is the illusion of progress, but the relationship is merely routine with little enthusiasm. New clients in particular will sometimes engage you as part of their initial wave of enthusiasm, irrespective of the work you have done, but that will undoubtedly be a passing phase. The worst-case scenario is where the factual, practical aspects of the relationship are not adequately clarified and addressed, and the submerged feelings are also poorly dealt with. If this is the case, the client may accept you as a necessary evil, and you both bump along for a short time until your client moves to another practice. Even if they stay, these are the clients that are difficult to deal with, slow to pay, and frustrating to have. Only when you take control of, and actively deal with, both the surface level factual tasks and the submerged feelings do relationships take off. When this happens, it is of real value to both you and your client. These are the client relationships you want – you are both in step, you both work well together, and you both feel positive about the work. Too often, however, this kind of relationship is left to chance because the influential role of submerged feelings is seldom acknowledged, discussed, and actively addressed. But you can make these positive and rewarding client relationships a matter of choice. Just get into the habit of raising your clients’ understanding of the importance of the positive feelings generated by working constructively with you as their accountant. Ask about the areas they want to be confident in; probe how putting their affairs in order will reduce stress; and test and draw out the peace of mind they will get. As you become skilled at eliciting and addressing these submerged feelings, you will set yourself apart from your competitors. Move your emphasis from what you do to the value it brings, and then take the critical step of drawing out and addressing the submerged feelings that are most important to your client.   John Kennedy is a strategic advisor. He has worked with leaders and senior management teams in a range of organisations and sectors.

Jun 02, 2020
Personal Impact

Dr Annette Clancy explains why employees’ mental health should be the organising principle for businesses in the 21st century. 20-30% of us will experience mental health issues during our lifetime. Could the quantity and quality of work have something to do with this?  A recent study conducted in the UK shows that one-third of us are not happy about the amount of time we spend at work. More than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems. As a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness, worry and anxiety. Employees’ mental health is affected by their roles. For example, we might expect to see mental health issues in workers who deal with trauma and violence every day, but studies also show that workplace culture, bullying, disciplinary processes, and toxic workplace relationships all contribute to deteriorating mental health. Many businesses have policies for mental health and workplace wellness, but for those who are trying to cope with challenging workloads and suffering at the same time, policies may not be enough. Very often, people hide what they are feeling for fear they will be stigmatised or punished. Policies need to be backed up with empathetic intervention by managers who have the right combination of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills. Yet, managers are rarely trained to either recognise or manage conversations with team members who may be experiencing mental health difficulties. So, what can managers do to de-stigmatise mental health issues? 1. Create an organisational culture where there is respect for people. This sounds simple, but in practice, it rarely is. Most mental health issues arise from toxic relationships, bullying, harassment or power dynamics. Changing the culture around this would go a long way in helping to eliminate some mental health issues. 2. Train all managers and team leaders in ‘soft’ skills. Help people develop the ability to listen to what is not being said and read body language so that they can pay attention to those they manage. Stress and anxiety are felt, not spoken, so managers must be attuned to how it is expressed. 3. Encourage a culture of openness about time constraints and workload. Employees must feel able to speak up if the demands placed on them are too high. Also, ensure that employees’ jobs are manageable within the time for which they are contracted. Expanding job creep is one starting place for stress in organisations. Monitoring this aspect of an organisation’s behaviour alone could impact significantly on mental health. 4. Allow staff to attend counselling and support services during working hours, as they would for other medical appointments. This proactive initiative sends an important signal that mental health is a priority in your organisation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as “the state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. The WHO definition provides a policy template for organisations wishing to create a culture in which the mental health of all workers is prioritised, not only those with mental health issues. It offers an interesting insight into how an organisation might be structured if mental wellbeing was the organising principle. As mental health issues continue to increase both within and beyond the workplace, perhaps the WHO definition isn’t so far-fetched. Putting people at the centre of organisations used to be the way we did things; putting the mental health of employees at the centre of organisations may be the way we need to do things in the 21st century. Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor of Management at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy.

Jun 02, 2020
Strategy

The Irish economy has taken a blow because of the pandemic. How can we go about restoring it? Foreign Direct Investment is an important key to recovery, argues Thomas Sheerin. COVID-19 has had a severe impact on the Irish economy. Activity and employment have dropped sharply and this is expected to continue for some time. As Ireland begins its recovery, the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) sector will play a significant role from an employment, activity and financial contribution perspective. Continued and sustained investment in multiple sectors such as technology, pharma, medical devices and financial services will greatly assist the rebuilding of our economy. FDI’s contribution to the Irish economy has been significant, with over 1,200 overseas companies directly employing over 200,000 people. In addition, FDI contributes significant tax revenue and generates commercial activity across the wider economy. FDI drives investment in research and innovation, with strong linkages to Irish third-level education institutions. During the pandemic, many FDI companies engaged in the production of hand sanitizers, ventilators and vaccine research. These positive contributions will prove more valuable than ever as Ireland emerges from a substantial economic downturn. In particular, the local impact of FDI and its links to domestic businesses will assist recovery across the country. The key attributes that have assisted Ireland’s success in attracting and retaining FDI remain very strong. These include a skilled workforce, a competitive business environment, a strategic location, EU membership and a competitive stable tax regime. Notwithstanding the current challenging economic climate, continued success in the FDI space is reflected in recent job and investment announcements from Bearing Point//Beyond and Udemy. Overcoming the challenges As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, businesses are feeling the human, social and economic implications. Businesses must continue to manage and mitigate the disruption that COVID-19 brings to every aspect of their operations. From working with our clients, it’s clear that key challenges arise in the areas of supply chain, travel, workforce and tax, trade and regulation. The effects of COVID-19 are particularly felt by organisations dependent on supply chains for products and materials. Businesses have been forced to act quickly to map their entire supply chains. This provides the visibility and information needed to make critical decisions in real-time and to identify alternative supply chain strategies. From a workforce perspective, new employee welfare and engagement challenges have emerged. Technology needs to be adopted quickly to ensure that teams can work remotely while staying connected and productive. Returning to the workplace needs to be managed effectively with clear processes in place – early engagement, clear communication and provision of alternative working arrangements are key. As a small, open economy, travel plays a fundamental role in how FDI investment is secured, sustained and developed. COVID-19 restrictions have brought international travel to a standstill, presenting a significant challenge for FDI. However, proactive adoption of technology and utilisation of video and web conferencing technologies has enabled the necessary connections to continue to take place during the pandemic. COVID-19 has brought additional complexity and risk from a tax and regulatory perspective. This requires FDI businesses to consider the broader economic, political and societal context in which they operate to ensure informed, tax compliant decisions are made which drive the business forward. While the economic outlook for Ireland has changed dramatically in recent months, the road to recovery is underway. Similar to our emergence from the 2008 financial crisis, FDI should  prove to be a key feature in that recovery. Thomas Sheerin is a Tax Director in PwC.

Jun 18, 2020
Strategy

How can we safeguard our economic future through digital opportunities? By investing now, we can create a better Ireland going forward, says Erik O’Donovan. Digital tools are essential services to our economy and society. They have enabled us to connect, work, study, shop, and access public services in these challenging times. Digital tools and data are even assisting and enhancing healthcare provision during this public health emergency. Ireland had made progress in its digital development going into the COVID-19 crisis. However, some gaps remain in our relative readiness to access and adopt existing and emerging digital opportunities for future growth and well-being. Accessing these digital opportunities has been a challenge for some, while the attainment of digital skills and bridging regional digital divides have grown in importance. The ambition of the National Broadband Plan and opportunities presented by 5G technology must be realised. Criminal elements have also sought to exploit the crisis using digital tools, underlying the need to preserve trust and protect our essential services, businesses, and people online. Finally, this emergency has shown the value of government, agencies, businesses and citizens working together, both at home and internationally, to drive positive change in difficult times. A digital recovery plan Our economic future is intrinsically linked to the ability of our health and wider governance systems to confidently model and plan for the phased re-opening of the country. Furthermore, our economic future must be robust enough for the potential re-emergence of such emergencies in the future. Trustworthy digital tools and data, used in conjunction with a suite of health measures, offer the opportunity to assist Ireland and Europe in transitioning from this emergency to providing better public services, economic growth, quality jobs and enhancing well-being. The European Commission’s COVID-19 recovery plan for the EU is based on a more digitalised Single Market and green growth. It has been estimated that, under certain conditions, a more digitalised Single Market could provide annual gains of up to €178 billion to the EU economy until 2030. Ibec research indicates there has been a business move towards more online sales (31%), coupled with greater use of remote working (73%) and increased investment in technology (42%), pointing to a more digitalised way of conducting business in the future. So, how should Ireland ensure it is at the forefront of this digital future? Given the scope of the challenge, the government should appoint a Minister dedicated to digital affairs to work with national and EU stakeholders and drive a coordinated approach to our further digital transformation. Protect services, business, and citizens, and preserve trust online. Ensure national cybersecurity and data protection capabilities are adequately resourced. Signal and enable further digital opportunity across our economy. Deliver new roadmaps on digital and artificial intelligence. Finally, invest in supports, research, infrastructure, and skills necessary to help government, public services, businesses, educators, and individuals to lock-in positive digital developments, as well as access and adopt further digital opportunities. As James Joyce noted, “I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today.” It is time to reimagine tomorrow. Read about Ibec’s Reboot and Reimagine campaign at www.ibec.ie. Erik O’Donovan is the Head of Digital Economic Policy at Ibec.

Jun 18, 2020
Strategy

Caroline Pope considers the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and their relevance as a framework to rebuild resilient companies as the economy emerges from the COVID-19 crisis. At present, the full impact of COVID-19 on the Irish and global economy is not yet clear. However, the ability of society to work together towards a common goal has been recognised and should form part of the recovery. In 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) were adopted by all member states. Their purpose is to coordinate efforts to improve human lives, protect the environment, and ensure the sustainable development of our societies. Sustainability may not be the most obvious lens through which one should assess the abnormal events of recent months. Yet trends are emerging, which may make business leaders think more deeply about sustainability in the context of their organisations. Below, we outline three of these factors. The UN SDGs drive increased resilience. There is growing evidence that businesses that have already aligned their strategy with the UN SDGs are more resilient to an economic shock. The UN SDGs are not going away. The future business landscape is uncertain, but increasing evidence points to an operating environment that favours businesses that align with the principles of sustainability. A business strategy aligned with the UN SDGs can create value. Aligning a business strategy with the UN SDGs may seem like a daunting process, but there are well-understood methodologies that can be applied. The UN SDGs drive increased resilience  Businesses that align their core strategy with the UN SDGs (also known as ‘sustainable businesses’) take a broader, stakeholder-based view of their activities. As a result, these businesses tend to demonstrate a deeper understanding of oft-overlooked or under-valued areas of their companies, such as supply chains, and their degree of interconnectedness with society in general. This broader understanding, which is the result of UN SDG alignment, can position them to respond more rapidly to the threats that COVID-19 represents to their stakeholders. In particular, supply chains are coming under increasing pressure due to the global nature of COVID-19, combined with the increasingly international scope of business. The advice from supply chain experts such as Richard Wilding OBE, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at Cranfield University, is to “urgently review their supply chain to find out how exposed they are… it’s still common for businesses to just deal with a central HQ of a supplier and not know what route the supplies they need are taking”. Full alignment with UN SDG 10, Reduced Inequalities, will drive businesses towards total supply chain transparency; they will know each factory where their inputs are processed and all the intermediate steps along the way. These businesses are in a much better position than those rushing to uncover their true supply chain risks amid a crisis. This seemingly serendipitous point illustrates a key feature of SDG alignment: it is consistent with well-managed operations. Alignment with SDGs has also made companies more resilient. For example, there has been a paradigm shift for many businesses since COVID-19 emerged as they have sought to facilitate organisation-wide remote-working to prevent activity grinding to a halt. Contrast this with sustainable businesses such as Vodafone who, in recent years, saw remote working as a means of advancing Goal 5, Gender Equality, and have already invested in the infrastructure to facilitate this. Finally, sustainable businesses enjoyed a higher degree of investor confidence before the economy shut down and seem to continue to enjoy a higher degree of investor confidence as the shut-down continues. Figures published by Funds Europe suggest that values of European sustainable funds dropped by 10.6%, compared with the “overall European fund universe” which declined by 16.2%. Robeco, the global asset manager, has also found a positive relationship between lower credit risk and sector alignment with SDGs. The RobecoSAM Global SDG Credits strategy outperformed the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Corporate Index by +90 basis points in March of this year. To compound these data points, the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) membership group recommends that all signatories (which represents $86.3 trillion in assets under management) support sustainable companies through the crisis in the interest of public health and long-term economic performance, even if that limits short-term returns. The UN SDGs are not going away The existential threat of COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus other threats of a similar scale, such as climate change and social inequality. The global response to COVID-19 has shown that there is a willingness to embrace long-term changes and drive towards a common goal. This sense of spirit will likely fade as the crisis abates, but it is unlikely to disappear totally. Companies that genuinely embedded purpose before March 2020 are likely to experience favourable trade winds from an upturn due to the opportunity for reflection (and social media opinions) by customers and employees during the lockdown. As societies get over the initial shock of the pandemic and the focus shifts from lockdown to restart, the critical question is how to put the economy and society on a trajectory that lasts. There is a growing consensus in Europe, for example, that the required economic stimulus will have a green hue. In April, the Government of Ireland indicated that it fully supports the EU Green Deal proposed as the central tenet of an economic recovery plan, aligning with 16 other member states. The EU Green Deal provides a roadmap towards a clean, circular economy, restoring biodiversity and cutting pollution. The proposed EU direction of travel is very much aligned with the UN SDGs and this political environment should create an opportunity for businesses that choose to swim with the current. Investors, such as Blackrock, have signalled that regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, they still expect companies to continue with their ESG (environmental, social and governance) targets. Blackrock has pledged to vote against the directors and boards of companies that fail to meet its expectations to manage environmental risk in 2020 and called for companies to report in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework. The asset manager expects companies to publicly report how sustainability risks and opportunities are integrated into business strategy. In an Irish context, the UN SDG Index report, released in 2019, shows significant challenges to Ireland meeting several key metrics, including SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDG 17 (Partnerships). This is due in part to an absence of information, but also reflects our known challenges on climate action. This was a negative result for Ireland, and there will likely be an emphasis from the Government on these three SDGs as part of the recovery package. While we are all preparing for a change in dialogue and a focus on climate action once the new government is formed, SDG 12 (which focuses on responsible consumption and production) presents a similarly large opportunity. In particular, companies that have already implemented a more circular model for resource management and waste streams are benefiting from a first-mover advantage in the circular economy. A business strategy aligned to the SDGs can create value  Given the significant opportunities and risks associated with the UN SDGs, companies that excel at identifying and incorporating these issues into their strategy enjoy a competitive advantage in the marketplace and among institutional investors. It is increasingly clear that sustainability and return on investment are connected. To help boards understand and shape the total impact of a company’s strategy and operations externally – on the environment, the company’s consumers and employees, the communities in which it operates, and other stakeholders – and internally on the company’s performance, I suggest a five-part framework (refer to Table 2). This framework for board oversight recognises that creating long-term value increasingly requires companies to understand the impact of their strategies on key stakeholders – investors, employees, customers, and communities – as well as on the natural resources and supply chains that the company relies on, all of which are fundamental elements of the SDGs. An integrated commercial strategy encourages companies and boards to widen their aperture for a fuller view of sustainability, strategy, and long-term performance. Wherever the company is on the sustainability journey, this framework can help to drive a robust conversation about what sustainability risks and opportunities may impact the company’s key stakeholders, corporate strategy, and long-term performance, and how they will be addressed. Aligning with SDGs will help businesses identify risks and opportunities that may have been omitted from previous analysis and will also provide them with a better understanding of their stakeholders and their relevance to those stakeholders. By communicating their progress towards SDGs, companies can enhance their reputation both internally (with employees) and externally (with the broader public); this transparency contributes to enhanced trust and confidence in the companies’ operations and contribution to society. The improved trust may then result in more robust and sustainable economic, environmental, and social performance. Companies that identify and incorporate these issues into their strategy will stand apart as forward-thinking organisations, future-proofed, well-managed, and able to recover quickest in a post-COVID-19 environment. In conclusion The changes we have experienced in the first months of this year will have a devastating impact on the global economy, but this in no way diminishes the relevance of the UN SDGs despite being conceived in a more stable environment. Businesses that have already aligned their strategies and practices have shown enhanced resilience – sometimes in unexpected ways. In the absence of a crystal ball, it is hard to predict the next six months, let alone the next decade. Still, there are many indicators that the operating environment will be even more favourable to businesses that effectively integrate sustainability into their core business strategy. Organisations that rise to these challenges and show leadership will be rewarded by their stakeholders and gain access to new opportunities. Those that fail to act may put their margins and even their business models at risk.   Caroline Pope is Associate Director at KPMG Sustainable Futures, a cross-functional team of experts who help corporate and public sector clients plan and execute programmes addressing environmental, social and governance topics, decarbonisation, and long-term value creation.

Jun 02, 2020
Strategy

The accountancy profession needs to engage with  how emerging technologies like artificial intelligence will disrupt traditional career pathways. By Dr Patrick Buckley, Dr Elaine Doyle, and Ruth Gilligan Information technology has become inextricably embedded in virtually every aspect of our professional and personal lives. Data about what we do, what we are interested in, with whom we communicate and where we go can all be captured and stored at a scale unimaginable even five years ago. Technology giants such as Google, Amazon and Alibaba are engaged in a competitive race to capture the data generated by this new reality, lending credence to The Economist’s claim in 2017 that “the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data”. The data captured is valuable for several reasons. For one, traditional activities such as advertising can be personalised and optimised to a revolutionary degree – think of Facebook. Data also allows companies to build entirely new products. For example, the utility of Google Search results depends on analysing what information others have found useful in the past. A further value assigned to these data streams is linked to the development of artificial intelligence (AI). A host of mathematical and algorithmic tools – some novel, some more mature but turbocharged by the advent of big data – has propelled the development of AI. Leaving aside philosophical questions such as to what extent these systems are intelligent, every-day and now familiar examples of AI (Siri and Alexa, for example), are demonstrably practical and effective. These visible successes, combined with the breakneck pace of development, pose a multitude of questions about the impact of AI on our future – not least its impact on the future of work. The future of work Concerns about automation and jobless futures are not new. Two centuries ago, Ricardo proposed that technology caused unemployment. In the 1930s, Keynes predicted that new technologies would reduce the demand for human labour. In the 1980s, Leontief compared the role of a human in the modern economy to that of a horse in agricultural production – first diminished, and then eliminated by automation. Until the advent of AI, the consensus was that such predictions were overly simplistic. While new technologies can have a destructive effect on a particular industry or sector, their introduction often leads to increased opportunities in other areas. The overall effect is to change the structure of the jobs market, rather than result in a reduction in the work available. The jobs eliminated by new technology are replaced by jobs requiring higher-order cognitive skills (e.g. a robot replaces a welder but requires a software engineer to program it). Though this can be frightening and stressful for individuals, at a societal level, as long as education and training enable people to adapt to changing conditions by acquiring new skills, the long-term impact of technological change on the jobs market should be positive. The rise of AI has disrupted this consensus. In brief, the suggestion is that the human monopoly on tasks requiring significant cognitive processing is being broken. Education and training may become ladders to nowhere if AI systems that match or surpass human cognitive abilities are feasible. A glance at the world today demonstrates that many tasks humans once performed are being automated by AI systems, with virtually all studies showing that the process is accelerating as the capability of AI systems improves. For example, two Oxford economists, Frey and Osborne, predict that 47% of jobs in the US will be automated by 2030. The impact of AI Investigating how this disruption is likely to impact the accountancy profession, our research profiled the tasks that practitioners perform at different stages of their career and at three levels: trainee/junior, manager, and director/partner. We then calculated the probability of each task being automated by aggregating information from a range of sources, including academic studies and reports from professional, industry and government organisations. Our analysis makes it clear that, taken as a whole, accountants perform an enormous variety of tasks for their clients and employers. Some tasks, such as preparing accounts or tax returns, are considered extremely vulnerable to automation. Others, such as designing effective financial control strategies for clients, building relationships, or mentoring juniors and trainees are not. This feature of the profession has two implications: Given the enormous variety of tasks performed and roles fulfilled by accountants, assigning a single probability and suggesting that this represents an objective assessment of how vulnerable the profession as a whole is to automation is a simplification to the point of absurdity. The large number of tasks not vulnerable to automation means that for the foreseeable future, the profession as a whole does not face an existential threat. Tasks like designing effective tax strategies or the financial structures of businesses will require a mix of quantitative and soft skills as well as a deep, strategic understanding of the world beyond the capabilities of AI. Career pathways However, this does not mean that the profession can afford to be complacent. Analysing the potential effects of AI at different stages of a traditional career pathway reveals that the tasks vulnerable to automation belong predominately to early career stages. This is particularly the case for trainees/juniors, but also applies substantially to certain work at manager level. Therefore, while accountants may always be needed, the current economic case for most trainees and some managers may disappear. This presents challenges for the profession. Most obvious is the need to redesign career pathways in response to these trends. A traditional career pathway through the profession follows the well-worn path of trainee to manager to director to partner. A key question for firms and the profession is how to replenish senior ranks if the bottom rungs of the career progression ladder are removed. If there are no trainees or junior staff, where does the next generation of managers, directors and partners come from? A second, related issue is that of skills and knowledge development. Generally, the more experienced individuals in organisations perform the more cognitively demanding tasks. The tasks most vulnerable to AI automation are often seen as repetitive and undemanding. At first glance, the automation of such tasks may seem a positive development for employers and employees alike. However, this perspective takes no account of the knowledge and skills gained by performing these tasks in a real-world setting. For example, designing effective tax strategies requires experience that can only be acquired by spending time working on basic tax compliance. It may be possible to develop the skills and aptitudes required by more senior practitioners without a long, real-world apprenticeship. However, there is no evidence to support this position. At the very least, it seems likely that the entry pathway to the profession will need restructuring, with substantial changes required to curricula and entry requirements. In an extreme case, firms may face severe skills shortages a few years after engaging in significant automation. Higher-order skills may atrophy and disappear due to the lack of entry-level positions rupturing the supply pipeline of employees capable of performing higher-order tasks. Perception of the profession A third potential issue is the attractiveness of the profession to new entrants. If some of the tasks traditionally performed by managers are automated, then this will presumably have the effect of reducing the total number of individuals required at this level. The profession may evolve towards a position where a relatively small number of individuals (say 5%) do high-value, well-remunerated work while the other 95% are relegated to low-value, poorly paid tasks. A rational and risk-weighing decision-maker, the very type of intellect the profession seeks to attract, may select away from careers where the odds seem stacked against being able to access opportunity. In the long run, this selection bias may have a significant adverse effect on the profession’s ability to attract high-calibre candidates. The future of the profession Forecasting the future is a notoriously uncertain endeavour. Any predictions regarding the impact of AI on the accountancy profession (including those in this article) should be treated with scepticism. Reports of the imminent demise of the accountancy profession are, in all likelihood, greatly exaggerated. However, it would be equally short-sighted to discount the potential impact of AI on the profession entirely. It does seem likely that in the medium-term, the traditional career pathways associated with accountancy will be significantly dislocated. Responding to this will require meaningful, profession-wide dialogue and debate about how the next generation of accountants will be recruited, educated, and motivated.   Dr Patrick Buckley and Dr Elaine Doyle lecture at the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick, and Ruth Gilligan is a Tax Associate at PwC Ireland.

Jun 02, 2020
Strategy

Why is a target operating model important to your organisation? Kieran O’Brien explains.To succeed in today’s challenging marketplace, organisations must be capable of a continual process of transformation and renewal. To achieve this, an organisation must have an in-depth understanding of its existing business operating model and how this model can be changed to optimise operations with resulting increased returns on investments, better service delivery for customers, as well as new offerings. Recent studies indicate that optimum business models are most often found in start-up entities. In more established entities, however, operating models are often no longer appropriate for the business and the challenges the unit is facing. Your organisation’s business model may have served you well in the past, but there is no guarantee that it will be successful for the future. Business models need to be continuously reviewed and refreshed to deliver on the organisation’s goals. Technology plays a vital role in supporting your business model. However, it is only one of the pillars supporting your business model alongside organisation/people, go-to-market approach, and process. The reality is that many organisations do not fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of their existing business operating model and are often slow to conduct a deep-dive analysis and embrace an enhanced operating model. In this article, we look at how your organisation might review your current operating model to move to a target operating model that creates a platform for sustainable future growth. Definition Although the term is familiar, there are various definitions for the target operating model (TOM). We would characterise it as a representation of the structures needed for an organisation to create and deliver optimal value for its customers in a repeatable manner while delivering on the organisation’s vision and growth strategy. Organisation, market strategy, process, and technology are the key underlying components of a TOM and are critical to its success. Ultimately, the TOM should provide a visual overview of how a business can be ideally structured to implement the organisation’s strategy by showing how each of the main business activities is represented. Common issues In my experience, TOMs can be ineffective due to several common factors. These include: The inflexible nature of historic business models, which fail to support a business that is evolving its operations (for example, a financing organisation that is moving from supporting large/complex transactions to a flow business operation); In financial services, the continuation of the historic segmentation between ‘front office’ and ‘back office’ when it is evident that both cannot continue to operate independently of each other effectively; and Having an operating model that is not aligned to a specific business operation, with the consequence that the organisation develops functional silos that result in process inefficiencies and poor communication. Key elements There can be several aspects to a TOM, but the critical interdependent elements we consider to be essential are:    1.   Organisation/people;    2.  Go-to-market;    3.  Process; and    4.  Technology. We discuss each of these elements in turn below and outline scenarios or questions for consideration under each category.Organisation/people The objective of a TOM is the development of an organisation that will support the business strategy and has clear roles and responsibilities with measurable skills and capabilities. The organisation should have the right number of people with the appropriate remuneration, expertise and experience across all functions. Also, the structure should be transparent, easy to understand and adaptable to changes that will arise over time.  Before determining the appropriate organisational structure, consider the following elements: Define the existing organisational structure; Review current role profiles, reporting lines and the number of people in each role; Review the type of people in each position (full-time, temporary, outsourced etc.); Complete a competence, performance and experience audit; Analyse performance evaluation methods; Analyse remuneration and incentive schemes; Analyse decision-making and governance structures; Analyse the degree of headquarter control versus local/regional autonomy; In a banking/leasing entity scenario and where the entity is bank-owned, determine the level of bank control versus the lease organisation control for critical functions (e.g. credit, pricing, asset management etc.); and Determine whether the entity is a functional or a product organisation. Go-to-market The successful business model should have a go-to-market (GTM) strategy that delivers a range of products and/or services to its customers on a profitable and cost-effective basis. The various GTM channels should be clearly defined and operate effectively. Let’s take the scenario of reviewing the GTM approach for a leasing/financial services provider with a supporting bank branch network. Areas that could be subject for review before deciding on the optimum GTM strategy include an analysis of: The entity’s commercial approach; The revenue and profitability model by product and service; The sales/operations approach, with a focus on the direct and inside sales route; How the supporting bank branch network operates and is controlled; The distribution routes to market through brokers, partnerships and others, and how this operates and is controlled; The typical customer profile and segmentation; The product and service offerings; Regulated and non-regulated product offerings; ‘X as a service’ and pay-per-usage products and services; Value-added data and customer insights in the customer value proposition; Various product portfolios for cross-selling opportunities; The ancillary product offerings including insurance, maintenance and others; Ancillary product offerings provided by associations, partnerships and joint ventures; and The asset management, end-of-lease operations and systems capabilities. Process Organisations must analyse and define the optimal business processes that support their business objectives. This involves the development of processes that are scalable, repeatable and the performance of which is measurable. An end-to-end ‘as is’ process review is recommended to map out the process suppliers, inputs, outputs and customers, and detail all critical dependencies. An essential element of this analysis is the identification of the core and non-core processes of the business to determine where value is added. Areas that could be subject for review before deciding on the optimal processes include: A review of the existing operational model, and determining whether it is centralised or decentralised; A review of the organisation’s governance and control procedures; Analysis of the processes and services that are supported in-house versus outsourced along with their interfaces and management; Analysis of the level of outsourcing, including the types of outsourcing and whether outsourcing is single-vendor or multi-vendor; Analysis of any shared service centre(s) supporting the organisation; In a bank-owned leasing entity scenario, an analysis of any processes and services supported centrally by the bank; A review of any flow business processes, mass customised processes, and any bespoke solution processes; and A review of the customer interfaces and aspects of online/offline elements of the customer journey and their interfaces. Technology The chosen business model must have the necessary technology infrastructure to support both people and processes. There is a requirement to identify and implement the technological and digital systems required for the optimum delivery of products and services to customers. Areas for consideration include digitalisation, data analytics and services automation. Taking the scenario of a bank-owned leasing organisation, areas for review before deciding on the optimal technology platforms include: A review of the core supporting systems/platforms covering front-end, back-end, CRM (customer relationship management) and reporting; A review of the level of integration, if any, of lease entity systems with bank systems; Analysis of the level of end-customer and intermediary systems linkage and automation; Analysis of the systems for quotation, credit approval and asset management; Analysis of technology capabilities and the technological ecosystem to support new products, especially in the areas of ‘X as a service’, and pay-per-usage models; and A review of the extent and quality of both internal and external data sources and the analytical techniques used to support better decision-making, as well as unlocking economic value and generating customer insights. The ‘Triple S’ approach The design of an effective TOM that supports your business should incorporate the essential elements described above. At the outset, we recommend that you consider what we call the ‘Triple S’ approach. Strategy: what is the overall business strategy, and what are the key underlying elements supporting the strategy? These elements should include the offer (products, solutions and services); go-to-market (the segment/category of clients to whom the offer is addressed); and channel (the route through which the customer will be serviced); Structure: what organisational and operational structure is required to support the strategy? This is the framework of the operating model; and Systems: what operational procedures and IT systems are required to make the structure work effectively? This is the detailed design and implementation of the TOM. Considering that the TOM is the combination of structure and systems, this approach should ensure that the TOM is aligned to a specific business model. However, variations of the model may be required within an organisation to support individual business lines.The benefits An optimised TOM enables your business to implement its vision and business strategy effectively. Working towards the right TOM for your business will identify deficiencies and gaps in your organisation that require remediation, such as redundant roles and role duplication. It provides an opportunity to optimise your business operations and reduce your operating cost by looking at various insourcing/outsourcing alternatives. It also provides a significant level of internal transparency to your staff, giving clarity around roles and decision-making and often accelerating customer outcomes. Before embarking on a significant TOM review, it is worth completing an independent evaluation of the TOMs employed by your peer entities. This can provide invaluable insights into your competitors’ operations and allow you to focus on the ‘best in class’ elements for adoption in your organisation. But beware – making changes to your organisation’s TOM can result in major transformational projects, which requires a robust governance structure. In summary, designing a new TOM provides an opportunity to optimise the size, structure and shape of your business and ultimately, deliver on your organisation’s strategies.Kieran O’Brien FCA is Executive Director at Invigors EMEA Limited (part of The Alta Group).

Jun 02, 2020
Strategy

Although the weeks and months ahead will undoubtedly be challenging, quality should not be compromised argues Fiona Kirwan. Full-year and interim year reporting deadlines are fast approaching for accountants both in industry and practice. Companies’ financial reporting functions and their auditors are getting used to working in ‘new normal’ circumstances. However, these changed circumstances must not compromise the quality of the work we all deliver day-to-day. Here are some issues Chartered Accountants should consider as they seek to maintain the highest level of quality in all aspects of their work. People COVID-19 has transformed the way we live and work. We have heard this phrase a lot in recent weeks, but it remains true. Almost instantly, employees who are used to the rhythm of the workplace became remote workers – many without the chance to prepare adequately. This creates challenges for managers of both finance and audit teams in leading teams remotely. It is more challenging to coach and supervise people who are not physically in the same location. It is therefore important to stay in touch and stay close to your people. Connecting as a community during this time takes imagination. It could mean developing new channels or social tools for employees to share stories; it could mean embracing video calls to create a sense of physical presence. Virtual social events are becoming the norm. Even small investments in building a genuine community can have a significant impact on your employees’ morale. This sense of community helps when coaching teams. People who are closely aligned on a personal level will find it easier to communicate complex information simply and team members will feel more comfortable asking questions and querying essential messages. Teams must be aware that some colleagues may not have optimal ‘work from home’ environments; some are juggling home-schooling with office hours; others are working from their bedrooms in shared living spaces. Organisations should implement flexible working structures to allow teams to deliver quality work while maintaining processes to ensure confidentiality and transparency. Such flexible working structures mean that everyone in the financial reporting process, both finance teams and auditors, must allow extra time to execute tasks remotely. Technology Almost all finance functions and accounting firms transitioned to remote working arrangements overnight, and the quality of an organisation’s technology is critical to day-to-day operations and ensuring business continuity in this scenario. Some organisations may have challenges arising from the fact that their teams are heavily reliant on desktop computers, second screens, or printing facilities that are not available in the home environment. The move to remote working could also leave team members isolated, but this is where the ability to host video conferences, share screens, and collaborate in files in real-time has become vital. Not only do these technical solutions allow teams to communicate internally, they have also become critical channels for communication between auditors and their clients. At PwC, we utilise our combined suite of audit tools – Connect, Aura and Halo – to communicate with our clients and colleagues across the globe. We also use Google’s G-Suite of collaboration tools, and Datashare to help us work with the data of clients with less complex IT systems. The recent uptake in the adoption of these technologies has seamlessly transitioned a lot of this work, which was historically done in person, into the digital realm.  Controls One area where the successful application of technology solutions has become essential is the implementation of internal controls over financial reporting. The appropriate tone from the top is vital; managers need to remind people that remote working might change how controls work, but it does not lower the bar. How companies operate their controls has been amended to allow for remote working. For example, a manual sign-off may now be replaced with a confirmation by email. In these uncertain times, companies will want to ensure that shortcuts are not being taken and rigour – both in procedures and the provision of appropriate evidence to support the implementation of controls – are maintained. Auditors will need to consider whether the controls, as they currently operate, remain fit for purpose and any increased risks that may have arisen from recent changes. Financial reporting The COVID-19 outbreak, and the measures taken to mitigate its impact, are having a significant effect on economic activity. This, in turn, has implications for financial reporting. Companies and auditors must work together to ensure that quality is not compromised – even in challenging circumstances. The following is a sample of the wide range of accounting issues that companies and auditors have considered in recent weeks: Going concern and viability statement: companies must assess going concern at each annual and interim reporting period, with a look-forward period of one year from the financial statement issuance date. Companies impacted by COVID-19 have had to update their forecasts and provide appropriate disclosures to alert investors about the underlying financial impact and management’s plans to address it, including if conditions give rise to uncertainties about the company’s ability to continue to operate; Subsequent events: the consensus is that COVID-19 was a non-adjusting post-balance sheet event for 31 December 2019 reporting. However, the appropriate disclosure of impact on the overall financial statements is a critical element of the financial statements; Measurements of assets: for year-end reporting and interim statements after December 2019, companies and auditors must assess the timing of COVID-19-related events to determine the impact on assets, including goodwill and indefinite life intangible assets, inventories, and deferred tax assets. Companies and their auditors must consider disruptions to the entity’s business or the broader market in determining recoverable amounts of assets. Careful consideration must be given to the net realisable value of inventory and, in the event of a price decline, whether prices will recover before the inventory is sold; Revenue recognition and receivables: identify the appropriate sales price given increases in expected returns, additional price concessions, or changes in volume discounts. Companies and auditors should be mindful that revenue can only be recognised for new sales if payment is probable under IFRS 15; Alternative performance measures: the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) has provided guidance relating to the use of Alternative Performance Measures (APMs) in the context of COVID-19. Consistent with previous guidance relating to the maintenance of consistency of APMs from one reporting period to another, ESMA advises that rather than adjusting existing APMs or including new APMs, issuers should improve their disclosures and include narrative information in their communication documents to explain how COVID-19 impacted and/or is expected to impact on their operations and performance; the level of uncertainty; and the measures adopted – or expected to be adopted – to address the COVID-19 outbreak; and Internal consultations and reviews: audit teams face significant additional internal consultations and reviews in the current environment. Early agreement on timetables and collaborations between companies and auditors will ensure that quality is not compromised. As events continue to unfold, the challenges faced by accountants both in industry and practice are mounting. The weeks and months ahead will undoubtedly be challenging. However, quality should not be compromised. Supporting our colleagues and utilising our technology capabilities will ensure that control frameworks continue to operate, financial reporting will be clear and transparent for all users, and audit quality will not be compromised. Fiona Kirwan is a Director at PwC’s Assurance Practice.

Jun 02, 2020