Dr Patrick Buckley and Dr Elaine Doyle explain how gamification can enhance accounting education, and why experienced professionals might rail against the concept. Human beings are hard-wired to play. Games are an integral part of our personal, social and cultural identities. Games provoke powerful emotional responses of joy, anger, satisfaction and frustration. Science is discovering deep, complex relationships between our brains, neural systems, learning and game-play. A feature of the modern world is the rise of the video game, from Minecraft to Mass Effect. In 2019, the number of active video game players worldwide was 2.47 billion. For children and young adults, computer games have become a dominant form of media consumption. It is self-evident that computer games have a powerful effect on behaviour. The observation that the mechanics and dynamics used in games can affect motivation and behaviour has led to the concept of gamification. As is often the case with new ideas, there are several competing definitions. Broadly speaking, however, gamification can be seen as a suite of techniques and psychological prompts connected by their association with games and play. More specifically, gamification involves the use of elements traditionally associated with games (such as structured rules, competition, points and leaderboards, for example) in non-game contexts to prompt specific behaviours or emotional responses in individuals.Gamification in practice While gamification is a new term, using game mechanics to solve problems and gain an advantage in the real world is far from novel. For example, consumer loyalty points programmes leverage at least some of the elements and characteristics associated with games. In recent years, interest in gamification has been accelerated by: The ever-increasing pervasiveness of smart devices, such as phones and watches, that provide a platform for gamified activities; and The rise of the ‘attention economy’, where attention is individuals’ scarcest resource. The ability of gamification to attract and hold the attention of consumers, employees and other stakeholders is of significant interest to organisations. Many of us are now very familiar with fitness tracker devices and related apps, the experience of which is grounded in gamification. A variety of goals are set out (steps per day, calories burned and so on). Constant feedback and reminders are received (“Did you move enough this hour?”). Daily targets achieved are celebrated, and badges are awarded for more significant milestones. Fitness trackers also allow goals and achievements to be shared with friends, motivating us and encouraging competition. In business, activities such as marketing, customer relationship management and innovation are especially suitable for gamification. Other potential applications include personal productivity management and health management. The global market value of companies developing and deploying gamified activities and processes is expected to be $12 billion in 2021. Gamification also has the potential to make a difference in education and training. Capturing the attention of students, engaging them, and sustaining their interest has always been a challenge. Many educators feel their work has become more challenging as an ever-increasing array of digital distractions compete for attention. With its promise of positively engaging students and mediating their behaviour, gamification is a valuable tool that can be used to appeal to the digital generations.Gamification in accounting education From one perspective, education has always been gamified to a degree. A final grade can be seen as an external representation of how much you have learned relative to the content of your course. Tests and quizzes provide feedback on how much students have learned, both in absolute terms and relative to their peers. However, many educators are now becoming far more systematic about applying gamification to the design and delivery of their courses. When thinking about how gamification can be applied in educational and learning contexts, it is useful to think of it in terms of engendering particular classes of behaviour in students. For example, a teacher may decide that prompting competition will be effective in motivating students. To attain this goal, a traditional quiz may be adapted. When a student completes the quiz, for example, they will not just be told if they are correct or incorrect, but also how they performed relative to their classmates for each question. A more extreme version would publish results on a leaderboard for everyone to see how they did relative to the rest of the class. Conversely, a teacher may wish to promote collaboration, allocating badges (like ‘Best Explainer’) to a student who helps other students with explanations, using an online forum or a similar collaboration tool. These awards are often valuable in terms of demonstrating valued personal skills and attributes to potential employers. Demonstrated collaborative actions in learning contexts could be integrated into such schemes. Another teacher may wish to prompt creativity. Rather than create a test, the teacher would instruct students to develop a test themselves as a learning exercise, with marks allocated for how well the test meets and tests the learning outcomes of the course. This approach compels students to ask meta-questions about their course, such as: “What am I being asked to learn?” and “How will I know if I’ve learned it?” Extending this approach, students could be asked to take, evaluate and improve on the tests other students create, again prompting collaboration and engagement.Benefits of gamification Gamification is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires consideration and careful design to be used effectively and, as with many teaching techniques, it has its advantages and disadvantages. In the context of the teaching of accounting and tax, we have observed interrelated benefits of using gamification. The first and key benefit is improved motivation. Gamified activities are seen as being fun, interesting and engaging, and an improvement on more traditional ‘chalk and talk’ forms of content delivery and assessment. This is particularly the case for younger students, arguably because, having grown up with video games, they are more comfortable with games in general. Improved motivation then explains the other positive effects of gamification we have observed. In general, students tend to be more satisfied with courses that include gamified elements and activities. Students prefer and perform better in courses they are engaged and interested in, and gamification serves that end. More importantly, the learning outcomes for courses, as measured by grades, tend to be better in courses that contain gamified activities.Challenges of gamification In our experience, using gamification in an educational context also involves potential risks and requires careful consideration of at least three key challenges: The most significant challenge is the need for careful contextualisation of gamification. Time and again, we have noticed that different participants respond very differently to gamified activities. One of the most important variances is in how individuals react to competition. Some people are temperamentally inclined to be motivated by competition, while others find it objectionable in an educational setting. This variance seems to occur regardless of the gamification intervention used – some find badges motivating, while others see them as patronising, and so forth. A particular schism we have observed is that undergraduate students tend to respond far more positively to gamification than postgraduate students. From informal conversations, we have inferred that postgraduate students, who have paid significant fees for courses and are much more focused on grades, feel gamified activities are a ‘gimmicky’ distraction. Therefore, we expect that resistance to gamification would similarly be found in professional and continuing education contexts. Gamification works by creating extrinsic motivation like badges, points and leaderboards, as opposed to the intrinsic motivation of learning for the sake of learning. There is a significant body of research that shows how extrinsic motivators can temporarily shift behaviours, but that this shift will be short-lived. Unless the motivators are reinforcing, cumulative, and continually increasing, individuals will become satiated with external motivation, ultimately undermining its long-term impact. The old saying, “You get what you measure”, sums up a final challenge. A well-recognised risk of offering rewards linked to behaviour is that unless the reward is very tightly tied to the desired behaviour, the provision of rewards may encourage behaviours that are not desired by the game designer, but which are more effective at accruing a reward. Conclusion Gamification has attracted much interest as a way of creating more engaging educational experiences. It aligns with the media consumption habits of digital natives. It leverages the power of the pervasive information systems that are now integral to our lives. It offers a framework to address the motivational issues often associated with online learning, particularly useful in the new learning environment forced upon us by COVID-19. It also brings challenges and raises questions. Gamification is perhaps best thought of as a technique to inform the design of content delivery. As with any approach to education, it will be most successful when the learner’s abilities, needs and characteristics are placed at the heart of course design.Dr Patrick Buckley is a lecturer in information management at the Department of Management and Marketing, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick. Dr Elaine Doyle is a lecturer in taxation at Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick. The business case for gamification ‘Gamification’ is the use of the dynamics and mechanics traditionally associated with computer games to affect behaviour in other contexts. As a generation of children and young adults who have engaged with computer games from their early years enter education and the workforce, educators and employers must understand how gamification can be used effectively to motivate and manage these individuals. This article looks briefly at the strengths and weaknesses of gamification as an educational tool to help facilitate individuals in developing their knowledge and professional skills. Gamification can improve motivation, satisfaction and assist in the achievement of learning outcomes. However, care must be taken to ensure that gamification matches students’ needs and does not obscure the value of learning with badges, leaderboards and the like. As with any tool, it must be used carefully. Nevertheless, the synergy between gamification and the lived experience of young people means its importance is likely to increase over time.

Nov 30, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead of counting the cost of the current crisis, clients now need their accountants to help them identify and forge a way ahead, writes John Kennedy.Whatever your age or the stage of your career, 2020 is a year like no other. In recent months, your world, your life, and your practice will have changed in a way that no-one thought possible. This has brought great anxiety, stress, and pressure for many. It has disrupted virtually every aspect of life, and it has changed many long-standing priorities and perspectives.At the outset, every conversation was about COVID-19. Then the emphasis began to shift; the focus started to move to how to respond to our unfamiliar new world, to learn how to deal with a dramatic new lifestyle, get better at cooking at home, become more proficient in using technology, and adapt to meeting online.As the days and weeks went on, this shift in emphasis continued. The importance of taking care of our minds as well as our bodies, and supporting each other, came into sharp focus. It is important not to overlook the far-reaching significance of this evolution in thinking. In a world with unforeseen financial pressures, how we connect with others has taken on a revised and revitalised importance and has become established as holding significantly increased value in so many aspects of business life.Reliable, trustworthy customers and clients you can turn to when the pressure is on matter now like never before. The implications will have an impact on your practice, and business in general, for a long time to come.An important lessonOne of the good news stories during the initial stages of the crisis was the way Irish people contributed to fundraising for the Choctaw Nation. As you may know, during the Great Famine in the 1840s, the Choctaw tribe of Native Americans sent much-needed funds to help with famine relief in Ireland.When the coronavirus crisis struck, the Choctaw nation set up a fundraising website. They were at first surprised, and then amazed when donation after donation came in from the Irish community around the world. In an interview about the donations, one of the contributors told this story about an old tribal chief who taught his grandson about the important lessons in life.“There is a fight going on inside me, a far-reaching fight between two wolves. One wolf is evil; he is anger, frustration, sorrow, regret, self-pity, and doubt. The other wolf is good; he is hope, generosity, sensitivity, understanding and confidence. The same fight is going on inside you and every other person too.” The grandson was transfixed. “Which wolf will win?” he asked. The old chief smiled and said: “The wolf you feed.”This is of crucial importance to your work in the months to come. Helping your client feed the good wolf inside themselves should be a central part of your work, as many of your existing clients will feel overwhelmed. They will have come through months of stress and worry, even the optimistic ones who bear it lightly. Many will need to look again at their finances and their financial planning, as many apparent certainties have been overturned. Much has changed, much of it forever.With so much change happening in their lives, it is vital that as their accountant, your relationship with your clients also changes. Clients often have a fixed view of what they should want from their accountant. They believe that they should look to their accountant to prepare accounts, undertake audits, and give tax and compliance advice. In this time of change, your task is to guide them from what they believe they should want to what they genuinely need most.Feed the right wolfMore than ever, clients need you to help them identify what constitutes success in the months and years ahead. Your value will come as much from helping them think clearly as from the technical tasks you carry out.To fully emerge from the coronavirus crisis will take many years. The phrase the ‘new normal’ is much overused, but it holds an important truth. Things may not be normal, but they are certainly going to be new and this is true for every aspect of your clients’ experience – including how they work with their accountant.For almost everyone, the first half of 2020 has been a time of frustration, stress and doubt. If you let your clients see you as the person who will confirm and verify a deeply damaging period for their business, their finances and their lives in a harsh financial record, you are going to be the focus of much of their stress and angst. Left to themselves, it is all too easy for your clients to focus on and feed the bad wolf.For the foreseeable future, every wise accountant will take an active hand in guiding their clients to think about the things they most need. The greatest problem with the COVID-19 crisis, however, has been fear of the unknown. So when it comes to your role, you must replace the fear of the unknown with clarity, understanding, well-thought-out confidence and a path that takes them to a better place. This is the good wolf.Moving from ‘want’ to ‘need’How often have you chatted with your clients about their life, family, hopes and ambitions before ‘getting down to business’? Instead of getting down to the business of counting the cost of the current crisis, however, they now need you to help them see the way ahead. They need you to shape a clear image of a future they can reach. This is not an invitation to become a counsellor or a cheerleader; it is much more important than that.Your role is to help your clients see the commercial realities and show them how to identify each individual stepping stone to get them to the other side of this whole challenging experience. In the short-term, that may well be about survival. You may need to place a sharper focus on identifying new ways to manage cash flow and to help them understand their options in this new reality so they can more effectively chart a course as the emergency financial instruments are removed.While accurate returns and timely compliance will remain part of your role, your real value lies in helping remove your clients’ fear of a future that is worryingly unclear and unfamiliar. Many clients will need to restructure long-standing business practices, to secure new sources of purchase finance, or to change the terms of access to credit.They will need you to help them understand that this will pass, and it will pass most easily and most quickly for those who know how to plan the practical steps to get to that future. The accountants who focus on the need to actively shape the future rather than count the cost of the past or worry about the unknown will stand apart as a source of uncommon, vital value. This will provide a real, tangible return for both you and your clients in the months and years ahead.By helping your clients in this way, you will significantly improve the likelihood of their long-term financial survival. You will open up new dimensions for your relationship with them, binding them to you for years to come. And these new relationships will survive the evolution of traditional accounting as your role as an adviser continues to grow.This is a time to take a firm hand and raise your clients from what they want, to what they need. It is time to help them feed the good wolf.  John Kennedy is a strategic advisor. He has worked with leaders and senior management teams in a range of organisations and sectors.

Jul 29, 2020

Dr Michael Hayden provides the accounting practitioner with some food for thought.The COVID-19 pandemic brings a realisation of the importance of certain sectors in our society. While many businesses cease operations, food producers and farm enterprises are acknowledged as essential services.The economic significance of the Irish agricultural industry is well documented. However, in these unprecedented times, the focus has turned to its social importance. This provides an opportunity for the accounting profession to reflect on how it can best assist and support farming businesses, not only in the current circumstances but in the future.A question worth considering is: does the agricultural community reap the full benefit of the extensive knowledge and skills the accountancy profession has to offer? While acknowledging that challenges exist for accountants in delivering their services to farm clients, there are significant opportunities for accountants and farmers to work more effectively together to develop sustainable farm enterprises.Industry contextThe agricultural industry is an integral part of our economy and society. After the economic crisis of 2008, the government primed the agricultural sector to stimulate economic growth and set out ambitious goals for it in the Food Harvest 2020 and subsequent Foodwise 2025 strategy documents. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s 2019 Annual Review and Outlook report outlines the importance of the industry. It claims that food produced in Ireland was exported to over 180 markets worldwide and was valued at €13.7 billion in 2018, which represents 10% of merchandise exports. Additionally, the sector contributed 7.5% of gross national income (GNI) and employed 173,000 people (7.7% of total employment) in 2018.Despite the importance of the industry, when average farm size, farm incomes and dependency on farm subsidies are examined, as well as the average age and training levels of Irish farmers, a picture of economic vulnerability emerges. The National Farm Survey (NFS) is published annually by Teagasc and highlights this vulnerability. The 2019 NFS highlights that 34% of Irish farms were deemed viable, 33% sustainable, and 33% vulnerable. It also reports that the average family farm income (FFI) in Ireland was €23,933 in 2019, which varies significantly across farm types (for example, dairy generated €66,570, tillage generated €34,437 and beef generated €9,188). Furthermore, farming in Ireland remains reliant on subsidies which, on average, accounted for 77% of FFI in 2019.Experts warn of another economic crisis post-COVID-19, and there is no doubt that our agricultural industry will attract renewed focus. Furthermore, Brexit represents a significant external risk for Irish agriculture with potentially far-reaching economic, social and cultural consequences. In this context, it is perhaps more important than ever that the accounting profession supports the agricultural community in developing sustainable farm enterprises by assisting farmers in making informed financial decisions based on sound financial management information.Challenges in providing services to farm clientsBefore exploring the opportunities for accountants to provide support to the agricultural community, it is important to acknowledge some challenges that exist in assisting farmers in managing their enterprise.Despite the economic vulnerability of many farms, research shows that most farmers spend little time on financial management. A dislike of conducting financial management activities exists in the farming community. Indeed, they are often viewed as a necessary evil and do not always fit well with the identity of what farmers see as important farm management activities. There are other identity-related issues: many farmers are quite secretive about their financial affairs; some are naturally reluctant to seek farm management advice; many tend to rely on intuition and experience in managing their business as opposed to relying on financial information.As a result of the lack of engagement by farmers with financial management in the day-to-day management of their business, book-keeping systems can be relatively unsophisticated. There is a tendency to monitor bank balances (cash flow), and only a minority maintain management accounting records.The average age of a farmer in Ireland is 59 years. This high age profile is a well-documented concern for the industry. In terms of financial management, older farmers are less likely to invest in their farm and are less likely to strive for innovation and efficiencies.Historically, farmers view accountants as providing a statutory and compliance role, such as filing annual tax returns, with little focus on value-added services. Also, the cost of such value-added services is a barrier as quite often, farmers are unwilling to pay for such services.This profile of the farming community suggests that there are limited opportunities for accountants to provide value-added services to farmers. However, there are ‘green shoots’ that give cause for optimism.Green shoots to exploreIn recent years, there has been a considerable shift in the industry. This shift is transforming the Irish agricultural landscape and providing opportunities for accountants and farmers to work more effectively together to develop sustainable farm enterprises.Policy changes have resulted in some fundamental structural reforms, which have provided opportunities for growth. For example, milk quota abolition under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has resulted in considerable investment and expansion in the dairy sector. While it is acknowledged that farmers tend not to engage extensively and/or dislike financial management, the mindset of many farmers in this respect is changing. In my research, I discovered that where farmers are making strategic farm expansion decisions, there is a considerable degree of engagement with their accountants.Many traditional farm enterprises are diversifying and exploring new markets for their produce. For example, there is an increase in the production of artisan food products directly by farmers, alternative supply chains where farmers sell their produce directly from farm-to-market, and an increased focus on organic food production. These trends and the movement from the traditional farm production system often bring a renewed focus on profit margins, cost management and overall financial management.Farm partnerships and the incorporation of farm enterprises are becoming more widespread in the industry. Such changes in legal structure provide additional opportunities for accountants who have expert knowledge in terms of tax, legal, and succession planning advice.As a result of the above developments, younger farmers are being enticed into the industry. Agricultural courses in colleges and universities have seen strong demand in the past decade, which is very positive. Numerous policy measures have also been enacted to encourage generational renewal, including changes to land leasing arrangements, while tax reliefs/incentives have been developed to facilitate younger farmers entering the industry.These transformations to the Irish agricultural landscape have encouraged farmers to be more open to engaging the value-added services of accountants. This provides opportunities for accountants to develop successful working relationships with farmers, whereby farmers could significantly benefit from the expert knowledge and skills that accountants have to offer.ConclusionThere is vast potential for accountants and farmers to work more effectively together to develop sustainable farm enterprises. Navigating the financial challenges of COVID-19 and Brexit are just two reasons why each farmer should look to his or her trusted accountant for support and expertise as the farming community strives to meet the critical societal demands for a sustainable food supply.Dr Michael Hayden FCA is Assistant Professor of Accounting at Maynooth University.

Jul 29, 2020

In 2010, Neil Hughes set out the seven Cs framework to help businesses navigate the great recession. Fast forward a decade, and these principles remain more pertinent than ever.Are you familiar with the old story of the two hikers in the woods? They come across a bear who starts to chase them. One hiker stops and begins changing from hiking boots to running shoes. The other hiker says, “I can’t believe that you think you will outrun the bear just because you change your shoes!” The first hiker replies, “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I just need to outrun you!” The moral of the story? When trading through difficult times, those who are best prepared are most likely to survive.Considering that the current community mentality and enthusiasm is likely to fade when the effects of the recession start to bite and businesses are striving to outperform their peers, this sentiment is even more significant. Many business owners are currently trying to adopt the best strategies to save their businesses. A common characteristic in many business failures is mismanagement. Although not deliberate, many people do not take advice, make the wrong decisions, and incur avoidable losses.With so many external factors at play, how can you best position your business on the road to recovery? What course of action do you need to take to ensure that your firm not only survives, but emerges stronger than before? The seven Cs present a blueprint for business owners and managers who are working hard to beat the competition and overcome significant challenges.1. CounselMaking well-informed and rational decisions under increasing pressure and uncertain conditions borders on the impossible, which is why seeking counsel at an early stage is the first step to pivoting a business during a crisis. How has my business been affected by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic? What financial shape is it in? How can I tackle the ‘here and now’ while turning my focus to the future? Avoid falling into the trap of taking unqualified advice; seek guidance from a select group of professionals such as your Chartered Accountant, your solicitor, and your funder. Work with them to formulate a practical and comprehensive recovery plan.2. CommunicationDon’t underestimate the importance of honesty, especially when things are uncertain. Communicate your financial position with the people and groups to whom you are indebted – the taxman, lenders, landlords and suppliers. You will be amazed at the goodwill this generates. Not only are your creditors likely to appreciate your honesty, but it will also take some of the pressure off, which may facilitate better decision-making. Unbridled transparency builds trust, which will help you maintain your integrity. This, in turn, will buy you more time and with time, many things become possible. Start with the truth and go from there.3. CooperationThe current crisis has changed the way we work. With businesses now forced to rely on different forms of communication, relationships between business owners and employees may have changed. Now is not the time for ambiguity. Your staff play a crucial role in helping your business stay afloat during unstable times. Communicate with them clearly and frequently. Be forthright about the condition of your business; they will respect you for it and are likely to show loyalty in return. Failure to secure their cooperation will significantly dilute your business’s chance of survival.4. Clarity of purposeCreate a new business plan that will provide greater clarity on all functions from marketing, finance and accounting to operations, products and services, and distribution. Adopt an entrepreneurial attitude. While there is no doubt that this crisis has presented grave difficulties, it also provides plenty of scope for innovation. Business leaders are stepping out of their comfort zones and thinking outside the box. There are opportunities to be found if you look hard enough. Ask yourself: “how can I ensure my business not only survives, but thrives?” Rediscover the sense of excitement you felt when you first set up your business. This will drive you forward with clarity of purpose.5. CostCost reduction should be a crucial part of your business strategy. Many business leaders will find themselves implementing cost-cutting measures in response to declining revenue, profitability, and reduced access to credit. Instigate a company-wide series of targeted cost cuts. Don’t make arbitrary or general cuts that may adversely impact long-term goals. The main areas for potential savings in any business lie in eliminating waste, seeking out and demanding the best prices for supplies and services, and carrying out certain tasks in-house that were previously contracted out to third parties.6. CashA swift recovery often boils down to one thing: cash flow. Credit controllers work hard to bring in the money and are instrumental in keeping businesses ticking over. Cash control means releasing the ‘lock-up’ of your business (i.e. the latent profit that is locked up in your stock, work-in-progress and debtors). It is a lack of cash that causes many businesses to fail during times of hardship, not a lack of profit. And even profitable businesses will fail if they run out of cash.7. CustomersWith normal operations out of whack, it may be harder for organisations to focus on exceptional customer service. However, now more than ever, customers are exceedingly important. Engage with your customers, ensuring you are adapting to their changing needs. A business owner must strive to continually ensure that the customer’s experience of a product or service is as pleasant, straightforward, and satisfying as possible. During an economic slump, it is your customers who will carry you through.Neil Hughes FCA is Managing Partner at Baker Tilly Ireland and author of Beating the Recession: The Seven Cs of Business Recovery, which is published by Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jul 29, 2020

Michael Clohosey considers the economic impacts of COVID-19 based on a series of interviews with business executives in the Zurich region.Switzerland shares some similarities with Ireland. Both are small countries with very open economies and punch above their weight on the global stage. Both economies also have a high reliance on the services sector, with the pharmaceutical/healthcare industry a large proportion of the industrial sector. Based in the Zurich area for almost ten years, I thought it would be interesting to share some perspective from this part of Europe, focusing on the impact of COVID-19 on businesses in Switzerland. I interviewed finance leaders from various industries, and this process provided some interesting perspectives on the current crisis and offered a view of its medium-term impact.The type of industry in which businesses are active is the main determinant of the impact of COVID-19 in Switzerland. For example, one domestic electrical supply company involved in electrical installations for both commercial and residential property felt only a marginal impact on demand. Another company involved in the production of control devices for heating and ventilation systems, and which has a much larger global presence, is forecasting a slight decrease in demand in the medium-term. On the other hand, an international education company suffered an immediate, almost complete drop in revenue. Once countries started to impose restrictions and prohibit essential travel, this required enormous effort and collaboration from their external partners to ensure that their students abroad were safe and could find a way to get home. While facing a severe decline in revenue and an uncertain future, the firm needed to focus solely on the welfare of its customers stranded in locations like South Africa, China and Australia.Business responseThe logistical response of the Swiss Government, including the travel restrictions, is well-covered in other sources. I will instead focus on the Government’s economic response to the crisis, which was quite strong – even if it was not immediate. One must remember that Switzerland is not part of the EU and does not, therefore, have ready access to the financial safeguards and protection the EU provides. In total, the Swiss Government set aside more than €61 billion to support the economy. This will create a massive deficit in the national budget, but the amount that must be borrowed is significantly lower due to the Government’s large cash reserves. Some economists estimate that the debt to GDP ratio will increase from 26.7% in 2019 to approximately 34% in 2020, easily meeting the eurozone’s Maastricht criteria. The Government’s measures, which focused on different target groups, aimed to safeguard jobs, guarantee wages and support the self-employed. Measures were also taken in the field of culture and sport to prevent bankruptcies and to cushion the financial consequences. Furthermore, there were provisions to delay payment and temporarily waive late payment interest on social security contributions and various taxes.Many businesses availed of this support, especially those in the travel and tourism trade. I know of many companies that eased their liquidity concerns by quickly accessing interest-free government loans of up to CHF 0.5 billion. Companies affected were also entitled to apply for what is termed “short-term working”. This was extremely helpful to the restaurant sector, from which employees were made temporarily redundant. Provided employees were still paid full salaries, employers received 80% of the cost from the Government. Rental payments remained privately managed. Some landlords were open to negotiation, especially where there were obvious financial difficulties on the tenant side. This flexibility to negotiate seemed to vary depending on whether the landlord was a private or commercial institution. Solutions found included deferral of rent payment. In an apparent contradiction, there appeared to be cases where landlords were more open to negotiating when they saw that the tenants were granted access to the Government’s interest-free business loans.There were short- and medium-term impacts on business, including the supply chain. One company that supplies leather to Asia for shoe manufacture suffered a drop in production due to the difficulty in exporting raw materials. Ship cargo returning from Asia was almost non-existent, and any possible exports were therefore changed to air cargo. An educational travel company I spoke to needed to review agreements with all educational partners abroad due to the number of re-bookings where students sought to change school. As we see with the airline sector, re-bookings are preferable to cash refunds. However, this is cumbersome in the educational travel industry due to the number of actors involved. Some firms changed their business models. Third-level institutions, for example, were in the main very quick to react. They established management task forces and brought their curricula online. Online education is one of the fastest-growing global industries, and the pandemic has only increased its expansion.Focus areas also changed in finance departments. The old maxim of “cash is king” was never as important as it is now. Companies that were not so well accustomed to short-term cash planning even hired external consultants to create 13-week cash forecasts. Fixed yearly budgets increasingly became rolling forecasts, with new scenario planning to account for the effects of the pandemic.Seven insights from the COVID-19 crisisA comprehensive review of organisations’ state of preparedness for such an unforeseen circumstance, their reactions to it, and the enforced planning for a new economic reality produced many new lessons. It also underlined the importance of established business principles.Business agility: we saw the importance of agility in how quickly some educational establishments brought their curricula online. Many advanced education establishments are already planning to generate a greater share of revenue through e-delivery.Securing the supply chain: it is very difficult to plan for an almost total transport shut-down. However, we saw in the example above of the shoe production company that alternative methods of transport can be put in place, albeit at a higher cost and risk. This same firm also discovered and used shoe manufacturers closer to the source of the raw material.Strong partnerships: strong business relations, especially with suppliers and customers, are more important than ever in times of crisis. One company I interviewed closed one of its largest partnership deals through online meetings. This was mainly due to the trust already created.Working from home: many firms, especially those in the financial services industry, have identified that productivity has not decreased while employees have worked from home. This has allowed them to offer it as an alternative for the future. In some cases, property leases can be reviewed due to the resultant decreased need for office space. It is therefore expected that the dynamics of cities like Zurich, which until now had large office space occupied by banks and financial institutions, will partially change in the future.Discretionary travel: discretionary costs, especially travel, were already in focus before the lockdown. The fact that many businesses functioned quite well without travel has led to a further appraisal of its value.Cash is king: the funds disclaimer says “past success does not guarantee future performance”. However, past success in the form of cash reserves can guarantee business survival in such times. Even more attention should be paid now to short- and medium-term cash planning.Scenario planning in forecasting: we have seen how macro events can have a drastic impact. Businesses can increase their ability to respond by replacing traditional budgeting with frequently updated forecasting models, which include scenario planning for changes in the economic environment. The conventional practice of involving all departments for budgets or forecasts can be reviewed to facilitate the agility required. Responsibility for financial planning and forecasting cannot be delegated from the finance function.A snapshot of the economic impact of the crisisAs Switzerland and Ireland are (at the time of writing) emerging from travel and business restrictions, I thought it helpful to review some key indicators of the financial impact of the recent upheaval. According to projections from the OECD’s latest economic outlook, similar to the world economy, Switzerland and Ireland are not expected to be at Q4 2019 levels of GDP until Q4 2021. This is projected for each of the two scenarios, which they estimate are equally probable. One scenario anticipates a second wave of infections with renewed lockdowns before the end of 2020. The other scenario anticipates the avoidance of another major outbreak. Refer to Table 1 for the historic percentage changes to real GDP and forecasted changes to real GDP based on economic projections for a single wave of infections.Switzerland and Ireland are expected to suffer similar declines in GDP. This perhaps is logical, given that both economies are driven mainly by the services and pharmaceutical/healthcare sectors. Interestingly tourism, one of the most severely affected industries, is not a very significant part of total GDP; it represents approximately 3% in both countries. Table 1 shows that Switzerland and Ireland have recorded quite different increases in real GDP in the last 20 years. Switzerland’s growth rate has been very stable at an average of 2% per annum, and almost exactly replicates the growth rate of ‘advanced economies’. Ireland’s growth rates, on the other hand, have been higher and much more variable.Putting recent lessons to workIt is not surprising that the global pandemic has impacted the economy in Switzerland as much as it has in Ireland and the rest of the world. People have changed their behaviours, both involuntarily and voluntarily. I have acquaintances who, up until the crisis, never purchased items online. I am sure that countless others in Ireland have just recently started shopping on their electronic devices.The online education industry is booming. Businesses have been quick to change their supply chains and include alternatives. They have also altered their business models, which we see most markedly in the education sector. Perhaps the increased effective use of video communications tools like Zoom and Skype has brought the possibility of education for the masses to greater prominence.The importance of classic principles, like strong partnerships based on trust and communication, has not diminished with decreased face-to-face contact. In fact, the opportunities for many more partnerships have actually increased in line with people’s confidence in, and use of, the internet. Global industry round-tables can be attended from one’s own home and without all the time and travel that was before deemed necessary. Amid the adverse effects of recent months, let us aspire in Switzerland, Ireland and elsewhere to consolidate and develop the positive aspects and put the lessons to work in our businesses.Michael Clohosey FCA is a senior finance executive based in Switzerland.

Jul 29, 2020

How can you keep the momentum going on recruitment and selection during the pandemic? Shay Dalton offers tips on how to maintain your employer brand and attract the best candidates in a digital space.During these uncertain times, recruitment and selection is still a priority for organisations who are trying to maintain revenue and growth targets. Keeping recruitment going through these times will place firms in good stead. Here are some helpful tips for recruitment during the pandemic.Getting hold of candidates may be easierOne distinct positive from a hiring perspective reported on by the BBC is that recruitment firms have found that reaching candidates has been easier than usual. With many employees working from home, or not able to work at all, phone calls are more likely to get answered, and interview scheduling is much easier than usual. What is more, many companies have put their recruitment efforts on hold for the time being, meaning that there is less competition for top candidates. This makes the current time ripe picking for growing firms, and a great opportunity to attract some of the best candidates.Develop a streamlined virtual process for remote interviewingWith expert predictions suggesting that COVID-19 may continue to cause disruptions for weeks and months to come, getting an effective online recruitment process up and running is crucial. With governments reporting that social distancing restrictions may be in place for some time, it is safer, more convenient and beneficial for companies to have a streamlined process for online recruitment.Move group interviews to shorter one-to-ones with key members of the teamUsing video conferencing apps for group interviews can be somewhat challenging. People inadvertently talk over one another, which can make it difficult for interviewees to keep on top of what is going on. Instead of conducting group interviews, you might consider shorter, one-to-one calls with interviewees. It is also worthwhile testing your audio and video before the call, to avoid hiccups that could look unprofessional or detrimental to your brand.Employer branding is keySelling the employer brand to would-be new recruits is somewhat harder without the ability for the candidate to visit and properly meet the team. To get beyond this problem, make sure that all online information is up to date and accurately represents both the employer brand. Following government guidance for businesses is essential for maintenance of a good brand reputation. Firms that flout guidance are being vilified in the media and are less likely to be considered good options by employees. Make sure that press reports of your firm stay positive!Focus on communication and transparencyManaging expectations will be an important part of the process. Companies that are hiring need to communicate to candidates that they will be using remote interviews for decision making. Expectations should also be set around the fact that more and more roles are likely to commence remotely at first, and this will mean remote onboarding of the successful candidate.Shay Dalton is the Managing Director of Lincoln Recruitment.

Jul 23, 2020

By Teresa Campbell The last few months have been a difficult time for employers and their teams. Many employers had to avail of government incentives as businesses were forced to deal with the lockdown brought about by COVID-19. Some employees working from home have struggled with feelings of isolation; others have experienced pressure due to crèches and schools being closed, and those caring for elderly or less able relatives have found that many of their usual supports were unavailable during the lockdown. Workplaces that remained open, or are now reopening as restrictions ease, have had to implement changes to keep staff, clients and other visitors as safe as possible as we learn to live with COVID-19. Concern about the impact of the pandemic, along with the emotional and economic pressures that many people are experiencing at present, makes it more important than ever for leaders to reassure, inspire and motivate their teams. The six Cs of confidence, clarity, communication, cooperation, community involvement and celebrating success all have a role to play in this regard.   Confidence: to successfully motivate your team, you must inspire confidence. With so much uncertainty and change at present, it is important to be flexible so that you can adapt quickly to overcome challenges and grasp opportunities. While you may have fears about the impact of the pandemic, it is vital to remain calm and show that you have a realistic plan to take your business forward. Prioritise wellbeing by implementing effective health and safety protocols, both in the workplace and for employees working from home. Clarity: set clear, short-term goals and empower your team to manage their own contributions. Recognise that people are working in a changed environment, and be open to allowing people to find new ways to solve problems. Monitor performance, and seek and give regular feedback to ensure everyone stays on track. Communication: clarity and consistency are essential when it comes to communication. This helps ensure that employees, clients and other stakeholders share the same understanding of how your business is responding to the changes ahead. Don’t over-rely on email. Face-to-face, voice and video communication channels should also be part of your communications mix. Cooperation: when we work together, everyone achieves more. Teamwork, collaboration and a shared sense of purpose are great motivators. Organising virtual coffee breaks for remote teams and encouraging individuals to share tips on how they motivate themselves is as relevant now as it was at the start of the pandemic. Community involvement: many leaders today want their businesses to be socially responsible. They recognise that encouraging teams to give something back to their community enhances motivation and helps strengthen employees’ pride in the organisation they work for. Celebrate success: recognise and reward successes – whether that’s achieving a goal, winning a new client, raising funds for charity, or individual achievements, such as passing an exam. People are at the heart of every business and leaders need to be supported by teams that are committed to their individual roles, focused on exceeding client expectations and capable of identifying future business opportunities. Now, more than ever, motivating your team is crucial as you adapt and drive your business forward. Teresa Campbell is a Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Ltd.

Jul 09, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

How can you best prepare for a phased return to work? Anne Phillipson outlines the five stages businesses need to take to ensure the safety of their employees and clients. The past 100-days have been unlike anything most of us have experienced in our working lives. Thankfully, we are beginning to see light at the end of this tunnel and, although the virus is still with us, it seems the efforts of the public have kept it under control. This is good news for the economy, as many businesses begin to prepare for the return to work, and aim to make up for lost productivity. However, as most business leaders have already realised, it is much easier to shut an office down than to reopen it under these conditions. The key for a successful return to work is through careful planning, clear communication, and staff training. Five stages to return to work All businesses must be able to implement measures that minimise the risk to their staff and customers, and put safety at the top of the agenda. People will be apprehensive as they emerge from lockdown, and will want to know that they can return to work safely. It is the employers’ job to not only care for their employee’s physical safely, but also create psychological safety by reassuring and informing staff that precautions are in place with their well-being in mind, and that new standards and procedures are being implemented and followed. It is important that business leaders don’t simply focus on the next few weeks – we are going to have to live with this virus for some time, and strategies that go beyond the immediate return-to-work and look to long-term change will allow businesses to realise the opportunity to build back better. The process should happen in five stages: Anticipation – the planning begins Honeymoon – people are excited to return to some sense of normality Integration – the new practices are tested and begin to embed Performance – focus is back on the business and distractions are minimised Growth – opportunity to realise the benefits of new ways of working Anticipation Right now, we are in the anticipation stage. Within this stage, there are three critical steps: Preparation: plan for reopening and specific requirements for each location. An employee survey will provide useful insights into how your employees travel to work, the distance of their commute, health issues of the employee or anyone in their household, social distancing planning of workspaces, which functions can remain remote, etc. Execution: ensure that employees and customers understand and comply with new practices. Steps here include a COVID-19 health questionnaire, return to work online training to educate employees on what to expect on their return, identify and train ‘social distancing marshals’ for each location, etc. Reopening: continuously review and improve processes during the phased return to the office. Employee/client access by location, ensuring adherence to guidelines, and ongoing communication and engagement of staff will be important in this step. Putting yourself in your employees’ shoes – understanding how they’re feeling, the messages and training they need at each stage – will go a long way to ensure your return to work strategy decreases your employees concerns while increasing your productivity and potential. Anne Phillipson is a Director of People and Change Consulting in Grant Thornton.

Jun 10, 2020

Your employees are your most valuable asset; neglecting them will be detrimental to your business. Dearbhla Gallagher outlines how to invest in training and development during these difficult times. As businesses face the economic effects of COVID-19, many are implementing cash management and cost-saving measures. In these conditions, the temptation may be for businesses, particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to reduce or eliminate training and development expenditure. There is certainly a need to manage cash and spend carefully at this time, but extreme caution should be applied when considering cuts to training and development programmes. While there may be a short-term benefit for a business in taking such a step, the longer-term consequences may be to the detriment of the business. It is widely accepted that investing in training leads to more highly skilled employees, increased motivation, and more engaged and stronger performers. It is also important to consider the effect on employees of curtailing these programmes, right at the very time that many may be feeling somewhat vulnerable due to the current COVID-19 world. Employees are the most valuable asset that a business has; in a difficult economic environment, the flexibility, creativity and skills that employees bring can greatly assist a business in working through challenges. The longer-term benefits for a business investing in its employees are also obvious: valuing and investing in the workforce generally leads to higher retention of staff. Prepare now for tomorrow  So, how can organisations manage training and development requirements in these difficult times? Now is the time to re-assess your training methods and the delivery approach. Make greater use of your in-house experts for learning and development purposes to deliver practical and relevant content. Technology is essential in helping us stay connected. Online communication tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are an excellent way of delivering learning and development initiatives to remote working staff. With many employees either working from home or laid-off part time, this might be an opportunity to use the available time to focus on training and development. Use it wisely! It is also the time to consider external online offerings. Trade bodies, professional services bodies, accounting institutes and many other organisations offer a considerable range of online courses that make learning and training accessible and flexible. Some of these courses are also free. Evaluation is key Take the time to evaluate training courses and training and development needs. Consider how best to spend limited resources in the current environment. Evaluating training courses that have already been provided is also vital as this enables a business to check that staff are being equipped with the right skills and development, and that the training is value for money and aligned with the business’ strategy and goals. Stay safe while training! Dearbhla Gallagher is the Learning & Development Manager at Baker Tilly.

Jun 10, 2020
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