Jenna Mairs ACA, Senior Investment Manager at Whiterock Finance, discusses her career highlights, productivity at work and the future of the profession. What do you most enjoy about your current role? The variety, without a doubt – no two days are ever the same. Whiterock Finance offer loans ranging from £100,000 to £2 million across two funds, so we deal with an extensive range of Northern Ireland-based SMEs from early-stage (two years plus) to well-established businesses on a growth trajectory. We have no sectoral focus, so one day you could be meeting an IT company in Ballymena and the next an engineering firm in Enniskillen. It’s interesting to meet businesses of varying degrees of complexity and to see what a difference our funding can make to their growth story. What has been your career highlight thus far? I’ve had many highlights, so it’s hard to narrow down. Over the years, I’ve worked with some great people who have taught me so much – both professionally and about myself. I’ve made lasting friendships with both past and present colleagues and had a lot of fun and laughs along the way. I’ve grown a fantastic support network and have many people I can rely on for advice and guidance. I’ve also had the privilege to meet some inspiring and passionate business leaders and to learn about their trials and triumphs along the way. If I had to choose one recent highlight, it would be winning the “Woman of Influence” award at the inaugural Northern Ireland Women’s Awards last year. How do you stay productive day in, day out? I am a morning person, so I try to start every day with exercise – either a class at the gym or a 5km run, which means that by the time I get to work, I’m wide awake and ready to go. At the start of each week, I make a list of everything I’d like to achieve that week and then allocate the tasks to each day. To keep my productivity high in the afternoon, I always try to get out at lunchtime for some fresh air and, although it’s a bit of a cliché, I drink a lot of water. I also focus on maintaining a positive work-life balance to ensure that I’m productive in the long-term. I appreciate the importance of having downtime to spend with friends and family, visiting new places and experiencing new things. What changes do you anticipate in your profession in the next five to ten years? In the short-term there will be greater digitisation with cloud-based applications becoming more prevalent, thereby leading to an increased ability to work remotely and collaborate globally. Automation will continue to rise, especially in terms of replacing repetitive and mundane tasks. In light of recent issues within the profession, there is also likely to be a requirement for increased transparency and accountability and further aligning of global accounting standards. Within business, there will likely be an increased focus on sustainability and increasing environmental awareness. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?  When I was completing my training contract, a colleague told me that there’s no such thing as a stupid question. I’m not sure I agree with that statement completely, but I am a firm believer that you should not be afraid to ask questions to further your understanding. If you want to increase your knowledge, you need to be inquisitive and you shouldn’t be scared to question everything you are told. It is advice that I have shared with others many times, and I am always more than happy to answer questions put to me.

Feb 10, 2020

The UK left the EU on 31 January, but what does the rest of the year look like in terms of negotiations, what are the key dates and Brexit milestones of which you need to be aware? David McGee gives you a list of what you can expect until the end of the year. February 2020 25 February European ministers are scheduled to meet in Brussels. It is expected that they will approve a new negotiating mandate for Michel Barnier. March 2020 26-27 March European Council meeting. June 2020 It is expected that a UK-EU27 summit will take place to finalise the new trade relationship that will apply from the end of 2020. 18-19 June European Council meeting. July 2020 1 July The legal deadline for agreeing on an extension to the transition period. The amendment blocking an extension to the transition period means that, should a trade deal not be agreed by 31 December 2020, there is the risk that the UK deals with the EU on WTO terms. October 2020 15-16 October European Council meeting. November 2020 26 November MEPs will be in Strasbourg for their penultimate plenary session of 2020. European lawmakers have stated that a trade deal must be negotiated, checked, translated and presented to the European Parliament by this date if the transition period is to end by 31 December 2020. December 2020 10-11 December European Council meeting. 31 December This date marks the end of the transition period as per the Withdrawal Agreement. The UK Government aims to have negotiated the future economic partnership and financial settlement with the EU by this deadline. December 2022 31 December Should the UK Government request an extension of the transition period it would end on 31 December 2022. This is not the UK Government's intention. David McGee is Brexit Partner at PwC.

Feb 09, 2020

We've all survived the UK leaving the EU on 31 January, and it's no wonder. The hard work for Brexit negotiators and Irish businesses is yet to come, writes Mark Kennedy. 31 January came and went with the tapping of a gong – perhaps fittingly at midnight EU time – and the world has not fallen apart. And why would it? From a business perspective, we have just completed the prelude and much of the real work is yet to be done. The remainder of 2020 will be given over to a negotiation which is designed, we hope, to achieve a new relationship – and notably a new trading agreement – between the EU and the UK. Initial signs have not been too positive, but neither have they been especially negative. Both sides have set out a view of their requirements from a deal. Much has been made about the differences between the two sets of objectives presented. Issues as various as fishing rights, regulatory alignment and state aid regimes have been identified as particular challenges. The EU has focused on the need to have a level playing field to avoid unfair competitive advantages accruing to either side in a post-Brexit scenario, ensure non-regression on environmental and social standards and to protect worker rights. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that he sees no need to encumber a simple free trade agreement with links to EU rules on competition policy, subsidies, social protection or the environment. So, the battle lines appear to be drawn. However, this is all to be expected. What is far more important is whether we see the professional negotiators in the UK and the EU engaging quickly and meaningfully in the detailed and hard work that goes into crafting a formal and comprehensive trading agreement that covers both goods and services. The process needs to include both political feedback and a good mechanism to hear the needs of individual sectors. I believe that we are going to see the discussions recede from front-page news and get into the minutiae of a number of key sectors: financial services, technology, agri-food, pharmaceuticals and medical, and energy to start, with many more to be considered. Getting this right by minimising damage to key sectors, protecting jobs and maintaining continuity in the newly separated markets will be a significant challenge. Brussels is world-class in managing trade agreement negotiations. The UK Civil Service is also an exceptionally talented team. The challenge they have is to create a comprehensive agreement in a very short period of time. I have two suggestions: first, business leaders need to be advocating now for their sector concerns to make sure that they are on the agreement roadmap. The new Government needs to be very active with our European partners in advocating for these concerns. Second, there is a very real risk that certain sector issues will not be dealt with comprehensively in a truncated negotiation process. For that reason, all businesses need to prepare for a ‘no deal’ style default in their sector and closely monitor developments in the coming months. Mark Kennedy is the Managing Partner of Mazars Ireland.

Feb 09, 2020

Northern Ireland businesses have much to think about now that the UK has exited the European Union. Michael Farrell explains some changes SMEs should consider going forward. With the transition period due to expire on 31 December 2020, the timeframe for the EU and UK to reach agreement on a free trade deal is extremely challenging. If an agreement cannot be achieved in the coming weeks, there is still the risk of a no-deal exit at the end of the year. Regardless of whether or not a free trade agreement is reached, the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement will avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Effectively, this means that while businesses in Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs regime, they will continue to have free access to EU markets. However, mixed signals about the customs arrangements that will be in place at the end of the transition period continue to be a cause of concern. On one hand, the UK government has said it will legislate to guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market and ensure that this legislation is in force for 1 January 2021. On the other hand, Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, has said that in agreeing to the Protocol on Northern Ireland, the UK has agreed to a system of reinforced checks and controls for goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain and that checks are “indispensable”. For now, it seems prudent to plan on the basis that while the Protocol means that it should be largely business as usual for NI businesses whose only trade is within Northern Ireland, NI businesses who trade with GB are likely to face additional costs, delays and disruption due to a border in the Irish Sea. Likewise, NI businesses that import goods from GB for onward distribution or processing in the Republic of Ireland could face additional administration costs. Irish companies with UK-based directors It’s also important for SMEs to remember that companies that have established in the Republic of Ireland and have only UK-based directors will need to have taken appropriate steps to continue to trade legally once the transition period ends. These companies will need to either appoint an EEA-resident director or put in place a Section 137 Revenue Bond in order to comply with the Companies Act. A third possibility may be to obtain a certificate under section 140 of the Act to get an exemption from having an EEA resident director. To obtain this, a company must make an application to Revenue for a written statement that there are reasonable grounds for Revenue to believe that the company has a real and continuous link with one or more economic activities being carried on in the State. Application for a section 140 certificate is then made to the Companies Registration Office (CRO). There are also additional company law implications for companies, including restrictions on changing financial year-end when aligning with group companies and change of branch registrations from EEA to non-EEA. The CRO have updated its guidance on this on its website. Duration of the transition period While Prime Minister Johnson has said that the UK will not seek to extend the transition period, if an extension was to be agreed, it could be until 31 December 2022. The key date to be aware of in this regard is 1 July 2020, the deadline for agreeing on an extension. If there is no extension, as seems likely, the transition period will end on 31 December 2020. Michael Farrell is a Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Limited.

Feb 09, 2020

It can take several years and a lot of hard work to build an effective board. David W. Duffy outlines key measures that can be taken to improve its effectiveness. It can take several years to build a fit-for-purpose board that has the leadership and dynamism to support the executive team. The most important element in any governance structure is the Nominations or Talent Acquisition Committee. The purpose of this committee is to help the board make sound business decisions by appointing the right board members. If this committee does not do its job, then the board and the organisation risk stagnating through the lack of new ideas or no challenges to the status quo. New appointments should be strategic and not tactical; they must bring unique skills and experience to the company that will have a real and tangible impact at board level.  This could include the world of digital, geopolitical insight, capital raising, or knowledge of a particular sector, such as offshore life assurance. Board appointments that are rushed are not a good sign of good corporate governance; each appointment should be considered carefully before being made. So, assuming the board is populated with the right talent, here are a few examples of other measures that can be taken to improve its effectiveness: Conduct regular external board evaluations to get an external perspective on the effectiveness of the board. Conduct 360 reviews of the board directors. Make sure that the information provided by the executives is assessed annually to ensure the board can do its job efficiently. Have an annual work plan for the board and for all its committees. This will help set the agenda for the year, and will also ensure the board spends enough time on the future by delegating as much as possible to its committees. Hold an away day at least once a year to reflect on the board’s strategy in some depth and to focus on specific issues, such as looming regulation or competition issues. This also provides an opportunity for the directors to get to know one another other better. Invest in the capability of the board through a professional development programme. The board evaluation may well indicate what the directors might like in terms of development, but it is helpful to also ask them. Topics will depend on the company, but the programme could focus on new regulation and compliance requirements, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, etc. David W Duffy FCA is the Founder and CEO of The Governance Company and the author of A Practical Guide to Corporate Governance, published by Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jan 31, 2020

How can a board set the example rather than becoming one? Ros O’Shea gives a five-step approach to creating an ethical board. “Where was the board?!” is the question often asked in the immediate aftermath of corporate misconduct. Stakeholders, quite rightly, expect boards to ensure businesses are run ethically. Yet, sometimes boards (and usually their companies in turn) fail dismally in this crucial aspect of their role. What can a board do to ensure the highest levels of probity in their organisations? This five-step approach can help. Ensure the ethical infrastructure is in place From a code of conduct to ethics training, speak up channels, ethical due diligence procedures and incentives programmes that reward the 'how' and the 'what', directors must ensure the appropriate infrastructure is in place in their organisations to enable and foster a culture of integrity. This is akin to laying down an ethical 'base layer'. Appoint the right CEO In leading that culture, the CEO is key. On appointment, they are bestowed with the organisation’s most precious asset – its reputation – and must be responsible for its safekeeping. It is the most important decision the board makes and demands commensurate investment in a robust process to recruit the right leader. Act ethically It is rare for a board to deliberately endorse an illegal act, but we know there can be a vast difference between decisions that are legal and those that are right. Decisions are usually right when a director is comfortable being personally accountable for their part in it, especially if it would be made known to their family on the front page of the local newspaper. Directors would do well to assess all decisions through that lens and determine whether they want to simply meet a bar, raise the bar or – better – set the bar in terms of moral courage. Lead by example In order to effectively set the tone from the top, the board should be a microcosm of the organisation’s desired culture. Espoused values, such as respect and openness, should underpin board interactions and encourage constructive debate. IQ at this level is a given, but emotional intelligence (EQ) differentiates high-performing directors and their boards and should be a prized quality in director recruitment. Monitor culture Finally, directors must know that only so much governance can be done within the confines of the boardroom; they need to experience first-hand the organisation’s “mood music”. This provides the board with the holistic assurance it needs that the desired culture is truly living and breathing across the organisation. By following these five steps, the board will focus on doing the right things and asking the right questions, which will ultimately lead to the right outcomes. Briefly, that is the board’s role in relation to ethics: to stand squarely behind their chosen CEO and collectively set the tone from the top while providing independent oversight on the organisation’s ethical infrastructure and culture. Ros O’Shea is the founding partner of Acorn Governance Solutions.

Jan 31, 2020

With so many disruptive technologies available, is it possible for to directors keep up with the needs of the business? Kieran Moynihan explains how, with the right NEDs, a company can thrive in a constantly evolving digital world. As disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and emerging payment technologies grow in adoption, many boards are struggling to understand how these will impact customers, market segment and the competitive landscape. Crucially, how can they incorporate these technologies into their overall strategy and business models? This relentless wave of new technology disruption is increasingly upsetting the traditional hierarchy of markets by lowering the barrier to entry for new competitors. Companies need to adapt to harness the opportunities and benefits of these disruptive technologies otherwise it risks being left behind irrespective of its traditional market position. Often, the reason behind this struggle to adapt to technological disruptions is that there is a significant lack of technology expertise among non-executive directors (NEDs). This is further compounded by a serious age diversity problem in boards where, across Ireland and the UK, the average age of many boards is late 50s to early 60s. The vast majority of these NEDs indicate that areas such as cyber-security are problematic for them. This, in turn, impacts their ability to provide high-quality, robust challenge, debate and oversight of the CEO and executive team in terms of how a company incorporates these disruptive technologies into its strategy. In marked contrast, younger NEDs in their 30s and 40s tend to be very comfortable in the digital and disruptive technology landscape, have a strong understanding of how customers’ requirements are evolving and can genuinely challenge and support the CEO and executive team in these areas. In most boards, the traditional approach to selecting NEDs has been focused on a majority of generalists with significant executive experience, and a number of sector specialists, which has led to a predominance of financial and general business skills around the board table. However, as both the pace and complexity of emerging disruptive technologies has significantly increased, this traditional model is breaking down and many of the sector-specialist NEDs are finding it challenging to keep up with the pace of change. Many CEOs and executive teams are struggling to make big calls around technology and business model choices. There is a growing trend of board chairs and CEOs who realise that, in order to thrive, the board team needs to be refreshed with the addition of NEDs who have advanced technology expertise. They will be able to provide ample support to both the overall board team and CEO/executive team, thereby strengthening the ability of the company to embrace disruptive technologies, understand the changing needs of their customers and position themselves for sustainable long-term success. Kieran Moynihan is the Managing Partner of Board Excellence.

Jan 31, 2020

How can organisations keep the passion going for D&I? Dawn Leane explores how businesses can do more to successfully deliver their D&I programmes.   Diversity and inclusion (D&I) seems like a simple concept: while we are all different, we are all equal. So why has D&I become such a headache for some businesses? Organisations invest significant resources into D&I programmes, such as creating specialist roles, publishing results and setting up employee groups. However, these often fail to deliver the expected return on investment. Without results, organisations can begin to experience diversity fatigue. People become tired of ideas that don’t gain traction and employees can become sceptical that D&I is little more than a PR exercise.   Creating meaningful change To create meaningful change in an organisation, there are a few things you can do: Diagnose the specific D&I challenges the organisation is facing instead of just rolling out a standard set of programmes or initiatives. Find out what issues need to be addressed and how to measure them successfully. Are the organisation’s D&I programmes and initiatives authentic? Unconscious bias training and inclusion workshops can sometimes be implemented in order to mitigate complaints or, when poorly designed, can treat participants as if they are intolerant, which is ultimately counterproductive. Resist the temptation to tag everything as D&I. Most employees don’t want to be labelled as ‘diverse’ even in a positive way as it can create a sense of ‘otherness’. Make D&I relevant to everyone in the organisation. D&I initiatives often focus exclusively on diverse groups and fail to engage a wider audience of people. This can mean that functional and business unit leaders do not know how to support D&I within their individual areas. Embedding diversity, inclusion and belonging requires an organisational culture change – D&I values and associated behaviours must become part of the organisation’s DNA. This can only happen, however, when there is a sustained focus over a long period of time. Often, small changes have the biggest impact. Developing successful D&I programmes is not a one-size-fits-all approach, it is much more nuanced; organisations and the people who work for them are complex and dynamic. Individualised training An individualised D&I training, which involves a combination of coaching and mentoring, can be hugely beneficial to organisations. These sessions create the space for individuals to talk openly about their challenges and ask questions which they may not feel comfortable doing in a group setting.  A coaching conversation elicits, without judgement, the individual’s attitudes, beliefs and any of the issues or questions they may have. A mentoring conversation then takes this further to identify specific actions and behaviours that will make a difference. In my experience, forcing the D&I agenda in an inauthentic manner only serves to make people know which boxes to tick to be compliant. It doesn’t change attitudes or lead to sustainable change, which is essential for D&I to be successful in any organisation. Dawn Leane is Principal Consultant at Leane Leaders, Developing Inclusive Leadership. She will deliver a workshop on Leadership for Professional Women as part of Chartered Accountants Ireland's CPD programme on 25 March.

Jan 24, 2020

Let’s apply portfolio diversity principles to our workforces to help drive their success and close the gap on gender parity in the workplace, says Darina Barrett. Investors devote considerable time and skill to ensure that our investments are suitably diversified, and we firmly believe in the portfolio value of sustainability and diversification.  Who among us would consider an investment without including those fundamental elements for success? Why, then, are we not moving forward at a greater pace in bringing these critical qualities to our workplaces? In my view, organisations must do much more to ensure that they are building sustainable, diversified enterprises. A deliberate and concerted shift in this direction will unquestionably enhance the value of businesses and their prospects for future success. This mindset is becoming critical, given the intense competition for top talent and the vital skills that will define their success – even survival – in the digital age. Just as diversification and sustainability help safeguard the future of our investments, businesses should also adopt this approach to shape their workforces through the gender-parity lens, and now is the time to act. The best person for the team In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2020, Klaus Schwab highlights the growing urgency for action against inequalities in the workplace. “Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent, we will not be able to deliver on the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for all of society, grow our economies for greater shared prosperity or achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “At the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalised world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.” We have spent enough time and energy addressing gender-parity and examining it from every angle imaginable. It is time to turn ideas into action. Let’s apply the power of diversity to gender parity just as we have applied diversification to investing and value enhancement, understanding that the results will be the same: stability and vastly heightened prospects for future success. At the same time, amid the growing race for talent and critical new skills in our rapidly transforming workplaces and workforces, let’s replace our pursuit of the ‘best person for the job’ with a quest that seeks the best person for the team. Turning ideas into actions We believe and live by the modern portfolio theory – look at the whole portfolio rather than one investment. Let’s put that thinking – from a diversification perspective – into concerted action for a new future of gender-parity and the heightened prospects for success that it holds. Darina Barrett FCA is a Partner in Investment Management in KPMG.

Jan 23, 2020

Diversity and inclusion have become part of business strategy, but how do you measure their success? Mark Fenton outlines the key areas organisations need to assess when determining the effectiveness of their D&I initiatives. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) have shifted from being two HR buzzwords to key components of business strategy for many of the world’s best and most innovative companies. Businesses recognise that all organisations share the same three strategic challenges that either inhibit or enable success over the longer term: How to hire, retain and develop top talent; How to understand and connect with clients; and How to outsmart the competition. There has been a myriad of initiatives developed for organisations seeking to embrace and integrate diversity and inclusion programmes into their office culture, with a view to create a more attractive brand that will appeal to future top talent, as well as encouraging and strengthening the existing team. It will also enable organisations to understand clients better, and generate an increasingly innovative workplace to get the jump on competitors. Measuring success However, despite all of these initiatives, less attention is being paid to providing organisations with specific success measures for their D&I programmes (including quantitative and qualitative key performance indicators [KPIs]), and identifiable changes that should follow. Here are nine areas that are worthy of consideration when looking to measuring the success of your D&I initiatives. These are best assessed over time, across several diversity areas, such as gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and age (with the consideration that some may be subject to restriction around data capture availability).  Representation Look at representation in areas across governance (boards, committees) and hierarchical levels. Look at the promotions that have been attained and by whom. Recruitment Assess your applicant pool, who is brought in for an interview and who receives a job offer. It’s important to also assess the diversity of your selection panel. Remuneration Conduct a gender pay gap analysis of all employees. Financial savings Analyse the budget savings attributable to your D&I initiatives such as the utilisation of remote working (which can reduce office footprint and associated costs), the promotion of internal talent (which can reduce hiring costs and talent turnover expenses) and the improved employer brand (which can be effectively generated through day-to-day engagement and word of mouth without expensive marketing campaigns). Employee turnover Assess employee turnover rates and career break returners following parental, care, illness, sabbatical or other leave. Employee resource groups Determine the level of engagement in employee resource groups. Training Check the completion of D&I training such as unconscious bias, inclusive leadership and cultural awareness. Also, investigate the level of access employees have to these programmes. Policies and procedures Assess the policies and procedures in the organisation to ascertain whether they are supportive of gender and minority groups, parental supports and workplace agility programmes including flexible and remote working, talent sponsorship and codes of conduct. Voice Collect feedback on your D&I programmes from employees (via staff surveys), customers (through net promoter scores), and suppliers (utilising supplier diversity policies). In parallel, KPIs can be applied that cover, for example, employee churn rates, performance ratings, employee engagement/job satisfaction, absenteeism, union feedback, grievances or industrial relations-related issues. This data can be further enhanced by overlaying the empirical research that correlates integrated D&I practices with improved financial performance and increased brand value. More than a buzz word An awareness of the power and influence of D&I on corporate culture in conjunction with a framework to tangibly measure and communicate its ability to overcome key business challenges around talent, clients and competitors make D&I much more than a ‘buzz’ issue within the corridors of HR. It is the business strategy for 2020. Mark Fenton is the CEO and Founder of MASF Consulting Ltd. 

Jan 23, 2020

Companies are not only talking about sustainability; they are also beginning to act. Elise McCarthy explains how companies can support the Sustainable Development Goals through their business activities. Companies are beginning to recognise the role they play in creating a sustainable society and how, by doing so, they are also driving business growth and productivity. Many organisations are looking at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guide. Any company considering how it can support the achievement of the SDGs through their business activities should begin with these five starting points Understand the SDGs In 2015, the world leaders under the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals for nations and businesses alike to solve the world’s most significant challenges by 2030. Seventeen goals address the global challenges we face by moving to eradicate poverty, promote peace and equality, allow sustainable prosperity and protect the environment. The SDGs are built on 169 targets, which are measured against 232 indicators. It’s a good idea to review the targets and indicators when considering which SDGs offer the most opportunities for your business. Understand your business Looking upstream along your value chain, where does your company source raw materials and staff? How much of these resources does it purchase? This type of information will indicate where your company can make a change and have an impact. By taking cues from the SDGs, your company can set down specifications for suppliers and the resources it purchases.  Alternatively, your organisation could look downstream along the value chain. What products or services does your company make and supply? Are your distribution or logistics as clean and efficient as possible? Could you recycle goods? Would redesigning some products or services make a significant impact on the SDGs? Look for opportunities  There are business growth opportunities in the SDGs. For example, one report identified $12 trillion in savings and new opportunities by achieving the SDGs. The goals are not just branding for what society is already doing; they are goals that require new thinking and an appetite to see change. They are meant to challenge us to think about the world we want to live in, to play to our strengths and to use our power to make a change – even if it is under just one goal. If we all play our part, we will get there. Engage employees These days, most people are interested in sustainability and are trying to implement changes in their personal lives. Tap into that interest and enthusiasm among your colleagues by helping them to play their part at work. Show them that, as a leading employer, the company is also thinking about making smart changes to practices and procedures, and that it wants to involve its people in the journey. This user-friendly guide to the SDGs can help with internal communications and awareness.  Decade of action In September 2019, the United Nations Secretary-General called for more leadership and local action within countries and among individuals to meet these ambitious 2030 goals. Every day events – fires, storms, drought, waste mountains and growing inequality – are reinforcing the urgency of this mission. The clock is ticking but we excel when we put our minds to it. Elise McCarthy is a Senior CSR Adviser in Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI). BITCI has published a detailed guide for business on the SDGs.  

Jan 19, 2020

Social entrepreneurs are a valuable and necessary part of society and economy, providing much-needed social and environmental change to communities. Fiona Smiddy outlines how accountants and finance professionals can help support these local social enterprises. Social enterprises are businesses whose core objective is to achieve a social, societal, or environmental impact. Poverty, climate change, anti-social behaviour, housing and health are just some of the problems that Irish social entrepreneurs are attempting to tackle. We need to embrace and support social entrepreneurs as they are a valuable and necessary part of society and economy. Social entrepreneurs often come from range of backgrounds. They tend to see a problem in their local community and devise an innovative solution to help. However, many will run before they can walk, carried by their passion and energy. Below are just some ways that accounting and finance professionals can support their local social enterprise. Provide mentoring services As accountants, we can lend an objective mindset and critical thinking to social entrepreneurs to ensure their enterprise is set up for long-term growth. As in many entrepreneurial scenarios, the main workload often lies with the founder. However, it can be difficult to self-critique when your passion and belief in the solution to your social issue is so strong. A second set of eyes and ears, or the offering of a hand to review a business plan would be welcome support. Improve access to finance Due to their nature, social enterprises often seek alternative methods of funding. EU and government-backed programmes such as the Social Enterprise Development Fund can go a long way to support them. This €1.6 million fund was created by Social Innovation Fund Ireland (SIFI) in partnership with Local Authorities Ireland and funded by IPB Insurance and the Department of Rural and Community Development. There is opportunity for similar funds to be created. With the right financial backing, combined with supportive mentoring programmes, social enterprises can provide much-needed resources to local communities. Open a co-working space With the high costs of rent, many social enterprises are born and run from kitchen tables and inefficient workspaces. Your workplace could provide a platform for social change by opening a boardroom or co-working space on a part-time basis to local social enterprises. Provide training through CSR programmes Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes can go a long way to support social enterprises. Many of the skills that accountants and finance personnel possess are in demand by social enterprises. Work with your employer to identify training needs of local social enterprises and develop training programmes to assist these mission-driven businesses. Make connections and provide visibility We need more social entrepreneurs to help us find new routes toward social improvement. If you know a social enterprise through your connections or in your local community, use your platform to promote them either via LinkedIn or other social channels. You can even invite them into your workplace to promote their product or service. Social entrepreneurs are drivers of positive change. As accounting and financial professionals, we play a part in their success and must support them in creating positive change for all of us. Fiona Smiddy ACA is the Founder of Green Outlook.

Jan 19, 2020

To promote sustainable finance, the finance industry must incorporate environmental, social and governance factors into investment decision-making. Orla O’Gorman explains how companies can enable investors to invest in sustainable, socially responsible assets. The climate crisis is the most impactful and far-reaching agent of change that we will see in our lifetime, the impact of which is comparable only with, perhaps, the industrial revolution. It will permanently alter how our society and economy operate – that includes our financial systems and how capital is allocated. We have already seen the world’s largest asset manager, Blackrock, asserting that climate change will be the focus of its new strategy and that it will reshape the industry as we know it. We have also seen the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, Norges Bank, divest entirely from all oil and gas exploration. To promote sustainable finance, the industry needs to incorporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into investment decision-making, supporting the allocation and transfer of capital towards sustainable and transitioning assets. Stock exchanges are at the heart of the global financial system and will play a vital role in enabling this transfer in an efficient, transparent way. Two-pronged approach As part of Euronext’s new strategic plan, Let’s Grow Together 2022, we have developed an ESG strategy with a two-pronged approach:  Sustainable practices (what we do internally); and Sustainable products (what we offer externally). Internally, our goal is to embrace the latest and greatest methods of sustainable working. Externally, meanwhile, our goal is to develop and support sustainable products and services for issuers, investors and the financial community, and we have already launched two initiatives in support of this. The first initiative is Euronext Green Bonds, which will allow investors to discover, compare and participate in sustainable investment opportunities and allocate capital accordingly. The second initiative, the publication of our ESG reporting guidelines for issuers, enables listed companies to communicate effectively to stakeholders about their current work in sustainability and assists them in addressing ESG issues with investors that will encourage them to invest in sustainable, socially responsible assets. The guidelines also provide a basic framework for ESG strategy and reporting. Looking to the future We hope that, by empowering issuers and investors with these products and tools, we can make the transition to a sustainable economy and finance a future of which we can be proud.  Orla O’Gorman is Head of Equity Listing Ireland at Euronext.

Jan 19, 2020

New legislation from the UK government has changed the rules of UK residential property disposals. Maybeth Shaw tells us about these changes and what tax filing and payment obligations need to be adhered to post-6 April 2020. The UK government has passed legislation which will have a major impact on the filing and payment obligations of certain UK resident taxpayers who sell UK residential property from 6 April 2020, applying to both individuals and trusts and only to capital gains tax (CGT). It does not apply to UK resident companies (and, from 6 April 2020, non-resident companies) which are subject to corporation tax on capital gains. This change was initially proposed in 2015 in order to reduce the time between a gain arising on a residential property sale and the tax being paid (in order to bring it closer to the position for other taxes). The April 2020 changes represent an extension of provisions which have applied to the disposal of UK residential property by non-resident persons from 6 April 2015, which was extended from 6 April 2019 to non-residential. Disposals before 6 April 2020 Currently, a UK resident individual or trust disposing of UK residential property that results in a taxable gain is required to report that gain on their annual UK self-assessment tax return. The deadline for reporting the gain and paying the tax due is the 31 January following the year of the disposal. Disposals from 6 April 2020 onwards From 6 April 2020, a UK resident individual or trust disposing of UK residential property will be required to file a “residential property return” within 30 days of the completion date of the disposal. Penalties will apply if the return is filed late. The vendor will be required to pay an estimate of the CGT within 30 days of the completion date. This will be treated as a ‘payment on account’ against their total income tax and CGT liability for that year when their annual self-assessment tax return is submitted by 31 January after the tax year of disposal, if filed online. The individual or trust will, therefore, be required to estimate how much tax is payable. This will depend on several factors which could result in a refund/additional liability being due when the self-assessment return is submitted. If additional tax is due when the annual return is filed, then interest will be payable at the standard rate set by HMRC. Exceptions Some common examples of where a return will not be required are: Where the gain is wholly covered by principal private residence relief for the duration of the taxpayer’s ownership. If a loss arises on the sale of the property. The gain is sheltered by capital losses crystallised before the sale takes place. The gain is small enough to be covered by the individual’s annual exemption for the year of disposal. The return and payment on account will not be required where the property disposed of is not a residential property or where the property is situated outside the UK. From a practical perspective, the taxpayer will need to rapidly determine whether (or to what extent) their gain is sheltered through principal private residence relief and, if it is not fully sheltered, what the gain will be and to what extent it will be sheltered by crystallised capital losses or their annual exemption. As these can take time to assess/calculate, it will often be worthwhile to assess them before the sale has completed. Non-UK residents Non-UK residents have already been required to file returns within 30 days when they have disposed of UK property, both residential and non-residential, since 6 April 2015 and 6 April 2019 respectively. There are no changes for disposals by non-UK resident individuals or trusts from 6 April 2020. Action from 6 April 2020 The application of this legislation to UK residents will be a game-changer in the sense that the tax filing and payment obligations need to be considered immediately on completion of the sale rather than left until after the end of the tax year. It will be common for individuals not to know precisely what their CGT liability will be at the time of the sale and, indeed, some of the relevant information may not be known until after the end of the tax year. For example, this could be the case where the tax liability depends on other disposals or other income in the same tax year. It would, therefore, be prudent to contact your tax advisor much sooner (ideally before completing the transaction) when making residential property disposals in order to submit the returns on time and to determine an appropriate estimate of the CGT liability. Maybeth Shaw is a Tax Partner in BDO Northern Ireland.

Jan 10, 2020

Without much guidance from Revenue, business owners often struggle with completing their annual Return of Trading Details, at great impact to the business. Alan Kilmartin explains RTD, how it can affect a business and the best way to simplify the process. All VAT-registered persons are required to file a Return of Trading Details (RTD) following the end of their accounting period (which is usually aligned to the financial year). The RTD is a statistical return summarising actual sales and purchase figures, the VAT on which was included in the less detailed periodic VAT returns during the accounting period. The return gathers the information through four key questions: Have you made supplies of goods or services? Did you acquire any goods or services from the European Union, including Northern Ireland? Did you purchase goods or services for resale? Did you purchase goods or services that are not for resale but where VAT paid on them can be claimed as an input credit?      The fields on the return are completed using the net sales or purchase figures at the various VAT rates applicable to the relevant transactions. For example, the net total sales of goods and services supplied for question 1 would be broken down into the various VAT rate categories (9%, 13.5%, 23%, etc.) and included in the return based on the total for each rate. The potential impact of the RTD The RTD must be filed on the 23rd of the month following the end of the accounting period. Therefore, if a business has an accounting period which ended on 31 December 2019, the RTD is due to be filed by 23 January 2020. The return is, as mentioned, a statistical return and, as such, does not carry an obligation to pay any VAT liability. Essentially, the RTD is used as an audit tool to assist Revenue in verifying the accuracy of periodic VAT returns filled during the accounting period. Revenue have stated in recent guidance that when a nil RTD is filled, it will be rejected when there have been positive values in the VAT returns for the accounting period, so it is important to ensure that the RTD reconciles with the VAT returns made to Revenue in the period which it covers. It is recommended to carry out a reconciliation of the RTD with the VAT returns because it is quite likely that one will be carried out by Revenue and if there are discrepancies, Revenue may choose to audit your client’s business. In contrast to VAT returns, there is no option to complete a Revenue Online Service (ROS) offline file in respect of the RTD and, therefore, the return must be completed ‘live’ on ROS. Failure to file an RTD can affect the cash flow of a business as tax refunds, under any tax head, can be withheld until the RTD has been filled. Also, Revenue may refuse to issue tax clearance certificates until the RTD has been filed. How to simplify the process In order to ensure that the information provided to Revenue is correct, it is recommended that businesses fully utilise the functionality of their ERP/accounting systems and ensure the tax and VAT codes within those systems take account of the data required to be declared in RTDs. In addition, preparing the RTD on a periodic basis when preparing the periodic VAT return will alleviate pressure during the “year-end” process. Despite an overhaul in recent years, the RTD still contains obvious flaws and its completion, in parts, is certainly open to interpretation by the taxpayer. Furthermore, in the absence of definitive guidance from Revenue, it is not surprising that taxpayers often have difficulty completing this return. So, are you RTD ready? Alan Kilmartin is a Director of Indirect Tax in Deloitte.

Jan 10, 2020

Sarah Daly explains how introducing some new time management methods into your day can help you manage your time more efficiently. In business, time is definitely money. Yet, while learning to prioritise competing demands is a skill that I have tried to develop over the years, like many business owners and managers, I find that unless I consciously manage time, there is always a risk of spending too many hours working ‘in’ the business and not enough hours working ‘on’ it. Talking to other accountants, I know that I’m not alone with this problem. In a busy office where clients phone in with urgent requests throughout the day, it is easy to fall into a pattern of running from one crisis to another. While some of these demands are genuinely urgent and have to be dealt with there and then, others are less urgent, and some – like spending too much time on email – can be a habit that, although neither urgent nor important, can take up a significant chunk of time. The key to good time management is learning to understand how you and your team spend your time each day so that you can identify opportunities to improve efficiency. The idea of analysing tasks and learning how to allocate time appropriately is not new. In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, management guru Stephen Covey explains that by categorising tasks into those that are ‘important and urgent’, ‘important but not urgent’, ‘urgent but not important’, and ‘not urgent and not important’ can help you get ahead of the game. Categorise First thing is to decide what tasks go in which category. Where does your daily check-in with staff go on the list? How about returning client calls? Tasks that are both urgent and important should be done first (obviously) while those that are in the ‘not urgent and not important’ category may not need to be done at all. At least not by you. Tools to help Today, there are tools that can help analyse how you and your team allocate your time, from monitoring time spent on social media to analysing time spent on particular projects or clients. One that I particularly like is the MyHours time tracking solution which has helped me to identify my most valuable work and eliminate time-wasting activities. Dedicated email time Another technique I find useful is having two slots a day for email — one in the morning and one toward the end of the day — rather than allowing email to constantly interrupt me. For me, email is usually in the ‘important but not urgent’ category, but your emails might be important and urgent, so adjust your email time as needed. Outsourcing It is worth reminding yourself – and your clients – that time-consuming administrative tasks can often be outsourced to specialist service providers, freeing business owners and managers to spend more time working 'on' rather than 'in' the business. What means the most to you? Finally, at this time of the year, it is worth reflecting on whether the things that mean most to us – like spending time with family and friends or looking after our health and wellbeing – are sufficiently high priorities on our ‘to do’ list, falling into the ‘important and urgent category’. If not, now is the time to get them on to our list of priorities for the coming year. Sarah Daly is Founder and CEO of GroForth.

Jan 10, 2020

What better way to start a new year than with a new career opportunity? Fiona Richardson explains how you can make a career change this year. January can often be a catalyst to making changes in your life, whether it’s hitting the gym, tailoring your eating habits or making those all-important New Year's resolutions. It comes as no surprise that changing job is a common theme during this time of self-reflection. If making a career move is a serious consideration for you in 2020, these key steps will ensure a successful transition  Consider why you want to make a move  Before you consider changing jobs, it’s important that you are clear in your own mind why you want to make a career move. Don’t move on an impulse. Analyse what you like in your current role and what you would change if given the opportunity. Ask yourself: What do you want to see in your next role? Is there a way for you to achieve this in your current organisation? We advise candidates to have these discussions internally before looking externally. This will hopefully avoid the sticky situation of  considering a counteroffer after going through the interview process with a prospective future employer. Write your CV or update the one you have This is often an intimidating task, but just do it. It takes time to get right, but it is so worthwhile once you get it done. Focus on your skills, key deliverables and achievements rather than just your operational outputs. Remember your skills and experience are transferable to other industries, so don’t undersell or limit yourself. Make sure to review job descriptions to familiarise yourself with the language being used and get a sense of what employers are looking for. Your CV should include a short and succinct personal profile/statement focusing on experience, skills and key successes. Once you complete a final draft, it is much easier to re-edit it for different roles that may come your way. You will usually have to adjust your CV for each role to emphasise what is important and highlight your suitability for the position. Your CV should be a working document that you update on an ongoing basis as your role and responsibilities evolve. Once completed, seek feedback from a mentor or your recruitment partner. Put yourself out there Once you have decided that you want to move, you must put a plan in place to ensure that you are positioned in the way of potential opportunities. Update your LinkedIn profile to reflect your most recent position and partner with a recruitment specialist and meet with them so they fully understand your background and what you want to achieve in your next move. Take their advice. As industry specialists, they should manage expectations and provide insights into the job market. Finally, the most important part of the plan is one around your personal brand and broadening your networking activity. Have you joined relevant institutes? Are you attending industry events? Is your company a member of a local chamber of commerce and if so, are you attending events? How you present yourself to the market, your CV, your LinkedIn profile, your attitude, your communication skills, dressing appropriately – all these things matter. Changing careers is exciting, and the decision to do so will dictate the foreseeable future of your professional life. Take time with it, be considered and when you are offered the role you like, be decisive. Fiona Richardson is an Associate Director of Accounting, Finance & Legal in Morgan McKinley.

Jan 03, 2020

Like our personal New Year resolutions, work-related goals will slip unless they become embedded in our daily routine, writes Teresa Campbell. At the start of a new year, it is natural to think about what you want to achieve over the coming 12 months, both personally and professionally. We set goals for ourselves and our teams, often investing much time in the process. However, even with the best of intentions, we often slip back into familiar routines, missing out on opportunities to make the most of the year ahead. Getting into the habit When setting out to achieve new goals, it can be useful to focus on developing new habits that can help us succeed. In 2009, Phillippa Lally and her colleagues at London’s UCL defined habits as behaviours that are performed automatically because they have been performed frequently in the past. Their research found that it can take much longer than many people think to form a habit, and perseverance is the key to success. According to Lally and her colleagues, to form a habit, one should be very clear with themselves about what action they will adopt and in what situation, and then carry out that action consistently. Lally says that, over time, it will require less effort. Likewise, in the workplace, when managers are encouraging teams to form new habits (be it good time management, better organisation or to adopt a more independent working style), they need to be clear about what they want the team to achieve, encourage the group along the way and have regular check-ins to be sure these new behaviours are happening consistently. Do as I do Managers also need to reflect on how their work habits impact on team members. Do you lead by example? Do you make time to get to know your team members? Do you give credit where credit is due? Do you take regular breaks, manage your stress and prioritise your health and wellbeing? Do you communicate your expectations clearly and set realistic goals and deadlines? These are essential habits, which all persons should develop to become a productive team member – but your team will struggle to embed them into their lifestyle if they don’t see you doing the same. Consistency is key I suspect that if you were to ask each of your team members and managers about the good habits they would like to nurture in 2020, you would end up with a long list of aspirations covering everything from better time management to cutting back on social media to giving higher priority to health, wellbeing and community involvement. Whatever their goals for the coming year, remind them that persistence is vital. While they may slip for a day here or there, they should try to be consistent and prioritise getting back on track. That way, there’s a good chance their new habit will continue to benefit them throughout the coming year and beyond. Teresa Campbell FCA is the People and Culture Director at PKF-FPM Accountants Limited.

Jan 03, 2020

By Neil Gibson While the economic outlook for Ireland is slightly cooler than the last two buoyant years, it is not entirely unwelcome as the pressures of fast growth are beginning to become more visible. Here are 12 predictions for the economy in 2020. Prediction 1: GDP will rise by 3.2% Strength in the domestic economy resulting from a combination of job growth, real wage growth and government spending is projected to compensate for weakening global conditions. GDP is expected to be above trend at 3.2% in 2020. Modified domestic demand, which strips out the main distortions in Irish GDP, is forecast to grow at a similar rate (3.1%). Ireland will, therefore, remain near the top of the European growth charts. Biggest forecast risk: A global slow-down. Prediction 2: Employment to rise by 1.7% Job growth is expected to remain robust in 2020 with 40,000 net jobs for Ireland projected, a slight reduction on the 56,000 in 2019. Consumer and government spending will boost domestic businesses and strong migration will allow firms to keep recruiting. Biggest forecast risk: Skills gap and housing shortages prevent firms getting the talent they need. Prediction 3: Wage growth at 3.5% Wage growth has picked up over the last 18 months as labour supply tightens and skills gaps emerge in key sectors. The growth is also partly compositional with more hiring at the senior level, pushing up the overall average wage. Overall, average wage growth is projected to slip back very slightly from its 2019 level to 3.5% in 2020. Biggest forecast risk: Wage inflation accelerates as firms struggle to get the labour they need. Prediction 4: Consumer spending growth of 2.4% Despite signs of ebbing confidence in consumer surveys, the rate of job and wage growth should support a healthy 2.4% growth in consumer spending in 2020. With the national savings ratio at a healthy level and confidence largely restored in the property markets, fears over Brexit and the global economy appear to be only having a modest effect on consumer behaviour. Biggest forecast risk: Consumers’ confidence, which is already fragile, finally impacts behaviour and people choose to spend less. Prediction 5: Net migration of 40,000 Ireland remains a very open economy with fluid labour movements both in and out of the country. Net migration is projected to reach 40,000 in 2020 with Ireland’s economic strength and improved relative attractiveness as an English-speaking, cosmopolitan location further boosting inflows. This flow will continue to drive demand in the economy but will add to the pressure on public services and Ireland’s infrastructure. Biggest forecast risk: Insufficient housing supply leads to further rent appreciation which, in turn, deters migrants from coming to Ireland. Prediction 6: Inflation of 1.6% It is one of the great economic puzzles – how has inflation remained so low? With rising wages and a strong economy, most economic models would project a rise in headline inflation. A depreciation in sterling has helped keep Irish inflation down but high levels of competition may also have mitigated against firms increasing their prices. It may also reflect the application of new technology and data analytics as cost control measures. The twin conditions of healthy job/wage growth and low inflation has made it a very strong 18 months for domestic businesses. Biggest forecast risk: Inflation picks up sharply as wage increases lead businesses to feel confident about price increases and a wage/price spiral begins. Prediction 7: House prices to increase by 3.2% House price growth has slowed markedly in the last 12 months. Unusually, this is in not in response to a weakening economy but partly because of the lending rules that have placed a harder ceiling on borrowing. This has been a welcome outturn for the Irish economy overall, though it has not been helpful in accelerating the development of much needed additional housing supply. Our forecast is for prices to pick up slightly from the current growth rates, reflecting demand and affordability in the wider economy. Biggest forecast risk: Despite lending rules, increased cash investment triggers a rapid step up in prices. Prediction 8: Construction inflation of 7% Because of the strong overall economy, construction will continue to perform well with domestic and commercial demand remaining strong. In addition, increased levels of government capital spending are providing a further boost and, consequently, inflation in the sector is very high. Cooling global conditions may take a little heat out of the input and material prices but wages look set to continue to increase. Biggest forecast risk: An uptick in domestic building, coupled with infrastructure spending and further commercial development, creates a ‘perfect storm’, pushing construction cost up even further. Prediction 9: Housing completions: 24,000 Despite net migration of 34,000 into Ireland in the year to mid-2019 and a long-standing stock shortage, housing completion levels remained well below the required level at the end of last year. A moderation in house price growth, opportunities elsewhere in the construction sector and a challenging planning and regulation environment continue to work against a more marked acceleration in house building. Fortunately, the constrained supply has not resulted in an unwelcome sharp pick-up in prices. Biggest forecast risk: Sluggishness in granting permissions and significant opportunities elsewhere in construction lead to lower completion levels. Prediction 10: Tax receipts: 4% Tax receipts have been very robust across all major categories. Though corporation tax increases have made the headlines, income tax and VAT have also grown strongly, reflecting the broad-based economic growth under way in Ireland. It remains hard to predict tax receipts as Ireland’s fortunes have considerable exposure to a very small number of firms, but the forecast for continued job growth and healthy wage increases mean a very healthy 4% is our central forecast for 2020. Biggest forecast risk: Adverse global conditions impact the small group of firms that contribute a large proportion of corporation tax receipts. Prediction 11: Government balance at 0.1% of GDP That the Irish economy is back into general government surplus is both a cause for celebration but also somewhat concerning. The €175 billion debt mountain remains almost untouched, despite the sustained period of fast growth, making the rather cautious Budget set by the Minister for Finance both understandable and advisable. The forecast of a very modest surplus this year reflects uncertainty over the volatile corporation tax receipts and the long list of calls on government budgets across most areas of public service. Biggest forecast risk: Demand for investment in public services, partly driven by population growth, leads to higher levels of government spending. Prediction 12: Unemployment rate of 4.6% Unemployment has been falling steadily for seven years since its peak of over 15%. Employers are finding labour harder to find, though even at the 4.6% rate projected for 2020, it is still some way from being considered full employment. The steady flow of migration and demographic factors mean that the strong job forecasts will not translate into an equivalent fall in unemployment. Nevertheless, we project it will continue to fall to its lowest rate since 2005. Biggest forecast risk: A global slowdown eases hiring and with strong migration flows, unemployment levels move into reverse and start to rise again. (The predictions assume the avoidance of a no-deal Brexit in 2020.) Neil Gibson is the Chief Economist in EY Ireland.

Jan 03, 2020

The failure to anticipate fraud risks can leave us open to significant financial and brand loss, explains Maureen Kelly. As businesses internationalise and move into new, potentially unknown markets and jurisdictions, the risk of fraud, both internal and external, is increasing. Furthermore, recent developments in anti-bribery and corruption legislation in Ireland means that businesses need to exercise even higher degrees of caution and due diligence as they navigate and explore new opportunities in 2020.    Recent Irish business research undertaken by Mazars Ireland shows that businesses are experiencing financial loss due to occupational fraud and abuse. Of those senior business leaders surveyed, approximately 50% had experienced a loss due to occupational fraud and abuse over the past two years.  The average financial loss was between €10,000 and €20,000, but 12% of respondents suffered losses greater than €500,000. The research shows that the principal causes of this financial loss relate to theft of cash and goods, but businesses also experienced losses due to expense fraud, payroll, invoice fraud and conflict-of-interest issues. The good news is that 33% of the fraud was detected via internal audits, with 25% detected via whistle-blowing/speak-up channels. An internal audit or concerns raised by whistle-blowers are invaluable for detecting fraud and the information provided to businesses by these two channels can then inform the improvement of their internal controls. However, the importance of robust internal controls cannot be overlooked.  What can be done to prepare for – and, therefore, prevent – fraud from happening in the first place? Five critical steps to managing fraud risk Step 1: Ensure the existence of a robust and mature control anti-risk environment   You can do this by: leading with a strong ethics culture and attitude displayed and communicated by those in charge; assigning authority, responsibility and reporting lines for all areas; openly displaying and enforcing policy statements and codes of conduct, particularly the whistle-blowing channels; and ensuring all staff have the knowledge and skill level required to accomplish tasks. Step 2: Carry out a focused risk assessment Identify the areas of fraud risk to your business, estimate the significance, assess the likelihood of the risks occurrence, and decide actions to address those areas of risks. By classifying your specific fraud risks, you can then put systems in place to eliminate or reduce them. Step 3: Ensure adequate controls, technology and due diligence processes are in place and in use Policies and procedures, segregation of duties, physical controls of assets and documents, appropriate authorisation levels and reconciliations remain integral elements of a robust internal control environment. However, organisations need to better leverage technology, systems and data to identify, anticipate and respond to potential fraud patterns and schemes in 2020. Furthermore, due to the anti-bribery and corruption legislation, the importance of relevant training and adequate due diligence on employees, agents, distributors or joint venture partners cannot be overlooked. Step 4: Review the security of your communication and information systems External fraud, including cybercrime and identity theft, can be costly both in the initial impact and the clean up afterwards. Phishing, invoice fraud, identity theft and denial of service attacks can all be financially devastating to a business. Adequate cybersecurity systems and increasing levels of Board and staff training and awareness are vital in its prevention. Step 5: Monitor, review and react If there is no monitoring of the system, you can have no assurance that it is effective, the controls are working, or potential fraud or misstatement is being avoided. A focused review by internal audit, or a more in-depth forensic style audit if your organisation doesn’t have the scale to have a dedicated internal audit team, must be considered. What will be the result? As your business grows and increases its cross-border footprint, by following the above steps your business can prepare for and prevent fraud in order to protect your business and brand. Maureen Kelly is a Senior Manager in Forensic and Investigation Services at Mazars.

Dec 11, 2019

By Moira Dunne December is a hectic time of year in work with the parties and end-of-year attitude, so to ensure you have a relaxing break and a head-start on 2020,   here are 12 productivity tips to get you through the holiday season. Set your priorities In December, there are lots of things to get done, especially in these last few weeks. If you don’t have time for everything, be clear about your priorities. Agree this with important stakeholders to avoid any conflict or disappointment. Protect your time Right now, time in work is more limited than usual. Our days are often shorter due to traffic congestion, late nights, and early finishes for Christmas events, lunches with clients, etc. Be ruthless with your time. Spend it on your priority tasks and people. Catch up with key clients Connect with important people before the year-end. Try to find productive ways to do this. Make a quick phone call or send a charity Christmas Card. A quick check-in can really strengthen a relationship for continued collaboration in 2020. Push some events to January There is a lot of pressure to do everything before Christmas. Start asking if some things can be moved to January. This frees up some time now while also energising January, a month when it can be hard to get motivated. Keep meetings short Going into the third week in December, everyone’s time is limited. Now is the time to use productive meetings skills: keep them short and stay on track, have a clear agenda and make decisions and decide actions. Your colleagues will appreciate it, too! Say no sometimes Saying no is one of the hardest skills in business, but it can be the right decision if the request is a low priority. Explain in business terms the reason you are saying no and suggest an alternative if you can. Batch up tasks to save time Our brains work more efficiently when doing the same task repeatedly. Be smart: if you have multiple meetings in town, can you schedule them all for one morning? If you have three client phone calls to make, can you block out an hour to make them all? Similarly, try processing your email responses in bulk at specific times of the day. Avoid commuting Traffic congestion continues to increase as Christmas shopping reaches its peak. Avoid it by working from home some days. Even a few hours at home first thing before travelling into the office later can enhance your focus and productivity. Make a to-don’t list To-do lists are great to provide focus, but it can be frustrating if tasks are not getting done. What stops you, what distracts you? Make a to-don’t list – a list of things you are determined not to spend your time on. It will be easier to notice and avoid them when they do crop up. (And they will.) Stay healthy This is a hard one! Our good habits can go out the window in leading up to the break. Try to include exercise, even on your busiest days: walk to a meeting or the shopping centre, pick reasonably healthy restaurants for get-togethers, and avoid the corner of the office with the tin of Cadbury’s Roses (for as long as possible, anyway…). Eliminate non-essential tasks Push non-essential tasks to January or don’t do them at all. This includes social requests. Do you need to go to everything and meet everyone? Take control, embrace JOMO – the joy of missing out! Make a plan for January On your last day in the office, plan out the first few days back in January. This will give you a clear plan to get you going as soon as you’re back in the office.  A productive December can lead to a restful Christmas period. Enjoy your break, you will have earned it. You can download a free December productivity checklist from beproductive.ie here. Moira Dunne is the Founder of BeProductive.ie.

Dec 11, 2019
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