Spotlight

Spotlight

Chartered Accountants play a critical role in operations around the world, and many are now guiding their organisations through the uncertainty and economic turmoil wreaked by COVID-19. Accountancy Ireland spoke to several members at the fore of this difficult task. Liam Woods  Director of Acute Operations at the HSE As a member of NPHET (the National Public Health Emergency Team) and with responsibility for the public hospital system in the Republic of Ireland, Liam Woods has played a central role in the country’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. In normal circumstances, Liam oversees acute services and the deployment of a €6 billion budget for the acute hospital system, which covers 48 hospitals across the country. Today, however, he is at the forefront of the public health system’s response to the global pandemic. Liam and his colleagues have worked relentlessly since December 2019, when the first case of coronavirus became known. “At that time, we were aware that there was an emerging set of concerning circumstances in China,” he said. “We are linked in with the World Health Organisation and the European Centre for Disease Control through the Department of Health, so we began receiving information on the situation almost immediately.” According to Liam, the threat to Ireland was confirmed by the Italian experience, with Ireland’s first case confirmed in late February 2020. This in turn led to an escalation of the pre-existing national crisis management structures. “Once we saw Italy’s crisis unfold, we implemented the HSE emergency management structures and assessed emerging scenarios and the subsequent requirements for intensive care capacity, acute capacity, and community capacity,” he added. “As March approached, we expected a major surge in cases of COVID-19. That surge did occur, but we didn’t see the levels experienced by Italy and that was primarily down to the public health measures taken in February and March.” As the pandemic progressed, areas under Liam’s remit such as the National Ambulance Service became increasingly critical elements of the response strategy. But as the pressure increased, so too did staff absence. “Today (30 April), 2,800 colleagues are absent in the acute system with a further 2,000 absent in the community system related to COVID-19,” he said. “That is a big challenge for the frontline, as is the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE). Our procurement teams are working night and day to secure the necessary equipment to protect our workers.” That effort has been supplemented by the overwhelming generosity of individuals and businesses according to Liam. “We had a massive response from the business community and society as a whole, from distillery companies manufacturing antibacterial hand gel to people making face shields using 3D printers,” he added. “Beating this virus has become a truly collective effort and those working in the HSE really felt and appreciated that.” Although restrictions are now being cautiously eased, Liam expects the workload to remain relentless. “At a personal level, it is demanding but if you work in the health system and understand how it needs to operate, you at least feel that you can make a direct contribution and a lot of positivity comes from that. The response of frontline staff in hospital and community services has been amazing and the commitment to delivering care has been key to the success to date in responding to what is a global crisis.” Tia Crowley  CEO at Western Care Tia Crowley had an “unusual” induction to the role of CEO at Western Care, as her appointment coincided with Leo Varadkar’s statement in Washington on the first wave of measures to tackle COVID-19 in Ireland. Given that her organisation provides services and supports to adults and children with intellectual disabilities and/or autism in Co. Mayo, Tia was very conscious of the need for – and challenges to – the provision of her organisation’s services. “When the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed initially, we risk-assessed all areas of service provision and made the difficult decision to close day/respite services and limit community support services to essential supports that could be provided safely,” she said. Many of the organisation’s 950 staff were reassigned to support Western Care’s residential services, which now operate on a 24-hour basis. According to Tia, maintaining an optimum level of service while securing adequate PPE for frontline workers is a constant concern – but there are longer-term challenges in the horizon. “I, and the new management team, had hoped to bring in a balanced budget for 2020 after prolonged periods of cutbacks, deficits and containment cycles. However, a shock 1% cut to funding allocations across the sector coupled with the impact of COVID-19 will impact our ability to meet the demand for our services within our existing allocation,” she said. “The cost of the crisis, and the associated long-term implication for funding, is a challenge that is constantly on our minds. But at the moment, our focus has to remain on keeping our service users and staff safe.” Aside from financing, one thing preventing organisations like Western Care operating to their full potential is an overly burdensome compliance regime, Tia added. “I hope the Government recognises how organisations like Western Care responded to this crisis and the support they provided to the HSE when it was most needed,” she continued. “After the worst of this crisis passes, I would like to see a streamlined regulatory environment where, once an organisation is deemed to comply with a basic set of standards, that is accepted by all regulators. We, like others, struggle to comply with multiple regulators and compliance regimes and at last count, more than 35 different regimes applied to Western Care.” Despite the many challenges, Tia has noticed certain positives amid the bleak backdrop. “The atmosphere of cooperation throughout the organisation has reinforced my belief in human nature and I hear stories of resilience among service users, families and staff who have gone over and above to support families in crisis and keep service users happy and content,” she said. “We are also building supportive relationships with the HSE locally as we turn to them for support and guidance. But equally, we provide them with reassurance and support too because we are all in this together.” Ultimately, Tia’s hope for the future is a simple one. “I hope that we can emerge from this pandemic with a sense of pride and renewed purpose, knowing that we have come through one of the most significant events in our lifetime and that everyone in Western Care did their best.” Dermot Crowley  Dalata Hotel Group Dalata Hotel Group was quick to respond to the threat of coronavirus to its business. From cancelling its shareholder dividend to renegotiating with lenders, the company has cut its cloth and according to Dermot Crowley, Deputy Chief Executive, Dalata is well-positioned to weather a long storm. “We have always been very careful with our gearing and as things stand, we have access to €145 million in funding,” he said. “We immediately created a worst-case scenario of zero revenue for the remainder of the year. We examined every cost item and calculated our cash burn. The major fixed costs are elements of payroll, rent and interest. Having done that exercise, we were in a position to reassure our shareholders that we could survive at least until the end of the year on a zero-revenue model.” As it happens, the company is still generating revenue. Dalata raised a further €65 million in April when it sold its Clayton Charlemont Hotel in a sale and leaseback transaction and although most of the company’s hotels are formally closed, Dalata responded to requests from governments and health agencies to accommodate frontline workers, asylum seekers and the homeless – often at much-reduced costs. Meanwhile, all other hotels have management and maintenance teams in place to ensure that all properties are ready to re-open at short notice. While some workers remain, the company was forced to lay-off 3,500 staff at the outset of the crisis, but Dermot is determined to re-employ as many people as possible as restrictions ease and trading conditions improve. “One of the most frustrating things about this crisis is letting our people go. We invest a huge amount in our staff and last year alone, we had 350 colleagues in development programmes. We also take on 35 people each year through graduate programmes and we have several trainee Chartered Accountants in our employ,” he said. “We absolutely want to take everyone back on.” Despite the company’s preparations for the ‘new normal’, whatever (and whenever) that might be, Dermot remains cautious in his outlook for the sector. “Dalata is a very ambitious company and we have a lot of new hotels in the pipeline, but the reality is that we are likely to be facing lower occupancies once the restrictions are lifted,” he said. “When we re-open, the domestic market will be the first part of the business to recover but the international market could take quite some time depending on travel restrictions.” At its AGM at the end of April, the company confirmed that earnings fell almost 25% in the first three months of the year to €17.7 million. With even worse results certain for the period after 31 March and normality a distant prospect, Dermot expects the sector to experience both tragedy and opportunity in the months ahead. “Some companies will not make it through this crisis and that’s just reality,” he said. “That will create some opportunities. We built a strong company after the last crisis, but I do not see the same fallout in Ireland as in the UK this time around. The UK has many old properties and companies with high gearing ratios, so that may be where the most changes will occur.” Naomi Holland International Treasurer at Intel As International Treasurer and Senior Director of Tax at Intel, Naomi Holland had a demanding role before COVID-19 became a threat, but her role has since expanded as she – and her colleagues – seek to protect the chipmaker and its people from the threat posed by coronavirus. As leader of Intel’s Global Tax & Treasury Virus Task Force, Naomi also sits on the Global Finance Virus Task Force, which develops and implements Intel’s crisis response for the corporation’s worldwide finance function. This is not just a strategic project for Naomi, however. Her global role means that she has direct responsibility for employees in some of the worst affected areas of the world. “I have teams based in China where we were dealing with the outbreak from early 2020,” she said. While it was largely restricted at that stage, the China situation effectively became a test-run for the global pandemic that was to come.” Some employee considerations included colleagues who had returned home for the Chinese New Year and became confined to their province, others were on secondment outside their home country and Intel needed to assess the return home versus the remain in situ options, and some countries’ lockdown notice was so short that staff ended up not returning home to their families and were confined alone. In the early days of the crisis, Naomi and her colleagues engaged in extensive scenario planning. They considered single sites closing down, multiple sites closing down, and the impact of COVID-19 outbreaks on the organisation’s operability. That led to a rationalisation of activity to ensure that critical functions remained up and running. “In addition to ensuring that we had the necessary contingencies in place should a person, team or site fall victim to COVID-19, it was also essential that we prioritised our activity,” she said. “This required significant coordination as we needed to ensure that our partner organisations around the world were satisfied with what remained on our priority list and, importantly, what didn’t.” This required extensive communication, which was central to Intel’s response according to Naomi. “We were acutely aware that people needed information,” she said. “So, we focused on our internal communications and developed a ‘people’ track to complement that.” This was particularly important for Naomi, whose team spans several countries including Ireland, the Netherlands, Israel, India, and China. Her leaderhip remit meant the US teams were also on her agenda. Despite the complexity, Intel’s quick response meant that the company “didn’t miss a beat”, according to Naomi. “COVID-19 has forced all companies to assess items including their liquidity, their work-from-home capability, and their technological infrastructure,” she added. “We took all the necessary decisions, amended procedures as required and augmented our hardware in places. The greater complexity, of course, resided within our factory and logistics networks but I am proud to say that their delivery can only be described as incredible.” As the shock factor subsides and people increasingly become resigned to the prospect of living and working alongside COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, Naomi is determined to maintain her focus on her people and their mental health. “I’ve always said that people are a company’s best asset and if this crisis has taught me anything, it’s in our augmented ability to deliver when we operate as one team despite the circumstances,” she said. “The first six months of 2020 have been a traumatic time for many. However, with senior executives leading from the front and maintaining communication with their people, this crisis is in fact humanising us and helping us connect with our colleagues on a more personal level.” Shauna Burns Managing Director at Beyond Business Travel Beyond Business Travel is ten years old this year and like the rest of the travel sector, it faces severe challenges due to COVID-19. According to Shauna Burns, the company’s Managing Director, 2020 was the year the firm planned to reach £20 million in turnover and build on its investment in Ireland following last year’s opening of offices in Dublin and Cork. The impact of the pandemic was felt by the company in February, according to Shauna, when FlyBe entered administration. March then saw the domino effect of countries closing their borders, which presented a unique set of challenges. “We had clients and staff located all over the world, and we had to work 24/7 to ensure they got home quickly,” she said. The company was also involved in the Ireland’s Call initiative to bring home medical professionals to work in the HSE and NHS. After this initial flurry of activity, Shauna and her team had to take both a strategic and forensic view of the business amid a fast-changing business landscape. “Difficult but essential decisions had to be made on operational continuity and cash flow while engaging with our key stakeholders and looking into the potential for financial assistance from Government,” she added. “From the off, we were determined that our company’s core values around excellent customer service would not change. We retained some key staff to provide ongoing information and to ensure that clients who urgently need to travel can do so. This comes at a financial cost in terms of maintaining our premises and fixed overheads, but it is a decision we believe will benefit the business in the long run.” With one eye on the easing of travel restrictions, Shauna’s firm is also compiling information and advice for companies whose people must resume travel, so that they make informed decisions and manage the impact of COVID-19 on their business. The travel industry will re-open and travellers will take to the air again, she said, but they will travel less often and with an increased focus on traveller health and safety. “We expect to operate below capacity for the immediate future, so part-time furlough allows us to raise activity in line with demand,” she said. “Consequently, we are looking at our offering and service lines, and right-sizing our business for the ‘new normal’. There are opportunities to become leaner, faster, and more efficient, and digitalisation is a core element of that process. “We now have an opportunity to ask ourselves if the business were starting from scratch, what would we do differently and reimagine what this looks like ,” she added. “But for our business, restoring confidence in the safety of air travel is a vital pre-requisite to enabling recovery and with more than one third of global trade by value moving by air, it will also be vital for the recovery of the global economy.” The entrepreneurs Growing businesses with finite resources are very vulnerable to economic shocks, but one Chartered Accountant is using technology to weather the storm. Fiona Smiddy, Founder of Green Outlook, had three active revenue streams before the onset of COVID-19 – e-commerce, markets/event retail, and corporate services including speaking engagements. She is now down to one viable revenue stream, but the growth in online retail has allowed her company to grow during the pandemic. Fiona runs a tight ship from a cost perspective. She outsourced her order fulfilment activity in 2019 and engaged the services of a ‘virtual CFO’ who keeps her focused on her KPIs. “Green Outlook turned one year old at the end of March and the key challenge remains brand awareness and cash flow management,” she said. “The company is self-funded with no outside investment or loans, so I am restricted to organic growth.” Green Outlook continues to support Irish suppliers, with 22 Irish brands represented among the more than 170 sustainable, plastic-free products available online, and Fiona cites this as a contributory factor in her success. “I have noticed a huge uplift in supporting local and Irish businesses and I hope this continues post-COVID-19,” she said. Brendan Halpin, Founder of WeSwitchU.ie, also hopes to support Irish businesses and households in the months ahead. He launched his new company in March 2020, just as the lockdown came into effect, but having spent 2019 in the development phase, he is certain that now is the right time to launch a cost-saving business. WeSwicthU.ie is a digital platform that finds the best electricity and gas energy plan for individual households each year and even as COVID-19 reached Ireland, Brendan did not consider it a threat to his business. “It was pandemic-proof in a sense because our entire proposition is online. From the comfort of your home, the platform takes the stress and hassle out of switching and saving money on customers’ home electricity and gas bills,” he added. “The only change in the business plan was on the marketing side; I had intended to be out and about meeting people, but that activity simply moved online.” While the market reaction has been positive so far, Brendan is conscious that any planned expansion would require funding – and that may be a challenge as the economic malaise becomes more entrenched. “I have funded the business myself so far but if I really want to grow, the next step will involve external financing,” he said. “I do hope that the Government and State agencies will help start-ups like mine grow through their relevant phases despite the uncertainty that lies ahead.”

Jun 02, 2020
Spotlight

Six influential Chartered Accountants in business and politics share their stories. Chartered Accountants are in many ways a driving force in the economy. With more than 16,000 members working in industry, and many in C-suite roles, our colleagues are found in every sector and at every level. In the pages that follow, we meet a number of trailblazing Chartered Accountants at various stages in their career. Each has had a significant influence on Ireland Inc. and continues to exemplify the very best aspects of the profession. From Sharon Cunningham, Co-Founder of Shorla Pharma to Michael Cawley, former Deputy Chief Executive at Ryanair, these profiles offer a snapshot of the talent and influence within the membership – qualities that will be in high demand in these uncertain times. Senan Murphy The CRH Group Finance Director discusses his journey from technical subject matter expert to general manager and leader. CRH Group Finance Director, Senan Murphy, divides his career into five chapters, beginning with his education and training as a Chartered Accountant and culminating in his current role. “I was interested in maths, business and science in school and did a BComm in UCD,” he recalls. “You could take a number of routes after that, but Chartered Accountancy looked the most interesting to me. I did a Diploma in Professional Accounting, which took the first three years out of the accounting exams at the time.” Senan joined Arthur Andersen in 1990 when it was one of the so-called Big 8. “I stayed there for five years and it was a very good place to work. It was a great transition from college into the real world. I moved into industry in 1995.” That saw him move to GE and begin chapter two. “Practice is a great experience, but you are an adviser. I wanted to be part of the execution and implementation; not just give advice and come back the following year to see how it worked out.” His GE career took in finance, acquisitions and business development in Europe and then the US, before moving back to Europe to what became GE Money. But the call of home was loud, and he moved back to Ireland with his wife and children in 2003 to begin the next chapter with Eddie O’Connor in Airtricity. “I stayed and helped grow the business until it was sold to SSE in 2008,” he said. That saw the beginning of chapter four with Senan moving into banking, first with RBS Ulster Bank and then Bank of Ireland. “2008 was an interesting time for the sector,” he noted with at least a hint of humour. “When something is in a crisis, you learn more than when things are going smoothly. It was a tough time for the banking industry but an interesting time to be part of it.” He sees the transition from subject matter expert to general management as quite natural for a Chartered Accountant. “The move from accountancy to financial leader to general management happens naturally. You start off learning about the financial side, but most of the job is about managing people. It’s about collaborating, working in teams and leading teams. As a financial manager, you get more and more involved in the commercial and operational sides of the business. In Airtricity, I became more and more involved in growing the business. “In some ways, it’s good to leave the numbers behind,” he continues. “As you go on, it’s about building good teams around you. The expertise around you comes from them. You become an orchestrator in a way. Accountants all start off the same way, and a lot of Chartered Accountants own their own business or end up running businesses. We don’t all stay in the financial world.” His fifth chapter sees him back in the role of Group Finance Director with CRH. “It’s a large organisation with lots of operating companies around the world. My job is to help drive performance and improve the business, but I also help to recruit, develop and promote talent globally. I also spend a fair amount of time talking to the owners of businesses. We have lots of shareholders around the world who want to hear from us.” For Senan, the people agenda is the most enjoyable. “That’s the part I enjoy most. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the people coming through the system who are more capable than their years might suggest. I also enjoy meeting shareholders. Some are supportive; some are quite challenging. Those two parts are very enjoyable.” He believes Chartered Accountancy has provided a good grounding for his career. “When you come out of college, you have to decide if you want to go into a business or go into practice and train as an accountant there. Practice is a good place to start with people of a similar age. You have to be a team player and learn to work with others. You have a number of clients and you have to build relationships with them. You’re not quite in a sales role, but you are really.” Michael Cawley Michael Cawley recalls his unorthodox path to Chartered Accountancy and life as the second in command at one of the world’s most successful airlines. With the candour we’ve come to expect from people associated with Ryanair, Michael Cawley says his reasons for becoming a Chartered Accountant were mostly materialistic. “My sister had a few boyfriends who were accountants and they had cars,” he says. “That was quite impressive, and it stuck out as most people didn’t have cars at that time.” Having never studied accountancy in school, Michael chose to pursue a commerce degree in UCC. “I liked it, and I went to Coopers & Lybrand afterwards. I spent three years auditing, and I hated it with a passion! The moment I qualified and finished my training contract, I walked out the door.” After a year teaching in UCC, he went into industry with the Cork-based motor dealer, Frank Boland. “I wanted to be in the middle of the action rather than just recording what had happened. I worked there until 1981 when I moved to Dublin to work for Kodak for five years.” His next move was to Athlone Extrusions as Managing Director. He led a management buy-out (MBO) of the company in 1990, the biggest such transaction in Irish corporate history at the time. The company later went on to a public flotation. After that, he moved back to the motor industry with Gowan Group in 1993. “I enjoyed my time there, but it was a family-owned company, so there was no prospect of a stake in the business,” he says. His move to Ryanair in 1997 as CFO and later, Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer had its roots in the Athlone Extrusions MBO. “I worked on it with Gerry McEvoy in KPMG and Tony Ryan was one of his clients. I stayed in contact with him and he knew I had ambitions beyond the Gowan Group. I was 42 or 43 at the time and I wanted to really have a good lash at something. Ryanair was about to float at the time.” That connection led him to join the airline at a crucial stage in its history. “Incredible as it may sound, I got on with Michael O’Leary from day one. I had a good few rows with him over the years as well, of course. It was always exciting, sometimes frustrating, but I was extremely lucky to be involved. It suited me from the outset.” He describes it as a phenomenal opportunity. “Low fares were in their infancy back then. We transformed air travel across Europe. I have dealt with more than 300 airports across Europe; lots of them were a bit like Knock back then, small with a few connections. We breathed life into many communities and helped them build up tourism industries. Bergamo in Italy had 130,000 passengers when we started there; that increased to 13 million by 2014. Charleroi grew from 30,000 to 7.5 million.” He stepped down from his executive role with Ryanair in 2014. He took up several non-executive directorships with a wide range of organisations including the Gowan Group, Kingspan plc, Fáilte Ireland and, of course, Ryanair. “I was 60 and grandchildren had started to come along,” he explains. “When I joined, we had 3.5 million passengers, and when I left, we had reached 83 million. It was 142 million last year. I’m delighted to still be on the board. I’m in and out every five or six weeks to catch up, so I haven’t really left. I’ve also been lucky enough to have become involved in a number of very fine businesses.” Michael concludes by   emphasising the need to keep pace with change. “You have to be open to change. Despite the advent of artificial intelligence and so on, accountants will still be able to master their environment. But we have to stay up-to-speed and be flexible and humble about the need to change. You can be top of the pyramid today, and irrelevant in six months’ time.” Ronan Dunne Ronan Dunne, the self-declared “accidental accountant”, has taken opportunities as they arose – and to great effect. A stellar career that has seen Ronan Dunne become Executive Vice President and CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, the largest division of the world’s biggest telecoms company, could have been very different if not for a teachers’ strike back in 1981. “I was all set to do Law in UCD, but there was an examiners’ strike the year I did the Leaving Cert,” he says. “The papers couldn’t be marked and there were no college offers.” And then fate took a hand in the form of intervention by Terry O’Rourke, Managing Partner of Touche Ross, and a past pupil of his school. “He contacted the Dean and said if anyone was interested, they had three to four unfilled slots for trainee accountants. I was one of those kids who was always fascinated by finance. My dad worked for Shell in a finance role and I was always interested in it.” A phone call from the Dean and a chat with O’Rourke sealed the deal. “It sounded like an interesting opportunity, so I decided to give it a go. I am an accidental accountant.” Six years later, the newly qualified Chartered Accountant was about to experience his next encounter with fate. An injury in his final year at school had put paid to a promising rugby career, but he was also an excellent soccer player and went on to play at senior level for the Mount Merrion club in south Dublin. “We were playing in a soccer tournament in Wales, and I visited my brother in London as part of the trip. I was sitting in his apartment when my mother rang, saying a lady had called about a job interview. The job was in London so I borrowed a suit and tie from my brother, went for the interview that afternoon with BNP and by 4.30pm had a job offer. It was 1987 and the markets were on fire. They couldn’t recruit fast enough. I signed a contract, went back home and packed my bags, and returned to London three weeks later.” Rapid promotion followed, and by the age of 25 Ronan had become the chief accountant at the bank. He then switched to the banking side of the operation where he dealt mainly with major US corporates with operations in Europe. And then came a call to jump the fence. That saw him switch to senior finance and treasury roles, first with Waste Management International and then with transport and logistics group, Exel. Dunne’s next move saw him follow his former boss at Exel into BT Mobile, which was about to become O2 and de-merge from its parent. “In 2005, O2 was acquired by Telefónica and I became CEO of Telefónica UK in 2007,” he says. “That was an interesting back story. When I became CFO in 2004, my boss gave me responsibility for legal and regulation, then procurement, and then asked me to take on HR as well. After a while, I pointed out that I was doing all the heavy lifting and doing three jobs instead of one. He said I had missed the point. I clearly had the capability to be a general manager, and he was getting me ready to be a success in such a role. I still thought my future was as a big public company CFO. My boss and my chairman saw my potential before I did.” Dunne’s departure to Verizon followed a blocked sale of the business to Hutchinson in 2015. “I had decided to leave once the deal was closed. I had a fairly extensive non-compete agreement, so I had to move sector or move geography. Verizon is the largest telecoms company in the world and when I got that approach, there was no way I would turn it down. In late 2016, we headed off to New Jersey.” “My training as a Chartered Accountant has been incredibly valuable at every stage in my career,” he adds. “It really is best-in-class, and I don’t think there is a better skillset out there. In my opinion, a good Chartered Accountant is better than any MBA from any business school in the world. It’s the best business qualification out there.” And he has some advice for his fellow accountants. “The biggest challenge and opportunity for accountants is to realise that your success is measured not by what you do, but by what you can make happen and the influence you have on people. Building teams, coaching and developing them, and bringing them on a journey with you is what’s most important.” Sharon Cunningham Ambition and tenacity helped Sharon Cunningham forge a path from practice to the cutting edge of pharmaceutical innovation and entrepreneurship.   Award-winning entrepreneur, Sharon Cunningham, learned about business and accounts literally at the kitchen table. The Shorla Pharma founder was interested in business from a very early age. “Both of my parents owned companies, and it was ingrained in us from a very young age. They did the books on the kitchen table. I used to go to the accountants with my mother and was fascinated by the questions the accountant would ask. My mother was focused on things like sales and cash and had her own goals. The accountant was asking about things like profit margins, inventory management and so on.” That early inspiration led her to a degree in finance in UCC. “I wasn’t 100% sure what I was going to do when I went to college at first, but by the time I finished I knew I wanted to be a Chartered Accountant and wanted to get a training contract, preferably with one of the Big 4.” Sharon went to work with PwC in Waterford initially but soon found herself travelling to Dublin, Chicago, New York and London. “It was fun but difficult; it was lots of hard work, but it was great. I went on an international secondment to an investment fund in Manhattan. That was a great experience.” Her move to industry came about almost by chance. “At the height of the recession in December 2010, I was working on a very challenging audit. A colleague of mine got wind of a job going in a pharmaceutical company I had never heard of in Waterford. I met with the co-founders of EirGen, Tom Brennan and Patsy Carney. They are very inspirational people, and I joined the company.” Having spent seven years with the company, initially as a management accountant and later as Head of Finance, Sharon decided that it was time to start her own venture with her colleague, Orlaith Ryan. “EirGen was sold to a multinational in 2015 for $135 million in a very successful exit,” she explains. “After the takeover, the company started to change and was no longer the entrepreneurial organisation that we knew and loved. The excitement wasn’t there anymore, and both of us knew it was time to move on.” Their idea was to establish a speciality pharmaceutical company based in Clonmel, which would develop a pipeline of innovative oncology drugs for women’s and children’s cancers. “We spent two years planning Shorla at night and in our spare time, and we launched the company in January 2018,” says Cunningham. “Both of us would say that at no point were we scared. We believed in ourselves and our vision for what we wanted to do; we never thought it would fail.” That confidence was well-founded. “We don’t have billions of dollars and 20 years to wait like major pharmaceutical corporations. We are not a major corporation, nor are we a generics company. We are somewhere in between. We take existing active substances and do something novel with them. We put them to different uses and make them less toxic to the patient. The time to market is much quicker. Business is great and we are very busy. We are in the middle of multi-million euro ‘Series A’ funding round and we are growing and scaling up for the US market launch of our first product, a breast and ovarian cancer drug.” It is a bit unusual for a Chartered Accountant to set up a pharmaceutical company, she concedes. “But accountancy is a very useful skill to have in any industry. The Chartered Accountant qualification gives you a certain degree of confidence when you talk about numbers; people listen to you and don’t tend to probe too much. They accept and trust what you say. The profession as a whole has a very positive impact on society.” Sharon’s experience has taught her the value of planning. “It’s much more beneficial to work smarter, not harder,” she says. “Everyone should sit down and decide what they want to do and what they want to be, and then map out a way to get there. Don’t get bogged down in small details; don’t sweat the small stuff.” Michael McGrath Having moved from practice to politics via industry, Michael McGrath has brought his training and experience to bear in his role as Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson. One of the most prominent faces in politics in recent years has been that of Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson, Michael McGrath. The Cork South Central deputy has earned plaudits for his work on tracker mortgages and the regulation of so-called vulture funds, among other pressing issues. And he attributes at least part of that success to his training as a Chartered Accountant. “There is no doubt about it, the training I received as a Chartered Accountant has proven to be far more valuable than I ever thought it would,” he says. “It equipped me with the skills to get to grips with the finance portfolio. It also makes you comfortable with numbers and reaching informed decisions. The analytical skills you acquire are hugely valuable when it comes to problem-solving.” He started out on his professional and political journeys at a very young age. “I was the first member of my family to go to college when I went to study Commerce in UCC having just turned 17,” he recalls. “My first election was a contested role in the Commerce and Economics Society, and I won.” Having completed his degree in 1997, he joined KPMG in Cork. “I wanted to stay in Cork and was keen to get a professional qualification. I stayed for four years and was fortunate to work with a number of companies and organisations in a variety of sectors.” Then came the move into industry. “Following the end of the training contract, an excellent opportunity came up to join Red FM, a new start-up commercial radio station in Cork. I joined as Financial Controller in late 2001. The station had yet to go on air, and I was involved in helping set up the processes and systems to run it. It was great working for a station with a youth focus. I was reporting to the CEO and the board, and I enjoyed the diverse range of responsibilities. It was very nice having a company car as a 25-year-old, of course. I didn’t think things could get much better.” He left Red FM for a relatively short stint in the UCC finance function. “It was quite a senior role and a step up for me,” he notes. But the call of politics was loud. “I always had an interest in politics in parallel with my working life,” he explains. “I was fortunate to live in a town that still had a town council. That provided a fantastic platform for a young person to contest an election. A few hundred votes was all you needed to get elected. I ran in 1999 at the age of 22 and managed to get elected. My heart was set on politics after that.” Michael was elected to Cork County Council in 2004 and quickly realised he couldn’t continue working full-time. “I resigned from UCC in 2005 and found some part-time work to tide me through the next year and a half.” Election to the Dáil in 2007 followed. Re-election in 2011 was an altogether more difficult proposition, however. “It was an incredibly tough election. Fianna Fáil lost over 50 seats. At a time when the party vote collapsed, I managed to take the fifth and final seat. I focused on playing my part in rebuilding the party after that. Brian Lenihan passed away in June 2011, and I was appointed spokesperson on finance.” He enjoys his role as a public representative. “It is an enormous privilege to be a member of Dáil Éireann, and I still pinch myself walking in as a member. As a T.D., I am juggling a number of responsibilities. I have the finance portfolio and at a local level, I try to serve people to the best of my ability. What I get most out of it is being able to help people. Very often, people come in with difficult and sensitive issues. Sometimes they need guidance; sometimes they need someone to fight their corner.” Serving in government remains an ambition, of course. “Having spent nine years as finance spokesperson and four years involved in confidence and supply, to present a budget as Minister for Finance would naturally be an ambition,” he says. Fergal O’Dwyer Fergal O’Dwyer is one of the driving forces that helped turn DCC into the industrial powerhouse it is today. DCC is one of those quiet Irish success stories. Since its flotation in 1994, it has grown into a significant force in the energy, electronics and healthcare sectors with a substantial presence in 17 countries. From an investor perspective, the company delivered returns of nearly 7,000% up to the beginning of 2020. One constant throughout that success has been Chief Financial Officer, Fergal O’Dwyer, who joined the company in 1989 when it was still a venture capital firm. “Shortly after I joined, the company decided to change its colours and become an industrial group,” he recalls. “That required a complete transformation. We had a number of minority investments and had to decide which ones fitted in with the new strategy and which did not. Between 1990 and 1994, we spent our time moving out of some of them and moving to ownership positions in the others. I am not aware of other companies that made that strategic change.” He began his accountancy career with Craig Gardner (now PwC) almost straight out of school due to a natural aptitude. “I did maths and accountancy subjects at school and was always going to head towards finance or accountancy. I didn’t have a burning desire to be an accountant or anything, I sort of gravitated towards it.” O’Dwyer qualified as a Chartered Accountant at the age of 21 with a year or so of his training contract remaining. Ireland was in the depths of a recession at the time, and the search for opportunities took him overseas. His search took him and his wife to South Africa. “After we got married in 1983, we headed off to South Africa. I worked for three years there for Thomson McLintock, which represented KPMG at the time, and came back to PwC in 1986.” That move back led him indirectly to DCC. “I had clients who were looking for development capital, and I had worked on a number of deals on their behalf with DCC and they had worked out well for everyone. In 1989, I got a call from the founder and former CEO of DCC, Jim Flavin, who asked me to join the firm.” That was a major change. “I became an associate director of a venture capital company. I was dealing with entrepreneurs and building relationships with them. I learned about the venture capital focus on return on capital employed. That’s still the same mantra in DCC to this day. What is the return we are going to get on every euro? We aim to get a circa 15% return because we want returns well in excess of the cost of capital.” He describes the transformation from venture capitalist to industrial group as “very exciting”, but the flotation in 1994 was not without its challenges. “The flotation was a success, but we didn’t raise any capital, and our share price didn’t perform for quite a long time. We wore out a lot of shoe leather explaining our business and strategy. It has been all about constant delivery over the years, getting investors to listen and building a following. We were growing revenue, growing profits, growing cash flow, but still were having to work hard to sell the story. It was frustrating, but we had to accept that the market is always right.” His advice to other Chartered Accountants starting out on their careers is to keep learning. “The qualification equips you to do much more than just the numbers. You’ve got to interpret and advise on them. I still learn every day and you have to try to learn all the time. And you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. You can find business to be stressful, but if you put in the work and effort, it can be rewarding and fulfilling.”

Apr 01, 2020
Spotlight

Employees the world over are encouraged to ‘collaborate’ with zeal, but there’s much more to successful collaboration than technology and open-plan offices. Picasso wasn’t a big fan of collaboration. The Spanish-born artist once said, “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible”. Yet businesses can’t seem to get enough of it; they’ve even torn down the walls and developed software to ensure that people work together. And Picasso wasn’t the only one who railed against the idea of working with others. The co-founder of Apple Inc., Steve Wozniak, was also unequivocal in his advice: “Work alone… not on a committee. Not on a team”. So why did the collaboration craze catch on? And is it all that bad?Skills and culture Collaboration often gets a bad rap because, in many cases, organisations’ efforts to promote and sustain collaboration fall short. Writing in Harvard Business Review, the behavioural scientist Francesca Gino accused leaders of thinking about collaboration too narrowly: as a value to cultivate but not a skill to teach. Her solution is to “teach people to genuinely listen to one another; to approach discussions with empathy, not opinions; to become comfortable with feedback; to lead and follow; to speak with clarity and avoid abstractions; and to have win-win interactions”. That’s a lot for any leader to unpack, but it illustrates one critical point – there’s a good chance that asking your people to collaborate without helping them to build the necessary skills will result in frustration and failure. But rather than blame your people, Francesca encourages leaders who are exasperated by a lack of collaboration to start by asking themselves one simple question: what have you done to encourage it today? According to Maighread Kelly, Director at Collaboration Ireland, collaboration is also a mindset in many ways. Giving thought to prospects for collaboration, be that within your organisation or with third parties, can open up new opportunities and generate a higher level of engagement all round. In her view, there are three critical elements in a fruitful collaboration: It must be a collaboration of the willing – all partners must buy-in fully to the project;The initiator must find the right partner(s), both personally and culturally; and A good process must underpin collaboration. So, it essentially boils down to two key components: skills and fit. If people have the skills necessary to work together, often through uncertainty and disagreement, and the inclination to do so from a culture and values perspective, the chance of success rises significantly.Unexpected challenges However, collaboration also throws up unique challenges that must be managed sensitively. According to Amanda Shantz, MBA Director at Trinity Business School, collaboration is useful for highly complex and strategic tasks such as overhauling an IT system or entering a new market, and such collaborations require diverse and specialised skills – but these very characteristics can also impede collaboration. “Take diversity, for example,” she said. “The challenging tasks that businesses face today require the expertise of people from diverse backgrounds to spark innovation. Research shows, however, that people are less likely to collaborate when others are seen as somehow different from them in terms of age, gender or ethnicity, for instance.” Amanda believes that strong leadership is required to cultivate a culture of collaboration where individuals succeed both because of, and in spite of their diversity. “People need to understand who has the requisite knowledge in, and outside, the business,” she said. “They need to feel that they are operating in a safe place to ask questions and make mistakes, and there needs to be a strong sense of community that’s inspired by an overarching goal.” Interestingly, the lack of an overarching goal is one of the most common reasons for failure in collaboration according to Maighread, who helps guide collaborative projects in the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors. “It isn’t good enough to collaborate just because you want to work with another person or organisation,” she said. “For a collaboration to be successful, there has to be a good strategic rationale and a strong business case.” If this is in place, other common threats to collaborative efforts – such as a lack of stakeholder buy-in; poor relationships; a lack of trust; and poor processes – then become more manageable because there is a clear roadmap for the future.Collaboration in action Chartered Accountants Ireland discovered the benefit of planning first-hand in 2019 when it undertook a project to update the Institute’s syllabus to account for the impact of technology on the profession, but without overshadowing its core elements – audit, financial reporting, taxation, business leadership and critical thinking. With a limited timeframe for implementation, the Institute couldn’t ‘go it alone’. It instead collaborated with a host of third-parties to revitalise and future-proof the syllabus. “We broke our projects into two parts, developing new elective subjects in collaboration with CIPFA (the Chartered Institute of Public Financial Accountants) and the Institute of Banking before tackling the technology aspect,” said John Munnelly, FAE Paper Development Executive at Chartered Accountants Ireland. “From my research on the technology side, it was clear that trailblazing companies were doing great things, so I contacted Alteryx, Tableau and UiPath – but these companies had never collaborated with an accountancy body before.” To secure buy-in, John approached senior leaders in each organisation to lay out his vision for collaboration. “I knew that I needed senior project sponsors in our partner organisations, who understood the importance – not only for our profession but also, for their industries,” he said. Working with CIPFA and the Institute of Banking was an efficient profess, according to John, and they both delivered fit-for-purpose syllabi for the public sector and financial services electives. However, collaboration with the technology companies was more complicated. “Once the initial scoping exercise was complete, it was important to share our vision for the new syllabus with our partners,” he added. “This was a learning experience for the companies and while we ultimately produced a suite of materials that complemented the ACA qualification, the low point came when we realised that something was missing.” Although the new syllabus taught essential principles in the areas of data preparation, data visualisation and robotic process automation, this teaching needed to be underpinned by practical experience. “This led to an audacious request for training licences for all FAE students,” added John. “And it was a testament to the strength of our relationships that all partners offered training licences for their products for all FAE students. This would have been quite disappointing had it gone differently, but relationships are indeed at the core of collaboration – particularly when issues arise.”Conflict and collaboration Although the Institute’s experience of collaboration was very smooth and cordial, it is not uncommon for teams to experience conflict as part of the collaboration process. Indeed, somewhat ironically, the absence of conflict may be a warning signal, according to Amanda. “In some cases, people who are collaborating become so excited about their ideas and activities that they shut down naysayers – nobody wants to be the skunk at the picnic,” she said. “Alternatively, an overbearing micromanager who always has the ‘right’ answer doesn’t encourage the type of discussion necessary to optimise collaborative efforts. In both cases, it might be a sign that the environment isn’t safe enough for people to speak out.” But all is not lost. According to Amanda, there are many ways for leaders to increase people’s perception that they can – and indeed, are expected to – put all views on the table without fear or favour. “Senior managers need to set the tone from the top that collaboration and conflict go hand-in-hand,” she said. But although senior leadership rhetoric matters, research has shown that the behaviour of mid-level line managers is especially crucial. “In particular, what’s important is how mid-level managers respond to failures, invite conversation and demonstrate humility and curiosity in their interactions with others,” she said. Words of wisdom And that isn’t the only advice Amanda has for those tasked with building a culture of collaboration in their organisation. “Organisations need to invest in building and maintaining social relationships across the organisation,” she said. “This requires a technological infrastructure that makes it easy for people from different parts of the organisation – often located globally, but even across the building – to work effectively as a team. And the use of software to connect people by projects, not by roles, is another way to utilise technology to support collaboration.” Aside from technology, Amanda returns to the critical role of leadership. She urges leaders to ensure that collaborative behaviours among senior executives are visible to employees and to avoid the tendency to make an executive a standalone ‘hero’ in his or her unit. “Senior leaders need to ensure that employees are selected for – and trained in – the skills needed for collaboration, such as productively resolving conflict and active listening,” she added. “They could also sponsor events and networking activities and host innovative and fun opportunities for people to connect.” Mid-level managers have the most critical role to play in championing collaborative efforts, however. “They need to support the strategic goal for collaboration by coaching employees on how to connect with different parts of the business,” Amanda said. “Research shows that managers can increase collaboration by changing their leadership style as the team’s project progresses. In the beginning, the manager should consider focusing on the task at hand and articulating accountabilities, but when conflict emerges, the manager may consider switching to a relationship-oriented leadership style.” So if you’re frustrated by your organisation’s inability to collaborate successfully in a sustained way, remember Francesca Gino’s simple question: what have you done to encourage it today?Maighread Kelly is a Director at Collaboration Ireland. Amanda Shantz is MBA Director at Trinity Business School. John Munnelly is FAE Paper Development Executive at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Feb 10, 2020
Spotlight

There are many professional benefits to donating your time to a non-profit organisation. Ciara Tallon outlines how you can enhance your career by volunteering your experience and skill. Over the last decade or so, the term ‘work-life balance’ has featured more and more in career conversations, and with millennials in particular. This need to make more of a balance often involves children, pets or parents but can also be a wish to carve out time for fitness, education and upskilling or volunteer work. According to volunteering.ie, 28.4% of adults in Ireland volunteer; that is over one million people. 65% of those who volunteered were over the age of 45. Half of all volunteering was work carried out directly by individuals (informal) rather than through organisations (formal). Getting started Look at what you have access to, be it a sports club, scout den, church or community group that could benefit from your experience. Talk to people on the side-lines at your child’s football match to find out who else is working in this sector and how they got their foot in the door.  It’s a good idea to look into your own organisation, as well. It may have some CSR initiatives and perhaps sponsor or collaborate with organisations in the not-for-profits. There may be room to leverage your connections to secure experience and exposure within these organisations.  For employers, volunteering by employees is increasingly recognised as a potential way to develop broader skills. A recent Accenture report highlighted that 76% of volunteers said they had developed core work skills while volunteering. Career benefits Through our career consultations, we have seen an increase in the number of members who view volunteering as a strategic stepping stone and career move. Members are beginning to recognise that a period of volunteering can be a shrewd investment in their career in more ways than one. The opportunity to develop new skills and strengths without it affecting current career plans can be of huge interest to members. Often a new group or organisation can challenge us differently and bring about fresh thinking, and this freedom from the confines of our day to day role can draw on untapped resources and spark our creativity to explore new strategies. It leads us to areas of abilities unbeknownst to us.  Members also have the opportunity to explore an area of work or change of sector without the risk of financial penalties in a try-before-you-buy scenario, avoiding the potentially costly mistake of focusing on just one sector. A role working with young adults or with older people may have been a life-long dream but often the reality bears no resemblance to expectations. The chance to do this in a not-for-profit on a voluntary basis can be a valuable buffer. The not-for-profit space has experienced a massive overhaul of its governance and risk processes so a fresh approach coming from outside of a not-for-profit field may be just what they need.  Perhaps the organisation in question uses state of the art systems or allows you the opportunity to oversee a team or group that doesn’t exist in your day-to-day role – they can all combine to broaden your skills set.   The last decade or so has seen an increase in the demand for governance and compliance in the not-for-profit sector to ensure robust ‘fit-for-purpose’ checks and balances. Chartered Accountants have played a key role in this area by taking on full-time positions within these organisations. For members who would like to transition into this sector, a voluntary, non-executive director or board of directors opportunity may fit the requirements and give that not-for-profit exposure.  Governance Those looking to make the move from traditional practice and industry roles into the not-for-profit space can often find the experience frustrating and difficult without any prior industry knowledge or exposure. Members who gain exposure to the not-for-profit sector even in an unpaid capacity can find that they gain that crucial exposure and CV-enhancing experience which can subsequently evolve into a long-term career investment that eventually pays dividends in the form of a paid role. These roles also offer the opportunity to develop new skills and give sectoral exposure, as well as provide additional networking and brand development potential.  Value to you and your career In 2017, there were over 14,000 volunteers registered with local volunteer centres and the online national database of volunteering opportunities (IVOL). These volunteers clocked up an incredible 480,000 hours of volunteering with an estimated economic value of over €10.5 million. Finally, whatever you are involved in outside of your working day has the opportunity to help you to broaden your views, opinions, expertise as well as gain invaluable contacts and connections in what could potentially be your next career move. This new sector may hold an interest for you, or separately the skills and areas of development may, as Julie Bond says, ‘give you the edge’ in that crucial interview or sectoral change.  What is invaluable is the mutual value-add to be gained by both the volunteers and the voluntary organisations – with knowledge sharing on both sides.   Ciara Tallon is a Career Coach and Recruitment Specialist with Chartered Accountants Ireland. 

Dec 02, 2019
Spotlight

Dee France outlines the services available to members  and students through CA Support, and the need for generosity in this season of goodwill and beyond. CA Support was re-launched at an event in October. Tell us about the rationale behind the re-launch. This new service is a re-imagining of the Institute’s original hardship fund, the Benevolent Association, where member donations were deployed to members in need. CA Support is now a registered charity with its own board of directors and the donations from members help fund a wide range of expanded support services such as professional counselling, wellness coaching and mental health workshops in addition to financial supports to members and students  in crisis. Based on your experience, what common challenges do our members face and how can the Institute help through CA Support? Given the mental illness epidemic, most calls received by CA Support have a mental health element that stems from the challenges faced by members and students. Members who engage with our service may be suffering from bereavement, redundancy, serious illness or some form of depression or burnout. Students also look for help with these issues in addition to exam stress, work-life balance and financial worries. At our launch in October, President Conall O’Halloran acknowledged that although a career in accountancy can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling, for some the road bumps encountered along the way can be significant and come at a huge personal cost – both in their careers and with their mental health. The new CA Support model is all about empowering the individual to self-sufficiency through a wide range of supports, namely professional counselling, wellness coaching or referral to our in-house career or mentoring service. We engage with our members throughout the process and many keep in touch to avail of additional support and guidance as they move away from crisis situations and towards positive change. How exactly does CA Support work to help members in difficulty? We provide a telephone, email and  face-to-face suite of services for members and students. Most engagement is via email initially, with many opting to talk to one of the team face-to-face or by phone. Every case is different; some members or students avail of several services while others seek support for an isolated issue. Whatever difficulties our members or students encounter, we are with them every step of the way. All members can help their colleagues by donating to CA Support. How important is this fundraising activity? Quite simply, donations are the lifeblood of CA Support. Without members’ donations, this service will cease to exist. We ask everyone to think of those members and students who can be blindsided by problems outside of their control such as bereavement, redundancy, mental health challenges or a family crisis. These issues take their toll in different ways, with many who contact us often in dire need. Unfortunately, many more may be suffering in silence. We want to reach those members and offer them all the support they need. Without the generosity of their fellow members and students, our ability to offer these services is compromised. We encourage all members to give generously, particularly when times are good. Nobody knows what’s around the corner and it is heart-warming to know that members’ support is there when you need it most. Finally, if a member needs a helping hand, how can they contact CA Support? Members and students can phone us on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294, contact us by email at casupport@charteredaccountants.ie or visit our website at www.charteredaccountants.ie/casupport    Dee France is Manager at CA Support.

Dec 02, 2019
Spotlight

Volunteers and non-profit experts explain how volunteers and civil society organisations can work together for the betterment of society. The third sector is the part of an economy or society comprising non-governmental and non-profit-making organisations or associations, including charities, voluntary and community groups, cooperatives, etc. Charities, non-profits and voluntary and community organisations are terms often used interchangeably, and although they can be different, they often overlap. In November, a BBC.com story about “the lifeguard” – a 22-year old Norwegian woman who keeps track of roughly 450 ‘dark’ Instagram accounts and intervenes to help suicidal users – generated a stir on social media. Ingebjørg Blindheim isn’t paid for what she does, nor is she formally qualified to offer help. Instead, the BBC report reads, she feels compelled to act. While for many this would be an overwhelming commitment in an always-on digital age, and some have questioned the wisdom of an untrained individual working in the space, it is reflective of the driving force behind volunteering and non-profit groups as a whole – a determination to help. This determination is alive and well in Ireland. Despite well-publicised issues in a small number of charities, the country’s non-profit sector remains robust, with 163,000 employees and 81,500 directors or charity trustees. The value of the third sector to Irish society is arguably best summed up by the degree of Government support it enjoys. Data from Benefacts, a non-governmental organisation that provides information about the non-profit sector in Ireland, shows that at €5.9 billion, Government was the biggest single source of funding to the third sector in 2017. This represented 8.4% of all current Government spending that year – although some might say that is still not enough. And while the focus of non-profit organisations is on the people they serve, several academic studies have demonstrated that spending time helping others leads to benefits for the individual volunteer. Such benefits can include greater positive affect, life satisfaction, social engagement and reduced depression according to a 2017 academic study by a team of US-based researchers. So, what is the nature of volunteering in Ireland today? The evolution of volunteering Over the years, the nature and popularity of volunteering on the island of Ireland evolved. According to Nina Arwitz, CEO at Volunteer Ireland, people now want to volunteer in new and less restrictive ways. “People generally look for short-term, flexible, one-off volunteering opportunities, but organisations have not kept up with this change in demand from volunteers,” she said. “Many volunteering roles are ‘traditional’ in that they require a regular, long-term commitment. Although such roles are very important, a lot of our work involves helping organisations develop new types of volunteer roles and think outside the box in terms of how they involve volunteers.” Nina also points to the growth in ‘informal’ volunteering, which is conducted without the assistance or oversight of an organisation. A common example is helping an elderly neighbour with their shopping each week. “About half of volunteering in Ireland is informal, and this follows a growing international trend across the globe.” Whether formal or informal, there is a strong demand for volunteers – and a corresponding willingness in individuals to give back to society. This willingness creates huge potential for mutual benefit at both personal and societal levels, according to Nina. “Volunteering enables non-profit organisations to engage in hugely important work in a range of areas from homelessness and supporting young people at risk of offending to animal welfare, the environment and befriending,” she added. “Much of this work would not be possible without volunteers.” Indeed, Volunteer Ireland’s 2018 annual survey of volunteer-involving organisations found that 60% of organisations see volunteers as crucial to their organisation, while almost one in five believe that their organisation could not operate at the same level without volunteers. The monetary value of volunteering further illustrates the importance of the volunteer community to the provision of necessary services throughout the island. “If you take the 232 million volunteer hours given in Ireland each year, as measured by the Central Statistics Office, and multiply it by the average industrial wage of €23 per hour, which is the internationally recognised way of approaching it as volunteering reflects a range of skills, you get an annual value of over €5 billion,” Nina continued. “But that doesn’t account for other economic benefits such as improvements to health and wellbeing, which ultimately saves money for the HSE. So, it’s still a conservative estimate.” Before you commit There is also an inherent value to volunteering – doing more than you must because you want to and because you care. This was certainly a motivating factor for Institute member, lifelong volunteer and Director of Finance at The Wheel, Tony Ward. “Being out and about and encountering new people is rewarding as it reinforces the fact that everyone is different and for a more vibrant and healthy society, we need to understand difference,” he said. “Also, when I joined Fighting Blindness and encountered so many people who were also visually impaired, it was comforting and of great support to meet and speak to people who had similar challenges.” While volunteering is undoubtedly a good thing to do, as much for the volunteer as the non-profit organisation and the people they serve, it is not something to be rushed into. The cause must resonate with the individual, and he or she must be able to fulfil their commitments, according to Tony. “Ultimately, nobody wants to be involved in something where they have any doubt about the organisation or cannot deliver on what they sign up to,” he said. “Volunteers also need to ensure that they don’t over-commit. Aside from one’s day job, family and interests, everyone has limited time to volunteer so it would be better to give your time wholeheartedly to one or two organisations rather than spread yourself too thinly.” It is also important to consider the type of organisation you volunteer with and the impact you might have. Some would-be volunteers may be attracted to well-known organisations, but Chartered Accountants can often add a disproportionately high degree of value in smaller, less-known charities. “Smaller organisations will undoubtedly have limited staff resources and struggle to access a broad range of skills. They may also struggle to get the necessary systems in place to ensure compliance with the increased regulations,” said Tony. “Without taking on an executive role, I believe that most Chartered Accountants could make a huge contribution to such organisations. I have done this many times, from my local GAA club to working with boards. It isn’t only about proper accounting systems but making good and prudent business decisions and ensuring that the organisation takes relevant factors into account when making those decisions.” Corporate volunteering To attract and retain talent, companies are increasingly supporting their employees in their volunteering activities and, in many cases, are getting in on the act themselves. According to Pamela Gillies, a Director in the Business Advisory team at BDO Northern Ireland, volunteering programmes are more than a CSR or marketing exercise – they help to create a healthier, happier and wealthier society that benefits everyone. “I am personally involved with our current charity partner, The Children’s Cancer Unit Charity, and I also volunteer with several different organisations in a personal capacity outside of BDO Northern Ireland,” she said. “Such volunteering programmes allow me to give something back to the local community, connects me with people I otherwise would not meet, and to have fun.” In Pamela’s view, a good volunteering programme is one that is sustainable and benefits both organisations in one way or another. “There could be a perception that volunteering diverts the time of client-facing staff,” she said. “But when volunteering is managed correctly and communicated effectively, the benefits of the organisation performing valuable work in the community will increase brand perception as a result.” Based on her experience, both corporate and personal, Pamela has some advice for organisations that have yet to step into this space. “As John Donne wrote in his famous poem, No Man is an Island, we all rely on each other, or we all need help at some time,” she said. “What we might consider a relatively small contribution in terms of time or cost can have a significant long-term positive impact on those receiving our help and support.” For organisations, volunteering creates a competitive advantage, raises brand awareness and helps businesses develop trust with shareholders, customers and employees, she continued. “Our world – and the people and organisations in it – is increasingly interconnected and volunteering is a way to actively manage those connections to benefit a company, as well as those people, organisations and communities you are helping,” said Pamela. “It therefore makes sense for businesses to implement CSR strategies in their business plan – not only for the benefit of others, but also for the success of the business.” The non-profit landscape According to Benefacts, there are almost 30,000 civil society organisations in Ireland for companies and individuals to partner with. While some are long-established, others are newer and have evolved in response to societal needs. At a high level, the sector includes: A few hundred large and well-established charities that deliver services on behalf of the State, mostly in education, health and social care, and international development aid. These organisations receive more than 70% of public funding which, in 2018, amounted to more than €6 billion or just under 10% of all current exchequer expenditure; A few thousand non-profit organisations, half of which are registered charities that rely substantially on the State for some, or most, of their income. These organisations are active in various sectors – including local development, social housing and the arts – and derive their income from various sources including the State (often in the form of service fees), earned revenues and donations from the public; and Tens of thousands of small, locally-based organisations. Many are local branches of national organisations while others are community-based. Few are incorporated, most are volunteer-led, and many receive small grants from their local authority. The biggest change affecting civil society organisations in the last ten years is successive waves of regulation, according to Paula Nyland, Head of Finance and Operations at Benefacts. “There are nearly 10,000 non-profit companies incorporated by guarantee and without share capital. As corporate citizens, they are subject to the same rules as any other company in terms of corporate governance, employment law, health and safety, lobbying, protected disclosures and so forth,” she said. “This has driven a marked professionalisation in the way they are run as non-profit businesses.” Also, half of these companies – as well as many unincorporated non-profits (mostly schools and religious bodies) – now come into the purview of the Charities Regulator, which has brought greater scrutiny, new compliance standards and disclosure requirements, and sanctions in the case of non-performance. Sector challenges In addition to regulation, the sector faces challenges on several other fronts, according to Tony Ward. These include: An inadequate understanding of the role the non-profit sector plays in Irish society, and subsequent negative media coverage; A lack of multi-annual funding, with many organisations surviving year-to-year; A lack of understanding, particularly by State funders, of the need to carry reserves – and the imperative for a board of trustees to have adequate reserves to manage an organisation competently; and The streamlining of financial reporting for charities, given that different forms of reporting are required by different State agencies. While collaborative thinking, such as the establishment of the Department of Rural and Community Development in 2017, may help non-profit organisations overcome these challenges, distinct risks remain for charities – both large and small – in the years ahead. However, Tony looks at this in a more nuanced way. “The sector is comprised of charities and non-profits doing fantastic work in areas of society that are overlooked, or where the only effective way the State can deliver essential services is through these organisations,” he said. “The risk is, therefore, a risk to society whereby those most in need of help or assistance may not be adequately served. And the simple fact is that the current model is not sufficiently planned or resourced to deliver for people at risk.” While much of the solution is out of individuals’ direct control, Tony firmly believes that volunteers and donors can exert a positive influence for change in how the non-profit sector is supported and resourced. “As we know, volunteers are essential at many levels within the charity and non-profit sector, and donors are the life-blood for many organisations,” he said. “They need to be very much part of the solution and need to feel they are contributing in a way in which they believe and trust.” Trust through transparency When it comes to improving the reputation of, and the aforementioned trust in, charities of all sizes, transparency is often cited as a critical factor. However, a significant milestone on the journey to true transparency is disclosure – a point on which Benefacts takes an uncharacteristically pointed stance. “Benefacts has a neutral position on most things. We give you the information as we find it and let you draw your own conclusions. The exception is disclosure, where we have a very strong view that more is better,” said Paula. She believes that various regulatory wrinkles have permitted a race to the bottom in non-profit disclosures. For example, Companies Act 2014 allows companies limited by guarantee that are SMEs (i.e. most of them) to avail of the same reporting exemptions as private companies. This means that since FRS 102 came into force, more than 40% of incorporated non-profits (including regulated charities) now file abridged accounts to the Companies Registration Office. “This is an awful pity since the full accounts have to be produced anyway and are required by funders,” said Paula. Furthermore, FRS 105 permits an even more minimalist standard in her view. “There is no requirement for a true and fair view presentation, no directors report and virtually no notes to the accounts. By now, 15% of non-profits – including some charities – are using this standard, which incidentally has been ruled as an ineligible standard for charities in the UK. “The Charities Regulator has proposed amendments to the law to introduce regulations that would specify the content required for charity accounts, including incorporated ones,” Paula continued. “This prevents the reporting of abridged or FRS 105 micro-entity format and mandating Charities Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) for certain income thresholds.” The preparation of financial statements is universal to all enterprises of scale – be they private companies, government agencies or non-profits – and they have various merits, according to Paula. “They allow trend analysis and like-for-like comparisons. They must be formally adopted by the enterprise and validated by an expert third-party. Our message to non-profits is: seize the opportunity presented by these mandatory disclosures to put your best foot forward. Tell your story; explain where your resources come from and how you put them to best use.”She added: “Tens of thousands of sets of financial statements and constitutions have been downloaded from our free public website since Benefacts.ie went live in 2016. One thing we can say for sure is that donors, prospective board members and, surely, other volunteers as well will weigh the evidence of what they find before deciding to give or to serve.” Tony Ward, Director of Finance at The Wheel My volunteering began in a very unexpected way. In the mid-1990s, not long after qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition. This brought me into contact with the charity, Fighting Blindness. I initially volunteered with the organisation as a member of the Dublin branch and then as a member of the board for ten years. Volunteering soon became the norm for me, and I subsequently joined the boards of Vision Sports and NCBI. As many Chartered Accountants know, finance skills are always in demand, so I often ended up as treasurer or on finance sub-groups. I am currently a member of the board of Sightsavers; a committee member of my local GAA club in Co. Monaghan; and the co-chair, with Paula Nyland, of the Chartered Accountants Ireland Charity and Non-Profit Special Interest Group. The older one gets, the more one becomes aware of the diversity in society and the different pathways people’s lives can take, often through family crises or encountering others who have personal or family challenges. It is important to give back and assist in any way one can, while not over-stretching as we all have our own commitments. In my experience, volunteering gives you the chance to meet new people, most usually very committed and passionate for their chosen cause. So many people volunteer in Ireland, and it is taken for granted, but society would be so much worse off without it.   Patrycja Jurkowska, Operations Accountant at GOAL Global I am currently President of Junior Chamber International (JCI) Dublin and as part of my role, I lead a board of nine directors and approximately 60 members. I work with young professionals, local communities and businesses to create positive change in the world through workshops, initiatives and projects. I am also a member of the Chartered Accountants Young Professionals Committee, which organises member-focused events.  I always wanted to give back to the community and have a positive impact. In 2017, I was introduced to JCI. After doing some research and attending a few events, I decided to donate a portion of my free time to it and have never looked back. Similarly, with Young Professionals, after enjoying a few events, I was encouraged to join the Committee in 2018. I like the idea of organising get-togethers for Chartered Accountants to learn new skills, share knowledge and network, and I have supported the Committee ever since. Through volunteering, I learned that what my most prominent motivators are helping others and giving back. This was a deciding factor for my career move. I found a role with GOAL, where I wake up excited every morning at the prospect of being able using my skills as a Chartered Accountant to work towards a more sustainable world where poverty, hunger and inequalities no longer exist. Volunteering makes the world a better place to live – and it helps me be a better person too. Deborah Somorin, Senior Associate at PwC If  you work for eight hours and sleep for eight hours, you still have another eight hours in your day. I choose to spend some of those eight hours volunteering. I know how valuable support can be in achieving your goals, and I also understand that a lot of people don’t have that support in a form they need. So, I try to give as much of my free time as possible to initiatives that allow me to help people in a way that is tailored to their needs. A homeless charity supported me when I was homeless, and again when I was transitioning out of State care. They later asked me to help with some fundraising initiatives and arising from that, I founded Empower the Family in 2018 to support single parents and State care leavers in third-level education. It’s essentially my second child. I also volunteer with other organisations. I am a board member at Chartered Accountants Support, which offers support to Chartered Accountants, Accounting Technicians, students and their families, and a member of Chartered Accountants Ireland’s Diversity and Inclusion committee. Beyond the Institute, I act as a Diversity in Business ambassador for Diversein.com, which works to create equal and happier workplaces through diversity and inclusion. I am still shocked at the impact I can have by sharing my experiences. Helping others is a huge privilege, and I plan to keep volunteering for as long as I can be of help.

Dec 02, 2019