COVID-19 is a serious concern for everyone. How can businesses in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK cope with the inevitable disruption this virus will bring? Businesses in Northern Ireland have had to contend with many difficult situations over the years. Each time they have demonstrated their resilience and determination by overcoming these challenges and ‘getting on with it’. This resilience and determination will be a key factor in the local business community’s response to the threat of COVID-19. The virus has already had a serious impact on other countries, and it is inevitable that Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom will also be impacted materially.  COVID-19 is a serious concern for us all as individuals, for our families, and for the wider community. As well as guidance on the appropriate precautions we should all be taking, the UK Government has given assurances that resources are being applied to ensure that appropriate medical treatment will be available for those who succumb to the virus. This is a welcome and necessary statement and should provide a degree of comfort. While businesses are proactively engaging in the recommended practices to minimise its spread, it is likely that there will be some form of business disruption in the coming weeks. Most businesses already have contingency plans for such scenarios and through the implementation of these, the impact on business continuity can be reduced. Planning, anticipation and level-headed leadership is critical to the success of this process and it is essential that businesses are proactive and ensure they have practical and deliverable contingency plans in place. If, as in other countries, more extensive restrictions are imposed, the impact on businesses will inevitably worsen. Any protracted periods of restricted movement will ultimately lead to a dramatic impact on output and productivity. The priority is to address the medical issue and to ensure that the spread of the virus is curtailed as quickly as possible, but the knock-on impact on businesses cannot be ignored. The Government has acknowledged the concerns of the business community and has introduced special provisions in last week’s Budget, which will go some way to meet the inevitable cash-flow pressures that will arise.  Unfortunately, all business sectors have the potential to be impacted by the current situation. Staff absences, cash flow and supply chain disruption are all factors that will need to be considered. Northern Ireland has a strong and growing tourism, leisure and hospitality sector. The rates relief announced in the Budget will help this sector, so long as the NI Executive introduces these measures locally, as currently they only extend to England. This sector looks certain to be hit further as we move to the delay phase. These measures could be critical in helping vulnerable businesses to survive. Businesses will need to engage with all stakeholders, including banks and financial institutions, and will need to move to protect their supply chains. Stakeholders within the business community will have to work together to overcome this challenge. Leaders need to adopt a people first approach as businesses cannot survive or re-emerge without their workforce. In the meantime, we all have an obligation and duty to adhere to the Government’s recommendations and, by doing so, hopefully bring a speedy conclusion to the outbreak. Brian Murphy is Managing Partner at BDO Northern Ireland.

Mar 12, 2020

To achieve high performance in business, teams need to learn how to work together. Maeve Hunt outlines how to ensure challenges stop standing in the way of good collaboration. After a period of a lot of uncertainty, the Northern Ireland government is back up and running in Stormont and we have seen the need for parties with very different views and strategies to work together in order to achieve results. In every walk of life, the need for good collaborative skills is required in order to achieve high performance. It is true in sport, the arts and it is especially true in business. It is well known that people and businesses thrive and grow when they are free to communicate and work together, but this does bring its own challenges. Effective teamwork is hard to get right. In most organisations, it is difficult to pinpoint a team that is a shining example of excellent teamwork. The lack of a goal to work towards, role uncertainty, personality conflicts and having optimal working conditions can all lead to ineffective teams. How do we ensure these challenges stop standing in the way of good collaboration? Communication Increased flexibility with remote working is a fantastic benefit for employees, but research shows it can lead to lack of communication within teams. In my experience, regular video calls instead of phone calls work well in remote working environments and richly benefit overall team communication. Collaborative goal setting Team leaders should ensure that strategies and end goals are constantly reviewed and communicated, and make goal-setting a two-way process to achieve buy-in from all parties. Define roles The larger the team, the more potential there is for confusion of roles and responsibilities. Time spent defining and communicating roles, especially at the start of a project, can help mitigate this issue. Celebrate the differences Collaboration of different personalities and skillsets can help foster a sense of teamwork in an organisation but it can also lead to conflict if not properly managed. Self-awareness is important for all team members, and the leader’s role is to ensure that team members respect each other and are prepared to collaborate to succeed. Promote and celebrate team members with differing views and strengths by sharing their ideas. This leads to a more insightful, creative and effective team. Work environments are complex. If you focus on the connections between team members, building trust, communicating purpose, and encouraging collaboration, the team can achieve high performance. After all, teamwork makes the dream work. Maeve Hunt is an Associate Director of Audit and Assurance in Grant Thornton Northern Ireland.

Mar 08, 2020

Some people just don’t work well with others. Orla Brosnan explains how you can still deliver a successful project on time while working with a difficult colleague. One of the most important hiring criteria is the ability to work as a team player. A department or team that works well together has the most success, yet so many of us have colleagues who don’t work well with others. Here are some tips on how you can work together with a difficult colleague. Set an expectation of collaboration Management must assess the staff’s contribution to teamwork as part of the annual performance review process. If that is not set out from the very beginning and consistently followed through, it will not be seen as a priority. Spend some time away from the office A difficult employee who refuses to be a team player can derail a project. This can be an expensive mistake, and it has the potential to harm the company's reputation and cost the business clients. It may be that they don't have the aptitude or don't have the training necessary to do a great job. When colleagues don't get along or don't work well together, it simply might be that they don't really know each other well.  The best way to get to know a colleague that you have difficulty working with is to spend some time with them away from the office. Offer to take them out to lunch or meet for a drink after work to develop a rapport; this will make working together more pleasant and productive. Outline responsibilities A manager should always be really clear about what the person should be doing, the quality of the work that should be delivered and the time in which that should happen. Issue clear, step-by-step directives to your difficult employee. Put these directives in writing and go through them with the team member. If there are personality conflicts within the group, address the difficult employee and their colleagues to sort out the differences swiftly. Assign independent tasks Sometimes, independent tasks are better for difficult employees than group projects if deadlines aren't being met or if the difficult person is not completing tasks that are necessary for others in the group to move the project forward. Document every interaction with the difficult employee to create a record of how the issue is being handled. When you enjoy working with your colleagues and look forward to interacting with them, everyone benefits. Morale is high, which leads to better productivity and results, and a much more pleasant work environment for everyone. Orla Brosnan is the Founder of The Etiquette School of Ireland and Professional Training Centre.

Mar 08, 2020

Eric Fitzpatrick outlines the steps a leader can take to encourage their teams to work together effectively for the good of the team rather than the good of themselves. Leadership is about building up the people around you, trusting them to do their jobs and supporting their efforts to achieve the desired outcomes. One of the challenges a leader faces is getting their team working effectively together. The following is worth considering to get your team firing on all cylinders. Communicate with clarity Teams want clear instructions and guidance. They want to know what’s expected of them. Be open and upfront. Keep your team updated as much as is possible. Leave no room for ambiguity or misunderstanding. Have a common purpose Successful teams work together to achieve common goals. Include them in the process of agreeing to those goals. Making them part of the decision-making will increase their sense of responsibility and ownership of the goals and make them more inclined to work together to achieve them. Build trust and respect Be consistent in your decision-making. Deliver what you say you’ll deliver. Create an environment where mistakes, creativity and risk-taking are encouraged and not penalised. Make the decisions that must be made even when they are not popular. Provide the right support What does your team need to be able to do their job? Is it training, equipment, coaching, time? Aim to give it to them. Create the right culture What are the ideal values and attributes of your team? Does everyone know what they are? Have the team had input into creating and agreeing them? Give your team responsibility and value Challenge your team to grow and recognise when they perform well and deliver desired outcomes. Celebrate small wins. Listen Great leaders know when to listen. Your team will appreciate knowing that you value their opinion and insights. Recognise the individuals within your team It’s important to recognise that your team is made up of individuals with differing personalities. One of the challenges a leader faces is in marrying the desired outcomes of the team with the needs of the individuals within it. Recognise what each individual brings to the team and play to their strengths. Make sure your team is actually a team Sometimes a leader finds themselves in charge of a collection of individuals and not an actual team. Know if everyone on your team is working together. Do they keep the team goals at the forefront of their thinking or are they focused on personal results? Know when to cut a member of the team Know when a team member is not performing and not prepared to consider the negative impact this has on the rest of the team. Adding a fresh face to your team can generate new ideas and spark new thinking. Finally, constantly test how to keep your team engaged. Provoke new thinking within your team, create an environment that encourages creativity and challenge them to achieve the outcomes they have committed to as a team.    Eric Fitzpatrick is owner of ARK Speaking and Training

Mar 08, 2020

There are many ways companies can ensure women achieve success and advancement. Louise Molloy suggests a more in-depth approach that educates managers and benefits women. Over my career, I’ve coached many talented, committed and ambitious women. In doing so, I’ve developed a theory that I passionately believe in how we can empower women to achieve more. While I don’t have all the answers, I’m making the case for a change in how we support women in companies – not just providing more training or giving maternity leave but listening to their needs and intentionally creating opportunities for them. Here’s my recipe for the support reboot. Overhaul induction day From day one, I challenge companies to raise awareness with young female colleagues that their career journey may be different to their male colleagues. Reflection on breaks in service and the impact on promotion, role continuity, profiling, and branding should be considered. This issue is not exclusively female – it can be open to all. It’s the awareness of the issue and the consideration of how to plan for this that’s important Strategic competency development Make it clear to female colleagues what competencies must be developed to achieve a management role and show how they can seize opportunities to develop them. Challenge all managers of young female staff We must challenge managers to really advocate for, sponsor and mentor female colleagues to build confidence and profile. Ensure these managers get unconscious bias training to bring awareness of the impact of their attitudes and behaviours on their female reports. Project allocation  Companies need to hold themselves to account on how projects are allocated and, assuming equal abilities, ensure an even distribution across men and women. Income-generating projects are the fastest and highest-profile way to position for promotion – tracking the numbers and holding people to account ensures these opportunities are presented to everyone. More frequent role rotation  By rotating young women into different roles, it not only allows them to build their profile within the company but it raises awareness about different leadership styles and ways of working, exposing them to paths that could lead to advancement. Feedback is important Provide training for senior colleagues on how to give honest, constructive, timely feedback to younger female staff. Only with honest feedback on their performance can women really progress. Pre- and post-maternity support There’s great progress being made in terms of maternity support, but there is more to do to support women at this vulnerable and physically challenging time when identity and perspective can be in flight.  Sharing  I’ve witnessed stories of ‘having to work’ on maternity leave, working through miscarriages, IVF and struggling through menopause – and that’s just the women. Men have their own stories of struggle, too. I’m not advocating we let it all out, but I am advocating that we surface some of the wider challenges that people and, particularly, women face and their stories of how they get through it. Only by making it OK to have a circuitous career path, never writing someone off, working hard to include everyone, dealing in facts and dismissing assumptions and labels about people will we really empower women. Women are not victims; they don’t need to be rescued. What they do need is help to frame the landscape in which they operate and guidance on how best to navigate it from people who did it before them. Louise Molloy is Director of Luminosity Consulting & Coaching.

Feb 28, 2020

Caroline McGroary explains how Irish Chartered Accountants can work within the UN sustainable development goals framework to empower women around the world. Recent statistics estimate financial literacy rates of Saudi citizens to be just over 30%, compared with other high-income countries, like Ireland, which have rates in excess of 70%. Within this group, women are at particular risk of financial exclusion, with approximately only 40% of Saudi women holding bank accounts, compared to 93% in other high-income countries. To help address this problem, a number of high-profile campaigns have been launched by the Saudi government in the last year to increase the financial literacy of all citizens, with many framing their campaigns under the umbrella of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In my current role as Lecturer in Accounting at Dublin City University (DCU), I have had the privilege of working in our sister campus at Princess Nourah University, Saudi Arabia for seven years, contributing to the education of nearly 700 Saudi women. Utilising the UN SDGs Both Chartered Accountants Ireland and DCU actively encourage its members and staff to engage with the UN SDGs and, with this in mind, we sought to centre student learning around financial literacy. Using the framework of the UN SDGs, we integrated a financial literacy initiative into a final year module on our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The initiative had three parts. The first required students to engage in up to five financial literacy workshops, including financial planning, savings, investing, credit reports, money and identify theft. The second part required them to demonstrate how financial education (SDG 4 – quality education) of women in Saudi Arabia could contribute towards gender equality (SDG 5 – gender equality). In doing so, students were asked to consider innovative financial education solutions to help improve the financial literacy levels of four groups in Saudi society: children in schools; women in higher education; women in the workplace; and women in the home. The proposed solutions were showcased at a university-wide event attended by faculty, student peer groups and industry partners. The third part was a hackathon, hosted by Deloitte. At this one-day event, students had the opportunity to develop their financial education solutions further under the guidance of a team of Deloitte mentors. The initiative gained the support and active involvement of a number of high profile industry partners, including the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, the Rockefeller Foundation, Deloitte, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, the Capital Market Authority, financial planning experts UConsulting and Chartered Accountants Worldwide. Not only have the industry partners endorsed this work, but many refer to it as an example of an ‘impact that matters’. The students have also stated that it has improved their financial literacy skills and knowledge of the UN SDGs – knowledge and skills they can now bring to their families and local communities. This initiative serves as a practical example of how Chartered Accountants can create high-impact initiatives that empower women not just within our own community, but throughout the world.  Caroline McGroary ACA is a lecturer in accounting at Dublin City University.

Feb 28, 2020

Empowering women and girls to achieve through technology will secure women’s place in the worlds of finance and STEM in the future, writes Christine Barrett. The research is clear: a diverse workforce leads to increased creativity, innovation and, ultimately, business success. Businesses that ignore the talent of half of the population do so at their peril.  Yet today, over 100 years on from the first ever International Women’s Day, women remain under-represented in STEM and finance-based careers, making up just 30% of Europe’s information and communication technologies (ICT) workforce and only 16.4% of directors in Irish-listed companies are female. More work needs to be done. There are countless examples of plans to improve diversity and promote equal opportunities, but in order to make a real difference there needs to be commitment. To create a truly diversified workforce, we must collectively commit every day to empower women to achieve and in order to do that, it must be an integral part of our business strategy.  At Microsoft, we are committed to cultivating an inclusive environment and empowering all our employees to achieve through technology, no matter their title or position. Diversity is deeply embedded in our culture. We foster diverse teams that are representative of our world today as diversity is the cornerstone of success. Creating equality through technology We have been working at every level of our organisation to increase gender diversity and we understand that in order to improve it, we must increase the profile of women in STEM. That is why in 2019 we hosted the inaugural Hopper Local Dublin to showcase leading women in technology who are helping to create innovations that will frame our digital future. These inspiring women are shattering lingering perceptions that limit women from building meaningful careers in technology. The same can and should be done in finance. To ensure the next generation excels, it’s critical that we empower our future leaders – today’s students – to achieve more using technology and we are committed to expanding digital skills to women and girls all over Ireland. Unfortunately, our research has shown that although girls become interested in technology at around 11 years of age, they lose interest just four years later. This is limiting their future career and life choices as technology is becoming a critical part of every industry. Microsoft is committed to creating a truly inclusive environment and championing gender equality at all levels of the technology sector. We understand that an equal world is an enabled world and diversity and inclusion is core to our ambition to empower everyone to achieve more through technology. Christine Barrett is the Director of Digital Sales Germany in Microsoft.

Feb 27, 2020

BY KEVIN EMPEY “Every company is a software company. You have to start thinking and operating like a digital company.” Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft. Satya Nadella’s quote talks directly to how we see business change today. The opportunity The possibilities and potential being presented by technology are increasing at an exponential rate. It’s not just about what the internet or increased mobile connectivity can do to improve a business’s commercial relationship with its customers. It’s also about what multiple, converging technologies – from drones and 3D printing to robotics and blockchain – can do to change the future of the business itself, and the workplace. Whether your objective is revenue growth, cost reduction, worker efficiency or industry disruption, innovation and digital change are impacting on every sector. And Ireland is boxing above its weight. Take Ireland-based success stories such as Ryanair’s international leadership in online and ticketless travel in the 1990s and more recent examples such as Stripe and Cartrawler competing on the global stage. Or global technology companies choosing Ireland as a location due to the availability of talent and a supportive business environment. For our size, we have an impressive story to tell and a technology ecosystem that can help other Irish companies stay ahead into the future. The problem However, a challenge we often see in traditional organisations that are adapting to the digital world is one of mindset – and the knock-on, limiting consequences this can lead to. For those who have grown up in a managerial context where IT was seen as a separate service function to the ‘business’ and a necessary but inconvenient cost, this can result in some mental baggage being brought into the very different digital world we have today. Employees and executives often treated large IT projects as episodic or ‘one-off’ changes where they needed to install the new system, get trained up and then get on with their jobs. These traditional "analog" ways of thinking about technology-based change may be valid from time-to-time, but they are working against the more open digital approach and mindset needed if we are to avail of the opportunities (and deal with the risks) that a more technology-enabled world will inevitably provide. The solution The organisations we see winning with a digital mindset tend to have the following habits: IT/technology is a core and integral part of the business and not perceived as a separate entity or service partner – a model that reinforces traditional thinking, attitudes and decision-making around technology, financial decision-making and change. Does your technology function report directly into the CEO? Does IT influence business strategy? Collaborative experimentation and innovation are woven into the business and operating model (maybe utilising a separate budget and governance model to encourage product/customer innovation). Do your business teams work with IT to jointly deliver technical innovation? Do you have a product function to streamline this process? There is a clarity of purpose in the business mission, and technology is seen as a vital enabler of that mission. Are technology and digital innovation embedded in the business strategy? Technology is an investment for the future of the business and the workplace, not just a cost to be managed with water-tight business cases required for every spend. Some failures may lead to longer-term successes so long as lessons are learned, and skills increased. How much of your technology budget supports existing business as opposed to new, innovative ways of working? Employees and leaders are fully engaged and invested with the digital journey; they get involved in projects that affect their jobs and futures and embrace more adaptive, agile ways of working. Leaders don’t need to have all the answers, just an openness to allow others to find them. Does your culture encourage full engagement in the digital journey? These early adopters are finding that rather than obsessing about the technology itself, which will inevitably change regardless, developing a digital culture and mindset – as suggested by Satya Nadella – is ultimately the bigger prize in creating the future of business and work. Kevin Empey is Managing Director at WorkMatters Consulting.

Feb 19, 2020

BY SIOBHAN RYAN With robotic process automation (RPA) set to be nearly universal within the next five years, accountants – and the accountancy profession – must be prepared for a change that will revolutionise the sector. Firms often push more administration onto their staff to stay competitive. And this is where new technologies, such as RPA, can help: by automating repetitive and rules-based tasks, employees can spend more time on value-add activities that differentiate accountants from other roles and create a pipeline of much more dynamic business leaders. Accountants are natural leaders in finance functions and tend to migrate towards leadership positions. With the right automation tools, they will be placed higher in the value chain in terms of their skills mix and ability to bring insights back to the business. The ultimate cost of not automating the drudgery is often attrition. At a minimum, the staff covering the day-to-day operations will be unable to get their head above water to analyse the data and contribute to meaningful, insight-driven decisions. After all, accountants do a great deal of work that isn’t accountancy; it’s picking data from different sources, pasting it into spreadsheets, creating sets of tables and gathering data from other sources. There’s a big future for automation in accounting – enabling improved accuracy and customer experience, as well as creating more billable hours. The next generation of technologies is exciting, but it can be daunting – particularly for smaller companies – to consider embracing artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) or RPA. Companies need an outcome-focused solution; one that is compatible with existing IT infrastructure and can deliver immediate return on investment. In an accountancy context, RPA can improve productivity, drive down costs and streamline compliance, thus ensuring that Irish operations are lean and add value. 59% of accounting and finance leaders believe that RPA will make their business more competitive over the next two years, highlighting the scope of the technology in the accountancy profession. The need for automation will be particularly prevalent in the coming years given the widening sector skill gap, according to a recent survey of accounting and finance professionals. 62% of respondents report a ‘significant’ skills gap within the industry, up from 51% in 2016. While skills like accuracy remain important for accountants, technology like RPA will enable accountants to outsource accuracy and effectively create time to become more consultative and add value for clients. After all, accountants’ time and skill shouldn’t be tied up in cutting and pasting and pivoting data in a spreadsheet; it should be spent on meaningful analysis and making better decisions. In this way, RPA will help open up a field of accountancy that doesn’t exist now. Siobhan Ryan is Sales Director, Ireland at UiPath.

Feb 19, 2020

BY CHRISTINA REIP The world is changing faster than ever. New technologies and services are popping up constantly and it can feel overwhelming trying to keep employees up to speed on everything. What skills should a company prioritise? What platforms should it adopt? What are an organisation’s moral responsibilities to educate employees, or to keep them employable and employed at all? Virtually all organisations and business functions – including finance and accounting – are asking the same questions. Continuous adaptation There is no way to know what the future will bring, but change is a given. Building a workforce that is inclined to adapt and develop new areas of expertise – not just once, but continuously – is critical. Rather than teach employees a specific technological skill, empower them to learn and adapt, to seek out opportunities to learn the things that are most relevant and interesting to them. Why develop a culture of learning? People want to learn. The PwC Upskilling Hopes and Fears Survey, which published in 2019, found that 77% of adults would learn new skills or completely retrain to improve their future employability. Employers can embrace this self-motivation and encourage their people to learn. Furthermore, with the rise of mass audience training through platforms like Coursera, Master Class and EdX, it is clear that people want to learn and will seek out opportunities to do so. Learning can be an antidote to stress. Though one potential argument against upskilling/reskilling employees could be the burden of the additional work involved in – or stress caused by – learning new things, Harvard Business Review published research results that suggest the opposite: that learning can relieve stress. It’s corporate social responsibility. The Chief Operating Officer at EdX suggests that companies have a moral obligation to educate and reskill employees. Whether or not one agrees on the extent to which a private institution is responsible for such efforts, the benefits of ensuring sustainability and continuity of an organisation’s workforce – such as the reduced cost of hiring or loss of knowledge – are significant. How to build a culture of learning Though a great deal of learning can be pursued by employees individually, wide-scale change requires intentional and strategic organisational support. From programmes on specific technologies to the provision of funding and leave to take classes, companies must create the infrastructure necessary to enable the culture. Though some of these channels may require significant investment, many solutions can be relatively low-cost or even free (such as sharing curated lists of books to read or podcasts to listen to). Harnessing curiosity According to the 2019 PwC Global Annual CEO Survey, leaders believe that their people can reinvent themselves if given a chance. Harnessing that curiosity can enable companies to keep up with or stay ahead of the competition, and even establish the technology curve of the future. Christina Reip is a Senior Manager at PwC Consulting.

Feb 19, 2020

Olivia Buckley outlines how small- and medium-sized business can avoid being taken in by fraudsters. SMEs today are faced with many fraud types from old fashioned cheque fraud to cyber-attacks such as ransomware. Organisations of all sizes are open to attack, but SMEs are often a prime target as their security systems may not be as robust as those of larger organisations. Fraud can significantly damage a business both financially through lost funds, lost revenue, the cost of any legal action and security upgrades, as well as non-financially resulting in a tarnished reputation, loss of trust and low employee morale. Therefore, it is critical to prevent fraud from happening in the first place. Two types of fraud which are particularly common amongst SMEs include invoice fraud and CEO/executive impersonation fraud and they have been known to catch out even the most prepared businesses. Invoice Fraud Using a spoofed email address, the fraudster emails you pretending to be a supplier. The email will mirror an email that you regularly receive from your supplier, including logos and signoffs. The email informs you that they have a new bank account and that all future payments should go to the new account. When you receive the next legitimate invoice from the real supplier you make a payment to the new bank account. Generally, it is only when the reminder to pay the invoice comes in that you realise what has happened. By then the fraudster has their money and it’s too late to recall the payment.  CEO/ Executive impersonation fraud CEO fraud is a scam in which fraudsters hack into the legitimate email of a CEO/senior executive and impersonate them sending an email to another employee in the business who deals with payments. They use malware to hack into the email and will monitor how the CEO/senior executive writes their emails, the tone and common phrases they use, and how they sign off an email. The fraudsters take an opportune moment when they know the CEO is out of the office, such as on annual leave, to send the mail telling the employee to pay money to a supplier and providing the account details to do so. In some instances, in might not be a payment request but a request for personal information such as P30s or customer information.  10 ways to keep your business safe Have a verification process in place before changing saved bank account details of your suppliers or service providers, e.g. verbally verify bank account change requests from suppliers. Ensure employees are fraud aware and understand the controls and procedures in place to prevent fraud. Provide cyber security training for staff which includes awareness around clicking links sent in emails and ensuring systems are password protected. Fraudsters may already have basic information about you or your business in their possession (e.g. name, address, account details). Do not assume the caller is genuine because they have these details. Be wary of payment requests that are unexpected, irregular or require changes to bank account details, whatever the amount involved. Always check your bank statements. If you notice any unusual transactions, report them to your bank. Don’t assume you can trust caller ID. Phone numbers can be spoofed so it looks like a company is calling even if it’s not the real company. Similarly, fraudsters can change an email address to make it look like it comes from somebody you email regularly. Look out for different contact numbers and/or a slight change in the email address. For example, .com instead of .ie top-level domain. Ensure security software is regularly updated and maintained using official and reliable brands. Back-up the system regularly. Always exercise caution when forming new relationships with potential customers. Undertake appropriate due diligence. If in any doubt, do not make a payment unless you have verbally confirmed the payment with your CEO/supplier. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Take your time to do the relevant checks. If you fall victim to a scam or have noticed unusual activity on your account, contact your bank immediately. The sooner the bank can investigate potential losses, hold funds in accounts and place recalls on transfers made in error, the better. Fraudsters withdraw funds as soon as it hits their accounts, so time really is of the essence.  You should also report the incident to law enforcement authorities. Olivia Buckley is the lead of the FRAUDSmart campaign at Banking & Payments Federation Ireland.

Feb 14, 2020

The best way to lead with clarity and confidence is to recognise your blind spots. Patrick Gallen explains how. Blind spots, by their very nature, are unknown to almost every leader. We don’t know what we don’t know, which makes reducing blind spots so difficult. How can leaders understand their blind spots, and take corrective action to mitigate against potential unintended consequences? The answer is feedback. By seeking feedback from a variety of people at all levels of your profession, leaders can increase awareness and understanding of their performance. In order to create an environment where people are confident to give their leader feedback, trust must also be prevalent. It can be difficult to ask for feedback and yet, we know that it is essential to give and to receive it. The temptation is to only ask for feedback when we know it is going to be positive, but the feedback we get when we know we have done a good job is unlikely to decrease a blind spot. The Johari window model, developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, is often used to explain how leaders can increase their awareness and decrease their blind spots. The model is useful because the four boxes (or windowpanes) show the difference between what is known/unknown to self and others. The only way to decrease blind spots is to ask others to share what they know about the impact of your actions, things you do that others appreciate or don’t, etc. Once feedback is shared, it increases the size of your ‘open arena’ – traits known to yourself and others –  and is no longer in your blind spot. Three quick steps to addressing your blind spots Address your blind spots by acknowledging that you have them. We all do, so let’s not pretend otherwise. Get into the habit of asking for feedback. After every meeting, speech, presentation, or project, ask someone who observed you in action – from a new intern to the CEO – to give you honest feedback. To make it easier for them, you could ask them to name one thing you did well, and one thing that could be even better next time. This gives them permission to give you a positive point and a development point and creates rapport and trust. When someone gives you feedback, do not justify or explain why you did or said things the way you did. Simply thank them for their time and effort. After you have done this for a short period of time, you may start to notice a pattern that could be a blind spot revealing itself. Lead with clarity As the old hymn Amazing Grace goes, “I once was lost, but now am found. T’was blind but now I see”. Clarity of vision is critical for leadership and will help you lead with confidence and grace. Patrick Gallen is Partner of People and Change Consulting in Grant Thornton NI.

Feb 13, 2020

With increasing sophistication in fraud schemes, how can we stay safe? Shane Flanagan shares three essential tips to protect ourselves and our organisations against cyber-crime. In the past 10 years, we have seen increasing levels of sophistication in fraud schemes and a significant rise in the number of cyber-criminal groups and organisations targeting both companies and individuals. Traditional fraud, focused on monetary assets, continues to exist but the exponential growth in the amount of data held by companies, facilitated and created by technology, is now a target for fraudsters. On the dark web, private health data typically sells for 10 times more than other personal data. As our lives and finances move ever more online, so too does fraud.  Trading one fraud for another The introduction of chip and pin on credit cards saw a significant reduction in credit card fraud, but this has subsequently seen fraudsters move online with a rise in online payments fraud. Phishing continues to be one of the most common and effective methods for fraudsters to target victims. Estimates suggest that over 90% of cyberattacks start with a phishing email, tricking users into handing over information. While many phishing emails use generic wording, some fraudsters are using personal information (typically sourced from social media) to add legitimacy to their requests. This tactic is known as “spear fishing”.   Advances in technology have made it easier and cheaper for fraudsters to dupe victims. For example, professional-looking or near replicas of legitimate websites can be pulled together in minutes with little or no technical knowledge and at very little cost to lend credibility to fraud schemes.    Advances in communication tech have created messaging and chat apps that enable fraudsters to collude in more covert ways. Thankfully, advances in discovery technology mean that conversations held using such applications can be easily and effectively analysed using appropriate tools should an investigation prove necessary.   Artificial intelligence: friend or foe? Developments in artificial intelligence (AI) are likely to pave the way for future frauds. When given a variety of audio samples, AI can now clone the sound of a target’s voice, and if overlaid on synthesised video of them speaking, the result can be uncanny. Either in video or audio form, this technology could be used to commit extensive and damaging fraud. Of course, AI can be a source for good. In fact, AI-enabled data analytics can now detect and stop transactions before they are even processed. What can you do to protect yourself? These tips may seem self-evident, but they will help to protect you. Stay fraud aware – Use the many resources available online to ensure you know about the latest fraud scams and how you can avoid them. Think before you share – The information you share online, especially about where you live, work and the specifics about your career, can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Do you really need to share the specifics of your life in an open forum such as social media? If not, don’t. Be sceptical – If a situation seems odd or an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your instincts and follow them and make enquiries about the legitimacy of the person or company you are about to engage with to ensure you don’t fall foul of fraudsters. Shane Flanagan is a manager in Deloitte’s forensic practice. 

Feb 13, 2020

The CISO role is relatively new and the competitive advantages it brings are beginning to become apparent, write Nicola O’Connor and Yousef Hazimee. Cybersecurity is an ever-growing concern for all businesses and one that cannot be ignored. In larger organisations, the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is typically responsible for overseeing the security control environment and keeping things secure. However, this traditionalist view of the CISO does not consider opportunities for the CISO to create value for the business and turn their position into a leadership role that provides a competitive advantage for the organisation. So how can a CISO successfully evolve their role given their existing commitments? And what must the organisation do to support them in this endeavour? Business and leadership All CISOs must have a thorough understanding of the organisation’s business and product lines, and overall business model. This is imperative as the CISO role typically spans the breadth of the organisation. Without this, the CISO cannot maximise value creation as they will not know what is considered truly valuable from a business perspective. This understanding can be achieved through experiential learning, multi-disciplinary work experience, and the establishment of cross-functional committees. In addition to understanding the business, the CISO must ensure appropriate support from the C-suite and the board. This requires strong leadership and interpersonal skills to ensure that sufficient resources (financial and human capital) can be secured. The breadth of the CISO role, as well as regulatory guidance – most notably in the financial sector – means that cybersecurity is a board-level issue. This provides an excellent opportunity for the CISO to articulate their value through demonstrable delivery against cybersecurity objectives, showing how these align and support the broader organisational strategy, and how they protect the business. The board must also empower the CISO by giving them opportunities to make board presentations and provide updates periodically. The board should challenge them and ensure that they are receiving meaningful cybersecurity metrics that inform their decision-making. These are imperative as quantitative metrics are easily consumable for board members and trends are more readily identifiable. Strategy and risk CISO activities should always align with organisational objectives. A cybersecurity strategy is therefore vital as it not only shifts the CISO role from that of a technical role to a strategic one, but also gives both the CISO and the board assurance that the CISO’s activities align to broader organisational objectives. The added benefit for the CISO is that a defined and approved strategy can help secure resources. Another way to highlight the importance of cybersecurity in an organisational context is by embedding cyber risk as part of the wider IT and enterprise risk frameworks. This allows the CISO to frame cyber risk in a business context and ideally, identify services and dollar losses pertinent to individual cyber threats. Framing cyber risk alongside other enterprise risks (such as regulatory and financial risk, for example) gives a more accurate reflection of the overall risk to the business and can inform decisions about prioritisation and investment. Fundamental to this is a clearly articulated, quantifiable and proactively managed risk appetite, which is necessary to support the decision-making process. Product development Building relationships and gaining knowledge of product lines and services allows for greater involvement of the CISO in product development. This embeds a ‘security by design’ culture, which allows for more seamless and appropriate security controls while exponentially reducing the costs and time to remediate defects as they are discovered earlier in the development cycle. This reduces the time to market and ensures a smoother customer/user experience while allowing for greater functionality on potentially less secure customer endpoints, such as mobile devices. This is particularly important for higher-risk apps, such as mobile banking. Greater CISO involvement earlier in the development lifecycle also allows for better use of emerging technologies in a secure manner. Evolving the CISO role CISO roles have traditionally been inward-facing but this is starting to change, particularly for CISOs in larger organisations. For example, clients now regularly look for evidence of suppliers’ adherence to security frameworks and standards, and these are generally considered a minimum for larger tenders. Other stakeholders such as rating agencies, insurers and pension trustees now seek assurances that appropriate cybersecurity controls are in place. By 2022, Gartner claims that cybersecurity ratings will become as important as credit ratings when assessing the risk of business relationships. From a reputational perspective, the CISO benefits from the fact that cybersecurity affects almost everyone given the pervasiveness of social networks and people’s growing digital footprints. This gives rise to opportunities, through outreach and corporate social responsibility initiatives, to educate communities on how they can better protect themselves and their children online, which is especially important for digital natives who may not understand the scale and impact of their digital footprint. This can, in turn, create digital trust in your brand. The CISO role is relatively new, and the competitive advantages it brings are beginning to become apparent. No longer is it the CISO’s sole responsibility to protect the business; they can also be a real differentiator between organisations as the impact of their role on an organisation’s bottom line becomes more evident. The most significant value creation will be achieved by those organisations that select the right CISO and empower them to deliver. CISO: Creating a competitive edge In a recent survey, security was considered the number one reason for selecting a bank among US participants. Meanwhile, in the UK, 85% of consumers claim that they will change their spending habits with brands that have been the subject of a security breach or hack. When factoring in growing compliance requirements, data growth rates and a global shortage of cybersecurity talent, it is not surprising that most Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) concentrate on their core role of protecting the business. These CISOs, however, risk missing a valuable opportunity to become a real enabler and strategic driver for the business. Through a combination of active stakeholder management, goal alignment and ensuring a thorough understanding of business and product lines, a CISO can create demonstrable value and transform their role from one of pure risk management to one of strategic importance that can make decisions at the highest level of the organisation. As a simple demonstration of how security can provide a competitive advantage, look no further than mobile banking. Security in mobile banking apps is of the utmost importance, but it can be seen to restrict the functionality and service offerings on these apps. Through new technologies and the application of security by design principles, robust and user-friendly controls can be used to safely introduce new, higher-risk functionality such as one-time payments and direct debit/standing order set-ups. This can allow banks to differentiate themselves from their competitors and gain market share.  Nicola O’Connor is Chief Information Security and IT Risk Officer at AIB. Yousef Hazimee is Cyber Security Practice Manager at AIB.

Feb 10, 2020

Building a successful practice can be a daunting prospect, but according to John Kennedy, it boils down to one elementary skill. Have you ever found yourself wondering whether your practice could be more successful? If so, you might be doing all the right work but ignoring the simple steps that could turn your effort into tangible rewards. At a basic level, successful accountancy practice owner-managers create the following: A network of high-quality and loyal clients they enjoy working with; A good income based on reasonable fees that reflect the real value of  the work they deliver; A good standard of living – not just financially, but in terms of doing things they enjoy; and A high-quality retirement as a respected and valued member of the community. All of this sounds attractive but is often far removed from the day-to-day reality of running an office. A more recognisable scenario might be spending your time on things forced upon you at the expense of concentrating on the critical steps. And when you do get around to thinking about how to build your practice, there are many options, issues and conflicting sources of advice. It is therefore unsurprising that many accountants never get to focus on the steps that are more important before the day-to-day issues drag them back. The simple truth is that some practices thrive and enjoy more success than most, while many never fulfil their potential. The latter instead get stuck on the day-to-day issues that overwhelm occasional good intentions to invest time in securing new clients or promoting the practice. In this new series of articles, I will set out the steps you should take to build the practice you want. There will be no theory or abstract ideas, and I won’t advise you to do things you don’t understand or don’t like. It’s simpler than you think Achieving success is not complicated. In truth, the key is knowing how to get past the complexity and focus on mastering a small number of straightforward tasks. When you think about it, the single most crucial step in understanding a new client is the conversation you have with them. It doesn’t matter whether they were referred to you by an existing client, heard about you from a mutual friend, or – less likely – found out about you from a branded pen. Almost every client in every practice decides to take their business there because of a conversation with someone in that practice. The ability to turn an initial conversation into a client relationship is the cornerstone of every successful practice, but this is where many potentially valuable client relationships stop – at the first conversation. Your success in these initial, and often unexpected, discussions will determine whether you get an opportunity to move on to a more substantial conversation. And you then need a series of precise steps that will build trust, deliver value and guarantee a mutually rewarding relationship. The standard approach is to feel that you need to move quickly, to jump to the things you are familiar with – but this leap takes the conversation onto ground that is not yet comfortable for your potential client. So, building a high-quality practice is about having a clear structure that enables you to move confidently from an initial, casual chat to a trusting relationship. And if one person can do that, then so can you. Much of the advice about marketing, networking, promotional gifts, websites and digital strategy won’t work for you simply because it wasn’t designed for you in the first place. Most of the existing advice was created to sell products to customers, but you are doing something very different. Building a successful practice is about building trusting relationships with clients, you need to master the ability to take the individuals you most want to work with through a sequence of specific steps. And, like most things in life, it’s easy when you know how. Getting the right fit What criteria do you use to select your clients? For many years, we have asked this question when accountants seek our help, and we do it to reframe how they think about successfully building their practice. When we probe this question, we are almost always told that the key is to get as many clients as possible. “So,” we ask, “you want anyone? Your criterion for a client is that they should have a pulse?” I believe your standards should be a bit more rigorous and for very practical reasons. To target the whole universe effectively, you will need a vast amount of money to promote your practice – not to mention an infinite amount of time to talk to all those potential clients. In truth, your pool of potential clients is much more restricted than you realise. Successful practices are built on having a clear focus on a specific, and therefore accessible, group of people. These can be people who share your interests, or they can reflect a specific aspect of your expertise, or who you are as a person. The right people for your practice very much depends on who you are. Building a successful practice is not a task exclusively for extroverts or ‘natural sellers’ or gifted networkers; if you are a quiet, reserved thinker who pursues every issue in depth, there are many clients who are looking for precisely those attributes. If you are excited, engaged and enthusiastic about the fast-moving opportunities of the ever-expanding digital world, there are other clients who want to have an accountant just like that. If a hobby or a specific interest obsesses you, that too can be the basis for building a highly successful practice. A thriving, fulfilling practice is one that brings together the type of people with whom you most want to work in a way that creates value both for them and for you. Connect in the right way For many years, we have been fascinated by the ever-increasing ways in which practice owners voluntarily waste their time, effort and money. We have seen expensive (and cheap) branded corporate gifts and a seemingly endless series of “networking opportunities” ranging from breakfast groups to conferences and sponsored events. Equally unproductive is the more recent phenomenon of websites and emails that are “done for you”, which say things that are never going to help you build the strong relationships that are essential for a thriving practice. If you find these enjoyable or fulfilling in their own right, then go ahead – but they aren’t central to building a successful practice. When you cut away the marketing theory, the promotional gimmicks and the pointless pressure of networking, you see a stark reality: every potential new client decides to work with you because you have an effective conversation with them. You get a new client by talking to them; it is that simple. And when you know how to speak to them in the right way, they will want to talk to you again. And by getting good at creating a sequence of steps, you are much more likely to get the clients you want. Focus on trust The key is to understand the structure of talking to someone in the right way. Much of the traditional advice is not the right way; it can leave you feeling uneasy – especially the bit where you are told that you need to “close the sale”. You don’t. You need to build a relationship of trust that evolves from both you and your client becoming increasingly clear on how to achieve more by working together. To talk to a potential client in the right way, you need to understand how to chat easily with them, and this means being wholly at ease yourself. You also need to know how to move the conversation from a general chat to one where they decide to become your client and to ask you to do a specific piece of work for them. When you understand how this works, it’s easy. The effective conversation structure was developed by examining a vast number of informal chats that evolved into mutually rewarding relationships. By following this blueprint, which is outlined in Table 1, you will create a system that works for you, that helps build a practice that makes you feel good each day and that delivers a steady stream of clients with whom you want to work. In this way, your practice will evolve and grow over time and so will your expertise, your reputation and your rewards. The structure of an effective conversation An effective conversation involves knowing how to listen and what to say. Prepare First you prepare a clear summary of the value your potential client most needs and a clear message to make sure they understand precisely why you are the best person to help them. Probe The most common mistake is to rush to try to convince your potential client of your value. The key to success is to become highly skilled at asking high-quality questions so the client convinces themselves that they really need your help. Present It is only when your questions have helped your client get clearer on what they need do that you begin to present your value and set out the way in which you can best help them achieve the success they seek. Propose Then – and only then – have you created the firm foundations needed to propose that you work together.  To download a more detailed overview of The Practice Builder Blueprint, visit  www.insightstrategiesonline.com.   John Kennedy is a strategic advisor. He has worked with leaders and senior management teams in a range of organisations and sectors.

Feb 10, 2020

The General Data Protection Regulation mandates organisations to embed privacy by design into the development of new initiatives involving the use of personal data. Donal Murray discusses the impact of privacy by design from a practical perspective, and explores its benefits. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has changed European privacy rules significantly. The introduction of the concept of privacy by design (PbD) is one of these changes but many organisations have struggled to understand what it entails. For those that have adopted PbD correctly, the burden of GDPR compliance can greatly decrease while also having the potential to achieve operational as well as commercial gains. What is privacy by design? PbD is a requirement placed on organisations that must comply with the GDPR. The specific requirement is detailed in Article 25 of the regulation. PbD holds that organisations must consider privacy at the initial design stages and throughout the entire development of new products, processes or services that involve processing personal data. This means that privacy is considered at the earliest of stages and reduces the risk of privacy bolted onto a system or product at a later stage. While this may initially seem complex, it is, in fact, easier to implement than applying privacy considerations after a design is fully developed.  What are the origins of privacy by design? Although PbD has become a new legal requirement in Europe under the GDPR, the concept is not new. It originated in Canada in the mid-90s and was developed by Dr Ann Cavoukian, a recognised leading privacy expert who held the position of Information and Privacy Commissioner in Ontario for three terms. In October 2010, regulators at the International Conference of Data Protection Authorities and Privacy Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution recognising PbD as an essential component of fundamental privacy protection. It is touched upon in many well-known frameworks; however, many of them have come under much criticism.   Why should organisations focus on privacy by design? Privacy by design promotes a privacy-conscious culture within an organisation. If done correctly, it embeds privacy thinking into many aspects of an organisation’s operations. Further, as it focuses on early privacy considerations and checks prior to new products, systems and processes being released, it greatly decreases the risk of non-compliance with the GDPR and enables a sustainable GDPR/privacy-compliant environment as an organisation evolves.  From an operational perspective, a strong PbD framework can present efficiencies and reduce costs. Consciously considering and planning for the personal data you want to use, the purpose for which you want to use it and how to do this legitimately greatly reduces the chance of discovering that embedding privacy is technologically challenging, expensive or even impossible at a later stage. Knowing what data you want to use at an early stage and being confident in its usage can make the development process more efficient and makes it easier to be transparent to those data subjects. Transparency is critical when it comes to earning the trust to collect the data in the first place.  Implementing a robust framework can also present commercial advantages. It is seen as an enhancement to a brand and a key element in building trust with an increasingly privacy-conscious public.  Implementation While frameworks exist that cover PbD, many of them are too rigid for real benefits to be realised. The key to implementing PbD is adapting privacy to the business and not forcing a boilerplate framework. PbD is optimally implemented when privacy measures are designed based on the specific ways of working within an organisation. The approach to achieving an efficient PbD implementation consists of three steps:  1. Identify and understand: In order to tailor privacy measures to an organisation’s operations, it is important to have a detailed understanding of your organisation’s design processes – of which there could be many across different functions. Once you identify the relevant design processes, an exercise should be performed to obtain a comprehensive analysis of the steps involved in each process. If the processes are not already formally defined, it is useful to spend time mapping the design steps as this will support later PbD implementation activities. As well as the design steps, it’s also key that you understand what teams and third parties are involved in executing the process, and the tools and formats (e.g. Excel, Word checklists) used in each.  2. Evolve: Once the processes and ways of working are fully understood, specific privacy measures should be designed to fit them. The objective of these measures is to ensure that certain privacy topics are considered and assessed at suitable points in the identified processes. These privacy measures could take many different forms. For example, ethical questions built into a design brainstorming session; user stories built into development; or privacy checklists asking a series of questions on the purpose of processing at the initial design stages. These measures are to be applied to identified steps within your design processes and are designed in line with how the current process works. Tailoring the measures to the current processes allows for seamless integration. Together, these set of measures create the Privacy by Design Toolkit.  3. Establish: Implement the measures into your design processes and train employees involved in those processes to ensure the measures are understood and executed correctly. While these measures typically do not require significant process change, the main challenge is ensuring that each measure is executed consistently at the required standard. Those executing the measures are typically not privacy specialists, so educating and training individuals is a critical factor in achieving a sustainable PbD framework.  Think of ethics, not just compliance There have been many public cases where personal data has been used perfectly in line with the rules, but far outside societal and ethical norms. In a PbD process, measures can be built-in to detect cases like these. For instance, to what extent an idea or initiative may be considered unethical can be found by asking a number of questions:  Can I explain why I’m going to process this personal data and what I intend to do with it? Would my family and friends be comfortable if their personal data was used in this idea? Would I be happy to explain my idea in the daily news? Does my idea match the values of the company? Where the answers to these types of questions point towards an attitude of trying to hide the idea from the public eye or not wanting to be part of the data processing, the idea may be unethical and may need to be redesigned.  Compliance PbD is integral to ensuring compliance with data privacy legislation for numerous reasons. First, because effective PbD involves seeking independent testing of privacy and security controls, it helps to maintain best practices. Second, PbD builds an organisation’s brand by fostering greater consumer confidence and trust (through, for example, better management of post-breach incidents) and, in turn, supports organisations in their quest for a competitive advantage. In a reactive approach, the costs are much greater, such as through class-action lawsuits, the damage to reputation and loss of consumer confidence and trust.  In summary, PbD reduces the likelihood of fines, penalties and the resulting financial and reputational damage, and ensures that a firm stays ahead of the legislative curve, thereby minimising compliance risk.   Donal Murray is a Director in Risk Advisory in Deloitte Ireland, where he leads the Data Privacy Services team.

Feb 10, 2020

Jens Gladikowski explains why finance leaders need to lead more than the finance function. In today’s business environment, the role of finance leaders is more demanding than ever. They are required to run their function at low cost, create incisive insights from a complex pool of data, support risk and control governance, and manage a variety of stakeholders. They also play an increasingly critical role in business transformations – initiatives that aim to change the competitive position of an entire enterprise. By addressing five critical tasks, finance leaders can play an essential part in helping such transformations succeed. 1. Identifying value Perhaps surprisingly, a significant number of transformations do not have a comprehensive case for change that lays out their scope, rationale and benefits. For example, business cases often centre on cost-cutting to improve profit. A more thorough analysis might suggest re-directing savings into strategic areas of investment, which may yield higher returns in years to come. Finance leaders are well-placed to identify and balance competing options for the transformation scope and help set targets. That requires a holistic view of the organisation and an understanding of how value is generated and measured. In the case of one Irish consumer goods company, the CFO led an initiative that comprehensively aligned the organisation’s value drivers with corporate targets. Key performance indicators (KPIs) and performance measures (such as outbound delivery accuracy, for example) were then linked to those drivers. The impact of the company’s transformation can be associated with those KPIs, benefits owners assigned, and success measured. 2. Shaping the organisation of the future The future operating model is formed during a transformation. Here, finance leaders can influence critical decisions in several ways. For example: The overall business model may change with new products, services and markets introduced. Through financial modelling, scenario analysis and risk-based assessments, finance leaders can influence these decisions and help business leaders make the right choices. Operating models define responsibilities and the relationships between organisational units. Finance leaders bring a pan-organisational view and can ‘broker’ the best outcomes from an enterprise-wide perspective. Recently, a global fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company assessed the relationship between its manufacturing and sales units. This required an evaluation of the impact of profit margin on transfer pricing and external reporting – the consequences of which were not fully understood outside finance. Technology enablement is at the core of many, if not all, business transformations. Finance leaders often have responsibility for IT budgets and, in conjunction with chief information officers (CIOs), need to shape the technology roadmap. This is best done up-front by assessing current, and agreeing future, capabilities. 3. Keeping stakeholders honest  It can be challenging for executives to establish the exact status of in-flight transformations. Here, finance leaders can use their analytical skills and professional scepticism to provide clarity and challenge. For example, cost-benefit projections should be adjusted as new information becomes available. Frequently, only the cost impact is assessed – and often with delays – and the effect on benefits is not always easy to evaluate. In the case of a large automation programme for an insurance company, benefits were still discovered post-go-live. The processes were deemed too complex to gain the full picture earlier, but a more rigorous financial analysis might have addressed that. There can also be a tendency among benefits owners to be conservative in their commitment to transformation targets. This may be down to a lack of buy-in or to avoid falling short of expectations, especially where they are linked to incentives. Here, finance has a role to play as a critical partner to drive ambitious, yet achievable, benefits targets. 4. Coaxing, connecting and communicating Significant research has been conducted into the future of finance. There is consensus that, generally, roles are changing from traditional scorekeepers to pro-active business advisors and (co-) owners of business decisions. Finance leaders in many organisations are already defining their purpose as influencers, business navigators and drivers of change. They often stay longer in the role and understand their organisations more deeply than other executives. The average tenure of a CFO in a FTSE 100 company is around ten years – twice that of a typical CEO. Finance leaders, with their informed view of the business, can connect different interest groups, communicate key messages and guide an organisation towards expected outcomes. 5. Leading by example A critical factor in successful transformations is aligned and robust leadership. This creates an opportunity for finance leaders to make a positive example of their function, for instance, by: Articulating a vision for finance that is aligned to the transformation objectives. Importantly, leaders must promote and live up to the values associated with that vision. Finance can influence wider cultural and organisational changes. At a national broadcaster, finance pioneered structures and performance measures that were replicated across other functions. Creating early success is essential in any project and realising quick wins is often possible in finance. One could, for example, review how reports produced by finance are used and eliminate those that don’t support decision-making.  Freeing up the best resources for the transformation. In practice, this is often a challenge – not many finance teams can release their ‘go-to’ people. Yet having precisely these people on projects is arguably the most critical driver of success. Finance leaders have an essential role to play in business transformations. Aside from bringing financial understanding and business insights, their primary purpose is to support and lead on the structural, cultural and behavioural changes that are critical to successful business transformations. To do them well, finance leaders must, therefore, lead on a lot more than finance. Technology: Easier than ever? A key challenge in a transformation is selecting the right enabling technologies and implementing them successfully. The technology landscape has changed dramatically during recent years: many businesses deploy cloud applications, automation tools are increasingly used, next-generation enterprise resource planning solutions have entered the market, and more end-user reporting tools are available. These developments can enable more insight from data, drive process standardisation and provide greater focus on business value, rather than IT. Yet in practice, many challenges remain and the promises of more value, more quickly, do not always materialise. Why? Most of the success factors of technology deployment are similar to what they were a decade ago. Enabling technology will not be successful if requirements are not precise and aligned with the transformation objectives, if the underlying data are of poor quality, and if change management is not addressed adequately. Typical examples for the first point are implementations where reporting requirements are simply a re-statement of the ‘as-is’, and consequently, opportunities are missed to create greater insight. Other challenges have emerged for newer technologies. Below are a few lessons from process automation:  The deployment of automation tools should not happen at the expense of process improvements (i.e. don’t automate a bad process); Implementation is relatively easy, and business-led innovation can be managed differently to traditional technology; and Software robots often need user rights to access transactions. Controls must, therefore, be adjusted. Technology choices can be bewildering, and their implications are a challenge for many finance leaders who are expected to understand the options and help govern and deliver transformations. Technology today is neither harder nor easier than it was – but it is different. Finance leaders need to work closely with their IT function and vendors to identify the value of technology and steer the organisation successfully through transformations. Jens Gladikowski is a Director at PwC Consulting.

Feb 10, 2020

Changes to quality control systems and regulation require some getting used to, but let us not forget their primary goal – to help firms complete good quality audits effectively, writes Lisa Campbell. Most accountants know that having a sound quality control system is a good idea, but people often think in terms of the various systems that feed into the quality of products and/or financial statements. A good quality control system is essential in a professional services environment as well. So, in relation to an audit firm, what does a quality control system mean and how does it interact with the regulation of the firm? What is quality control in an audit firm? The purpose of a quality control system in an audit firm is to ensure that the firm has the capacity, capability and resources required to carry out its audit engagements effectively and consistently. ISQC (Ireland) 1 applies to all audit firms in Ireland, from sole practitioners to the largest firms. It sets out requirements for all firms to implement policies and procedures covering all aspects of carrying out a proper and independent audit, from hiring and training to methodology, remuneration, accepting an audit engagement, ethics and the tone at the top of the firm. Firms are responsible for ensuring that the people employed to carry out audits, from the most junior to the most senior, are suitably qualified, trained and are aware of – and complying with – ethical requirements. The leaders in the firm are required to ensure that their communications have enough focus on quality, aiming to ensure a robust culture of performing quality audits and not tolerating anything less than that. The standard also requires firms to implement their own monitoring systems to ensure that the relevant requirements are complied with, and to action failure to do so. Furthermore, firms are required to have documented evidence of the operation of each element of its system of quality control, including whether the firm has competent personnel, time and resources; any threats to independence; and whether the firm complies with the relevant independence and objectivity requirements. How does it interact with regulation? All audit firms in Ireland, and many places across the globe, are subject to what is known as a quality assurance review (sometimes also known as an audit inspection). In Ireland, this may be done by an accountancy body or directly by IAASA. Regardless of which organisation carries out the quality assurance review, the review is split into an assessment of the firm’s quality control system, supported by the analysis of a sample of the audits completed by the firm. The inspector will review policies and procedures and assess if they appear to be appropriate given the size and complexity of the firm. The proof of the pudding, however, is in the eating, so a sample of audits are reviewed to assess whether the policies and procedures have resulted in good quality audits. Where poor quality is identified as part of an inspection or review and hasn’t been caught in advance by the firm, the firm needs to ask itself whether there was an issue with the design or implementation of their quality control systems – or both. Was it a case of an isolated incident of an audit team failing to comply with good policies? Is it a pervasive issue that might indicate a firm culture of ignoring policies? Was it a lack of policy or an unclear policy? Could another policy have been implemented that would either have prevented or detected the problem? Do the policies contain enough incentive and/or sanction to encourage a continuous focus on quality? Future of quality control Most people are aware that the best control processes will prevent an issue arising in the first place (preventative control) rather than catch a problem after the fact (detective control); and that a good quality control system is not something that is designed once and left in place forever. It needs to be part of a continuous cycle of design, implement, assess, tweak the design, implement, assess etc. It evolves in a constant feedback loop, taking inputs from internal reviews, external reviews, experiences of peers, global developments and technology developments. And that is, really, the basis for proposed changes to the international standard on quality control, which will ultimately be adopted in many countries around the globe, including Ireland. The new international standard is expected to be finalised in 2020. The standard has been updated to think in a different way about quality control and to underpin the need for firms to proactively manage quality to prevent issues arising, rather than just react to control quality issues that do arise. The existing standard has a list of policies and procedures that must be developed and implemented by firms, whereas the new standard requires a much more integrated process and a more bespoke system customised by firms to address the risks that may impact on that particular firm’s engagement quality, specific to the nature of that particular firm and its audit clients. This fundamental shift in thinking is even reflected in the name of the standard, which is changing from “international standard on quality control” to “international standard on quality management”. In addition to the components of quality control dealt with in the existing standard, the new standard introduces some other elements, looking at the firm’s risk assessment process as well as information and communication. This shift in thinking may appear subtle on the face of it. However, firms are going to be required to rethink their entire systems of control and ensure that they are mapped to the standard. The US regulator, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) announced in December 2019 that it is also considering the standards on quality control in place in the US, which is something that needs to be considered by the many firms in Ireland that carry out work on any part of a US group of companies. PCAOB has stated that it intends to use the international standard as a starting point in developing its standard, which is good news for many firms as it should allow them to comply with both standards easily should they need to. So, what will this change mean for regulation? The changes will require regulators, to the extent that they don’t already do so, to become part of the feedback loop for firms. IAASA’s inspection approach already reflects this, whereby we look at the design of controls and do some sample testing to ensure that the controls are in place. For example, we look at communications issued by the firm’s leadership to ensure that there is enough focus on quality in those communications. This test may look okay, but then, when audits are inspected, we find poor quality. If this happens, we then reconsider the tone at the top testing and consider whether, while the control might be operating as designed, is it effective enough and should we recommend changes to firms to make the control more effective? The future for quality control is, therefore, a more interlinked and integrated approach with firms needing to integrate their internal reviews, external reviews and other feedback into a continuous loop of tweaking their systems – all the while remembering the ultimate aim, which is to get consistently good quality audits completed effectively.   Lisa Campbell FCA is Head of Operations at the Irish Auditing & Accounting Supervisory Authority.

Feb 10, 2020

Garvan Callan explains why digital transformation is both necessary and defining for companies and their leaders. If the Olympic Games handed out medals for buzzwords, ‘digital transformation’ would surely bring home the gold. However, the ubiquitous overuse of the term has also removed all clarity from the concept. It doesn’t matter who is to blame, though software vendors and marketing overlords selling digital transformation as the stairway to heaven do look a little guilty. What is important is that we reclaim digital transformation from its superficial buzzword status and fully understand why and, most importantly, how. Full contact – not a spectator sport One of the first pre-conceptions about digital transformation is that it arrives in the cloud, in a box, through an app or in lines of code. While technology solutions play a part, they don’t deliver digital transformation on their own (far from it) but are critical enablers in conveying a modern strategy and ambition. Nor does digital transformation arrive on a PowerPoint deck from a strategy guru or a social media article. One must imagine it, develop it, and make it happen – for your customers, your market and your context. Digital transformation involves a fundamental rethink of how organisations make use of people, processes and technology to improve performance. It is a complete change in how your organisation develops and delivers value to your customers, colleagues and investors. Organisations that truly want to embark on a digital transformation strategy start and end with the customer, creating a working environment that nurtures creativity, drives growth and delivers new arcs of value. The 360° approach Figure 1 depicts a 360° approach to digital transformation, split across five layers. At the core are the processes, which enable the revenue-creating propositions (features, products and services) that are brought to market through the engagement layer. The workplace is the people, tools and environment harnessed to create those propositions, with underpinning technology making it all possible. Processes are at the epicentre of transformation. This is where what is required to deliver your products and services is hard-coded. Therefore, this is also where the costs lie and risks exist. Taking out unnecessary steps (simplification), automating steps through low-cost, mature technologies such as robotics and then digitising value chains end-to-end is a great place to start the transformation. Does this mean it’s not about the customer? Of course not. Listening to what your customers and colleagues say about where the friction lies should drive the change. The most successful transformations start by reducing unnecessary ‘effort’ anchored in processes, and retiring whole products and services that don’t add, or even destroy, value. This not only improves the customer and employee experience (assuming you hold everyone’s hand through the change curve), but also reduces risk and releases capacity for the innovation of new propositions – constellations of products and services that fulfil customers’ desires, developed from customer insights leveraged from process-transformation analysis, and informed by techniques such as design thinking and the value proposition canvas. Digitising value chains also facilitates the capture of data, the fuel that powers continuous improvement programmes and the application of artificial intelligence (AI). Combining new data with AI can support a step-change in the personalisation of marketing and improve sales-funnel conversion, automate back-office processing, and support channels in becoming faster and more efficient for the customer. Executing process transformation also offers brands a range of points with which they can tell the story of change, of building a better business, of listening to customers and responding to needs – message opportunities often overlooked in the transformation trenches. The workplace and technology Empowering colleagues with the right tools and environment, and enough time to manage the complexities across the transformation layers, is fundamental to the optimum workplace. Harnessing the team’s insights and motivation, and liberating them to make customer-oriented improvements, is the defining prerequisite. Creating the enabling conditions for such a journey requires strong foundations, and here’s where technology fits in – not last on the list by any means. Technologists and leaders who immerse themselves in the process, proposition, engagement and workplace layers can then determine the technology required, and the operating model needed, to deliver successful transformation and a thriving organisation. The customer is the touchstone Knowing that you need to implement a digital transformation on this scale is one thing, but where to begin is quite another. Embarking on such a monumental organisational shift can be extremely challenging for even the most experienced leaders. To find a good starting point, become deeply knowledgeable about what your customers want to achieve when they engage with you, about their ‘jobs to be done’. It is not only the marketeers who should have such insight into the customer experience; everyone involved in digital transformation needs to have a forensic understanding of the customer and how your business does (or does not) facilitate them. Now that you know what you want digital transformation to achieve for your customers, you need to roll up your sleeves and ask: Are large organisational changes necessary? Do our teams require re-skilling and re-orientating? Do hard re-prioritisation decisions need to be made? You will most likely answer ‘yes’, but beware of procrastination; the time to start is now. Mobilise the effort by making the desire for better customer outcomes the focus. The customer guiding you on ‘what to do and why’ must be the unequivocal and undeniable touchstone to motivate, guide and, if required in the transformation haze, reset the mission at hand. Getting digital transformation right Since successful digital transformation is a 360° endeavour that spans the breadth and depth of the business, each organisation’s roadmap will be different. That said, there are some common principles to abide by: 1. Gain consensus from the whole team: whether your project/programme involves building the new or enhancing the existing, it’s imperative to have buy-in from everyone involved, leveraging the customer as the touchstone and data as the tinder. 2. Embrace the unknown with adaptive design: embracing an adaptive design and project management approach allows for tweaks to be made to the transformation strategy as needs arise – and they will arise. Remember, you’re building your transformation strategy around humans (customers, colleagues and investors) and humans don’t act in linear and predictable ways. 3. De-risk: delivering transformation and building a customer-centric organisation involves taking more than a few risks. Communicate the ambition and the stretch outcomes you’re working towards. Then de-risk by managing the change activity in sprints of two to three weeks. This supports decision-making, seeing progress or calling failure early and learning quickly. Leaders should allow teams to ‘learn as they do’ and build an environment of self-sufficient innovation. In the long-term, this is a great de-risker: smaller projects equate to smaller risks. 4. Initiate and react: Amazon’s game-changing ‘one-click economy’ has put just about every other industry into reaction mode, attempting to catch up with customers’ expectations. But that doesn’t mean that your whole transformation strategy should be a reactive response to the wider e-commerce forces at play. Get ahead of the game with pre-emptive or first-strike moves to truly future-proof your organisation. Larger, well-resourced organisations that are good at this often use game theory exercises; for smaller organisations, less elaborate scenario planning activities can be equally effective. Is it that easy? If it were that easy, everyone would have done it. Most organisations are trying and a few are thriving; some are just embarking and starting to grind it out, while only a few have yet to begin. But let’s be honest, it isn’t easy. It takes years. It takes vision. It takes resilience and it takes persistence. But it is necessary, and it is defining. As Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”.   Garvan Callan is a strategist, innovator and transformation advisor.

Feb 10, 2020

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

President of NUI Galway, Prof. Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh, the first Chartered Accountant to be appointed president of an Irish university, reflects on his career in academia as he embarks on his third year at the helm of his alma mater. When people talk about Chartered Accountants’ career progression, they often refer to the ‘linear path’ to the position of Managing Partner or CFO. While Prof. Ciarán Ó hÓgartaigh’s professional path has been similarly structured, albeit in a different sector, his route has been more circular than linear. From his youthful days as a BComm student in NUI Galway to his current post as President of that same university, Ciarán has enjoyed academic success in a range of roles. As an educator, however, his teachings are grounded firmly in the values of fairness and the greater good – values that he was embued with at a young age. A social science When Ciarán joined the BComm class in NUI Galway, he was drawn towards a career in corporate law – an area that was gaining traction as a viable career option. However, he was converted to accountancy by two lecturers – Keith Warnock and Seamus Collins – who taught accountancy as a social science. They looked at the impact of accounting on decision-making in both business and society, and according to Ciarán, “it was a really nice way of looking at accounting; not just as a technical subject, but as something much more interesting than that”. It may be dramatic to describe this as a Damascene conversion, but following his experience at undergraduate level, Ciarán followed a path to accountancy. Having completed the Diploma in Professional Accounting in UCD while training with Arthur Andersen, he went on to qualify as a Chartered Accountant before moving swiftly into academia. His career has taken him to the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and Boston College as a Fulbright Scholar, and he has also taught at Dublin City University and University College Dublin. Indeed, he has enjoyed his greatest success in Ireland, becoming UCD’s Dean of Business in 2011 before joining NUI Galway as President in 2017. Teaching “at the heart of my day” Ciarán’s rise to the role of Dean and, more recently, President of two of the country’s most respected academic institutions did not come at the expense of his love of teaching, however. He continues to teach into one accountancy module per semester, taking a number of classes with first year accountancy students, for example, in 2019/20. As Warnock and Collins did back in the 1980s, Ciarán positions the subject as part of a broader landscape. “In research, accountancy is seen as a social science to a great extent, but it’s also seen – because of the professional requirements – as a technical subject. Trying to marry those two is always an interesting challenge,” he said. While Ciarán teaches for the enjoyment it brings, there are other more strategic reasons for stepping up to the podium every week. “I’d miss it if I didn’t teach,” he said. “But teaching is also a great way to get into the routine of the year and get to know what’s happening on the campus. It’s a great way to meet students, but more importantly, it sets a good example to both students and staff. Teaching is an essential part of the mission of the university, so putting teaching at the heart of my day is important from that perspective.” The leader’s skill set This type of signalling is an important aspect of Ciarán’s skill set as a leader. When he assumed the role of President at NUI Galway, there were several challenging issues in his in-tray, including issues of gender equality.  “Diversity is strength, particularly in a university. It is not a burden, and should be cherished rather than challenged,” he said. Ciarán is very pleased that NUI Galway has since been awarded Athena Swan Bronze status and has been designated as a University of Sanctuary, meaning that it welcomes refugees, asylum seekers and travellers as part of its community – but he is clear that “there’s always work to be done” in this area.  At the time of his appointment, one of Ciarán’s first acts on his first day was to meet with the Students’ Union President and to send an introductory video to all his new colleagues. In this communication, he talked about our “kindnesses to each other”, a phrase he found echoed across the university community during his subsequent ‘listening tour’.This strategy, according to Ciarán, was very deliberate. “I try to deal with issues early on,” he said. “And a lot of my role as President involves signalling, so you turn up at things that you think are important and you push with determination on issues that are important.” An ambitious new strategy  It will therefore come as no surprise that the university’s new strategy, which Ciarán launched last month, centres in large part on respect and openness. It also channels his business acumen and skills as an innovator by ensuring that the university complements the region’s strengths in medical technologies, culture and creativity, and climate and oceans. Speaking at the launch, Ciarán described the university as being for the “public good”, belonging to the people. And given that NUI Galway has no gates, this sense of openness is very much part of the university’s cultural fabric in his view.But running a university with 19,000 students is an expensive business, so this public good comes at a high cost. That said, Ciarán is keen to guide the debate away from price and towards value. And given that Ireland and Croatia are viewed as “systems in danger” by a European University Association report published in 2017, this debate couldn’t be more timely. “First and foremost, we must make the argument that universities are for the public good and good for society. After that, society needs to think about how we fund that ambition,” he said. “If the funding doesn’t match that ambition, then we need to find some way to translate that ambition for the third-level sector with a funding model that supports us in an international context.” Life lessons When you devote your life to something, as Ciarán has done, it often becomes difficult to draw a line between the person and the professional. To counter that, Ciarán relies on a Flann O’Brien tale – one he shares with his students regularly. “In The Third Policeman, a policeman cycles the roads of the west of Ireland so often that he becomes part-policeman, part-bicycle,” he said. “For me, the lesson is simple: don’t become the job. Always maintain your personality and joie de vivre, because that’s important.”It will come as no surprise that Ciarán, who has spent decades educating the leaders of the future – and, more recently, leading the educators themselves – has a wealth of advice for fellow Chartered Accountants, colleagues and students alike. He advocates being yourself as this makes for a more comfortable life; he’s a firm believer in trying new things; and he advises everyone to take the time to think and read. But overall, Ciarán returns to the philosophy of his BComm lecturers, Warnock and Collins: “Accounting has a role to play in shaping society and we should be a profession that supports not only the powerful but those on the periphery as well,” he said. “That would be a very good future for everyone in the context of the changes we see in society today.” Ciarán on... His family “Dad and mam had a real view on making a difference, doing your best. And as the youngest of six, I think that was helpful as I grew up with adults and people older than me.” The threat to third-level education “It isn’t about the universities or the staff; it’s actually about our students, their families, about companies and civic society.” Launching UCD’s MA in aviation finance “The idea here is that you work with your hinterland. Dublin is a global hub for aviation finance so the feeling was, let’s include that group and educate the talent pool for the industry.” The potential impact of Brexit “If we position ourselves as the gateway to Europe – Galway in particular and Ireland in general – we can capitalise on student mobility and research opportunities.” Venturing into the unknown “If you try something you’ve never tried before, one of two things will happen. You will either find that you are good at it, or you will find that you’re not – in which case, the sky doesn’t fall in and you learn something and perhaps emerge even stronger from the experience.” Communication “The people aspect of accountancy is often missing. When you are doing audits, you have to ask questions and talk to people. It can be a very people-oriented existence and people too often think of accountancy as not involving people when generally speaking, it does.” Doing the right thing “I make decisions that I think are right, and that makes it easier to sleep at night. The ones that unsettle you are the ones where others convince you, but you don’t quite think it’s the right thing to do.” Logic and morals “Someday, you will have to make a decision that looks entirely logical. You know you should do it, but it has implications for others that you might not be aware of at the outset. Endeavour to find, and consider, that implication or consequence for an individual or group because not everyone is as well off as ourselves.”

Feb 10, 2020
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