Rachel Hussey encourages leaders to see this crisis as an opportunity to create firms that are truly equal.As many offices begin to reopen and people take the first tentative steps back to their workplace, there is a lot of talk about getting back to ‘normal’, the ‘new normal’ or the ‘new abnormal’. Whatever way we refer to it, this next period is going to be very different to what went before and we all have an opportunity to reimagine or reframe our ideas of work and the workplace.Over the past few weeks and months, the focus on diversity has resurfaced and sharpened, and is generating considerable discussion. The Black Lives Matter movement catapulted the issue of race to centre stage and caused many organisations to state or restate their commitment to diversity. The importance of authenticity in this commitment is key, as we saw when some companies leading the charge were called out as having no diversity on their boards or senior management.Many organisations in Ireland, and their leaders, are genuinely committed to diversity and really want to move the dial. They believe that their organisations aim to be meritocracies in that everyone has the same opportunities to advance and that the ‘best person for the job’ gets the job. They are committed to diversity but also believe that if you are good enough, you will succeed. When women or minority groups don’t succeed, the belief is that it is because of choice, lack of ability, or lack of representation. The truth may be that the environment or the experience is not welcoming or encouraging of difference.The starting point is for leaders to acknowledge that inequality exists in every organisation. With that frame of mind, leaders can keep a razor-sharp focus on diversity every day, in every decision that is made for the business, including around promotions and team composition. The tone is set at the top and when the rest of the organisation realises the importance of diversity to its leadership, equality is taken more seriously as a business imperative.The next step is to lead open and honest debate about how merit is determined and judged. If we are convinced that opportunities are decided solely based on merit and the best person for the job, are we satisfied that there is no inherent bias in the merit criteria, the merit decision process or how we classify a ‘job well done’? And does our sponsor culture reinforce historical stereotypes and work styles as the meritocracy we would like to maintain, or is it more open to balanced styles, skills and opportunities?These conversations regularly lead to debates about the value of targets and quotas, particularly for female representation. Such debates can, in isolation, unfortunately lead to the view that targeted promotions are tokens and not a genuine reflection of talent. It also risks majority groups, which in most business situations are men, seeing it as a zero-sum game driving reduced opportunity for their own careers, which then makes it less likely that men will support diversity initiatives. If we want to increase the pace of change, while targets have value and may be the best kick-start in many ways, leaders must treat managing equitable opportunities in the same way as they manage costs and revenue – close attention to detail, reporting and measurement; but targets by themselves should not be the only long-term option for genuine progress.Finally, to learn more about the reality in an organisation, leaders can and should have open conversations with their teams to find out more about people’s experience of working at the firm. Having roundtable discussions with people at all levels to gain an understanding of the visible and invisible barriers that women and minority groups face is key to understanding and to making the changes necessary to dismantle those barriers.To make this change sustainable and meaningful, particularly in relation to gender, we need to ensure that women who reach senior positions are valued in the same way as men for their talent and their contribution to the role. That’s where leaders have a real opportunity, by their approach and expectations of everyone in the organisation to practise equality in their daily work lives.So let’s not waste this crisis. Let’s use it to make a real impact on creating firms that are truly equal.Rachel Hussey is Chair of 30% Club Ireland and a Partner at Arthur Cox.

Jul 28, 2020

Swift and immense fiscal stimulus has driven equities to all-time highs in some cases, but inflation and interest rates could yet spoil the party.Having entered 2020 at nosebleed valuation levels, equities reacted sharply and suddenly to COVID-19 by falling by over 40% in Ireland, by over 35% in the UK and by just under 35% in the USA. But then stocks bounced right back. By mid-July, the Irish Stock Exchange index was down 16% compared to the beginning of the year, the FT 100 index was down 21% and in the USA, the S&P 500 index was down just 6%. The Nasdaq has even managed to hit new all-time highs.What is going on? The simple answer is that the world is witnessing an unprecedented level of official policy stimulus that is expected to trigger a sharp rebound in economic activity while interest rates (and corporates’ cost of capital) go lower than would otherwise have been expected. This stimulus is being felt first by financial markets but, if the past is an effective guide to the future, it will soon spread to an economy near you.The scale of the pandemic-induced fiscal stimulus announced by government treasuries and finance ministries is vast. According to BCA Research, a Toronto-based investment research boutique, it is more than double the level of stimulus the global economy got in the wake of the global financial crisis over a decade ago. Not only that, but it’s happening much more quickly. There was initially a delayed element of “crisis, what crisis?” to the last big downturn. The reaction this time has been swift and immense.The size of the fiscal response is dwarfed only by the scale of the monetary response. Even in Japan, where the annual rate of money growth has been under 3% for most of the last 30 years, M3 went up at an annualised rate of 10.5% in the three months to May. In the eurozone and the UK, the corresponding figure is about 20%. But the explosion in fresh money creation has been most evident in the USA where, in the three months to May, M3 rose at an annualised rate of almost 90%. The equivalent year-on-year rate of growth was the largest in modern peacetime history.Commenting on recent monetary policy, Tim Congdon and John Petley of the Institute of International Monetary Research concluded that unless the US Federal Reserve decides to withdraw or reduce some of that money injection, “upward pressures on asset prices, and then on prices of factors of production, and goods and services, will be a marked feature of 2021 and 2022.” Ironically, valuation levels may help contribute to yet higher equity values, despite most people believing that equities are currently levitating.A standard long-run measure of an equity’s value is its cyclically adjusted price earnings (CAPE) ratio. This eliminates the cyclical variability of profits as a factor that can distort the standard price earnings (PE) ratio by using average (inflation-adjusted) earnings over the previous ten years rather than earnings from just one year. Doing this compares a share’s price to an underlying ‘through the cycle’ measure of its earnings. The CAPE for the entire US market is nearly 30. It has only ever been this high twice before: in September 1929, just before The Great Crash, and during the 2000 tech bubble.However, it is not enough for us to look at PE ratios in isolation. We need to compare them to the valuation of competing assets. And right now, the value of the equities’ main asset competitor – bonds – are sky-high. Steve Sjuggerud, the author of investment newsletter True Wealth, charts the US 10-year bonds rate minus CAPE. This measure’s current level suggests that equities are relatively cheap! BCA Research has looked at that measure going back to 1955. They reckon it shows that US equities are historically cheap, relative to government bonds!To me, there are two key conclusions to take from this. First, the tsunami of fresh central bank liquidity being pumped into the global economic system means that, over the next 18 months, an equity melt-up (similar to those seen in Japan in 1989 and on the Nasdaq in early 2000) is far more likely than a meltdown. Second, this party will end abruptly if inflation stirs and interest rates start to rise significantly.Cormac Lucey FCA is an economic commentator and lecturer at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jul 28, 2020

Construction has been hit hard by the pandemic, but with the right initiatives and supports it could also play a pivotal role in the country’s eventual recovery, writes Annette Hughes.Ireland entered 2020 in a reasonably strong economic position – preliminary GDP figures for 2019 suggest it was the fastest growing economy in the EU27 over three years, with almost full employment. However, the shock following COVID-19 has been unprecedented.The latest EY economic forecasts (released in May) expect GDP to fall by 11.1% this year. It is envisaged that government borrowing, as opposed to tax increases and public spending cuts, will finance the restart of the economy, predicted to rebound by 6.7% in 2021. Consequently, a benign international lending environment will be crucial, and a budget deficit close to €30 billion – around 10% of GDP – will be required in 2020 (Department of Finance), depending on the evolution of the virus.While the construction sector had been enjoying a consistent, healthy performance at the start of 2020, it was halted abruptly following the onset of the pandemic. All construction and housebuilding sites closed for seven weeks on 28 March, apart from around 35 social housing sites that were deemed essential. Although sites have been re-opening since 18 May, only a slow recovery can be expected. EY-DKM projections based on initial assessments (in May) across housing, non-residential buildings, offices, industrial use and public sector construction show that the volume of construction output by 2022 is forecast at just below 80% of the corresponding volume in 2019. The overall volume of construction output is forecast to decline by 37.7% this year, followed by a rebound of 17.6% in 2021 and 7.6% in 2022.The latest assessment from Euroconstruct has the Irish and UK construction sectors as the poorest performers across 19 countries. The value of construction is estimated to have reached €27.7 billion (8% of GDP) in Ireland in 2019, but the crisis is expected to result in a contraction in construction output by almost 34% in 2020 (5.9% of GDP). In the UK, construction volumes are expected to contract by over one-third. Both Ireland and the UK have the strongest recovery prospects in construction output in 2021 at 17.6% and 22.8% respectively.Meanwhile, the closure of sites is expected to reduce levels of new house building substantially. Notwithstanding supply challenges that existed pre-COVID-19, housebuilding is expected to fall to 14,000 units in 2020, down from 21,138 in 2019 and well below the requirement of 35,000 units per annum.The hope is that the industry recovers more strongly than expected, but there are downside risks, notably uncertainty regarding the virus and fear of a second wave. As such, housing supply constraints could be more significant than they were pre-COVID-19, resulting in an even greater challenge for affordability, the private rented sector, and homelessness.Ireland has the potential to lead the way in a European rebound and there is a substantial commitment of resources for public infrastructure projects by Government in the National Development Plan 2018-2027 and Project Ireland 2040.The new partnership of Government also promised to make “transformative changes” with various actions set out to drive economic recovery and place Ireland as an exemplar in decarbonising our economy. At the time of writing, the immediate actions awaited are the July Stimulus and the distribution of the EU Recovery Fund for Ireland. For construction, it will be essential that funding focuses on capital and labour-intensive projects as well as other essential pre-committed infrastructure projects. As an open economy, Ireland’s recovery is dependent on developments in our major trading partners, notably in the UK. Investing in infrastructure must be ramped up straight away and will deliver substantial economic benefits, as the multiplier spending impacts reverberate through the rest of the economy. But while the Government can transform our country economically, the responsibility for suppressing the virus ultimately rests with the whole of society.Annette Hughes is Director, EY-DKM Economic Advisory.

Jul 28, 2020

Des Peelo explains why Chartered Accountants have a responsibility to work hard at good communications.Accountants produce figures; that is our professional function. However, the ability to analyse and communicate those figures is the important role. The circumstances that give rise to the necessity of a report or analysis obviously range widely, but all result in the compilation and sharing of information to be understood by others.If you are in an accounting position and want the world to understand and appreciate your good work, remember that accounting figures – no matter the circumstances – are no more than an outcome and are not in themselves a decision, a conclusion or an explanation.Figures are just that, figures. They carry no intrinsic knowledge or purpose. The real skill for a Chartered Accountant (and in my opinion, we are not good at it) is to present an understandable interpretation and communication of the figures.The higher or greater the decision to be made in business, and sometimes in politics, the more the figures will influence the decision. In my experience, however, you cannot assume – even at the highest levels of business or political life (or, for that matter, in a courtroom) – that all are capable of looking at an array of numbers and knowing what they mean.Financial illiteracy is widespread and rarely admitted. I believe that this illiteracy explains many poor business and economic decisions. It is up to us as Chartered Accountants to work hard at good communications, and as a skill, it should be top of the continuing professional development agenda.In presenting figures, remember the audience. What is the purpose of compiling the figures? Who will read them and what is expected of the audience having read the figures? This last question is most important of all. The accountant must be very careful indeed when it comes to interpretation and presentation as the outcome decision, based on the figures, may be significant capital outlays, a court judgment, a misdemeanour identified, a monetary claim pursued, and so on.What sometimes gets lost in translation is the difference between presenting facts and presenting conclusions. It is important to know and understand whether the accountant, in presentation, is being asked to present facts for the audience to make a decision or draw a conclusion, or whether the accountant is being asked to make that decision or conclusion, as supported by the facts in the presentation. A muddled financial analysis without a clear purpose is of little help to anyone, but in my experience, this is a common scenarioThe audience is not there to be impressed by the detailed calculations or workings in the presentation. A straightforward one- or two-page summary should clearly state the outcome as to the purpose of the presented figures. The detailed calculations or workings should always be shown as appendices and cross-referenced in the summary.Compiling and interpreting figures usually involves making some assumptions. These too should be listed in a separate appendix. Figures are only as good as the likely validity of any assumptions underlying them. Outcomes do not always have to be precise. A range based on valid assumptions such as ‘best’ and ‘worst’, or ‘high’ and ‘low’ is often wise as singular figures, in themselves, can give an impression of being definitive.An enduring bugbear in poor presentations is the numbering of paragraphs. The use of sections, sub-sections and Roman numerals can end up with the likes of “Paragraph 5,2(B)iv”. Most reports require cross-referencing such as “please refer to paragraphs 10 and 16 above”.There is nothing to prevent someone from presenting an entire report as simply paragraph 1, 2, 3 and so on. There can be interspersed chapters or section headings as the report goes along, but the simple numbering is continued. Some readers will be aware that simple numbering is common practice in Germany, the United States, and within multinationals and international organisations. This is standard practice when it comes to emails, as it allows for easily cross-referenced responses.Des Peelo FCA is the author of  The Valuation of Businesses and Shares, which is published by Chartered Accountants Ireland and now in its second edition.

Jul 28, 2020

The pandemic and Brexit both provide momentum for bigger government – but don’t expect any protestations from the public, writes Dr Brian Keegan.The late US president, Ronald Reagan, never tired of giving out about big government. It’s a crude measure of the influence of government, but the level of national debt gives us some indication of the gap between what it costs to run a nation and what that nation can legitimately collect in taxes from its citizens.National debt suffers from spikes and fluctuations from wars, recessions and – as we are now seeing – pandemics. Such things are outside our control. But even when they are within our control, the national debt can grow unexpectedly. Despite Reagan’s protestations, the US national debt grew almost threefold during his eight years in office.The current pandemic will not grow the national debt of either Ireland or the UK by a comparable amount, but that is a factor of the scale of the existing national debt. Perhaps a better way to assess the impact of government is to look at the number of government agencies we now must deal with. Ireland’s Comptroller and Auditor General has almost 300 departments and organisations to scrutinise during his audit and assurance work. The UK National Audit Office looks over 400 or so UK government entities. As if to catch up, the new Irish Government’s programme makes over 20 references to the creation of new agencies or to increasing the remit of existing ones.The creation of agencies drives public sector jobs. The Institute of Public Administration recently noted that public sector employment in the Republic of Ireland exceeded 300,000 back in 2018, thus restoring staffing to pre-great recession levels. Before the pandemic struck, public sector employment in Northern Ireland exceeded 200,000. While most of our fellow citizens in the public sector are involved in service delivery, a lot of them are involved in regulation.We are already seeing how the pandemic is driving government size. Over the past few months, much of the Institute’s advocacy work has been about brokering arrangements with government – both north and south – to make things like the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme and the Job Retention Scheme work better on the ground. Ensuring that these schemes work well is vital, but they take up time, eating into the capacity of both our members in business and our members in practice to deliver other added-value services. Other business supports like state-backed loan guarantee schemes are also going to bring an additional burden of compliance, assurance and red tape.Brexit too is providing momentum for bigger government. The UK Government is duplicating many control and regulatory functions that were previously unnecessary because of EU treaty arrangements or because they were within the purlieu of European institutions. This pattern is being replicated across Europe. For instance, the Revenue Commissioners were to hire 500 additional customs officers to do the additional cross-border trade checks along with apparently 750 in the Netherlands, 700 in France, and close to 400 in Belgium.By and large, business on the island of Ireland benefits from the degree of State regulation. Yet, its role in attracting and securing foreign direct investment by creating a safer investment environment can get overlooked. On the other hand, businesses do not exist to carry out paperwork. This tension was always there. What the pandemic has changed is the political appetite to increase regulation.I think any Reaganesque political campaign promising smaller government would be unlikely to succeed these days. Even if politicians were minded to rein in the regulatory horses, the pandemic has created a greater willingness among the general public on this island to be governed, as evidenced by the almost blanket acceptance of the strictures of lockdown.Dr Brian Keegan is Director of Advocacy & Voice at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jul 28, 2020

This is my first Accountancy Ireland comment piece as President. First off, I would like to say that it is a tremendous honour to be elected President of our Institute.I would like to thank my predecessor, Conall O’Halloran, for his exceptional leadership throughout a tremendously successful year. Conall can look back with great pride on his term in office.Bouncing backThe current priority remains one of public health but soon, the huge economic challenge of preserving jobs and rebalancing public and private finances will emerge. This has been made even more difficult by the constraints on both consumption and production.As we move to the next phase in continuing to suppress COVID-19, we as Chartered Accountants will have a pivotal role to play in helping to drive the economy forward and in generating growth.Working in collaboration with business, political leaders and the public sector, Chartered Accountants Ireland will be a strong supporter and advocate for the business community and the positive impact that a renewed economy can have for all in our society.I believe that our 28,500 members working in leadership, finance or advisory roles throughout Irish business will play a key role in kick-starting the recovery and ensuring that businesses bounce back strongly.Priorities for the year aheadAs President, I want to harness the ability, experience, and expertise of our membership network to support economic recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic.The strengthening of our role with the public sector will be the first of my key themes for the year. I see our profession having a much stronger role to play here.The second priority will be maintaining and enhancing the relevance of the Institute to our members from the start of their career through to retirement. We must stay connected. It is good to feel part of something, to feel a belonging to the family that is Chartered Accountants Ireland. I am proud to belong.Members will see that this sense of belonging and active participation is at the heart of the Institute’s new Strategy24, the document that will direct our work over the next four years.As Strategy24 is rolled out, members will see their Institute become more digitally driven. We believe that members will find a greater sense of connection and will see the Institute focus on being a financially sustainable, digitally-enabled organisation with an agile culture that supports innovation and collaboration.My final priority is access to our profession for potential students. We will continue to work to highlight the opportunities available to a new generation of potential trainees within an innovative, forward-looking profession.Looking forwardFollowing May’s annual general meeting, the gender balance of the Institute’s Council now stands at 50:50. I will seek to promote balance more widely across the Institute. It is worth noting that the overall membership is currently 42% female and 58% male.I am looking forward to the year ahead. Of course, there are challenges – but we have a great team at the Institute, and we will drive ahead. I am counting on your support as we work for members across the island of Ireland and beyond.Paul HenryPresident

Jul 28, 2020

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

Jul 23, 2020

Networking has been about connecting with people in a physical space. How, then, do we seek new connections in a digital landscape? Rachel Tubridy outlines five methods on how to uncomplicate remote networking.A recent PeopleSource survey of 2,600 Irish business professionals from a variety of backgrounds found that 98% of respondents would now like to work from home at least one day a week, with almost half indicating that three or more days working from home on a weekly basis is preferable. Despite the fact that three-quarters of all participants indicated they were looking forward to person-to-person interaction with colleagues on their return to the office, an even higher percentage said that they would not attend business events where social distancing was out of their control.As concerns grow about future waves of the pandemic, the long-term viability of remote working and networking is very much on business leaders’ minds right now. The advent of 5G, which promises network communication speeds up to twenty times higher than the current mobile technology, will significantly reduce the need for physical office space. Instead, workers will be virtually contactable anytime and anyplace. Real-time data analysis, instant videoconferencing and uninterrupted workflows between corporate offices and a distributed workforce will change the current business dynamic. Major corporations like Fujitsu are giving workers the option to work at home or in the office, while Twitter has stated that its employees can work from home ‘forever’. But what does this mean for networking? A new kind of networking The networking dynamic has drastically changed because of the pandemic. You really must put yourself out there – informal introductions over a coffee or lunch are, for the moment, non-existent. This paradigm shift in working practices has significant implications for traditional networking. While ‘pressing the flesh’ has long been the way of establishing connections and developing trust in the commercial world, this is now being replaced by far more impersonal ways of conducting business. Physical isolation, lack of ‘live’ or ‘in-person’ events make it more difficult to communicate, which means we all must find new ways of networking effectively. People are no longer bumping into each other on the street where previously valuable information has been exchanged and where impromptu contacts were established. Networking is now being replaced by online gatherings, which, once the meeting has started, makes it’s hard to say ‘hey this is not for me, I’m out’ without raising an eyebrow. Here are five simple tips to help uncomplicate remote networking:Join business communities, local enterprise groups, Chartered Accountants Ireland district societies on LinkedIn, and participate in online meetups and industry events.When joining a remote networking event, make sure you’re comfortable in your surroundings and that you can talk freely to the other participants. Are your children, partner or housemate in the room? Find a quiet space so you’re not interrupted and check your Wi-Fi signal is strong in that space. You don’t want to cut out unexpectedly.Like with traditional networking, show up with an elevator pitch about who you are and what you do. Remember, the goal of networking is to show what you can offer the other people in the group, so be sure to have a good understanding of that yourself. Remote networking is a bit more formal than traditional events because of the medium – be patient when you have something to say, letting the person currently speaking finish what they are saying. When you do participate, be sure it’s to say something that will add value to the conversation. Remember, you’re an expert in your field and you have a lot of knowledge to offer other professionals. Relax, and remember everyone is in the same boat. The more at ease you are, the more approachable you seem and the more likely you will make some worthwhile connections.After the meeting, connect with the other attendees on LinkedIn, adding a note with your own contact details.       Rachel Tubridy is Founder of PeopleSource. You can read more about the survey here.

Jul 23, 2020

We all know how important the work-life balance is, especially in the accountancy profession. Noel O'Callaghan believes that in order for businesses to thrive, they must put the well-being of their employees first. Working as a Chartered Accountant has been a hugely rewarding part of my life. As a Chartered Accountant, the world truly is your oyster – it provides a ‘passport’ to travel, make money, meet people and is a great platform to launch a full and busy life. My 18 years working in the world of finance has reaped all those benefits and more. However, it is also important to recognise that it is a hugely demanding career that sometimes can come at a cost. While my career has been predominantly steeped in finance, I also work as a qualified psychotherapist on a voluntary basis. I believe if our mental health is managed well, it can not only allow us to realise our potential in the workplace, but we can also live happily outside of it. With my accountant friends, I allude to the idea that the ‘premium on pay is to help offset the tax on health’. Though this is said tongue-in-cheek, I believe that accountancy can be a highly attritional career that must be managed so that you can extract as many of the benefits as possible without being hit with a whopper of the aforementioned ‘tax bill’. It is an uncomfortable truth that many jobs in accountancy are stressful. This is evidenced by the number of workdays being lost to poor mental health continuing to rise in financial services. While this is a massive burden on employers and the economy, it pales in comparison to the pain and distress that the individuals are enduring. A recent study in the UK has found that over 60% of managers have had to put the interests of their organisation above staff wellbeing either sometimes, regularly or every day. This is troubling, given that the accessibility to staff at home during their off-hours is higher than ever. It makes a good work-life balance more difficult to achieve. The relationship between mental health and business is complex. Companies and accounting practices must seek to establish wellbeing as a ‘pillar’ of their strategy going forward and invest in it accordingly. To entice the best and brightest during the next college recruitment ‘milkround’, there must be a targeted message around wellbeing. This is desperately needed to future-proof businesses, as evidence suggests that the next generation of employees are going to need it even more than before. 69% of UK job-seeking graduates reported having mental health issues at some point. Providing a foundation on which all employees can thrive must be high on CEO priority lists going forward. The good news is that I believe we are reaching a turning point. Business leaders are beginning to address this growing problem. Organisations such as CA Support are evolving from previously presenting themselves as a benevolent fund to be a more rounded, practical support for people to help navigate challenges in their lives. For businesses to succeed going forward, they need to nurture the mental well-being of their teams. The article is written by Noel O’Callaghan, FCA and qualified Psychotherapist (IACP pre-accredited).  If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact the CA support team at CASupport@charteredaccountants.ie.

Jul 23, 2020

For some, staying on top of the day-to-day workload is achievement enough as we continue to work remotely. But if you have the time, energy and inkling, there’s plenty of resources – free and paid – to help you develop your skillset in your own time. MasterClass MasterClass has caught people’s imagination in recent years with it’s stellar line-up of lecturers. You can learn about self-expression and authenticity with Ru Paul, for example, or the art of negotiation with Chris Voss. Courses are presented in video lecture format and while the cost is significant (€199 for an annual membership), there’s plenty in there to help you build your soft skills and perhaps get to grips with a new hobby (skateboarding with Tony Hawk, anyone?). CLICK HERE  The Great Courses Plus The Great Courses Plus is another on-demand video service focused on lifelong learning. The site uses award-winning lecturers to present lecture series on everything from economics and finance to professional and personal growth. However, it is a subscription service – €17.99 monthly or €159.99 annually. CLICK HERE FutureLearn FutureLearn offers a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions. Part-owned by The Open University, the platform offers everything from short courses to online degrees. Learners can also upgrade from their basic (free) subscription to receive a printed and digital Certificate of Achievement or Statement of Participation where eligible. CLICK HERE  Coursera Coursea offers a 3,900 courses up to masters degree level in partnership with leading universities and companies such as Stanford and Google. According to the website, 87% of people learning for professional development reported career benefits such as a promotion, raise or starting a new career. That may not be at the forefront of your mind just now, but it’s another reminder that upskilling often has tangible results.  CLICK HERE Institute Webinars When the lockdown began in March 2020, Chartered Accountants Ireland moved quickly to support its students and members. Its new webinar series has proved particularly popular, with members signing up for a range of expert-led sessions on everything from authentic leadership to voluntary liquidation procedures. Past webinars can also be streamed on demand. CLICK HERE Learn something new every day If you’re strapped for time but would still like to develop your knowledge base, Highbrow delivers five-minute lessons to your inbox each day. You can choose from more than 300 topics and get your day off to a productive start before you’ve finished your first coffee! CLICK HERE

Jul 22, 2020

In times of crisis, it is common to feel stuck – even defeated. But one simple trick can help you move forward and, if embraced fully, reach new heights writes Neil O’Brien. Resilience is described as the ability to recover quickly from setbacks or disappointments, or the ability of a substance to spring back into shape. While this is true, it can be a little misleading and doesn’t communicate the full range of resilience. I have coached individuals and teams in business and sport for almost 30 years. At some point in our work together, I ask each client about previous setbacks and disappointments, and what they did to recover. On the face of it, they all did the same thing – but some went further and used their setback to reach greater heights. This article is about them: what they did, and what we can learn from them. But first, some background… Survival resilience It is human nature to get your act together in response to a crisis. It is part of the human condition, pre-programmed from prehistoric times. Setbacks effectively trigger a survival instinct, and we have come to describe this response as ‘coping’. So, in response to the current global pandemic, we all initially went straight into coping mode, which is precisely the right thing to do. In response to our sense of loss of how things should be, we set up new daily routines and new habits that require constant tweaking and adjusting. We are also hyper-vigilant because we feel like we are in continual danger. Because of this siege mentality, it is possible to be exhausted each day without actually having achieved anything. Welcome to the coping zone and survival resilience. This is the first level of resilience, but it is important not to get stuck here. How do you move on? The answer comes from my coaching clients, mentioned above. Strategic resilience I have asked people who suffered health setbacks, business setbacks, and career disappointments what they did to recover. They all said the same thing – they went back to basics. They acknowledged that their confidence was gone, and their self-belief had evaporated, but they also wanted to move on (from coping) so they knew they had to do something. The best investment, then, is brilliant basics – they did the basics of good health, good business, and career development so well and so consistently that they started to feel better. Then, when their mood changed, they began to think better. They then got their shape and discipline back, and their confidence and self-belief flooded back too. Neglect the basics and you will have a setback to deal with; they admitted this also. Strategic resilience is a daily commitment to brilliant basics – basics that are important to you. However, there is one other form of resilience that most people underestimate. Success resilience Having established that resilience is about never neglecting the basics, there is another chapter in the story. If we leave setback and disappointment for the moment and go to the opposite end of the spectrum, to effortless success and achievement, it turns out that brilliant basics are what separate the world’s best from everyone else. The most outstanding performers in any field are the best because they have achieved mastery through a daily commitment to brilliant basics. They make it look easy. They don’t have some magic ingredient that no one else has; they just never neglect the basics. As a result, they get better and better at them, and they don’t stop at strategic resilience – they keep pushing on. A professional marathon runner told me that in almost every race, he ‘hits the wall’ at around the 16-mile mark. He has a mental and physical crisis. Part of him says: “I can’t go on, I’m gonna quit”. He has learned to pick something 10 yards ahead, and the deal is that he will run to that point and then quit. And then he does it again, and again, and again until he starts to feel better. Amid a full body and brain crisis, the ability to do that is advanced sports psychology. This is an example of something really basic, a ten-yard race, that becomes genius. The crisis eventually passes and he gets his shape back in the form of great posture, breathing, and stride length. And sometimes, he even wins the race. Your ten yards I believe that the core basics of good accounting, of great sales, of top customer service, of excellent health, of top-class golf haven’t changed much. The question is: who is doing them better than everyone else? People will want to know their secret but when they find out what it is, they might even be disappointed because it’s so simple. There may be times in life or in work when you don’t feel like you can go on. If, in that moment, you can just cover your equivalent of ten yards, you will be doing genius work and effort. There will be days when we will champion gold medals, awards, and stretch targets. There will also be times when we should champion someone who has enough grit and toughness to keep covering ten yards, even when they feel like they can’t go any further. Neil O’Brien is Founder of Time2Fly.

Jul 22, 2020

As offices begin to re-open, some professionals are looking for ways to retain an element of remote working. In this article, Teresa Stapleton shares her top tips to persuade your employer and make the most of your new arrangement. The COVID-19 lockdown has allowed many people to work remotely for the first time, and explore if they want to do this long-term. While remote working doesn’t suit every business or every role, the lockdown has forced many companies to radically change working practices, opening up the possibility of working remotely for more people in the future. Having worked from home part-time for many years and managed teams in different countries, my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. The time and money saved by not commuting and the flexibility to adjust working hours around other life commitments are significant benefits. Offering flexible working arrangements is also a great way to attract, retain and motivate employees. One of the fundamental principles of flexible working arrangements is that they will only be successful if it is mutually beneficial for the business and the employee. If you think remote working is the right solution for you, here are some tips to set you up for success. 1. Know the terms  Companies offering remote working should have a policy document outlining the terms and conditions to ensure consistency and avoid disputes. This typically describes the aims of the policy, eligibility criteria, the application process, how decisions are made, the appeals process, trial periods, and notice timelines for altering working arrangements to support changing business needs. Remote working applications typically involve the completion of a thorough risk assessment to review potential health and safety issues. The remote working policy should describe how the risk assessment will be completed, who is responsible for providing and maintaining furniture and equipment, and outline any other relevant factors (such as core working hours, insurance, expenses, confidentiality, security, and data privacy). 2. Structure your day It takes time to get used to working remotely and find ways to stay productive. It’s essential to have a schedule and to stick to it. Having a designated quiet space where you can concentrate is also critical, as is good online connectivity with high-speed broadband, video conferencing, and access to company apps and data. Anticipate technology issues and have a back-up plan. For example, have mobile numbers ready so you can stay connected and keep working while offline. Discuss your remote working plans with family or housemates to minimise disruption and get their buy-in. Avoid getting into the habit of constantly checking emails or taking calls outside designated working hours, so you don’t get sucked into long workdays with no time for family, friends or anything else. To avoid cabin fever, take breaks regularly and go outside for walks or exercise to clear your mind, relax and recharge. 3. Set boundaries Many people say they work harder and get more done when working at home. This is sometimes a result of extending the working day, by using the time saved not commuting to get more done. Some find it easier to concentrate at home, with fewer interruptions than the office. Others work through lunch and don’t take many breaks by choice to finish early and free-up time for childcare or other activities. It’s common for remote workers to say that they feel a need to work longer and respond immediately to calls and emails over extended hours to demonstrate their commitment to doing a good job. This ‘always on’ mentality can be draining and may lead to anxiety, stress and even burn-out in extreme cases. It’s a good idea to set boundaries in terms of your availability and share the details with colleagues to manage expectations around reasonable response times. 4. Demonstrate results  Managers will only support remote working if they believe employee performance will be as good, or better, than if the employee was office-based. Having clear objectives and targets is key to any performance management process, but it is even more important for people working remotely when their contribution is less visible. Agreeing up-front the results that are expected and understanding how performance will be assessed are essential for remote workers to ensure that they are fairly treated in performance appraisals and rewards decisions. The most common concerns raised by remote workers during coaching discussions are losing out when it comes to rewards and career progression. Office-based colleagues have a natural advantage as they can interact face-to-face with management, enabling them to build stronger working relationships and raise awareness of their impact, aspirations, and potential. To avoid being left behind, make your impact visible to your manager and others involved in assessing your performance. This typically involves more structured reporting, regular update calls with your direct manager, frequently connecting with stakeholders, and looking for other creative ways to raise your profile. 5. Encourage teamwork  The main concerns raised by managers of remote teams are that teamwork will decline and employee engagement will drop, ultimately reducing performance levels and business results. It takes sustained, conscious effort by everyone to prevent this from happening. Implementing a communications programme at the individual, team, and organisational level is essential to keep people connected, collaborating and engaged. There is, of course, a risk that some employees will become disengaged, and some may miss social interaction with colleagues. Companies new to remote working should raise awareness of the benefits and pitfalls of remote working and explore ideas to make it successful for all concerned. Teresa Stapleton is an Executive Coach at Stapleton Coaching.

Jul 22, 2020

Emma Noonan, Chair at CASSI, shares her time management tips and the key to her early career success. What do you love about your job? There are many aspects of my job that I enjoy, particularly the learning opportunities, challenges, and variety in the tasks I am assigned. However, what I truly love about my job, and what I really value is the people. This is the real differentiator between each firm, and I have been fortunate to work with strong and supportive teams during my time in KPMG. When you are faced with a problem at work, it’s great to be able to turn to a colleague and reach a solution together rather than struggle alone. The teams I have worked with have supported me, challenged me, and taught me everything I have learned so far in my career. So really, I have them to thank for the love I have for my job. What’s the best career decision you’ve ever made? Deciding to study with Chartered Accountants Ireland to become a qualified Chartered Accountant was the best career decision I have ever made. When I was in college, I was on the fence as to what I wanted to do and I found the idea of studying for another three and a half years very daunting. However, my decision was final when I did an internship with Risk Consulting at KPMG, where I saw the direct benefit becoming a Chartered Accountant had on working life in terms of both career development and career potential. I am now in the midst of my contract and I am delighted with the choice I made. How do you organise your time? That is a great question, and I welcome all suggestions! Scheduling everything I must do for the week ahead (both professionally and personally) in my diary works best for me. It has become a habit at this stage, and I always have my diary with me – it’s a great way to get an overview of my weekly plans at a glance. Every week, I write down what I need to achieve so that by 5.30pm on Friday, I will feel as though I have had a productive week. This is something I learned from Pat Divilly and it is a really useful exercise when I feel like I’m not getting enough done. Every day, I align my daily to-do list to my weekly objectives and prioritise each item. To achieve this, I write down realistic and specific to-dos. The more specific I am with my to-dos, the easier I find it to meet my weekly objectives and, as a result, feel more productive. For me, it’s essential to distinguish between my short-term and long-term goals. I can’t achieve everything I want in one day, so I try to bear this in mind as I set my daily tasks to meet my weekly objectives. What has been the key to your career success to date? I have had some small wins in my career so far including passing my CAP1 exams, being elected as CASSI Education Officer, and being elected as the Chair of CASSI this year. My goal at the moment is to build a varied skillset, which will benefit my career in the future. To me, this means taking every learning opportunity I can get my hands on and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. What is the best career advice you ever received? That’s a tough one! I’ve received advice from several mentors and my team in KPMG. However, the one that stands out is: seek to learn. Throughout my career, and with thanks to my firm, I have been exposed to a number of learning opportunities. These range from working with high-profile clients to learning key technical skills such as SQL, POWERBI and Excel. Educational opportunities are extremely important to me and in terms of my career, I endeavour to continuously upskill – sure, that’s exactly what the training contract is for! If you were to change one thing about your professional life, what would it be? Ironically, it would be to have more time. As I settle into my new role as CASSI Chair while working and studying full-time, I find myself struggling to have some downtime. This boils down to time management and what I am currently prioritising. So for now, I’d change how long it takes me to re-order my priorities! What lessons did you learn about yourself, and your work, during the pandemic? I have learned several lessons from both a personal and professional standpoint during COVID-19. However, my two key learning points are: communication and work-life balance. The fundamental role of face-to-face interaction in my daily job became very clear to me as we shifted to working from home, full-time. I learned the importance of open and continued communications, be it client-related or simply a discussion with a team member. In such uncertain times, an email or weekly catch-up really makes a difference when it comes to clarifying the company’s direction of travel for the months ahead. It was interesting to see how smoothly we shifted to online platforms and this has been key to increasing the frequency of communication in recent weeks. That said, I look forward to getting back to the office to see my colleagues, as it’s hard to beat a face-to-face interaction. But for the time being, the likes of Microsoft Teams is an excellent substitute. As a result of COVID-19, I also found myself out of the routine to which I was very much accustomed. It came as a bit of a shock when I realised that working from home wasn’t going to be a short-term thing and I struggled with the uncertainty I was facing. From this, I learned the importance of building and maintaining a work routine as well as factoring in down-time to catch-up virtually with friends and family. It took some time to get used to my kitchen/office hybrid, but I’ve settled in nicely to my new routine.

Jul 22, 2020

Bring your personal brand to life before, during and after an interview with these ten tips from Áine Killilea. 1. Be clear with your key messages  Your cover letter should state clearly the position you are applying for, and make a compelling case as to why you are the best candidate for the role. These are the most vital objectives of any cover letter and while they should take priority, you also want your potential employer to connect with you as a person. Refrain from using industry business jargon – you may end up diluting your value and confusing the reader, which would make any form of human connection virtually impossible. 2. Show up as your best, authentic self We always want to put our best foot forward at an interview. “Be yourself” might be a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s excellent advice. If you shine a spotlight on your best attributes in an interview, in the knowledge that every word you’re saying is valid, it makes it easier to get into a confident stride. If you’re trying to oversell yourself, there’s a high chance you’ll end up even more nervous and could contradict yourself during the interview. 3. Refine your elevator pitch Your elevator pitch is a quick snapshot of your background and experience. It should be 30 seconds in length and inform your prospective interviewer who you are, what you do, and what you want to do. Communicate your elevator pitch by giving it a story structure; this makes it more interesting, both to tell and to listen to. And when you have finalised your elevator pitch, refine it to reflect the requirements of the particular role for which you are applying. To update and create consistent content across all of your communications, adapt and use your elevator pitch as the introduction on your CV, your cover letter, and your LinkedIn ‘about’ section. And include keywords from your elevator pitch in your LinkedIn headline to help prospective recruiters and employers find you among the masses. If delivered compellingly, your elevator pitch will help you build business relationships throughout your career. It can also help you connect more meaningfully with colleagues on day one of your new role. 4. Align your values Research the values of the company you wish to join. Consider which of your own values truly align with the company’s values, and include them in your CV, cover letter, elevator pitch, and in how you answer interview questions. This will help your prospective employer more easily envision you slotting in with the company’s ethos and culture. 5. Communicate your core messages Identify the core messages of your professional personal brand and incorporate them in your communication with the interview panel. Doing so will reinforce critical messages and ensure that you won’t have that rueful “I never told them I could…” feeling after the interview. 6. Prepare stories Stories connect us to people. The job description highlights the characteristics of the role you’re applying for, so prepare a variety of stories which demonstrate each of these characteristics. Give each story a beginning, middle and end. And keep them brief – this will make the remembering and telling of each story much easier. 7. Listen! In the rush to communicate your suitability for the role, it can be easy to forget to listen or to mishear what is being asked of you. Listen to what is being said, and take a breath before answering the question. Doing so will reinforce your value as a measured and discerning candidate. 8. Dress as if you already belong there Leverage your personal style by indicating through the use of colour that you fit in with the company. If possible, incorporate a colour used in the organisation’s branding in your interview clothing (if the organisation’s branding features purple, for example, wear a purple tie or handbag). This gesture creates a visual cue that you already belong in the organisation. 9. Manage your online presence Social media is a fantastic way to showcase your skills, interests and network. A recent study by the Society For Human Resource Management found that 84% of employers recruit via social media, and 43% of employers screen job candidates through social networks and search engines. The same study found that 36% of companies have disqualified job candidates after doing an online search or viewing an applicant’s social media! With this in mind, Google yourself and ensure that prospective employers will find only favourable information when they do the same. Also, review your social media accounts – including those you don’t currently use, but have in the past – to ensure nothing could go against you in the eyes of a prospective employer. Use your elevator pitch as your starting point and when posting online, reflect your values and highlight clearly what you have to offer to the companies you wish to be employed by. 10. Reflect your personal brand in VIRTUAL interviews Online interviews can also present you with opportunities to highlight your personal brand to companies before you even speak. Pay attention to your clothing, background and lighting as this will emphasise your attention to detail, which is a skill consistently sought by employers.   Áine Killilea is Director of Áine Image & Communications and Founding Director  of Evolve PR.

Jul 22, 2020

Jonathan Rockett, CFO at Ding, looks back on his career progression from his early days at PwC to his current role in a fast-growing company.What does your role as CFO at Ding entail? Finance is one area of the business that has full visibility from left to right across Ding’s different business lines, and also top to bottom in terms of operational infrastructure to support those business lines.In general, the CFO role can be quite broad and can look entirely different in different company contexts. My role is varied, but the core aspects involve reporting to the board on current and projected performance or KPIs; tax and treasury projects associated with geographic expansion; financial planning in terms of the short-term and long-term requirements of the company; and strategic decisions on the next phase of the company’s growth, as we are at a pivotal stage in our scale-up. Finance touches all teams and projects in Ding. We are embedded in the commercial and operational running of business lines, where the global pricing function manages the pricing negotiations for new deals and amends pricing based on FX trends associated with the various currencies we deal in. To what do you attribute your career success? Attitude and a variety of experiences. I have always been driven and committed to succeeding in this industry, which has played a decisive role in getting me to where I am today.In terms of experience, I had the privilege of working in a variety of roles in several companies. The different skills I gained along the way have been instrumental in laying the foundations for my current position.At PwC Assurance, I refined my accuracy and attention to detail in working through technical accounting standards. In PwC Transaction Services, I gained exposure to project delivery under extremely tight deadlines and upskilled in the application of a commercial lens of analysis in the presentation of numbers. This ability to leverage data to deduce and communicate the real KPIs and value drivers across various industries has been invaluable, and I continue to build on this expertise to this day. At Paddy Power, I learned the importance of process and system automation to enhance team output in cross-functional departments.These experiences shaped the way I work and gave me the skills I needed to succeed in this industry. Ding went through an intense M&A period with three acquisitions, for instance, and my experience in transaction services was central to the successful completion of each deal from a finance perspective.Describe your career planning process. People advise you to look at your career in stages of three to five years. Whether by design or accident, I followed that process relatively closely.University was phase one, and my ambitions were to complete my bachelor’s degree in business and economics at Trinity College Dublin, followed by a masters degree in accountancy from UCD Smurfit Business School. I then wanted to work in a Big Four accountancy firm and gain my ACA qualification. During my first year in PwC, I also decided to pursue my tax exams. That decision has been particularly beneficial in my current role in a global operation as it has allowed me to understand potential tax implications.The second phase began after I completed my three-year training contract. I knew that assurance wasn’t my long-term target, so I applied for – and secured – a Transaction Services position in PwC. It was more commercial in nature, and built on the skills I developed during the previous four years.After interacting with company leaders on due diligence projects and getting a grasp on the business drivers of their growth and success, it didn’t take me long to realise that I wanted to work in industry long-term. The most important consideration for me was the company and the strategic direction it was moving in, and this marked the beginning of phase three. Paddy Power was in high-growth mode and offered me the perfect opportunity to deploy the competencies I had developed at PwC. It also exposed me to a more multifunctional team and operational environment. The ability to work cross-functionally is a critical competency that becomes increasingly important as you progress through your career.Most recently, phase four began when I was contacted about a role in Ding. I was immediately interested as the market opportunity was – and remains – huge. The role of Head of Finance, which I was first appointed to, was expansive, encompassing full profit and loss visibility as well as tax, treasury and financial operations teams. It allowed me to play a material role in the company story, and being a part of a fast-growing company in scale-up mode was very attractive to me.What do you look for when hiring or promoting talent?One of the key characteristics I look for when hiring is the desire and drive to improve and make a change. At Ding, our evolution and growth means that there are plenty of opportunities to grow and expand within roles if you have the ambition to do so.I always look to assess if new employees can evolve and take on new responsibilities as the company grows and expands. The phrase “surround yourself with good people” is underrated and is something that resonated with me in recent years. It underscores a team and a company’s ability to be successful.What is the best career advice you ever received? The best piece of advice I received is ‘never take a job, or stay in a job, you no longer learn from’. This has led me to ensure that every new job, new year and new quarter presents a challenge that allows for my continual development and improvement.If you were to change one thing about your career choices, what would it be?While I look back with fond memories of the different stages of my career, you only truly learn from the mistakes you make. So embrace the mistakes, learn from them, and continually aim to improve.Overall, there is nothing I would change about the  career path I chose. I feel incredibly lucky that, in every role and company I have worked in, I have continued to expand my skillset and learn from individuals operating at the top of their fields. All of these have brought me to Ding, which is an exciting place to be.  

Jul 22, 2020

Soft skills are already essential assets, but employers will look for particular aptitudes as the pandemic subsides and the ‘new normal’ takes hold. By Dr. Annette Clancy Coronavirus has changed how we work and how we live. The rapid change to online and remote working has challenged many of us as we juggle home, work, and caring responsibilities. This period has also helped to surface and refine new types of skills that will be essential in the ‘new’ world of work. Here, I reflect on just a few of them. 1. Adaptability COVID-19 forced companies to adapt and change with unprecedented speed. Change is always on the agenda, but the pandemic accelerated it. To succeed in the future, workers will need to continually update their skills and be willing to adapt and be flexible. Job titles won’t necessarily fully describe the breadth of roles. In job interviews, candidates will need to give clear examples of how they have put these skills to work because the traditional CV won’t convey the nuance of someone’s adaptability. The conventional cover letter will also need more thought and will need to be adapted to each employer’s particular circumstance. 2. Creativity and innovation Businesses have always had to come up with new ways to deliver services, but COVID-19 highlighted just how important creativity and innovation are to survival. The Abbey Theatre, for example, unable to present work on stage, created ‘Dear Ireland’ and invited Irish writers to write a postcard to Ireland – it asked them to imagine what Ireland might need to talk about during this time. The Abbey Theatre commissioned 50 writers to write monologues for 50 actors, each of whom performed on camera in lockdown. These performances were then broadcast live on the Abbey’s YouTube channel at the end of May (they are still available to view on YouTube). The Abbey Theatre performs work on stage directly to an audience, so this type of pivot was a gamble for the theatre. However, the quality of the idea, its passion for creating work for Irish artists, and the novelty of delivery carried this over the line. This type of creativity and innovation, commitment to care for employees, and desire to connect with customers will be a crucial skill in a post-coronavirus environment. 3. Managing remote teams Many of us have come to terms with Skype, Microsoft Teams and Zoom as part of our day-to-day routine during the pandemic. Some organisations such as Facebook and Twitter are now planning for permanent remote working. We are also likely to see remote working policies in many other non-technology firms in the future. The ability to manage remote teams effectively will be a critical skill in a post-coronavirus context, but this means more than managing a conversation with 12 people in a Zoom room! Research tells us, for example, that issues of trust are magnified when team members are remote (do you trust someone when you can’t see them?) Research also tells us that the maximum number for a remote team is 100. Beyond this number, it is difficult for people to engage in a task. Managing relations with, and between, people who will never be in the same room is a sophisticated skill that will be much in demand as remote working increases. 4. Critical thinking COVID-19 spread rapidly throughout the world and due to the shortage of research and reliable information, fake news and unreliable data spread with comparable speed. Business leaders, politicians, and governments wanted to shift blame and avoid scrutiny. The capacity to parse information to determine what is accurate and reliable will be a valuable skill. Businesses need to know that objective and credible data inform their decisions. The capacity to critically analyse data to establish an informed opinion will, therefore, be valuable in the post-coronavirus world. 5. Trust-building and leadership There have been stark differences in the type of leadership exhibited by those charged with guiding us through the COVID-19 pandemic. The unsuccessful leaders are those who tried to offer certainty by making false claims and offering false hope. The most successful leaders have built trust, admitted what they don’t know, and managed anxiety. Leaders do not always know the answer, but they recognise that followers are afraid in times of uncertainty. They also know that part of their role is to hold and contain uncertainty. In the future, this type of trust-building and containing skill will be more important than the ‘strong man’ version of leadership we have seen fail during this pandemic. 6. Emotional intelligence If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that anxiety is very real and it has severe consequences. In the future, employers will look for people who can assess the circumstances around them while also paying close attention to the emotional impact of decisions. Skills such as reflection and, more importantly, reflexivity will be critical. How well do you know yourself emotionally? How well do you know your impact on other people? What changes can you make to your management style as a result of knowing the answers to these questions? These are not intellectual questions that call for snappy answers at an interview; they are emotional questions that require an ongoing process, such as coaching, to answer. These six skills are not a definitive list, but they offer a baseline from which others can develop. Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor of Management at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy.

Jul 22, 2020

Niamh McInerney shares practical tips for job-searching during a pandemic. When we look back over the last six months, the speed of change from a growth economy to one with a challenging financial path ahead is staggering. COVID-19 has had an immediate and unprecedented impact on businesses with some able to work through, some temporarily closed, and others closed permanently. What does this mean for jobs, your prospects, and the ability to find the right job for you in this new environment? While we have seen recruitment freezes over this period, the economy is now starting to open up again and businesses are beginning to hire. In that context, here is some advice on how to put your best foot forward. Leverage LinkedIn We all know how vital LinkedIn is when looking for a job, but LinkedIn is also a critical channel when a company is looking to hire people with specific skills. Here are some ways to boost your prospects: Step back from the language and read it through to confirm that it reflects your CV in the round. View other role models’ profiles for inspiration. Ensure that your profile includes language akin to job descriptions relevant to your search. Follow the companies in which you are interested. Only ‘like’ relevant posts with which you agree. Share relevant content on LinkedIn (think of it as Facebook, but for your professional life). Be proactive As the market re-opens, it will be competitive. There are some practical, proactive steps you can take: Research the companies and roles in which you are interested. Check out the latest news sites for the issues they are commenting on, as well as their website. Scan relevant jobs boards regularly. Reach out to recruiters and share your CV. While there may be a hiring freeze in certain sectors, you might be called first if they have your details. Follow companies’ social media to get better insights, and also to hear about job opportunities they may have. If a company is hiring, find out the closing date and apply well in advance of this to avoid any technical issues. Use the time to upskill While you may have more time on your hands, smart upskilling will help you bridge the gaps on your CV to what companies are looking for in their job descriptions. There are many free resources available online or through courses that will help you. An excellent place to start is somewhere like Coursera – there are thousands of courses available online on a range of topics. Webinars are also an excellent opportunity to learn from industry experts, so have a hunt around and sign-up to useful webinars in relevant industries. Digital is key to everything we do now; this has been highlighted since working from home, and collaborating with our teams is set to continue as we seek to serve our clients’ needs. There are great quick wins here, like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets courses. You can also make considerable advances in more specialist software like Altryx or Tableau, which are used increasingly in businesses. Many of these courses are free and have communities to help you upskill. PwC has also developed a digital fitness app, which assesses your capabilities and suggests mini courses to help advance your digital skills and track your progress. It can be accessed through the App Store and Google Play Store, with the login code ‘lRNALL’. PwC adds new learning assets to the tool weekly to reflect the latest developments and thinking. Once you download the app, be sure to take the self-assessment, which takes less than 15 minutes to complete. Upon completion, you’ll be given your digital fitness score and your personalised learning feed. Avoid over-looking the short-term Although a job may appear to be short-term on the surface, do not say no straight away. Such roles can sometimes lead to long-term opportunities. I moved to my current position, for example, from assurance on secondment for one year. Four years later, I’m still here. Even if a position remains short-term in nature, such opportunities give great depth to your CV as you learn about new industries, businesses, and systems while expanding your network and enhancing your relationships. Your network and connections are particularly important in these times. Be creative with friends I would also encourage you to be creative with friends at this time, when some of you may have more time on your hands than usual. What could you do together that you would otherwise not get the opportunity to do normally? Be brave and go for it. These are unusual times of momentous change, and with that comes new opportunities. If you get practical, focused, and seek out the opportunities, you will hopefully be able to begin a bright new chapter in your career. I wish you the best of luck. Niamh McInerney is Head of Graduate Recruitment at PwC Ireland.

Jul 22, 2020

Flexible working was a ‘nice to have’ six months ago, but COVID-19 has given it pole position in business strategy and planning. And that won’t change as the crisis fades, writes Ed Heffernan. We can be sure of very few things in the next 12-18 months. Right now, some fundamental changes are happening in the world of work – changes both in the jobs market itself and in the way we work. In Barden, we have a few predictions for you about precisely that. What will the jobs market for accountants be like in the year ahead? In the short-term, people will work harder. Companies will be reluctant to replace headcount in finance or hire additional finance people, for a while at least. That means the current workload will be shared among the team that is now in place. This will likely result in a higher workload per person, but it may also offer a more diverse mix of activity in finance roles (which could be positive if approached and managed correctly).  The market has shifted from candidate-driven to client-driven. Supply will, for a time, exceed the demand and this will have an impact on salaries. We predict that wages will drop by roughly 5% in the next 12 months, but are unlikely to drop much further. The majority of accountants are still gainfully employed and will continue to be remunerated at pre-COVID-19 levels. Good accountants are less likely to move for less money. Bonuses and salary increases for 2020/21 are very likely to be put on ice in most companies. And don’t expect salary reviews in the next 12 months to be as favourable as those in 2019. Candidates will also have to work a little harder and be a little more flexible when looking for a role. With less demand for people, candidates will have fewer options and must, therefore, be less prescriptive in their job search. They will need to be flexible when it comes to trading variables such as location, salary, the nature of the role, the kind of employment (more on that below), the type of business and so on if they want to advance their careers externally in the years ahead. Contract roles will rebound faster than permanent roles. As with all previous recessions, the jobs market will rebound first through contract positions, followed by permanent roles. Why? Contract roles represent a temporary commitment/spend and are therefore easier to get approved in an uncertain market. Contract roles are often a “must hire” to cover key personnel during maternity/paternity leave. Project work associated with finance business process transformations to drive efficiency (and ultimately lower costs) are often recruited for on a contract basis. Many roles that are usually permanent will be recruited on a contract basis initially and, assuming improved trading conditions, will ultimately be made permanent (which has the knock-on effect of reducing the number of permanent roles that come to market). The value of contract roles for ambitious people should not be underestimated in the months ahead. While a near full recovery is predicted by many for 2021/2022, the jobs market for accountants will lag slightly behind as many companies will invest in direct revenue-generating recruits first (sales roles, for example) and indirect revenue-generating recruits second (such as accountants). It will take some time to return to a normalised jobs market, but the astute finance professional that spends this time wisely will position themselves well for when that time comes. How will work, work in the future? First, flexible working will become more normalised. At a basic level, people will likely have more flexibility on start and finish times (staggered working patterns), more flexibility when it comes to working between the office and home, and more options to structure their working week to suit themselves (four-day weeks, condensed working hours, or a 40-hour week but work when you want, for example). Wider adoption of flexible working will have enormously positive effects on how life and work interact, as well as productivity. Second, companies will re-think how they view the connection between job and location. Right now, these things are synonymous – a financial controller role in the New York office, for example. In the future, the two may not be so tightly connected – a financial controller role supporting the New York business, for example. In this context, flexible working enables remote working within the business itself. If companies are happy for their people to work from home, does it matter where that home is? This thinking has both opportunity and risk for accountants in Ireland. The danger is that this thinking further enables the relocation of jobs to lower-cost locations. The opportunity is that this thinking might enable talented, sought-after people to choose where they live first, and what company and role they want second. If a highly skilled statutory accountant lives in Waterford, they may be no longer limited to jobs in their immediate vicinity; they could take a role previously held by an office-attending person in Dublin – or London, for that matter. The blurring of the connection between job and location is not a new concept, but the adoption of remote working policies has the potential to bring it to a whole new level. This shift could see Ireland change from a local jobs market to a global jobs market, which would have enormous and far-reaching consequences. And third, there will be a shift in the tools we use every day. Companies will need to invest in infrastructure, security, and team working tools to both enable and make the most of this new flexible working landscape. Expect the continued proliferation of virtual meeting technology and its rapid advancement to virtual reality meeting technology. Expect a complete reorganisation of recruitment and onboarding processes to accommodate this new approach to working. Expect home office set-up costs to become a part of benefits packages. Expect the creation of HR functions to accommodate, monitor, and enhance flexible working processes. Expect all this, and a whole lot more. The future of work will not look like the past, but with change comes opportunity; opportunity for those willing to embrace change.

Jul 22, 2020

With companies tightening their belts, technology budgets are on the chopping block. However, Robert Byrne suggests that more technology investment is needed as we navigate the crisis, not less. It’s clear that it’s another tough time for businesses. Belts are understandably tightening with capital investment going towards plexiglass screens and other social distancing measures so staff and customers can safely interact and operate in our new COVID reality.  Unsurprisingly, companies that had invested in technology and digital platforms prior to the COVID-19 crisis have seen clear benefits – some benefits as fundamental as helping them to survive and stay in business. Despite the pressure on budgets that all organisations are feeling, to survive and thrive in the next economic chapter will require more digital investment, not less.  PwC recently launched the findings from its Chief Information Officers survey that was conducted across 11 countries in Europe, including Ireland. One significant finding from this report is that a notable proportion of respondents in Ireland (36%) are planning a reduction in IT investment for the remainder of 2020 and beyond. However, recent events have clearly shown the benefits of technology investment. Outlined below are three significant benefits from technology investment that were observed by organisations during the initial months of COVID-19. Agility In times of crisis, organisations need to be agile and technology is a key enabler of this. Those organisations that had invested in remote working and collaboration technology minimised disruption and saw real benefits during this crisis. They have been able to maintain sales, serve customers and continue to work together throughout the disruption. Investment in digital tools and collaboration technologies over the past few years enabled companies, including PwC, to move to full remote working over a single weekend while seamlessly continuing to serve our clients. Looking forward, organisations now need to consider their future agility needs (e.g. increased resource mobility, faster decision-making capability, new routes to market) and invest now to enable this capability.  Responsiveness  COVID-19 generated significant volumes of information and processing requests for certain organisations. Examples included banks dealing with massive surges in queries and payment break requests, insurance companies addressing large volumes of quotes and policy information requests etc. Those that had invested in technologies such as automation and data analytics have been able to respond quickly to the urgent set of demands placed on them by COVID-19. Looking forward, organisations now need to consider how to apply these technologies to develop their responsiveness in a business as usual context. Customer experience  Organisations that have invested in their digital channels have demonstrated their ability to increase market reach, improve customer experience and increase revenues. COVID-19 has been one of the greatest triggers for digital transformation. Providing your customers with a rich digital experience is more important than ever in retaining and delighting your customers. Companies in all sectors have had to innovate at pace and embrace digital channels to engage with their customers. Looking forward, organisations now need to invest in further developing a strong digital experience for their customers to reduce the impact of limited face-to-face interaction. Despite the temptation to weather the storm and reduce IT investment until economic conditions improve, technology can give organisations the edge in these uncertain times. As organisations shift the focus from survival to emerging from COVID-19, now more than ever, technology investment is a key enabler of your future success. Robert Byrne is a Partner in Technology Advisory in PwC.

Jul 17, 2020

In March, organisations had to act quickly to create a remote working culture in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Now, they need to consider what the next phase of work will look like, and how and where work will be done into the future. Kevin Empey explains. COVID-19 has prompted a lot of discussion about the next phase of work and working life. For many, the pandemic has provided an unwelcome but informative and possibly pivotal experiment in how and where we work. It has also accelerated trends and practices in world of work that were already happening, bringing them firmly into the mainstream. Most agree that we will not return to pre-COVID ways of working, nor will we see continue with this pandemic model of work we have experienced in recent months. The next phase of working life will be some form of a blended approach that historically carries a variety of labels such as remote working, flexible working and smart working. Whatever label we choose for it, employers (and employees) now have an opportunity to create a broader working culture – beyond the provision of ad-hoc flexible, technology-enabled, remote working practices which, on their own, may miss a much bigger message and opportunity. Levels of flexible working There is a clear spectrum of strategies or ‘levels’ that employers have taken in relation to flexible working. While health and well-being concerns are clearly dictating short-term return-to-work approaches, these different levels of flexible working are now informing more deliberate, ambitious and strategic workforce options that employers are considering for the longer-term. The choice of strategy comes down to whatever best suits the future business model, culture, and talent strategy for each organisation. The choice of approach should also complement other transformation objectives and not just be a stand-alone, isolated initiative.   Tactical levels – focused mainly on employees only Level 0 – Little or no flexible working offered or actively promoted. Level 1 – No formal guidelines but some ad-hoc, isolated and unstructured practices have evolved over time and are allowed. Mainly based on informal agreements and accommodating some work-life balance arrangements. Level 2 – Formal guidelines do exist but limited based on certain clear parameters e.g. Fridays optional for remote working or 80% expected in the office etc. Specific arrangements that are role specific and not universal across all job types. Strategic levels – focused jointly on the business and the employee Level 3 – Formal guidelines and principles exists as part of a wider workforce strategy. More freedom and discretion allowed at local business, team, and individual level. Parameters exist based on business and customer needs, but they are kept to a minimum. Remote working seen as part of a deliberate and wider agile working culture and integrated with other programmes and people priorities, e.g. diversity and inclusion, talent and skills strategy, recruitment etc.  Level 4 – Maximum level of freedom and choice provided. Clear business rationale (e.g. talent, efficiency, dispersed workforce, property benefits etc.) for optimal remote working offering and formally expressed as part of the organisation strategy.  Working remotely accepted as the normal practice with variances based on business need to be in the office for certain activities. These COVID times are presenting a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ‘reset’ a vision for how work will be designed in the future. This will help not only to increase organisational agility and future-fitness, but it will also distinguish employers in the battle for top talent who will be watching your next move with huge interest. Talent that will have higher expectations regarding how and where they work than they have ever had before. Kevin Empey is the Managing Director of WorkMatters Consulting.

Jul 17, 2020

Uptake in remote working brings about big cybersecurity issues. How can organisations keep themselves and their end-users safe? Ross Spelman outlines the best ways to mitigate the risks. It is nearly four months since most businesses in Ireland moved to remote working from home. It was evident early on in the crisis that most organisations coped well with the initial challenges, exceeding expectations in delivering remote working and collaboration capabilities at scale. The investment of time, money and effort in business continuity and crisis management planning paid off for many organisations and essential services providers. Many organisations across all sectors have executed their crisis management strategies with relative ease. Security, however, can often be sacrificed in times of rapid change – not just the direct implications of technology changes, but also indirectly through changes to behaviours and processes. More “mature” organisations (from a cyber perspective) were able to introduce essential technology solutions by making smart, quick risk-based tactical decisions, without sacrificing security or compliance. While security is often described as a “non-negotiable” by the C-Suite, it is not easy for the security function to push back on a wide-spread Zoom or Teams deployment due to security, configuration or privacy concerns. Addressing these concerns early on has been vital in the successful introduction of these solutions, as demonstrated in the media since April (and before). The risks in our new way of working The transition into the next phases of the crisis and beyond into the new ways of working will present several risks, including the potential for complacency. Organisations will need to remain vigilant and closely monitor the evolving threat landscape and their threat profile. They should continue to make users aware of their security obligations and provide guidance on specific risks. Broad phishing attacks, for example, have been reported globally since the outset of the pandemic, and now we are seeing an increase in targeted spear phishing attacks, particularly against the healthcare industry and pharmaceutical companies. Phishing attack simulation exercises should be considered to heighten awareness. Safe computing practices It is critical for organisations to provide continuous guidance to end-users on safe computing practices. End-users may begin to work from alternative locations including public places, such as local coffee shops, which may introduce risks. Even at home, guidance should be provided for remote workers on securing their environment, including the secure configuration of home wireless networks and the dangers of unauthorised software installation and shadow IT. These are potentially significant risks. Above all, multi-factor authentication should be in place for all users connecting to the corporate network remotely from anywhere, and organisations should review the appropriateness of their existing identity and access management solutions. Enhanced security monitoring Other considerations are to enhance security monitoring and testing processes. Reviewing and improving the scope and granularity of end-user systems and access monitoring will help to ensure that organisations have a comprehensive view of remote user activities with no gaps, particularly for remote users with privileged administrative access. Additionally, increasing the regularity and breadth of vulnerability assessments and penetration testing will provide added assurance. Critical resource planning Critical resource planning is another area which can often be overlooked during a crisis. Organisations should be looking at succession plans and already have a strategy in place to ensure that they have a level of resilience for critical cybersecurity roles. This can be achieved by documenting critical procedures and cross training across the wider team. Reviewing crisis and incident management practices for ease of execution by a remote workforce is important, and should include both incident response and data breach requirements. Trust but verify The old saying “trust but verify” is very apt when it comes to remote working. Organisations should review and enhance their monitoring capability to account for their ever-evolving threat profile. This should include additional security testing and reviews of the security controls for the remote workforce.  Planning for the worst is a proactive approach. Organisations should consider all facets of their third-party relationships, including security questionnaire responses, service level agreements and contractual obligations in supporting the organisation to continue to operate securely. A good understanding of cyber threats and existing vulnerabilities is fundamental for effective cyber risk management. With a surge in remote access, an organisation’s identity access management, VPN and security information and event management solutions will increase in priority as critical components in a defence-in-depth approach to security. Reviewing, testing and monitoring all aspects of these controls is critical. Additionally, encryption and data loss prevention solutions is crucial for protecting data on end-user systems and devices. Finally, by educating users on the cyber risks associated with the current crisis and secure remote computing practices, the likelihood of end-users being compromised will be reduced. Ross Spelman is Director of Cyber Risk Services at EY Consulting.

Jul 16, 2020
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