How can you increase your bottom line during the challenging times we are currently operating in? Ciara McMullin outlines where VAT law can help businesses to gain short-term cash flow improvements. It is a truth universally acknowledged that cash is the lifeblood of business. Given the challenging times we are currently operating in, many companies are looking for innovative ways to increase their bottom line while improving their management of day-to-day operational costs. While maintaining cash flow is always vital to the success of any business, it is even more relevant during periods of unprecedented uncertainty. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Irish Revenue have introduced certain limited VAT measures targeted at small and medium enterprises (SMEs). There are, however, several mechanisms already provided for in VAT law, and generally accepted indirect tax practice, which can be used by any business (once relevant) to gain short-term cash flow improvements. If these simple strategies are appropriately implemented, the impact on cash flow could offer a significant boost to businesses during these times of need. VAT Cost Reduction Input VAT recovery methodology Ultimately, all businesses with restricted input VAT recovery need to ensure that the method in place for recovering VAT on dual-use inputs, being the percentage of VAT deductible on costs used both for VATable and non-deductible activities, correctly reflects the use to which the underlying costs are put. As a result of such a review, additional costs may be identified as being attributable to VATable supplies which, coupled with an overall change in the basis for calculating the input VAT blockage, could lead to significant improvements. Accounts payable review A review of accounts payable to consider if all input VAT incurred has been recovered, where permitted, can prove fruitful. In our experience, many businesses under-recover VAT either on categories of expenses, through mis-postings or failure to identify foreign VAT eligible for recovery. Not only can this lead to future cost reductions, but there may also be the opportunity to submit historic reclaims to tax authorities for any identified under-claimed VAT on such costs. Overseas input tax recovery Foreign VAT often remains unclaimed even though there are now efficient procedures in place to reclaim non-Irish VAT incurred. A refund of foreign VAT incurred by Irish and EU traders can be made through the Electronic VAT Refund (EVR) procedure, by submitting a claim via Revenue Online Services (ROS) (or the businesses relevant Tax Authority portal) within the relevant time limits. A reclaim for input VAT recovery on costs incurred in other EU Member States in 2019 must be submitted by an Irish trader to Revenue via ROS by 30 September 2020. The claim being made is still, however, subject to the VAT deductibility rules in the jurisdiction in which the VAT was incurred.  Bad debt relief (BDR) If a debt has been written off as an irrecoverable debt, the business should be able to obtain relief for all or part of the VAT paid on the original supply to the customer in default. Where large debts are written off, significant savings can be made.  VAT Cashflow Input tax accrual Operating an input tax accrual with a view to recovering VAT on invoices received but unposted to the accounting records in the earliest possible VAT return is another cash flow optimisation strategy worth considering at this time. If implemented correctly, substantial cash flow benefits can arise. VAT grouping Where there are considerable VATable costs between related entities, the cash flow benefits of forming a VAT group are also worth bearing in mind. Once VAT grouped, the VAT group remitter files a single VAT return per period for the entire group and accounts for any VAT due to Revenue. VAT does not need to be charged nor VAT invoices raised on supplies between VAT grouped entities, with the exception of property transactions. Accordingly, a significant positive cash flow impact can be availed of by forming a VAT group. VAT56B authorisation A qualifying business that holds a valid Section 56 authorisation is entitled to receive certain goods and services from Irish suppliers with a zero-rate of VAT applying as well as importing goods free from VAT. Eligibility to participate in this scheme can be a significant cash-flow benefit as it removes the requirement for suppliers to charge VAT on qualifying supplies in the first instance, and eliminates the necessity for a subsequent reclaim of this VAT on the business’s periodic VAT return. A business may avail of this relief if 75% of total annual turnover is derived from supplying goods to other EU countries (intra-community supplies), exporting goods to countries outside the EU or making supplies of certain contract work. Consider tax point of invoices Businesses could also consider the VAT tax points of their supplies and explore the timing of when VAT is due for payment. Consideration should also be given to when reverse charge obligations are triggered from supplies bought in from overseas. Other opportunities worth considering at this time are the offsetting of tax liabilities, e.g. using a VAT repayment to fund Employment Taxes or Corporation Tax or (re)negotiating customer and supplier payment terms (accounts payable seek longer payment terms; accounts receivable seek shorter payment terms). Ciara McMullin is an Indirect Tax Senior Manager with Deloitte.

Jun 05, 2020

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

Jun 02, 2020

Building a culture of inclusion and belonging is now more important than ever. Rachel Power shares her insights from PwC’s experience thus far. Not that long ago, we were all clear on our plans. Our strategies were set, with events and meetings scheduled in the diversity and inclusion calendar for the year ahead. All the behaviours and operating norms we took for granted changed in what seemed like the flick of a switch. COVID-19 has led to new terms in the diversity and inclusion (D&I) world, which we would not have understood just a few months ago. The main one at the heart of PwC’s strategy is ‘inclusive distancing’ – how can we all be more inclusive while maintaining a distance that is outside the norm. Another element that is core to our current D&I work is just how little has changed. While our medium may differ, the core elements of our strategy remain the same around inclusion, wellness and flexibility and focusing on tools and training for the future. Our long-standing D&I values have helped us navigate through this crisis, and this was supported in no small part by our investment in technology.  More important than ever Several items already high on our strategic agenda have helped us navigate and transition relatively seamlessly into this new remote working world, in which building on our culture of inclusion and belonging is more important than ever. Our D&I focus was on three areas before the arrival of COVID-19, and all three ring true during this time: Nurturing an environment of inclusion and belonging; Living our values, putting wellness and flexibility at the core; and Leveraging tools and training for the future. We set these objectives before the pandemic, but they are still as relevant now as ever. Transforming our workforce and the way we work requires us to have diverse, talented people from different backgrounds; people who have different experiences and who bring innovation, creativity, and fresh perspectives. No one size fits all This new era of working remotely – or smart working, as we call it – brings challenges that can present in different ways for our diverse team. We are all different, with distinct personal circumstances, and deal with problems in unique ways. Some people are balancing work and caring for their family; others may be away from their family and friends. Some have family on the front line, relatives who have been sick, or family members who may not be well. A one-size approach certainly does not fit all. While many of us worked flexibly before the crisis, our approach to flexibility has been taken to a new level. Arrangements that worked in the past are in many cases no longer viable, as many of our people now balance many things including work. The new world of flexible working may, therefore, involve doing some work very early and then taking a couple of hours during the day for caring responsibilities or exercise, before returning to work later. It is all about balance and finding ways to make it work. Again, this comes back to having inclusive and values-based leaders and ensuring that the right conversations happen so that the solutions work for everyone. Focus on wellbeing Focusing on the wellbeing of our people, particularly to support those struggling with a diverse range of circumstances, has been at the top of our priority list at PwC. Through our Be Well, Work Well programme, we provide a variety of supports including one-to-one psychologist sessions, parenting, nutrition and fitness classes, and we continue to host regular wellbeing seminars. Communicating regularly with our people, and in different ways, has been vital. From transforming our intranet into a ‘smart hub for smart working’ to regular emails, leadership briefings and FAQs, we continue to foster a culture of inclusion. There is undoubtedly more to do as the end to this pandemic is far from sight. However, our values, strategic direction, and technology will help steer us through this and ultimately strengthen D&I throughout our firm and beyond. Rachel Power is Diversity & Inclusion Senior Manager at PwC Ireland.

Jun 02, 2020

Ronan Dunne draws on his experience at the highest echelons of business to share his six leadership lessons. When I first worked in London as a banker, I was promoted three times in a period of about 15 months. I was an eager and highly qualified Chartered Accountant but in the first 12 months I worked late every evening. Then, I started working on Saturday and Sunday. I worked my socks off and for the first year, it was a remarkably successful strategy – but then, I hit a wall. I had no more capacity. It was a completely unsustainable model and it did not take me long to realise that unless I could invent an eighth day in the week, I would need to change my management style. The lessons that follow are based on my experience as a Chartered Accountant in business, and one who often had to learn lessons the hard way. Some may be more relevant to you than others, but I nevertheless hope that you find them useful. Lesson 1: It is not what you do, it is what you make happen When Chartered Accountants start out in their careers, they are largely personal contributors. They have a very specific role and success is defined by the outcome or the output of their particular job. Increasingly, however, we realise that this approach is based on an old-fashioned, hierarchical business model. In modern society, and for millennials in particular, painting inside the lines is not an attractive proposition – even in your first job. So, discover as early as possible in your career that your success does not just depend exclusively on what you do; it also hinges on what you make happen. Your capacity to impact and influence is infinite but your output is simply defined by hours in the day, no matter how hard and fast you work. At every point in your career, you have the opportunity to impact and influence those around you. Key takeaway: Take the opportunity to make a difference when it comes your way. Lesson 2: To be an effective leader, build an effective team The capacity to exceed expectations lies in how you blend the skills and capabilities of those around you. Effective teams do not simply do what any other team would; effective teams harness the unique talent, perspectives, and experience of their individual members in a way that enables the collective to achieve outcomes that would not otherwise be possible. When considering team formation, we sometimes think “I need someone for finance, someone for marketing, someone for legal” and so on. But actually, if you build a team correctly, you create space for each person to bring their own personality and their own unique perspective to the team. That is the secret ingredient to superior outcomes. Key takeaway: Every person within the team has a unique contribution to make. Lesson 3: Exercise judgement as to when to exercise judgement This might sound like a play on words but in my experience, people early in their career often have a desire to impress their superiors. They sometimes seek out opportunities to act decisively, to jump in and make a decision in order to demonstrate that they have what it takes to be a manager or a leader. In fact, they often demonstrate their inexperience by attempting to find a moment to showcase their decisiveness and by consequence, unwittingly illustrate their impatience. Very often, the wisest thing to do is to explain why a decision cannot be made due to a lack of information or context, for example. By all means, look for opportunities to exercise judgement but remember that judgement can sometimes be best exercised by not deciding and explaining why. Key takeaway: When meeting with senior executives, remember that rushing to make an impact may make you look like an idiot. Lesson 4: Leadership should happen at every level In business, decisions are best made closest to the point of impact. An effective organisation therefore ensures that those who make decisions have the right context and the discretion to decide, because hierarchy on its own does not always work. In a team, the most senior member is not always the natural leader on a particular topic or project so to be continually effective, teams should encourage those closer to the issue to take the helm. That means cultivating the flexibility to have junior members lead the way. Indeed, the biggest challenge facing larger organisations is their established hierarchical models. Such companies recruit bright, young, and digitally literate people but in too many cases they leave after a year or two because they get completely disillusioned. Despite understanding more about behavioural trends or other issues that may be affecting the business, their opinion is never sought out because they are three or four levels down in the organisation. Leaders need to empower those people and accept a certain amount of risk. There must be permission to fail but even in organisations with a mild risk tolerance, this concept creates a space in which an organisation’s collective potential can be nurtured. Key takeaway: Acknowledging context is critical to effective decision-making. Couple that with delegated authority and permission to fail, and you have a solid foundation for a highly effective organisation. Lesson 5: Authenticity is the gateway to true leadership My view of authenticity is built on two ideas – one is a personal insight and the other builds on the elements discussed above. I became a CEO for the first time with O2 in the UK when we were on the cusp of a major recession. I had a successful career up to that point but when I took over as CEO, I struggled for the first six months because I spent a lot of time wondering what other people would have done in my situation. In many jobs, you are the subject matter expert but as CEO, you are a jack of all trades and often master of none. Then, I had an almost spiritual moment when I realised that I had 27 years of rich experience. It became clear that the only way I could do my job was to be myself. So, as a leader, you need to ask yourself: who are you? People rarely challenge themselves with this question. I describe myself as chief cheerleader and chief storyteller. I am an extrovert, a joiner-upper, an enthusiast – and I use that to be a front-row leader because that just happens to be my natural style. So ultimately, the best way to be successful in any role is to be yourself. The second thing is that when you are the boss, nobody asks you a question that they know the answer to. This leaves you with a strange obligation to know the answer to everything, but CEOs manage uncertainty amid many shades of grey and it can be quite liberating to realise that the CEO can and should say: “You know what, I am concerned about that as well.” If you do that, you help your people work things out, find solutions, and build answers to organisational challenges with a sense of togetherness. Key takeaway: Know your strengths and acknowledge that you do not – and should not – have the answer to every question. Lesson 6: Know the question before you try to answer it There is massive structural impatience in organisations and as a result, I see much more ‘ready, fire, aim’ than ‘ready, aim, fire’. Too often organisations run towards an assumption of what the question (and answer) is; they are in action mode immediately. But a little time working out the precise nature of the question will invariably bring you closer to the answer. Organisations consistently do two things wrong: they press ahead to answer a part-formed question, and they do not allow talent to flourish because hierarchy gets in the way. Key takeaway: Define the question clearly before embarking on the search for an answer. Ronan Dunne FCA is CEO at Verizon Consumer Group.

Jun 02, 2020

Caroline Pope considers the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and their relevance as a framework to rebuild resilient companies as the economy emerges from the COVID-19 crisis. At present, the full impact of COVID-19 on the Irish and global economy is not yet clear. However, the ability of society to work together towards a common goal has been recognised and should form part of the recovery. In 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) were adopted by all member states. Their purpose is to coordinate efforts to improve human lives, protect the environment, and ensure the sustainable development of our societies. Sustainability may not be the most obvious lens through which one should assess the abnormal events of recent months. Yet trends are emerging, which may make business leaders think more deeply about sustainability in the context of their organisations. Below, we outline three of these factors. The UN SDGs drive increased resilience. There is growing evidence that businesses that have already aligned their strategy with the UN SDGs are more resilient to an economic shock. The UN SDGs are not going away. The future business landscape is uncertain, but increasing evidence points to an operating environment that favours businesses that align with the principles of sustainability. A business strategy aligned with the UN SDGs can create value. Aligning a business strategy with the UN SDGs may seem like a daunting process, but there are well-understood methodologies that can be applied. The UN SDGs drive increased resilience  Businesses that align their core strategy with the UN SDGs (also known as ‘sustainable businesses’) take a broader, stakeholder-based view of their activities. As a result, these businesses tend to demonstrate a deeper understanding of oft-overlooked or under-valued areas of their companies, such as supply chains, and their degree of interconnectedness with society in general. This broader understanding, which is the result of UN SDG alignment, can position them to respond more rapidly to the threats that COVID-19 represents to their stakeholders. In particular, supply chains are coming under increasing pressure due to the global nature of COVID-19, combined with the increasingly international scope of business. The advice from supply chain experts such as Richard Wilding OBE, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at Cranfield University, is to “urgently review their supply chain to find out how exposed they are… it’s still common for businesses to just deal with a central HQ of a supplier and not know what route the supplies they need are taking”. Full alignment with UN SDG 10, Reduced Inequalities, will drive businesses towards total supply chain transparency; they will know each factory where their inputs are processed and all the intermediate steps along the way. These businesses are in a much better position than those rushing to uncover their true supply chain risks amid a crisis. This seemingly serendipitous point illustrates a key feature of SDG alignment: it is consistent with well-managed operations. Alignment with SDGs has also made companies more resilient. For example, there has been a paradigm shift for many businesses since COVID-19 emerged as they have sought to facilitate organisation-wide remote-working to prevent activity grinding to a halt. Contrast this with sustainable businesses such as Vodafone who, in recent years, saw remote working as a means of advancing Goal 5, Gender Equality, and have already invested in the infrastructure to facilitate this. Finally, sustainable businesses enjoyed a higher degree of investor confidence before the economy shut down and seem to continue to enjoy a higher degree of investor confidence as the shut-down continues. Figures published by Funds Europe suggest that values of European sustainable funds dropped by 10.6%, compared with the “overall European fund universe” which declined by 16.2%. Robeco, the global asset manager, has also found a positive relationship between lower credit risk and sector alignment with SDGs. The RobecoSAM Global SDG Credits strategy outperformed the Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Corporate Index by +90 basis points in March of this year. To compound these data points, the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) membership group recommends that all signatories (which represents $86.3 trillion in assets under management) support sustainable companies through the crisis in the interest of public health and long-term economic performance, even if that limits short-term returns. The UN SDGs are not going away The existential threat of COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus other threats of a similar scale, such as climate change and social inequality. The global response to COVID-19 has shown that there is a willingness to embrace long-term changes and drive towards a common goal. This sense of spirit will likely fade as the crisis abates, but it is unlikely to disappear totally. Companies that genuinely embedded purpose before March 2020 are likely to experience favourable trade winds from an upturn due to the opportunity for reflection (and social media opinions) by customers and employees during the lockdown. As societies get over the initial shock of the pandemic and the focus shifts from lockdown to restart, the critical question is how to put the economy and society on a trajectory that lasts. There is a growing consensus in Europe, for example, that the required economic stimulus will have a green hue. In April, the Government of Ireland indicated that it fully supports the EU Green Deal proposed as the central tenet of an economic recovery plan, aligning with 16 other member states. The EU Green Deal provides a roadmap towards a clean, circular economy, restoring biodiversity and cutting pollution. The proposed EU direction of travel is very much aligned with the UN SDGs and this political environment should create an opportunity for businesses that choose to swim with the current. Investors, such as Blackrock, have signalled that regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, they still expect companies to continue with their ESG (environmental, social and governance) targets. Blackrock has pledged to vote against the directors and boards of companies that fail to meet its expectations to manage environmental risk in 2020 and called for companies to report in line with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) framework. The asset manager expects companies to publicly report how sustainability risks and opportunities are integrated into business strategy. In an Irish context, the UN SDG Index report, released in 2019, shows significant challenges to Ireland meeting several key metrics, including SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDG 17 (Partnerships). This is due in part to an absence of information, but also reflects our known challenges on climate action. This was a negative result for Ireland, and there will likely be an emphasis from the Government on these three SDGs as part of the recovery package. While we are all preparing for a change in dialogue and a focus on climate action once the new government is formed, SDG 12 (which focuses on responsible consumption and production) presents a similarly large opportunity. In particular, companies that have already implemented a more circular model for resource management and waste streams are benefiting from a first-mover advantage in the circular economy. A business strategy aligned to the SDGs can create value  Given the significant opportunities and risks associated with the UN SDGs, companies that excel at identifying and incorporating these issues into their strategy enjoy a competitive advantage in the marketplace and among institutional investors. It is increasingly clear that sustainability and return on investment are connected. To help boards understand and shape the total impact of a company’s strategy and operations externally – on the environment, the company’s consumers and employees, the communities in which it operates, and other stakeholders – and internally on the company’s performance, I suggest a five-part framework (refer to Table 2). This framework for board oversight recognises that creating long-term value increasingly requires companies to understand the impact of their strategies on key stakeholders – investors, employees, customers, and communities – as well as on the natural resources and supply chains that the company relies on, all of which are fundamental elements of the SDGs. An integrated commercial strategy encourages companies and boards to widen their aperture for a fuller view of sustainability, strategy, and long-term performance. Wherever the company is on the sustainability journey, this framework can help to drive a robust conversation about what sustainability risks and opportunities may impact the company’s key stakeholders, corporate strategy, and long-term performance, and how they will be addressed. Aligning with SDGs will help businesses identify risks and opportunities that may have been omitted from previous analysis and will also provide them with a better understanding of their stakeholders and their relevance to those stakeholders. By communicating their progress towards SDGs, companies can enhance their reputation both internally (with employees) and externally (with the broader public); this transparency contributes to enhanced trust and confidence in the companies’ operations and contribution to society. The improved trust may then result in more robust and sustainable economic, environmental, and social performance. Companies that identify and incorporate these issues into their strategy will stand apart as forward-thinking organisations, future-proofed, well-managed, and able to recover quickest in a post-COVID-19 environment. In conclusion The changes we have experienced in the first months of this year will have a devastating impact on the global economy, but this in no way diminishes the relevance of the UN SDGs despite being conceived in a more stable environment. Businesses that have already aligned their strategies and practices have shown enhanced resilience – sometimes in unexpected ways. In the absence of a crystal ball, it is hard to predict the next six months, let alone the next decade. Still, there are many indicators that the operating environment will be even more favourable to businesses that effectively integrate sustainability into their core business strategy. Organisations that rise to these challenges and show leadership will be rewarded by their stakeholders and gain access to new opportunities. Those that fail to act may put their margins and even their business models at risk.   Caroline Pope is Associate Director at KPMG Sustainable Futures, a cross-functional team of experts who help corporate and public sector clients plan and execute programmes addressing environmental, social and governance topics, decarbonisation, and long-term value creation.

Jun 02, 2020

Richard Sheath and Susan Stenson share 12 practical tips to help your virtual board meetings operate smoothly in times of crisis. December seems a long time ago.  Back then, as a team of board evaluators,  we set out to imagine how boards would work by 2030. Suddenly the virtual board meetings we perceived as futuristic have arrived, forced on us all by the global COVID-19 pandemic. As boards strive to respond to the many new challenges, board and committee meetings must now work better than ever. And given the unprecedented breadth and difficulty of the issues presented, excellent communication, constructive discussion, and clear-cut decisions are vital. Postponing decisions is not an option, and confusing outcomes will undoubtedly be unhelpful – potentially destructive. Yet these better-than-ever meetings have to be conducted remotely, working with a management team that is likely similarly dispersed. Because we are in contact with many boards that are now meeting virtually, we see what works well and where things go wrong. Based on what we have learnt, here are some practical tips to help your virtual board meetings work well. 1. Get to the point Work even harder with the executive team to ensure that all briefings and presentations are to the point – the point being what the board needs to hear about, now. That means the board and committee chairs going through the possible meeting business and cutting it back to what is essential – whether it is crisis-related or business as usual matters that cannot be postponed. Then, help managers understand that a virtual meeting requires precise points communicated clearly in literally just a few minutes. 2. Set the scene succinctly Ensure that the pre-read papers are clear in terms of what is being asked of the board and that the “overview” page works in the way it should. This overview should include critical background information; a quick reminder of the story so far; the risks; what the board needs to discuss; what is proposed – and all on a couple of pages at most with effective signposting to any essential detail. 3. Draft your agenda from scratch Be extra vigilant in preparing the agenda. Stick to the essential discussion points and ask yourself: can some items be decided by written resolution instead, put in a ‘consent agenda’, or postponed? Start with a clean sheet; do not merely roll-over the usual agenda with some tweaks because that is unlikely to be enough to break the mould. Be clear about the outcomes you need to achieve, and how best to meet them. 4. Prioritise and pace Keep the meeting focused and put what really matters at the top of the agenda. Maintaining concentration for more than a couple of hours is going to be even more difficult than usual, so the essential items need to be addressed first. If there is not enough time, split the meeting into two or three blocks with long-ish breaks in between – long enough to stretch your legs, get some air, and return refreshed. 5. Choose video over audio  Insist on video participation to the greatest extent possible, as it makes a big difference – especially as those on audio-only are often forgotten. That means testing beforehand with each participant, with a co-ordinator (probably from the company secretariat) becoming the expert in how to make your chosen system work. Ask everybody to join a bit early so false starts and broken connections do not sap time and patience once the meeting has officially started. 6. Manage the transitions Sharing documents on-screen can work well on a video call, but the operator needs to know how to do it – and have rehearsed, if possible, knowing what to highlight and where to go. Practise switching between people and a document and back again before the meeting. Switching back is essential – you must get talking heads back on the screen if you want the discussion to flow. 7. Explain the meeting etiquette Establish and communicate the meeting etiquette. That might include the following: mute when not speaking; turn off your video if you need to be interrupted; how to intervene, and the hand signals to do so; how to vote where voting will be required. A chair who typically takes a quick look around the table to assess consensus may need to make this more explicit (for instance, asking everyone to give a thumbs-up). 8. Facilitate input The chair must call on individual directors for their input, rather than leaving them to find their own opportunities to contribute. More frequent stops to take the temperature of the meeting are also needed. 9. Encourage down-time Have comfort breaks at least as often as you would during an in-person meeting. Allow some time during the breaks for chit-chat; social engagement is more important than ever. 10. Stay security conscious Keep an eye on meeting your organisation’s security requirements. Ensure that the Company Secretary monitors who is on the line and remind participants who are not alone in their home offices that they need to use headphones and speak no louder than necessary. In any shared facility, there is a risk that someone may overhear – even through a wall. Screens must be shielded too. This may seem obvious, but we do see and hear things going wrong, resulting in embarrassment at best or a severe breach at worst. 11. Meet your legal obligations Check the legal formalities for your meeting (quorum and location requirements, for example). Take a roll-call at the beginning and if you are tight on numbers, keep an eagle eye on the quorum in case somebody falls off the call. 12. Gather feedback Set aside five to ten minutes at the end of the meeting to ask people how the meeting went and to gather ideas for future virtual board meetings. Alternatively, you can use a short questionnaire if time is short. A checklist for virtual board meetings Here is a list to help you consider the elements of a productive virtual meeting. Be extra vigilant when preparing the agenda and pre-read material Stick to the essential discussions and focus the agenda. Eliminate long verbal presentations. Make sure the pre-read papers are clear on what is being asked of the board. Check the legal formalities for your meeting (quorum requirements, location, etc.)   Check the technical logistics Include a video link and encourage all participants to be in ‘video on’ mode. Ask all participants to join five to ten minutes before the start of the meeting. Test the document sharing facility, if needed.   Set the ground rules Instruct participants to wear headphones and prepare their meeting environment (lighting, camera angle, wi-fi connection, security/confidentiality, etc.) Instruct participants to use mute, turn off video if leaving the room, and take calls elsewhere. Take a roll-call and ensure that everyone knows who is present and who has joined. Secure the meeting – check all joiners and flag confidentiality continually. Set out the rules on how to intervene. Define the use of the chat function or oral questions to facilitate questioning. Work out a mechanism for voting and indicating agreement or dissent.   For the chair Call on individual directors more for their inputs. Stop periodically to take the temperature of the meeting. Include comfort breaks and encourage participants to interact socially during this time. Encourage participants to be respectful, present, and engaged if bad behaviour becomes apparent. Check with participants after the meeting to gauge their experience. Richard Sheath is a Director at Independent Audit Limited, the board evaluators. Susan Stenson is a Director at Independent Audit Limited, the board evaluators.

Jun 02, 2020

John Kennedy explains why knowing too much can harm your practice, and where you should apply your focus instead. When I ask Chartered Accountants to make a list of the problems that hold them back from getting new clients, I am sometimes surprised at the issues they include. One point never makes the list, yet it is often a challenge – they just know too much. How can that be a problem? Surely every client wants a highly knowledgeable accountant, someone who is on top of all of the details and knows all of the angles?This is partly true, but it hides how you can inadvertently damage your practice. Unless you take time to step back, think clearly from the perspective of the client and shape your words to meet their needs, you can quickly lose their attention. This problem is compounded by the assumption that your clients pay you for your knowledge of accountancy, but that is not why clients pay you. Why do clients pay you? This is a deceptively simple question. Is it because of the things you know or because of the things you do for them? Or is it because your qualifications mean you are empowered to authorise documents? Each answer constitutes some part of the reason, but each also obscures a vitally important point. There are two crucial distinctions. First, clients do not pay you for the things you do; they pay you for the value you deliver. Second, the value you provide is only partially expressed in monetary terms. The fundamental truth is that, in many cases, clients most value the way you make them feel. Where your real value lies When you were studying as an undergraduate, the emphasis was on increasing your knowledge. You bought textbooks, you attended lectures, you completed assignments and the focus was always on what you knew – more facts, more information, more knowledge. Your exams tested and confirmed your knowledge; the more you could prove all you knew, the higher the grades. And the more you knew, the better you felt and the better you were regarded by the training firms for whom you hoped to work. With this relentless emphasis on knowing more and more, it is unsurprising that you came to assume that knowledge was where your value as an accountant lay. Then you became a trainee Chartered Accountant in a firm. In your application, your interview and all of the tasks you were given, it was assumed that you had the knowledge required. At this point, the emphasis began to shift to the things you did. You were given specific tasks; what you did and the time it took was captured in timesheets. The emphasis of virtually every aspect of your work, your day and your value revolved around recording your activity in your timesheets. And then you set up your own practice. By now, the emphasis had become so engrained – entrenched even – that you assumed that the key to building a successful practice revolved around turning what you knew into what you do, and recording that in timesheets to bill your client. This focus transferred to your client, but the truth is that this is not where your greatest value – nor your greatest opportunity – lies. Your client wants your value, not your time To build a successful practice, you need to move your thinking – and the focus for your client – beyond what you do and towards the value you provide. This involves two steps. The first step is to consciously move the emphasis from the things you do to the value you deliver. This first step is widely accepted but poorly implemented in practice. The second step is perhaps even more critical if much less understood. To build a practice with strong bonds with long-term clients, you need to move the emphasis from facts to feelings. Human beings like to believe that our species is more rational than it really is. We believe that we see or hear something, we analyse it rationally, and we decide. But do you suppress your feelings at work and give dispassionate advice? Are you always logical and provide clients with clearly thought-out analysis? This is what we like to believe, but it is often untrue. The reality looks much more like this: we see or hear something; we filter it through our emotions; we interpret it and tell ourselves a story; and on that basis, we decide if it is right or wrong. This filtering process happens all the time and while every client wants the facts dealt with, they assume that this is the minimum level of service they will receive from their accountant. The bonds that make clients work with you and generate referrals are forged beneath the level of conscious thoughts. Even in business, the way we feel is of enormous importance so you can create a genuine edge by understanding and applying this. The positive feelings generated by your work include peace of mind, increased confidence in decision-making, or the anticipation of a comfortable retirement. These are important sources of value, yet few realise just how vital these submerged feelings are – even in the most dispassionate business transaction. Every interaction has a submerged, and usually unstated, emotional aspect. As a practice owner, you must understand this and use it to your advantage. When making the shift in focus from the things you do to the value you deliver, you must take account of the genuine feelings at play. Value is about more than money Feelings are always there and are an important part of the value provided by a Chartered Accountant – no matter how much we try to convince ourselves that it is “just business”. Everyone has clients they like and clients they do not like; phone calls they look forward to making and phone calls they hate making; tasks they like doing and tasks they hate. We are very skilled at telling ourselves stories that turn these feelings into apparently rational explanations supported by facts to support our conclusions – but there is no avoiding the reality that feelings are very powerful, and this is the same for your client. Let us take an example that shows just how powerful this concept is. Complete this sentence: “More than anything, I want my children to be…” I have used this example for decades and the answer is almost always “happy”. Occasionally, the respondent will say “content” or “fulfilled”, but in each case the answer is an emotion. It is never a financial or factual answer. This is a simple example of just how important feelings are. How to gain an advantage Gaining a client does not begin and end with you making clear all of the things you will do for them. For an individual to act, they must first feel confident that you understand what they want. And more importantly, they must also be convinced and motivated to the point that they are committed to working with you. Being convinced and motivated depends on your ability to address the feelings that so often remain submerged, unexamined, and unaddressed. I have heard about all the effort accountants put into planning and preparing for meetings with potential clients, often spending hours crafting a well-designed and high-quality document and accompanying presentation. But they then go on to tell me that, even as they are discussing the document or giving the presentation, they know it is just not working. Almost everyone has experienced this in some way, but many simply continue as if the submerged feelings are not there or are insignificant. The habitual pattern is to press on with more information, more facts, more details. The result is that you completely overlook the reality that the submerged feelings are the decisive factor in the ultimate success of any relationship. It is much more useful to bring these feelings to the surface. You do this by using questions to draw out how the work you are discussing with your client will make them feel. The truth is that few clients care about exemplary management accounts or pristine submissions. Some do want to use their cash more effectively or to have a clear tax plan in place, but everyone wants to feel the peace of mind or sense of security that these actions bring. Yet, many accountants spend too much time talking about the surface facts, the facts that – even when they are dealt with well – are, at best, efficient and uninspiring. The often-unacknowledged truth is that the feelings you create in your clients are just as valuable in building long-term relationships as the work you do. When you deal with the surface facts well, but the submerged feelings are left unattended, there is the illusion of progress, but the relationship is merely routine with little enthusiasm. New clients in particular will sometimes engage you as part of their initial wave of enthusiasm, irrespective of the work you have done, but that will undoubtedly be a passing phase. The worst-case scenario is where the factual, practical aspects of the relationship are not adequately clarified and addressed, and the submerged feelings are also poorly dealt with. If this is the case, the client may accept you as a necessary evil, and you both bump along for a short time until your client moves to another practice. Even if they stay, these are the clients that are difficult to deal with, slow to pay, and frustrating to have. Only when you take control of, and actively deal with, both the surface level factual tasks and the submerged feelings do relationships take off. When this happens, it is of real value to both you and your client. These are the client relationships you want – you are both in step, you both work well together, and you both feel positive about the work. Too often, however, this kind of relationship is left to chance because the influential role of submerged feelings is seldom acknowledged, discussed, and actively addressed. But you can make these positive and rewarding client relationships a matter of choice. Just get into the habit of raising your clients’ understanding of the importance of the positive feelings generated by working constructively with you as their accountant. Ask about the areas they want to be confident in; probe how putting their affairs in order will reduce stress; and test and draw out the peace of mind they will get. As you become skilled at eliciting and addressing these submerged feelings, you will set yourself apart from your competitors. Move your emphasis from what you do to the value it brings, and then take the critical step of drawing out and addressing the submerged feelings that are most important to your client.   John Kennedy is a strategic advisor. He has worked with leaders and senior management teams in a range of organisations and sectors.

Jun 02, 2020

Dr Annette Clancy explains why employees’ mental health should be the organising principle for businesses in the 21st century. 20-30% of us will experience mental health issues during our lifetime. Could the quantity and quality of work have something to do with this?  A recent study conducted in the UK shows that one-third of us are not happy about the amount of time we spend at work. More than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems. As a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness, worry and anxiety. Employees’ mental health is affected by their roles. For example, we might expect to see mental health issues in workers who deal with trauma and violence every day, but studies also show that workplace culture, bullying, disciplinary processes, and toxic workplace relationships all contribute to deteriorating mental health. Many businesses have policies for mental health and workplace wellness, but for those who are trying to cope with challenging workloads and suffering at the same time, policies may not be enough. Very often, people hide what they are feeling for fear they will be stigmatised or punished. Policies need to be backed up with empathetic intervention by managers who have the right combination of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills. Yet, managers are rarely trained to either recognise or manage conversations with team members who may be experiencing mental health difficulties. So, what can managers do to de-stigmatise mental health issues? 1. Create an organisational culture where there is respect for people. This sounds simple, but in practice, it rarely is. Most mental health issues arise from toxic relationships, bullying, harassment or power dynamics. Changing the culture around this would go a long way in helping to eliminate some mental health issues. 2. Train all managers and team leaders in ‘soft’ skills. Help people develop the ability to listen to what is not being said and read body language so that they can pay attention to those they manage. Stress and anxiety are felt, not spoken, so managers must be attuned to how it is expressed. 3. Encourage a culture of openness about time constraints and workload. Employees must feel able to speak up if the demands placed on them are too high. Also, ensure that employees’ jobs are manageable within the time for which they are contracted. Expanding job creep is one starting place for stress in organisations. Monitoring this aspect of an organisation’s behaviour alone could impact significantly on mental health. 4. Allow staff to attend counselling and support services during working hours, as they would for other medical appointments. This proactive initiative sends an important signal that mental health is a priority in your organisation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as “the state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. The WHO definition provides a policy template for organisations wishing to create a culture in which the mental health of all workers is prioritised, not only those with mental health issues. It offers an interesting insight into how an organisation might be structured if mental wellbeing was the organising principle. As mental health issues continue to increase both within and beyond the workplace, perhaps the WHO definition isn’t so far-fetched. Putting people at the centre of organisations used to be the way we did things; putting the mental health of employees at the centre of organisations may be the way we need to do things in the 21st century. Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor of Management at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy.

Jun 02, 2020

Far from being ‘nice to haves’, diversity and inclusion remain vital during the COVID-19 crisis and could be even more important in its aftermath, writes Rachel Hussey. Our collective experience during the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a considerable amount of discussion and analysis about how this experience will ultimately change the way we live – or want to live – when the crisis subsides. The pandemic, and our response to it, has called into question many aspects of life we took for granted. The world of work has been turned on its head. The most obvious and immediate impact is that most of us are working from home (or, more accurately, at home during a crisis trying to work). The pandemic has caused us to examine the essence of the ‘workplace’ and we are trying to imagine how the future of work during, and after, COVID-19 might look. As the pandemic begins to ease and we begin to return to our former workplaces for at least some of the time, flexibility will be more important than ever. Parents will have to manage childcare and work, possibly in the absence of schools and crèches. Traditional work practices may no longer be possible. We will need to have flexibility around work organisation, meeting times and general time planning, and allow people to control how they plan their day. This will mean not only continuing with a significant element of working from home, but also introducing genuinely agile working practices in the future. The former world of work is probably changed forever, and we cannot – and should not – seek simply to recreate it. Now we have reached the end of the beginning, the focus on diversity and inclusion has begun to re-emerge with some interesting new perspectives. Many organisations are looking at cost-cutting measures and there is a risk that diversity initiatives might be regarded as non-essential. I believe that inclusion and diversity are as – if not more – important during this crisis as they were before and will continue to be as we emerge from the current crisis. Organisations that had a strong focus on inclusion and diversity before the crisis were better equipped to deal with it when it happened. The starkest example of this is that organisations and firms that had agile working policies and practices in place, which mostly resulted from strategies around inclusion and diversity, were best placed to make the transition to working from home. Firms that resisted flexible working took longer to get set-up remotely and back to business. The last couple of months have demonstrated beyond doubt that it is possible to run a professional services firm in a dispersed way. Some partners and other leaders who may never have worked from home are now forced to do so and realise that people can be as (or even more) productive working remotely. The COVID-19 crisis has busted the myth that agile working does not work. Of interest too are the leadership traits that have been important in this crisis. They include compassion, empathy, humility, and putting other people ahead of yourself. These traits tend to be associated with women, though they are of course found in many men too, and they are becoming more highly valued at this time. Inclusive leadership is particularly essential. Managing teams remotely involves being alive to team dynamics and being mindful of people on teams who might be isolated or feel excluded. Even on video conferencing calls, inclusive leaders will try to include each team member in the discussion. Making people feel included will help maintain productivity and motivation. It has been established beyond doubt that one of the clear business benefits of diverse teams is increased innovation. Now more than ever, companies and firms need to innovate to respond to this crisis. It is, therefore, critical to focus on team composition to ensure that they have the right balance of experience, perspective, and cognitive diversity to nurture innovation and generate the best business results possible. Specific organisations recently reiterated their commitment to diversity and inclusion publicly. At some stage, and let us hope that it will be sooner rather than later, we will emerge from this crisis and companies and firms will again be competing for the top performers. Companies and firms that stay the course and keep a sharp focus on diversity and inclusion during this crisis will be best placed to attract that talent. Once the crisis is over, companies and firms that do not stay the course will have some serious catching up to do. Rachel Hussey is Chair of 30% Club Ireland and a Partner at Arthur Cox.

Jun 02, 2020

As the saying goes, rough seas make great sailors and the new President of Chartered Accountants Ireland, Paul Henry, has abundant experience of leading in times of crisis. Perhaps in a sign of the times, Paul Henry sat down at his desk at home in Belfast to conduct this interview. With the lockdown in full effect, he was working from home as he sought to run his commercial property business and prepare for the year ahead as President of Chartered Accountants Ireland. And it will be a busy year indeed. In July, Paul will also become Chair of CCAB – a forum of five professional accountancy bodies that collaborate on matters affecting the profession and the broader economy. There will undoubtedly be much to discuss. From recovery to regulation, Paul will lead the charge for both Chartered Accountants Ireland and CCAB at a turbulent and fragile time in the island’s history. The global COVID-19 pandemic has spawned an economic malaise that may well be compounded by the effects of Brexit but leading through such crises was far from his mind when he decided to become a Chartered Accountant in the 1980s. The path to industry From an early age, Paul was determined to become both a Chartered Accountant and businessman – influenced in part by the apparent success of his friends’ parents. Upon leaving his science-focused secondary school in North Belfast, Paul attended Queen’s University Belfast where he studied accounting at undergraduate level before completing what was then known as the Postgraduate Diploma in Accounting. He readily admits that his first year studying accounting was “a wee bit of a mystery” but with some perseverance, both the art and the science of the subject began to make sense. Paul went on to qualify as a Chartered Accountant with PwC Northern Ireland in 1989, where he met his wife, Siân. He subsequently held positions with the Industrial Development Board, Enterprise Equity, PwC (for a second spell), and ASM Chartered Accountants before joining his current firm, Osborne King, where he is now a Director and equity partner. The move from practice to real estate advisory came about when Paul was working with ASM Chartered Accountants, primarily on corporate finance projects. “I had been speaking with the team at Osborne King about developing the business and the commercial skills they would need to do that, so I helped to shape a role and job specification for them,” he said. “They went to market with the role and close to the closing date for applications, one of the team said: ‘We’ve received some good applications, but we didn’t receive one from you’. For me, that was the light bulb moment because it was precisely the career I wanted. So, I went through the application process and thankfully landed the job.” Becoming a businessman Paul’s evolution did not end there, however. Having joined Osborne King in 2000, he led transactions involving sophisticated financial structures including private finance initiative and public/private partnership deals. Business was booming but unbeknownst to most, the financial crash of 2008/09 was not far away. The global downturn that followed decimated many sectors and industries – not least commercial property. Osborne King, like many others, felt the pinch but out of crisis comes opportunity and Paul went on to achieve his second childhood dream: becoming a fully-fledged businessman. “Through a series of developments and the downturn in particular, I ended up completing a management buyout of Osborne King with one other colleague. We restructured the business and the shareholders haven’t looked back since,” he said. With the benefit of hindsight, Paul can identify several lessons that are pertinent today as employers attempt to stay solvent and keep their businesses afloat. “The critical thing is to be open and honest with your people. In a downturn such as this, businesses must reduce their cost base and conserve cash, and that means having difficult conversations – particularly with staff and suppliers,” he said. “But if you communicate clearly and often, people will trust you and that is a precious asset to have. So be straight with them about the challenges facing your business, but don’t forget to repay that trust when the business landscape improves.” Indeed, one of Paul’s proudest achievements is keeping the full Osborne King team intact throughout the 2008/09 crisis and its aftermath. “We were probably the only commercial real estate firm that didn’t make any redundancies during the last recession,” he added. “We did that because, in my mind, we have great people and it is our people that will help us thrive once the economy recovers.” The current crisis Nobody expected to be in an even worse economic predicament just 12 years later, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to plunging world economic growth. Businesses are operating in a near-absolute environment of uncertainty as governments scramble to provide the necessary lifelines for corporations, entrepreneurs, and their staff. In that context, Paul has been impressed by the agility and ingenuity of the governments in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in responding to the needs of both businesses and citizens. “People are often very critical of the public service but in recent months, we have seen its very best elements – not least in the health sector and emergency services. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe,” he said. Paul is also keen to highlight the vital role of the Institute in helping its members through the pandemic. “In times of adversity, we become incredibly creative and innovative and the Institute has responded very well to offer members even more services – whether it’s the COVID-19 Hub on the website or our regular webinars on soft skills or the Wage Subsidy Scheme,” he added. “Since March 2020, the level of member engagement with the Institute has increased significantly so we can see clearly that our Digital First programme is the right strategy. If there is a silver lining to all of this, it is that we have been forced to accelerate many of the innovative member services initiatives that were already on our agenda for 2020 and beyond.” All of this, he said, complements the traditional role of the Institute as a source of support for its 28,500 members. “CA Support is there to support all members and students in times of difficulty or crisis, and the service has seen an increase in activity in recent months,” Paul said. “Whether you have lost your job, are struggling to cope with uncertainty, or feeling lonely, all members and students can turn to their member organisation for support and guidance, and that is something that makes me immensely proud.” The role of the Chartered Accountant In addition to helping each other, Chartered Accountants will also be relied upon to help steer businesses through the pandemic and towards a sustainable future in what remains a very uncertain economic and regulatory landscape. Paul is hopeful that the global economy will recover relatively quickly, but there remains much to be done even if the economic signals begin to improve. “As we work through the fallout of the pandemic, businesses will need to be aware of the ‘wall of creditors’ waiting for them on the other side of the crisis,” he said. “Although survival is the name of the game at the moment, rent, commercial rates, and other obligations will need to be settled at some stage and Chartered Accountants – both in business and as advisors to business – will need to turn their focus to that issue.” All the while, Brexit rumbles on in the background and although it has the potential to compound the economic woes bestowed on the island of Ireland, Paul points to the profession’s pragmatism as its most valuable asset in navigating the added uncertainty. “The Institute has made clear that it would be preferable if Brexit did not happen, or if it did, that it happened in a planned and managed way with ample time for businesses to acclimatise to the new reality. But Chartered Accountants will play the hand they are dealt and work to understand what role they must play in making Brexit work without judgement,” he said. The President’s priorities Paul takes the helm at Chartered Accountants Ireland at a distinctly turbulent time but as the saying goes, rough seas make great sailors and Paul’s experience – both in industry and practice – gives him a rounded view of the needs of the membership during times of crisis in particular. In the year ahead, the Institute will launch a new four-year strategy that will hopefully outlive both COVID-19 and Brexit and despite the uncertainties, Paul’s focus will remain very much on people, talent, and potential. “When I joined Enterprise Equity, my chief executive said ‘Paul, it’s going to cost me £1 million to train you’. I was thrilled because I thought I was going to be educated in the best universities in the world, but he really meant that I would make many costly mistakes along the way,” Paul said. “In business, you are often backing the jockey and not the horse. It is the people, team and leaders that will get you around the course and win the race, and this focus on people will be a core element of my Presidency in the year ahead.” Paul will also focus on other strategic imperatives during his tenure: building on the recent evolution of the education syllabus, supporting the Institute’s Digital First initiative, and adapting to the ‘new normal’ for students, members and staff – whatever that ‘new normal’ might be. “My key priorities will revolve around member experience. It is vital that we engage with members, both at home and overseas, and become increasingly relevant to members in all sectors,” he said. “Building engagement with our members will be central to that sense of relevance. And as someone who wasn’t engaged with the Institute for many years, I can say with conviction that once members engage with Chartered Accountants Ireland and come to understand the breadth of services and support available to members and students alike, they will be amazed.” Conclusion Paul’s presidency will be a presidency like no other. Travel will be restricted in the short-term, a global recession is looming, and the world of professional services work has undergone a dramatic upheaval. But Paul remains optimistic for the future. “Through our education system, we are equipping the next generation of Chartered Accountants with the skills and expertise necessary to lead businesses into the future and support economic recovery and growth,” he said. “Meanwhile, our members continue to be relied upon as the people who connect the dots, bring people together and make individual elements more effective and valuable by creating and leading great teams. For me, the future is all about empathy, people, and teams – and if we get that right, we can and will recover.”

Jun 02, 2020

Teresa Stapleton explains how senior leaders and managers can create a high-performance culture with loyal, engaged, and motivated employees. An estimated two-thirds of companies still conduct annual performance reviews, despite extensive research and employee feedback which suggests that they are outdated. What most companies hope to get from performance management is engaged, motivated, high-performing employees and business success. But the reality is that annual and bi-annual reviews fall well short in supporting these aspirations. They typically involve time-consuming and detailed write-ups of past performance, which have little impact on future results. More and more companies are questioning the value of analysing past performance based on goals set 12 months ago and rating individual performance on a scale to determine rewards. Most managers and staff dread the whole process. Research by Willis Towers Watson found that only 48% of employees report that performance reviews have helped improve their performance, and just 52% think their performance was accurately evaluated. There is widespread consensus that ongoing performance management and the provision of feedback and coaching is a better approach to creating an engaged, motivated workforce. However, the challenges involved in replacing the annual review process, which has been embedded in organisations for many years, can seem daunting. Over the last ten years, several companies have successfully done just that – transformed their performance management processes to re-energise their organisation and employees. While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, the following themes are worth considering when re-thinking performance management. Performance management philosophy The starting point for changing any process is deciding what you want to achieve. Defining what specific behaviours, values and results you want to encourage, and whether individual accomplishments or team collaboration – or indeed, a mix of both – will be recognised and rewarded is a good first step. Many companies share their vision, values, culture, performance management philosophy, and employee development approach on their websites as it is where prospective candidates go to get a feel for the company and whether it would be a good fit for them.  The traditional levers for recruiting and motivating employees are attractive pay and benefits, competitive bonus schemes, job security and career development prospects. Also, employee engagement and employee experience are increasingly recognised as being of equal importance to attract talent and drive productivity. Some companies have adjusted their rewards model to empower managers to offer smaller incentives more regularly when goals are achieved. Others offer training, educational support, or development programmes to reward strong performance. Providing a positive working environment where employees feel that their work is meaningful and their contributions are valued is now seen as central to attracting and retaining talent. Senior leaders and managers have a critical role to play in building an environment and culture where their teams enjoy coming to work and are committed to delivering exceptional results. Performance appraisal model Companies often adjust their performance management approach over time to reflect changing economic conditions and the latest thinking on business leadership. The bell curve system of performance appraisal, which was widely used for decades by large companies, has been abandoned by most. This model forces managers to rank employees into a bell-shaped distribution curve, with 20% high performers, 70% middle performers, and 10% low performers. The advantages of the bell curve model are that it helps managers differentiate rewards based on contribution and forces them to tackle low performers. However, the drawbacks of the model are generally believed to outweigh the benefits as it can create unhealthy internal competition to be a top performer and get high rewards and undermine collaboration across teams. It was also viewed as unfair and demotivating to employees pushed into the ‘middle’ or ‘low’ categories to hit the numeric requirements of the curve if this does not reflect their actual performance. Many companies have replaced the bell curve model with less rigid approaches that focus on continuous performance management, providing real-time feedback and coaching to improve performance and support personal development. Some companies have even dropped performance ratings altogether as they focus performance discussions too much on past events, shifting instead to highlight learnings from past experiences and create personal development plans for each employee to increase future impact. Objectives and key results There is a real art in setting meaningful and achievable targets that motivate staff to deliver great results. The biggest challenge is often distilling the broad range of activities each employee is responsible for to highlight the objectives that will contribute most to the overall success of the business. All too often, individual commitments or goals are a long list of activities and deliverables, making it hard for employees to see what is truly important and creates the most impact. Including granular details of job responsibilities or adding broad commitments that apply to all employees, while well-intentioned, often dilute the focus on clear, meaningful, personalised priorities. A growing number of companies like Google, Intel and LinkedIn have adopted the ‘Objectives and Key Results’ (OKR) framework to align company, team and individual goals and set targets. The process involves defining three to five objectives for each individual, with key results that are usually stated as numeric targets or other clear measures to track progress. While setting clear expectations upfront is essential, it is just as important to update them regularly to reflect changing company priorities and business direction. Regular performance check-ins Managers play a crucial role in setting their teams up for success by getting to know the strengths and capabilities of each team member and matching each individual’s skills to meaningful goals. Open communication is essential to set performance expectations, stay aligned on progress, and provide real-time feedback to address issues before things go off course – or to capitalise on opportunities to do things quicker or better. Performance and development discussions should take place on an ongoing basis and not be reserved for a formal review meeting once or twice a year. If regular check-ins are happening, there should be no surprises when it comes to performance assessment and rewards discussions. Most companies have performance management tools to track and monitor performance processes. Automated systems can also help streamline the process of capturing peer-to-peer feedback, highlighting blind spots or behavioural issues that managers should address. Conclusion Modernising performance management requires re-thinking the whole employee/employer value exchange. Employees want to do meaningful work, aligned with their values, where they feel they can grow, flourish and be justly rewarded. Senior leaders and managers have a critical role to play in creating a high-performance culture with loyal, engaged, and motivated employees to sustain business growth and long-term success. Teresa Stapleton is an Executive Coach at Stapleton Coaching.

Jun 02, 2020

We are in the middle of an unprecedented health emergency. In recent weeks, many of us have had loved ones, friends and acquaintances suffer illness, hospitalisation or worse. It is an extremely difficult time for many. We must hope that the actions of businesses and the general public in following the official safety guidelines, combined with the herculean efforts of healthcare workers, will effectively curtail the spread of COVID-19 and a more normal life can resume sooner rather than later. After safety, our key priority has been to ensure that we maintain the highest level of service possible for members and students during the health crisis. In terms of our staff, the collaboration across the board to bring all of our processes into a new way of working has been rapid. For members, we have provided a vast range of insights, services and supports – from CA Support to Practice Consulting and Professional Standards supports – to individual members and firms through a busy schedule of webinars. The COVID-19 Hub also provides a one-stop-shop for members seeking information and guidance. We are providing our members with the best information, skills, and guidance that we can. For students, we have moved quickly to accelerate the changes that were already planned. Our e-assessment pilot interim exam has now concluded and sets us up well for the next development phase, to cover main exams later this year. On the delivery side, we see great innovation as we move online, supporting digital enrolment and changing how we support training organisations. We exist to serve our members and students, and Chartered Accountants Ireland is a mirror of the profession. Our member firms, members, their clients, and students are under severe pressure and are experiencing some very challenging circumstances. The crisis will also undoubtedly have some longer-term economic effects, and the expertise of our members will be vital in helping business and broader society overcome these challenges. Over the past weeks, the Institute has moved quickly to step-up service to our members in their time of need, and our staff have responded rapidly to adapt to new ways of working. I know that our Institute will come through this crisis as a stronger, smarter organisation. As an Institute and as a profession, we are all in this together. Our Officers, our volunteers, and our staff right across the island of Ireland and beyond may be required to work from home, but they continue to work hard to support members in their professional lives. We know that the skills of our members will be needed more than ever throughout the crisis and in the period of rebuilding ahead. We pledge to do all that we can to continue to effectively support our members, member firms, and students to make that vital contribution. Barry Dempsey Chief Executive

Jun 02, 2020

Given the world’s fragmented approach to the COVID-19 crisis, Dr Brian Keegan considers the potential for lasting suspicion of international standards of all sorts – not least accounting. There is a theory that suggests that 150 is the maximum number of people with whom any one individual can meaningfully interact. This number, known as Dunbar’s number after the anthropologist who came up with the idea, feeds into a myriad of management texts. Working in Chartered Accountants Ireland, whose staff complement is close to 150, Dunbar’s idea feels right. There is a sense of community and shared purpose here which, if anything, has been highlighted by the coronavirus crisis. But just as there may be a ‘best’ maximum number of staff in an organisation or business division, is there a maximum population beyond which meaningful government responses to crises cannot be developed? Big is not always best The varying coronavirus experiences and responses of countries right across the world suggest that big may not be best unless the government is of a totalitarian hue, as in China. It is surely no coincidence that the most populous countries in Europe – Spain, Italy, France, and the UK – have suffered some of the worst impacts of coronavirus per head of population. Germany, of course, is somewhat of an outlier; but then again, when is it not? The challenges of scale seem even more pronounced beyond national borders. Where the power of local or national government is subordinated to international organisations – or international treaties or federal systems, as in the case of the EU and the federal government in the US – official responses seem either inappropriate or inadequate. A fragmented response The EU’s approach to tackling the pandemic has been, to put it charitably, fragmented. The EU does not have a core role in health matters, but it does when it comes to financial supports. The Commission seemed slow out of the blocks in its initial response. Countries that usually see eye-to-eye on fiscal issues, such as Ireland and the Netherlands, found themselves at odds with each other over the issue of eurobonds to support bailouts for individual member nations. The G7 group of the world’s wealthiest nations couldn’t even come up with a joint declaration on the pandemic in March, apparently because the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, insisted on referring to the disease as the “Wuhan virus”. The US also very publicly pulled its support for the World Health Organisation (WHO), but perhaps more insidious than that were the suggestions that its Ethiopian chief executive was unduly influenced by Chinese investment in his home country. The seemingly unstoppable momentum for international corporation tax reform sponsored by the OECD has waned, with crucial decisions adjourned sine die by governments with more pressing matters on their agendas. A newfound suspicion If the authority of major agencies like the EU Commission, the OECD, the WHO and the G7 is being diluted, undermined or plain ignored as governments attempt to tackle the pandemic, it seems that global approaches aren’t entirely cutting it. An international reach used to be enough for these agencies to assert their authority, but not anymore. That is not great news for a profession like accountancy, which prides itself on its global approach. One lasting legacy of the pandemic could be a suspicion of, and resistance to, efforts to establish international standards of all descriptions, accounting among them. Who will be trusted by governments to set and maintain the standards in accounting if countries can’t even agree on who should set the standards on issues like healthcare? A new Dunbar’s number is becoming apparent for the number of countries that can act together in any kind of meaningful way when dealing with a crisis. That number is not higher than one.   Dr Brian Keegan is Director, Advocacy & Voice, at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jun 02, 2020

There are several signs that the EU may be splintering at the edges, writes Cormac Lucey. One of our weaknesses as a species is our self-regard. Sitting at the top of the evolutionary tree, we are in danger of overlooking some fundamental weaknesses. One is the conceit that we make critical decisions based on our thoughts when there is considerable evidence that feelings heavily influence our decision-making. A prime example of feelings misleading decision-making occurred in the Irish property market in the years 2006 and 2007. In a Davy research note published in March 2006, Rossa White (then the stockbroker’s chief economist, now occupying that position with the National Treasury Management Agency) issued a warning in the note’s title “Dublin house prices headed for 100 times rent earned”. He cautioned investors that “the fundamentals suggest that it will be an adjustment in prices – rather than rents – that will eventually bring valuations down to more realistic levels”. The problem was that investors had extremely positive feelings about property as an investment class resulting from its extremely strong performance in the preceding decade and a half. Feelings trumped thought. Thousands got caught in the resulting carnage. There is a danger that similar forces may blindside us to weaknesses developing within the European Union (EU) today. When we look back, we see a relatively strong and united body. From an Irish perspective, we associate the dramatic rise in our prosperity in recent decades with our EU membership (much more than with our turbo-charged foreign direct investment sector). But there are several signs that the EU may be splintering at the edges. Faultline one… There have been recent calls from the Élysée Palace for the EU to issue jointly guaranteed bonds (debt securities) to help those member states worst afflicted by COVID-19. The alternative, according to the French president, is to risk the collapse of the EU as “a political project”. What you may not be aware of is that in 2019, before any of us had heard of the virus, France and Italy already had the second and third largest budget deficits in the EU. Having maxed-out their own national credit cards, they now want to use the hard-won creditworthiness of others to borrow more. Faultline two… The differing borrowing capacity of various EU member states has resulted in widely varying budgetary responses to the pandemic. Germany, which went into the crisis with relatively healthy public finances, plans to spend more than 6% of GDP to boost its economy, before considering the effect of loans and guarantees. Italy, by contrast, entered 2020 with a weak fiscal position and can afford an immediate fiscal impulse of less than 1% of GDP, even though it has been hit much harder by the pandemic than Germany. France is similarly constrained. We can look forward to more wailing from the Élysée Palace. Faultline three… The actions of the European Central Bank (ECB) are increasingly running up against political and legal constraints. The German Federal Constitutional Court recently ruled that the ECB had exceeded its legal mandate and “manifestly” breached the principle of proportionality with bond purchases made under previous quantitative easing programmes. How might it rule on the ECB’s current programme, which has been deliberately disproportionate to reduce financial strains in Italy? A related problem concerns the ECB’s Target 2 balances. They are a key measure of financial market strains within the euro area. They record how much a national central bank is borrowing from the ECB to lend to domestic commercial banks that are suffering deposit withdrawals. For years, Italy and Spain have been borrowers while Germany has been on the opposite side of the equation, helping to fund the ECB. In March, the Italian central bank’s borrowing jumped by over €100 billion to €492 billion, while the amount the Germans lent into the system rose by more than €100 billion to €935 billion. As the US economist Herb Stein quipped, “if something cannot go on forever, it will stop”. We just do not know when. Cormac Lucey FCA is an economic commentator and lecturer at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jun 02, 2020

Annette Hughes outlines the four consumer behaviour trends that have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis is being defined by four distinct consumer behaviour responses, according to the first edition of the EY Future Consumer Index. The survey tracks consumer sentiment and behaviour across several geographies, but these four behaviours, outlined below, are all evident in Ireland and have implications for the pending economic recovery. Cut deep (27%): these consumers are mainly more than 45 years old and have seen the biggest impact on their employment status. Almost one-quarter have seen their jobs suspended, either temporarily or permanently. 78% are shopping less frequently, while 64% are only buying essentials. Stay calm, carry on (26%): these consumers do not feel directly impacted by the pandemic and are not changing their spending habits. Just 21% are spending more on groceries, compared with 18% who are spending less. Save and stockpile (35%): this segment has a particular concern for their families and the long-term outlook. 36% are spending more on groceries, while most are spending less on clothing (72%) and leisure (85%). Hibernate and spend (11%): usually aged between 18-44, these consumers are most concerned about the impact of the pandemic with 40% shopping less frequently. Rationalised personal consumption From the Irish economy’s perspective, the unprecedented impact on the labour market has a significant effect on consumer spending. Personal consumption accounts for around one-third of Ireland’s GDP. Before COVID-19, the economic recovery was associated with a healthy annual average growth in consumer spending of 3.5% over the last five years. With the categories affected by containment measures accounting for around one-half of consumer spending, according to the Central Bank of Ireland, a sharp contraction in consumer spending is expected in 2020, which in turn impacts on investment and overall GDP. Recent projections from the Department of Finance forecast that personal consumption will contract by 14.2% this year, with GDP down by 10.5% (April 2020). The impact of the pandemic on employment, supply chains, travel and tourism, and mobility has hugely reduced consumer confidence and spending – and the shock is likely to be felt for some time to come. Looking beyond the immediate effects of COVID-19, few consumers expect to revert to pre-crisis behaviours any time soon. Overall, 42% of respondents believe that the way they shop will fundamentally change as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Plummeting consumer confidence While these four segments could morph as the crisis abates, the adverse impact of the pandemic on consumer confidence remains. In an Irish context, the KBC Consumer Confidence Index fell to its lowest level in the survey’s 24-year history due to a combination of weak conditions and the risk of poorer prospects. 584,600 people are in receipt of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment while the unadjusted Live Register total for April 2020 was 214,741. An additional 425,204 are being facilitated through Revenue’s Temporary COVID-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme. This implies that in the region of 1.224 million people – or almost 50% of the workforce – are in receipt of some form of income support. Joined-up thinking required The recovery in consumption will depend on the extent to which the unemployment situation is reversed. Companies that were struggling to keep up with changing consumer behaviour before the pandemic are now faced with the challenge of anticipating how consumers will evolve beyond the pandemic. The Government’s roadmap to ease COVID-19 restrictions and re-open Ireland’s economy and society on a phased basis are welcome, but the pace at which different sectors and regions begin to recover will vary greatly. While smaller towns may benefit from increased local spending, online sales are likely to remain high, at least in the short-term. We must look at what business and governments can do together to help everyone get through what continues to be an incredibly difficult period to ensure that they are all ready to participate in the recovery when it comes.   Annette Hughes is an Economist and Director at EY-DKM Economic Advisory.

Jun 02, 2020

Des Peelo shares his one guiding principle for setting a fair professional fee. Professional fees occur in many occupations including dentists, doctors, accountants, solicitors, barristers, and architects. Public relations practitioners, management consultants, estate agents, investment bankers and technical advisers of all kinds also charge professional fees, as do lecturers and conference speakers. But how should you calculate a professional fee? There are no guidelines as such, other than custom and practice within a particular sector. Competition law prevents price-fixing within a sector. Nevertheless, norms or rules of thumb usually develop over time. Enquiry suggests that a routine GP visit costs between €55 and €70, while a medical consultant may charge between €250 and €300. An estate agent may charge 1-2% plus outlays and VAT on the sale price of a property, and an architect may charge a percentage of the project costs. Practising accountants typically charge an hourly rate for routine services such as audit, accountancy, and tax work. For more complex work, mainly carried out by larger firms, such as a major investigation or a difficult liquidation, an hourly rate of €450 per hour plus VAT has been quoted in the High Court for a partner’s time. This €450 currently seems a benchmark rate and is scaled downwards for less senior staff. In general, straightforward work such as audits for an accountant, conveyancing or probate work for a solicitor or routine dental work for a dentist is competitive, and fees fall within identifiable ranges. It is difficult, however, to generalise in linking a fee to the mix of expertise provided, responsibility taken, and the value to the client. What is the value of a careful and competent diagnosis of a malady from a GP, or a substantial tax saving through expert knowledge? What is the value of the identification and rectification of a serious IT glitch, or a crisis successfully managed by a skilled public relations practitioner? Round sum fees are common for non-routine work or work not measured in terms of time incurred. There is the story of a computer glitch that closed down an entire business. A technician arrived, turned a nut, and got the system up and running again. The bill was €1 million, and the client demanded a breakdown. The response was €100 for the hour in turning the nut, and €999,900 for “knowing which nut to turn”. Legal fees, apart from routine matters, can be a mystery – particularly in litigation. There are regular reports of substantial fees across all types of litigation. A UK judge once remarked that the Savoy Hotel and the courts are open to everyone. In my experience, this is because of the extensive input necessary in almost any litigation, such as identifying the issues and the law relating thereto; assembling the relevant documentation and preparing the required procedural paperwork; accessing expert evidence; consultations; and, of course, the actual court hearing. There is an amusing story about legal fees allegedly involving a firm of solicitors in the United Kingdom. A long and complex litigation case had come to a satisfactory conclusion, and it was time to finalise the bill. The more technical aspects had already been completed as to measuring the files at £100 per inch and weighing the files at £150 per pound. Instead, each partner had to review the files and put his or her estimate of the total fee in a sealed envelope, placed in a box. When the box was opened, the partner with the lowest estimate did not share in those fees and the partner with the highest estimate had to collect the fees. An optimum balance. Investment bankers charge astronomical fees. This is because they can. The transactions involved are mega takeovers or the funding of large projects. The enormous sums of money involved are often backed by prestigious names, not necessarily professional expertise, and this is what underpins the hefty fees. Fees of 1-3% of the amounts involved do not seem unduly high when expressed that way, but these percentages translate into millions of dollars or euro. George Bernard Shaw observed that professions were conspiracies against the laity. This, of course, does not refer to Chartered Accountants and professional fees. A guiding principle as to good professional practice is to ensure that the subsequent fee is not a surprise to the client. Service before remuneration.   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.

Jun 02, 2020

Richard Day and Alannah Comerford look at how Chartered Accountants can explore the potential for robotic process automation using UiPath. In this series of articles, we are exploring the power of visualisation and data analytics and the benefits it can bring to Chartered Accountants. As you may know, the FAE syllabus was recently updated to include data analytics concepts and tools such as Tableau, Alteryx, and UiPath. Previous articles dealt with the concept of data visualisation and the value it can bring to an accountant, and most recently we covered the data processing tool, Alteryx, and the significant advantages it affords when performing data transformations and calculations. In this article, we will move to the more advanced area of automation. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an acronym you are probably familiar with, as more and more businesses seek to streamline their operations and exploit the advantages of automation. UiPath, which has been selected by the Institute, and similar tools enable RPA at a practical level. UiPath is a software solution that acts like a robot, programmed to perform the various activities in a process just as a human would. The tool can be used to run without human supervision or can work as an assistant. Automation without human supervision is extremely difficult and may not be the answer for complex processes that require significant judgement, reasoning or analysis from the person performing them. In such cases, automation may still support the person who is completing these tasks as an assistant, but human intervention is vital. However, if we consider those processes that are suitable for automation, they can usually be described as highly repetitive, manual processes where the employee does not exert judgement. All decisions are made based on business rules and pre-defined logic. Significant value can be derived from automation where there is interaction between multiple systems, but the inputs required are standard, making the process tedious and time heavy. Similarly, when the current manual procedure is inadequate for standardising a process and remains subject to error, automation – which has the power to perform the process accurately every time – can be invaluable. As an accountant, you might think that opportunities for automation should fall under the remit of those working in IT. Accountants, with their holistic knowledge of how a business operates and analytical nature, are ideally placed to identify potential automation opportunities and act as a key stakeholder throughout the process. Automation at work Consider a simple process whereby you are required to run reports or extracts from different systems and perform some data transformation and analytics on the information to produce an output, perhaps in the form of a reporting dashboard. Alteryx can be set-up to run workflows to deal with inputs from different systems and produce the desired output. However, you would still need to run the input files and refresh the dashboard manually. Incorporating UiPath can automate the process even further. UiPath can log-in to each system and can be used to run specific reports from different systems at set times, replacing the need to download data manually. It can then load this data into Alteryx, run a pre-defined workflow, and produce the desired dataset. This information can then be brought into Tableau to refresh a dashboard with the current information. In this way, UiPath can be configured as an interface between systems to offer a fully integrated solution. These processes can be as simple as taking a list of suppliers from one system, along with balances from another. UiPath can automate the production of these lists and balances for processing in Alteryx to produce a customer statement. This statement is then converted to a named PDF document and emailed to each customer. In an audit context, where proof of delivery can provide recognition of a sale, client records can be reconciled with those from a third-party delivery company, exceptions identified and presented for further investigation by the auditor. A business can reap many rewards from automation. While efficiency and time-saving with a shorter cycle time immediately spring to mind, increased quality and compliance as a result of a reduction in errors and an increase in accuracy are also often seen. Unlike mere mortals, robots never sleep and processes can operate autonomously 24/7, driving real-time transactions and analysis. While certainly more challenging to measure than the benefits outlined above, increased employee satisfaction through a focus on higher-value activities and a reduction in time spent on menial, repetitive tasks is a clear benefit. It helps shift the priorities of the employee to innovation, strategy and activities that add value to the business proposition, resulting in a happy and productive workforce and consequently, higher output. While the benefits that automation can bring when applied to appropriate processes are clear, we must bear in mind that, while automation can reduce hours in the long run, up-front investment is required to get it right. Also, control-aware accountants would know that any automated process requires ongoing review. A successful move towards automation requires the skills that accountants use all the time. For example, detailed process maps that are validated by walk-throughs are essential as well as thorough testing with scenario analysis. Consideration of the impact on controls, appropriate training, procedures, and user manuals are also required along with a measurement of actual versus expected results and periodic performance assessments. Accountants are likely to be key stakeholders in each of these activities. Admittedly, we have only just skimmed the surface of the potential of UiPath and what it can be used for. Still, given the myriad of considerations included above, this is hopefully understandable. We hope we have sparked a reflection on potential use cases in your own business and perhaps demonstrated areas where Alteryx alone may not go far enough. We encourage you to consider these use cases, investigate whether your organisation has the necessary experience and consider a proof of concept. In the world of RPA, do not be afraid to consult and draw on experience.   Richard Day FCA is Partner, Risk Assurance Leader, at PwC Ireland. Alannah Comerford ACA is Senior Manager, Data Analytics & Assurance, at PwC Ireland.

Jun 02, 2020

For the Credit Guarantee Scheme for COVID-19 to succeed, the Government must act quickly to enact the necessary legislation, argues Claire Lord. At a special cabinet meeting on 2 May 2020, the Irish Government agreed to introduce additional measures to support companies that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. One of these measures is the Credit Guarantee Scheme for COVID-19 (COVID CGS). The COVID CGS is a repurposing of the existing SME Credit Guarantee Scheme. Under the COVID CGS, the Irish Government will guarantee up to €2 billion of loans granted by Irish banks to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with the hope that these companies will be able to access funds from Irish banks. The participating Irish banks, initially being AIB, Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank, will make loans of amounts between €10,000 and €1 million to SMEs for terms of between three months and up to seven years. The guarantee The credit risk on these loans will be shared between the Government and the participating banks. The Government will guarantee the banks in respect of 80% of losses on each loan, and the banks will be responsible for the other 20%. However, the guarantee provided to the banks will also be subject to a 50% portfolio cap, which means that if a bank needs to call upon the COVID CGS in respect of every such loan made, they will only be guaranteed by the Government in respect of 40% of losses. There are arguments for and against the limitations on the guarantee being offered by Government in respect of these loans. The preference from the banks’ perspective would clearly be for a 100% guarantee. However, where some element of credit risk rests with the banks, it is arguable that the banks, who will make all decisions on lending, will more stringently assess the creditworthiness of businesses before granting a loan, thereby reducing some element of the associated moral hazard. Availability of the scheme A new law must be passed for the implementation of the COVID CGS. This new law will not be finalised until a new Irish government is in place. This unavoidable delay presents an immediate impediment to eligible SMEs accessing funds that could assist them in sustaining their businesses during this period of economic uncertainty. Eligibility for the scheme The COVID CGS is available to certain, but not all, SMEs established and operating in Ireland. SMEs that are in financial difficulty, other than cashflow pressure caused by the impact of COVID-19, are ineligible. Also, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation states that SMEs involved in primary agriculture, horticulture and fisheries are excluded from the scheme due to particular restrictions under the De Minimis State Aid rules. Notwithstanding this exclusion, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed T.D., has expressly stated that the COVID CGS will apply to farmers and fishermen. In light of this inconsistency on perceived eligibility, it is hoped that the enabling legislation will set out explicitly the eligibility criteria for the scheme. Lending criteria The participating banks will make the necessary assessments to determine if an SME applicant is eligible and to decide whether or not to make a loan available to them. As the intention of the COVID CGS is to support businesses that would not otherwise be able to obtain new or additional funding as they are higher-risk businesses due to COVID-19, banks will need guidance on how to make lending decisions. For example, how might a bank assess the long-term prospects of a business in the current unprecedented economic climate? Clear lending criteria will be essential to encourage both banks to offer, and SMEs to consider, the COVID CGS as a realistic option. Survival The availability of cash is crucial for SMEs that, but for COVID-19, would be trading profitably. Sustaining these businesses through this crisis is vital to enable our economy to restart once more ordinary activities are again permitted. The COVID CGS can only be of assistance where the scheme is readily available, and the eligibility and lending criteria are sufficiently clear to give lenders confidence to make the loans, and businesses confidence to avail of them. To be of any assistance in protecting the businesses that the scheme is designed to assist, the enabling law must be published and enacted quickly. Claire Lord is a Corporate Partner and Head of Governance and Compliance at Mason Hayes & Curran.

Jun 02, 2020

Peter Vale considers the items that could become long-term features of Ireland’s tax regime under the new government. In the April issue of Accountancy Ireland, I wrote about the expected impact of COVID-19 on Exchequer receipts for 2020 and beyond. We have now seen the evidence with both VAT and excise down roughly 50% on similar months last year. While some of the drop in VAT receipts might be down to timing with companies deferring payments, a large chunk is an unquestionably permanent loss in VAT revenue due to lower spending. The income tax figures for May are also expected to show a significant drop, due to vastly lower numbers in employment. The Department’s view is that corporation tax figures will hold up better. I hope this forecast is right, but I fear that the hit to corporate profits will be higher than anticipated, with refunds for prior years and losses carried forward likely to feature. What is next? So, what does this mean for future taxes? Will the relatively healthy state of our public finances entering the crisis make for a less painful exit? The Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe T.D., has stated that he will not raise taxes this year as doing so would stifle the ability of the economy to recover. This makes sense, assuming we can afford to do it. You also cannot simply raise taxes and expect to collect more tax revenue; you reach a tipping point, after which further hikes result in less tax collected. And many of our taxes are already high. Tax reliefs Of course, ruling out impending tax increases does not mean that there will not be a focus on tax reliefs. While many tax reliefs have been abolished over the last decade or so, certain targeted reliefs remain available to taxpayers. It is unlikely that tax reliefs incentivising environmentally friendly behaviour will be targeted. Furthermore, the research and development (R&D) tax credit is also unlikely to be affected as it encourages more sustainable jobs. Reliefs that allow business assets to be passed (typically) to the next generation are more likely to be in scope. Generous reliefs exist for both the disponer and the recipient. These reliefs escaped the guillotine in the past as they continued to make economic sense; a large tax bill was avoided on a potentially illiquid event, allowing the business to be driven forward by the next generation. Capital taxes Capital taxes are likely to be targeted by the Minister, perhaps initially by way of curtailment of reliefs and in the medium-term via an increase in rates. That said, capital tax rates are already high with our 33% rate one of the highest in the EU. In contrast, the UK capital gains tax rate is 20%. We know that when the capital gains tax rate was halved from 40% to 20% some years back, the tax-take doubled. An increase in capital gains tax rates could see the opposite effect, with fewer transactions and potentially more tax planning resulting in a lower tax yield. Broadening the tax base One thing the Minister may look at in the future is broadening the income tax base. It is questionable as to whether this would be regarded as an increase in taxes, but it would generate more tax revenue. Broadening the tax base would mean more people paying tax, albeit many would pay very little. Adjusting the current exemption limits and credits would facilitate this. Broadening the tax base was a recommendation of the Commission of Taxation over a decade ago, but we have not seen it followed by governments since. While the notion of everybody contributing something may resonate more in the current environment, it may still prove politically unpalatable. Property tax In the medium-term, depending on the state of the public finances, other tax-raising measures may be considered. The options aren’t exactly limitless. Our VAT rate is already comparatively high, as are our income taxes. Our corporation tax rate is low but effectively untouchable. One tax rate that is low in a European context is property tax, in particular for residential property. Many economists see property taxes as the least distortive, so an increase in property taxes might be the ‘least bad’ way to raise taxes. Tackling property taxes would be a brave move for a new government, but potentially something that could be done in year one or year two of a new term. Conclusion In summary, tax increases later this year are unlikely – although we may see certain reliefs targetedand the ‘old reliables’ such as cigarettes and alcohol are unlikely to escape. In the medium-term, COVID-19 will mean that tax-raising measures are likely to feature. In my view, a broadening of the tax base and an increase in property taxes are the most likely outcomes. Both of the above could be long-term features of our tax regime, although much will depend on future government priorities.   Peter Vale FCA is Tax Partner at Grant Thornton.

Jun 02, 2020

Geraldine Browne provides food for thought as employers prepare to report end-of-year expenses and benefits. At the time of writing, I am adjusting to working from home and seeking the best working station in the house (I lost). Much of my time is spent assisting clients with queries on the UK Government interventions introduced to help businesses survive in this challenging time. The most common questions relate to furloughed workers as companies struggle to maintain productivity. It is difficult to choose a topic for this article amid the human tragedy unfolding before us on a global scale. As this article will publish in June, employers will be gathering the necessary information to complete Forms P11D and share scheme reporting for the year ended 5 April 2020. For this reason, I will focus on P11D reporting and consider the changes employers face in benefit-in-kind (BIK) reporting in light of the coronavirus emergency. The due date for P11D reporting is 6 July 2020 for BIK provided for the year ended 5 April 2020. While this may have been delayed in line with other announcements from HMRC, the preparation process will nevertheless be the same. What do I need to file? If the employer paid any benefits and/or non-exempt expenses, or if they payrolled any BIKs, a P11D (B) form must be filed. The employer must include the total benefits liable to Class 1A, even if some of the benefits have been taxed through payroll. Employers are also required to give employees a letter informing them of the benefits that were payrolled and the amount of the benefit. What do you need to include on the P11D form? Taxable benefits typically include private medical and dental insurance, company cars, and gym membership, for example. HMRC has published a useful guide for P11D completion, which is a good starting point. Company cars and vans Employers are required to disclose the company car BIK for the full tax year where it is made available for the entire period. The question has been asked as to whether an employer can reduce the BIK value since employees have been asked to remain indoors and business travel in a company car ceased temporarily from March 2020. If an employee is furloughed and the vehicle remains at the employee’s home, the car is seen as being available under the current rules. At the time of writing, HMRC has not yet issued formal guidance on this matter. There have been suggestions that HMRC may accept that company cars will not be deemed available for BIK tax purposes where they are ‘virtually’ handed back by returning keys and fobs. It is worth reminding ourselves of the rules regarding the cessation of the car benefit. The benefit may cease, but remember: The car must be unavailable for at least 30 days to pause or cease a company car benefit; and HMRC will accept that the car is unavailable to the employee if it is broken down and has not been repaired or if the employee does not have the keys. If you have not already considered the company car policy, it is worth seeking advice in this area. Taxable expenses when working from home If employers provide a mobile phone without restriction on private use, limited to one employee, this is non-taxable. If the employee already pays for broadband, no additional expenses can be claimed. If broadband was not previously available in the employee’s home, the broadband fee paid for by the employer may be provided tax-free although in this case, private use must be restricted. Laptops, tablets, computers, and office supplies will not result in a taxable benefit if mainly used for business. If the employee purchases a desk and chair and seeks reimbursement from the employer, this will be viewed as taxable, and you may wish to include this in a Pay-as-you-earn Settlement Agreement (PSA). Some employers may provide employees with an allowance for additional expenses incurred in connection with working from home. This was increased to £6 per week from 6 April 2020 and can either be paid to the employee or reimbursed to them. Businesses and the economy are facing unprecedented financial pressure. It is worth reviewing your current benefits and expenses to identify ways in which you can reduce the cost to your business and reduce the taxable benefit to the employee. With many employees now furloughed and under severe financial pressure, any assistance an employer can provide to increase net pay will be welcome.   Geraldine Browne is Tax Director at BDO Northern Ireland.

Jun 02, 2020

David Duffy discusses recent Irish and EU VAT developments. Irish VAT updates VAT payment deferrals  In response to the economic impact of COVID-19, Revenue announced that interest would not apply to late payments by SMEs of their January/February 2020, March/April 2020 and May/June 2020 VAT liabilities. SMEs in this context are defined as businesses with a turnover of less than €3 million and which are not dealt with by either Revenue’s Large Cases Division or Medium Enterprises Division. Businesses that do not meet the definition of an SME but are experiencing VAT payment difficulties are advised to contact Revenue and these issues will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Revenue also advised that all taxpayers should continue to file VAT returns within the normal deadlines. Where key personnel are unavailable to prepare the VAT returns due to COVID-19, businesses should file on a ‘best estimates’ basis and any subsequent amendments can be completed on a self-correction basis without penalty.  Furthermore, on 2 May 2020, a scheme was announced to allow businesses that have availed of VAT and PAYE deferrals during the COVID-19 crisis to defer or “warehouse” the payment of those outstanding liabilities for a period of 12 months without accruing any interest. A lower than normal interest rate on late payment of tax (3% per annum instead of 10% per annum) will then apply until the warehoused tax liability has been repaid. Further details of this scheme are available on the Revenue website and legislation will be enacted in due course. Temporary relief from VAT and duty on PPE On 8 April 2020, Revenue announced that the 0% rate of Irish VAT and customs duties would apply to Irish imports (from outside the EU) of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other goods used to combat COVID-19. This relief applies to imports in the period from 30 January 2020 to 31 July 2020. Revenue also confirmed in eBrief 63/20, issued on 17 April, that the 0% rate of Irish VAT concessionally applies to domestic and intra-EU acquisitions of similar goods in the period from 9 April 2020 to 31 July 2020. These reliefs are subject to certain conditions, which are summarised below. For imports from outside the EU, the goods must be imported by, or on behalf of, State organisations, disaster relief agencies, or other organisations (including private operators) approved by Revenue. The goods must be intended for free-of-charge distribution or be made available free-of-charge to those affected by, at risk from, or involved in combating COVID-19. Furthermore, the importer must have both an EORI number and be pre-authorised by Revenue for the relief. In addition, import declarations must include the relevant customs codes in the appropriate SAD boxes. Where VAT and customs duties have already been paid but the relevant conditions for relief are met, a refund of such amounts can be claimed. Application forms to avail of the relief and to seek a refund of VAT or customs duty previously paid are available on Revenue’s website. For domestic supplies and intra-EU acquisitions, the 0% VAT rate temporarily applies to PPE, thermometers, ventilators, hand sanitiser and oxygen supplied to the HSE, hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities for use in the delivery of COVID-19-related healthcare services to patients. The sale of these products in other circumstances will continue to attract the VAT rate that would typically apply. VAT grouping In eBrief 053/20, Revenue issued guidance in respect of VAT groups. The guidance primarily outlines the requirements and implications of VAT grouping and includes examples, which show how the rules apply in certain circumstances. Businesses that are considering forming or breaking a VAT group should review the guidelines to ensure that the appropriate procedures are followed. The guidance includes a section on the territorial scope of Irish VAT groups and confirms that, where an entity that is established or has a fixed establishment in Ireland joins an Irish VAT group, it is the entire entity, including any overseas branches, that is considered to join the Irish VAT group. Consequently, charges from a foreign establishment of an Irish VAT group member to other members of that Irish VAT group are disregarded for Irish VAT purposes. This has been the Revenue position for some time, but it is helpful to have it reconfirmed – particularly for the financial services and insurance sectors. ROS enhancements In eBrief 58/20, Revenue announced several VAT-related enhancements to Revenue’s Online Service (ROS). Taxpayers now have the option to add a second VAT agent. To add the second VAT agent, taxpayers will need to complete an Agent Link form in the usual manner. Also, the Revenue Record (Registration Details) on ROS now indicates the VAT basis of accounting (i.e. the cash receipts or invoice basis) adopted by a given taxpayer. EU VAT updates VAT treatment of staff secondments The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) concluded in the San Domenico Vetraria (SDV) case (C-94/19) that the secondment of staff by a parent company to its subsidiary in return for a payment equal to the parent company’s cost (but excluding any profit margin) is a supply of services within the scope of VAT. The case highlights that VAT can arise on cross-charges for staff time and this should be carefully considered, particularly in cases where there may be no or partial VAT recovery in the recipient entity. In analysing the case, the CJEU re-stated that VAT arises on a supply of goods or services effected for consideration within the territory of an EU member state by a taxable person. A supply effected for consideration requires a legal relationship between the supplier and recipient, and reciprocal performance, meaning that the payment received by the provider of the service is in return for the service supplied to the recipient. In the present case, the CJEU was satisfied that there was a legal relationship between the parent and subsidiary and that there was a payment in return for the service provided. Consequently, where the Italian court, which had referred the case to the CJEU, established based on the facts that the amounts invoiced by the parent company were a condition for the secondment and that the subsidiary paid those amounts only in return for the secondment, VAT would apply to the secondment. The CJEU confirmed that the fact that the payment did not include a profit margin did not impact the VAT analysis, as it has been previously held that a supply for VAT purposes can take place where services are supplied at or below cost.   David Duffy FCA, AITI Chartered Tax Advisor, is an Indirect Tax Partner at KPMG.

Jun 02, 2020
Show Me More News