The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme has ceased as of August 2020, but what does this mean for employers and their employees in terms of tax liabilities? Olive O’Donoghue explores the different options available. While the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) ceased at the end of August 2020, there are three main projects to be completed before the scheme will be fully closed off:  Revenue’s reconciliation; finalisation of employer compliance checks; and payment of employee taxes. The main objective of the reconciliation process is to ensure Revenue recoup any excess subsidy paid to employers. While the expectation would be that most overpayments occurred in the Transitional Phase of the TWSS (mainly because, for the first few weeks, employers received a flat €410 per eligible employee per week irrespective of the amount due), it is possible that overpayments may also have occurred for other reasons. For example, a clawback of subsidy would also be required where an employer has paid an employee more than their average revenue net weekly pay. All employers who availed of the TWSS should have already submitted details of subsidies paid to employees over the course of the scheme. Following receipt of these files, we understand that the reconciliation process is underway. While we expect this process to be finalised by the end of 2020, a fixed date has not yet been provided by Revenue. The employer compliance checks continue and, while many employers have already received the letters from Revenue, a number are still issuing. Throughout the operation of the TWSS, Revenue stated that it would adopt a pragmatic approach in assessing an employer’s eligibility for the scheme, and the experience with compliance checks supports this. It is worth noting that Revenue is utilising the compliance check process as an opportunity to raise queries/concerns on PAYE real time reporting issues, so employers should be mindful of this as they move through the compliance process. The tax treatment of subsidies payable under the TWSS has been a contentious issue amongst employers and employees, mainly due to the impact this treatment has to an eligible employee’s overall net pay position for 2020. While there has been significant push back from various bodies and interested parties over the last few months, unfortunately Revenue’s position remains that the TWSS will be subject to income tax and USC. In January, all eligible employees will receive a preliminary end of year statement from Revenue via Revenue’s MyAccount. This will show an employee’s estimated tax liability for 2020 – or, in some cases, a refund. The employee may wish to claim additional reliefs, such as medical expenses, additional pension contributions, etc. Once the final liability is determined, the employee can choose how they would like it to be settled. The employee may choose to settle the liability in full, directly with Revenue, make a part-payment to Revenue upfront with the balance being paid by way of reduced tax credits over four years from 2022, or elect for the full liability to be settled by way of reduced credits over four years from 2022. Recently, Revenue helpfully issued an update advising employers that they can settle the employees’ tax liabilities arising from the TWSS without a gross-up being required through payroll. The guidance notes that employers can make a payment to each employee to settle their liability directly with Revenue or, alternatively, an employer may choose to amend their last payroll submission for 2020 to capture the additional income tax and USC due by the employee. Further details on this can be found on revenue.ie. Olive O’Donoghue is a Director of Tax in KPMG.

Nov 20, 2020

With many of us working remotely for now, it is imperative that Irish tax rules around the 'normal' place of work, as well as expenses, are re-evaluated. Colin Smith explains. The Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) recently published the results of its remote working consultation held in August. While submissions to the DBEI covered a wide range of topics, nearly 200 of the 520 submissions raised tax and financial remote work-related concerns. The CCAB-I was among the submissions to outline tax problems in the context of remote working. A special interdepartmental group has been set up to take over for the DBEI to work on the Programme for Government’s promise to develop a remote working strategy. Current measures As outlined by the Minister on Budget Day, there are tax measures in place, to some extent, to support remote workers: Employers can contribute up to €3.20 per day to cover the employee’s additional costs of working from home, such as electricity, heat and broadband, without triggering a charge to benefit-in-kind (BIK). Many employers cannot afford to make such a contribution in the current economic climate. In the UK, the Government provides tax relief of £1.20 per week to lower-rate taxpayers and £2.40 per week to higher-rate taxpayers, when workers are required to work from home due to COVID-19 restrictions. The UK measure is modest, but it’s easy to claim the relief and it recognises that workers are out of pocket due to the restrictions. A similar measure should be considered by the Irish Government. Employees not in receipt of a contribution from an employer can make a claim for tax relief directly from Revenue of 10% of the cost of electricity and heat as apportioned over the number of days worked at home over the year. Revenue recently announced that it will also allow a claim for 30% of the cost of broadband apportioned over the number of days worked at home over the year. An employee working from home cannot claim tax relief for the purchase of work-related equipment such as computers and office furniture. However, the employer can provide such equipment to the employee and a BIK charge will not arise so long as private use is minimal. Employees can make a claim for tax relief directly from Revenue for other vouched expenses incurred “wholly, exclusively and necessarily” in the performance of the duties of their employment. Revenue applies a strict interpretation on the meaning of wholly, exclusively, and necessarily based on case law: an employee can only claim a deduction where the expense is incurred entirely in the performance of their duties, the employee is required to incur the expense in the performance of their duties, and they could not have carried out their duties without incurring the expense. These are complex rules and the odds of making a successful claim are stacked against the employee in the context of working from home. Fairer and more accessible tax rules must be developed as part of an effective strategy for remote working. ‘Normal’ place of work As set out in the CCAB-I’s submission to DBEI, an employee’s normal place of work is central to the tax treatment of travel and subsistence reimbursements to employees. Revenue holds the position that an employee’s home does not qualify as a normal place of work other than in exceptional circumstances and this brings complexity to what should be a straightforward matter. Employees and employers have risen to the challenge of new work practices as necessitated by COVID-19, and Irish tax rules must now align with these practices by re-evaluating what is a ‘normal’ place of work for tax purposes and the rules for tax deductible expenses of employment. Colin Smith is a Tax Partner at PwC and member of CCAB-I Tax Committee South.

Nov 20, 2020

The government has recently announced details of a new support scheme for businesses, but it has limitations that need to be addressed. Paul Dillon outlines the role Chartered Accountants must play to raise awareness of these limitations. Details of the COVID Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS), announced as part of Budget 2021, were recently published by Revenue and registration for the scheme has officially opened. By offering a support of up to €5,000 per week, the scheme will be very valuable to businesses impacted by Government health and safety restrictions. However, the biggest hurdle for businesses will be meeting the many terms and conditions necessary to qualify. To begin with, the guidance issued by Revenue is over 45 pages long. While detailed guidance is always helpful, the length of the guidance speaks volumes about the complexity of the scheme. Further, it piles more paperwork on businesses already struggling to stay on top of the demands of operating under lockdown conditions. These same businesses continue to grapple with paperwork for the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) by having to respond to compliance check letters and reconciliations for Revenue, which all 66,000 employers who benefited from the scheme must prepare. The CRSS is only available to businesses operating from premises that restricts customers from access due to COVID-19 restrictions. This means that the scheme benefits retailers, restaurants, pubs and entertainment venues, but it cannot be accessed by the many suppliers of these businesses, even though these suppliers are equally impacted by the negative effects of the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions. For example, wholesalers supplying to restaurants, pubs and hotels do not qualify for the CRSS under the current terms of the scheme. Sound engineers who supply their services to the live entertainment sector do not qualify for this subsidy, and all the businesses who provide services to theatres and shows are also excluded from CRSS. Mobile businesses not tied to a fixed premise are also precluded from accessing the scheme. This includes taxis and businesses operated from stalls, such as markets or trade fairs. It is puzzling why the Government has chosen to exclude these businesses from qualifying for the CRSS, especially given the fact that on Budget Day, Minister Donohoe said, “The scheme is designed to assist those businesses whose trade has been significantly impacted or temporarily closed as a result of the restrictions as set out in the Government’s ‘Living with Covid-19’ Plan.” This messaging gave hope to many businesses; however, those hopes were dashed when further details revealed the condition that only businesses operating from a fixed premises with restricted customer access could benefit from the scheme. As Government restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19 are likely to be a feature of life in Ireland in 2021, it is essential that proper supports are in place to help all businesses impacted by the restrictions, like the wholesalers and businesses supplying services to restaurants and hotels. The CRSS will be a lifeline to many businesses and its only fair that the scheme should apply to all businesses impacted. While Government has demonstrated a willingness to revise and refine supports, like the TWSS, it is only when the issues are brought into the public domain by informed commentary. That is why, as Chartered Accountants, we have a role to play in raising awareness of the limitations of the CRSS and lobbying for change. Paul Dillon is Deputy Chair of the Tax Committee South of the CCAB-I and Taxation Partner in Duignan Carthy O'Neill.

Nov 20, 2020

A recent ICS survey has identified a serious gap in board members’ oversight of cyber-resilience. Bob Semple analyses the data and explains the practical steps board members can take to better protect their organisations. When it comes to cyber resilience, boards members’ lack of capability and confidence is undermining their ability to do their core job: directing and overseeing. That is the conclusion of a recent Irish Computer Science (ICS) survey of board members of Irish organisations (many of whom are Chartered Accountants). And when cyberattacks today are potentially as destructive as major natural disasters, that’s bad news. The ICS survey was undertaken to determine how well-protected Irish organisations are. What was found makes for sobering reading: one in three board members have received no cyber training in the last year; less than two in five have been properly briefed on cyber developments; an alarming three quarters have never participated in a test of their board’s cyber incident response plan (if it even exists); as many as one in six had no Statement of Risk Appetite at all, let alone one that properly reflected the board’s attitude to cyber-resilience; and one in ten respondents confessed they had never briefed staff on the importance their board attaches to cyber-resilience. 'Noses in, hands-off' (but check!) Good governance requires boards to adopt a 'noses in, hands-off' approach. But, as case law has reminded us, this does not absolve the board of its responsibility to ensure that tasks delegated to management are completed to their satisfaction. For their part, management must be able to identify: the assets they are trying to protect; the key risks affecting them; the controls that appropriately mitigate those risks; and the plans that enable the organisation to bounce back from an attack. The smartest organisations realise that they are past the point of being always able to repel the bad actors. Instead, the goal is to ensure that companies can recover quickly and effectively from a successful breach of defences. The ICS survey revealed serious gaps in each of these links in the chain of defence against cyberattacks. Assurance Increasingly, board members are asking: Where am I getting assurance about risks, controls and resilience? How valuable is that assurance? Is it sufficient for me as a board member? What other assurance should I be seeking? The ICS survey revealed that one in three respondents have never obtained formal assurance from management on these issues. Furthermore, only half of respondents said that they had obtained assurance after independent testing by a third-party. Practical guidance Cyberattacks are increasing in number, sophistication, and impact. Board members need to ask more questions, strengthen their defences, and get more assurance to ensure that their organisations are cyber-resilient. You can find the report – with details of the practical steps board members can take - here: www.ics.ie/cyberresilience. Bob Semple is a Director and Governance Consultant.

Nov 13, 2020

It is a truth universally known that a bad to-do list can have a detrimental effect on productivity. Seán McLoughney shares his tips to help you transform how you plan and schedule your key activities. “Do you use a to-do list to help plan your time and be more efficient?” This is the opening question I ask at my time management workshops. Most people enthusiastically indicate that they do use a to-do list. Those who do not use them will often apologise for their apparent lack of planning skills. However, my next question always leads to an interesting discussion: “How effective is your to-do list?” I find that they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. In fact, you can waste a significant amount of time writing to-do lists with little benefit gained. Traditional to-do lists fail for many reasons; they are unstructured, contain too many items, are rarely prioritised correctly, and can be overwhelming. They also fail because people are unable, or unwilling, to manage themselves and their reactions to the behaviour of others. Further, most people do not estimate correctly the length of time each task will take. It is not surprising, then, that the completion of these lists rarely happens as planned. The ‘Make it Happen, Always’ approach You can transform your underperforming to-do list using a ‘Make it Happen, Always’ approach. This method is designed to give you a set of tools and techniques that will change the way you plan your schedule, adding consistency and collaboration to the way you work. Your to-do list tells you what you already know; this approach is a blueprint for your successful completion of the tasks that are of real value to you. A great place to start is by planning and scheduling important activities to ensure that the right tasks get done consistently, as well as protecting your time so that the important things do not get dropped. Begin your plan by reviewing your list of tasks and then prioritise them based on importance and impending deadlines. Developing the skill of prioritising will allow you to consistently work on important jobs and tasks rather than fuelling a non-productive ‘always too busy’ culture. Next, schedule these important tasks into your diary so that you can have a complete overview of all your daily activities. Factor in how long each task will take, and assign a start and an estimated finish time – similar to the way you would schedule a meeting. This will allow you to establish how many activities you can realistically complete each day. Estimating the time each task will take is an essential part of time management. As this scheduling habit becomes embedded in your way of working, you will then start to schedule your week and month. Using your diary in this way will allow you to stay ahead of deadlines and anticipate any potential bottlenecks. What to avoid Avoid filling each day with tasks, meetings and other activities. Always leave time for some unexpected crisis or important last-minute task. This wriggle room will give you the scope to reorganise your schedule if something unexpected lands on your desk without compromising an important task already scheduled. I tend to front-load my day with activities and leave the wriggle room for later in the afternoon. Time management is a core business skill that must be learned to deliver high performance and drive a business forward. It is time to move away from the traditional underperforming to-do lists and start using a new approach to transform the way you plan and schedule your key activities. Seán McLoughney is the founder of LearningCurve and author of Time Management.

Nov 13, 2020

How can we make sense of a seemingly random event like the COVID-19 pandemic? Tom Armstrong talks about coping and the critical role of human support and interaction in helping us navigate the road to recovery. We are now close to one year on from the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Asia, and the negative impact of this random event is more evident than ever. People feel less safe, less in control, more vulnerable, less confident, and more anxious than before. Those suffering most may be asking why now, and why me? A recent read of Ronnie Janoff-Bulman’s book, Shattered Assumptions, compelled me to fully consider the impact of random events like COVID-19, where so much of the immediate impact is negative. It is difficult to say where this pandemic lies on the trauma scale. Many people have had little impact on physical health, work, and mental wellbeing. However, many others have been affected through the loss of loved ones, loss of livelihood, having to put life progression on hold, and general anxiety about the state of the world. How can those who have suffered cope? I think we can divide coping into some broad areas. Self-help Create a routine, eat well, take regular exercise, maintain a journal, spend time in nature, spend less time looking at mobile devices, watch a good movie, meditate, sing, start a new hobby or make a simple daily plan. These things are within our control and are good for our wellbeing, regardless of the degree to which COVID-19 has impacted us. Interpretation of events Our interpretation of life events is shaped by our life experience and tends to be the result of unconscious processes. However, over time and through reflection, we can work on the meaning of events. While not deluding ourselves, we can reframe events. This work enables us to incorporate, and make meaning of, what has happened in our world. For example, maybe this crisis has given us time to spend more time with family, really listen to the opinions of those we differ with, hear the birds sing, or appreciate the flowers in full bloom. Maybe, because of this pandemic, we’re learning to be more considerate, appreciate the simple things in life, and be grateful for what we have. Take action Taking our own actions is important to give ourselves a sense of control and the feeling of agency over our lives. While our ability to take specific actions may be restricted right now, there are still many areas of our lives where we can make our own choices – calling a friend, getting up early, going for a walk/run and so on. In time, our feeling of freedom to take more action will return. Support This is a two-way street where we can both receive and give support. It is a dynamic process. What does this support look like? It can be material support, such as money or services, or it can be information support – tools and advice about resources that are available to help a person in need. Equally, it can simply take the form of listening, empathising, accepting, and valuing another person. Because we are fundamentally social beings, social support is critical for our sense of self-worth. Social support is positively associated with psychological wellbeing and mental health. We all can offer support and a supportive environment to those who need it. The road ahead There will be a return to more ‘normal’ times when social restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, we all have the choice to support and help each other as we navigate the current challenges and seek to reach the other side safely. We may get bruised along the way, but when it’s over, we will have survived and through our actions and experience, we can be wiser, stronger and more human. Tom Armstrong is an Executive Coach, Facilitator, Mentor and Chartered Accountant.

Nov 13, 2020

Investing in the circular economy is not only good for the planet but also good for your pocket. Holger Frey identifies four investment clusters that are set to benefit from the alternative economic model. The boundless appetite for resources, fuelled by linear production and consumption patterns, is exceeding the planet’s regenerative capacity. Regulatory actions for economic circularity are amplified by consumers opting for circular products. With ongoing innovations and technological advancements, prospects for de-materialisation look better than ever. But how can investors navigate this transition to benefit from the emerging investment opportunities? The traditional linear economy, based on the ‘take-make-dispose’ production and consumption model, has pushed the planet’s capacity out of balance. It has led to a growing coalition of scientists, innovators, policy-makers, and consumers calling for a transition to closed-loop production and consumption systems that minimise waste and emissions, as well as material and energy losses. A switch to the circular economy could unlock an estimated US$4.5 trillion of value globally by 2030, with innovative technologies providing new ways to create service models and extract value from closed-loop systems. Technological drivers Technology is a critical enabler of the transition to a circular economy. Advances in artificial intelligence, digital platforms and cloud-based solutions have, in some instances, eliminated the need for physical assets, helping to de-materialise entire value chains. The ongoing digital penetration of production and logistics improves the traceability of resource and product flows. It can also help optimise lifetime product use, including predictive maintenance solutions. Increased visibility enables not only better control over potential waste creation, but also creates more accountability for companies along the value chain. Meanwhile, the advancement of new chemicals and catalysts enables the production of bio-based materials to replace fossil alternatives. Investing in the circular economy We have identified four investment clusters that are set to benefit from the transition to the circular economy: Redesign inputs capture investment opportunities that exploit the shift from fossil-based inputs to renewable ones. Enabling technologies focus on solutions that provide the infrastructure for circular economy businesses, contribute to the de-materialisation of production, or create new and non-linear business models, such as product-as-a-service. Circular use includes companies that support circular consumption patterns through sustainable sourcing, the sharing economy, product longevity, and reusability. Loop resources focus on providers of solutions that extend product lifecycles or recover embedded value from disposed of products. The time is ripe to redirect the global economy toward higher circularity. Governments are standing firm behind their commitments to the circular economy, despite the economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By exposing critical vulnerabilities in global supply chains, the pandemic has lent additional urgency to the shift from linear thinking to system thinking, while also providing a glimpse into the extensive de-materialisation possibilities ahead, empowered by maturing digitisation solutions in several sectors. As innovative technologies help unlock new value from the circular economy, the shift to higher circularity is becoming a matter of basic economics rather than a trend driven purely by environmental urgency. Companies pursuing circular business models are set to win from the structural changes ahead, with innovation leaders applying circular economy principles to differentiate their product offering. Holger Frey is a Senior Portfolio Manager, Circular Economy Equities & Sustainable Food Equities, at Robeco.

Nov 06, 2020

2020 has seen a sharp rise in cyberattacks. How can those in the financial sector overcome these security challenges? Eleanor Barlow outlines the top five risks organisations should be aware of. Security measures in the financial sector, such as key codes, two-factor authentication, voice ID, behavioural analysis, one-time passcodes, protective messaging, and digital fingerprinting, have evolved dramatically. But with more security measures in place, there are arguably just more elements for attackers to infiltrate. Through an analysis of a real-life threat to a large financial client, we have found the top five security challenges facing the financial sector, the risk of future threats, and how to spot these threats before it is too late. Ransomware Ransomware has increased dramatically over the last few years, both in terms of the number of attacks and the range of methods used to conduct them. Attackers are incredibly sophisticated. Once they have your data, there is no guarantee that your data will be given back or decrypted, even if you pay up. There is also no guarantee that you will not be targeted a second time. Often, once an attack is made, the bad actor will sell the details on because the payload can still be there. Internal threats According to the Verizon 2020 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), employees’ mistakes account for roughly the same number of breaches as external parties who are actively attacking the organisation. In fact, misdelivery within the company, by which information is inadvertently sent to the wrong person, appears to be the most common issue in terms of insider threats. Misdelivery can occur via emails forwarded or sent to the wrong recipient, by incorporating the wrong mailing list, or the incorrect address on a paper document. Misdelivery is, more often than not, accidental and non-malicious, but the effects can be devastating. App developments Apps for investment and finance have grown substantially in 2020. This, in part, is a good thing as the ability to invest online is quick, easy, and accessible to all. However, many apps were developed quickly and are consequently underprepared for cyberattacks. Many do not provide two-factor authentication, are not supported by the appropriate regulations, are not patched or appropriately maintained, and do not have contingency plans to mitigate the effects of a cyberattack. As a result, app users’ personal information is relatively easy to steal and sell. This can be done by creating duplicate fraudulent apps to trick the user. On these duplicate apps, the imagery and language of the genuine app are mirrored. Once the personal information is supplied, both real and virtual money is then accessible. Third-party risks These days, few organisations work alone. The majority use third parties including vendors, partners, email providers, service providers, web hosting companies, law firms, data management companies, subcontractors and so on. Without appropriate security measures in place, these third parties could easily provide a backdoor for attackers into your financial systems. COVID-19 Cybercriminals continue to target the financial sector amid the pandemic. As a result, we have seen a spike in attacks on banks, financial organisations, as well as third parties connected to them. Before COVID-19, if an attacker wanted to sabotage a company or steal data, they would target the business itself – the website, the social accounts, the logins and all its vulnerabilities. In response, organisations established parameters for this. Now, attackers simply need to target a single remote worker. In response to these five threats, banks and financial institutions require tailored and sophisticated security to support their systems and people, and to defend against an onslaught of complex and aggressive cyberattacks. Not only must the financial sector increase its security compliance tenfold, security precautions must also evolve to mirror the growing threat landscape. Eleanor Barlow is Content Manager at SecurityHQ.

Nov 06, 2020

With cybersecurity an increasing concern for companies, how can organisations keep on top of cyber controls? By investing in three things – people, processes, and technology – companies can develop robust cyber resilience, says Colm McDonnell. Cybersecurity has been a priority for boards for several years. It has come into sharper focus recently, however, as COVID-19 forced a digital transformation whereby teams – and often entire organisations – now work remotely. According to the Deloitte Future of Cyber Survey, 49% of C-level executives say that cybersecurity is on the board agenda at least once a quarter. And so, companies are turning their focus to cyber risk management at an organisational and national level. You can see how the focus has developed over the years in how industry regulators have approached cyber risk management – the introduction of GDPR and the Network Information Security (NIS) Directive, which focuses on cybersecurity controls and resilience, are just two examples. Recent global events have accelerated many companies’ digital transformation journeys to facilitate increased remote working and online transactions. Digital transformation can be extremely effective for businesses, but it comes with its own risks. Organisations may struggle to prioritise risk if they have not settled on a specific framework and governance model, or if different areas of the business use different frameworks to assess and report cyber risk. Several cyber risk frameworks have been developed over the years, and it is common to see organisations utilise elements of one or more frameworks to support their cyber risk objectives. The following common areas of focus are key to successfully managing cyber risk: Obtain buy-in from the top for the cyber programme. Irrespective of the framework(s) chosen, develop a common risk taxonomy that facilitates open and transparent reporting. Understand what matters most by identifying the organisation’s crown jewels (i.e. its systems and processes). This can help you focus on what is truly important and needs to be protected. Understand the threat landscape and how it might disrupt the confidentiality, integrity or availability of these assets. Identify your stakeholders. Is there an external compliance element that needs to be addressed? Cyberattacks can result in direct revenue loss, loss of customer trust, regulatory fines, and a fall in a company’s share price. Develop and deploy preventative and detective controls to support the management of cyber risks. Test the effectiveness of these controls and periodically review the threat landscape. Develop and frequently test your response plans to ensure your organisation can recover critical assets in the event of an attack. It is impossible to provide 100% assurance on cyber controls, but preparing your organisational response (people, process and technology) to an adverse cyber event and focusing on your core services are crucial steps to developing cyber resilience. Colm McDonnell is Head of Risk Advisory in Deloitte.

Nov 06, 2020

Michael Kavanagh summarises the key points in ESMA’s recently published statement on European common enforcement priorities for 2020 IFRS financial statements. Last week, the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) issued its annual public statement highlighting the common areas that European national accounting enforcers will focus on when reviewing listed companies’ 2020 IFRS financial statements. Why is it important? Financial reporting plays an essential role in securing and maintaining investors’ confidence in financial markets. Effective financial reporting depends on appropriate and consistent enforcement of high-quality financial reporting standards. Within the EU, national accounting enforcers such as the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA) in Ireland enforce financial reporting standards. European accounting enforcers are required to include the ESMA topics in their examinations of companies’ 2020 year-end financial statements. ESMA’s priorities It won’t come as any surprise that the impact of COVID-19 is the dominant theme this year. The common enforcement priorities related to the 2020 IFRS financial statements include:   The application of IAS 1 Presentation of Financial Statements with a focus on going concern, significant judgements and estimation uncertainty, and the presentation of COVID-related items in the financial statements; The application of IAS 36 Impairment of Assets, where the recoverable amount of goodwill, intangible assets and tangible assets may be impacted by the deterioration of the economic outlook of various sectors; The application of IFRS 9 Financial Instruments and IFRS 7 Financial Instruments: Disclosures, with particular emphasis on the general considerations relating to risks arising from financial instruments, focusing on liquidity risk, and specific considerations related to the application of IFRS 9 for credit institutions when measuring expected credit losses; and Specific issues related to the application of IFRS 16 Leases, including explicit disclosures by lessees which have applied the IASB’s amendment providing relief to lessees when accounting for rent concessions. Other matters highlighted For the first time, ESMA splits the statement into different parts. Part one, summarised above, deals with IFRS ‘back-end’ reporting while parts two and three deal with what is commonly called ‘front-end’ reporting. In an Irish context, it should be noted that, while IAASA is the enforcer for IFRS, other authorities such as the Central Bank are responsible for regulating certain front-end items outlined in the document. The matters highlighted in the statement include the requirements to disclose non-financial information with regard to:   The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on non-financial matters; Social and employee matters – most notably in relation to the extensive use of remote working arrangements and compliance with health and safety rules; Business model and value creation, with an emphasis on the need to provide disclosures on the impact of the pandemic on the business model and value creation; Risks relating to climate change, taking into account physical and transition risks; and Considerations on the application of the ESMA Guidelines on APM in relation to COVID-19. Next steps ESMA and European national accounting enforcers will monitor and supervise the application of the IFRS requirements, as well as any other relevant provisions outlined in the statement. National authorities will also incorporate them into their reviews and take corrective action where appropriate. ESMA will collect data on how EU-listed entities have applied the priorities, and will report on findings regarding these priorities in its report on the 2020 enforcement activities. For more detail, download the ESMA public statement here. Michael Kavanagh is CEO of the Association of Compliance Officers in Ireland (ACOI) and a member of the Consultative Working Group, which advises the European Securities and Markets Authority’s Corporate Reporting Standing Committee.

Oct 30, 2020

Kevin Lynch explains why ESG reporting is fast becoming a critical pillar in the evaluation of organisational stability. As we enter Climate Finance Week, a common question is: why should environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues be a priority for my organisation? Among the many valid reasons, let’s take three – financing, brand and risk appraisal. 1. Financing The requirements and desires of financial investors are changing, with sustainability taking a central role. Investors are increasingly using sustainability as a proxy for how fast companies can respond to changing market conditions, and ESG reporting is an excellent place to set out your stall. Add to this the broader rise of dedicated ESG funds and green finance, and sustainability initiatives can open up new finance channels for organisations. 2. Brand Detailed ESG reporting is a mark of a conscientious brand and is received positively by employees, customers and suppliers. For employees, having a clear and tangible understanding of their organisation’s sustainability policies and the progress thus far improves workplace satisfaction and is viewed favourably by prospective employees. Complementing this, customers and suppliers are requesting better standards from the brands they engage with. By leading with clear policies and highlighting achievements, companies can stand out from the crowd. 3. Risk appraisal Well-developed ESG reporting provides a nuanced understanding of non-financial company risks. Interlinking ESG outputs with company risk management can deliver a competitive advantage for organisations in unstable economic times. If we accept ESG as a valid endeavour, the impetus is clear. The next question we need to ask is: how do we map our ESG goals? Ambiguity is a common pitfall for effective ESG reporting, with many companies trying to address a fog of war as they compare themselves to their competitors and their sector. Without mandated standards, however, this comparison is often not straightforward. To address the need for standardisation, an EU initiative is currently curating a shared taxonomy for sustainable activities. This shared taxonomy will be delivered at the end of 2022, which is a welcome step. But in place of the awaited taxonomy, an honest self-appraisal and an evaluation of sectoral best practice by the board and management team can position a company for strategic ESG success. Often central to self-evaluation, a materiality approach can provide a focus for tangible priorities, allowing a switch from compliance-based incentives to stakeholder-led initiatives that relate to wider-held business objectives. Embedding these initiatives throughout the business will enable leaders to monitor their success, make use of in-situ reporting methods, and ensure that the process is not a box-ticking afterthought. Having set or revised your ESG goals, you need to know how you can meaningfully measure progress against those goals. Frameworks such as TCFD (Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures), SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board), and GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) are beneficial. However, without well-defined goals aligned with strategic objectives and linked to measurable outcomes, the implementation will always fall short. By centring measurement in your ESG plan from the outset, it is possible to continuously evaluate not only your successes and failures but importantly, the areas where you lack clear information. When information for ESG progress is not readily available or well understood, this challenge should be faced head-on, and the first step is understanding the gaps. With many companies acknowledging ESG as a priority, many are asking: who is best-placed to oversee ESG delivery? Finance departments are in a unique position to support the delivery of ESG reporting and analysis, with responsibility spanning strategic objective-setting, financial and non-financial disclosures, and risk management and appraisal. In uncertain times, accountants provide trusted guidance in evaluating the continued stability of their organisations, and ESG reporting is becoming another pillar in this evaluation process. Kevin Lynch is Chief Technical Officer at The Information Lab Ireland.

Oct 29, 2020

The Climate Action Bill has ignited the drive for businesses to decarbonise, writes Lorraine McCann. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 commits Ireland to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Net-zero means that any emissions pumped into the atmosphere must be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount of emissions. To have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celcius and stabilising climate change, we must reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Carbon footprinting The Bill has introduced a system of successive five-year carbon budgets, which means that emissions ceilings will be allocated to all relevant sectors. The first carbon budget will be introduced in 2021 and include all greenhouse gases (GHGs). This puts the onus on business to measure, monitor, report, and assure GHG emissions annually to ensure that companies fully understand their impacts and potential sectoral limitations. Carbon pricing Businesses must now set their own targets for net-zero emissions by 2050 and align with government decarbonisation target ranges to limit potential future costs. The carbon tax is currently €33.50 per tonne of CO2. However, this will rise by €7.50 annually to 2029, and by a further €6.50 in 2030, to achieve €100 per tonne of CO2. Businesses should calculate the current and potential cost of carbon to 2030 and beyond to determine the cost exposure level due to anticipated cost increases. Furthermore, those companies that persist with fossil fuel use, whether using a diesel/petrol fleet or using heating oil, will feel the hit of rising carbon taxes, motor tax, and VRT rates. The physical and transitional risks of climate change will bring significant costs for business. Any company that has not sought to understand how it will be impacted by climate change to 2050 should prioritise this as a critical action. Increasing regulation The Bill outlined a commitment to update the Climate Action Plan annually from 2021 onwards, and a National Long-Term Climate Action Strategy will be prepared once every ten years. All local authorities are also required to develop local Climate Action Plans covering both mitigation and adaptation actions. This will undoubtedly impact regulation, planning, and investment decisions across all sectors. The cost of compliance and climate adaptation should be factored into business decisions – the faster the move to decarbonise, the more incentives will be available to companies for retrofitting and transitioning to renewable energy. Opportunities in decarbonisation The scale of the challenge is immense. However, there are opportunities in decarbonisation. The transition to net-zero means that businesses now have a wealth of opportunities in innovation, emerging technologies, skills-building and job creation across the renewable energy sector, retrofitting, circular economy, clean mobility, infrastructure, sustainable agriculture, and the bio-economy. The Bill sets out a clear pathway to drive future investment in these areas. Lorraine McCann is Director, Climate Change and Sustainability Services at EY Ireland.

Oct 28, 2020

While COVID-19 remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Budget 2021 was built on the assumption of a no-deal Brexit. Alma O’Brien reports. The key objectives of Budget 2021 were to provide supports to those affected by COVID-19 and Brexit. Taking into account recent political developments in the UK and the British Government’s stated intent to disregard parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, it is not surprising that the Irish Government prudently prepared this year’s budget on the basis that the EU and UK would fail to conclude a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA). We expected to see several targeted Brexit support measures announced on budget day. Instead, the budget provided for a flexible €3.4 billion recovery fund to be used by the Government to stimulate demand and mitigate the effect of Brexit and COVID-19 on the Irish economy. This demonstrates an acute awareness that the challenges we will face in the months ahead are not best served by rigid strategies but instead by diligent, dynamic and energetic Government responses. The recovery fund should provide the finances required to facilitate this approach. The Government has committed to access the €5 billion Brexit Adjustment Reserve, announced by the European Council in July 2020. This reserve is designed to support the countries and sectors most impacted by Brexit. Some of the more specific Brexit expenditure items announced in Budget 2021 include €340 million to support the improvement of infrastructure at Irish ports and airports, customs compliance activities and the hiring of 500 additional frontier staff. In addition to this week’s budget announcement, the Government is due to bring forward the Brexit Omnibus Bill, which seeks to: preserve access to priority services, benefits and reliefs relating to trade between Ireland and the United Kingdom; satisfy several obligations and commitments Ireland has made to the United Kingdom outside of EU membership; and prevent a cliff-edge scenario for Irish people and businesses after 31 December 2020. It is understood that it will apply regardless of whether or not there is an FTA. Minister Paschal Donohoe’s Budget 2021 speech contained the word “COVID” 12 times, and the word “Brexit” only five. More thought-provoking, perhaps, is the fact that Minister Donohoe’s Budget 2020 speech contained the word Brexit 41 times. This reminds us that, while this year’s budget may not have included the expected number of targeted Brexit supports, the supports announced must be viewed in light of the extensive suite of measures contained in the July Jobs Stimulus Package, previous budgets, and those to be provided for in the Brexit Omnibus Bill. Alma O’Brien is Partner and Head of Tax at Baker Tilly.

Oct 16, 2020

With Brexit looming before us, how can asset managers ensure they are operationally ready for the end of the transition period? Trish Johnston outlines five key considerations that should help. The UK and EU remain at loggerheads when it comes to agreeing on the post-Brexit Trade Agreement. Many asset managers have been preparing for a no-deal Brexit and have successfully implemented a day-one action plan, ensuring they are operationally ready for the end of the transition period. Asset managers should now be implementing their day-two action plans, confirming that every detail has been examined in advance of 31 December 2020. For example, has the novation of all contracts to a newly established EU entity been completed? Have impacted investors been contacted to discuss and agree on actions and timings in relation to these points? For those firms that are a little less prepared than they would like, the five key considerations below can help determine the appropriate actions to be taken before the end of the year. 1. Equivalence The revised Political Declaration, which was issued after the finalisation of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, noted that the UK and EU should start assessing equivalence regulatory and supervisory regime frameworks with respect to each other. The aim was to conclude these assessments before the end of June 2020. However, this has not happened. It is worth noting that the third-country provisions of several EU regulations, which will apply after 31 December 2020, require an equivalence decision to have been taken. On a positive note, the EU has adopted a time-limited decision to give EU financial market participants 18 months to access three UK-based central counterparty (CCP) clearing houses under the European Market Infrastructure Regulation (EMIR). In the absence of such a decision, EU counterparties could not clear over-the-counter derivatives with these UK CCPs. This decision expires on 30 June 2022, and the EU is strongly encouraging EU financial market participants to reduce their reliance on UK CCPs during this period. 2. UK market access after 31 December 2020 As of 30 September, the UK Temporary Permissions Regime (TPR) reopened and will remain open until 31 December 2020. This regime will come into effect from 1 January 2021. Therefore, EU managers who wish to market, or continue to market, into the UK after 31 December 2020 will need to apply to the TPR to enable this activity to continue, if they haven’t already done so. Firms that have already notified the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) do not need to take further action. If, however, new funds have been added by a fund manager since earlier notifications were submitted, the new funds will not be included in the TPR unless the manager updates the TPR notification. It is also worth noting that if a new sub-fund of an Irish Undertakings for the Collective Investment in Transferable Securities (UCITS) umbrella is established after the transition period, but forms part of an umbrella that was registered under the TPR, the FCA will permit the new sub-fund to be added into the TPR so that they can market to UK retail investors. However, new Alternative Investment Fund (AIF) sub-funds established after the end of the transition period cannot access the TPR, even if the umbrella already had other AIF sub-funds registered under the TPR. Such AIFs can, however, be marketed using the National Private Placement Regime (NPPR) in order to gain access to professional investors in the UK (or via the Section 272 registration process if marketing to retail) without having to use the Alternative Investment Fund Managers Directive (AIFMD) passporting process. The TPR currently enables access for EU managers to the UK market for a period of three years, at which point the new UK overseas funds regime is expected to be effective. The proposed UK overseas funds regime intends to establish a more appropriate basis for recognising overseas retail funds, including EU UCITS. A critical issue for this regime is whether additional requirements will be placed on EU funds marketed in the UK to align with those applicable to UK UCITS (i.e. value assessments). 3. Portfolio management or delegation to the UK There has been some recent market noise about delegation as a result of the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) letter to the Commission concerning the AIFMD review. However, it is important to note that the necessary Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) are in place to enable delegation of portfolio management to the UK to continue after the end of the transition period. The FCA, ESMA, and national regulators have confirmed that the MoU put in place in February 2019 will come into effect at the end of the transition period. 4. Data In the case of a hard Brexit on 31 December 2020, data processing and data flows between the UK and the EU may require additional specific contractual requirements. The recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union in the Schrems II case is also worth considering with respect to firms’ considerations concerning data transfers to third countries post-31 December 2020. The ruling has significant implications for all personal data transfers between EEA member states and third countries whose data protection regimes have not yet been assessed by the European Commission as equivalent. This will be particularly relevant for firms who transfer personal data to the UK. The Schrems II ruling means that businesses planning to rely on Standard Contractual Clauses (SCC) to continue to transfer personal data to the UK post-Brexit will have to conduct due diligence. They may also need to put additional safeguards in place to meet their obligations under GDPR. The Data Protection Commissioner in Ireland has produced guidance on the transfer of personal data from Ireland to the UK in the event of a hard Brexit. 5. Fund documentation It is essential to consider any changes that may be required to fund documents as a result of Brexit and to implement any necessary changes before the end of the transition period. In the run-up to previous Brexit deadlines, the Central Bank of Ireland issued reminders concerning updates to fund documentation and set deadlines for the receipt of same. It is therefore likely that they will issue a similar request in advance of the end of the transition period. Trish Johnston is Leader of PwC Ireland’s Asset & Wealth Management Practice.

Oct 16, 2020

With the end of the Brexit transition period is just weeks away, Colleen Flanagan shares her six top tips to help Irish businesses prepare for a new trading relationship with the UK.  The economic and social chaos caused by COVID-19 left few aspects of life unaffected, but one thing has not changed: the date on which the Brexit transition period will end. With 31 December 2020 just weeks away, businesses must prepare for the inevitable changes and disruption that lie ahead. Much like COVID-19, the economic impact of Brexit will not be felt evenly by all businesses, but almost no business will remain untouched.  Brexit Readiness Action Plan In September 2020, the Irish Government launched a Brexit Readiness Action Plan. Measures being taken to support business include: a Customs Roll-On Roll-Off Service, facilitating just-in-time business models; Authorised Economic Operator status, allowing traders to enjoy certain customs-related benefits throughout the EU; potential deferral of import duties until the month following import; and the proposed introduction of deferred VAT accounting. However, the plan also highlights the need for businesses to help themselves by finalising their contingency planning and taking preparatory action. Six key preparation steps for Irish businesses trading with the UK The following actions should be taken to prepare for the end of the transition period: 1. Register for an EORI number An EORI (Economic Operators Registration Identification) number is a tax reference number and is available from Revenue. It is essential for any Irish business intending to trade between Ireland and the UK after 31 December 2020. 2. Utilise available supports  Supports for businesses include: Enterprise Ireland’s Ready for Customs grant, which allows businesses to claim up to €9,000 for each eligible employee hired/redeployed to a dedicated Customs role. Enterprise Ireland also provides a range of financial planning supports, notably the Act On Initiative, Be Prepared Grant, Strategic Consultancy Grant, Market Discovery Fund, Agile Innovation Fund and Operational Excellence Offer. InterTradeIreland’s advisory services and Brexit Planning Voucher worth up to £2,000/€2,250 per business; one-to-one Brexit mentoring and training workshops organised by the Local Enterprise Offices; and the Brexit Loan Scheme for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Budget 2021 also provided €100 million to enable departments to provide Brexit supports. These include: €8 million for new market surveillance and certification; €15 million to help businesses respond to changes to customs and tariffs; €7 million to help the food processing industry adapt; €11 million for Local Enterprise Offices to work with local businesses; and €675,000 for InterTradeIreland to provide practical help to businesses trading cross-border. As such, we will likely see further business supports announced in the months ahead. 3. Understand the impact on your supply chain The origin of goods will be key in determining the amount of duty payable on goods moving between the UK and Ireland. It is imperative that you understand from where goods originate, the value of the goods, and the relevant customs classification code. If any materials are likely to be significantly impacted or no longer authorised for sale in the European single market, you may need to identify alternative certified sources. If significant supply chain disruption is likely, you may need to consider alternative routes. 4. Communicate with suppliers, agents, clients, customers, and staff Hold discussions with your suppliers and Customs/logistics agents. The roles and responsibilities of each party must be clearly defined and understood. If using the UK landbridge, work with your bank to ensure you have the necessary financial guarantee in place. If increased costs must be passed on to your customers or clients, or if there is likely to be a significant impact on lead time, discuss these changes with customers in advance. Ensure designated personnel within your organisation are clear on their responsibilities and have sufficient knowledge and training to comply with the additional regulatory and certification requirements. 5. Determine the cash flow implications Prepare a cash flow forecast that incorporates potential tariffs, duties, and VAT. Expected exchange rate fluctuations should also be included. Consider whether your current banking facilities are sufficient to support any additional cash needs. Financial supports are available to facilitate cash flow planning. 6. Consider additional regulatory requirements From 1 January 2021, UK bodies will no longer be authorised to certify compliance with EU regulatory standards. If your business relies on certification from a UK notified body, it is vital that you now source an EU-based notified body. This may impact on the marketing and labelling of goods. There are also potential implications for the recognition of EU professional qualifications in the UK (and vice versa) and the transfer of personal data between Ireland and the UK. Engagement with regulators is key to ensuring continued regulatory compliance after 31 December 2020. Colleen Flanagan is a Manager at PKF-FPM Accountants Limited.

Oct 16, 2020

The future of working practises has been significantly accelerated by COVID-19. How do we cope? Joe Davis says we must be ready to take action and be prepared for as many economic outcomes as possible.The American mathematician, Claude Shannon famously established a lower bound for the number of possible moves in a typical chess match: around 10120. That’s 10 with 119 zeroes after it. Reflecting on when the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold across the globe, I think the Shannon number adequately captures the breadth of possible economic outcomes at the time.The future acceleratedAs the crisis has evolved, however, two things have become clear: the pandemic has accelerated some trends already in place, and COVID-19 has implications that are opaque now but will become undeniably clear and meaningful over time.Before the pandemic sent office staff flocking to home workstations, employers were taking an incremental approach to remote work. Recent improvements in office technologies let them untether workforces on a timetable of their choosing. The pandemic took the decision out of employers’ hands.No longer could work-from-home arrangements serve as controlled experiments in productivity; they became indispensable. Ready or not, employers – for the most part – have successfully enabled secure and efficient work from home environments and redefined team dynamics. The office will never be the same. Meanwhile, significantly reduced demand for office square footage, which had grown on a per capita basis for 50 years, stands to redefine our cityscapes and suburban makeups.Similarly, the pandemic has ground business travel to a halt. Historically the most profitable business for airlines and hotels, such travel has been replaced by video conferences and virtual collaboration tools. Such a development tests airline and hotel business models that rely on less price-sensitive business travellers to help keep leisure traveller costs low.COVID-19 has also accelerated the challenges facing restaurants and shops. Online retail and food delivery, already growing in popularity before the pandemic, have become essential to consumers worried about face-to-face interaction. As with office work and air travel, restaurants and retail may not overcome heightened consumer reluctance until an effective vaccine or treatment is developed – something we’re not expecting before 2021. In some cases, the damage could be permanent.Interestingly, changes to commercial real estate, or at least how we invest in it, had already been occurring in plain sight. Over the last decade, office and retail property assets have fallen to 19% from 39% of all assets held by US-listed real estate investment trusts. In contrast, according to FTSE Nareit All REITs Index, residential, infrastructure, and data centres – sectors that are likely to benefit from the pandemic – now make up 45%.Post-pandemic questionsAlthough some implications of the post-pandemic world are evident, others, for now, are more opaque:Will massive stimulus, supply-chain disruptions, and pent-up demand give rise to inflation that has eluded developed economies for a decade?Is the globalisation trend that has defined the post-World War II era ending, and what would that mean for trade and economic growth?With interest rates pinned at historic lows and deficits and balance sheets expanding, what can central banks do to support employment and price stability?And what becomes of inequality, a statistically significant detractor from a nation’s economic health that, according to the OECD, increased after the 2008 global financial crisis? Our current crises (both health and economic) are disproportionately affecting people of certain races and socio-economic groups. Though I’m encouraged by emerging conversations that are both thoughtful and action-oriented, it’s not yet clear whether the pandemic will accelerate or reverse the inequality trend.These questions will demand our attention in the months and years ahead. It is likely that answers to some of these questions will materially affect the trajectory of others. In that sense, the number of possible moves left in our chess match still includes a whole lot of zeroes.Joe Davis is Global Chief Economist at Vanguard.

Oct 09, 2020

Maximising the productivity and value a finance function provides can be a constant challenge for today’s CFO. Here are five examples of pitfalls that can be successfully navigated to optimise productivity. Increasing regulatory obligations, technological change and the ongoing challenge of attracting and retaining skilled staff have led to finance teams often playing catch up when it comes to adding strategic value to stakeholders within the business.   To compete and thrive in this environment, businesses should ‘rethink’ and optimise their finance and accounting function. That means identifying and addressing some of the productivity roadblocks that exist in almost all businesses – from ambitious, entrepreneurial right through to large corporate, multinational groups. We have outlined the top five productivity pitfalls experienced by many finance and accounting departments – and how you can unblock them. Failure to delegate Building a high-performance team and leveraging technology A report by London Business School found that only 30% of managers think they can delegate well. The reason most managers have trouble delegating isn’t that they doubt the value of focusing more of their time on strategic tasks; it’s that managers don’t trust that their team members can successfully execute some of the non-core tasks that should be delegated. Delegation becomes easier once a strong team with experience and skills has been built. Similarly, many non-core tasks that prevent finance functions performing at a high level can be automated by technology, so a review and adoption of new tools may be necessary to unlock those sought-after productivity gains. Viewing financial data through a reactive lens Focus on extracting and analysing the real-time data The finance function of the future won’t be one that places a priority on looking backwards at quarterly or yearly financial reports. The adoption of real-time connectivity and cloud-powered tools have made it possible to monitor and analyse activities in nearly all parts of the business both on the move and as soon as they happen. Having access to real-time data that gives a full view of relationships with suppliers and customers will allow CFOs to have more productive conversations and make informed decisions more efficiently. Not leveraging data analytics and the cloud The status quo can hold businesses back – look to leverage and embrace the ‘new normal’ Many businesses still rely on legacy accounting and financial systems and processes. A reluctance to invest the time and energy needed to adopt new tools can be a significant blocker – but what impact will that have on business’ competitiveness? In an era of disruption, can they afford to stand still?   It’s important to recognise that investments made in learning and implementing a new system or process that helps finance functions operate more efficiently will pay dividends in terms of streamlining operations and decision-making. Failing to maximise existing capabilities Take time to fully utilise the functionality of existing tools Finance functions of today most often have access to tools that can streamline or automate financial processes. These may already be embedded in existing technology tools, but often businesses haven’t the time or the resources to properly explore the full functionality available. Software vendors will continually add valuable features, new integrations and plugins that can further automate processes and eliminate unnecessary manual entries – but is it expected for finance teams to keep up with the updates? Not formally documenting the use of systems and processes Test, test and re-test to improve the ways a finance function performs The old adage goes “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”. In addition, if businesses fail to document finance and accounting processes, that knowledge could be lost with the individuals in the team should they decide to move on. Taking the time to detail end-to-end processes will allow businesses to spot gaps and identify ways to make workflows more efficient through automation and other technology-driven tools.   This article has been developed by BDO as part of their Rethink framework. Judith Stewart is a Senior Manager in BDO Northern Ireland.

Oct 09, 2020

With working remotely becoming commonplace, how can we effectively onboard new members of a team in a virtual environment? Judith Kelly gives three tips on how to handle the onboarding process while working from home.  Onboarding has suddenly become an everyday word in the vocabulary of recruitment and now plays an even bigger part of the recruitment process.One of the major cultural shifts has been the move to remote work, as social distancing rules have forced people into working from home. Before the COVID-19 crisis, virtual or remote onboarding was largely reserved for employees with remote contracts or those living in a different country. With remote interviewing and working, this has become a crucial element of our new normal. How, then, do we ensure we successfully onboard new members of a team while working remotely?Finding the right fit is always challenging, but the next hurdle is onboarding a new hire and integrating them into a company. Unfortunately, without the benefits of the water-cooler chats and the coffee machine moments, this can be difficult to achieve. Companies will have to update training and orientation procedures for all new employees now working remotely for the foreseeable future. The basics, however, remain the same. 1. Infrastructure and trainingIt is imperative to provide a new employee with all the tools needed on their first day. Hardware delivered and installed on time, software and access to the right platforms and information required for IT (passwords, anti-virus, etc.) is essential in preparing and welcoming them, showing them you are committed to helping them succeed and you want them onboard. Use interactive training where possible and ensure follow-ups and feedback are made regularly. 2. Communication and connectingCommunicating and connecting people is crucial to successful onboarding. For example, introducing and integrating new employees into the team with one-on-ones, video conference calls to assist in training and introducing company procedures. Assigning a ‘buddy’ will also help integrate them into the community of the business, even if remotely. A buddy will lead by example on communication procedures within the network and what is and what is not deemed appropriate. Great companies have always provided a platform for employees to build collaborative relationships and, even though this is not face-to-face, we still need to build these relationships.3. EmpowermentNew employees will be enthusiastic as they begin their journey. It is critical to get them involved in contributing and collaborating from the outset. People typically want to prove themselves and demonstrate that you’ve made a good decision hiring them. It may be tough to give them an independent project but assigning tasks with the opportunity to engage actively in reasoning, decision-making, and problem-solving shows them a positive early experience to achieving long-term success.Judith Kelly is a Director at FK International.

Oct 09, 2020

During this period of economic uncertainty, it's important for businesses to get all supports available to them. Barrie Dowsett tells us the best way to write a successful grant-funding application.Financial support and incentives for businesses in the Republic of Ireland are substantial and varied. With coronavirus wreaking economic havoc across the country, research and development (R&D) grants are proving to be a lifeline for many Irish businesses looking to innovate.Now, more than ever, the Irish government is keen to support R&D due to its positive impact on economic growth. Some grants are offered specifically by the Irish government, while others are wider EU grants.For many Irish businesses, this process will be entirely new and for those pursuing it, the question they will be asking is: how do I produce a successful grant funding application?What makes a good grant application?A high-quality grant application should clearly describe the R&D project and what benefits it will bring. It should discuss the project’s resulting products, processes, or services and how it will bring about a significant return on investment (ROI). An in-depth understanding of the target markets should also be evidenced, including potentially competing products and your strategies for commercialisation.Second, the application should explain why the business is more likely than its competitors to succeed with this innovation. It should describe why the proposed product, process, or service is radically new and how it will make an impact on both the business and the economy.Factors to consider even before beginning a funding applicationBefore you begin a funding application, I strongly recommend considering the following:Has the right type of grant funding been chosen to support the project/wider business? Some examples of previous EU funded projects may be helpful here.Is there time and the resources within the company to make a successful application?Is match funding available?Are the business plan and projections watertight and would they hold up under scrutiny?Points to cover when writing an R&D grant applicationThere are certain practical elements that are critical for consideration and inclusion when putting a successful R&D grant application together. Applicants should ask themselves:Is my idea unique, or does it at least have a unique edge over any competition?Have I given a logical summary of the key points?Have I included a strong and measurable plan for the implementation of my R&D project?Have I sourced the right people for my R&D project, or do I at least know where to find them?Have I included a strong and measurable plan for post-project commercialisation?Have I made it clear that I’m willing to put my own cash towards the project, and if so, how much?Does my business have access to the operational and technical equipment it needs?These are all vital pieces of information that need to be present in an application to give it any decent chance of success. If you’re unsure about anything, don’t try to go it alone. There are several R&D grant specialists that are available to offer expert advice.Be aware of the different types of grant funding availableThere are several avenues that Irish businesses can go down regarding grant funding for R&D projects. Briefly, they include:Enterprise Ireland grant fundingEnterprise Ireland’s RD&I fund supports Irish businesses in creating new products, processes or services, or appreciably improving existing ones. The focus is on companies with high export potential and whose market share is growing, ultimately creating high-worth jobs. Enterprise Ireland has also put together its guidelines for making a claim which is worth reading through. Further details are also available on the Enterprise Ireland website.Horizon 2020Horizon 2020 is a European programme that offers large scale grant funding over seven years (2014 to the end of 2020). Its aim is to keep Europe ahead of the game in world-class scientific investment, remove barriers to innovation, and encourage the public and private sectors to innovate collaboratively. You can find out more on the Horizon 2020 website (after this year, Horizon 2020 will be replaced by Horizon Europe).EUREKA EurostarsEUREKA Eurostars is a European programme that gives innovative SMEs the chance to work together with partners across Europe on innovative projects. A very popular and generous funding scheme, more information can be found on the EUREKA Eurostars website.Other noteworthy EU funds and programsThere are many other funding options besides these that are well worth considering too. They include:The EIC pilot programme – specifically for SMEs with dynamic, breakthrough ideas.The Connecting Europe Facility – supporting the development of sustainable, high performing and efficiently interconnected trans-European networks across the energy, digital services and transport sector.COST – which offers research funding for cross-border European networks that involve five or more countries.The LIFE program – designed to provide funding for large-scale climate change, sustainability, and environmental projects.Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund – for collaborative enterprise-driven partnerships that will develop, deploy and commercialise disruptive technologies to transform business.With the backdrop of COVID-19 economic uncertainty, now is an excellent time for innovative Irish businesses to put their plans in action via an R&D grant. By getting the application right and answering all the above points, companies could potentially be many thousands of euros better off – as long as all the key elements are included and professional advice is taken where needed.As a final side note, be sure to also check out Techfunding.eu for a full list of funding schemes by industry.Barrie Dowsett is CEO and owner of Myriad Associates. 

Oct 02, 2020

With the government still encouraging people to work from home where they can, how do we stay motivated? Nimesh Shah suggests six ways to help boost productivity while working remotely. Autumn is here and you’re still working from home. The novelty of working from home has most certainly started to wear off. Without the re-assuring repetitiveness of your daily commute and the friendly banter from your team, you may be feeling as bleak as the weather.Not everyone finds it easy to work from home, especially if you are distracted by children, your partner (who is also trying to work from home), household chores and the doorbell constantly ringing. Here are some suggestions on how to keep your motivation levels up while continuing to work from home:Create a routineStructure makes our brains happy because the patterns and routines we don’t have to think about will allow our brain to go into autopilot. Establishing a set routine (with some room for flexibility) will give your day some structure. This should make you more efficient, productive and hopefully more at ease in these uncertain times. If you are consistent and the routine loosely mimics the one you had when you were at the office, it should work for you.Get dressedEven if you put on sweatpants and a jumper, putting on your daytime clothes will make a big difference to your mindset. If you work in your pyjamas, you’ll still be in ‘relax mode’ which won’t make you feel motivated to get things done. Designate a workspaceWorking from bed may be comfortable (although not for long as you may develop back issues), but your mind probably won’t be in ‘work mode’. The key thing is to find a space that will take you away from household distractions and get you to focus on the job.Make mobility part of your routineSeeing the same four walls non-stop isn't good for anyone. Exercise will stop you feeling lethargic from sitting at home all day, especially as the days get shorter. So, leave your phone at home and go for a walk or a run early before the start of the day for the amount of time it would take you to commute into the office, if possible.Room lightingIt’s important to have the right level of room lighting. You need comfortable lighting to be able to see all kinds of documents, but these must be ones that will not blind you. Also, the lighting should not be too dim as this will make you feel sleepy and less productive.Stick to your work hoursWe are well aware of how bad screen time can be for your health. Unless you have a particular deadline that you need to hit, you should stick to your structured work hours as much as possible. It’s important to be able to relax after your workday. This is easier to do if you shut the laptop and ignore your emails from the moment your workday ends.Try to organise fun and relaxing things for yourself to do after work.  Pop on an eye mask and have a long warm bath, have a solo disco, a video chat or read a book to help you slip more easily into ‘relax mode’.Nimesh Shah is Marketing Director at Feel Good Contacts. 

Oct 02, 2020

How can companies survive the inevitable recession? It isn't just about cutting costs, argues Darren O'Neill. Businesses need to look at every aspect of their organisation to see where they can become more lean and agile. The coronavirus has had dramatic and sudden impacts on Irish businesses and the Irish economy. Both have experienced significant declines in consumption, investment and exports of goods and services. To survive this time and succeed amid the uncertainty, organisations need to assess and adjust their cost base and reshape themselves to deliver returns that will be sufficient to see them continue to operate.When COVID-19 took hold and started to erode the economy, many business leaders acted quickly to reduce costs and conserve cash. In PwC’s May 2020 CFO Pulse Survey, implementing cost containment measures was the highest priority action that Irish companies were considering as a result of COVID-19. In most cases, rapid cost reduction activities gave them an advantage when facing the economic and organisational impacts of the crisis.While cost-cutting is necessary, it won't be enough in isolation to help a company to emerge with confidence. Costs must be cut in ways that don't harm the business and funds should be redirected to areas that will drive efficiency and growth. COVID-19 has made business leaders rethink their beliefs around costs. Things the business considered not being able to function without, like office space, are now recognised as variable, and things that were on the long-term agenda for businesses, like automation and remote collaboration, have become immediate necessities.With economic uncertainty compounded by factors such as Brexit and changes in international taxation, businesses need to look at every aspect of their organisation to see where they can become more lean and agile. It is not just a case of cost reduction. There needs to be an equivalent strategic reset and reinvestment for future growth. And they need to bring their people with them, and get their engagement and support for the plan for the future. Let's look at those key actions in more detail.Revisiting strategic prioritiesCompanies that thrive after recessions are not those that cut faster and deeper. To emerge stronger, costs need to be redirected to the right growth drivers. Step one in achieving this balance is to answer some simple questions about your current strategy:How has your market changed? What's happened to your customers, suppliers and competitors? What market trends or disruptors have accelerated?What value propositions look promising in a post-COVID-19 world?Can you articulate the few things your organisation needs to do better than anyone else to meet those value propositions? What will your competitive advantage be?Are you investing enough in those few things? Where do you need to spend less so you have the funds to redirect costs to value-creating differentiation?This exercise should help you identify the must haves for your business.Reset your cost structureAt a time of significant cost pressure, corporate vision can become very narrow. Often, a playbook based on belt-tightening and across-the-board cuts gets deployed. Standard actions include cutting from project or functional budgets, reducing vendor spends, and shuttering underperforming locations. Each of these cuts may be necessary, but they should support more than just a cost objective. Instead of just looking at where you can make savings, combine steps to get lean and make it possible to reinvest and grow.Where to take action? How fast to push? Leaders should assign these decisions to teams that can look across the value chain. Work together to identify what's changed for good in your business and how it should respond. You'll need to solve the immediate problems, while keeping the ever-changing future in mind.Bring your people with you Disruption makes people question what they are doing, and it also makes them more willing to change. In the recent crisis, we saw people rally together in real time. They connected more frequently, cutting through bureaucracy to share information, make decisions and get things done. Departments that normally thrive on friction came together naturally with a common purpose: to serve customers and keep the business running. In some cases, rigid rules fell away.Business leaders need to act if these behaviours are to last. Isolate the few behaviours you want to promote and sustain, the ones that have allowed your teams to solve problems quickly. Build them into your new way of operating and promote them rigorously to maintain the level of energy and effort you'll need to make them tentpoles of your operations.The coronavirus crisis resulted in many changed behaviours, including:giving teams autonomy to solve problems;collaborating across the boundaries of hierarchies and functions;showing empathy, express gratitude and place value on learning;taking accountability for decisions and raising the tolerance for imperfection.Darren O'Neill, Partner, Advisory Consulting, PwC Ireland

Oct 02, 2020
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