The Bottom Line
Comment

When it comes to sustainability, the problem is not that there are no standards. Rather, there are too many of them, writes Dr Brian Keegan. In the current abnormal news cycle, something has to be really strange to stand out. One such item in October was a report that UK authorities were to permit the opening of a coal mine in the north-east of England. This runs counter to most of the prevailing trends. True, the rehabilitation of coal was an element of Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign, but that has not prevented its decline in the US in favour of cleaner natural gas and more sustainable sources like wind and solar. Coal from this new British mine is not for energy production. It is apparently to be used in the manufacture of steel. It is also being used in the manufacture of jobs for the impoverished north-east. Job creation tends to rattle sustainability priorities and seems to have been the consideration that swayed the local council into granting permission. The incident does highlight, however, the elusiveness of sustainability because “Decent Work and Economic Growth” is Goal 8 of the 17 sustainability goals promoted by the United Nations. While these goals have garnered considerable traction in the sustainability debate, having 17 goals impedes progress because, in practice, the goals can be contradictory. Goal 13, for example, is “Climate Action”, which is at right angles to opening coal mines in some quarters. This vagueness has conflated the sustainability debate with the already nebulous concept of corporate social responsibility. Corporate social responsibility should be looked upon with suspicion. All too often, HR initiatives to boost staff morale, marketing initiatives claiming green credentials for a particular product or service, or even support for the pet charity of the chief executive are folded in under an ersatz comfort blanket of social responsibility. Claiming sustainable practices or having corporate social responsibility champions won’t cut it. There has to be a concerted drive to come up with broadly acceptable standards to measure genuine corporate progress on sustainability issues. The current problem is not that there are no standards, but rather, that there are too many of them. The current custodians of standards- and ethics-setting, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC), recently proposed that a new sustainability standards board be established, which would exist alongside the IASB under the IFRS Foundation. This new sustainability standards board should pull together existing expertise and the work of some existing sustainability reporting initiatives. The resulting framework could then be passed to the International Audit and Accounting Standards Board to develop the best assurance processes. This IFAC initiative differs from many other governance initiatives. Too often in the past, ‘solutions’ were provided, for which there was no demand. One of the legacies of this pandemic will be a greater awareness of sustainable practices.  There is demand from investors for comparable and dependable data on environmental, social and governance factors and this form of reporting offers a value-added opportunity for accountants. On the other hand, the initiative carries the risk of becoming hijacked by environmental activism, leading to reporting requirements that would fail a cost/benefit analysis within the SME sector. Earlier this year, Harvard Business Review suggested that the chief financial officer should become the most prominent climate activist in their organisation. There is still some distance to go before this becomes a reality, but in an era when western governments are contemplating opening coal mines, nothing can be ruled out. Dr Brian Keegan is Director of Advocacy & Voice at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Nov 30, 2020
Personal Impact

Dr Patrick Buckley and Dr Elaine Doyle explain how gamification can enhance accounting education, and why experienced professionals might rail against the concept. Human beings are hard-wired to play. Games are an integral part of our personal, social and cultural identities. Games provoke powerful emotional responses of joy, anger, satisfaction and frustration. Science is discovering deep, complex relationships between our brains, neural systems, learning and game-play. A feature of the modern world is the rise of the video game, from Minecraft to Mass Effect. In 2019, the number of active video game players worldwide was 2.47 billion. For children and young adults, computer games have become a dominant form of media consumption. It is self-evident that computer games have a powerful effect on behaviour. The observation that the mechanics and dynamics used in games can affect motivation and behaviour has led to the concept of gamification. As is often the case with new ideas, there are several competing definitions. Broadly speaking, however, gamification can be seen as a suite of techniques and psychological prompts connected by their association with games and play. More specifically, gamification involves the use of elements traditionally associated with games (such as structured rules, competition, points and leaderboards, for example) in non-game contexts to prompt specific behaviours or emotional responses in individuals.Gamification in practice While gamification is a new term, using game mechanics to solve problems and gain an advantage in the real world is far from novel. For example, consumer loyalty points programmes leverage at least some of the elements and characteristics associated with games. In recent years, interest in gamification has been accelerated by: The ever-increasing pervasiveness of smart devices, such as phones and watches, that provide a platform for gamified activities; and The rise of the ‘attention economy’, where attention is individuals’ scarcest resource. The ability of gamification to attract and hold the attention of consumers, employees and other stakeholders is of significant interest to organisations. Many of us are now very familiar with fitness tracker devices and related apps, the experience of which is grounded in gamification. A variety of goals are set out (steps per day, calories burned and so on). Constant feedback and reminders are received (“Did you move enough this hour?”). Daily targets achieved are celebrated, and badges are awarded for more significant milestones. Fitness trackers also allow goals and achievements to be shared with friends, motivating us and encouraging competition. In business, activities such as marketing, customer relationship management and innovation are especially suitable for gamification. Other potential applications include personal productivity management and health management. The global market value of companies developing and deploying gamified activities and processes is expected to be $12 billion in 2021. Gamification also has the potential to make a difference in education and training. Capturing the attention of students, engaging them, and sustaining their interest has always been a challenge. Many educators feel their work has become more challenging as an ever-increasing array of digital distractions compete for attention. With its promise of positively engaging students and mediating their behaviour, gamification is a valuable tool that can be used to appeal to the digital generations.Gamification in accounting education From one perspective, education has always been gamified to a degree. A final grade can be seen as an external representation of how much you have learned relative to the content of your course. Tests and quizzes provide feedback on how much students have learned, both in absolute terms and relative to their peers. However, many educators are now becoming far more systematic about applying gamification to the design and delivery of their courses. When thinking about how gamification can be applied in educational and learning contexts, it is useful to think of it in terms of engendering particular classes of behaviour in students. For example, a teacher may decide that prompting competition will be effective in motivating students. To attain this goal, a traditional quiz may be adapted. When a student completes the quiz, for example, they will not just be told if they are correct or incorrect, but also how they performed relative to their classmates for each question. A more extreme version would publish results on a leaderboard for everyone to see how they did relative to the rest of the class. Conversely, a teacher may wish to promote collaboration, allocating badges (like ‘Best Explainer’) to a student who helps other students with explanations, using an online forum or a similar collaboration tool. These awards are often valuable in terms of demonstrating valued personal skills and attributes to potential employers. Demonstrated collaborative actions in learning contexts could be integrated into such schemes. Another teacher may wish to prompt creativity. Rather than create a test, the teacher would instruct students to develop a test themselves as a learning exercise, with marks allocated for how well the test meets and tests the learning outcomes of the course. This approach compels students to ask meta-questions about their course, such as: “What am I being asked to learn?” and “How will I know if I’ve learned it?” Extending this approach, students could be asked to take, evaluate and improve on the tests other students create, again prompting collaboration and engagement.Benefits of gamification Gamification is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It requires consideration and careful design to be used effectively and, as with many teaching techniques, it has its advantages and disadvantages. In the context of the teaching of accounting and tax, we have observed interrelated benefits of using gamification. The first and key benefit is improved motivation. Gamified activities are seen as being fun, interesting and engaging, and an improvement on more traditional ‘chalk and talk’ forms of content delivery and assessment. This is particularly the case for younger students, arguably because, having grown up with video games, they are more comfortable with games in general. Improved motivation then explains the other positive effects of gamification we have observed. In general, students tend to be more satisfied with courses that include gamified elements and activities. Students prefer and perform better in courses they are engaged and interested in, and gamification serves that end. More importantly, the learning outcomes for courses, as measured by grades, tend to be better in courses that contain gamified activities.Challenges of gamification In our experience, using gamification in an educational context also involves potential risks and requires careful consideration of at least three key challenges: The most significant challenge is the need for careful contextualisation of gamification. Time and again, we have noticed that different participants respond very differently to gamified activities. One of the most important variances is in how individuals react to competition. Some people are temperamentally inclined to be motivated by competition, while others find it objectionable in an educational setting. This variance seems to occur regardless of the gamification intervention used – some find badges motivating, while others see them as patronising, and so forth. A particular schism we have observed is that undergraduate students tend to respond far more positively to gamification than postgraduate students. From informal conversations, we have inferred that postgraduate students, who have paid significant fees for courses and are much more focused on grades, feel gamified activities are a ‘gimmicky’ distraction. Therefore, we expect that resistance to gamification would similarly be found in professional and continuing education contexts. Gamification works by creating extrinsic motivation like badges, points and leaderboards, as opposed to the intrinsic motivation of learning for the sake of learning. There is a significant body of research that shows how extrinsic motivators can temporarily shift behaviours, but that this shift will be short-lived. Unless the motivators are reinforcing, cumulative, and continually increasing, individuals will become satiated with external motivation, ultimately undermining its long-term impact. The old saying, “You get what you measure”, sums up a final challenge. A well-recognised risk of offering rewards linked to behaviour is that unless the reward is very tightly tied to the desired behaviour, the provision of rewards may encourage behaviours that are not desired by the game designer, but which are more effective at accruing a reward. Conclusion Gamification has attracted much interest as a way of creating more engaging educational experiences. It aligns with the media consumption habits of digital natives. It leverages the power of the pervasive information systems that are now integral to our lives. It offers a framework to address the motivational issues often associated with online learning, particularly useful in the new learning environment forced upon us by COVID-19. It also brings challenges and raises questions. Gamification is perhaps best thought of as a technique to inform the design of content delivery. As with any approach to education, it will be most successful when the learner’s abilities, needs and characteristics are placed at the heart of course design.Dr Patrick Buckley is a lecturer in information management at the Department of Management and Marketing, Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick. Dr Elaine Doyle is a lecturer in taxation at Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick. The business case for gamification ‘Gamification’ is the use of the dynamics and mechanics traditionally associated with computer games to affect behaviour in other contexts. As a generation of children and young adults who have engaged with computer games from their early years enter education and the workforce, educators and employers must understand how gamification can be used effectively to motivate and manage these individuals. This article looks briefly at the strengths and weaknesses of gamification as an educational tool to help facilitate individuals in developing their knowledge and professional skills. Gamification can improve motivation, satisfaction and assist in the achievement of learning outcomes. However, care must be taken to ensure that gamification matches students’ needs and does not obscure the value of learning with badges, leaderboards and the like. As with any tool, it must be used carefully. Nevertheless, the synergy between gamification and the lived experience of young people means its importance is likely to increase over time.

Nov 30, 2020
Comment

Welcome to a new edition of Accountancy Ireland, the last in what has been an extraordinarily difficult year for most. The best-laid plans made last December are by now  unrecognisable after months spent adapting to shifting realities. Chartered Accountants Ireland started the year with the presumption that Brexit would be the main issue for members in their external environment. Although a global pandemic overshadowed it, the Institute has worked throughout the year to support members on Brexit-related matters and to advocate on their behalf. As we approach the end of the Brexit transition period, our events and updates have continued. We recently opened registration for the third intake of students for our Certificate in Customs and Trade and, in the final quarter of the year, launched a new Brexit Digest e-newsletter full of practical guidance for businesses in Ireland and Northern Ireland. In recognition of Chartered Accountants’ critical role in driving the sustainability agenda, the Institute also recently published the Sustainability for Accountants guide, along with a Sustainability Hub on our website. The fight against climate change is now a corporate imperative. Moving our gaze west, Americans have gone to the polls and the New Year will bring a new administration. In this edition, we look ahead to what the next four years might bring. Change is also afoot in global tax, and Accountancy Ireland looks at the OECD’s proposed reform of the global digital and corporation tax system. Closer to home again, the Institute has endeavoured to respond quickly and effectively to meet the needs of members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our primary focus has been on providing timely, helpful and practical support to members as they serve their clients and steer their organisations. As an educator, we are acutely aware of the challenges facing students during these months. Our education provision has evolved dramatically over the last year and our CAP1, CAP2 and FAE programmes successfully launched on our new online education platform. Producing the highest-calibre finance professionals is more important than ever for our economy. This festive season will be very different, but I’d like to wish members and students a peaceful, safe and enjoyable Christmas. For those who find themselves in particular difficulty, remember that assistance is available from CA Support. You can find details on our website. Thank you to the committees, volunteers, management and staff of the Institute for their efforts during 2020. I hope that we can make a return to a more normal way of life in the New Year. Paul Henry President

Nov 30, 2020
News

If you want to work beyond the State retirement age, preparation is key. Des Peelo outlines what needs to be done to guarantee an active professional life post-retirement. Do you intend to continue working into active old age? What is the definition of old age? Current longevity can mean an active life to age 80+. Age 65 has historically been seen as retirement age, though one-in-six of the current workforce is aged over 65. There is also the regular commentary as to 60 being the new 50, 70 being the new 60 and so on. Working after first retirement is now referred to as a ‘second act’ of working life. Professional life may be another indicator of working into old age. Self-employed professionals across all professions frequently practice well into later life. However, retirement is currently compulsory at age 60-62 in most large legal and accounting firms. The retirement age in professional firms in the UK can be as low as 55. There is also a reported trend in the UK towards a tapering role for seniors/partners over the five years from 55 to 60. Commercial life does not generally encourage working past the late 50s/early 60s, despite the debate about ageism and inadequate pensions. There is a perception that older workers are expensive. The reason for mentioning the above is that there can be a mindset in successful mid-career, at senior level, that options to continue working into later life will be readily available. I have witnessed many expressed beliefs that offers of non-executive directorships, consultancy, advisory roles or dispute resolution will all be there when the time comes. However, this expectation is a fallacy. Your contacts and relevance to current developments and trends will age with you. It is a truism in professional life, maybe less so in commercial life, that you carry out much of your business with people aged five years or so either side of your own age. It may also be that your contacts are particular to your role and job, and not to you personally. If work continuity into older age is your aspiration, how might you plan for it? The primary underpinning is to keep your knowledge and skills relevant. This means actively continuing your business/professional development. Membership of professional and industry/sector associations – and regular involvements and attendances – is important. Speaking at, and attending, seminars and conferences is always good value in developing wider recognition. An industry focus can create good possibilities for continued work, as compared to occasional assignments. For example, a knowledge of tourism carries through to many different aspects and opportunities in transport, hospitality and leisure. Food, construction and communications are other sectors with broader prospects. Financial/accounting skills alone are not in demand unless linked to a particular sector like the ones mentioned above. There is a wide range of part-time opportunities in the not-for-profit sector. These can range from charities to health service providers and cultural institutions. While there isn’t usually remuneration in the not-for-profit sector, it does give you continued contacts and involvement. It is a useful idea to pursue these opportunities in the decade before retirement, as it creates a separate identity that can continue post-retirement and can look good on a prospective CV. It also has the satisfaction of contributing to wider society. The ‘second act’ will not happen without preparation. 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.

Nov 27, 2020
News

Growing older can be challenging, doubly so during a global pandemic where nothing is certain. How, then, do we cope with this transition? Dr Eddie Murphy gives sage advice on navigating midlife and restoring meaning and passion to our lives. Psychologist Elliot Jaques coined the term “midlife crisis” in a 1965 article referring to a time when adults reckon with their mortality. However, most people do not develop classic midlife crises. Some individuals develop conditions such as depression and anxiety, but not everyone. Rather than the doom and gloom associated with a midlife crisis, use this period for taking stock instead. A time of transition Midlife is the central period of a person’s life, spanning from approximately age 40 to 60. It is a time of transition. We can all struggle with times of transition – bereavements, unemployment, illness and so on. Many people come to feel discontented and restless as they struggle with ageing, mortality, and holding onto a sense of purpose. Other challenges also occur during this transition: an empty nest, financial concerns, a clearer sense of mortality, and growing unhappiness with the daily grind. For some, the temptation of ‘far away fields’ or a red sports car can look persuasive. At this point in life, it is easy to tally failures and disappointments with an overly negative focus. People struggle with their life’s purpose, but here are some ways you can find your life passion and true purpose. 1. Explore the things you love to do We are all born with a deep and meaningful purpose that we have to discover. Your purpose is not something you need to decide – it’s already there. You can begin to discover your passion or your purpose by exploring two things: what you love to do, and what comes to you easily. Work is required, but suffering is not. If you are struggling and suffering, you are probably not living your purpose. 2. Decide where you want to go Decide where you want to go by clarifying your vision. Then, lock in your destination through goal development, positive affirmations, and visualisation, and start taking actions that will move you in the right direction. 3. Focus on your legacy Think about the legacy you want to leave behind once you’re gone. How are your relationships? How is your health? How do you want those things to be remembered? Once you are focused on what you want, the ‘how’ will show up right when you need it. 4. The Passion Test Developed by Chris and Janet Attwood, The Passion Test is a simple, yet elegant process. You start by filling in the blank at the end of the following statement 15 times with a verb: “When my life is ideal, I am ___.” Once you’ve created 15 statements, you identify the top five by comparing the statements against one another to determine which is most important. Take the winner of that comparison and decide whether it’s more or less important than the next statement until you’ve identified the passion that is most meaningful to you. Repeat the process with the remaining statements to determine your next four passions. Next, create goals for each of your top five passions so that you can look at your life and easily tell whether you are living that passion. It can be tough work to understand your passions truly. But once you know how to create action plans, you can turn your dreams into reality. Dr Eddie Murphy is a clinical psychologist, mental health expert and author. Can you give a gift and change a life this Christmas? Our community has had to deal with job loss, sudden illness, the loss of a loved one or high levels of stress, anxiety or depression. To continue to provide ongoing support to those in need, we urgently require your help. Donations big and small could help to change a life. Click to donate today or see more about CA Support and how we can help you.

Nov 27, 2020
News

It’s Monday morning, and you’re already exhausted at the thought of having to attend yet another video call. How can we cope with ‘Zoom fatigue’? Annette Clancy gives guidance on how to deal with this exhaustion, as well as tips on alternatives to video calls. Since COVID-19 hit, more of our time is spent on video calls. If you have found yourself exhausted at the end of a workday on Zoom, you aren’t alone. Recent research has established that ‘Zoom fatigue’ is real, and searches on Google for the phenomenon have increased steadily since March. Why are video calls so much more tiring than real meetings? Non-verbal communication Being on a video call requires much more focus than face-to-face conversations. We must listen more intently to pick up on information and give out obvious cues to callers to let them know that we are interested in the conversation. Our feelings and moods are typically conveyed through body language and non-verbal communication. Keeping sustained eye contact to let the other speaker know that we are actively listening – in the absence of other non-verbal cues – can take much effort. Being ‘always on’ When we meet people face-to-face, or even when we speak on the phone, we are used to looking away occasionally. Video calls require us to stare continuously at the screen or camera. How often would you stand close to a colleague in the workplace and look them directly in the eye over a sustained period? Probably never. It would feel profoundly uncomfortable and be very tiring. On top of that, when we are on camera, we may feel nervous about being watched and begin to experience the associated anxieties around performance. This causes our energy to deplete. On-screen distraction Research has shown that when on a video call, we spend most of the time distracted by ourselves, and other people’s faces and backgrounds (there are even social media accounts dedicated to rating and ranking Zoom bookshelves and backgrounds). If you are in a meeting with ten others, it can feel like you are in 10 different rooms. This is additional data for your brain to process, which contributes to fatigue. Talking to the TV As working from home enters its ninth month, the boundaries between work and personal life may start to blur. Video calls are now the norm for both socialising and working, and many spend too much time ‘on-screen’ and not enough with family. Video calls have become the default mechanism of communication and, as a result, we are meeting everybody outside of our immediate family circle via video calls. This means that nearly all our relating is taking place in an emotionally exhausting environment, and we are not getting enough time to rest and replenish our energies. How can we recover from Zoom fatigue? Video calls are not going away, but we can limit our exposure by asking if a video call is always necessary. Although it has become the default, by suggesting an alternative, you may find that a colleague is pleasantly surprised that you have taken the initiative. Sometimes a well-crafted email will work just as well. And there is always the good old-fashioned telephone. If you are spending too much time on video calls at work, then opting out of a group invitation to spend more personal time by yourself or with family can only be a good thing and a healthy alternative. Dr Annette Clancy is Assistant Professor at UCD School of Art, History and Cultural Policy.

Nov 27, 2020