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Financial Reporting

The provision of environmental reporting clearly aligns to our profession’s core values, so we can all play a role in the drive for sustainability. By Kate van der Merwe Since the 1970s, the influential Business Roundtable has exclusively represented CEOs of the most prominent US companies. In August 2019, 181 CEOs issued a new mission for the group and the companies they represent. No longer singularly focused on maximising shareholder wealth, the mission proposes to benefit “all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders”. This represents a significant shift in how a company’s purpose is understood. Reporting business performance was traditionally one-dimensional, with an annual presentation of structured figures delivered primarily to shareholders. Over time, this has proven insufficient as it doesn’t explain “how” a company achieves its financial results. In response, the content of reporting has transformed. The increasing demand for, and provision of, non-financial reporting within the external reporting cycle is part of a broader shift. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) and integrated reporting won’t be new concepts to readers, having been previously covered in this publication. Reporting continues to evolve, recognising the value of social responsibility, ethics, and diversity equity and inclusion (DEI) to tell a fuller, more meaningful story and in doing so, making the numbers three-dimensional. Companies’ impact on the environment is increasingly being scrutinised, driven by the visibility and awareness of the climate crisis coupled with the current expectation of corporates to be “responsible citizens”. We can see this manifesting in the investment trends of both personal and institutional investors. For the personal investor, investing increasingly requires value-alignment, with impact investing prioritised with younger investors in particular. Both pollution/use of renewables and climate change were two of the top five areas of importance for personal investors in 2018, according to Schroders. Meanwhile, 52% of young investors (18–34) always/often invest in sustainable investments instead of those that aren’t considered sustainable or contributing to a sustainable society, with at least a further $12 trillion estimated to pass to these potential investors over the next decade. Diverse institutional investors, similarly, continue to shift towards impact investing. The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) values the impact investment market at $502 billion while its 2019 Impact Investor Survey found that 56% of investors target both social and environmental impact objectives, with a further 7% specifically targeting environmental investments. Meanwhile, fossil fuel divestment is approaching a valuation of $10 trillion across 1,100 entities including nation states, banks, universities, NGOs and faith groups. As Jim Yong Kim, a former president of the World Bank, put it: “Every company, investor and bank that screens new and existing investments for climate risk is simply being pragmatic”. With such appetite, the need for deep understanding of the relationship between business and the environment is clear. Such environmental information exists in a number of forms – as part of non-financial reporting (such as ESG reporting); independent accreditations or affiliations (from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to Certified B Corporations); award recognition (for example, the United Nation’s (UN) Champions of the Earth); and, finally, less formal self-assessments. This environmental information informs reporting and has significant benefits for the relationships with stakeholders, including employees and consumers. As environmental reporting develops, there are several players attempting to define a standard, yet relevant, framework to capture environmental performance. Multilateral bodies such as the UN and European Union (EU) have issued guidance; the Swedish government, for example, has introduced prescribed reporting; and independent organisations have issued frameworks to further this agenda. However, development has been fragmented and criticised for a lack of maturity. Two key criticisms are the lack of comparability (given the array of frameworks to choose from) and the lack of prescription or detail (succumbing to either greenwashing, or irrelevance due to a lack of nuance). The need for clarity in this area is highlighted by a Schroders investor survey, which notes that 57% of people held back from investing or investing more in sustainable investments due to information gaps. While investor appetite represents a significant carrot, the sticks of regulation and public relations (PR) penalties must also be considered. The direction of regulation can be seen with the EU’s Technical Expert Group on sustainable finance (TEG), established in 2018, whose remit includes defining metrics for climate-related disclosure. Irrespective of the current maturity of environmental reporting, there is increasing pressure to get it right. Both Ireland and the UK recently announced commitments to invest in “green” projects and infrastructure. With companies, governments and individuals looking to invest in sustainable businesses, projects and infrastructure, it becomes ever-more important for every business to be able to tell their sustainability story with credibility and depth. Accountants have an opportunity to leverage their complementary skills and experiences to aid the transition to meaningful environmental reporting. Furthermore, the provision of environmental reporting clearly aligns to our core values and serves the common good by meeting public expectations and ensuring transparency and accountability. Environmental reporting is an immature but growing area that is here to stay. It is best viewed holistically, as part of a bigger shift to intersectional environmental information. It is central to our values not just as human beings, but as accountants, finance professionals and business leaders. All businesses, whether multinationals or small- or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), should embrace this as an opportunity to tell an authentic, winning story to an extensive audience as the absence of information will inevitably generate its own noisy static. As accountants, we have an exciting opportunity to play an integral part in solving a problem for the common good.   Kate van der Merwe ACA is responsible for Global gFA Reporting Optimisation  at Google.

Oct 01, 2019
Ethics

The Institute’s new guide, a five step approach to considering organisational culture,  serves as a useful starting point for a board, or those in executive or senior management positions. By Níall Fitzgerald The Business Roundtable is a group of influential CEOs from America’s leading companies, and it recently renewed its “statement of purpose”. Having spent 22 years following a shareholder-first philosophy, the group has adapted to societal expectations for better business behaviour by expanding its fundamental commitment to deliver value to other stakeholders including customers, employees, suppliers and communities. It is hard to imagine how this commitment will be honoured without changes to organisational culture by the 181 CEOs who pledged to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders. Closer to home, the UK Corporate Governance Code was revised by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) in 2018. Its original source from 1992, The Financial Aspects of Corporate Governance (otherwise known as The Cadbury Report), outlined the importance of a principled corporate governance code “for the confidence which needs to exist between business and all those who have a stake in its success”. The only stakeholders mentioned in that version, and successive ones, were institutional investors and shareholders. Twenty-six years later, the Code not only refers to “a wide range of stakeholders” but also formalises the board’s role in aligning an organisation’s culture with its purpose (vision), values and strategy (mission). Reflecting this trend, investors and business analysts are ramping up their cultural assessments of organisations. A study conducted in 2015 by global culture organisation, Walking the Talk, with Stamford Associates in the UK, revealed that 94% of investment managers based mainly in the United States (US) and UK include culture as an important consideration in their investment decisions. In January 2019, State Street Capital, one of the world’s largest asset managers, wrote to the chairs of more than 1,100 organisations in the S&P 500, FTSE 350 and similar organisations in France, Germany, Australia and Japan, calling on them to review their culture and explain its alignment with their strategy. Investors are voting with their feet, which was evidenced by the dramatic fall in Barclays’ share price in 2017 following CEO Jes Staley’s attempt to identify an internal confidential whistleblower, which went against the organisation’s espoused values and culture. Institutional investors are also taking a more active role in driving change by making their expectations clear – not just around the rate of returns, but also on the organisational culture they wish to align with. The Japanese Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), one of the largest pension funds in the world, implements an environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment decision-making methodology. This methodology considers factors such as the quality of a company’s culture as well as management, risk profile and other characteristics. They are not alone, with many other institutional investors following a similar approach. In producing Chartered Accountants Ireland’s Concise Guide for Directors: A Five-Step Approach to Considering Organisational Culture, we identified a consensus that organisational culture plays an increasingly important role in influencing behaviours in an organisation. Given the importance of organisational culture, several questions were raised during the production process. Four of the most common are outlined below: 1. Who is responsible for organisational culture? The board has overall responsibility for ensuring that an organisation’s vision, mission and values are aligned with the culture of the organisation. In the same way the board is responsible for approving the strategy of the organisation, it is also responsible for agreeing on what the target culture of the organisation (i.e. the culture the organisation should aspire to) should be. Each member of the board, executive or non-executive, has a responsibility to lead by example and promote the target culture; this involves ensuring that adequate time is allowed on the board agenda for discussions on organisational culture. 2. Who influences organisational culture? It depends. This is where the phrases “the tone at the top” and the “echo from the bottom” comes into play. Unlike strategy, culture is an organic and fluid ecosystem, and while a target culture will be agreed by the board, the process of shaping and realising it is gradual. It involves leadership from the top of the organisation (top-down) and engagement from the bottom of the organisation (bottom-up). Who has the greater influence in shaping organisational culture will differ from one organisation to the next. For example, it may be the director(s) in a small owner-managed family business, the CEO in a multinational, the founder in a not-for-profit organisation or the legacy staff in a government department. It isn’t just internal people or politics that influences the target culture. It will be influenced by many other internal and external factors including, but not limited to, regulatory landscape; political environment; social norms; trade union participation; the history of the organisation; leadership capability within the organisation; level of ambition of people to lead change; common values shared across the organisation; and both internal and external drivers of change (e.g. digitalisation). The organisation’s culture ultimately influences and shapes the interactions with all stakeholders. 3. What are the best organisational culture traits to have? There is no one-size-fits-all. What works for one organisation may not work for another in a different stage of development or in a different sector. The objective is to determine common cultural traits that can be embedded across the entire organisation, while recognising and accepting that sub-cultures also exist. For example, larger organisations may have subcultures in different geographies or in various departments or business units. To be effective, cultural traits should be realistic and counterbalanced. Promoting a culture of collaboration and collective responsibility, for example, should be balanced with ensuring that people are individually accountable for their contributions and actions. It is also important to acknowledge that organisational culture is dynamic; it is constantly changing in response to internal and external influences. Culture risks exist, like any other risk, and organisations will need to manage accordingly. Mitigation measures include ongoing communication and reinforcement of the organisation’s core values and behaviours, combined with risk-based culture audits or reviews. Internal controls with early warning systems are useful for alerting management to behavioural changes that can negatively impact culture – for example, where a production line debriefing identifies that downtime is being recovered by taking shortcuts to stay on schedule. 4. Where do I start when considering organisational culture? The five-step approach to considering organisational culture is presented in Figure 1. This approach serves as a useful starting point for a board, or those in executive or senior management positions, to consider organisational culture. It is designed to work in tandem with the vast reservoir of tools and methodologies for assessing, defining and shaping organisational culture. The steps can be summarised as follows: Assess current culture: every journey has a starting point and it is important to understand the current culture of the organisation before agreeing the path forward. Evaluate effectiveness: determine what works well with the current culture, and what doesn’t. Are there opportunities for quick, positive change for better business behaviour? And what will require more effort? Define/refine target culture: what influences the organisation’s target culture? And does it clearly align with the business purpose (vision) and values? Identify gaps: identify, prioritise, risk-rate and cost the gaps between the target culture and the current culture in order to inform the organisation’s cultural change programme; and Close gaps: prepare the change programme to shape the organisation’s culture. Throughout the journey, it is important to communicate the changes, evaluate whether the implemented changes are having the desired effect, and reinforce the reasons for change and how they align with the organisation’s vision, mission and values. Organisations are investing more in getting their culture right. The various roles that Chartered Accountants play within organisations involve a level of influence in assessing, defining and shaping organisational culture. While this influence may not seem obvious at first, it becomes more apparent when you consider that many Chartered Accountants hold positions that provide a strategic, overarching view of what is happening in their business unit or across their organisation. By applying their analytical and reporting skills, Chartered Accountants can use their access to information and insights, as well as their opportunities to observe behaviours across the organisation, to significantly support the development of a healthy culture. Whatever role you play within an organisation, consider how you can positively influence and shape a healthy organisational culture.   The Concise Guide for Directors: A Five-Step Approach to Considering Organisational Culture is available to download from Chartered Accountants Ireland’s Governance Resource Centre. Níall Fitzgerald ACA is Head of Ethics and Governance at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Oct 01, 2019
Tax

With Budget 2020 fast approaching, what – if anything – could be on the table from a tax perspective? By Peter Vale & Oliver O'Connor At the time of writing, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure & Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, had already flagged that we can expect little by way of tax cuts in the upcoming Budget. So, from a tax perspective, are we looking at a damp squib or could there be a mix of tax cuts and increases that net to zero? And if so, who are the winners and losers likely to be? Income tax In the authors’ view, we will see some modest tax cuts next month benefiting primarily lower and middle income earners, with higher earners likely to see some of this cut back – perhaps via a restriction in tax credits. Depending on the scale of the adjustment for higher earners, this could mean they see a net decrease in take-home pay with all other taxpayers seeing a modest increase. So, in summary, we don’t expect to see much either way in terms of income tax adjustments, with lower and middle income earners likely to be the main beneficiaries of any cuts. We also don’t expect to see any longer term statement committing to a reduction in our high marginal tax rates of 52% and 55% for employees and self-employed respectively. Nor should we expect to see a broadening of the tax base; indeed, successive budgets have taken more and more people out of the tax net. The concept of broadening the tax base was a recommendation of the Commission on Taxation report almost 10 years ago, but it has not been embraced by governments since. While the idea of more people paying a little has merits, it is unlikely to be a vote winner. Pensions and investments On the investment side, we are all aware that deposit rates are derisory at present and unlikely to increase any time soon. We are also very keenly aware (as is the Government) that there is a potential pensions time-bomb in the coming decades. The auto-enrolment regime, planned for the early 2020s, is a step towards ensuring that people are more sufficiently funded from a pension perspective and thus, not as dependant on State support in their later years. To this end, it is crucial that the current pension rules are not adjusted (downwards) but rather, that all are maintained at a minimum. A possible concession, which would be of long-term benefit to all, would be to increase the net relevant earnings from the current €115,000 to even €125,000. Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurs would ideally like to be given an increase in the Entrepreneur Relief from €1,000,000 to a more substantial figure. As importantly, they would like to know that there is a roadmap over the coming three to five years to bring this relief more in line with our near neighbours, which is 10 times greater than our current level. We pride ourselves in being the best small country in which to do business, enabling this crucial economic grouping to thrive and create yet more economic prosperity for the country as a whole. Corporate tax We know for certain that new transfer pricing legislation will be introduced in October. The new provisions will implement 2017 OECD guidelines into Irish law and also make certain other changes. While the nature of the other changes is still uncertain, it is very likely that transfer pricing will be extended to non-trading transactions, in particular where tax is being avoided. Certain grandfathering provisions for arrangements in place in 2010 will be removed while it is also possible that transfer pricing will be extended in some form to SMEs. Ireland is also obliged under EU law to bring in anti-hybrid legislation on 1 January 2020, which broadly prevents deductions for payments that are not taxed elsewhere. A further change required under EU law is to restrict tax relief for interest to 30% of a company’s EBITA. At the time of writing, it is still unclear whether this legislation will be in place at 1 January 2020. It should be noted that there will be a de minimis limit (expected to be roughly €3 million), group provisions and certain other carve-outs from the scope of the new legislation. Other changes We don’t expect to see significant changes in the VAT space. There isn’t the fiscal space to provide a VAT reduction to a specific sector (similar to the lower rate previously provided to the hospitality sector), while our headline rate is already relatively high and hence not likely to be used as a revenue-raising measure. It would be positive to see some targeted tax reliefs introduced in the Budget, despite the negative press that some of these reliefs have received in the past. However, sensible tailored reliefs have a role. Improvements to some of the existing reliefs should also be considered. Overall, it is possible that this Budget will be seen as a damp squib. But the devil will be in the detail and there is an opportunity to make changes that will bolster key sectors of our economy. Peter Vale FCA is Tax Partner at Grant Thornton. Oliver O’Connor FCA is Partner, Private Client and Wealth Management at Grant Thornton.

Oct 01, 2019
Member Profile

Paul Duffy, Ding’s new Head of Finance, discusses his move from practice to industry and life in an entrepreneur-led environment. What enticed you to move from practice to industry? I spent 10 years at PwC. I worked in the audit practice in Dublin for five years, specialising in the technology and telecommunications industries. I then spent the next five years working in the deals practice in Boston, advising private equity and corporate clients on their M&A deal execution. Although I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, I felt a move to a new industry would provide a fresh challenge. I’ve always wanted to work for an entrepreneur-led company in the technology sector and, preferably, one going through a period of accelerated growth. Ding seemed like a good fit all round. What does your new role at Ding entail?  As head of finance, my role covers a wide remit. My colleagues in finance are much more than retrospective number-counters at Ding. The team is central to how Ding functions. It is a complicated machine, due in no small part to the number of jurisdictions in which it operates. I also oversee the financial operations function, which comprises a team of 15 employees in Dublin, London, Barcelona, Paris, New Jersey, Florida, Dubai and Dhaka. Our financial operations team acts as a business partner to our business development team, so the tasks can vary from on-boarding and negotiating with new mobile operators to implementing new systems to support business growth. What do you find most challenging about your role? It is probably the demands that come with having such an international business. Ding operates in more than 140 countries and works across multiple time zones, in over 100 currencies, and across a myriad of complex regulatory environments. This brings its challenges. It’s been an adjustment just getting used to the various time zones and holiday schedules alone. We sell operator airtime so we hold stock for over 500 operators around the world, which the finance team manages. To facilitate this, we buy and sell in multiple currencies every day, and we need to forecast demand to determine stock levels.  Describe your typical day. Given the international nature of our business and the demands that brings, no two work days are the same. I try to start off the day with a quick gym session, then to the office. I tend to catch up with our CFO mid-morning to discuss the status of ongoing finance projects and the latest business performance. Each day, I try to speak with our various teams around the world so I have to work within the time zones. Before lunch, I usually have a video call with Dubai to chat through any issues or ongoing projects. In Ding, we try to promote collaboration across different business functions. I’m a believer in doing things face-to-face where possible and we have an in-house barista and coffee bar, so it’s a nice place for regular meetings with colleagues. In the afternoon, I could be working through the key commercial terms of a new customer agreement with legal, or meeting with business development to discuss things like banking and tax requirements for a new region. In the evening, I usually log on to answer emails from our US team, who are often on the road meeting potential new customers. What traits do you value most in your colleagues? Intellectual curiosity, which isn’t always encouraged as people come up through the ranks in finance. In today’s business world, speed and efficiency are often a key focus but possessing an intellectual curiosity encourages critical thinking and ultimately yields better results for the business. Flexibility is another trait that I value. In a fast-paced environment such as Ding, deadlines and targets change frequently and having the ability to be flexible and agile is important. It makes for a better team player, and a better partner for customers. What is your best piece of business advice? Build a meaningful network.

Oct 01, 2019
Comment

Brian Keegan considers the poignant parallel between Brexit and New Zealand in the 1970s. "Earthquake? Best thing that ever happened to us.” This isn’t the best response to the damage done to the city of Christchurch in New Zealand in the wake of the terrible earthquake in 2011. My man had the grace to acknowledge as much after he remembered the appalling loss of life and limb from this particular natural disaster. Nevertheless, as someone who was deeply involved in the New Zealand construction industry, he was all too happy to see the opportunities created by the devastation. It isn’t the first time that New Zealanders suffered due to powerful circumstances outside their control. While the memories of the 2011 earthquake are clearly fresher, there is also a folk memory among New Zealanders of the economic damage caused to them when the United Kingdom joined the European Union in 1973. For a country largely dependent on agriculture exports to its former Commonwealth headquarters, the British accession to what was then the European Economic Community some 40 years ago was a disaster. The economic disruption of 40 years ago is comparable to the threatened damage from Brexit to the food industry of Ireland – north and south. In the 1970s, New Zealand’s main exports were butter and lamb. Despite being on the other side of the world, the UK was a key market for these goods and, in fact, accounted for some 30% of New Zealand’s exports. Being members of the Commonwealth, New Zealand had preferential access to UK markets. That access was to be a casualty of Britain’s accession to the EU. In fact, so great was the problem for New Zealand that London committed to doing what it could to protect New Zealand’s vital interests in the course of negotiating the British accession treaty. The so-called Luxembourg agreement guaranteed limited access for New Zealand produce for a five-year transition period. The idea was to give New Zealand breathing space to negotiate free trade deals with other markets and diversify its export offering, but the economy tanked nevertheless. If all this sounds familiar, that may be because we are witnessing history repeating itself in a way that would have considerable entertainment value if the issues weren’t quite so serious. Leo Varadkar’s mischievous remark that Westminster should offer pay-per-view wasn’t that far off the mark. We may, however, be watching the wrong channel if we are to learn from this repeat – it’s the New Zealand experience we should focus on. In the 1970s, New Zealand wine was virtually unobtainable in Europe and kiwi fruits were a rarity. Now they are mainstream. 40 years on, New Zealand’s export destinations are Australia, China, the United States (US) and Japan in order of importance. The country’s volume of trade with the UK has declined by over 60%. Our Brexit discussions must now move on from brinkmanship and dead-in-a-ditch rhetoric. We are going to have to figure out how to co-exist and trade with our nearest neighbours, culturally and geographically. Business will have to work out how to diversify and establish new markets, and hopefully avoid a repeat of the worst aspects of the 1970s suffered in New Zealand. I doubt very much that any of us will ever be exclaiming, however thoughtlessly like my earthquake man, that Brexit was the best thing that ever happened to us. That’s because there’s one other point about the New Zealand experience. Even though it was clear for about a decade that the trading relationship with the UK would inevitably change in 1973, the New Zealanders seem to have done precious little about it until the hammer fell. Sometimes it takes a crisis to deliver change. Dr Brian Keegan is Director of Advocacy & Voice at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Oct 01, 2019
Comment

Brexit deadline The 31 October Brexit deadline is fast approaching and clarity on the issue is as far away as ever. At the time of writing, many options seem possible, including a Brexit delay and a UK general election, but perhaps the most likely prospect is a no-deal or limited-deal Brexit. Both the Irish and British governments have urged businesses to prepare for Brexit, particularly those that import, export or transport goods, animals or animal products. It seems that the UK government is operating on the assumption that a hard border will return to the island of Ireland, as revealed in a UK no-deal contingency document codenamed ‘Operation Yellowhammer’, which was eventually published in mid-September after leaks to the press. The document warns of potential unrest in Northern Ireland along with road blockades, job losses and disruption to the agri-food sector, as well as an increase in smuggling and the potential for disruption to electricity supply. We must hope that this is a dire overestimation of a worst-case scenario. Meanwhile, in Dublin, Institute President Conall O’Halloran recently met with Minister for Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, to discuss the post-Brexit scenario as well as the Institute’s 2020 Budget submission and other business issues. Brexit support Our Institute will do everything it can to support members and member firms at a time of great uncertainty. You can read our latest updates on www.charteredaccountants.ie, particularly in our Brexit Web Centre and our page dedicated to no-deal Brexit planning. We are encouraging businesses across Ireland and the UK to ensure that they can continue to trade with each other post-Brexit. Applying for a customs registration (an EORI number) is just the first step in the process. Getting an EORI number takes between three and five minutes and can be completed online. While some traders have experience in the customs formalities required to import and export outside of the EU, it will be a first for many – particularly smaller enterprises. Businesses need to upskill in the area of customs using Government supports. They should also assess whether they have gaps in customs knowledge. Revenue estimates that customs declarations are expected to increase from 1.4 million to 20 million per year post-Brexit. HMRC estimates that declarations will grow five-fold to around 250 million. It’s best to be as prepared as possible. New academic year As we move into October, our Institute is about to welcome a new crop of students following a campaign to recruit the brightest and best to the profession. A new programme of specialist qualifications covering areas as diverse as corporate finance and cybersecurity are also getting underway. A central part of our strategy is to train the very best business professionals so that they can make a significant contribution to the economy on the island of Ireland, and further afield. We’re working hard to ensure that whatever the economic climate, we’re providing high-quality Chartered Accountants who will make a valuable contribution to firms and businesses. On behalf of my colleagues in the Institute, I’d like to offer our best wishes to all of our new students as they start out on their Chartered journey. Barry Dempsey Chief Executive

Oct 01, 2019