Comment

While social media has made it easy to express one’s views, our electoral process deserves more consideration. Almost every hour of the day, there is some electronic device asking us to like or dislike, to swipe left or right, to make a comment or express a view. But do we run the risk of forgetting that marking a ballot paper in a voting booth is of far more consequence to liking a sentiment expressed in a tweet whose provenance we barely know? Elections are important, but the conduct of this year’s presidential election in Ireland suggests to me that we might be treating our democratic process less seriously than we should. First of all, the two major parties decided not to field a candidate. One of them didn’t field a candidate in 2011 either. What does that say about the significance of a national poll, presidential or otherwise? Accountability What does it say about the electoral process if local government representatives can nominate, but afterwards have so little accountability over the campaign or conduct of the candidates on the ballot paper? That doesn’t happen when candidates are nominated through the political party system. The end result was that we ended up with a campaign and an election that was hard to take seriously. I have no quibble with any of the individual candidates; rather with the quality of the debate. Over the course of the campaign and the televised debates, it seemed to me that the candidates barely touched on the primary duty of the president, which is to protect the constitution. Instead, we focused on matters that are entirely peripheral to the function of the highest office in the land. Surely one of the most democratic countries in the world (according to the Economist Intelligence Unit) can do a bit better than that. Poll surge It is hardly surprising that one of the main talking points was the dramatic rise of the candidate, Peter Casey, over the course of the campaign. In the space of a few days, Mr Casey’s share of the vote went from 2% (in an opinion poll) to the actual result of 23% of votes cast, leaving him in second place in the contest. A 20% surge in polls just doesn’t happen in elections involving established candidates or political parties. Even in the 2011 general election, held in the wake of the financial crisis and which was by general election standards an outlier event, the swing to Fine Gael was just 9%. Candidate selection If we are to have seriously elected representatives, the process begins not at the hustings, but at the time of candidate selection. Like any profession, political tradecraft has to be learned. It is perhaps unfair to expect any candidate to show seasoned political skills without having served an apprenticeship in local government or another form of elected office, or alternatively having been involved with a political party in campaigning for others. A merit of the party political system is that it has a structure which can provide a route to higher elected office, and then can support those who attain it. There are currently six elected representatives in the Oireachtas who are Chartered Accountants representing three political parties. Many of our members have a direct entitlement to vote in Irish Seanad elections by virtue of their University qualifications. The Institute itself, along with a number of organisations such as IBEC, ISME and other institutes and voluntary bodies, has the power to nominate candidates for Seanad elections. Perhaps this same power should be extended to nominating candidates to presidential elections. If nothing else, it might help focus future campaigns and provide a reminder to the political parties and councils that national elections are indeed of consequence. Dr. Brian Keegan is Director of Public Policy and Taxation at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Dec 03, 2018
Feature Interview

Ian Mathews, outgoing CFO at Trinity College Dublin, reflects on his career as he prepares for a new challenge in Abu Dhabi.   As curtain calls go, Ian Mathews couldn’t have scripted it better. The Chartered Accountant and outgoing Chief Financial Officer at Trinity College Dublin will leave the university this month having won three major accolades in recent weeks – Finance Team of the Year at the Irish Accountancy Awards; Finance Team of the Year at the British Accountancy Awards; and Best Diversified Asset Investment Fund: Trinity Endowment Fund at the Wealth & Finance Investment Fund Awards. In January, he will take up his new post as Vice-Chancellor of Administrative and Financial Affairs at Abu Dhabi University. Ian describes it as “purely fortuitous” that the university won three accolades as he prepares to leave the stage, but it is an arguably just reward for a man who led Trinity’s Financial Services Division out of 3 College Green and integrated 60 finance professionals into the day-to-day operation of the university. “It all started in 2007 when my predecessor and I proactively commissioned an external review,” he said. “The findings were clear, but tough to swallow. We had a great team but we weren’t great on customer service, we didn’t focus on our stakeholders and we said ‘no’ a lot.” Reaching out With the financial crisis just around the corner, the team would be forced to say ‘no’ even more in the years that followed but Ian was determined to bring the finance function closer to the action and make the team more accessible to the university’s 1,800 full-time and 4,000 part-time staff.  “We knew we were good accountants, but we needed to translate that into something of value for our non-finance colleagues. So we recruited a Services Liaison Officer to help us reach out to the different areas of the university,” he said. “We introduced an outreach programme within the Financial Services Team to help the different departments get to know each other and we brought them in groups to the main campus to attend lectures. The whole idea was to build empathy with our colleagues and help us understand where they might be coming from when they have a finance-related issue.” Systems development Today, the Financial Services Division is recognised as an integral part of the university’s operational structure and this is due in large part to Ian’s vision for a more open, approachable and understanding finance function. Such organisational development initiatives were followed some years later by the introduction of a new real-time procurement and reporting system. According to Ian, the university “had no visibility on what it owed or purchased. While we were able to pull accounts together, we had no real strategic data.” In one instance, it took the university three weeks to respond to a relatively straightforward parliamentary question about the university’s taxi expenditure. The university is now on the front foot when it comes to data-led intelligence. Its real-time accounting system allows staff to access the university’s procurement system on their smartphones and make orders around the clock. “We secured €13 million in savings over five years by streamlining our procurement and focusing on value. Where we once had 60 travel agents serving the university, we now have one. Where 10 years ago one department was buying a ream of paper for €8 and another was making the same purchase for €2, everything is now aggregated and we know that we’re getting the best value possible.” Setting these processes and systems up is one thing. It’s another thing entirely to shift the culture of an organisation as large as Trinity College Dublin. Luckily for Ian, he has always been blessed with the power of persuasion. “I have a capacity to listen and build relationships, and this has certainly been an advantage. I also try to lead by example because if you can do that, you will inspire people and create the basis for a workplace that is built on loyalty, integrity, commitment and hard work.” His accessible style was also an asset in his negotiations with the university’s Students Union. Over the years, Ian made a point of meeting the incoming officer group to establish a clear line of communication. “I’m quite people-oriented and I like to keep lines of communication open,” he said. “I fully respect the mandate of the Students Union to fight for more resources and fee certainty. I only ask that if they want to raise a question at a meeting, that they speak to me first. That way, they still have their say at the meeting but they will have the added benefit of a considered, informed response. We won’t always agree, but I’ve heard past presidents of the Union saying that the first thing you do when taking office is talk to Finance. We’re now part of the solution, not the problem, and that’s a great credit to the team.” Strategic investment In the midst of rebuilding his division’s culture and reputation within the wider university, Ian also led Trinity College into uncharted territories. “When I took over as CFO, Trinity College had never borrowed in its 400-year history,” he said. “Our first loan was drawn down in 2010, a second in 2015 and the university has just secured a further 30-year €100 million loan from the European Investment Bank to fund the soon-to-be built E3 Institute (Engineering, Environment and Emerging Technologies), which will develop the knowledge, technologies and aptitudes needed to design and shape the planet’s natural capital. The loan will also fund a refurbishment of the arts block, an expansion of the law school, and new student accommodation at Trinity Hall in Dartry.” The next act Over the past 24 years, Ian has played a central role in the rejuvenation of Trinity College Dublin. Now the university has its sights firmly set on the future, the time has come for a new challenge – one that came in the form of an unsolicited email. “I was asked to put myself forward by an agency in Dubai and it was an operations role as opposed to pure finance. If I waited another five years, my options would be restricted and the time was right from a family perspective,” he said. “Trinity has been great but now, the future excites me in a new way. If you don’t take these opportunities when they arise, you might live to regret it.” So with three awards in the bag and a string of investments at work, which will no doubt benefit the university for generations to come, the curtain comes down on a sterling career in Trinity College Dublin. But the university hasn’t heard the last of him. “I recently facilitated a visit by Abu Dhabi University to Trinity to talk about the potential for collaboration in the area of health sciences,” he said. “I’ll maintain my links with the university because that’s just me, it’s who I am. Two decades of corporate knowledge isn’t going to disappear overnight and if anyone needs to talk, they’ll only have to pick up the phone. I’ll be happy to help.” He might be leaving Trinity’s stage, but don’t bet against an encore.

Dec 02, 2018
News

By Kathryn Brady  Gender pay gap reporting is coming to Ireland. Although it is not yet clear when reporting will officially begin, draft legislation (the General Scheme of the Gender Pay Gap Information Bill) was published by the Irish government in June 2018.  The drivers of a gender pay gap are typically diversity and demographic factors, such as the distribution of men and women across the levels of seniority, but they may also include pay factors which could represent equal pay risk areas, i.e. differences in pay between men and women performing equal work. (While this is prohibited under legislation – men and women must be paid equally for “like work”, “work of equal value” or “work rated as equivalent” – this practise can still occur.) These are clearly very different drivers and will need to be addressed through very different means. The aim of gender pay gap reporting is to create greater transparency and awareness of the factors contributing to the gap so that it can be closed. High-level details of the metrics to be reported were included in the draft legislation and greater detail will emerge over time. Closing the gender pay gap will undoubtedly have a positive effect on Irish women and the Irish economy. PwC’s 2018 Women in Work Index reports that closing the pay gap globally could increase OECD female earnings by as much as $2 trillion in the long-run, not only benefiting women, but the whole global economy. Ireland’s pay gap According to the most recently available data from the OECD/Eurostat, the gender pay gap in Ireland is 14%. Women make up 46% of the Irish labour force and, in an increasingly tight labour market, the ability to secure female talent is vital for employers. When gender pay gap reporting becomes a reality, organisations that demonstrate they are taking sizeable steps to address their gender pay gap issues could begin to attract pivotal talent. This will be particularly important for skills in short supply that are also highly mobile, such as IT. When deciding whether or not to work for an organisation, for example, 82% of female millennials identify an employer’s policy on diversity, equality and workforce inclusion as important. Gender pay gaps are likely to feed into a candidate’s assessment of an organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Challenges and opportunities Although the gender pay gap in Ireland has been reported on for some time, a formalised approach to reporting will provide much greater insight, specifically about the gaps that exist in individual organisations and across sectors. While details are not yet available, we expect that employers will be required to report their gender pay gap information to a designated public body, as well as publishing details on their websites. This level of transparency is likely to bring a high degree of scrutiny for companies from a range of stakeholders including boards, shareholders, employees, the media and regulators, as has been the case in the UK.  For those employers who are embracing diversity and inclusion, gender pay gap reporting presents a positive opportunity to strengthen their brand by promoting their efforts publicly. For those who are yet to embrace the topic, it will provide a chance to understand the reality in their company, why a gender pay gap exists and what the key contributors are. They can then begin to make data-informed decisions. Regardless of an organisation’s track record on diversity and inclusion to date, the impetus for Irish employers to be proactive now is clear. Reflecting on experiences in gender pay gap reporting in the UK, here are some key lessons for Irish employers: start early in your reporting;  develop your narrative and action plan;  communicate proactively to stakeholders;  take action to close the gap; and  consider sector collaboration to address any issues. Next steps The timeline for introducing gender pay gap reporting in Ireland is not yet clear as the Bill is at the beginning of the legislative process. However, this is an opportune moment for employers to prepare as the topic is clearly on the government’s agenda. For those wishing to make the most of the opportunity, now is the time to act. By reflecting on the lessons learned in the UK, organisations can position themselves well for whatever gender pay gap reporting will entail. Kathryn Brady is a Director of People & Organisation at PwC.

Nov 30, 2018
News

You thought summer was hard, but staying motivated through the winter is incredibly difficult. Short days, warm fires and cold weather make it easy to get nothing done. Here are four steps to staying productive during the winter months. Winter is firmly here and with it, has brought shorter days and colder weather. With the average working day ranging between 6AM and 8PM, any potential downtime is spent in the dark. This lack of direct sunlight during the day, the dramatic dip in temperature and change in atmosphere can have an effect on a work routine and overall mood.   During the winter months, it is important to reassess the way we work and find a routine that fits our needs to help prevent a drop in mood and productivity. Here are four simple steps to help keep productivity up at a time of the year when energy levels may fall down. Prep is key One of the best ways to develop a healthy and productive daily winter work routine is to get the right start. A good night’s sleep and a morning routine are integral to boosting motivation and energy to help tackle the challenges of the busy day ahead.   The National Sleep Foundation in the US recommends adults between the ages of 26 and 64 need to get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. A lack of sleep is proven to have both short and long-term effects on our bodies and mental health, with high blood pressure and anxiety being some of the side effects. Going to bed at a regular time each night and switching off back-lit devices such as your phone are small ways to prepare for a good night’s sleep.   Your morning routine is also important. Many successful CEOs cite advanced planning as an integral part of their morning ritual. Visualising the day helps put the brain into work mode, making planning the day ahead easier. Taking five minutes in the morning to go over the day’s tasks can help boost morning motivation and productivity. Beat SAD Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression specifically related to the change in seasons. A combination of reduced natural daylight, hectic lifestyles, and poor weather can affect our circadian rhythms. The symptoms for those who suffer from SAD commonly begin in autumn and continue into the winter months, with most people experiencing a decrease in energy level and a change in mood.   In Ireland, we are more susceptible to SAD due to our location in the Northern Hemisphere. According to Mental Health Ireland, approximately one in 15 people in Ireland will suffer from the disorder between September and April.   Maximising exposure to daylight, engaging in fun activities, and practising healthy habits such as a well-balanced diet and regular exercise are simple ways to help reduce the symptoms of SAD. Change it up Everyday routines are comfortable and usually productive. However, during the winter months, there can be benefits to mixing things up. Forcing ourselves to make a change to our workflow encourages the brain to make new connections and forces it to pay attention and learn. This is known as neuroplasticity.   Changing work locations is a simple, cheap and effective way to change a working routine and boost productivity. Flexible office space providers offer a number of options that can accommodate the needs of freelancers, SMEs or larger businesses.   In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of businesses introducing hot-desking to their work environment. This is an office system whereby one workstation is used by multiple employees during different time periods. Usually, employees work different shifts or have flexible schedules, allowing a number of employees to benefit from a change in location at different times during the winter months.  Workplace wellness To help boost employee well-being and mental health, many businesses and flexible workspace providers have begun introducing workplace wellness programmes for their employees. Whether it is a lunch-time mindfulness seminar or morning Pilates class, it can be useful to take advantage of your company’s well-being programme, especially during the winter months. Clare Kelly is the Director of Glandore.

Nov 29, 2018
News

By Paul Murray If I told you I could give you an opportunity to take money from a company without any tax bill, you’d be interested right? What if I said you can invest the money you took from the company tax-free as well, your interest peaks a bit more? What if I said you could take a lump of cash tax-free at the end as well – your interest should have peaked at this stage, yes? Why then, when we call it a pension, do so many people go glass eyed and lose interest? Because we still call it a pension. It appears, to me anyway, that the word ‘pension’ makes people think of being old and grey and getting some pittance of a weekly payment. That is no longer the case, but we haven’t educated people well enough about what a pension actually is. An extremely tax-efficient savings plan You have a client – let's call him Dave – who owns his own business. Dave’s business has been going since January 2010 and Dave draws an annual salary of €70K p.a. from the company. He is 40, married and business is going well and he is thinking of buying an investment property for his retirement. Dave can pay approximately 52% tax (highest marginal tax rate), taking the money from the business in salary to buy the property. The rental income from the property would also be taxed at the marginal tax rate. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this as that is the tax system in place, there is a better and much more tax-efficient way to do it – a perfectly legal way to make Dave’s money go roughly twice as far. Based on the above and assuming no other pension benefits, the business could make a contribution of approximately €350K to a self-administered pension scheme to allow Dave to buy that property. Instead of having to take over €700K from the company to buy the property after tax, €350K can come from the company and buy the property – so Dave and the business are now €350k+ better off already. The rent from the property rolls in to the pension scheme tax free and Dave is up to 52% better off by not paying tax on the rental income. This is a pension. Or, better yet, an extremely tax-efficient savings plan. Retirement Let’s say the value of the property by the time Dave is 60 is €500K and, between rental income and a few contributions by the company, there is €300K in the fund. Dave can take 25% of the value for retirement, i.e. €200K, tax free. The property and cash can now be transferred to an ARF and the rental income taken as annual income for Dave for his retirement, just like his original intention at the outset. This approach is more cash and tax efficient for him and his business.  In essence, Dave can do roughly twice as much through his ‘pension’ scheme than if he were to take the funds from the company as salary. We need to educate people on the need to plan for the day when their income will stop. We need to stop using the word ‘pension’ and, instead, highlight to people that there is an extremely tax-efficient savings plan available that will allow them to save for their future in a manner where the government will contribute to it through very generous tax relief. It worked for the SSIA – it can work for a pension once we explain it well enough. Paul Murray is a Director at Quest Capital Trustees. This article was first published in The FM Report.

Nov 29, 2018
News

By Orla Brosnan If you are wondering whether or not you should give corporate gifts this Christmas: yes, you should, in my opinion. The gifts should always be in line with your organisation’s values and standards. The trick is to balance thoughtfulness and appropriateness while keeping in mind that what you give directly reflects your judgement and professionalism. Here are some tips for giving corporate gifts that will hopefully go some way to strike that balance. Personalise the gift Personalised gifts make a lasting impression. Rather than being treated as merely a figure from a database, personalised corporate gifting is about valuing the person’s individuality. Therefore, these types of gifts help nurture business relations and are cherished. A simple measure like having personalised messages and images printed on the gifts can go a long way in creating an emotional aura around the gift. If you show that you took extra time to tailor the gift to the recipient, then they’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness. Never compromise on quality No matter what the budget, the quality of the gift should be of a high standard. It will be a reflection of your judgement and brand.  Don’t be cheap. Consider how much you might routinely spend taking someone out for a nice meal. That meal might be forgotten by the next morning. Yet, when it comes to gifts, businesses routinely try to figure out ways to reduce their gift spend. If everything in your business is to a high quality, don’t be a cheap skate when it comes to showing your appreciation to the people who keep you in business. Even if it’s a handwritten note saying thank you for your support throughout the year, make sure it’s on nice card stock and written in neat handwriting. Everything in moderation If you have a great relationship with a client, you might be tempted to go overboard during the festive season. Don’t. You have to be mindful of the policies of the company where the gift will be received, and what your own company policies are in relation to giving and receiving gifts and the limits that have been applied. You should be well-informed on this issue before giving gifts in order to avoid an unpleasant situation.  Christmas card for the boss Believe it or not, a gift isn’t always appropriate. Many people say that they don’t ever recommend that anyone should give a gift to their boss. It’s not expected, and it actually creates an awkward situation. Appreciate hobbies A sports or hobby related gift shows that you recognise something the recipient is passionate about outside of work. You can give the gift of licensed apparel or, if you know the sport but not the team the person supports, something more generic related to the sport or hobby itself. Don’t get too personal When giving a gift to clients, staff or colleagues, there's a fine line between choosing something they will appreciate compared to something too personal. Stay away from perfume/cologne and clothes. Don’t make it promotional Many companies send clients gifts that contain their own name and logo. That’s not a gift. It’s a marketing piece. Don’t gift it. Don’t limit gift giving to just Christmas It's natural to think of sending a gift around Christmas, but you may want to reconsider. The Christmas season is ironically the least effective time to give a gift. Be grateful and thankful year round. Instead, wait until an unexpected time to give something memorable. Service providers  Service providers comprise a large group of associates, ranging from cleaners, consultants, to window cleaners and post people. For gifts of this nature, small items, cash or gift cards, depending on the provided type of service, is the appropriate way to go. Plan a budget Deciding on a budget for gift-giving occasions throughout the year will largely have to do with the company’s finances. Even if a small amount can be spent on gifts, a small token or just a handwritten card will suffice to let people know that they are important to your company.  Orla Brosnan is the CEO and Founder of the Etiquette School of Ireland.

Nov 15, 2018