The recently published code of practice on the right to disconnect is now in effect. While failure to follow the Code isn’t an offence, it can be used as evidence in court. What do employers and employees need to know? Aoife Newton explains. On 1 April 2021, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) published a new Code of Practice for Employers and Employees on the Right to Disconnect. It was developed following a request by An Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar T.D., as part of a government programme to support and facilitate remote working. The Code provides guidance on best practice on the right to disconnect and applies to all employment forms, including those working remotely. Failure of an employer to follow the Code is not an offence. However, the Code is admissible in evidence in proceedings before the civil courts, the Labour Court, or the WRC. The Code was introduced with immediate effect. The new Right to Disconnect There are three key elements to the Code: the right of an employee to not have to routinely perform work outside their normal working hours; the right not to be penalised for refusing to attend to work matters outside of normal working hours; the duty to respect another person’s right to disconnect (for example, by not routinely emailing or calling outside normal working hours). Implementing the new Code The main objective of the Code is the creation of a workplace culture in which employees feel they can disconnect from work and work-related devices. The Code encourages employers to: develop a Right to Disconnect policy by actively engaging with employees (and trade unions), reflecting the business’s unique needs and employees. A sample outline policy is provided in the Code to assist employers in drafting their own policy; ensure that such a policy is ‘equality proofed’ to make sure that there are no unintended negative consequences for any particular employees who may have unique responsibilities (for example, caring responsibilities or those with a disability who may need to avail of more flexibility); refer to the Right to Disconnect policy in employment contracts and cross-reference this with the employer’s Dignity at Work, E-Communications, Data Protection and Confidentiality policies. The Right to Disconnect policy should also be discussed during an employee’s induction process; provide managers with training and support on the right to disconnect so that they can demonstrate a clear commitment to the policy through leadership and being active role models; provide training and support for employees to reinforce the appropriate behaviours around disconnecting from work outside normal working hours; hold annual reviews to examine the effectiveness of the Right to Disconnect policy within the organisation (if applicable, in consultation with trade unions); consider using email footers and pop-up messages to remind employees, clients and customers that there is no requirement to reply to emails out of hours, and an answer should not be expected. It is noted that there are situations where flexibility will be required and that there are occasional legitimate situations where it may be necessary for there to be contact outside of normal working hours. A Right to Disconnect policy should provide clear guidance around expectations of normal working hours and outline any exceptions. Existing legal obligations on employers The Code is to complement existing legislation and it provides guidance and clarification on the current statutory obligations of employers, including an employer’s obligation to: provide detailed information to employees on their hours of work (including overtime); ensure that employees are informed of what their normal working hours (daily and weekly) are reasonably expected to be; ensure that employees take rest periods in accordance with Working Time legislation; ensure a safe workplace, including reviewing risk assessments and safety statements in accordance with Health and Safety legislation; refrain from penalising an employee for acting in compliance with any relevant provision or performing any duty, or exercising any right under Health and Safety legislation. Existing legal obligations on employees Although there is a significant focus on employers’ obligations, there is also an emphasis on employees’ responsibility. Employees are expected to protect their health, safety and welfare, as well as that of their co-workers. Employees should manage their own working time and fully cooperate with any mechanisms their employer has to track working time, including when working remotely. Employees are also asked to be aware of the right of their clients, colleagues and all other people to disconnect by not routinely making work-related contact outside of normal working hours. The Code encourages employees to take responsibility for their own work-related wellbeing, including ensuring that they take their statutory rest periods and notify their employer when they have not availed of a statutory rest period to which they were entitled. Going forward Employers should consider undertaking a review of their working time policies and contract clauses and consider implementing a Right to Disconnect policy that addresses issues surrounding the right to disconnect through awareness and training, where required. Aoife Newton is the Head of Employment and Immigration Services at KPMG.

Apr 09, 2021

Automation of functions has undoubtedly made our lives easier, but what about our people and interpersonal skills? Dearbhla Gallagher outlines four essential skills for greater work and leadership success. In an era of rapidly evolving technology where more work activities have become automated, people and interpersonal skills may be moving down the priority list for some businesses. In the accounting sector, which has traditionally measured success by numeric metrics, the importance of people skills can also be overlooked. While technical ability remains a prerequisite of the job, today’s professional accountants need to acquire a broader range of skills that go far beyond traditional accounting tasks if they are to succeed. The four key skills Strong communication skills are essential for the modern professional accountant. Breaking down highly technical language and conveying complex information in simple terms is part and parcel of the job. Consider the audience – those who are not as numbers-savvy will lack the ability to understand and decipher the data the way accounting and finance professionals can. But communication is much more than sharing information; it is also about active listening – listening to your clients, peers, and employees. Poor communication can lead to serious misunderstandings that result in mistrust between employers, employees and even clients. Adaptability and flexibility are crucial to success. Both things and people change all the time. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need to be adaptable and flexible to meet head-on the ever-changing environment in which we operate. Professional accountants who can adapt will be better equipped to anticipate future changes to serve their clients in a world that is being turned upside down by the pandemic. Influencing skills are more than just the ability to communicate. Solid influencing skills enable a leader to get buy-in to their ideas and plans without the need to steamroll their way through the opposition. The ability to influence people, their behaviour, and their decision-making is a key skill for a professional accountant. It allows for the building of trust-based relationships with colleagues and clients, which lead to positive results. Emotional intelligence is another critical skill that enables an individual to manage their own emotions, and the emotions of others, in the workplace. Fostering strong business relationships with colleagues and clients is central to building trust and a better rapport with people. Numeracy skills will only take you so far; cultivating emotional intelligence will ultimately enhance your leadership skills. Professional accountants have a remarkable ability to look closely at details while simultaneously thinking more strategically in a way that escapes many other professionals. This dual ability is a valued leadership trait. Effective leaders can, and do, shape the future of the industry they work in. As accountants advance in their careers, they need to develop their people skills to become even more effective leaders, better motivate employees, and boost morale among employees, thereby creating an engaged workforce. And an engaged workforce is one your clients will want to work with. Dearbhla Gallagher is the Learning & Development Manager at Baker Tilly.

Apr 09, 2021

Although Government supports are currently keeping businesses afloat, business owners question how they will move forward in the absence of these lifelines. Sarah-Jane O’Keeffe examines what business owners can do now to secure their future. With the introduction and rollout of the vaccines, those living in Ireland now have a degree of hope. As such, the recovery of the economic landscape post-COVID-19 is front of mind. We are now asking two critical questions: what does the future of business look like? how will we transition post-pandemic to the next normal? ‘Hybrid’ working We have become accustomed to new ways of working, and a full return to the office looks unlikely for certain industries. It seems that hybrid work models are here to stay for the foreseeable future, allowing employees to split their time working between the office and home where possible. Business owners will be aware of this demand for new and innovative flexible working arrangements and will react accordingly. This may involve maintaining office locations but downsizing commercial property. The possible downsizing of office space and exiting of leases must be considered sooner than later, as potential conflict may arise between landlords and tenants. Business supports Undoubtedly, Government supports are keeping distressed industries like hospitality, non-essential retail, and aviation in business during COVID-19 lockdowns. However, business owners have questions and concerns, with some wondering what will become of their business when these supports cease. Understandably, a reasonable level of uncertainty exists, with many business owners worried that the demand for their products or services in a post-pandemic world will be insufficient to service the level of debt that has accumulated since operations were halted. Directors of these businesses should take proactive steps to engage with experts and be aware of their director duties and the restructuring options available to them, such as examinership and the new Summary Rescue Process. The basis of this newly proposed legislation is to help small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) restructure in the face of difficulty, providing access to a cheaper corporate restructuring tool that will give them the best chance of survival. The primary focus of the examinership legislation regime is rehabilitation and job preservation. While Government supports for business are due to finish on 30 June 2021, they will likely be extended while COVID-19 restrictions remain. However, when they eventually end, businesses – particularly within the hospitality industry – will need the public’s support to help them get back on their feet. With international travel off the cards for the foreseeable future, these businesses will rely on the domestic market. The hospitality industry is a vital element of the economy, and the public will play a central role in ensuring that it thrives again. Act now Companies must think about the future and potential issues now as opposed to later when Government supports cease. Companies should seek the relevant restructuring advice and consider possible options now. Also, they must consider lease commitments and perform stress tests on the company’s finances in the current climate and whether it has a reasonable prospect of survival post-pandemic. A restructuring expert, and indeed the examinership process, can guide companies on these issues. Sarah-Jane O’Keeffe is a Senior Manager at Baker Tilly, a contributor to the recently published book A Practical Guide to Examinership, and Ireland’s first female Examiner.

Apr 09, 2021

Dee Moran, Professional Accountancy Leader at Chartered Accountants Ireland, speaks to Accounting for Sustainability’s Jessica Fries about the role Chartered Accountants can play in mitigating the worst impacts of the climate change crisis and making sustainable business synonymous with business as usual. Dee Moran (DM): Can you briefly explain the economic risk facing the business community regarding sustainability and the climate crisis? Jessica Fries (JF): Since Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) was first established in 2004, we have seen an increasing awareness of environmental and social risks and just how important they are from an economic, financial and business perspective. In the last couple of years, in particular, we have seen a significant shift in tracking these issues. The World Economic Forum publishes a global risk report each year. Environmental and social risks feature consistently in the top 10, which underlines just how focused businesses are on those risks. In response to those trends, we also see more businesses taking action and more investors and regulators focusing on identifying the risks and possible responses. This time last year, when the pandemic started to hit, people were concerned that environmental and other sustainable business issues would be forgotten due to the urgent need to respond to the human and economic crisis and the pandemic’s impact on wellbeing and livelihoods. If anything, however, the understanding of climate and the climate crisis has continued to grow. This year, COP26 – the major UN climate conference – will be hosted by the UK in Glasgow in November. This will be a vital meeting. Over five years ago, in 2015, at the Paris COP, governments around the world committed to keeping the average increase in global temperatures to well below two degrees with the ambition to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Science tells us that this is needed to mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis and maintain a habitable world. A key part of the agreement was a ‘ratchet’ mechanism with governments committing to set increasingly ambitious targets every five years, recognising that the initial commitments made at the time of the Paris agreement were not sufficient. COP26 is the conference at which these updated commitments will be made. Of course, in addition to the human impact, the economic consequences of failing to act at the pace and scale demanded by the science are enormous; the Economist Intelligence Unit has estimated that the direct costs by mid-century will be $7.9 trillion.  As well as a continued focus on climate, the pandemic also reinforced business responsibility in relation to social issues and the need to think about how businesses support communities and employees. These issues are interconnected, so you cannot look at either the climate crisis or the COVID-19 pandemic in isolation. The pandemic has also forced everyone in the world to pause, reflect on the kind of recovery we want, and ask whether we can create a more equitable, more resilient, and more sustainable world. On that note, businesses are thinking about the kind of shift there might be and how they can be best positioned to respond. Accountants have played a vital role in helping their organisations navigate challenging conditions thus far, of course, but there is also a massive opportunity for accountants to help shape a sustainable future. DM: It is widely acknowledged that if we are to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, global greenhouse gas emissions need to halve by 2030 and reach net-zero by mid-century. You alluded to it there, but how can the finance community drive efforts as we work towards that goal? JF: Your question highlights the dramatic nature of the transition needed to achieve those goals. Accountants are at the heart of the organisation in terms of measuring, tracking, setting targets, and planning the necessary investment. To that end, they analyse the external risks and identify the information their organisations need to assess the impact of the transition on their business. More and more organisations are also setting what are called science-based targets, which, as you say, are needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Accountants can help set those goals, but also embed them throughout the whole organisation. Accountants also direct flows of money and financing, and investors are increasingly interested in these issues. This is a significant opportunity to access different sources of funding with the growing interest in environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing which, at the moment, is critical for some businesses.  The other thing that we see is accountants’ ability to influence others, including engaging new employees. We often hear about the newer generations of accountants having a clear sense of purpose, and that is true – but it is equally true throughout the whole organisation. This provides a dual opportunity for accountants to play to the finance team’s skillset and that softer cultural engagement, which is an essential driver of business success. From large companies to small accountancy practitioners, climate change will affect us all. There is, therefore, a role for everyone to play. It doesn’t have to be something individuals think about in terms of home life alone; we can also have a powerful impact through our professional lives. DM: The Irish Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe TD, added his support to the TCFD (Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures) last November. What should accountants expect in the future in terms of sustainability reporting? And how can they help their organisations prepare? JF: TCFD is gaining global momentum. It started as an industry-led group endorsed by the regulatory community. As a result, it has always had a regulatory hue, but it was very much investors, companies, and other key representatives coming together to create a framework. We are now several years into its adoption, and we can see a shift to mandatory reporting. A4S has done quite a lot of work globally with organisations to apply its principles in practice, and they find a few areas particularly challenging – one of which is scenario analysis. But this is an area of significant interest to investors. It links back to the kind of targets companies need to set, whether that is a net-zero target or a science-based target. In the build-up to COP26, you will see more and more organisations making that kind of commitment. You will also see investors come together to focus on what companies are reporting and the concept of a transition plan – does the business have a credible strategy to respond to the change in the global economy as we transition from fossil fuel use and work to halve global emissions by 2030? We also know that businesses have to account for the physical impacts arising from climate change, such as flooding. We can already see changing patterns and the impact this is having on business. Building resilience into any response while trying to reduce the risk is therefore crucial. This all fits into the broader reporting landscape where regulators and standard setters are now asking for improved reporting on climate-related issues. Most recently, the IFRS Foundation announced its intention to establish a sustainability standards board, providing a potential ‘home’ for the TCFD as part of a recognised standard setter. So there is much momentum – not just in terms of what should be reported on from a climate perspective and convergence with the TCFD framework, but also how that plays into the broader sustainability reporting landscape. Companies need to think this through, and accountants can help their companies whether they are within the organisation or providing that advice as a third-party. And finally, because sustainability reporting is becoming increasingly mandatory and there is a focus on the robustness of the information needed to support investors in their decisions, assurance comes into play. Therefore, accountancy firms must consider how to adapt assurance services to assure climate and other sustainability information. Sustainability reporting is important, but the impact of sustainability trends on financial reporting is also key. The heads of the accounting bodies are collaborating to reinforce this point, but it can often get lost in the discussion around sustainability standards: auditors and accountants in business should already be thinking about the impact of climate risk on the financial statements. More sustainability-related information might go in the front half of the annual report but if you look at the existing requirements under financial reporting, organisations should consider how some of these issues impact the financial statements. That is another critical area to consider – and one that few organisations have started to analyse in the kind of depth that will be demanded in the next few years. DM: On that point, do you think the accountancy profession is sufficiently equipped with the skills necessary to ensure that their businesses are sustainable and to report on those issues? JF: There is undoubtedly a considerable capacity gap. One of the significant challenges we all face is how all professions can upskill to respond to this massive task. When we set up the Accounting Bodies Network in 2008, that was one of the five principles – how do you embed sustainability into professional training and education? We are starting to see the tools, techniques, and approaches become embedded into syllabi, but most professionals did their qualification quite a long time ago. Continuous professional development (CPD) therefore needs to be an acute focus. Reporting is one of those important areas, but many finance professionals spend the majority of their time looking at other areas such as management accounting, supporting the strategic planning process, capital investment decisions, preparing management information, raising finance, engaging with the capital markets and many other areas. We have developed an A4S Essential Guide series that covers all these accountancy and finance areas in a very practical way and is free to access for all from our website, www.accountingforsustainability.org. Last year we launched the A4S Academy, which is our way of helping finance professionals dig deeper into the issues and equip themselves with the necessary skills. DM: Certainly, the guidance and data that A4S has produced have been really useful for Chartered Accountants Ireland’s membership. To follow on from that point, we will likely be grappling with the impact of COVID-19 for years to come. For those working in finance, how can we better address environmental and social risks, both now and into the future? JF: We have done research over the past year to understand the role finance has played in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and how the different parts of the finance system can work together to start building a better future. Three themes came through from our work with the accounting community, the first of which I already discussed – setting ambitious targets. The second area is accountability through reporting. Again, I touched on that earlier in the discussion, and it plays to the heart of what accountants can do to support their organisations. And finally, there is the theme of collaboration – how do we come together across different sectors and different stakeholder groups to innovate and find solutions? Throughout the pandemic, we have witnessed some fantastic and inspiring examples of organisations thinking creatively to find solutions to pandemic-related challenges. That same kind of thinking and collaboration will be vital in our fight against climate change. DM: Technology-enabled communication platforms are a game-changer in this context, aren’t they? JF: Absolutely. I am sure most of us are keen to return to some form of human interaction and in-person events, but that ability to connect globally is here to stay. It provides some exciting opportunities for the future. As we look ahead to COP26, we will focus on bringing finance teams to that conference in a virtual way and delivering insights and messages from the summit back to the finance community. Accountants and finance professionals around the world can play a significant role in tackling climate change. We will need to consider how we mobilise that commitment to action and support accountants in what will be a vital year in terms of having a chance of achieving those ambitious global targets in the decade ahead. DM: With COP26 due to take place in Glasgow in November of this year, do you see it as a ‘make or break’ moment in the fight against climate change? JF: Absolutely. Time is running out, and a decade is an incredibly short amount of time. To halve the emissions globally over the next decade, we need to see action every year. COP26 is just one event, but the focus is not solely on governments coming together to ratchet up their commitments. It is also a call to action to every other corner of the economy, and we can all contribute by making a vocal, visible commitment. Our role is to enable governments to take the kind of action needed, which provides the context within which businesses and individuals can take action. DM: And what are your hopes for the COP26 summit? JF: I hope that we see a commitment to action from all parts of the global community. Of course, thinking of the work that A4S does, I would particularly like to see accountants worldwide commit to playing a role in accelerating that transition to a net-zero economy. I would also love for all of your members to signal their commitment, sign up, raise the ambition and – most importantly – take tangible action. Look out for more ways to get involved in the coming month. It’s one thing to commit, but it’s quite another thing to act. What we need to focus on now is action. DM: Finally, you led a workshop at the 20th World Congress of Accountants entitled “Can accountants save the world?” Over two years have passed since then, so what is your answer to that question today? JF: Yes, I think they can. I hope that the discussion we’ve had today will convince accountants that they have a critically important role in turning climate change around and, ultimately, saving the world.  

Apr 01, 2021

Julia Rowan answers your management, leadership, and team development questions. Q. I did really well at the beginning of the lockdown, but it’s beginning to feel like a struggle. We worked hard before, but COVID-19 has added at least 15% to our workload. I’m trying to remain positive and upbeat with my team, but I feel I’m running on empty. There is so much in this short question – the pressure to be positive, the desire to mind your team. And I appreciate how important it is to be positive, but what kind of positive? Leaders often want, with great intention, to protect their teams – from negativity, from too much work, from politics. The problem is that the leader then takes on the dual burden of protecting and being positive. That’s exhausting. You manage a team of adults. Trust yourself to be real with them. You don’t want to be relentlessly negative (‘everything is awful’), but unrealistic positivity (‘everything is awesome’) is not doing anyone any favours. You can be positively realistic (‘it’s harder with COVID-19, let’s talk about how we cope with that’). Not having to pretend will allow you to show up more authentically, and that gives permission to others to be authentic. I generally find that when teams are allowed the space to express how difficult things are, they find solutions and ways forward. Not having to pretend releases creativity. By being realistic, you have not stopped supporting the team – you are supporting them in a more useful way. I’m a huge fan of journalling to become aware of our drivers and then put them to good use. Positivity, perfectionism, and people-pleasing are drivers I come across all the time. Becoming more conscious of them helps us to channel them more usefully. Q. An experienced member of my team continually asks for direction. The quality of their work is good, but I have to spend a lot of time briefing them, checking, and so on. I’m not sure how to address this or whether I should just let sleeping dogs lie. My first response to this question is to ask whether your team member’s need stems from their ‘will’ (confidence, motivation) or their ‘skill’ (ability). You tell me that the quality of their work is good, so my guess is that their skill is okay, and the issue is confidence. There is also the possibility that they are simply in the habit of asking you. The next time this person asks you for input about a task, engage in a different kind of conversation and provide a different kind of support. Ask questions that allow them to access their knowledge and experience and build on their strengths and achievements. If there is a genuine lack of confidence, be sure to reassure and give positive feedback. You need to prepare for this because on a busy day, it’s very easy to get bounced back into the usual way of doing things. Write out some good questions in advance. I often advise leaders to respond carefully when asked a ‘How do I…?’ question and reflect on what the person asking the question truly needs: is it advice, confidence, or permission? Julia Rowan is Principal Consultant at Performance Matters, a leadership and team development consultancy. To send a question to Julia, email julia@performancematters.ie   

Mar 26, 2021

Barrie O’Connell considers how Ireland can achieve continued success in international financial services after three decades of momentous growth. As a semi-senior auditing investments and subscriptions in the offices of Chemical Bank on Lower Abbey Street in the late 1990s, I knew little of the influence international financial services (IFS) would have on my career as a Chartered Accountant. Ireland has built a thriving IFS industry over the last three decades. This success can be measured using several metrics, some of which are outlined in Table 1. So, what are the factors behind this success? In my view, Ireland’s strategic approach and talent have been the two key enablers. Chartered Accountants have played – and will continue to play – a key role when it comes to talent. The ‘Ireland for Finance’ strategy In 2019, the Government of Ireland launched the Ireland for Finance 2025 strategy. The strategy was developed by the Department of Finance, with input from a range of stakeholders, and is part of the current Programme for Government. It contains four pillars: Operating environment; Technology and innovation; Talent; and Communications and promotion. The Ireland for Finance 2025 strategy is aligned with other key Government strategies, including the National Development Plan and the National Digital Strategy. A refresh of the strategy will likely be undertaken after the COVID-19 pandemic to account for the permanent impact on the future of work, the changing operating environment, and the intense competition from other IFS investment locations. Each year, the Department of Finance also publishes an action plan and an update on actions. This allows each action to be measured and provides accountability, as each action has an owner. The IFS team within the Department of Finance plays a significant role in supporting the strategy’s implementation. There is also a dedicated Minister of State for IFS at the Department of Finance, which ensures continuing focus on the sector. Coincidentally, the current Minister, Sean Fleming TD, is a Chartered Accountant. Operating environment Ireland has enjoyed great success as an IFS location for a long time. With new entrants relocating here due to Brexit, there is the prospect of more to come. This will remain the case while there is uncertainty around UK firms’ ability to achieve financial services equivalence and, thus, access to EU markets post-Brexit. However, the environment for IFS is increasingly competitive. Industry participants continually face pressure to optimise their business by delivering new and innovative products and exploiting process and location efficiencies. They must deliver on these issues while serving their customers’ needs and ensuring the global financial system’s continued stability. The industry is more technology-intensive than ever, and artificial intelligence (AI) and automation present both opportunities and challenges for Ireland. We must continue to position ourselves as a location that is open to providing an innovative, supportive, and dynamic environment for companies that seek to leverage our expertise and history in technology and financial services. After COVID-19, other countries will redouble their efforts to attract investment. As IFS is a mobile sector, Ireland must be agile and adapt quickly to the new environment. The IFS sector has been remarkably resilient over the last year, and I am impressed by how the sector adapted to remote working and continued to deliver for customers. This resilience is a key differentiator, and the collective ability to solve issues gives Ireland credibility and trust in a global marketplace – something that is noted internationally. Track record The IDA and Enterprise Ireland have both contributed to the development of the country’s IFS industry. I am continually impressed by the IDA’s work with overseas companies and Enterprise Ireland’s work to create opportunities for indigenous companies to operate successfully from Ireland. Indeed, these organisations are the envy of many other countries globally. Irish Funds is another excellent example. It works relentlessly at an international level to promote Ireland as a funds location, and the quality of the content at its events is compelling and demonstrates some of the best qualities of ‘Team Ireland’. Meanwhile, the European Financial Forum, usually hosted in Dublin Castle, was hosted virtually this year. It is another superb showcase of what Ireland offers in IFS to companies operating globally and is supported by an effective regulatory environment with a fully independent Financial Services Regulator. The development of the “IFS Ireland” brand has been a crucial first step in building an integrated offering across different sectors. We must now market Ireland with consistency and in new and innovative ways.  The secret sauce Ireland’s key asset is its people and talent. Ireland has a well-educated, highly-skilled, flexible, internationally diverse and multilingual workforce. Our demographics are favourable, with 33% of the population less than 25 years old and over 50% of those between 30-34 holding a third-level qualification. Chartered Accountants’ skills and attributes are a good fit for this sector, and I am aware of so many Chartered Accountants Ireland members who have cultivated successful careers in IFS – not just in Dublin, but throughout Ireland. The executive and senior management teams in IFS in Ireland, many of them Chartered Accountants, are a vital ingredient in our competitive advantage. They advocate with head office, look to develop and grow the offering based in Ireland, and are prepared to manage global operations from Ireland – and often exceed expectations when they do. Many have very senior global roles in large IFS organisations, and we don’t always acknowledge them and their relentless focus on expanding their organisation’s footprint in Ireland enough. For example, the recently announced acquisition of GECAS by AerCap, headquartered in Dublin, is a fantastic transaction that demonstrates Ireland’s position as a world leader in aviation finance. Caution needed Now is the time for Ireland to redouble its efforts. Some commentators suggest that the future of work will alter the relationship between talent and location, but I am inclined to challenge this hypothesis. In my view, where the executive and senior management teams are based will continue to be a key consideration for an organisation’s location. With accelerating disruption and digital transformation impacting the IFS sector, Ireland must be aware and adapt accordingly. In the coming years, protecting existing jobs may well be as important as growing the number of those employed in the sector. Ireland must therefore invest in education and training to ensure that workers stay relevant and productive and harness the strengths of Ireland’s technology sector to position Ireland as a leader in technology-based financial services and platform development. Chartered Accountants Ireland’s FAE elective in Financial Services is a welcome development in this regard. Action Plan 2021 The IFS Action Plan 2021, which is available to download at www.gov.ie, outlines several priorities in this regard, including sustainable finance and fintech. These areas have huge growth potential and present an opportunity for Ireland to take a leadership position globally. Sustainable finance and environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria are strategically important to all companies. It is fitting that the Minister highlighted both as critical areas of focus for 2021 and beyond. Ireland’s recently enacted Investment Limited Partnership (ILP) legislation was an objective in the action plan for several years and has the potential to deliver significant growth in the private equity area. The Central Bank of Ireland also issued a stakeholder engagement consultation in recent weeks, and this will be a key focus for the 2021 action plan. Cause for optimism IFS is a vital element of Ireland’s overall economic strategy. Like all strategies, the strategy for IFS must be continually reviewed and adapted as the world evolves. Given our talent, flexibility, and drive, there is much cause for optimism while resisting complacency. It is incredible to see what started in the IFSC now present in every corner of Ireland, from Killorglin to Letterkenny. Yes, IFS in Ireland will need to change, adapt and continue to improve. But for newly qualified and experienced Chartered Accountants alike, the opportunities in IFS are almost limitless. Go and explore them for yourself. Barrie O’Connell is Partner in KPMG and Chartered Accountants Ireland’s representative on the Ireland for Finance Strategy 2025 Industry Advisory Group.  

Mar 26, 2021

The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the journey towards the fourth industrial revolution and new threats emerged in the process. Business leaders must therefore think about cybersecurity in a new way, writes Dani Michaux. Over the past year, we have seen significant geopolitical changes driven by the impact of COVID-19, forcing organisations to strengthen their resilience. The realisation has also dawned that the world as we once knew it has changed. Amid all of this, I see a new and very different operating model emerging for business. That new operating model is based on various restructuring activities, accelerating digitalisation initiatives, alternative partnership models, and a sharper focus on core activities. As organisations pivot, it is essential to reflect and consider the risks that may emerge as part of these organisational changes. What do the changes mean for the organisation, its supply chain partners and players, connected industry, government, and broader society? One prominent challenge is the need to safeguard the new digital ecosystem, which underpins this transformation, from cyberattack and information infrastructure breakdown. The world kept turning in 2020 During the early part of 2020, we saw an increased number of CEO identity frauds, payment frauds, ransomware attacks, and crude attacks on insecure cloud services. As the year grew old, we saw more complex attacks targeting supply chains, major cloud environments, remote working applications, security product providers, and even critical infrastructure services. This time last year, we claimed that cybersecurity is key to achieving the fourth industrial revolution. COVID-19 has accelerated that revolution and the use of digital and cloud technologies in both the public and private sectors. Those technologies are now fundamental to our society. Sadly, the pandemic has also shown that organised crime is opportunistic and ruthless in exploiting events to gain financial advantage. Thus, we witnessed a steady stream of high-profile cyberattacks on private enterprise, government, and social media platforms during the year. It is nevertheless encouraging to observe the pace at which organisations rolled out robust digital infrastructure during difficult times and the collaboration between business, technology, and security teams to safeguard these rapidly deployed services. It illustrates how these often-siloed parties can work together effectively to introduce secure innovation at market speed. COVID-19 has propelled Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) into a new dimension. Suddenly, they must manage thousands of home-working sites, personal devices, and a rapid shift to the cloud. The CISO has moved from securing corporate IT boundaries to a broader view of enterprise security. The timescale for many cloud migration projects has collapsed from years to months in the race to meet fast-changing business needs. Hyperscale cloud providers are increasingly dominant and intently focused on security. To succeed in the future, security teams must: Reskill employees to reflect the split of responsibilities between enterprise and cloud-service providers; Adapt to agile development methods and new digital channels; and Enact these innovations while cloud security skills attract a premium salary as the global job market competes for much-needed talent in 2021. The rise of supply chain attacks Political and business leaders have become alert to the global interdependence of many critical functions and the nature of risk that cross-border supply chains have. The pandemic made these murky operational and systemic risks real and gave people pause for thought. Supply chain attacks are not new. However, in the new highly digitalised and interconnected world, they are becoming more prominent. Frequent attacks raise concerns about organisations’ ability to remain resilient. We have seen several prominent cases over the past few years. Examples include the Target cybersecurity attack, where a network intrusion may have exposed approximately 40 million debit and credit card accounts; a global cyber-espionage campaign known as ‘Operation Cloud Hopper’, which formed part of a shift to target managed service providers; a worldwide campaign against telecommunications providers called ‘Operation Soft Cell’; and the latest cyberattack on Solarwinds, a global provider of network management solutions. A common theme in these attacks is the presence of third-party providers of hardware, services, or software. In complex infrastructure, set-ups that include rapid pivoting to new environments and dependencies on third-party suppliers are both common and intimate. Third-party providers are targeted with the ultimate aim of reaching a bigger mark. The methods and duration of the compromise vary, but there are some common patterns. These include exploiting speed and rapid deployment challenges and looking for exposures in security controls as firms shift rapidly to new technology. Of course, smaller organisations within the supply chain may also attract greater attention, based on the assumption of reduced sophistication and scale of security operations. Lessons can be learned from sectors like oil and gas, where human safety is at the top of executive agendas and assumptions are challenged continuously. It starts from the proposition that you cannot assume that anything will work in the event of an explosion. For example, a company might have a procedure to pre-book hospital beds for casualties, but what happens if the hospital doesn’t have a burns unit? What happens if the ambulances can’t get to the site of the explosion? These things have to be planned for in advance, requiring creative paranoia and a certain mindset. That’s the type of culture of resilience that should be in place in all organisations. It is a question of overall operational resilience, not just the resilience of IT systems and security. In this complex world, organisations should address the following practical questions: 1. Understand the risks and dependencies in the supply chain. Here are some questions to ask: What are the threats and exposures associated with third-party access to your environments, services, and products? Do you have contractual agreements in place with clear service level agreements concerning expectations around cybersecurity? Are you in a position to monitor those, including supplier activities? Do you monitor exposures and cyber risks associated with the supply chain and discuss these issues as part of an ongoing agenda within the organisation’s management and risk committees? 2. Understand the full extent of the supply chain within the existing environment and any changes arising from new digitalisation initiatives. Here are some questions to ask: How has the profile changed based on the rapid digitisation, restructuring and transformation initiatives in place? Do you have a view further down the supply chain (to fourth- and fifth-party providers, for example)? 3. Make arrangements to respond to supply chain cyberattacks collectively. Here are some questions to ask: Are there any mechanisms in place? Have you exercised these? Has the organisation included lessons learned from previous attacks? How has the organisation adapted based on the lessons learned from incidents? Are any other improvements required? Stepping into the future As we look to the future of highly digitalised and scalable environments, resilience will be paramount and non-negotiable. Organisational resilience will rely heavily on the stability of the end-to-end supply chain. However, it will also require a new approach to data security. The hunt will be on for cybersecurity orchestration opportunities, robotic process automation around manual security processes, more integration with key IT workflows, and new managed service and delivery models. Third-party security may also need new models for more dynamic risk management and scoring, including better tracking of supply chain stresses. Of course, assessments such as SOC 2 and ISAE 3402 will play a growing role as firms seek to provide evidence once to satisfy myriad client questions about cybersecurity. However, we can also expect to see the rise of ‘utility models’ where intermediary organisations aggregate client assurance requirements to undertake a one-size-almost-fits-all assessment of suppliers’ cybersecurity. This is already happening in the UK with the support of financial regulators. Over the last few years, firms have also sprung up offering risk scoring services based on a scan of a firm’s internet-facing services. They also monitor for data disclosures in the shady corners of the internet and alert customers to a potential supplier problem that they may not be aware of or are yet to disclose. Large companies will often ask these risk-scoring services to monitor hundreds of suppliers. As the outsourcing of non-core business services accelerates, it is worth asking: do you pay sufficient attention to your dependency on third-party actors who are now integral to your security and resilience as a business? As we look to the future, organisations will need to move on from thinking exclusively about enterprise firewalls, anti-virus software, and patching policies. Instead, they will need to consider approaches to security. This begins with the premise that a company’s success is based upon its reputation, which is ultimately a manifestation of the trust others have in its offerings. This mindset leads companies to embed security into products and services, but it also focuses attention on protecting customers, clients, and those increasingly important supply chain partners. It emphasises stewardship of the trust they place in you when they share their most sensitive data or show their willingness to become dependent on you. No organisation is an island, and all of us are part of an increasingly hyperconnected world. In that world, trust in supply chains and ecosystem partnerships matters more than ever. Dani Michaux is Head of Cybersecurity at KPMG Ireland.

Mar 26, 2021

Neil Hughes outlines the survival options for small- and medium-sized businesses as the ‘next normal’ approaches. In general, 2018 and 2019 were good years for Irish business. Many companies entered 2020 with stronger balance sheets, relatively low debt levels, aggressive growth targets, and optimism – particularly in the small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector. By Q2 2020, however, firefighting due to COVID-19 restrictions quickly soaked up all available management time and resources. Growth strategies were shelved, and survival was prioritised. Government supports were immediately made available to companies severely affected by the pandemic. Figures released by Revenue in February 2021 show that the State paid out a total of €9.3 billion in 2020 between the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (€5.1 billion), Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (€2.8 billion) and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (€1.4 billion). Seventy thousand companies have availed of the Revenue Commissioners’ Debt Warehousing Scheme, at a total cost of around €1.9 billion. These supports, along with the forbearance provided by financial institutions in Ireland, have helped prevent a tsunami of corporate insolvencies. The concern, however, is if post-pandemic those companies that ultimately need help the most will not reach out and avail of the supports and processes available. Overcoming the stigma It is regrettable that, historically at least, the use of formal corporate insolvency mechanisms to restructure struggling businesses has been viewed quite negatively by the Irish business community. The inference is that such businesses were somehow mismanaged when, in reality, this was often not the case. Companies can fall into financial difficulty for various reasons. Factors outside the control of company directors can necessitate a formal restructure rather than the terminal alternative of liquidation. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, a previously successful business operator, through no fault of their own, can find themselves saddled with an unsustainable level of debt and risk becoming insolvent. While government support measures were necessary to prevent widespread corporate failures and potential social unrest, for many companies, these actions may have simply delayed the inevitable and kicked the can further down the road. In most corporate insolvencies, there is an expected level of pressure for money that the company does not have, which precipitates a formal restructure. This pressure has been temporarily released, but the creditor strain will inevitably build again when trading resumes. ‘Zombie’ companies Low insolvency numbers for 2020 are therefore misleading. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that several companies have ceased trading, have no intention of reopening and, in some instances, have handed the keys of their premises back to landlords. However, these ‘zombie’ companies are not included in the insolvency statistics, as they continue to avail of government supports and will be wound up whenever the supports end. While helpful, the subsidies and supports do not cover the entire running costs of a business, and many companies continue to rack up debt as their doors remain closed. These debts may seem insurmountable, but there is hope. The Great Recession vs the COVID-19 crisis This current recession is in stark contrast to the ‘Great Recession’ that resulted from the banking crisis of 2008. Back then, there was a systemic lack of liquidity in the market due to the collapse of Ireland’s banking sector, which left SMEs with little or no access to funding. This time, there are several re-capitalisation options with banks (including the new challenger banks) in a position to provide funding, especially through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) Loan Scheme. Many private equity funds are also willing and ready to invest in Irish businesses. After the pandemic All the while, the Government can borrow at negative interest rates to stimulate growth and recovery. With the vaccine roll-out, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This begs the question: what will happen when the pandemic is over? There are several key points to note: Consumer behaviour: it is reasonable to assume that a large portion of the population will revert to normal. This could generate a domestic economy similar to the rejuvenation that followed the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and the end of the First World War. There is certainly pent-up demand and savings (deposits held in Irish financial institutions were at an all-time high of €124 billion in late 2020). Unfortunately, a portion of society will change their consumer habits forever due to COVID-19, which will have a detrimental effect on businesses that find themselves on the wrong side of history and unable to survive the recovery. Government action: how the Government reacts will have lasting repercussions. Difficult and unpopular decisions are likely required to pay for the ever-rising cost of the pandemic and its restrictions. Such choices may result in an increase in direct and/or indirect taxes, with less disposable income circulating in the economy. The UK Government has already made moves in this direction with its 2021 budget. The Revenue Commissioners: Revenue’s intended course of action is currently unclear in relation to clawing back the €1.9 billion of tax that has been warehoused or how aggressively it will pursue Irish companies for current tax debt after the pandemic is over. Early indicators are that Revenue will revert to a business-as-usual strategy sooner rather than later. Banks and other financial lenders: the attitude of Irish banks and financial institutions to non-performing loans remains to be seen. Banks have been accommodating to date and worked with, rather than against, borrowers – a criticism levelled against them in the wake of the 2008 banking collapse. Personal guarantees provided by directors to financial institutions to acquire corporate debt, particularly in the SME sector, will have a significant bearing on successful corporate restructuring options. The attitude of landlords: landlords in Ireland are a broad church, ranging from those with small, family-operated single units to large, multi-unit institutional landlords or pension funds. Landlord-tenant collaboration is essential for stable retail and hospitality sectors, and in the main, rent deferrals were a foregone conclusion during the various lockdown stages of the pandemic. However, these rent deferrals still have to be dealt with. The attitude of general trade creditors: in certain instances, smaller trade creditors in terms of value have been the most aggressive in debt collection and putting pressure on businesses to repay debts as soon as their doors reopen. Companies with healthy balance sheets and those that managed their cash flow prudently will be the ones to come out the other side of this pandemic when the government supports subside. Businesses will need time to: Assess the post-pandemic consumer demand for their products and services;  Assess their reasonable future cash flow projections; Agree on payment arrangements for old and new debt; and Make an honest assessment of whether they will be able to trade their way through the recovery phase. For those who have been worst hit, however, all is not lost. Ireland has some of the most robust restructuring mechanisms in the world, with low barriers to entry and very high success rates. The fallout can be mitigated if company directors take appropriate steps. Restructuring options When it comes to successful restructuring, being proactive remains the key advice from insolvency professionals. Too often, businesses sleepwalk into a crisis. Options narrow if there has been a consistent and pronounced erosion of the balance sheet. Those who act fast and engage with experts have the best chance of survival. 1. Examinership There are various restructuring options available, but examinership is currently most suitable for rescuing insolvent SMEs. The overarching purpose of examinership is to save otherwise viable enterprises from closure, thereby saving employees’ jobs. In 2019, liquidations accounted for 70% of the total number of corporate insolvencies in Ireland, and examinership only accounted for 2% of the total. It is plain that a higher portion of those liquidations could have been prevented, jobs saved, and value preserved if an alternative restructuring option like examinership had been taken. There are only two statutory criteria for a company to be suitable for examinership: 1. It must be either balance sheet insolvent or cash flow insolvent. It cannot pay debts as and when they fall due; and It must have a reasonable prospect of survival.  The rationale for examinership in a post-pandemic environment is therefore clear. Companies saddled with debt will likely meet the insolvency requirement, and historically profitable companies that have become insolvent due to the closures associated with the pandemic will pass the ‘reasonable prospect of survival’ test. Once appointed, the examiner must formulate a scheme of arrangement, which is typically facilitated by new investment or fresh borrowings. The scheme will usually lead to creditors being compromised and the company emerging from the process solvent and trading as normal. 2. The Summary Rescue Process One of the main criticisms levelled at examinership is the perceived high level of legal costs required to bring a company successfully through the process. To address this perceived issue, in July 2020, An Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar TD, wrote to the Company Law Review Group (CLRG) requesting that it examine the issue of rescue for small companies and make recommendations as to how such a process might be designed. The CLRG’s reports in October 2020 recommended the ‘Summary Rescue Process’. It would utilise the key aspects of the examinership process and be tailor-made for restructuring small and micro companies (fulfilling two of the following three criteria: annual turnover of up to €12 million, a balance sheet of up to €6 million, and less than 50 employees). Such companies constitute 98% of Ireland’s corporates and employ in the region of 788,000 people. A public consultation process is now underway to finetune the legislation. Here is what we know so far about the Summary Rescue Process: It will be commenced by director resolution rather than court application. It will be shorter than examinership (50-70 days has been suggested). A registered insolvency practitioner will oversee the process. Cross-class cramdown of debts will be possible, which binds creditors to a restructuring plan once it is considered fair and equitable. It will not be necessary to approach the court for approval unless there are specific creditor objections. Safeguards will be put in place to guard against irresponsible and dishonest director behaviour. A proposed rescue plan and scheme will be presented to the company’s creditors, who will vote on the resolutions. A simple majority will be required to approve the scheme. The Summary Rescue Process will be a huge step forward. The process of court liquidation has been systematically removed from the court system in recent years in favour of voluntary liquidations. This new rescue process will bring a similar approach to formal restructuring, allowing SMEs greater access to a low-cost restructuring option akin to a voluntary examinership. It will give more hope to companies adversely affected financially by the pandemic that options exist for their survival. Neil Hughes FCA is Managing Partner at Baker Tilly in Ireland and author of A Practical Guide to Examinership, published by Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Mar 26, 2021

In the wake of the Davy scandal, Cormac Lucey identifies four urgently required changes for Ireland’s regulatory system. The scientist Max Planck said that science advances funeral by funeral. In his 1950 autobiography, he explained, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” If science advances funeral by funeral, how fast does corporate governance progress? The implication of Planck’s aphorism is that old leopards don’t change their spots and cannot be taught new tricks: if you don’t like your leopard, you must get rid of it or, if the leopard is protected by employment law, issue it with a P45. In Ireland, corporate governance advances P45 by P45. I am sceptical of the notion that revised organisational guidelines and regular attendance at corporate governance updates achieve much. If you have to regularly teach staff the difference between right and wrong, it begs the question: are you working with the wrong people? There is a lot of common sense in a popular maxim from Charlie Munger, the sprightly 97-year-old who jointly leads Berkshire Hathaway together with the merely 90-year-old Warren Buffett. Munger said: “Show me the incentive, and I’ll show you the outcome”. What are the incentives in Ireland? Consider the recent scandal at stockbrokers, Davy. This concerned a case where 16 key staff members purchased bonds in the then defunct Anglo Irish Bank in 2014 and concealed this fact from the vendor, who had commissioned Davy to get the best price possible for the thinly traded bonds. The bonds were sold by the vendor for 20.25 cent in the euro, realising €5.6 million. If they were held until maturity – when they were repaid in full – they would have generated gross proceeds (before funding and legal expenses) for the Davy insiders of €22 million. The maximum fine the Central Bank may issue for regulatory infractions is just €10 million. And the fine administered in this case was only €4.1 million. This raises serious questions about the design of our regulatory system. That the Davy executives who profited from this deal will have seen the value of their part-ownership of the brokerage firm drop considerably was a merely coincidental side effect of the whole process. It seems to me that several changes are urgently required: The maximum fine for a regulatory infraction should be a multiple (five to ten times) of the gross gains made. Where possible, fines should be levied on individuals rather than on firms. Those who have acted improperly in the past should not continue to be employed in senior roles or hold large ownership positions at financial services companies. We should financially incentivise whistle-blowers, like in the USA. There, a whistle-blower can claim a share of the wrongdoer’s loot. Bradley Birkenfeld, an ex-banker, was paid $104 million by the Internal Revenue Service for exposing his former bosses who had helped US clients hide money in Swiss bank accounts. If we can’t rely on people always being honest (and we can’t), then let’s change their estimate of where their self-interest lies. A low-cost regulatory system focused more on incentives and occasional but vigorous action aimed at wrongdoers can replace today’s expensive system, which is built on detailed rules and extensive box-ticking that largely focuses on the already compliant. Cormac Lucey is an economic commentator and lecturer at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Mar 26, 2021

Seven Chartered Accountants reflect on their careers overseas and describe life in different countries as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Fiona Walsh  Audit Manager at KPMG  Sydney, Australia Time abroad: three years In June 2018, I was given the opportunity to move to Sydney as part of KPMG’s global mobility programme. This was a really exciting opportunity, both personally and professionally, so I packed my bags and moved half-way across the world. Moving with the same company and in the same role made the move a lot easier as, along with starting a new job, you are trying to familiarise yourself with a new city, find a place to live, and settle in. The first few months are a really exciting time but while Australia is quite similar to Ireland culturally, it did take longer to settle in than I had imagined. When the pandemic hit, it changed life as we knew it in Sydney. The switch to a virtual world was sudden. At first, there was a novelty attached to it. We quickly had to adapt as most Australian companies are June year-ends, so busy season was fast approaching. However, in Sydney, we returned to the office relatively quickly as COVID-19 numbers decreased. We have been working from both the office and home for several months now. One positive outcome from the pandemic is that we now have a lot more work flexibility, but I don’t believe a full-time work-from-home model is sustainable in the long-term. We found the transition back to the office easier than expected, with a renewed value on face-to-face interactions with teams and clients. In Australia, we have been very lucky with the impact of COVID-19 restrictions compared to Ireland, but the toughest part is that, for the Irish community abroad, we don’t know when we can next jump on a flight to visit family and friends. I got engaged to my fiancé in October (also an Irish Chartered Accountant), so we are very excited to get home to celebrate. The uncertainty of the pandemic makes a full-time move home more difficult to contemplate in the short-term. Claire Iball Finance Director at Intel Portland, Oregon, USA Time abroad: 15 years The worst part of being away from home during the pandemic is not being able to physically see and hug my family in Ireland, though FaceTime and WhatsApp have eased the distance. When I took this role in the US, I thought I would stay for two to three years. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I am super independent, but the first few months without friends and family were difficult. That said, I don’t think I would do anything differently. You can only grow when challenged by new situations, people, and environments. It tested my ability to adapt and respond to change and differences. Working for a US company where the majority of business partners are US-based means more traditional work hours. In contrast, working for a US company while living in Ireland meant working later into the evening to collaborate with US colleagues. And while I would love the opportunity to work in Ireland and live closer to family, I have also started my own family here and have a different lifestyle and new friendships. I think working from home during the pandemic has opened up job opportunities and does not require experts to be in certain locations. As the end of pandemic is in sight, we will reflect and adapt to the new world and way of working.  I think there are great personal development opportunities in working abroad. Anyone thinking of doing so should go for it. If you want to experience a new country, culture, and learn new ways of working, that’s the best way to go about it. It’s always better to regret something you’ve done rather than something you haven’t done. S. Colin Neill Board member New Jersey, USA Time abroad: 45 years On graduation from Trinity, I joined Arthur Andersen in Dublin. I had always heard that being a Chartered Accountant would provide a passport to travel the world, and indeed it proved to be.  My wanderlust took me to New York after qualification at a time when it was relatively unusual for Chartered Accountants to make such a move. I eventually got involved in the formation of the Association of Chartered Accountants in the US (ACAUS), which sought to enhance and promote the Chartered brand. The effort was extremely successful – ACAUS celebrated 40 years last year and has achieved mutual recognition of qualifications with many US states. My life would not have turned out the way it did without the solid business foundation of the Chartered Accountant training and qualification. I am now semi-retired, but I remain active on several boards. The challenge for me has been to master and embrace current technology, which I have luckily done. Some of the boards I serve on support the charitable fundraising activities of hospitals, both in the US and Ireland. The pandemic has made holding live fundraising events impossible, and that has had severe consequences for the hospitals. On the other hand, the commercial entities whose boards on which I serve are thriving. Unfortunately, one is an historical cemetery and crematory – business is booming. While I travel back to Ireland several times year – mostly to play golf – leaving was a very good move for me. The only time myself and my Irish friends ever questioned moving back to Ireland was during the rise of the Celtic Tiger. The thought did not last long, however. Gavin Fitzpatrick Director of Financial Accounting and Advisory Services at Grant Thornton San Francisco, California, USA  Time abroad: 20 months The pandemic has definitely made it more challenging to achieve the objectives I set for myself when first taking this role. Meeting existing clients to further develop relationships has been more difficult in a remote environment. Building rapport with new teams, whether internal or external, has required additional effort. Add to this the personal challenges of keeping a young family in good spirits during lockdown in a foreign country. This role, and the last 12 months, have taught me the importance being agile, staying positive, and taking stock regularly to challenge myself to ensure I am putting effort into relevant tasks. The way I support existing clients has changed, but they still get value from a local contact who can help them navigate a world of constant change. Despite a year of home-schooling and travel restrictions, my family have managed to make the most of this adventure, creating memories, friendships, and achieving many personal goals along the way.  Despite the challenges, this move has been a success, both personally and professionally. If I had the opportunity to do it all over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently. We try to make the best decisions we can with the information we have at a point in time. When the outlook changes, no matter how radically, we adapt. Roles such as mine are important for our business and the development of our teams. While planning for similar roles in the future will no doubt mean considering additional matters, I would encourage anyone to grab these opportunities wherever possible. Fearghal O’Riordan Vice President at Aon Cayman Islands Time abroad: 11 years I’m missing Ireland. It has been 18 months since I was home. Not being able to see family, friends, neighbours and Galway has been a challenge. I am a keen horseracing fan, so I miss being able to visit stables and see the horses. But, I do enjoy it here, and I guess I am settled now. This is home. I met my wife here on my first visit and we have been together 19 years, and the Cayman Islands people have been very welcoming and good to me. It’s a very attractive place to live. I love the mix of cultures here in the Caribbean. We have over 100 nationalities in a population of 65,000. You meet lots of wonderful people with great stories of life in their homelands. We are fortunate to have a super global IT infrastructure supporting our local office. That held up very well when we all went remote in March 2020. Thankfully, the IT didn’t buckle under the strain. The Cayman Islands came out of lockdown in July and I’ve been working in the office since, though staff do have flexibility to continue to work from home, especially those who commute through morning traffic. The Cayman Islands is (as of 15 March 2021), COVID-19 community transmission-free since July 2020 so we are very, very fortunate to be living relatively normal lives with the sole exception of the border being closed so travel is restricted. Having emigrated twice, I would implore anyone thinking of doing so to make the most of where you are – be it in Ireland or abroad. Everywhere has benefits and downsides. Enjoy the best of where you are and, if you move, make the best of that place. Nowhere is perfect but if you do have that sense of adventure, go for it. Louise O’Donnell  Manager of International Operations, Strategy, Legal & Compliance at Oman Insurance Dubai, UAE  Time abroad: 12 years I definitely knew what I was getting into when I moved here 12 years ago, and I would not change anything with regards to working and living overseas. I believe it has moulded me and allowed me to work in an extremely multi-cultural environment where I experience different viewpoints that will remain with me in the future. On a personal level, it allowed me to put down roots in a new city, take up new hobbies, and create a life. I also met my husband in Dubai.  However, due to the pandemic, it is the first time since leaving Ireland that I have not been able to go home to see my family and friends. The rate of change in lockdowns and the ambiguity prevented me from doing so. That said, I am not ready to move home yet, and given that my personal life is very much entwined in the region, it would be a difficult choice to make. My husband is from Palestine, so it would have to be a good move for both of us – a consideration I didn’t have when I jumped at the chance to move to Dubai.  For others wanting to move abroad, I would give the same advice pre-pandemic and post-pandemic: go for it. You might have a defined timeline for moving overseas and a plan for when you might then return home. I had that in mind, as well, but my plans changed. We all think ‘I will live overseas for a maximum of three years and then go home’ – most expats in the UAE had the same thing in mind, but most usually end up here for longer than anticipated. I think there will always be a need for overseas employment, particularly in locations that are well-known expat hotspots. These locations continue to be transient and are developing fast, hence the need to bring new talent into these cities will remain. Even though we are still working from home and many countries remain in lockdown, I do not believe that this will continue full-time post-pandemic. There is a lot of debate on this topic and we do hear of certain industries moving their staff to 100% work-from-home, but I am a firm believer that innovative work still gets done in the office and we all need face-to-face interaction. Niall Fagan  Audit Senior Manager at Grant Thornton  Newport Beach, California, USA Time abroad: 10 years When I embarked on my secondment in 2011, I was looking for a new adventure both personally and professionally. The initial transition was challenging, but working for a large global organisation with consistent systems and methodology made the work transition easier. Having been one of the first secondees in the San Francisco office, I set up a group where we help future secondees and international hires with their transition to the US and I love to pass along all of my experiences. It’s been just over a year since I’ve been to our office or to a client site. At first, it seemed impossible to think we’d be able to operate at the same level of efficiency remotely. While working from home has definitely had its challenges, I believe we’ve demonstrated that we can perform efficient audits in a remote setting, which could have a large impact on our industry. It brings into question the need for large office spaces and the need for audit team onsite every day. Continued remote working should provide more flexibility and better work-life balance for people. From a personal point of view, while the pandemic has been tough and we might have to wait until 2022 before we can make it back to Ireland again to visit family and friends, it has allowed me to spend a lot more time with my two small children, for which I’m thankful. If someone is considering a career overseas in the post-pandemic world, my advice would be to go for it. The Chartered Accountancy qualification is highly respected worldwide. You can gain invaluable experience, learn new skills, and grow your global network. From a life experience perspective, I believe living and working in another country is extremely valuable, and I would encourage anyone who has an interest to take a chance.

Mar 26, 2021

One of the few silver linings of this pandemic, according to Dawn McLaughlin, is the evolution of leaner businesses that are better positioned to serve their customers.  I am always amazed at the resilience and determination of our business community. History has demonstrated our resolve over the years with businesses trading through all types of adversity. At every turn, we dusted ourselves down and got straight back to serving our customers and community. No matter what we faced, and there were some desperate times, we worked through them. It took a pandemic to stop us in our tracks. It therefore came as no surprise when a recent survey carried out by the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce revealed that 72% of members were optimistic about the future. Despite being in lockdown and having no clarity on the lifting of restrictions, the Chamber’s members see better days ahead. This was further brought to the fore at my recent President’s Lunch when the level of positivity was palpable. While the short-term challenges were acknowledged, the opportunities in healthtech and fintech beginning to bear fruit were noted together with the creation of spinouts from the collaboration between local health and educational establishments. So, what is there to look forward to? And how do we get out of the current situation? It is that entrepreneurial spirit that keeps shining through. Avoid the temptation to wallow in the problem; instead, look for the solution. And we have plenty to build on. There is pent-up demand in the market, surplus funds held by some, and financial assistance in the pipeline to kick-start the high street. For innovative and ambitious businesses, alternative and export-led markets are waiting to be explored. Invest NI is ready and willing to assist businesses with creative ideas and export potential. Traders who survive the pandemic must be poised to take advantage of the opportunities ahead. During the lockdown, owner-managers took a hard look at their business and made necessary changes. The fat has been shed and processes refined. We have leaner businesses that are better positioned to serve their customers in a more streamlined and efficient manner. When we look to the northwest, we see tremendous opportunity for the years ahead. Based on four pillars that span everything from tourism and digital innovation to employability and health and wellbeing, the City Deal will help create a thriving and prosperous region with equality of opportunity for all. It will also further cement the northwest as a top area in the United Kingdom and Ireland to set up a business, acting as a regional hub of enterprise and entrepreneurship that fosters innovation and development. All this, coupled with existing strengths like the high quality of life and low cost of living, makes the northwest more attractive than ever to foreign investors, start-up companies, entrepreneurs, students, and families looking to relocate. The recent government funding to support the vital air route between City of Derry Airport and London Stansted also helps keep our region connected to crucial business hubs across these islands. This, together with the A5/A6 upgrade, are vital factors for companies looking to invest in the northwest. Now is the time to look ahead to the future with confidence – a future that looks increasingly bright. Dawn McLaughlin is Founder of Dawn McLaughlin & Co. Chartered Accountants  and President of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

Mar 26, 2021

Dee Moran and Lilian Halpin explain entities’ existing obligations regarding beneficial ownership and look ahead to future developments, focusing on trusts in particular. Most entities have a legitimate role to play in the global economy, but they also have the potential for criminals to use the structure for money laundering, terrorist financing and other financial misconduct. To identify and increase the transparency of those that seek to hide their ownership and control of these entities, many countries have introduced a register of beneficial ownership. Having a register ensures that the ultimate owners/controllers are identified, and that accurate and up-to-date information on a beneficial owner is readily accessible to authorised officers and other competent authorities that are entitled to the information under money laundering legislation. In Ireland, entities must maintain a register to comply with obligations under the 4th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive (4AMLD), which was passed in May 2015 and subsequently amended by the 5th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5AMLD), which was passed in May 2018. Who is a beneficial owner? A beneficial owner is defined in the directives and Irish legislation by reference to the entity type (e.g. trust, corporate entity, investment limited partnership). The different pieces of legislation should be consulted depending on the entity. Common threads in the definitions are ownership and control, whether direct or indirect, and a holding of more than 25% of the entity. Are there two registers? There are two separate registers in Ireland. While companies were required since 2016 to gather information and maintain an internal register of beneficial ownership, the 2019 beneficial ownership of corporate entities regulations (one of two sets of regulations passed in 2019 relevant to beneficial ownership) required relevant entities to file information in a central register. The Central Register of Beneficial Ownership of Companies and Industrial and Provident Societies, which falls under the remit of the registrar of the Companies Registration Office, was opened for filings in July 2019. Any companies/societies in existence on 22 June 2019 had until 22 November 2019 to file their beneficial ownership details, and the five-month timeline to register relevant entities remains. Similarly, certain other financial vehicles described below must maintain an internal beneficial ownership register. There are also legislative requirements to file information on the central register, the Beneficial Ownership Register for Certain Financial Vehicles. Under specific legislation, the Central Bank of Ireland is designated as the registrar responsible for maintaining this central register. Under EU anti-money laundering (AML) regulations that came into effect in 2020, Irish Collective Asset Management Vehicles (ICAVs), unit trusts and credit unions that were in existence when the AML regulations came into force were required to register by 25 December 2020. Under the Investment Limited Partnerships (Amendment) Act 2020, which was commenced recently, existing investment limited partnerships (ILPs) and common contractual funds (CCFs) have until 1 September 2021 to register. Under both pieces of legislation, new financial vehicles that come into existence following the legislation’s implementation have six months from the date of coming into existence to register. What details must be registered? The information that must be delivered to each registrar concerning each beneficial owner includes name, date of birth, nationality, residential address, and a statement of the nature and extent of the interest held or control exercised by each beneficial owner. For Central Bank registration, it must be stated if the person is currently a pre-approval controlled function (PCF) holder in the entity or at any other regulated financial services provider. For companies and industrial and provident societies, the 2019 regulations require a PPS number to be furnished for verification purposes. The 2020 Act also requires PPS numbers to verify the information delivered in the case of ILPs and CCFs. In the case of both registers, the registrar is not permitted to disclose PPS numbers and must store them securely. Relevant entities must keep the beneficial ownership register up-to-date, and this information must align with the information filed on the Central Register. Where change(s) occur, the entity has 14 days to deliver the information so that the relevant amendments are made to the Central Register. Who is entitled to access the information in the Central Register? There are two tiers of access to data in the Central Register: Unrestricted access to the information in the Central Register will be afforded to authorised officers within specific organisations (i.e. An Garda Síochána, the Financial Intelligence Unit of An Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Central Bank of Ireland, and other Irish competent authorities engaged in the prevention, detection, or investigation of possible money laundering or terrorist financing. Restricted access to information in the Central Register will be made available to the general public and designated persons (e.g. a bank carrying out customer due diligence, save where the beneficial owner is a minor). Those with restricted access will be able to access the name, month and year of birth, nationality, country of residence, and the statement about the nature and extent of the beneficial interest held. The beneficial owner’s date of birth and address will not be available to those with restricted access. Data protection law Any information exchange and sharing mandated by the legislation must comply with data protection law. Personal data is defined in Section 69 of the Data Protection Act 2018, and information to be collected and held on the central registers can include personal data. The data protection obligations are expressly recognised in the 2019 Regulations and 2020 Act, both of which provide that the Data Protection Act 2018 shall apply to the access the registrar affords to a designated person and any member of the public in respect of the information in the central register. Sanctions Sanctions include a fine of up to €5,000 for a trustee and a fine not exceeding €500,000 or up to 12 months imprisonment in respect of corporate entities. Future developments It is expected that a separate central register in respect of the beneficial ownership of trusts will be implemented in due course, as required under the Directives. This is expected to materialise sooner rather than later – trust regulations published in 2019 already impose obligations on trustees to seek and obtain information from beneficial owners of trusts and establish internal registers of beneficial ownership. The Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) (Amendment) Act 2020 was signed into Irish law recently, and contains provisions in relation to trusts. It defines a “beneficial owner” and lists certain trusts that would be excluded from a future requirement to register. These provisions are being introduced in anticipation of the Minister for Finance introducing further regulation in the area and to address part of the overall transposition of 5AMLD into Irish law. In Dáil discussions on the provisions, the Minister made specific reference to the requirements in 5AMLD that all member states establish a central register of beneficial ownership of express trusts. On the international front, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental organisation that promotes policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing and of which Ireland is a member, announced in February that it would review the global rules around beneficial ownership. The European Commission recently stated that it would closely monitor the setting up of the central bank account mechanisms and the beneficial ownership registers by member states to ensure that they are populated with high-quality data. The Directives require interconnection of member state registers, and work to interconnect the beneficial ownership registers has already started. The interconnection will be operational in 2021. Meanwhile, related EU regulation dealing with the EU Central Register’s technical specifications is expected to come into force soon. The requirement to keep and maintain a register for beneficial ownership is here to stay, and a central register for trusts will soon be a legal requirement. An understanding of the requirements is important if sanctions are to be avoided. An EU central register is imminent. This will put further pressure on individual countries to maintain registers with high-quality information, so expect the spotlight to continue to shine brightly when this comes into existence. Dee Moran is Professional Accountancy Leader at Chartered Accountants Ireland. Lilian Halpin is a Consultant at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Mar 26, 2021

Dr Brian Keegan explains why having political deadlines isn’t always a good idea. Deadlines have always been a feature of commercial life, but the ubiquity of dates by which something must occur is a relatively recent facet of political life. Politics has always had its own cycles, from the duration of a monarch’s reign to recurring intervals by which general elections must be held. Mandatory due dates or precise intervals more often reflect an external rather than a domestic political imperative. In recent decades, commercial concerns over deadlines have spilt over into the political arena as government becomes bigger and more technocratic. Timeframes for decision-making are as much determined by foreign affairs as domestic factors. Having political deadlines isn’t always a good idea. While the obvious effect of imposing a deadline is to ensure the completion of a task, the act of establishing deadlines in itself may have a more subtle effect on the way we think about those tasks. Some years ago, researchers at the Carey Business School at John Hopkins University in the US carried out a study of how workers react to deadlines. They found that longer deadlines can lead people to believe that a particular assignment is harder than it actually is. That, in turn, can result in managers committing more resources to the work needed to meet the deadline. If this finding is correct, it suggests that the shorter the deadline, the less costly it might be to meet. The researchers also found that, when workers are faced with multiple deadlines (and few of us have the luxury to do only one thing at a time), people seem to prioritise less important assignments with immediate deadlines over more important pieces of work with more extended deadlines. There is an apparent human tendency to do what is urgent rather than what is important. While these findings have implications for management practice, they also have implications for the political system. The tendencies described by the researchers have been echoed in the handling by both the British and the European institutions of the Brexit process. The repeated extension of Brexit deadlines through 2019 created an impression that the process was more difficult than it actually was. In 2020, everything to do with the pandemic was urgent, so almost everything else received more political attention than the negotiations. Consequently, both sides allowed themselves extension after extension to negotiate the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, even though it should have been well within the capacity of Brussels and London to deal with both issues in parallel. The result was that we ended up with a barebones trade agreement between the UK and the EU, concluded on Christmas Eve. This outcome has been unnecessarily difficult for businesses to deal with. Customs and quality checks involve routine and paperwork – such processes may be unwelcome, but companies can generally cope with processes. The shortcomings are on the official side. The British Government is now repeating the same mistake by further pushing out deadlines associated with the Northern Ireland protocol and the checking of goods arriving into Great Britain from the EU. Far from relieving pressure on businesses, this will merely perpetuate the difficulties. It also makes the setting up of checks and controls by customs and trade officials and businesses alike appear more difficult. Political processes are rarely amenable to deadlines because the political process is not always about what should be done; it is also about what can be done. One of the lessons of Brexit is that we would be better served if the political process stopped trying to look like a business process.   Dr Brian Keegan is Director, Advocacy & Voice, at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Mar 26, 2021

Dr Joanne Murphy has researched the Northern Ireland business community’s experiences in facing the challenges of the Troubles to make life as normal as possible for their customers. It is perhaps timely to listen to their voices and reflect on the crucial role businesspeople play in fostering and maintaining peace. “We had a door in the bar that squeaked, and I used to think that sometime in my life, that door will squeak and my stomach won’t tighten – I’ll not have that fear in me. The first year was just like hell.” These are the words of a publican I interviewed, reflecting on his first years in business at the start of the Troubles. While much has been written about this period, few existing accounts reflect the business community’s experience of living and working through violence. From my research in Northern Ireland, the Basque Country, and Bosnia on how leaders and managers adapt to and function in environments of conflict, I have identified four common characteristics among those who share such experiences: The fear, countered by courage, experienced in running a business against a background of the threat and reality of violence; The ability to continue to make decisions in the ‘grey zone’ of an environment where a clear good or positive outcome is often not possible; An acute understanding of the political dynamics at play at a community level; and An ability to seize the business opportunities presented by political change and evolution. Fear and courage It is easy to forget that in violent environments, experiences are visceral. An experience repeatedly shared by business owners I have interviewed is one of living with fear and the need for the courage to confront it. In the case of Northern Ireland, many have described how the disruption and street violence of the civil rights period quickly descended into the chaos of full-blown conflict and its impact on what had been a stable, albeit divided, business environment. A pharmacist with a business at the centre of a market town described the early years of protest and trouble: “When the demonstrations and counter-demonstrations started, we would have had to lock the doors because there were fights bouncing off the windows. It progressed on to the bombing and incendiaries.” As the conflict progressed and periods of violence became more intense, low levels of intimidation sometimes became active threats. The same pharmacist recalled frightening days in 1981: “During the hunger strikes, we got a slip of paper through our letterbox saying ‘When Bobby Sands dies, you close for the funeral’… but we didn’t close and there were three of them that came in about 9.30am. I knew one of them… ‘You’re not closed?’, they said, and I said ‘No’. And they said ‘Are you going to close?’, and I said ‘I’m not. I prayed for Bobby Sands at mass this morning. I prayed for his family. I don’t think he should have taken his own life’. So then, they went out, and about ten minutes later, the phone rang. ‘If you’re not closed in half an hour, you’ll be dead.’ I sent the two staff home – there weren’t many customers about, but I did the rest of the day myself. And I can assure you that every time the door opened…” With towns and cities encircled by barriers and security forces, the economic impact was devastating. Interviewees talked about losing half their business when towns were gated to protect them from bomb attacks, deterring casual shoppers. Even with this difficulty, there were consistent attempts to stay positive and open for business. A shop owner reflected: “The way I looked at it, you had to think of the people that took the trouble to come to you”. Undoubtedly, there was a personal impact on people’s peace of mind and mental health. One business owner reflected on a particularly difficult period. “There were times you would drive into work, the mountains so peaceful above you, and I’d think ‘I’d just love to drive on and walk in those mountains’. I’m a very calm person, but I remember the whole front of the shop was blown out with a bomb, and we had to barricade it up and lock it with a chain and a padlock. One day I couldn’t get it open with the key, and I just kicked it down… not like me at all.” The resilience to persevere through fear and uncertainty was critical. Decision-making in the ‘grey zone’ In his book, The Drowned and the Saved, Italian industrial chemist and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi wrote about the moral ambiguity of being trapped in an environment of terror, the ‘grey zone’, where moral compromises persist and perfect outcomes are not possible. In such situations, business owners struggle to manage relationships when trust is in short supply and there is acute anxiety about outcomes and the consequences of action. One commented on the struggle to find a middle way: “I didn’t trust the cops, and I didn’t trust the paramilitaries”. Many of those I interviewed spoke about making choices to establish acceptable behaviour norms to mitigate a volatile environment’s worst aspects. For example, a publican described taking a stand about bad language in his bar, despite being personally threatened. The difficulty of such decisions should not be underestimated, and many interviewees were open about the dread such choices entailed. They were also clear about the compromises made to be able to trade successfully. The employment of doormen, for example, could put bar and club owners into morally invidious positions. One observed that while such dilemmas had eased as the peace process developed, doing business still involved engaging with paramilitary elements in local communities. He described how demands from paramilitaries had changed from “You need to employ such and such” to a more conciliatory “If you’re employing doormen, will you employ these doormen and it’ll be completely legit, and you tell them what your rules are, and how you would like to run it?” He concluded: “Most things would work out okay”.  One of the factors that facilitated a move away from engagement with paramilitary elements was a high level of political and community knowledge among business leaders. Initiatives like sponsorship of local sports and youth clubs helped embed relationships in the community and allowed business owners to leverage a wide range of connections, providing a protective mechanism against organised paramilitarism. The grey zone was particularly extended for the business community during prolonged periods of heightened tension, such as the 1974 Ulster Workers’ Council strike when many businesses were either forced to close or closed voluntarily in protest at the Sunningdale Agreement. “During the Ulster Workers’ strike, we dealt with it in a very Irish way. We closed the front door and opened the back.” Such compromises, however, often obscured the very firm line businesspeople drew in the sand. “For anyone who has shown weakness, that’s the road to ruin. And anyone I’ve known who has joined in – let paramilitaries put machines in, laundered money, et cetera – it’s ended in a very bad way.” Understanding the political realities When asked about the knowledge and behaviours necessary to survive and thrive in a politically volatile and violent situation, one businessman observed, “You need to understand the environment very well, and the bad and difficult bits of it. I’ve been involved in low-level mediation, trying to do things behind the scenes, you know, when workers are being intimidated. If someone’s getting hassle, I would try to help because I know people. Knowing people is very important.” One common challenge was discrimination based on community background, religious belief, or political opinion. While much has been written about such discrimination in employment terms, respondents were often keen to relay their experiences of similar dynamics affecting the sale of property and the procurement of services. The boycotting of shops would intensify at times of political tension: the Ulster Workers’ Council strike, the hunger strikes, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Drumcree protests were all identified as difficult periods. Many were sanguine about the reality of the underlying community division that resulted in people choosing to do business or give their business to a rival based on community identity. One rural business owner noted the difficulties in buying and selling property, comparing it with the experience of racial segregation in the United States. “I remember being the highest bidder a couple of times on unionist property and it being withdrawn from sale and finding out later it had been sold. But I can understand that because those people had to live in the community. It’s not easy… but if they sell to me, they could be in trouble with their own people. You have to be at peace with your own community. Those who step outside that are very brave people.” Seizing the opportunities of change In 1994, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) published Peace: A Challenging New Era, which became widely known as the ‘Peace Dividend paper’. It argued that a viable peace process would help spur economic growth, which would help promote peace. This initiative coincided with strenuous efforts to move to a non-violent environment, including John Hume’s ongoing dialogue to move the IRA away from violence. The CBI emphasised that the vast amounts of money being absorbed by the Troubles could be reinvested in education and infrastructure. At a local level, the business community could also sense change. One respondent, a Belfast-based businessman, recalled seeing the opportunity and changing his business strategy – but then having his expansion plans rejected by local funders, who were unconvinced. The idea of moving into Belfast city centre, previously an economic wasteland, closed and cut off during much of the Troubles, was indeed radical. “I decided to move the business to Belfast. I thought, I’ve got to get into the city centre – that was that. I knew that when I went to the centre of Belfast, people would start to come in.” While local entrepreneurs may have sensed that the environment and business opportunities were shifting, support was not necessarily forthcoming from regional business development agencies. The same businessman recalls visiting one such organisation in search of support after he decided to move his business into Belfast city centre. “I outlined my vision. They told me it was never going to work. It was a very short meeting, and I haven’t forgotten it.” Others reflected on how they sought to build community relations in various ways, including the employment of ex-combatants. Many also believed that they had the opportunity to give something back and benefit the wider community: “My firm’s ethos and culture is about doing some good here. And, if I’m honest, these things often have a very beneficial business upshot.” For many, the business benefits of peace also sit beside a clear commitment to the region and an investment in its stability and sustained progress. When the conversation with one businessman turned to recent violence by dissident republicans, including the murder of journalist Lyra McKee in Derry in 2019, he was unwavering in his view that a deterioration in the security situation would not impact his commitment to Northern Ireland. “If things got worse, I’d work harder. I’m far too invested in the community here to give up. I feel so blessed that I don’t carry any baggage from the past… I’ve not lost anyone or had anyone injured. I’m lucky in that sense.” The journey to a ‘kind of’ peace in Northern Ireland has been long, and not all stories have been told. We are only beginning to understand the impact local enterprise has on stabilising society and building accord, but the experiences of those who worked through difficult times stand as a testament to their resilience and the need to build on progress. Dr Joanne Murphy is Reader in Leadership & Change at the Centre for Leadership, Ethics and Organisation in Queen’s University, Belfast.

Mar 26, 2021

A recent C-suite barometer showed a surprising level of optimism among international business leaders. Mark Kennedy deciphers the findings to explain why short-term optimism will need to be buttressed by business transformation plans and long-term investment strategies if organisations are to thrive in a post-pandemic world. A report detailing over 500 global C-suite leaders’ views on their outlook for 2021 during a worldwide pandemic always had the potential to surprise. Despite the current economic uncertainty, the most surprising finding was the consistent presence of optimism globally, with 71% of respondents assessing the outlook for growth in 2021 as positive. At the beginning of the pandemic, we witnessed resilience and consistency as some business sectors adapted reasonably quickly. For established companies, there was a kind of ‘muscle memory’ approach to the crisis that unlocked lessons learned and business continuity measures that were initially adopted following the global economic crisis of 2008. Despite the unique nature of the pandemic, businesses that previously invested in crisis management strategies appeared to exhibit more resilience. The state approach to the pandemic was also a big differentiator, as tax and legislative aid mechanisms created a profoundly different context for business. Countries in Western Europe mostly saw the benefit of this approach. In contrast, other parts of the world, such as Africa, received noticeably less business aid, which resulted in less optimism for the future. Business transformation plans Confidence in managing and mitigating risk during the pandemic was undoubtedly a factor in respondents’ forward-looking business transformation plans. Economic and technology transformation trends scored highly, with 90% expecting to respond to technology and innovation trends and 78% confident in managing upcoming economic trends. Technology transformation was the most likely focus overall for large companies ($1 billion plus), with 54% of executives indicating a more-than-50% chance of implementing technology transformation plans. While the need to digitally transform businesses has been on the agenda for some time, the crisis appears to have accelerated plans. If we take the retail sector as an example, the need to meet the demand for online shopping during lockdown has added an urgency to prioritising digital strategies. Perhaps more surprising than what was high on the list of business transformation plans was what respondents considered a low priority. While the travel ban during lockdown highlighted the vast potential to reduce carbon emissions, only 20% of respondents said they expected climate risk to have the most significant impact on their business: the lowest on the list. This figure is slightly higher among Western Europe companies (25%), suggesting it is higher on executive agendas in that region. However, it is less than 20% in Latin America, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth Independent States (CEE/CIS), and the US.  One potential reason for climate risk attracting such a low score is the current lack of bottom-line accountability. Despite the growing need to mitigate climate change risk for business sustainability, leaders often treat it as an intangible business issue. They see it as being driven by regulatory momentum rather than a tangible business goal to be approached in the same way as technology or new service transformation plans. However, climate change will become a matter of profit and loss for many companies over the next ten years, either because it will influence how capital is obtained and the cost of infrastructure, or it will become an opportunity to do more business. It is a similar story with cultural change, which scored equally low on respondents’ business transformation plans. As mandatory reporting on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues becomes more widespread in both cases, businesses will need to consider these developments in business transformation plans. What is driving the business agenda? While technological transformation is the overarching theme, how businesses approach plans is often driven by regional and industry factors. In financial services, a high level of regulatory and compliance demands in Western Europe and the US is the driving force for banks and insurance companies launching digital strategies to automate and manage data management and reporting costs. In manufacturing, meanwhile, technology transformation drives improvements in efficiency and productivity. These regional differences were also evident when looking at investment plan timeframes. Businesses in Africa, for example, are looking at short-term transformation plans to drive profitability. In Europe and Asia, investment plans are put in place as strategic building blocks for the next decade and beyond. While this is not surprising when looking at the maturity of business development in each region, it also reflects the lack of state aid available to prop up economies and businesses in times of crisis. A further factor driving the business agenda is confidence in a company’s ability to respond to trends. In general, the barometer shows that businesses are optimistic in their ability to tackle most trends, with 90% either ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ confident in tackling challenges involving technology and innovation. Businesses in Asia-Pacific are more positive in their ability to respond to technology trends than in Western Europe, with 92% confident there compared to 85% in Western Europe, reflecting the vibrancy of the region’s technology start-up scene. However, executives are less confident in their businesses’ ability to respond to some other trends. 28% of companies are ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ hopeful in dealing with the impact of climate change. This lack of confidence in responding to some trends may be down to the fact that, as discussed earlier, it is positioned lower down on the business transformation priority list. A further worrying response is executives’ lack of confidence to deal with social/political changes and public health challenges. While many businesses expect both trends to impact them in the next three to five years, a quarter of respondents are not confident in their ability to address them. Western European businesses are the least confident in dealing with social/political, climate and public health trends. Less than 65% declared themselves ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ confident for each. Asia-Pacific companies were much more optimistic than their Western European counterparts in responding to public health challenges – 77% of the former looked forward with optimism. This regional difference may reflect Asia-Pacific societies’ longer experience managing epidemics, like the SARS outbreak in 2003. Longer-term investment strategies It is important to recognise that the pandemic’s impact on investment plans is critical in moving from a short-term to longer-term outlook. The change in business priorities and how business is conducted since the crisis started has given CEOs across a wide range of sectors a clearer picture of why making long-term and sustainable investments is a sensible business decision. Interestingly, female respondents were more inclined to opt for longer-term investment strategies. Female leaders represent less than one-third of respondents, but with the number of female business leaders rising, the shift to longer-term investment planning is likely to increase. It signals a much-needed focus on long-term business sustainability. This shift to longer-term sustainability was highlighted by the number of respondents who consider investing in sustainability initiatives to be a relatively long-term business activity. It was rated the fourth longest-term out of 23 activities, behind external growth opportunities, corporate strategy, and research and development (R&D). However, company size and sector had an impact. For manufacturing companies, sustainability initiatives are the longest-term activity of all. This reflects the transition away from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable business models. Sustainability is seen as a long-term activity in the financial services sector, but sourcing new talent, government engagement, R&D, and maintaining IT systems are higher long-term priorities. It is interesting to note that sourcing new talent is seen as a long-term priority, particularly as the financial services sector is in a phase of disruption driven by technology and new entrants. While this may suggest that the industry sees sourcing new talent as increasingly difficult, it may also hint that financial services companies still see themselves as people industries first and foremost. The responses from technology and telecoms companies indicate that sustainability initiatives are viewed as one of the shortest-term activities in those sectors. External growth opportunities and regulatory issues are the two longest-term categories for this group, which considers acquiring customers as a longer-term activity than maintaining customers. It paints a picture of an industry that sees high growth as the key to its long-term and short-term future and one that is less concerned about its physical footprint and managing long-term external risks when compared to other, older industries. Of course, as new EU privacy laws become even more embedded, the technology sector may see regulation as both a short-term and long-term priority. Company size is a further factor. Larger ($1 billion plus) companies are most likely to consider sustainability as a longer-term business activity, reflecting that they have the resources to build a sustainability programme and the more significant external pressure on large and recognisable businesses to address sustainability issues. Executives from small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) still regard sustainability as a relatively long-term activity, but R&D, corporate strategy, and external growth are viewed as higher long-term priorities. Framing a reset strategy What can we learn from the barometer results, and does it help frame strategies as companies look to reset? Looking at differences as well as similarities can give CEOs some bell-weather trends to consider. Take the fact that the barometer portrays businesses as generally optimistic. This helps provide momentum and confidence for the growth outlook, even though executives will consider different growth strategies and action pathways. It is then a question of looking at that growth landscape in more detail, so plans are more robust. Another key takeaway from the barometer is that businesses across the spectrum are prioritising driving technological change in one form or another. This could be implementing technology to transform and improve productivity, reduce costs, capture a business advantage from, say, increased online demand for products and services, or using it to enrich and enhance marketing strategies. Again, it is about capitalising on specific trends within the business sector. One aspect of technological change to keep in focus is the need to mitigate risk. With increasing complexity in the data and privacy regulatory landscape, it is crucial that – similar to technology transformation plans – risk mitigation remains high on CEOs’ agendas.   With the barometer also highlighting a growing appetite for ESG themes, it is essential to keep track of sustainability issues – particularly when reporting. ESG reporting is still not a high enough priority for CEOs, but it will demand greater focus from a risk management perspective in the future. Also not to be overlooked is the opportunity for businesses to create strategic business advantage by becoming an early adopter of, for example, environmentally friendly solutions or applying ESG as a business differentiator. Finally, a more oblique takeaway from the barometer’s high level of business optimism was the importance of investing in resilience. As we saw from government and company reaction at the beginning of the pandemic, lessons of the last economic crisis appeared to have been learned, particularly on the importance of continuity and making businesses more resilient to shocks. There are many examples of companies achieving business continuity success, whether through the ability to add flexibility in the supply chain or rapidly adapt products to meet changing consumer and business needs. It is clear that, where CEOs take the time to fully understand business and regulatory trends and invest in forward-looking strategies such as resilience and sustainability, charting a course out of the crisis will not be driven by short-term optimism alone but a realistic long-term growth strategy. Mark Kennedy is Managing Partner at Mazars in Ireland.

Mar 26, 2021

While the pandemic has highlighted the need to keep our IT systems safe from cyberattacks, many forget that our manufacturing sector remains just as vulnerable as finance. Pat Moran lay out five key ways CFOs and COOs can keep their businesses and its operations safe. According to Dragos, industrial cybersecurity experts, the number of publicly recorded ransomware attacks against the global manufacturing sector tripled in 2020. With manufacturing giants like Westrock, Foxconn, Honda and Norsk Hydro among those reporting attacks, it is clear that accountants and others leading in this sector need to protect themselves. Adopting defence-in-depth security strategies and having effective preventative, detective and corrective controls is critical for reducing risk. High-risk entry points The most common entry points for ransomware attacks are:   spear-phishing, which targets specific users; remote workers; and  exploiting software vulnerabilities and enterprise network equipment. As companies move towards smart manufacturing processes, care needs to be taken with adopting Wi-Fi enabled industrial devices and tools. If these devices are connected to corporate networks or other networks and are not protected adequately, they can become network access points by a cyber attacker. Attackers use these techniques to gain a foothold on the corporate IT system and then attempt to disrupt the IT environment and manufacturing operations. Reducing the risk There are five things the Chief Financial and Chief Operational Officers can do to ensure their systems are not susceptible to a ransomware attack. Vulnerability management Perform vulnerability assessments on critical control systems to identify and remediate any software security issues. Implement proper access control To reduce the impact of ransomware attacks, it is critical to have proper segmentation between the IT and the operational technology (OT) network. Regularly conduct architecture reviews to identify all assets, connections, and communications between IT and OT networks. Gain deeper visibility As manufacturing operations become increasingly connected, gaining good visibility of assets, processes and external connections are vital. Companies should monitor outbound network connections from OT networks to detect any malicious threat behaviours. Secure your remote connections Due to the global pandemic, businesses were forced to rely on remote access to manage critical infrastructure. Organisations need to secure any remote access to these systems to reduce the risk of cyber-attack. One way to do this is to create barriers such as a virtual private network.  Backups and incident response The best defence against ransomware is to have robust and well-tested backups. Organisations can quickly recover if they have good backup and restoration policy and procedures in place. They should maintain recent backups online and offline to ensure organisations can restore their system correctly.  It is also essential for organisations to have a comprehensive and well-tested incident response plan to respond to cyber threats. It must be designed with OT concerns in mind.  Pat Moran is the Cyber Leader at PwC.

Mar 12, 2021

When it comes to clients and staff, their expectations of accounting firms have changed. One way to approach this change and meet stakeholder needs is to consider a merger, says Mark Butler. Consolidation of smaller accounting practices in Ireland has not kept pace with comparable firms in the UK, where merger transactions have driven significant growth in recent years. While market size is one reason for this, in Ireland, as elsewhere, firms are shifting from a compliance to an advisory model and discovering that without scale, it is impossible to meet client expectations across multiple service lines and sectors. At the same time, staff expectations have shifted as employees seek more flexibility about where and when they work. To keep pace with these changes, it is much easier for accounting firms to join forces than to go it alone. Planning to merge When discussing mergers with clients, most accountants will say that waiting until you are approaching the end of your career could mean you won’t have enough time to find a suitable merger partner. The same holds true when planning accounting firm mergers. To maximise value – and potentially share in the greater profits of a larger firm – the earlier you plan a merger, the better. Due diligence When conducting due diligence, client base compatibility – fee expectations, sectors, and risk – needs to be assessed. Team compatibility, salary scales, and charge-out rates also need to be considered. Debtors need to be collected by the firm which is being merged in, and you must deal with work in progress. Companies must carefully manage cashflow from the outset. Whether you are on the buy or sell side, it is advisable to engage an advisor to negotiate on your behalf. Moving forward In terms of branding, merged practices should move forward under a single, unified identity. Once a merger is agreed upon, it is essential to explain the advantages to clients. Ideally, this should be done in person before the transaction takes place. Post-transaction, clients should be introduced to new team members at the earliest opportunity. This helps alleviate client uncertainty. The last few years have brought an unprecedented change in our profession, with new technologies driving the commoditisation of compliance services and impacting the audit process. This transformation will continue. At the same time, new opportunities are opening for practices with the capacity to invest in technology on an ongoing basis, build international connections, and position themselves to provide advisory services across an increasingly broad spectrum of specialisms. In my view, consolidation will be the key that unlocks these opportunities for Irish accounting firms. Mark Butler is the Managing Partner of HLB Sheehan Quinn.

Mar 12, 2021

With the end of the pandemic in sight, organisations need to find new ways of managing staff. Patrick Gallen suggests new priorities to ensure organisations get their people management right. Many organisations are currently reflecting on their people challenges and opportunities coming out of the pandemic and how the new world of work will look as they transition to a hybrid remote working model of some sort. What should be the top priorities for Chief People Officers and HR departments when planning for the phase of work? Build critical skills As you would expect, building critical skills and competencies is number one on the list, particularly as organisations are now starting to identify some of those skills gaps arising during the pandemic and the vast plethora of digital skills required going forward. In a recent survey, building critical skills and competencies was a top priority for around 68% of the HR leaders. The challenge for them and those who work in learning and development in organisations is that it is difficult to ascertain the current skills gaps as things are changing so quickly. Organisational design Organisational design and change management are second on the list. It addresses the fundamental questions: are our current structure, lines of reporting and functional areas of responsibility reflective of the new world of work? Are they 'fit-for-purpose? If not, how do we make a change while still maintaining business as usual? Change management and helping organisations to deal with that change has always been an important area for organisations as they grow and evolve, but as we often see in practice, managers and leaders aren't equipped to lead change, and they often over-manage and under-lead. This is exacerbated by employees who are fatigued from all the change. Leadership Current and future leadership bench is number three. In practice, I see the demand for a new cadre of digital leaders across organisations, who are agile, can lead distributed teams with a focus on outputs and understand the importance of empowerment. The future of work The future of work and employee experience is at number four, and here, the key challenge is around enhancing and protecting the organisation's culture in this new world of work. For years, work design focused on efficiency and has left many organisations with rigid structures, workflows, outdated job roles and networks that don't meet today's needs or flex with fast-changing conditions, like we see today. Health and wellbeing Finally, number five is the workforce's health and wellbeing, which includes mental health and resilience. With a remote workforce, it is often difficult to ascertain how people are feeling. We now know from our experience that isolation and loneliness can be one of many challenges coming out of the pandemic. This is a period of unprecedented change and an exciting opportunity to shape the future of work. As Jack Welch said: "If the rate of external change is greater than the rate of internal change, disaster is imminent". Doing nothing is not an option. Patrick Gallen is Partner in People and Change Consulting at Grant Thornton.

Mar 12, 2021

While diversity and inclusion have become commonplace, much needs to be done to embed them in organisations. Andrea Dermody gives us five steps on how you can implement it effectively on a day-to-day basis. The term ‘diversity and inclusion’ (D&I) is becoming more commonplace. People are familiar with the concept of diversity, but what does inclusion mean? Inclusion is when people feel included, treated fairly and respectfully, in a culture where they are valued and have a sense of belonging. According to research in Juliet Bourke’s report, Which Two Heads Are Better Than One? How Diverse Teams Create Breakthrough Ideas and Make Smarter Decisions, inclusive organisations are six times more likely to be innovative and agile and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. So why does inclusion continue to be an afterthought to diversity? What are the practical things you can do to build an inclusive culture in your team and organisation? Define – Create a definition of inclusion that works for your organisation. What makes you and your colleagues feel included at work? Then, understand that inclusion is not just a two-line definition. You need to clearly state what every day behaviours ensure your people will feel included, such as: being actively listened to and understood; being treated fairly and with respect; actively included in discussions; feeling like ideas and opinions are valued; having teams that work together to achieve results; witnessing managers develop colleagues equally; and having managers actively resolve team conflict. Develop – Build up your managers and colleagues to understand inclusion by incorporating the definition and behaviours into your existing learning and development. Some may already behave inclusively, but if you really want to address how people are treated in your organisation, you need to influence everyone’s behaviour every day, and make this behaviour deliberate and conscious. Champion – Promote a clear ‘tone from the top’ around diversity and inclusion, ensuring that leaders understand the value of, and are committed to, delivering inclusion. Diversity without inclusion does not drive the full benefit to the organisation – hiring underrepresented talent without an inclusive environment in which to share their expertise and thrive is a waste of time. Measure – Figure out how to measure success. Does your employee survey ask about the behaviours you have identified as inclusive? If you don’t have this information now, build it into future surveys. In the meantime, run focus groups and gauge how people feel they are treated at work, ask them what makes them feel included and then action your findings. Reward – Use your employee survey, 360 feedback, performance reviews and focus groups to measure whether leaders are effectively building inclusion into their teams, and then reward and promote accordingly. People will see that you are rewarding inclusive behaviour and actions. This highlights positive role models in the organisation and creates a path for progression which requires an inclusive style. These five steps at an organisation or team level will lead to: individuals who are more engaged and have greater intent to stay; colleagues who are willing to speak up when they see something wrong because they are listened to, which helps you identify risks and health and safety issues early; teams that are innovative because they listen to each other respectfully and understand the value of difference, leading to better co-operation; managers who are more productive and fulfilled because they know they are treating their teams fairly and creating an environment where individuals can thrive; and leaders who inspire trust, commitment and loyalty in their people because they take the time to understand and value them as individuals. Andrea Dermody is a diversity and inclusion consultant, speaker and coach at Dermody.

Mar 05, 2021

We all know that gender diversity is great for business. But how can organisations implement it in a meaningful way? Susan Dwyer details three main stumbling blocks faced by women in the workplace, and how they can be overcome. Gender diversity is vital to any workplace. Not just because it is a praiseworthy goal but because it makes absolute business sense. While most organisations have good intentions in this regard, a lot of them are struggling to act and are not getting the results required to create any change. Based on my six years in recruitment, I have found that there are three key factors holding women and gender equality back in the workplace. 1. Lack of role models “You cannot be what you cannot see.” There is a lot of research to show that female mentors are key influences on women’s success. Senior women demonstrate that it is possible to reach the top of an organisation, and that the business values the talent and contributions of women. The presence of women in leadership positions and the opportunity to network with them is imperative in helping advance women in their careers. Without role models, it can be a very lonely journey. It makes navigating your career so much more difficult than it needs to be. We must come together, no matter our gender, to make sure we are doing our part to make changes to ensure all voices are being heard. 2. Corporate culture Corporate culture is seen as one of the biggest barriers to female leadership. This is partly a legacy issue. Many company structures were originally created to suit the lifestyles of men at a time when women made up a smaller portion of the workforce. Many of organisations are now failing to make changes to modernise the way we work.  Organisations must start looking closely at their underlying beliefs about gender. Does management encourage people to talk about gender at work? How does the organisation define and reward good leadership? One of the main reasons companies are losing out on good female talent is because the culture isn't right and it needs to be addressed.  3. Unconscious bias Unconscious bias is very much alive. Bias can creep in at every level of the recruitment process, from the make-up of a selection panel to the timing of an interview. At first, these actions seem innocent, but we know they have a direct impact on diversity. We know that interviewers are more likely to question women on their ability to balance work and family life rather than men. We know that a woman’s commitment to the job is also often called into question. Job specifications can also be a problem. We know women won’t put themselves forward for a role if they don’t meet each and every entry criteria – unlike men. Companies writing these long and over-complicated job specifications are turning women off from applying. If companies wish to attract more female talent, they need to rethink how they write their job descriptions. Making change Change is most definitely possible, and I’m feeling optimistic about it. Kamala Harris, the first woman in history – and a woman of colour – has become the Vice President of the United States. It was a ground-breaking moment, not just for women in America, but for women everywhere. If she can manage to break down the gigantic barriers facing her, then why can’t we all? With increased awareness, these challenges can be overcome, but it must be a joint effort. Everyone of all genders must commit to making small changes to create transformation. Susan Dwyer is the Founder of Rise Up Women.

Mar 05, 2021

While much progress in gender equality and diversity and inclusion has been made in recent years, the impacts of COVID-19 threaten to undo all that hard work. Mark Fenton explains. As we experience our restricted lifestyle due to the pandemic, I have been reflecting on what impact this crisis is having on gender equality and diversity and inclusion (D&I). And I am worried. Will our new, abnormal future be an optimistic beacon of progressive inclusion and equal representation, or does it risk taking us back to a more traditional and less inclusive past? The world is not equal for men and women. We know that. Huge disparities exist around the world, not just in terms of workplace remuneration and working conditions, but also across access to professional development, sponsorship, and even basic education. Nevertheless, in many countries, significant progress has been made. In the UK, for example, a record number of women are in the workplace – 72.4% at the end of 2019. Furthermore, The Financial Times reported in October 2019 that the proportion of women on the boards of the UK’s most valuable 350 public companies exceeded 30% for the first time, having risen more than three-fold since 2010. Both men and women have had to organise their lives to support dual career families. Most organisations have made at least some progress towards supportive technology, policies, benefits and practices that enable more flexible models to ensure that every employee can be more effective and feel more included. A growing suite of empirical, global research now shows that this corporate strategy of D&I leads to significant, measurable impact on gender equality and on bottom-line performance. McKinsey recently reported on a global analysis of over 1,000 large companies which demonstrated that those companies with the most gender diversity are 48% more likely to have above-average profitability as compared to the least gender diverse organisations. In recent years, society has embraced a professional outsourcing model when it comes to the traditional support roles of childcare, cleaning, food preparation and socialisation. This has freed up many of us to pursue the career and life we desire. This new social model has been lauded as the non-level ground-breaking progress towards a more equal workplace and society at large. Then COVID-19 appeared, and everything changed. We live in a new reality of global home-working, social distancing and cocooning. The outsource model is gone – schools and crèches have been shut for months on end and are only now slowly opening up. Restaurants and bars remain boarded up and we are back to a time of self-sufficiency vis-à-vis home schooling, house cleaning, food preparation and general maintenance. With all these extra tasks, how has society divvied them up? Have we, as self-professed progressive supporters of equality, rationally and fairly allocated the day-to-day running of our home, our family, and our careers? Has the shift towards remote working and the full-armed embrace of tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc., delivered the expected growth in support of women and gender equality in general? The answer may depend on who you ask. And the reality should disturb you. There is evidence that society may have taken steps back to a more gender stereotyped and genderised division of labour. Many people report that it is women who are doing most (if not all) of the home-schooling activity, while continuing to do the lion’s share of cooking, cleaning, and the organisation of virtual socialising. This is often while attempting to succeed in a busy corporate role based at the kitchen table. Us men, on the other hand, have replaced our 8-10 hours in the office with a similar duration on Zoom calls based in the more bespoke environment of the attic office or study. We start early (before the home-schooling day begins) and surface for breaks and mealtimes, or perhaps a fun family activity in the late afternoon/early evening. Yes, it is hard to do our jobs via Zoom, but men have the benefit of supportive practices at home. Some, maybe even many, may disagree. An interesting article in the New York Times exposed the gap in pandemic-era domestic work. It was reported that while nearly half of men say they do most of the home schooling, only 3% of women agree. Furthermore, a third of men with children under 12-years-old claimed to be the person most responsible for housework or for childcare, while women agreeing with either statement did not even register above 2%. Why? Cultural expectations around roles and responsibilities remain and this crisis, by putting a short-term focus on securing/maintaining income and work opportunities, has allowed these expectations and implicit biases to flourish as women default to juggling – more than ever – schooling and household activity. We need to address this disparity quickly to avoid taking backward steps in the long journey towards gender equality and a more inclusive society. What this crisis has taught us is that we need to better collaborate as a society and be more inclusive and supportive. We need to value all the micro-actions that were easily discounted or outsourced before, but which are now viewed as important. Men must continue the spring forward they started and not step back from their modern role in family, work and society. The future is in our hands. We can emerge as a more connected, equal, and respectful society. Our difference is our strength. How we include these differences and each as a unit (a relationship, a family, a community, a society, a global world) is key to future success, whether individual, corporate or industrial. Mark Fenton is the Founder of MASF Consulting

Mar 05, 2021
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