In a new world where change is so fast-paced, how can businesses avoid rash decision-making? By adopting a flexible and holistic approach to working, we can move smoothly to the 'next normal', says Melíosa O'Caoimh. The journey to the ‘future of work’ has no definitive end as we are in a constant state of change. However, there are points of inflection where the change either alters course or is greatly accelerated. The Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) Worker of the Future Sub-Group was established in 2018 to develop a view on the responsible business approach to the challenges presented by future-of-work scenarios.These challenges were accentuated when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, accelerating change beyond our expectations. However, this speed of change now could lead to risks of rushed decision-making and groupthink. The Sub-Group sees the need to reflect on the change that has occurred and on what needs to be retained and developed as we transition to the ‘next normal’.As with many other countries, digital channels became, for a while, the primary source of engagement in the retail and education sectors in Ireland. In every sector, workers were called on to be agile – to move from one part of the business to another, to take on extra responsibilities and to envisage how their roles could be fulfilled in a much-altered environment.For many office workers, the most disruptive development in recent months has been the scaling of remote working at a pace never envisaged in most future-of-work scenarios. For some companies, remote working was already core to their way of working and announcements have been made indicating no return to offices in the coming year, perhaps longer. For many more, remote working has meant scaling on an ad hoc approach, which has effectively meant home working, regardless of circumstances.These changes will have lasting impacts and will potentially trigger the next wave of innovation around workplace design and practices. Many decisions are currently being made in Ireland as some offices re-open, and while there are risks, there is also great opportunity if the worker experience is put at the heart of decision-making. It is worth reflecting on where we want to be in the coming months – what challenges have we faced and what guiding principles will underpin our wanted state? What examples of best practice are emerging? What businesses should ultimately be asking themselves is this: what is our vision and how is this reflected in our work culture, in the evolution to a learning organisation, an inclusive workplace, and an environment where the physical and mental wellbeing of all is core to how we do business?The challenge now for responsible business is to take the holistic approach in moving to new ways of working and ensure that what is good for business is good for the worker and for society. At this time of uncertainty, the challenge is to keep looking outward and not become too insular. Questioning the future impact of decisions now being made is essential. Melíosa O’Caoimh is Country Head, Northern Trust Ireland and Chair of the BITCI Leader Sub-Group on The Worker of the Future. You can download BITC’s Shaping the Future of Work publication here.

Sep 25, 2020

Rebuilding your business can seem daunting, but with a well-equipped business plan, you can be sure to bounce back stronger than ever before, says Siobhan McCreesh.In business, it is often said that the comeback is stronger than the setback.While the last six months have been difficult, lockdown has shown what businesses can achieve when they take control of a situation. Already, the world around us is adapting to the ‘new normal’. Health, wellbeing, physical, emotional and mental fitness have all come to the fore in the fight against COVID-19 and more people than ever are working remotely.Many of the changes forced on us are here to stay. Many of us are looking at further restrictions of our movements and businesses. As businesses plan their road to recovery, none will be too big or too small to respond smarter, rebound stronger and reflect clearer in the months ahead.Focus on the positiveWhile overcoming road-blocks on the path to recovery will test emotional and mental fitness, it is important to prepare for this and avoid being consumed by the challenges that arise. As each challenge emerges, try to ‘flip’ it by switching your focus from what you have lost to what you need to do to survive. Focus on identifying and planning how you can:diversify and rebuild; deploy staff into new, exciting roles; and source new opportunities for customers, suppliers and markets.Stay true to your ‘why’When plotting your road ahead, it is crucial to remain true to your business’s reason for being – your ‘why’. Keeping this why at the core of the business recovery plan will help established businesses refocus on their original purpose and give younger businesses a clear path to follow. Communication is also important. If you allow your ‘why’ to be miscommunicated, this can isolate loyal staff, customers and suppliers which, in turn, can have a damaging ripple effect across your business.Be realisticYour recovery plan needs to be achievable, focusing both on your personal goals and your business aspirations. It also needs to be flexible so that it can adapt quickly to the rapidly changing environment we are in. Bill Gates famously said most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years. Make sure that your projections are realistic and that your recovery plan is split out into measurable phases. Short-term goals are important but mid- and long-term goals also need to be accommodated.Remember to ensure that you have the correct staff mix, systems, processes and financial resources in place to drive your business forward. Currently, various supports are available to help businesses recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.As lockdown restrictions come and go, and businesses adapt to the reality of trading with COVID-19, this is the time to make the connections you need to help your business, recover, survive and thrive. Siobhan McCreesh is an Associate Director at PKF FPM.

Sep 25, 2020

Innovation is essential for a company’s development and growth. How, then, can this be achieved? Taking advantage of R&D tax credits and incentives will go a long way to boost RD&I, write Ken Hardy and Eoin McCarthy from KPMG’s R&D Incentives Practice.It is well established that the creation and exploitation of new ideas are critical to a company’s development and growth. A clear example of this is in the tech industry, where the persistent development of new ideas is a core element of the business, very much built into their day to day culture. This strive for innovation has seen many of the tech giants of today make rapid ascents to the top in a relatively short period of time. In a broader sense, innovation is a key economic driver across most industries, enhancing commercial profitability and improving the landscape for consumers. So, how is innovation assessed, measured and compared?The Global Innovation IndexMeasuring innovation within global economies is led by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), who publish the Global Innovation Index (GII) annually. The GII provides detailed metrics about the innovation performance of 131 countries across roughly 80 indicators including research & development (R&D), infrastructure, market and business sophistication, political environment, and education, as well as the impact and diffusion of knowledge and technology outputs.Ireland’s performancePublished in September this year, the 2020 assessment has Ireland at number 15 in the global rankings, slipping two places from last year. Although this may appear concerning at first, Ireland remains an innovation leader and scores highly in multiple critical economic drivers. For example, we rank first for FDI outflows, ICT services exports, knowledge impact and knowledge diffusion. This shows our strength in translating innovation investment into realisable, tangible returns, which is in part a reflection of the national support mechanisms from the IDA, Enterprise Ireland (EI), Knowledge Transfer Ireland (KTI) and R&D Tax Credits. Indeed, the KTI is highlighted within the GII 2020 report for developing a successful model to assist businesses in handling their intellectual property (IP) within complex situations.Opportunities to maximise innovationInnovation and R&D are very much complementary. The precursor to innovation is commonly R&D, of which Ireland is ranked in the top twenty globally. Our high ranking is a result of extensive FDI from large multinationals in the pharma and tech space, in addition to strong investment in highly skilled researchers. Companies based in Ireland can maximise the benefit from their R&D activity through the R&D Tax Credit, a valuable tax based incentive of 25% credit on qualifying R&D expenditure in the science and technology areas. Although not specifically captured in the GII report, SMEs are a key stakeholder in our economy, and represent 54% of the R&D Tax Credit claimed in Revenue’s latest report. Introduced in Finance Act 2019, SMEs may claim an R&D Tax Credit of 30% on qualifying R&D expenditure. (These measures are subject to a commencement order.)Within the rankings, Ireland’s strength in knowledge and technology outputs is marked by ranking first in both knowledge impact and knowledge diffusion. IP generation is a key indicator that feeds into these metrics and is commonly born from R&D activity. In generating IP from qualifying R&D activity, a company can claim the Knowledge Development Box (KDB) incentive, which provides a 6.25% corporate tax rate for income generated from commercialising certain IP. However, in general, the KDB is underutilised, with only a small number of companies availing of it. This does not reflect Ireland’s high ranking in knowledge and technology outputs, and companies may be missing an opportunity to claim the KDB.The path from an innovative idea to profitable exploitation can be extremely challenging. Industry sectors such as semiconductors, biopharma/pharma, and medical devices require significant investment in physical infrastructure, as well as highly skilled personnel before an idea can be realised. It can also take a long time to move through the stage gates of development, especially in highly regulated industries. For example, it takes on average 10 years to develop a new drug. For SMEs, there is the dreaded ‘valley of death’ in the development cycle, a critical period where the probability of failure is highest and attracting funding can be hard to come by. RD&I Grants can be leveraged from the IDA and EI to support companies during this phase.What does the future look like?In the current environment, many companies are focused on short- to medium-term sustainability and, in some cases, survival. This will be reflected in the cadence of innovative activity. For example, the pharmaceuticals and biotech sector will likely experience growth in R&D because of the renewed focus on health. In the medical devices sector, there may be a shift in developments towards respiratory applications and remote diagnostics. Generally, companies will seek to diversify their supply chains to de-risk future unpredictable events. Moreover, accelerated development of Industry 4.0 (the Fourth Industrial Revolution) is likely to enable remote or autonomous control capabilities.When considering the future, we learn from events in the past. Historically, business R&D expenditure moved in parallel with GDP, slowing during economic downturns. Although this may not be the case across all sectors (pharma, med-tech and ICT being the exceptions), there is an expected contraction in expenditure on innovation, and as business innovation expenditure declines, government may strive to counteract that effect through expenditure boosts to innovation, via mechanisms such as the R&D Tax Credit, KDB and RD&I Grants.Ken Hardy is a Partner and Eoin McCarthy is a Scientific Consultant in KPMG.

Sep 25, 2020

In a world that is getting more complex, how can leaders navigate the constant changes? Managing our responses and developing our thinking and learning is integral to overcoming these challenges, says Patrick Gallen.We live in a time when change and disruption are constant and being able to navigate change is an indispensable leadership trait.There is a fundamental difference between seeing the challenges posed by change as one of navigating the complicated versus navigating the complex.Complicated challenges may be demanding but, with enough information, we can leverage experience and expertise, observe patterns of cause and effect, apply rules and processes and then solve them. This approach is probably no different from the many challenges you face as an accountant in business or practice. As one of my old bosses used to say, we often over-complicate business problems and then must simplify things to solve them.Complexity, on the other hand, should be navigated differently, because complex systems and environments are made up of a mosaic of diverse yet interdependent elements that interact in unexpected ways. When we look at mechanics and engineering, we find highly complicated systems, like a jet engine.  When we look at nature, we can see highly complex systems, like a coral reef or a natural woodland.Some of our work may be complicated, but we do that work in a complex environment.Complex systems do not always follow patterns, and so past behaviour of a complex system may not predict its future behaviour. In a complex system, there is no centre or top from which to direct.  Empowered and self-directed teams ideally can resolve challenges in different parts of a complex system, almost akin to what the various university and pharma teams are doing around the world in the search for a vaccine for COVID-19. When you look at the biggest change challenges you are facing in business or practice, do they resemble the complicated or the complex?  We know that we cannot exercise complete control in a complex world – the environment is always changing, and we cannot lead people back to the way things were before. We can, however, manage our own response, develop our own thinking, and learn. Under stress, it can be tempting to fall back on our experience and expertise – to get consumed with the details and to narrow our focus.  Leading in a complex system requires us to take a wider view of our firms, our roles, our service lines and our teams, and to see them as part of a much bigger system.  This then has implications for the way we lead as a profession and as accountants, in whatever field we operate.Patrick Gallen is a Partner in People and Change Consulting in Grant Thornton.

Sep 18, 2020

2020 has been difficult for everyone. Business and personal plans have gone awry and we're constantly readjusting to accommodate everything. Moira Dunne offers some tips to reset and refocus for the end of the year.September is a great time to reset and refocus after the summer months. With schools reopening, it is a chance to draw breath and set priorities for the last four months of the year. This year, we need to reset more than ever. 2020 has been a time of huge change and uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Business plans created in January were suddenly paused in March. Day-to-day operations stopped for many businesses. And, as companies pivoted to survive, plans from January may be irrelevant in Q4. Here are some tips to reset and refocus for the end of the year.Even though we are still living with COVID-19, this September brings hope as we see the reopening of schools around the world. The virus is still here, but we are all getting on with our lives and our business. How great would it feel to achieve some important goals and finish your year on a high?1. Reset your prioritiesStart by looking at the goals you set in January and assess what has been completed and what needs to be added. Identify the most important things you want to achieve by the end of 2020. Then ask the following questions:What are the goals?What work needs to be done to achieve those goals?Is help or input required from anyone else?2. Make a planHaving a plan helps you achieve more as it provides structure, focus and motivation. To figure out the work to be done, it helps to break large goals into smaller sub-goals. Then brainstorm each sub-goal to identify the tasks or actions required.Using a flipchart or whiteboard really helps the brainstorming process as space frees up your mind. If you work with others, you can arrange an online session over Zoom or Teams and use the whiteboarding feature to help spark ideas.Once you have a list of tasks, start looking at the following:What needs to be done when?Do some tasks depend on the completion of others?What are the milestones to be achieved along the way?Then transfer all the tasks into a planner. 3. Be realisticYou are probably already busy, so be realistic about how much time you have. It is better to under-plan than over-plan. Start small, complete some tasks to achieve a sub-goal. This will motivate you to keep going.Build in some contingency time, some “slippage” for the unexpected. Because if 2020 has taught us anything, we know that we need to expect the unexpected!4. Track your progressAs you work through your tasks, track your progress by capturing the date each one is completed. If you miss a target date, readjust any remaining dates that may be affected.Rework the plan if you find you are not getting enough time to work on your goals. Extend your timeline if necessary.5. CelebrateIf you achieve your goal, then you will want to celebrate. If you reach the end of Q4 without completing all the work, you still have a plan and you know exactly what needs to be done in 2021.And by following this process, you have also gained some valuable project management skills. What an achievement in these uncertain times!Moira Dunne is Founder of beproductive.ie.

Sep 18, 2020

What is the best way to handle post-COVID recovery? Leaders should see the recovery process as a spectrum of options, argues Valerie Daunt, and adapt accordingly.As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 2.7 billion people, or more than four out of five workers in the global workforce, have been affected by lockdowns and stay-at-home measures. Business and government leaders have been challenged to both respond to the crisis quickly and rethink their workforce strategies in real-time.It is important to realise that recovery won’t be static. It will not occur on a specific date. COVID-19 is unlikely to end suddenly given the lack of available therapeutics and the uncertain prospects and timing of a vaccine.Most organisations’ priority has been crisis response and emphasising health, safety, essential services, and the virtualisation of work and education. Now, as organisations begin to emerge from this response phase, leaders are focusing on the next set of challenges as they plan for recovery. There are three phases that leaders will likely face:Respond: How an organisation deals with the present situation and manages continuity Recover: How an organisation learns and emerges stronger Thrive: How an organisation prepares for and shapes the “new normal”Many organisations are planning for multiple scenarios and time horizons as they shift from crisis response to recovery. Many are also planning for the possibility of multiple waves of the pandemic and its continuing global and uneven footprint. As a result, we expect it will be a gradual transition from the respond phase to a new reality. Organisations must prepare for different outcomes of the pandemic – mild, harsh, or severe – and recognise that the recovery should be adaptable to different situations within different countries and industries worldwide.To do this, it helps to think of this recovery process as a spectrum of options. Some organisations are hiring or expanding and others contracting. Some may bring more employees back to the workplace, while others are still working remotely, perhaps permanently. Other organisations, especially those that expanded during the crisis, may reduce their workforce or adapt to new environments. Leaders should ask how they will integrate additional workers in the future, what services might be added or changed as a result, and what other operations may be maintained in a remote capacity. The answers to these types of questions will help organisations redefine their workforces and set the direction to thrive in the aftermath of the pandemic. It is not essential that leaders have a detailed blueprint of the new working landscape at this stage, but they should start to actively envision it and work toward it. In sharing our insights on how to approach workforce recovery strategies, business leaders should begin with a sense of priorities and direction for their future. The future of any organisation’s DNA, and critical guideposts for workforce recovery, should include its direction on organisational:Purpose: integrating the well-being and contributions of individuals in the organisation’s mission and work; Potential: for what can be achieved by individuals and teams; and Perspective: with a focus on moving boldly into the future.It’s not simply a return to old ways of doing business. The pandemic has created an imperative and an opportunity for organisations to reengage with the workforce and reinvent their workplaces. The biggest challenge organisations will likely face in recovery is the tension between preparing for a return to previous activities and routines – getting back to work – while also embracing a new reality – rethinking work. While many workforces have demonstrated resiliency in the face of crisis, it is important to remember that transformative change can be difficult and unsettling for many workers. While some may prefer working from home, others may be uncomfortable or unproductive outside of traditional work settings. How leaders accommodate and balance these divergent expectations will help define the future of trust in their organisation. Despite the uncertainty, one thing remains clear: customers, workers, suppliers, and other partners are watching. How organisations handle the recovery may define their brands with both their workforce and their customers, establish their reputations for years to come, determine their future competitiveness, and ultimately define whether they are truly operating as a social enterprise.Valarie Daunt is a Partner in Consulting in Deloitte.

Sep 18, 2020

Cyberattacks have always been around, but recently they've been on the rise, especially when it comes to third-parties. What is the best way to safeguard your company against these risks? Pat Moran gives five practical steps on the best way to manage third-party cyber-security plans.Cyberattacks and data breaches are rarely out of the news, and when they do occur, they have wide-ranging impacts. In response to an ever-evolving cyberthreat landscape, many Irish firms have made significant investments to strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities. I’ve seen clients deploying new technologies, developing new capabilities, and implementing new security processes, all to increase the cyber-resilience of the organisation.However, focusing on what's inside your company is only part of the challenge. Any firm's security posture is only as strong as its weakest link. And very often, the weakest link exists outside your organisation.While it's not a new concept, more and more firms are engaging with third parties to reduce costs, enhance performance or avail of a specific skill set that they don't have. The term 'third party' can be used interchangeably with 'vendor', 'supplier', 'partner' or 'outsourced provider'. Regardless, they mean the same thing: an increased risk of cyberattacks for your organisation.The COVID-19 crisis has only reinforced how dependent most organisations are on an interconnected ecosystem of third parties to run their business. We've seen firms across all sectors struggling to get visibility on the resilience of their supply chain to ensure that the lights can be kept on. Suppliers are facing the same challenges of getting their workforce connected securely, adhering to security policies and maintaining a culture of cybersecurity awareness. All of this is against the backdrop of a heightened threat landscape. Opportunistic cyber-thieves are looking to take advantage of the uncertainty created by the crisis.When you're operating in an interconnected environment with third parties, the attack surface is expanded for cybercriminals to launch an attack.You can outsource almost everything but accountabilityPwC’s Global Economic Crime and Fraud Survey 2020 highlights that one in five respondents identified vendors and suppliers as the source of their most disruptive external fraud.  Half of the respondents lacked a mature third-party risk management programme and 21% had none at all. This highlights the size of the challenge faced by firms. And when a third party has an incident that impacts the security of your customers' data or impacts your ability to deliver a service, your customers don't see the distinction. You can't outsource accountability.To compound the matter further, all of the above is happening in the face of the pressures of reducing costs and improving efficiency, along with increased regulatory expectations.To navigate some of the above challenges, below are some practical steps your organisation can establish to manage the risk of cyberattacks caused by engaging with third parties.1. Establish your operating modelDeveloping your operating model and framework is the foundation of effective third-party risk management. The operating model should outline the governance and reporting requirements over your third parties, how to determine the criticality of each third party, and what technology can be leveraged. For mature or regulated entities, a centralised program likely already exists, but the security team should be active participants. For less mature organisations, the security team might be the driver.2. Identify your inventoryCreating a complete and accurate inventory of your third parties is a prerequisite for effective risk management of your supply chain, including your fourth and fifth parties (also referred to as chain outsourcing).3. Plan before you engageBefore you bring a prospective third party on board, invest time in understanding their security posture. Do they meet your minimum security expectations and standards? If not, do they have other mitigating plans or processes that will give your organisation more comfort?Not all products or services lend themselves to outsourcing, so make sure to develop a robust planning process, where assumptions can be challenged, to ensure that outsourcing or engaging a third party is not outside the risk tolerance of the firm. Security requirements should be baked into contracts and service level agreements.4. Monitor, monitor, and then monitor some moreThe most time- and resource-consuming activity is typically your ongoing monitoring and governance. The security team should be included in weekly or monthly operational meetings for critical third parties, and risk assessments should be performed at least once a year for all your third parties. Tooling and ratings services are now common on the market to support this.5. Exit gracefullyWith all the right intentions and robust processes in place, surprises still happen. Be prepared with a backup plan if services cannot be provided by a third party, or if you need to exit the arrangement with little notice.Pat Moran is a Partner in PwC.

Sep 11, 2020

The impact of COVID-19 has left many businesses across the Irish economy vulnerable and uncertain about their future. Tom O’Brien and Hilary Larkin say this may be the ‘calm before the storm’.We are seeing companies who are experiencing a decline in activity levels and have been sustaining themselves through this period by availing of the various supports which have been in place since the onset of the virus, such as the deferral of tax liabilities, bank forbearance measures, wage subsidies and rates freezes.These measures have greatly assisted many companies, but it is what happens when they are ultimately removed that is worrying. Many businesses are accumulating significant liabilities over this period and when these supports are removed and businesses have to stand on their own feet again, there will be capital difficulties and liquidity issues.Looking into examinershipDespite the negative outlook, there are options for those in financial distress. Given the prevailing trading conditions and the nature of the liquidity issues which will face many companies, examinership may be an appropriate restructuring option to consider. There will likely be an increase in the number of examinerships over the coming months and into next year as companies seek to come to terms with the new normal and address pent up liquidity issues. The COVID-19 situation may also have highlighted other areas that can be actioned as part of the examinership process, such as property arrangements that are now onerous or surplus to requirement.There are many advantages to the examinership process such as the company continuing to trade, jobs being maintained and preserved, and creditors faring better than they would if the company were placed into liquidation. It is, in many cases, a positive outcome for everyone concerned.Examinership is not only an option for larger companies. Companies that meet the definition of a small company are capable of availing of examinership through the Circuit Court. This process has not been availed of as widely as was expected when it was first introduced – maybe due to lack of awareness or perhaps a perceived stigma around the process – but, given the economic forecast, smaller companies will be more likely to avail of it going forward. LiquidationWhile many eligible companies will go down the examinership route and emerge ‘at the far side’ completely restructured and with appropriate working capital and funding to sustain themselves into the future, there will inevitably be others that are not viable and may have to look at liquidation. Examinership is not suitable for all businesses as some will be beyond saving. In these circumstances, it is important that directors and business owners move in a timely manner to protect all stakeholders – employees, creditors, banks, and the directors themselves.From a governance perspective, directors must be able to demonstrate that they have acted responsibly, showing that they have properly assessed the options open to them including taking independent legal and financial advice, formally recording meetings of directors and management and being careful not to expose creditors to further losses in the period preceding the liquidation. Obviously, great care should be taken with any payments from the business to ensure that issues of preferment do not arise.This is all very important as in the final analysis, the liquidator is required to review the conduct of the directors over the period leading up to the liquidation and report to the ODCE on this. Directors should be able to demonstrate that their conduct was responsible and appropriate in the circumstances.Stay positiveDespite all the negativity surrounding financial distress, it is also important to be positive and take the right steps. Banks have been very supportive and are willing to try and assist customers to restructure and get through this period. Companies should be encouraged to seek independent and competent advice as soon as possible. Don’t bury your head in the sand – talk to your bank in a proactive manner, and don’t leave things until you are really under pressure.Tom O’Brien is a Partner and Head of Advisory Services in Mazars.Hilary Larkin is a Partner in Financial Advisory in Mazars.

Sep 11, 2020

We all know a financial storm is headed our way, but how do we cope when it does hit us? Graham Reid gives us twelve steps that can be taken to navigate the perils of post-COVID economic recovery.After the storm comes rebuilding. And there’s a lot to do. COVID-19 has profoundly affected the norms of business across every industry and geography. From new ways of going to work (or not), long-lasting shifts in customer psychology and behaviour, and radically transformed operational networks and business portfolios, the world in the second half of 2020 is very different from the start of the year, for better as well as for worse.The only thing that’s certain about the recovery is that there’s still a huge amount of uncertainty about what form and how long it will take, with different countries – even different regions within countries – continuing to be impacted in different ways, and no certain cure for COVID-19 yet in sight. What should the working world expect from the pandemic recovery period? How is it best achieved? Outlined below are steps organisations and individuals need to take, not just to get back up and running, but also to become stronger and more resilient in the process.1. Reimagine and transformThe world is slowly adapting to the impact and waking from the nightmare of COVID-19. But getting back up and running requires more than just business as usual. It’s a two-geared process, a balancing act between transitioning safely into a new working world and taking steps to engage in the transformation of working conditions and practices that COVID-19 has unleashed. 2. Address client anxietyThe behaviour and decisions of consumers are what keep the business world ticking. But COVID-19 has dealt a massive – and potentially permanent – blow to the way they interact with businesses. As just one example, 44% of global consumers indicated they would be more likely to do grocery shopping online as a result of the pandemic. Firms looking to survive will understand this and will adapt accordingly. 3. Rethink the workplaceSome businesses have been able to opt to continue remote working practices for the foreseeable future, but for many others, a swift return to work is vital to remain financially viable. To do this safely for their staff and customers, organisations need to prioritise cooperation, communication and accountability, and supplement with cutting-edge technologies and working processes, including crowdsourcing, risk apps and collaboration platforms. 4. Maximize your people’s potentialConcern for the wellbeing of your workforce isn’t just about a duty of care – it's a business imperative. Led by an integrated Human Resources response, rebuilding will mean effectively engaging with the workforce, understanding and reacting to employee expectations of the care provided by employers and the ability to match workforce capability to financial and risk considerations. 5. Identify legal issuesEven if the worst of the crisis may seem to be over, with interim regulatory measures still in place in much of the world, the full aftermath is yet to hit. As the world moves on from the peak of the crisis, from cancelled contracts to employee class actions, COVID-19 is likely to leave a range of legal turmoil in its wake. Modelling potential outcomes, identifying potential risks, and capturing relevant data is critical for businesses looking to weather an anticipated storm of litigation. 6. Learn lessons from those a few weeks aheadWhen re-opening, it can be instructive to look at what has happened during reopening elsewhere – both in other industries and markets. China was the first country affected, and at the beginning of May, it became one of the first to re-open. Here we can look at key lessons from its experience, from assessing supply chains to preparing for future virus spikes. 7. Adapt operations, increase resilienceEven before COVID-19, business was facing pressure to act more responsibly, and the crisis will only accelerate that. As we look to an uncertain recovery, likely to be more saw-toothed than smooth, the pandemic presents us with a chance as much as a challenge. With such a significant economic and social impact, radical changes in how we operate are not just possible, but necessary. This is a chance to segue from a growth economy to a value-based one, prioritising long-term value and resilience and the needs of multiple stakeholders over short-term growth. Flexibility has always been a business advantage, but it will now be critical to survival. 8. Forecast more effectivelyMaking smart financial decisions post-COVID-19 is critical and, in such a radically changed world, only companies with effective forecasting and scenario planning strategies can do so with any confidence. However, in a webcast survey by EY, only 9.2% of respondents were very confident in these areas. 9. Adapt to shifting expectationsFor good or ill, what consumers expect of companies is changing. As we move from crisis to whatever comes next, businesses need to be ready to adapt to changing customer attitudes and needs: reshaping their portfolios for new business realities, creating new and responsive digital customer journeys, and taking the right steps to ensure transparency moving forwards. 10. Identify the right divestmentsIn the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, firms proactive about reviewing and strategically divesting their portfolio outperformed their peers. The same may well prove true of the COVID-19 aftermath. 11. Encourage inward investment in your regionCOVID-19 hit Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) hard. While 23% of investors surveyed indicated an intention to delay investment plans entirely, 51% expected minor delays in FDI plans. 12. Stabilise the economyReassuring and supporting individual customers in the immediate crisis is one thing, and something all businesses can work toward. But banks will have a particularly important role to play in the longer-term, post-crisis stabilisation of the global economy. Businesses will need to build close relationships with their banks to manage the inevitable risks of an uncertain environment and secure ongoing access to the capital that will be essential for their long-term recovery and growth.Graham Reid is Head of Markets in EY Ireland.

Sep 11, 2020

Innovation requires investment. But what are the best areas to invest in? Matthew J. Moberg details five growing platforms that companies should think of as investment opportunities. Innovation can be found in any part of the economy and people seek to invest wherever innovation occurs, regardless of sector classification, market capitalisation or geographical location.There have been significant breakthroughs in many sectors. To organise the change occurring in the economy, here are five major evolving platforms of growth. Global e-commerceGlobal e-commerce is an arena of tremendous opportunity. Estimated global sales were only 14% penetrated by e-commerce pre-COVID-19. Today, with the new reality of COVID-19, we have seen estimates of between 22–25% penetration.Even in the United States, so-called “highly” penetrated industries, like travel, books, office supplies and media are, on average, only 41% penetrated. There are many more industries—like groceries and global transportation—that are only modestly penetrated by e-commerce.Other opportunities include business-to-business (B2B) procurement and software that enables brick-and-mortar companies to have an online presence. The common perception may be that global e-commerce is at a late stage in the innovation cycle. In my view, there is so much further to go.Genetics breakthroughsThe sequencing – or decoding – of the gene is one of the greatest accomplishments of our era. The gene was discovered in 1953 but first sequenced during the Human Genome Project in 2003 at a cost of US$2.7 billion. The cost of gene sequencing has fallen rapidly in recent years. We believe the industry is on the cusp of creating meaningful diagnostics and therapeutics and, as a result, wealth creation. These opportunities may go beyond human gene therapeutics, to agricultural and even artificial intelligence applications.Intelligent machinesArtificial intelligence or machine learning is permeating every layer of product development. From using simulation tools to advanced graphics to designing products and getting immediate feedback as to points of weakness in a structure, or real-time intelligence on wear and tear that can feed back into new designs – smart machines are involved.If the last 30 years were spent organising data with mainframes, personal computers and mobile phones, the next 30 years could be set up to take that data and change our lives in the physical world. There could be opportunities in companies that intelligently design, manufacture, transport and maintain physical machines, in addition to investing, of course, in the machines themselves. New financeAccess to capital is one of the fundamental differences between developed and developing countries – the grease that allows efficient transfer of value. I believe there are three vectors that drive access to capital.The first is the concept of what constitutes money. In the past, people bartered for goods and services, which can be very inefficient. We have moved from barter to precious metals – backed by their own innate scarcity – to fiat currency backed by the full faith and credit of a government. Today, we are talking about currencies backed by algorithms.Similarly, the other two vectors, efficient pricing and methods of exchange, have also significantly evolved. In the past, the better barterer determined the price of your goods and services; then it was a loan officer at a bank with all their intrinsic biases.Today, we are increasingly using data to appropriately price risk, allowing us to allocate capital in more efficient ways. Methods of exchange are also evolving with the trends in e-commerce, allowing mobile payments and digital wallets to gain traction.Exponential dataUnderlying virtually all our investment themes is the constant of data. Without data, none of these platforms can be successful. But data isn’t virtual—there is a physical component to data that is often ignored. We need to clean the collected data, then store and deliver the same data. That requires massive amounts of data centres, fibre-optic cable, and cell towers, among other supporting infrastructure. To use data for something like artificial intelligence, computing power and memory are crucial. Graphics processing units, central processing units and field-programmable gate arrays represent some of the many components necessary to process that data more efficiently.The creation, cleaning, storage and delivery of data will lead to new applications like augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning, software as a service, and the sharing economy. There are many investment opportunities in companies that play critical roles all along this value chain. Some have postulated data is becoming the oil or gold of the new economy. Matthew J. Moberg is Vice President Portfolio Manager at Franklin Templeton. This article is the sole opinion of the author.A version of this article was first published in The FM Report.

Sep 04, 2020

Innovation is high on the government’s agenda. But how can companies invest in R&D given the current economic conditions? Establishing an innovative culture in your organisation is the key to success, says Barrie Dowsett.When it comes to innovative research and development, it is easy to picture a lab – one in which a large technology company is working on something amazing, like a robotic arm. You’re likely to think of pharmaceuticals as well, especially given that Ireland is renowned for its thriving medicine industry.But, actually, innovation is happening all around us.Research and development (R&D) is simply about seeking a scientific or technological advancement or overcoming a challenge that could not easily be solved by a professional in the field. From developing new products, services, or processes from scratch, to improving those which already exist, R&D is likely to occur in your business more often than you think.The state of R&D in IrelandThere has been a significant rise in the amount of investment in R&D from Irish businesses in recent years and that has coupled nicely with the fact that innovation is high on the government’s agenda.Recent data released by the Central Statistics Office show that the total expenditure on innovation projects in Ireland totalled almost €5.5 billion in 2018, an increase of 18.2% just two years prior. The main reason behind this leap is the 39.4% increase in expenditure for in-house R&D, totalling €3 billion in 2018 up from €2.2 billion in 2016.This information from CSO goes deeper too and shows that in 2018 the acquisition of machinery, software, and equipment represented 20.7% of the total spend at €1.1 billion. Embracing an innovative cultureAll businesses will approach R&D differently. Some have an innovative culture in place from the start. Others, however, take time to instil it. There are other variants to consider as well, like company structure, size, and ability to claim.Take size as an example. Businesses looking to create brand new products and services tend to be larger, more established, and better able to meet the demands of extensive market research and production. However, small- and medium-sized enterprises are more likely to work on improving existing products rather than creating new ones, as a development from scratch can be prohibitively expensive. Some companies will be able to set up their own R&D department, while others will outsource their efforts to gain the skills and knowledge required. Furthermore, with the effects of COVID-19 being acutely felt across the Irish economy, many companies simply feel unable to give R&D priority at the moment, with statistics showing that 85% of Irish businesses have scaled their operations back or even shut their doors entirely.R&D and the Irish economyHaving a well-defined and funded R&D strategy isn’t just about showing off amazing products, it’s also about staying ahead of the game. Marketplaces are becoming more competitive and companies are in direct competition with each other to offer something bigger and better to retain their customer base. Although investing in R&D often requires some generous financial outlay, the rewards can also be significant.Another big benefit of investment in R&D lies in the ability to claim R&D tax credits, with the government recognising the benefits it brings to the wider economy through job creation and growth. The incentive is lucrative too, covering up to 25% of R&D expenditure over and above the standard rate of 12.5%, meaning Irish companies can obtain as much as 37.5% of R&D costs back, either as a corporation tax reduction or as a cash lump sum. Creating or developing products and services, both for commercial purposes and within a company, can lead to great pay-offs. But innovation can’t happen without some element of risk, and for many companies meeting the costs involved can be daunting.However, there is a range of national and EU schemes available to help mitigate the costs in addition to R&D tax credits, like Enterprise Ireland funding supports, Horizon 2020, EUREKA Eurostars, and more. Whatever size and sector the company is in, a well-executed and funded R&D strategy is essential to survive and thrive.Barrie Dowsett is the CEO and owner of Myriad Associates.

Sep 04, 2020

Burnout has been creeping into our workplaces and greatly affecting our lives, even before COVID. Noel O’Callaghan outlines how you can identify burnout and manage your work-related stress.Increasingly, we are hearing about how workplace stress is on the rise, especially where work and life both feel uncertain and unpredictable. In a new survey from the Department of Work and Employment Studies at the Kemmy Business School, 60% of employees in Ireland are feeling more stressed since the onset of COVID-19. As we become so ingrained in the day-to-day routine while meeting the needs of employers or customers, we can miss the alarm bells warning that what was a somewhat natural and manageable stress is now morphing into burnout, something considerably more serious. Work culture seeks to identify and label what they call ‘high achievers’ but, unfortunately, delivering more and more with less and less is often the only criteria needed to earn the distinction. Day to day, month-end to month-end, quarter-end to quarter-end, the relentless pace of work makes it seem impossible for someone to put their hand up and say, “Stop. I need to rest”. If you combine this with a personality that is wholly-committed to doing a good job, has a fear of failure, or is unsupported either at work or at home, then you have a recipe for disaster when it comes to excessive stress or burnout.Signs of burnoutWhat are the tell-tale signs of burnout? Burnout can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, a feeling of detachment, or a feeling of never being good enough no matter how much you deliver. Are you:terrified of going to work every day?always tired?disinterested in participating in hobbies outside of work?getting little enjoyment in anything and no motivation to seek it?feeling stuck, with little or no light at the end of the tunnel?(Sometimes these can also be accompanied by unusual physical aches and pains.)These are just a few of the more common red flags, but it can be different for everyone. The great news is that burnout is treatable. Taking breaks, knowing your limits, and watching out for situations or people that elevate the stress can help. However, there are also huge benefits gained from working on your relationship with work. I-It and I-ThouMartin Buber, a theorist and 19th-century Austrian philosopher, suggested that humans have two approaches to the way we interact with people, things and nature. One is an ‘I-It’ approach where we objectify whatever we are dealing with and seek to get as much out of it for ourselves as possible and the other is an ‘I-Thou’ approach, where we turn to the subject as a partner and seek to relate more to it for the mutual benefit of both parties. There is a recurring theme that I see is in relation to how people interact with their career and the workplace. A pattern emerges over years whereby one relates to their career, work or co-workers from an I-It standpoint, viewing it as a means to an end, which can cause the relationship with work to become so unhealthy that people become ill. Having a more constructive relationship can alleviate the symptoms of stress and burnout and instil a sense of nourishment into the workday. We should aim to shift the relationship from I-It to an I-Thou and think of work as something to be engaged in, enjoyed or experienced.  Noel O’Callaghan FCA is a qualified psychotherapist. If you would like to discuss how any of the topics mentioned above are impacting your mental health, please contact the CA support team at CASupport@charteredaccountants.ie.

Sep 04, 2020

Sustaining a family business can be complicated. Liam Lynch considers how good governance can achieve the right balance between family and business.Like any enterprise, a family business needs governance to ensure that its family and business strategies are aligned and achieved. This governance must protect the business from the normal and predictable challenges that family involvement brings. However, formalising ownership structures, power and processes can create resistance and (often healthy) conflict as the management of a family business transitions from an ‘autocracy’ to ‘democracy’.The benefits of governance far outweigh the challenges of developing it. As more generations become involved, and the demands of people in the business increase, the need for more a formalised governance structure is vital.Governance means education and pre-agreed rules about management and how strategies will be implemented. These rules must apply to everyone involved in the enterprise, from directors to shareholders, managers and staff.There typically needs to be two separate but related sets of rules (governance). One regarding how the family will behave and relate to the business – a family constitution, even if not formalised as such – and the other regarding how the family will behave and relate in the business – a Shareholders’ Agreement and sometimes a Board Charter.Discussions must start nowBuilding a sustainable family business means starting early to communicate about plans for growth and future succession. Unlike a regular enterprise, a family business is usually built on a level of trust and informality by the founder family members. However, if a business is to grow and employ more people, including family, it needs a level of structure to help the business ‘scale-up’.To minimise distraction to the business and tension within the family when formalising governance structures, it is important to recognise that these issues are completely normal and predictable. It can be helpful to work with an independent party who can facilitate conversations, share proven frameworks and use their experience to navigate the process. Invariably this will lead to a better outcome.Four pillars of governanceGovernance is broken down into four pillars: management, income, control and equity.ManagementA common trigger of problems is when the founder brings children into management roles who have not gained the experience to perform the roles. This not only creates tension, but it can stunt the business’ performance. Having pre-agreed rules regarding how family members can join the business, and the required experience, involvement, development and output – just like any other employee – will help alleviate this.The pre-agreed rules will consider reporting lines, and establish performance expectations and review processes, as well as how issues are communicated and resolved. Ideally, family members should report to someone outside the family, but if it is a family member, their performance review should happen with an independent advisor as well. These rules help prevent disagreements later and spill-over between business and family relationships.IncomeThere must be clarity around how family members, in and out of the business, will be recognised and rewarded, and how they can develop and progress. Part of achieving the balance of a sustainable business will mean adopting rules that reflect the different roles family members can play in relation to the business as employees, directors and/or owners.Think about it like employees earning a market-based salary, family members who contribute as non-executive directors earning directors’ fees, and owners receiving dividends or repayments of capital in accordance with the pre-agreed plan. ControlThere also must be clearly defined rules in relation to the decisions that managers, directors and owners make in each of these roles. An important distinction to remember is that family members are ‘equals as members of a family’ but not ‘equals as managers, directors or owners of a business’. Some of these rules may reside in a family constitution, business policy or shareholders’ agreements.  The important thing is that they are clear, agreed, communicated and respected.EquityLike any business relationship where there is more than one owner, there needs to be agreement and communication on how people will behave as owners. This includes defining who can appoint directors, the payment of dividends, how decisions will be made, how and when ownership interests can be sold or transferred, and how the business will be funded.Respect the separation of powersFinally, the creation of a governance structure is all about clearly defining and respecting the separation of powers. Focusing on the above four pillars ensures that each area has clear governance, helping family business members avoid arguments and ensure the success of their strategy.At the end of the day, a lot of this comes down to ‘best fit’ rather than ‘best practice’. Families and the businesses they own need to do what’s right for them in their own context. Making sure a governance structure is in place that is tailored to the specific history and needs of the family will mean they manage and avoid arguments and problems down the road to a sustainable future. Liam Lynch is a Partner and Head of Private Clients in KPMG.

Aug 28, 2020

Giving a presentation is hard enough but now we also need to grapple with technology while keeping the audience engaged. Eric Fitzpatrick outlines how you can build on your presentation skills to effectively present remotely.  Giving presentations can be challenging at the best of times, but over the last six months, they have become a little more difficult because they need to be delivered remotely via platforms like Zoom, Webex, and Teams. We’re at the mercy of technology, feeling more distant from our audience, struggling to engage and not always certain that our message is getting through. The following ideas will help when delivering presentations remotely.  The old rules still apply Many rules that work for face-to-face presenting also work for remote presenting:Know your audience. Be clear about who you are presenting to so you can tailor your content to reflect what’s important to them. Clarify your objective. Know what you want your audience to do, think or believe at the end of your presentation. Give one message. Regardless of the length of your presentation, only ever deliver one message. The longer your presentation, the more points you will have to support that message but every time you present, deliver one message only. If your audience gets that message, that’s your job done. Structure your presentation. Build a deliberate structure into your presentation so that it is easy to follow and understand. Most presenters never include a deliberate structure, which can confuse your audience and cause them to switch off. Engagement is key. Build your presentation to include deliberate engagement techniques, such as questions, stories, humour, audience interaction. This will keep your audience enthralled and increase your chances of making sure they are still with you at the end of your presentation.   Rules for remote presentationsThe rules that are especially important for remote presenting include: Less is more. Make your presentation short. If you deliver 30 minutes face-to-face, try to cut it to 20 minutes for remote presentations. This will increase your chances of keeping your audience engaged.Slow and steady. Slow down when speaking remotely. Build-in longer pauses to allow your audience time to digest what you have said. Don’t be afraid of the silence.Visual impact. If using slides, make them stronger visually. Bigger, brighter images or graphs will provide a visual stimulus that will support your spoken word more effectively. Reinforce the message. Don’t finish with a slide that contains any of the following two words: “Thank you”, “Any questions?” or “The end”. Instead, finish with a slide that reinforces the message you want your audience to take away.  Craft your opening and closing word-for-word. The opening of your presentation is where you are most nervous, while the words you finish on have the potential to have the greatest impact on your audience. Crafting them word-for-word increases your impact at the beginning and the end of your presentation. Practice makes perfect. Practice more for remote presentations so that you can get as comfortable as possible with the content and the technology. Do a technology check in advance. Finally, there is a debate regarding whether a presenter should stand or sit when presenting. Do what is most comfortable for you. Sitting is more intimate and can build stronger connections, while standing allows you to be more passionate and energetic. Also, there will be occasions when the technology will let you down. Don’t be fazed by it. Most audiences are very understanding when this happens.Finally, the two most important considerations for remote presenting are whether you can be seen and heard. Given that this is how we will be presenting for the foreseeable future, there is value in investing in a good microphone, webcam and the right lighting. Eric Fitzpatrick is the owner of ARK Speaking and Training, the author of Persuade on Purpose: Create presentations that influence and engage.

Aug 27, 2020

How can boards navigate the many obstacles thrown up by COVID-19? David W. Duffy gives five tips on the way boards can future-proof their organisations.COVID-19 has thrown up incredible challenges for all boards. These include going concern issues, survival, future financing, managing a workforce remotely and staying market-relevant.Assuming the organisation can make it through COVID-19, one of the key questions to be addressed by the board will be to determine whether the organisation has a sustainable business model and, if not, what to do about it. While all organisations should continuously assess their business models, those in the education, tourism, entertainment, hospitality, sports, fintech, retail and restaurants sectors need to have a sustainable model to get them through COVID-19 and to the future beyond.Business models will be influenced by several factors, such as: effective leadership; the level of innovation at board and CEO level;the speed at which organisations are able to move online;being able to breakeven while reducing capacity by at least 50%;having the internal skills to enable a smooth transition to a very different working environment; andhow fast the competition is responding in comparison.While it's hard to know what the future will look like, the time to figure out an organisation’s business model will depend on the strength of an organisation's balance sheet. However, even large companies will have a limited timeframe in which to act.What does this mean for boards? This is a leadership moment and the board should seek to take control of an organisation’s destiny. Time will be of the essence – organisations do not have the luxury of spending four to six months developing a plan. They must find a way of doing it faster, or risk being overtaken by events, both short term and in the future. Five things boards can doInitiate a strategic review of the business. Assess whether the current strategy is fit for purpose by seeking evidence from the market. If it is not, initiate the development of a potential new strategy that is sustainable in the current and post-COVID climate. Bear in mind that no one knows what the future will look like. It is therefore essential to consider various scenarios in strategic planning and evolving a model that will work.If there is no future for the business, the board must look at ways to limit diminution in shareholder value by seeking opportunities to sell all or parts of the business, merge with a complementary partner or wind up.If a sustainable business model does emerge from the planning process, the board needs to carry out an evaluation of its skills and competencies in the context of the new strategy to see what new skills and experience will be required.Recognise that digital skills will need upgrading for all as the world and organisations move online, perhaps for good.Induct these new directors and get cracking!David W Duffy is the Found of the Governance Company and Co-founder and CEO of The Corporate Governance Institute.

Aug 27, 2020

COVID-19 highlighted weaknesses in many business continuity plans. Now is the time to reassess risk and update your plan, says Teresa Campbell.The public health restrictions introduced to control the spread of COVID-19 highlighted contingency planning weaknesses across many sectors of the economy. Consequently, businesses are currently reassessing risks and seeking new ways to mitigate against the potential disruption of local lockdowns, difficulties accessing necessary services or supplies, travel and logistics disruption and changing customer demands. The purpose of a contingency plan is for an organisation to return to its daily operations as quickly as possible with all risks outlined and actions identified to mitigate. The starting point is deciding what you want the plan to achieve. Allocate responsibility for the plan to a senior member of your team and, where possible, involve HR, communications, legal, health and safety, and operations team representatives. List out your organisation’s products and services, then examine the costs and revenue associated with each, update contact lists, identify the potential impact of disruption on employees, operations and customers, and work out what actions can be taken to protect against these risks. Make sure your contingency planning team familiarises themselves with relevant COVID-19 guidance. In the Republic of Ireland, this includes the Government’s Return to Work Safely Protocol and in Northern Ireland, the COVID-19: Working Through This Together.Where business activity temporarily ceased due to COVID-19, the complexity of the recovery process will need to be considered, with objectives for businesses likely to include:Protecting people (employees and their families, customers, suppliers): This may involve adapting workplaces to accommodate physical distancing, minimising social contact, improving cleaning and sanitisation. The plan should highlight the importance of staying away from work if employees have any symptoms. Communication will be key, and procedures should be developed for and conveyed to employees or close contacts who think they may have been exposed to COVID-19 or if they feel unwell. Finding ways to continue operating: If employees, customers, contractors, and suppliers cannot access your place of business, you must have back-up plans to remain in operation.Ensuring the business complies with health and safety legislation: This is essential to protect both your organisation and your employees.Protecting liquidity and financial stability: Monitor cashflow, optimise working capital, and avail of COVID-19 funding, grants and tax incentives (where relevant) to protect liquidity and financial stability.Prioritising remote working: Make sure that your remote working systems are in place at all times so that in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in the area, the risk of exposure for employees can be reduced.Cross-training Train your staff so that they can cover for one another.Communicating the contingency plan: Clearly convey your contingency plan to internal and external stakeholders so that they understand how COVID-19 may affect your business and show them what they can do to help minimise the impact.Ensuring the business operates in a socially responsible manner: Act fast and don’t try to cover anything up. If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the area, use your contingency plan to keep your business operating while also being socially responsible. Going forward, businesses will need to continue to comply with public health restrictions, so regular monitoring of Department of Health and WHO COVID-19 updates is important. Contingency planning must become a routine part of every business operations; without one during these times, your business will fall behind. Teresa Campbell is a Director in PKF-FPM.

Aug 21, 2020

The last six months have been challenging for all organisations, especially those in the financial services sector. Billy O'Connell suggests four strategic actions that can help bolster those in the industry. COVID-19 has reaffirmed the need for the financial services (FS) sector to show customers what it can do for them in the most challenging of times. Many organisations have done great work in recent months, under extremely difficult circumstances, to ensure employees remain protected from infection, and customers can access much-needed services.  Before COVID-19, there was no shortage of pressure points on financial institutions, but this is a sector that has proved remarkably adept at rebounding. With the 2008 crisis in the rear-view mirror, the financial services industry was returning to near normal, just as the pandemic struck and created the 'never normal' that we find ourselves in now. I recommend the following four strategic actions that should be considered by those in the industry, not only for the short-term but for long-term success too. 1. Doubling down on digital for more accessible customer engagement   The lockdown and social distancing measures have pushed customers to use online and mobile services to manage their financial products more than ever before. This will likely drive a permanent shift in behaviour toward digital channels. Even those customers who are traditionally reluctant adaptors have had to shift to digital, leading to further focus on online propositions, at pace. Enhancement of digital channels has been a major theme in the financial services industry over the last number of years. The COVID-19 experience will only accelerate the migration to digital services over the next 12 months, requiring FS companies to become more accessible than ever, providing new products and services on digital channels, enabling flexible and live customer interactions, while also ramping-up cybersecurity and anti-fraud tools to ensure protection.  2. Working remotely, on a sustained basis   The transition to remote working was an enormous challenge over the last few months for all sectors – FS was no different. The sector needed to rapidly enable remote working processes and security measures to support staff and serve customers, while also continuing to deliver critical business and technology projects. Those who had invested in online collaboration tools and infrastructure, like Skype or Microsoft Teams were able to keep the pace on operations, business change and regulatory programmes. There will be no going back to the exact working environment seen before the pandemic and remote working practices are likely to increase, particularly for specific functions. This will require companies to look at their decision-making structures and build more fluid, multi-disciplinary teams with their partners, while giving greater autonomy to employees, built around trust and inclusivity, so they have the space to ideate and innovate rapidly.  3. Infrastructure to support agility   For both physical and IT infrastructure, agility has played an important role across the FS sector in recent months. Like a lot of businesses, financial institutions will be revisiting previous assumptions about office space and may see an opportunity to consider reducing physical infrastructure and building stock because home working has flourished. However, there will still be a need to enable face-to-face interaction and collaboration in the long-term, albeit in a physically different way. From an IT infrastructure perspective, as a sector that is in the early stages of its cloud journey, COVID-19 has shone a light on the benefits of Cloud technology.  Resilience, security and stability of critical business processes and underlying systems, speedy enablement of workforces working remotely and managing a significant increase in customer activity on digital channels – these have all been centre-stage themes over the last few months and are areas where Cloud technology can enable differentiation.   4. Analysing data for better decision making   FS companies recognise the value of the data in their systems. Trends in recent years have seen the industry using customers data to provide insights to customers on their spend, saving behaviours and needs, and to create more personalised experiences and more targeted propositions. During COVID-19, data analysis has been more important than ever – it can enable the banks to steer through the crisis, analysing at an early stage where a customer could be in, or is likely to be heading towards, financial difficulty and requires support. It’s not hard to imagine how other technologies, such as machine learning, cloud and cybersecurity will enable a new level of data analysis and will be central to plans going forward.  There are always challenges with business change and transformation, but the COVID-19 experience has demonstrated that more can be accomplished, at a quicker pace than might previously have been imagined. Being positioned to meet and accelerate through the challenges of recent months has been important for the FS sector because customers have seldom needed it more. Continued focus on change and agility is critical. Now more than ever, stakeholders are more accepting of the need for change, and investments in digital technologies will help create lasting resilience and increase service efficiency.  Although the FS industry is in the midst of a very challenging period, we are seeing real agility at play, and there is an opportunity to build on this momentum to accelerate strategic change more broadly within the sector. Billy O’Connell is Head of Financial Services in Accenture.

Aug 20, 2020

Are you finding it hard to switch off from work? Moira Dunne suggests fencing off pockets of time to "commute" to and from work. One of the perks of working from home is having no commute to deal with every day. We gain extra time each morning and evening and there is no traffic stress to contend with. But a daily commute does have a benefit – it helps us separate our work lives from our personal lives. A big challenge of working from home is the blurring of the lines. As we are working in the same spaces where we live, the transition from one to the other can be too sudden. Minutes after breakfast you may need to solve a challenging work problem or run a difficult online meeting. There is no time to adjust your mind; no time to get into “work mode”. The daily commute allowed time for this transition. So, here are three things you can do to gain the benefit of commuting without the associated stress. 1. Daily routine The first thing is to make sure that you have a daily routine. Start work at approximately the same time every day, whatever time that is. This especially helps on a day when motivation is low – a day when you may procrastinate and start later. The routine helps you “work yourself” into a productive mood. It also sets the boundaries for other family members in your house. 2. Commute to work Before you start work, do something to help you transition into work mode. This will be your ‘commute’ to work. It could be a quick walk around the block, an exercise routine or 10 minutes reading a business article. Find what suits you. This provides the time to park any personal thoughts and consider the work for the day. 3. Commute from work It is equally important to ‘commute home’ from work in the evening. An evening transition helps you tune out of work and be more present with family or friends. Again, identify an activity that helps you clear work thoughts from your mind. This could be planning the next day, committing to a family activity or some exercise or personal downtime. Even simply putting away your work devices can help you switch off. If you can see your technology after hours, you may be tempted to work on emails. Remember, getting some work done in the evening may be productive at the time but it can impact your ability to get things done the next day. Commute to separate work from home Being productive while working from home feels good. It also helps to reduce stress. Use these commuting tips to take control of your time so you will have more productive days. Moira Dunne is founder of beproductive.ie.

Aug 20, 2020

As the pandemic continues to rage throughout the world, how are SMEs coping with maintaining their liquidity and cashflow? David Lucas explores finance options that are available to help Irish businesses thrive and persevere. The COVID-19 pandemic has uniquely impacted SMEs throughout the country. Cashflow is scant, debt is racking up, and many businesses have yet to resume trading in any meaningful capacity. Those that have recommenced have found a desolate and unfamiliar trading environment. Shops and high streets are empty, many stores remain shuttered, and dented consumer confidence looks unlikely to rebound fully until a vaccine is developed. Supports available to SMEsWithout access to the significant cash reserves available to larger enterprises, liquidity and cashflow are key concerns for many SMEs during this time. Fortunately, there are a number of supports available, and businesses should be doing all they can to avail of the Credit Guarantee Scheme, COVID-19 Working Capital Loan Scheme, Future Growth Loan Scheme, Fund, Trading Online Voucher, Local Enterprise Offices Grants and Microfinance Ireland Loans wherever possible.  Furthermore, the COVID-19 warehousing provisions, in particular, have been a very well-received benefit during this difficult period, allowing businesses to effectively warehouse their VAT or PAYE payments into an interest-free loan for 12 months and a 3% loan for the subsequent 12 months. Quick cashThese measures can provide critical relief and cash supports to businesses, but there are additional measures SMEs can take to meet liquidity needs as repayment moratoriums expire towards the end of the year. For example, businesses can optimise by selling slow-moving stock to generate cash. Debtor management sounds obvious, but assets can become tied up, and the longer debt remains unpaid the less likely it is to collect. People talk about loan-to-value and property, but at the end of the day, it is cash that repays debt.Managing debtIn this volatile business landscape, SMEs may need to renegotiate covenants, or even a complete a full restructuring of their debt. At times like these, open communication with lenders is crucial. Businesses need to be extremely well-prepared as approaching the banks can be painstaking and time-consuming, but they understand the position businesses are in – everyone wants to be able to pay down the debt and keep the business in operation. Further funding optionsFor businesses seeking to access further funding, it is crucial to know the different options that are available on the market. Alternative lenders can be less onerous in terms of covenants. They tend to lend a little bit more than the traditional banks, but they charge greater interest, often up to 6 or 7%.Invoice discounting (also known as invoice finance) has become a very popular way of lending from a working capital perspective. This is a process whereby banks or alternative lenders will lend money based on the business’ debtor book. This gives the lender increased security as there is direct access to the debtor book and no reliance on revenue or cashflow.Private equity is another potential option for SMEs in need of a capital injection. This route has become increasingly popular in recent years as these investors provide experience and growth potential as well as capital.  Many SMEs are apprehensive about selling a piece of their business, but it’s always better to own 80% of a thriving venture than 100% of a failing one.Above is a snapshot of a wide range of options for SMEs looking for ways to finance their business through this uncertain period. Not all options are suitable for every business, but a proactive approach in identifying the best available options will give SMEs with cashflow difficulties the best chance of survival.David Lucas is a Corporate Finance Partner at PKF O’Connor Leddy Holmes.

Aug 14, 2020

COVID-19, along with a possible hard Brexit, means a lot of uncertainty for SMEs now and going forward. Mark Degnan urges companies to act early to maximise their options to ensure their future survival.The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to what appears to be an ever-increasing likelihood of a hard Brexit on the horizon, has created a lot of uncertainty in our economy, and while government supports have been greatly welcomed, they cannot continue indefinitely. We are seeing significant signs of market stress across multiple sectors, with retail, hospitality and leisure being the most affected areas at this time. While, unfortunately, there will be a natural increase in business failure and insolvencies in Ireland over the next 12–24 months, there are a number of alternative options and supports available to businesses when considering their future survival.Act early to maximise optionsIn order to ensure a business has the best chance of surviving such volatile times, it is key for management to act early and assess all available options and supports to them.Right now one of the biggest challenges facing businesses is the lack of liquidity and working capital available, in addition to significant reopening and operational costs and the ongoing how or when a business will reopen or ever return to profitability.While government packages have provided much-needed support in the areas of employee costs, statutory property costs, warehousing of tax liabilities and a moratorium on certain bank repayments, what might lie ahead for businesses after such supports extinguish remains uncertain.Formal restructuring processes explainedIreland has a very robust set of restructuring tools, such as Part 9 Schemes of Arrangement and Examinership, both providing a flexible and often successful outcome for many Irish businesses through our courts system. Changes to Company law (as of August 2020), will now allow companies a longer period of time in Examinership (from 100 to 150 days) to present a viable scheme of arrangement for their survival. While the changes are only temporary in nature, this is a welcome move to provide companies with an extended moratorium from its creditors, while seeking a restructure and refinance of the underlying business.Options available to businessesWhen working with clients in analysing the availability of formal restructuring processes, we strongly recommend that prior to a company seeking a formal restructure of its business through the courts, other options such as debt restructuring, sale of non-core assets/subsidiaries, equity raise and contingency planning be considered to allow the business owner to take the most appropriate steps for its survival. While many businesses will access some form of restructuring process, unfortunately, there will be businesses that will not have a reasonable prospect of survival, and in such circumstances, company directors must be aware of their duties if a company is deemed to have traded while insolvent.By actively engaging with specialised restructuring experts, supplemented by wider financial advisory teams, management and business owners will put themselves on the best footing to ensure their future survival.Mark Degnan is a Director in Deloitte’s Financial Advisory team.

Aug 14, 2020

Investing can be a risky business. What, then, is the best way to mitigate that risk? Oliver O’Connor provides eight helpful tips on how to give your investments the best chance of success.Investing depends a lot each individual – what risk level you are comfortable with, financial goals and your circumstances. However, if you are thinking about starting to invest, here are some eight tips to help you along.ObjectivesBefore making an investment decision, it is vital to identify what you are trying to achieve. Having objectives will give you the confidence and discipline to manage your emotions at times of uncertainty.Time horizonTime horizon (i.e. the time you expect to hold an investment) can have a significant influence on your investment decisions, as it helps to identify your ability to absorb short-term risk for the benefit of long-term returns. Generally, a shorter-term investment should be taking a below-average risk, with longer-term investments taking an above-average risk, relative to each investor.Risk toleranceWe all have different emotions and biases which influence our behaviour with money. Acknowledging how you react to investing in positive and negative environments helps to identify the types of investments which are right for you. Combining your objectives with time horizon and risk tolerance should set the base for any investment decision you make now and in the future. DiversifyDiversification of, and within, asset classes can help reduce risk and smooth investment returns. Diversification across the various asset classes is key to identifying the right level of risk for you and your investment. It’s key to note that diversification within each asset class reduces risk which is specific to an industry or region.Avoid market timingIt is impossible to tell which asset class or sector will outperform in the years ahead. Global diversification within the right mix of asset classes will allow you to benefit from investment returns whenever and wherever they occur.Manage your emotionsIt can be difficult to separate your emotions from investing. Acting on these emotions can lead to irrational decisions which damage your investment’s performance over the long term. Filter through the noiseThe constant stream of information through online platforms and 24-hour news can be overwhelming and compel investors to be reactive with their investments. It is important to remember these sources are speaking to a general audience. They are not aware of your current objectives and long-term goals, so do not let them influence either.Focus on what you can controlAs humans, we are drawn to chase returns and the next big winner. However, we have no control over the returns on offer in the future.What we can do is ensure we give our investments the best chance of success by focusing on what we can control – time, risk and behaviour. This usually requires the help of a professional, to ensure human behaviour does not adversely impact your long-term returns and objectives.Oliver O’Connor is Partner in Private Client and Wealth Management in Grant Thornton.

Aug 14, 2020
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