We all know that stress is bad for us. Given the current global situation, it is essential that we reduce our stress and improve our wellbeing. Tim France tells us how. The current crisis is stressful. We’re worried about ourselves and the people we love getting sick. We’re worried about the economic impact. We’re worried about practical issues, like how to work from home effectively or whether we will have enough milk, bread… or toilet roll. The trouble is, stress is bad for us. Amongst other things, sustained stress compromises our immune systems. So, it’s not just preferable to be able to reduce stress, it’s essential if we are going to fight off a virus. Here are some simple things we can do to reduce stress and improve wellbeing: Limit negative intake Watching endless news about the virus with emotive graphics, graphs and images feeds our fear. It’s important to limit our exposure to all this negativity to maybe just once or twice a day (just not the first thing or last thing!), and to balance negative stories with positive ones. Follow @goodnews_movement on Instagram for some inspirational stories. Get organised Organising your time and work space, planning ahead and scheduling calls and workload removes stress and makes the working day more manageable and enjoyable. Taking time to plan at the beginning of the day or week is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce stress down the line.  Create new routines Whether working from home or working with social distancing, we all have to find new ways to live and work. We find routine reassuring and uncertainty stressful. It’s important to create new routines quickly. Look for the positives Human beings always manage to find gold in the dirt. Whether war time or natural disaster, history is full of examples of people creating good things from bad situations. So, whether it’s forging stronger bonds with colleagues, spending more time with family, or becoming a video conferencing ninja, focus on and celebrate the positives that are emerging from this crisis. Stay away from conflict In stressful times, it’s easy for conflicts to arise. If you feel your buttons being pushed, take time to think and cool down before responding. Deal with the facts, not emotions, and work to see the other perspective. Stress breeds conflict and conflict creates more stress. It pays to break that cycle. Take time for yourself “You can’t fill a cup from an empty jug” the saying goes. Much is going to be asked of us all, both personally and professionally over the coming weeks and months, but we can’t keep giving without taking time to refill. Listen carefully to your own needs: do you need to rest? Eat? Exercise? Sleep? Drink water? Simply stare out of the window? Whatever it is, give yourself permission to do it. Make sure you meet your own needs so that you can continue to meet the needs of others. There may be some very challenging times ahead, but by following these simple suggestions, we can reduce stress and boost our immune systems. Tim France is the CEO of Transformative Mind & Body Wellbeing Centre.

Mar 20, 2020

Working from home has become necessary for many people due to COVID-19. But how can you manage when it comes to working remotely? Eric Fitzpatrick gives us nine tips on how to successfully work remotely without going stir-crazy or losing productivity. The Coronavirus is forcing organisations and workforces to reconsider their current work practices. Non-essential travel has been cancelled, events are being postponed or moved to online platforms and companies and organisations have their staff work remotely from home.   At first glance, working from home can be appealing, but there is a downside to it as well. As someone who has worked from home for more than ten years, the following are worth noting when it comes to remote working.  1. Discipline  The key to working at home is discipline. Be clear about what time you will start and finish. Agree these times with your organisation. You might have more flexibility with your hours than you would in your office but it’s important to be clear about your hours. Build in the times and duration of your breaks. Know that you’ll take a break at 11am for 15 minutes. If you’re not disciplined, 15 minutes could easily become 30 minutes or longer.  2. Get dressed If how you dress is too casual, how you work might be, too. Wear work clothes. Working from home might mean dressing as you would for casual Friday in the office, but dressing for work gets you in the frame of mind for work.  3. Designate a workspace  If you have a home office where you can close the door behind you at the end of the day, great. If not, work from a space where you must be clear at the end of the work day, such as the family dining table. By removing access to the workspace, you remove the temptation to go back to work for a couple of hours in the evening.  4. Work in a room that is bright and airy Working in a dark office with no natural light can reduce productivity and enjoyment.  Create a tidy workspace and an environment that is conducive to effective working. Have a place for everything and place only that which you will need in that workspace. 5. Ditch your mobile Be without your mobile for as much as possible, if not needed for work. Leave it in another room if you’re working on a project from which you don’t want to be interrupted. You can lose up to an hour a day picking up your phone to check social media platforms. Remove the temptation.    6. Skip the chores During your working day, don’t put on a wash, do the weekly shopping, vacuum, change the bed covers, paint the kitchen or replace that lock. You’re being paid to work, not to get ahead of the housework.   7. Keep healthy  If you walk or cycle to work, working from home takes away the opportunity to get that exercise. Can you make time elsewhere to get in some activity? Your kitchen will probably be closer to your workspace that the office canteen is to your office desk. It can be very tempting to take 10 seconds to walk to the kitchen to grab a snack. Working from home, you might find yourself doing less exercise and eating more – a bad combination. Try to manage your activity levels and snack time. 8. Don’t go stir-crazy  Working from home can take a bit of getting used to. You go from working in a busy, noisy office to working in quiet isolation. At first, it seems great, then slowly the walls start to close in. The silence becomes too loud and you find you need people to interact with. Don’t go more than two days without speaking to colleagues or clients. Design your calendar to ensure you have regular contact with the outside world.  9. Turn on the radio Music can be a positive contribution to an effective workspace at home. Played in the background, it can replace the noise of the office and remove some of the quiet isolation.  Working from home can increase productivity, improve your quality of life and may become necessary for many people over the coming weeks or months. Knowing how to manage it can make it as successful as possible.   Eric Fitzpatrick is owner of ARK Speaking and Training.  

Mar 20, 2020

Working remotely can be a struggle, but the best way to manage it is to figure out what works best for you to be productive. Neil Kelders explains.  You are not alone. We are all facing the same struggles. We need to manage these struggles by taking action. Find what the best ingredients are for you to be productive during an uncertain and stressful time.  Communicate  Ask yourself: what is going to stress me out while working at home? Write out your list and get your partner and kids to do the same and discuss. Address the issues and conflicts that come up and plan to overcome those obstacles.  Calm the storm When you wake up, spend a few minutes sitting with yourself. I meditate but if this isn’t for you, just sit and let your thoughts come, recognise them and let them go, focus on your breathing and the calm around you. Schedule your day around your energy levels  To ensure you don’t stress, you need to work with your body. Some of us are ‘early birds’ so our energy peaks in the morning. Others are ‘night owls’ who achieve more and focus better in the evening. Which are you?  If you’re an early bird, the morning is best for analytical work (figuring problems and planning). As an early bird, energy levels are lower in the late afternoon and evening so use that time for creativity and coming up with new ideas. Night owls work the opposite. Meetings and calls are best scheduled for when you know you’ll have low energy because connecting with people raises energy levels. Use distractions to your advantage Our brain craves novelty. When something unexpected happens (like our phones buzzing, for example) it immediately captures our attention, right? Try to build productivity-enhancing distractions into your day, such as making your: 1. To-do list more visible. Put your to-do list on a brightly coloured pad, so that your eyes are regularly drawn to it throughout the day. When you look away from your monitor, you’ll see the pad and your eyes are immediately drawn to your next goal. 2. Alarm as your assistant. Do you lose yourself in something you love doing and need to be reminded to stop and start doing another task? Your alarm is now your reminder to stay on track. Set end times for your activities. I set my timer for 45-minute sessions. I then take a break, reset the timer and go again for 45 minutes. Try it with your kids, build their structure into yours and take breaks together. Sleep better Better sleep does not start at bedtime. It starts with the choices you make during the day.  Improve sleep by:  replacing your afternoon coffee with a post-lunch walk with family (if not isolating); or using your garden to exercise after work. From a sleep perspective, the ideal time for exercising is five to six hours before bed.  Over the coming days (weeks? months?) you will head a lot of advice, but you need to explore what works for you. We all differ, so don’t become frustrated when advice is not working. Remember to adjust to what will work for you. Consistency is key. This is our reality for now, so do things today that make more time tomorrow. Neil Kelders is a coach and advocate for mental wellness and physical fitness. To receive a free eBook on working from home, email Neil.  

Mar 20, 2020

Businesses will face unexpected and unprecedented challenges in the months ahead. Conor Devine explains what some can do to stay afloat. You would be forgiven, after watching or listening to the news over the last couple of weeks, for thinking that we are fast approaching the end of the world. Yes, I am referring to the outbreak of COVID-19, which, and as a direct result of the rapid spread of the disease, has led to the lockdown of 26 countries (and rising), and some 190 million people under quarantine. There is no doubt that this virus and its impact across the board is unprecedented. It has, however, illuminated the fact that we are living in a connected world that operates in real-time. For example, doctors and nurses on the front line in places like China, Italy and the US are live-tweeting updates from intensive care units. News updates state the actual numbers of those infected. At the same time, messages from friends and communities alert us to lockdowns of schools and public spaces, creating volatile reactions in markets around the world. It’s an incredible turn of events and one that few saw coming. Here are some of the economic tremors that rocked the world in the last week: US stock markets had their worst day in 30 years, falling 10%. In Europe, equity lost 10% of its value. In London, the FTSE 100 fell 11%. All of this has increased concern regarding a global recession and a severe credit crunch. However, there are a few things business owners can do in the weeks ahead to ensure that they are prepared for an immediate downturn in turnover, which now looks unavoidable. So, what can business owners do today? And what should they look at and consider if, as some maintain, turnover could drop by more than 50% for some businesses immediately? Here are some measures business owners could consider in light of recent events: Business owners and managers to take a pay cut for the next six months. All remaining staff to take a pay cut for the next six months. Cut staffing levels to reduce costs immediately. Engage with landlords and propose a reduction in rent over the next three months, to be reviewed quarterly. Put business investment on hold and review quarterly. Engage with local authorities and propose that you hold back your business rates. Engage with business groups and government representatives to insist on a VAT holiday for the next six months. On a personal level, I firmly believe that it is more important to start by looking after ourselves and those closest to us. We can fix our financial challenges with the right level of expertise and advice in due course. COVID-19 will pass, and things will return to some form of normality in the next six to 12 months. But it’s what you do today, and in the weeks ahead, that will have a real impact on you and your business’s ability to navigate the tough terrain that faces us all. Conor Devine MRICS is founding partner of Clearpath Finance.

Mar 13, 2020

The Irish economy is facing difficult tests, but the key challenge may not come from the shocks we have to endure but from the urgent need to forge policies that deliver greater domestic stability, says Austin Hughes. Recently, a possible ‘crash out’ Brexit presented a clear and present danger to the Irish economy. Now, the focus is almost entirely and understandably on COVID-19, a months-old name for a major risk that wasn’t on most people’s radar a mere two months ago. Once we get through this crisis, we will return to more 'normal' worries like trade wars and mooted changes to global tax regimes that threaten further near-term economic storms. It’s important to remember, though, that a threatening external backdrop didn’t derail the Irish economy in 2019. Instead, GDP growth of 5.5% and an extra 65,000 at work might suggest boom conditions.  Left behind Sustained and substantial improvements in key measures of economic performance haven’t fuelled any sense of ‘feel good’ among Irish consumers. Instead, the trend in consumer sentiment has weakened over the past couple of years. A recent KBC Bank study suggested widely-felt concerns are weighing on subjective measures of wellbeing. In part, a problematic contrast between ‘macro’ strength and ‘micro’ strains simply reflects the fact that there are more people working and living in Ireland. Total household disposable income is now about 15% above the previous early-2008 peak but, adjusted for an increased number of households, it transpires that the average household has 2% less disposable income than in 2008. A growing population and workforce are also putting massive strains on Ireland’s infrastructure, to a degree unparalleled elsewhere in Europe. Whereas it had been suggested that Ireland would be knocking down rather than building homes for decades, ‘rightsizing’ construction for a strong recovery has proven beyond markets, policymakers or planners. The consequences, whether measured in terms of affordability, long commutes, homelessness or other forms of exclusion, may not show up in conventional measures such as GDP but they do figure forcefully in various barometers of the public mood. More generally, though, an Irish recovery is seeing substantial differences in the scale and spread of improvement between sectors, places and individuals. In turn, this has prompted widespread feelings of being left behind.     Building a stable framework The Irish economy faces major challenges from an increasingly unpredictable global economy, but as is the case with the current health crisis, the key test lies in how we respond. We need a greater test to build a new domestic framework that is seen to fairly share gains and pains along a likely bumpy economic road while delivering the key policy outcomes that a healthy society needs. Fiscal policy will play the primary role in this regard and must change radically if it is to be fit for purpose. We must move from an unproductive preoccupation with decimal points in Government balances to a focus on delivering plausible policy outcomes in areas such as housing and healthcare. Equally, for fiscal policy to be sustainable, we must avoid the view that instant solutions require no more than political will and an open chequebook. In terms of economic progress, as well as current challenges, the old adage 'ní neart go cur le chéile' holds true. Building a coherent framework that enhances economic stability and social inclusion may be the major test facing Ireland’s policymakers and broader population in coming years. Austin Hughes is the Chief Economist for KBC Bank Ireland.

Mar 12, 2020

COVID-19 is a serious concern for everyone. How can businesses in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK cope with the inevitable disruption this virus will bring? Businesses in Northern Ireland have had to contend with many difficult situations over the years. Each time they have demonstrated their resilience and determination by overcoming these challenges and ‘getting on with it’. This resilience and determination will be a key factor in the local business community’s response to the threat of COVID-19. The virus has already had a serious impact on other countries, and it is inevitable that Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom will also be impacted materially.  COVID-19 is a serious concern for us all as individuals, for our families, and for the wider community. As well as guidance on the appropriate precautions we should all be taking, the UK Government has given assurances that resources are being applied to ensure that appropriate medical treatment will be available for those who succumb to the virus. This is a welcome and necessary statement and should provide a degree of comfort. While businesses are proactively engaging in the recommended practices to minimise its spread, it is likely that there will be some form of business disruption in the coming weeks. Most businesses already have contingency plans for such scenarios and through the implementation of these, the impact on business continuity can be reduced. Planning, anticipation and level-headed leadership is critical to the success of this process and it is essential that businesses are proactive and ensure they have practical and deliverable contingency plans in place. If, as in other countries, more extensive restrictions are imposed, the impact on businesses will inevitably worsen. Any protracted periods of restricted movement will ultimately lead to a dramatic impact on output and productivity. The priority is to address the medical issue and to ensure that the spread of the virus is curtailed as quickly as possible, but the knock-on impact on businesses cannot be ignored. The Government has acknowledged the concerns of the business community and has introduced special provisions in last week’s Budget, which will go some way to meet the inevitable cash-flow pressures that will arise.  Unfortunately, all business sectors have the potential to be impacted by the current situation. Staff absences, cash flow and supply chain disruption are all factors that will need to be considered. Northern Ireland has a strong and growing tourism, leisure and hospitality sector. The rates relief announced in the Budget will help this sector, so long as the NI Executive introduces these measures locally, as currently they only extend to England. This sector looks certain to be hit further as we move to the delay phase. These measures could be critical in helping vulnerable businesses to survive. Businesses will need to engage with all stakeholders, including banks and financial institutions, and will need to move to protect their supply chains. Stakeholders within the business community will have to work together to overcome this challenge. Leaders need to adopt a people first approach as businesses cannot survive or re-emerge without their workforce. In the meantime, we all have an obligation and duty to adhere to the Government’s recommendations and, by doing so, hopefully bring a speedy conclusion to the outbreak. Brian Murphy is Managing Partner at BDO Northern Ireland.

Mar 12, 2020

To achieve high performance in business, teams need to learn how to work together. Maeve Hunt outlines how to ensure challenges stop standing in the way of good collaboration. After a period of a lot of uncertainty, the Northern Ireland government is back up and running in Stormont and we have seen the need for parties with very different views and strategies to work together in order to achieve results. In every walk of life, the need for good collaborative skills is required in order to achieve high performance. It is true in sport, the arts and it is especially true in business. It is well known that people and businesses thrive and grow when they are free to communicate and work together, but this does bring its own challenges. Effective teamwork is hard to get right. In most organisations, it is difficult to pinpoint a team that is a shining example of excellent teamwork. The lack of a goal to work towards, role uncertainty, personality conflicts and having optimal working conditions can all lead to ineffective teams. How do we ensure these challenges stop standing in the way of good collaboration? Communication Increased flexibility with remote working is a fantastic benefit for employees, but research shows it can lead to lack of communication within teams. In my experience, regular video calls instead of phone calls work well in remote working environments and richly benefit overall team communication. Collaborative goal setting Team leaders should ensure that strategies and end goals are constantly reviewed and communicated, and make goal-setting a two-way process to achieve buy-in from all parties. Define roles The larger the team, the more potential there is for confusion of roles and responsibilities. Time spent defining and communicating roles, especially at the start of a project, can help mitigate this issue. Celebrate the differences Collaboration of different personalities and skillsets can help foster a sense of teamwork in an organisation but it can also lead to conflict if not properly managed. Self-awareness is important for all team members, and the leader’s role is to ensure that team members respect each other and are prepared to collaborate to succeed. Promote and celebrate team members with differing views and strengths by sharing their ideas. This leads to a more insightful, creative and effective team. Work environments are complex. If you focus on the connections between team members, building trust, communicating purpose, and encouraging collaboration, the team can achieve high performance. After all, teamwork makes the dream work. Maeve Hunt is an Associate Director of Audit and Assurance in Grant Thornton Northern Ireland.

Mar 08, 2020

Some people just don’t work well with others. Orla Brosnan explains how you can still deliver a successful project on time while working with a difficult colleague. One of the most important hiring criteria is the ability to work as a team player. A department or team that works well together has the most success, yet so many of us have colleagues who don’t work well with others. Here are some tips on how you can work together with a difficult colleague. Set an expectation of collaboration Management must assess the staff’s contribution to teamwork as part of the annual performance review process. If that is not set out from the very beginning and consistently followed through, it will not be seen as a priority. Spend some time away from the office A difficult employee who refuses to be a team player can derail a project. This can be an expensive mistake, and it has the potential to harm the company's reputation and cost the business clients. It may be that they don't have the aptitude or don't have the training necessary to do a great job. When colleagues don't get along or don't work well together, it simply might be that they don't really know each other well.  The best way to get to know a colleague that you have difficulty working with is to spend some time with them away from the office. Offer to take them out to lunch or meet for a drink after work to develop a rapport; this will make working together more pleasant and productive. Outline responsibilities A manager should always be really clear about what the person should be doing, the quality of the work that should be delivered and the time in which that should happen. Issue clear, step-by-step directives to your difficult employee. Put these directives in writing and go through them with the team member. If there are personality conflicts within the group, address the difficult employee and their colleagues to sort out the differences swiftly. Assign independent tasks Sometimes, independent tasks are better for difficult employees than group projects if deadlines aren't being met or if the difficult person is not completing tasks that are necessary for others in the group to move the project forward. Document every interaction with the difficult employee to create a record of how the issue is being handled. When you enjoy working with your colleagues and look forward to interacting with them, everyone benefits. Morale is high, which leads to better productivity and results, and a much more pleasant work environment for everyone. Orla Brosnan is the Founder of The Etiquette School of Ireland and Professional Training Centre.

Mar 08, 2020

Eric Fitzpatrick outlines the steps a leader can take to encourage their teams to work together effectively for the good of the team rather than the good of themselves. Leadership is about building up the people around you, trusting them to do their jobs and supporting their efforts to achieve the desired outcomes. One of the challenges a leader faces is getting their team working effectively together. The following is worth considering to get your team firing on all cylinders. Communicate with clarity Teams want clear instructions and guidance. They want to know what’s expected of them. Be open and upfront. Keep your team updated as much as is possible. Leave no room for ambiguity or misunderstanding. Have a common purpose Successful teams work together to achieve common goals. Include them in the process of agreeing to those goals. Making them part of the decision-making will increase their sense of responsibility and ownership of the goals and make them more inclined to work together to achieve them. Build trust and respect Be consistent in your decision-making. Deliver what you say you’ll deliver. Create an environment where mistakes, creativity and risk-taking are encouraged and not penalised. Make the decisions that must be made even when they are not popular. Provide the right support What does your team need to be able to do their job? Is it training, equipment, coaching, time? Aim to give it to them. Create the right culture What are the ideal values and attributes of your team? Does everyone know what they are? Have the team had input into creating and agreeing them? Give your team responsibility and value Challenge your team to grow and recognise when they perform well and deliver desired outcomes. Celebrate small wins. Listen Great leaders know when to listen. Your team will appreciate knowing that you value their opinion and insights. Recognise the individuals within your team It’s important to recognise that your team is made up of individuals with differing personalities. One of the challenges a leader faces is in marrying the desired outcomes of the team with the needs of the individuals within it. Recognise what each individual brings to the team and play to their strengths. Make sure your team is actually a team Sometimes a leader finds themselves in charge of a collection of individuals and not an actual team. Know if everyone on your team is working together. Do they keep the team goals at the forefront of their thinking or are they focused on personal results? Know when to cut a member of the team Know when a team member is not performing and not prepared to consider the negative impact this has on the rest of the team. Adding a fresh face to your team can generate new ideas and spark new thinking. Finally, constantly test how to keep your team engaged. Provoke new thinking within your team, create an environment that encourages creativity and challenge them to achieve the outcomes they have committed to as a team.    Eric Fitzpatrick is owner of ARK Speaking and Training

Mar 08, 2020

There are many ways companies can ensure women achieve success and advancement. Louise Molloy suggests a more in-depth approach that educates managers and benefits women. Over my career, I’ve coached many talented, committed and ambitious women. In doing so, I’ve developed a theory that I passionately believe in how we can empower women to achieve more. While I don’t have all the answers, I’m making the case for a change in how we support women in companies – not just providing more training or giving maternity leave but listening to their needs and intentionally creating opportunities for them. Here’s my recipe for the support reboot. Overhaul induction day From day one, I challenge companies to raise awareness with young female colleagues that their career journey may be different to their male colleagues. Reflection on breaks in service and the impact on promotion, role continuity, profiling, and branding should be considered. This issue is not exclusively female – it can be open to all. It’s the awareness of the issue and the consideration of how to plan for this that’s important Strategic competency development Make it clear to female colleagues what competencies must be developed to achieve a management role and show how they can seize opportunities to develop them. Challenge all managers of young female staff We must challenge managers to really advocate for, sponsor and mentor female colleagues to build confidence and profile. Ensure these managers get unconscious bias training to bring awareness of the impact of their attitudes and behaviours on their female reports. Project allocation  Companies need to hold themselves to account on how projects are allocated and, assuming equal abilities, ensure an even distribution across men and women. Income-generating projects are the fastest and highest-profile way to position for promotion – tracking the numbers and holding people to account ensures these opportunities are presented to everyone. More frequent role rotation  By rotating young women into different roles, it not only allows them to build their profile within the company but it raises awareness about different leadership styles and ways of working, exposing them to paths that could lead to advancement. Feedback is important Provide training for senior colleagues on how to give honest, constructive, timely feedback to younger female staff. Only with honest feedback on their performance can women really progress. Pre- and post-maternity support There’s great progress being made in terms of maternity support, but there is more to do to support women at this vulnerable and physically challenging time when identity and perspective can be in flight.  Sharing  I’ve witnessed stories of ‘having to work’ on maternity leave, working through miscarriages, IVF and struggling through menopause – and that’s just the women. Men have their own stories of struggle, too. I’m not advocating we let it all out, but I am advocating that we surface some of the wider challenges that people and, particularly, women face and their stories of how they get through it. Only by making it OK to have a circuitous career path, never writing someone off, working hard to include everyone, dealing in facts and dismissing assumptions and labels about people will we really empower women. Women are not victims; they don’t need to be rescued. What they do need is help to frame the landscape in which they operate and guidance on how best to navigate it from people who did it before them. Louise Molloy is Director of Luminosity Consulting & Coaching.

Feb 28, 2020

Caroline McGroary explains how Irish Chartered Accountants can work within the UN sustainable development goals framework to empower women around the world. Recent statistics estimate financial literacy rates of Saudi citizens to be just over 30%, compared with other high-income countries, like Ireland, which have rates in excess of 70%. Within this group, women are at particular risk of financial exclusion, with approximately only 40% of Saudi women holding bank accounts, compared to 93% in other high-income countries. To help address this problem, a number of high-profile campaigns have been launched by the Saudi government in the last year to increase the financial literacy of all citizens, with many framing their campaigns under the umbrella of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In my current role as Lecturer in Accounting at Dublin City University (DCU), I have had the privilege of working in our sister campus at Princess Nourah University, Saudi Arabia for seven years, contributing to the education of nearly 700 Saudi women. Utilising the UN SDGs Both Chartered Accountants Ireland and DCU actively encourage its members and staff to engage with the UN SDGs and, with this in mind, we sought to centre student learning around financial literacy. Using the framework of the UN SDGs, we integrated a financial literacy initiative into a final year module on our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The initiative had three parts. The first required students to engage in up to five financial literacy workshops, including financial planning, savings, investing, credit reports, money and identify theft. The second part required them to demonstrate how financial education (SDG 4 – quality education) of women in Saudi Arabia could contribute towards gender equality (SDG 5 – gender equality). In doing so, students were asked to consider innovative financial education solutions to help improve the financial literacy levels of four groups in Saudi society: children in schools; women in higher education; women in the workplace; and women in the home. The proposed solutions were showcased at a university-wide event attended by faculty, student peer groups and industry partners. The third part was a hackathon, hosted by Deloitte. At this one-day event, students had the opportunity to develop their financial education solutions further under the guidance of a team of Deloitte mentors. The initiative gained the support and active involvement of a number of high profile industry partners, including the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud, the Rockefeller Foundation, Deloitte, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, the Capital Market Authority, financial planning experts UConsulting and Chartered Accountants Worldwide. Not only have the industry partners endorsed this work, but many refer to it as an example of an ‘impact that matters’. The students have also stated that it has improved their financial literacy skills and knowledge of the UN SDGs – knowledge and skills they can now bring to their families and local communities. This initiative serves as a practical example of how Chartered Accountants can create high-impact initiatives that empower women not just within our own community, but throughout the world.  Caroline McGroary ACA is a lecturer in accounting at Dublin City University.

Feb 28, 2020

Empowering women and girls to achieve through technology will secure women’s place in the worlds of finance and STEM in the future, writes Christine Barrett. The research is clear: a diverse workforce leads to increased creativity, innovation and, ultimately, business success. Businesses that ignore the talent of half of the population do so at their peril.  Yet today, over 100 years on from the first ever International Women’s Day, women remain under-represented in STEM and finance-based careers, making up just 30% of Europe’s information and communication technologies (ICT) workforce and only 16.4% of directors in Irish-listed companies are female. More work needs to be done. There are countless examples of plans to improve diversity and promote equal opportunities, but in order to make a real difference there needs to be commitment. To create a truly diversified workforce, we must collectively commit every day to empower women to achieve and in order to do that, it must be an integral part of our business strategy.  At Microsoft, we are committed to cultivating an inclusive environment and empowering all our employees to achieve through technology, no matter their title or position. Diversity is deeply embedded in our culture. We foster diverse teams that are representative of our world today as diversity is the cornerstone of success. Creating equality through technology We have been working at every level of our organisation to increase gender diversity and we understand that in order to improve it, we must increase the profile of women in STEM. That is why in 2019 we hosted the inaugural Hopper Local Dublin to showcase leading women in technology who are helping to create innovations that will frame our digital future. These inspiring women are shattering lingering perceptions that limit women from building meaningful careers in technology. The same can and should be done in finance. To ensure the next generation excels, it’s critical that we empower our future leaders – today’s students – to achieve more using technology and we are committed to expanding digital skills to women and girls all over Ireland. Unfortunately, our research has shown that although girls become interested in technology at around 11 years of age, they lose interest just four years later. This is limiting their future career and life choices as technology is becoming a critical part of every industry. Microsoft is committed to creating a truly inclusive environment and championing gender equality at all levels of the technology sector. We understand that an equal world is an enabled world and diversity and inclusion is core to our ambition to empower everyone to achieve more through technology. Christine Barrett is the Director of Digital Sales Germany in Microsoft.

Feb 27, 2020

BY KEVIN EMPEY “Every company is a software company. You have to start thinking and operating like a digital company.” Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft. Satya Nadella’s quote talks directly to how we see business change today. The opportunity The possibilities and potential being presented by technology are increasing at an exponential rate. It’s not just about what the internet or increased mobile connectivity can do to improve a business’s commercial relationship with its customers. It’s also about what multiple, converging technologies – from drones and 3D printing to robotics and blockchain – can do to change the future of the business itself, and the workplace. Whether your objective is revenue growth, cost reduction, worker efficiency or industry disruption, innovation and digital change are impacting on every sector. And Ireland is boxing above its weight. Take Ireland-based success stories such as Ryanair’s international leadership in online and ticketless travel in the 1990s and more recent examples such as Stripe and Cartrawler competing on the global stage. Or global technology companies choosing Ireland as a location due to the availability of talent and a supportive business environment. For our size, we have an impressive story to tell and a technology ecosystem that can help other Irish companies stay ahead into the future. The problem However, a challenge we often see in traditional organisations that are adapting to the digital world is one of mindset – and the knock-on, limiting consequences this can lead to. For those who have grown up in a managerial context where IT was seen as a separate service function to the ‘business’ and a necessary but inconvenient cost, this can result in some mental baggage being brought into the very different digital world we have today. Employees and executives often treated large IT projects as episodic or ‘one-off’ changes where they needed to install the new system, get trained up and then get on with their jobs. These traditional "analog" ways of thinking about technology-based change may be valid from time-to-time, but they are working against the more open digital approach and mindset needed if we are to avail of the opportunities (and deal with the risks) that a more technology-enabled world will inevitably provide. The solution The organisations we see winning with a digital mindset tend to have the following habits: IT/technology is a core and integral part of the business and not perceived as a separate entity or service partner – a model that reinforces traditional thinking, attitudes and decision-making around technology, financial decision-making and change. Does your technology function report directly into the CEO? Does IT influence business strategy? Collaborative experimentation and innovation are woven into the business and operating model (maybe utilising a separate budget and governance model to encourage product/customer innovation). Do your business teams work with IT to jointly deliver technical innovation? Do you have a product function to streamline this process? There is a clarity of purpose in the business mission, and technology is seen as a vital enabler of that mission. Are technology and digital innovation embedded in the business strategy? Technology is an investment for the future of the business and the workplace, not just a cost to be managed with water-tight business cases required for every spend. Some failures may lead to longer-term successes so long as lessons are learned, and skills increased. How much of your technology budget supports existing business as opposed to new, innovative ways of working? Employees and leaders are fully engaged and invested with the digital journey; they get involved in projects that affect their jobs and futures and embrace more adaptive, agile ways of working. Leaders don’t need to have all the answers, just an openness to allow others to find them. Does your culture encourage full engagement in the digital journey? These early adopters are finding that rather than obsessing about the technology itself, which will inevitably change regardless, developing a digital culture and mindset – as suggested by Satya Nadella – is ultimately the bigger prize in creating the future of business and work. Kevin Empey is Managing Director at WorkMatters Consulting.

Feb 19, 2020

BY SIOBHAN RYAN With robotic process automation (RPA) set to be nearly universal within the next five years, accountants – and the accountancy profession – must be prepared for a change that will revolutionise the sector. Firms often push more administration onto their staff to stay competitive. And this is where new technologies, such as RPA, can help: by automating repetitive and rules-based tasks, employees can spend more time on value-add activities that differentiate accountants from other roles and create a pipeline of much more dynamic business leaders. Accountants are natural leaders in finance functions and tend to migrate towards leadership positions. With the right automation tools, they will be placed higher in the value chain in terms of their skills mix and ability to bring insights back to the business. The ultimate cost of not automating the drudgery is often attrition. At a minimum, the staff covering the day-to-day operations will be unable to get their head above water to analyse the data and contribute to meaningful, insight-driven decisions. After all, accountants do a great deal of work that isn’t accountancy; it’s picking data from different sources, pasting it into spreadsheets, creating sets of tables and gathering data from other sources. There’s a big future for automation in accounting – enabling improved accuracy and customer experience, as well as creating more billable hours. The next generation of technologies is exciting, but it can be daunting – particularly for smaller companies – to consider embracing artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) or RPA. Companies need an outcome-focused solution; one that is compatible with existing IT infrastructure and can deliver immediate return on investment. In an accountancy context, RPA can improve productivity, drive down costs and streamline compliance, thus ensuring that Irish operations are lean and add value. 59% of accounting and finance leaders believe that RPA will make their business more competitive over the next two years, highlighting the scope of the technology in the accountancy profession. The need for automation will be particularly prevalent in the coming years given the widening sector skill gap, according to a recent survey of accounting and finance professionals. 62% of respondents report a ‘significant’ skills gap within the industry, up from 51% in 2016. While skills like accuracy remain important for accountants, technology like RPA will enable accountants to outsource accuracy and effectively create time to become more consultative and add value for clients. After all, accountants’ time and skill shouldn’t be tied up in cutting and pasting and pivoting data in a spreadsheet; it should be spent on meaningful analysis and making better decisions. In this way, RPA will help open up a field of accountancy that doesn’t exist now. Siobhan Ryan is Sales Director, Ireland at UiPath.

Feb 19, 2020

BY CHRISTINA REIP The world is changing faster than ever. New technologies and services are popping up constantly and it can feel overwhelming trying to keep employees up to speed on everything. What skills should a company prioritise? What platforms should it adopt? What are an organisation’s moral responsibilities to educate employees, or to keep them employable and employed at all? Virtually all organisations and business functions – including finance and accounting – are asking the same questions. Continuous adaptation There is no way to know what the future will bring, but change is a given. Building a workforce that is inclined to adapt and develop new areas of expertise – not just once, but continuously – is critical. Rather than teach employees a specific technological skill, empower them to learn and adapt, to seek out opportunities to learn the things that are most relevant and interesting to them. Why develop a culture of learning? People want to learn. The PwC Upskilling Hopes and Fears Survey, which published in 2019, found that 77% of adults would learn new skills or completely retrain to improve their future employability. Employers can embrace this self-motivation and encourage their people to learn. Furthermore, with the rise of mass audience training through platforms like Coursera, Master Class and EdX, it is clear that people want to learn and will seek out opportunities to do so. Learning can be an antidote to stress. Though one potential argument against upskilling/reskilling employees could be the burden of the additional work involved in – or stress caused by – learning new things, Harvard Business Review published research results that suggest the opposite: that learning can relieve stress. It’s corporate social responsibility. The Chief Operating Officer at EdX suggests that companies have a moral obligation to educate and reskill employees. Whether or not one agrees on the extent to which a private institution is responsible for such efforts, the benefits of ensuring sustainability and continuity of an organisation’s workforce – such as the reduced cost of hiring or loss of knowledge – are significant. How to build a culture of learning Though a great deal of learning can be pursued by employees individually, wide-scale change requires intentional and strategic organisational support. From programmes on specific technologies to the provision of funding and leave to take classes, companies must create the infrastructure necessary to enable the culture. Though some of these channels may require significant investment, many solutions can be relatively low-cost or even free (such as sharing curated lists of books to read or podcasts to listen to). Harnessing curiosity According to the 2019 PwC Global Annual CEO Survey, leaders believe that their people can reinvent themselves if given a chance. Harnessing that curiosity can enable companies to keep up with or stay ahead of the competition, and even establish the technology curve of the future. Christina Reip is a Senior Manager at PwC Consulting.

Feb 19, 2020

Olivia Buckley outlines how small- and medium-sized business can avoid being taken in by fraudsters. SMEs today are faced with many fraud types from old fashioned cheque fraud to cyber-attacks such as ransomware. Organisations of all sizes are open to attack, but SMEs are often a prime target as their security systems may not be as robust as those of larger organisations. Fraud can significantly damage a business both financially through lost funds, lost revenue, the cost of any legal action and security upgrades, as well as non-financially resulting in a tarnished reputation, loss of trust and low employee morale. Therefore, it is critical to prevent fraud from happening in the first place. Two types of fraud which are particularly common amongst SMEs include invoice fraud and CEO/executive impersonation fraud and they have been known to catch out even the most prepared businesses. Invoice Fraud Using a spoofed email address, the fraudster emails you pretending to be a supplier. The email will mirror an email that you regularly receive from your supplier, including logos and signoffs. The email informs you that they have a new bank account and that all future payments should go to the new account. When you receive the next legitimate invoice from the real supplier you make a payment to the new bank account. Generally, it is only when the reminder to pay the invoice comes in that you realise what has happened. By then the fraudster has their money and it’s too late to recall the payment.  CEO/ Executive impersonation fraud CEO fraud is a scam in which fraudsters hack into the legitimate email of a CEO/senior executive and impersonate them sending an email to another employee in the business who deals with payments. They use malware to hack into the email and will monitor how the CEO/senior executive writes their emails, the tone and common phrases they use, and how they sign off an email. The fraudsters take an opportune moment when they know the CEO is out of the office, such as on annual leave, to send the mail telling the employee to pay money to a supplier and providing the account details to do so. In some instances, in might not be a payment request but a request for personal information such as P30s or customer information.  10 ways to keep your business safe Have a verification process in place before changing saved bank account details of your suppliers or service providers, e.g. verbally verify bank account change requests from suppliers. Ensure employees are fraud aware and understand the controls and procedures in place to prevent fraud. Provide cyber security training for staff which includes awareness around clicking links sent in emails and ensuring systems are password protected. Fraudsters may already have basic information about you or your business in their possession (e.g. name, address, account details). Do not assume the caller is genuine because they have these details. Be wary of payment requests that are unexpected, irregular or require changes to bank account details, whatever the amount involved. Always check your bank statements. If you notice any unusual transactions, report them to your bank. Don’t assume you can trust caller ID. Phone numbers can be spoofed so it looks like a company is calling even if it’s not the real company. Similarly, fraudsters can change an email address to make it look like it comes from somebody you email regularly. Look out for different contact numbers and/or a slight change in the email address. For example, .com instead of .ie top-level domain. Ensure security software is regularly updated and maintained using official and reliable brands. Back-up the system regularly. Always exercise caution when forming new relationships with potential customers. Undertake appropriate due diligence. If in any doubt, do not make a payment unless you have verbally confirmed the payment with your CEO/supplier. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Take your time to do the relevant checks. If you fall victim to a scam or have noticed unusual activity on your account, contact your bank immediately. The sooner the bank can investigate potential losses, hold funds in accounts and place recalls on transfers made in error, the better. Fraudsters withdraw funds as soon as it hits their accounts, so time really is of the essence.  You should also report the incident to law enforcement authorities. Olivia Buckley is the lead of the FRAUDSmart campaign at Banking & Payments Federation Ireland.

Feb 14, 2020

The best way to lead with clarity and confidence is to recognise your blind spots. Patrick Gallen explains how. Blind spots, by their very nature, are unknown to almost every leader. We don’t know what we don’t know, which makes reducing blind spots so difficult. How can leaders understand their blind spots, and take corrective action to mitigate against potential unintended consequences? The answer is feedback. By seeking feedback from a variety of people at all levels of your profession, leaders can increase awareness and understanding of their performance. In order to create an environment where people are confident to give their leader feedback, trust must also be prevalent. It can be difficult to ask for feedback and yet, we know that it is essential to give and to receive it. The temptation is to only ask for feedback when we know it is going to be positive, but the feedback we get when we know we have done a good job is unlikely to decrease a blind spot. The Johari window model, developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, is often used to explain how leaders can increase their awareness and decrease their blind spots. The model is useful because the four boxes (or windowpanes) show the difference between what is known/unknown to self and others. The only way to decrease blind spots is to ask others to share what they know about the impact of your actions, things you do that others appreciate or don’t, etc. Once feedback is shared, it increases the size of your ‘open arena’ – traits known to yourself and others –  and is no longer in your blind spot. Three quick steps to addressing your blind spots Address your blind spots by acknowledging that you have them. We all do, so let’s not pretend otherwise. Get into the habit of asking for feedback. After every meeting, speech, presentation, or project, ask someone who observed you in action – from a new intern to the CEO – to give you honest feedback. To make it easier for them, you could ask them to name one thing you did well, and one thing that could be even better next time. This gives them permission to give you a positive point and a development point and creates rapport and trust. When someone gives you feedback, do not justify or explain why you did or said things the way you did. Simply thank them for their time and effort. After you have done this for a short period of time, you may start to notice a pattern that could be a blind spot revealing itself. Lead with clarity As the old hymn Amazing Grace goes, “I once was lost, but now am found. T’was blind but now I see”. Clarity of vision is critical for leadership and will help you lead with confidence and grace. Patrick Gallen is Partner of People and Change Consulting in Grant Thornton NI.

Feb 13, 2020

With increasing sophistication in fraud schemes, how can we stay safe? Shane Flanagan shares three essential tips to protect ourselves and our organisations against cyber-crime. In the past 10 years, we have seen increasing levels of sophistication in fraud schemes and a significant rise in the number of cyber-criminal groups and organisations targeting both companies and individuals. Traditional fraud, focused on monetary assets, continues to exist but the exponential growth in the amount of data held by companies, facilitated and created by technology, is now a target for fraudsters. On the dark web, private health data typically sells for 10 times more than other personal data. As our lives and finances move ever more online, so too does fraud.  Trading one fraud for another The introduction of chip and pin on credit cards saw a significant reduction in credit card fraud, but this has subsequently seen fraudsters move online with a rise in online payments fraud. Phishing continues to be one of the most common and effective methods for fraudsters to target victims. Estimates suggest that over 90% of cyberattacks start with a phishing email, tricking users into handing over information. While many phishing emails use generic wording, some fraudsters are using personal information (typically sourced from social media) to add legitimacy to their requests. This tactic is known as “spear fishing”.   Advances in technology have made it easier and cheaper for fraudsters to dupe victims. For example, professional-looking or near replicas of legitimate websites can be pulled together in minutes with little or no technical knowledge and at very little cost to lend credibility to fraud schemes.    Advances in communication tech have created messaging and chat apps that enable fraudsters to collude in more covert ways. Thankfully, advances in discovery technology mean that conversations held using such applications can be easily and effectively analysed using appropriate tools should an investigation prove necessary.   Artificial intelligence: friend or foe? Developments in artificial intelligence (AI) are likely to pave the way for future frauds. When given a variety of audio samples, AI can now clone the sound of a target’s voice, and if overlaid on synthesised video of them speaking, the result can be uncanny. Either in video or audio form, this technology could be used to commit extensive and damaging fraud. Of course, AI can be a source for good. In fact, AI-enabled data analytics can now detect and stop transactions before they are even processed. What can you do to protect yourself? These tips may seem self-evident, but they will help to protect you. Stay fraud aware – Use the many resources available online to ensure you know about the latest fraud scams and how you can avoid them. Think before you share – The information you share online, especially about where you live, work and the specifics about your career, can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Do you really need to share the specifics of your life in an open forum such as social media? If not, don’t. Be sceptical – If a situation seems odd or an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. Trust your instincts and follow them and make enquiries about the legitimacy of the person or company you are about to engage with to ensure you don’t fall foul of fraudsters. Shane Flanagan is a manager in Deloitte’s forensic practice. 

Feb 13, 2020

The CISO role is relatively new and the competitive advantages it brings are beginning to become apparent, write Nicola O’Connor and Yousef Hazimee. Cybersecurity is an ever-growing concern for all businesses and one that cannot be ignored. In larger organisations, the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is typically responsible for overseeing the security control environment and keeping things secure. However, this traditionalist view of the CISO does not consider opportunities for the CISO to create value for the business and turn their position into a leadership role that provides a competitive advantage for the organisation. So how can a CISO successfully evolve their role given their existing commitments? And what must the organisation do to support them in this endeavour? Business and leadership All CISOs must have a thorough understanding of the organisation’s business and product lines, and overall business model. This is imperative as the CISO role typically spans the breadth of the organisation. Without this, the CISO cannot maximise value creation as they will not know what is considered truly valuable from a business perspective. This understanding can be achieved through experiential learning, multi-disciplinary work experience, and the establishment of cross-functional committees. In addition to understanding the business, the CISO must ensure appropriate support from the C-suite and the board. This requires strong leadership and interpersonal skills to ensure that sufficient resources (financial and human capital) can be secured. The breadth of the CISO role, as well as regulatory guidance – most notably in the financial sector – means that cybersecurity is a board-level issue. This provides an excellent opportunity for the CISO to articulate their value through demonstrable delivery against cybersecurity objectives, showing how these align and support the broader organisational strategy, and how they protect the business. The board must also empower the CISO by giving them opportunities to make board presentations and provide updates periodically. The board should challenge them and ensure that they are receiving meaningful cybersecurity metrics that inform their decision-making. These are imperative as quantitative metrics are easily consumable for board members and trends are more readily identifiable. Strategy and risk CISO activities should always align with organisational objectives. A cybersecurity strategy is therefore vital as it not only shifts the CISO role from that of a technical role to a strategic one, but also gives both the CISO and the board assurance that the CISO’s activities align to broader organisational objectives. The added benefit for the CISO is that a defined and approved strategy can help secure resources. Another way to highlight the importance of cybersecurity in an organisational context is by embedding cyber risk as part of the wider IT and enterprise risk frameworks. This allows the CISO to frame cyber risk in a business context and ideally, identify services and dollar losses pertinent to individual cyber threats. Framing cyber risk alongside other enterprise risks (such as regulatory and financial risk, for example) gives a more accurate reflection of the overall risk to the business and can inform decisions about prioritisation and investment. Fundamental to this is a clearly articulated, quantifiable and proactively managed risk appetite, which is necessary to support the decision-making process. Product development Building relationships and gaining knowledge of product lines and services allows for greater involvement of the CISO in product development. This embeds a ‘security by design’ culture, which allows for more seamless and appropriate security controls while exponentially reducing the costs and time to remediate defects as they are discovered earlier in the development cycle. This reduces the time to market and ensures a smoother customer/user experience while allowing for greater functionality on potentially less secure customer endpoints, such as mobile devices. This is particularly important for higher-risk apps, such as mobile banking. Greater CISO involvement earlier in the development lifecycle also allows for better use of emerging technologies in a secure manner. Evolving the CISO role CISO roles have traditionally been inward-facing but this is starting to change, particularly for CISOs in larger organisations. For example, clients now regularly look for evidence of suppliers’ adherence to security frameworks and standards, and these are generally considered a minimum for larger tenders. Other stakeholders such as rating agencies, insurers and pension trustees now seek assurances that appropriate cybersecurity controls are in place. By 2022, Gartner claims that cybersecurity ratings will become as important as credit ratings when assessing the risk of business relationships. From a reputational perspective, the CISO benefits from the fact that cybersecurity affects almost everyone given the pervasiveness of social networks and people’s growing digital footprints. This gives rise to opportunities, through outreach and corporate social responsibility initiatives, to educate communities on how they can better protect themselves and their children online, which is especially important for digital natives who may not understand the scale and impact of their digital footprint. This can, in turn, create digital trust in your brand. The CISO role is relatively new, and the competitive advantages it brings are beginning to become apparent. No longer is it the CISO’s sole responsibility to protect the business; they can also be a real differentiator between organisations as the impact of their role on an organisation’s bottom line becomes more evident. The most significant value creation will be achieved by those organisations that select the right CISO and empower them to deliver. CISO: Creating a competitive edge In a recent survey, security was considered the number one reason for selecting a bank among US participants. Meanwhile, in the UK, 85% of consumers claim that they will change their spending habits with brands that have been the subject of a security breach or hack. When factoring in growing compliance requirements, data growth rates and a global shortage of cybersecurity talent, it is not surprising that most Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) concentrate on their core role of protecting the business. These CISOs, however, risk missing a valuable opportunity to become a real enabler and strategic driver for the business. Through a combination of active stakeholder management, goal alignment and ensuring a thorough understanding of business and product lines, a CISO can create demonstrable value and transform their role from one of pure risk management to one of strategic importance that can make decisions at the highest level of the organisation. As a simple demonstration of how security can provide a competitive advantage, look no further than mobile banking. Security in mobile banking apps is of the utmost importance, but it can be seen to restrict the functionality and service offerings on these apps. Through new technologies and the application of security by design principles, robust and user-friendly controls can be used to safely introduce new, higher-risk functionality such as one-time payments and direct debit/standing order set-ups. This can allow banks to differentiate themselves from their competitors and gain market share.  Nicola O’Connor is Chief Information Security and IT Risk Officer at AIB. Yousef Hazimee is Cyber Security Practice Manager at AIB.

Feb 10, 2020

Building a successful practice can be a daunting prospect, but according to John Kennedy, it boils down to one elementary skill. Have you ever found yourself wondering whether your practice could be more successful? If so, you might be doing all the right work but ignoring the simple steps that could turn your effort into tangible rewards. At a basic level, successful accountancy practice owner-managers create the following: A network of high-quality and loyal clients they enjoy working with; A good income based on reasonable fees that reflect the real value of  the work they deliver; A good standard of living – not just financially, but in terms of doing things they enjoy; and A high-quality retirement as a respected and valued member of the community. All of this sounds attractive but is often far removed from the day-to-day reality of running an office. A more recognisable scenario might be spending your time on things forced upon you at the expense of concentrating on the critical steps. And when you do get around to thinking about how to build your practice, there are many options, issues and conflicting sources of advice. It is therefore unsurprising that many accountants never get to focus on the steps that are more important before the day-to-day issues drag them back. The simple truth is that some practices thrive and enjoy more success than most, while many never fulfil their potential. The latter instead get stuck on the day-to-day issues that overwhelm occasional good intentions to invest time in securing new clients or promoting the practice. In this new series of articles, I will set out the steps you should take to build the practice you want. There will be no theory or abstract ideas, and I won’t advise you to do things you don’t understand or don’t like. It’s simpler than you think Achieving success is not complicated. In truth, the key is knowing how to get past the complexity and focus on mastering a small number of straightforward tasks. When you think about it, the single most crucial step in understanding a new client is the conversation you have with them. It doesn’t matter whether they were referred to you by an existing client, heard about you from a mutual friend, or – less likely – found out about you from a branded pen. Almost every client in every practice decides to take their business there because of a conversation with someone in that practice. The ability to turn an initial conversation into a client relationship is the cornerstone of every successful practice, but this is where many potentially valuable client relationships stop – at the first conversation. Your success in these initial, and often unexpected, discussions will determine whether you get an opportunity to move on to a more substantial conversation. And you then need a series of precise steps that will build trust, deliver value and guarantee a mutually rewarding relationship. The standard approach is to feel that you need to move quickly, to jump to the things you are familiar with – but this leap takes the conversation onto ground that is not yet comfortable for your potential client. So, building a high-quality practice is about having a clear structure that enables you to move confidently from an initial, casual chat to a trusting relationship. And if one person can do that, then so can you. Much of the advice about marketing, networking, promotional gifts, websites and digital strategy won’t work for you simply because it wasn’t designed for you in the first place. Most of the existing advice was created to sell products to customers, but you are doing something very different. Building a successful practice is about building trusting relationships with clients, you need to master the ability to take the individuals you most want to work with through a sequence of specific steps. And, like most things in life, it’s easy when you know how. Getting the right fit What criteria do you use to select your clients? For many years, we have asked this question when accountants seek our help, and we do it to reframe how they think about successfully building their practice. When we probe this question, we are almost always told that the key is to get as many clients as possible. “So,” we ask, “you want anyone? Your criterion for a client is that they should have a pulse?” I believe your standards should be a bit more rigorous and for very practical reasons. To target the whole universe effectively, you will need a vast amount of money to promote your practice – not to mention an infinite amount of time to talk to all those potential clients. In truth, your pool of potential clients is much more restricted than you realise. Successful practices are built on having a clear focus on a specific, and therefore accessible, group of people. These can be people who share your interests, or they can reflect a specific aspect of your expertise, or who you are as a person. The right people for your practice very much depends on who you are. Building a successful practice is not a task exclusively for extroverts or ‘natural sellers’ or gifted networkers; if you are a quiet, reserved thinker who pursues every issue in depth, there are many clients who are looking for precisely those attributes. If you are excited, engaged and enthusiastic about the fast-moving opportunities of the ever-expanding digital world, there are other clients who want to have an accountant just like that. If a hobby or a specific interest obsesses you, that too can be the basis for building a highly successful practice. A thriving, fulfilling practice is one that brings together the type of people with whom you most want to work in a way that creates value both for them and for you. Connect in the right way For many years, we have been fascinated by the ever-increasing ways in which practice owners voluntarily waste their time, effort and money. We have seen expensive (and cheap) branded corporate gifts and a seemingly endless series of “networking opportunities” ranging from breakfast groups to conferences and sponsored events. Equally unproductive is the more recent phenomenon of websites and emails that are “done for you”, which say things that are never going to help you build the strong relationships that are essential for a thriving practice. If you find these enjoyable or fulfilling in their own right, then go ahead – but they aren’t central to building a successful practice. When you cut away the marketing theory, the promotional gimmicks and the pointless pressure of networking, you see a stark reality: every potential new client decides to work with you because you have an effective conversation with them. You get a new client by talking to them; it is that simple. And when you know how to speak to them in the right way, they will want to talk to you again. And by getting good at creating a sequence of steps, you are much more likely to get the clients you want. Focus on trust The key is to understand the structure of talking to someone in the right way. Much of the traditional advice is not the right way; it can leave you feeling uneasy – especially the bit where you are told that you need to “close the sale”. You don’t. You need to build a relationship of trust that evolves from both you and your client becoming increasingly clear on how to achieve more by working together. To talk to a potential client in the right way, you need to understand how to chat easily with them, and this means being wholly at ease yourself. You also need to know how to move the conversation from a general chat to one where they decide to become your client and to ask you to do a specific piece of work for them. When you understand how this works, it’s easy. The effective conversation structure was developed by examining a vast number of informal chats that evolved into mutually rewarding relationships. By following this blueprint, which is outlined in Table 1, you will create a system that works for you, that helps build a practice that makes you feel good each day and that delivers a steady stream of clients with whom you want to work. In this way, your practice will evolve and grow over time and so will your expertise, your reputation and your rewards. The structure of an effective conversation An effective conversation involves knowing how to listen and what to say. Prepare First you prepare a clear summary of the value your potential client most needs and a clear message to make sure they understand precisely why you are the best person to help them. Probe The most common mistake is to rush to try to convince your potential client of your value. The key to success is to become highly skilled at asking high-quality questions so the client convinces themselves that they really need your help. Present It is only when your questions have helped your client get clearer on what they need do that you begin to present your value and set out the way in which you can best help them achieve the success they seek. Propose Then – and only then – have you created the firm foundations needed to propose that you work together.  To download a more detailed overview of The Practice Builder Blueprint, visit  www.insightstrategiesonline.com.   John Kennedy is a strategic advisor. He has worked with leaders and senior management teams in a range of organisations and sectors.

Feb 10, 2020

The General Data Protection Regulation mandates organisations to embed privacy by design into the development of new initiatives involving the use of personal data. Donal Murray discusses the impact of privacy by design from a practical perspective, and explores its benefits. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has changed European privacy rules significantly. The introduction of the concept of privacy by design (PbD) is one of these changes but many organisations have struggled to understand what it entails. For those that have adopted PbD correctly, the burden of GDPR compliance can greatly decrease while also having the potential to achieve operational as well as commercial gains. What is privacy by design? PbD is a requirement placed on organisations that must comply with the GDPR. The specific requirement is detailed in Article 25 of the regulation. PbD holds that organisations must consider privacy at the initial design stages and throughout the entire development of new products, processes or services that involve processing personal data. This means that privacy is considered at the earliest of stages and reduces the risk of privacy bolted onto a system or product at a later stage. While this may initially seem complex, it is, in fact, easier to implement than applying privacy considerations after a design is fully developed.  What are the origins of privacy by design? Although PbD has become a new legal requirement in Europe under the GDPR, the concept is not new. It originated in Canada in the mid-90s and was developed by Dr Ann Cavoukian, a recognised leading privacy expert who held the position of Information and Privacy Commissioner in Ontario for three terms. In October 2010, regulators at the International Conference of Data Protection Authorities and Privacy Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution recognising PbD as an essential component of fundamental privacy protection. It is touched upon in many well-known frameworks; however, many of them have come under much criticism.   Why should organisations focus on privacy by design? Privacy by design promotes a privacy-conscious culture within an organisation. If done correctly, it embeds privacy thinking into many aspects of an organisation’s operations. Further, as it focuses on early privacy considerations and checks prior to new products, systems and processes being released, it greatly decreases the risk of non-compliance with the GDPR and enables a sustainable GDPR/privacy-compliant environment as an organisation evolves.  From an operational perspective, a strong PbD framework can present efficiencies and reduce costs. Consciously considering and planning for the personal data you want to use, the purpose for which you want to use it and how to do this legitimately greatly reduces the chance of discovering that embedding privacy is technologically challenging, expensive or even impossible at a later stage. Knowing what data you want to use at an early stage and being confident in its usage can make the development process more efficient and makes it easier to be transparent to those data subjects. Transparency is critical when it comes to earning the trust to collect the data in the first place.  Implementing a robust framework can also present commercial advantages. It is seen as an enhancement to a brand and a key element in building trust with an increasingly privacy-conscious public.  Implementation While frameworks exist that cover PbD, many of them are too rigid for real benefits to be realised. The key to implementing PbD is adapting privacy to the business and not forcing a boilerplate framework. PbD is optimally implemented when privacy measures are designed based on the specific ways of working within an organisation. The approach to achieving an efficient PbD implementation consists of three steps:  1. Identify and understand: In order to tailor privacy measures to an organisation’s operations, it is important to have a detailed understanding of your organisation’s design processes – of which there could be many across different functions. Once you identify the relevant design processes, an exercise should be performed to obtain a comprehensive analysis of the steps involved in each process. If the processes are not already formally defined, it is useful to spend time mapping the design steps as this will support later PbD implementation activities. As well as the design steps, it’s also key that you understand what teams and third parties are involved in executing the process, and the tools and formats (e.g. Excel, Word checklists) used in each.  2. Evolve: Once the processes and ways of working are fully understood, specific privacy measures should be designed to fit them. The objective of these measures is to ensure that certain privacy topics are considered and assessed at suitable points in the identified processes. These privacy measures could take many different forms. For example, ethical questions built into a design brainstorming session; user stories built into development; or privacy checklists asking a series of questions on the purpose of processing at the initial design stages. These measures are to be applied to identified steps within your design processes and are designed in line with how the current process works. Tailoring the measures to the current processes allows for seamless integration. Together, these set of measures create the Privacy by Design Toolkit.  3. Establish: Implement the measures into your design processes and train employees involved in those processes to ensure the measures are understood and executed correctly. While these measures typically do not require significant process change, the main challenge is ensuring that each measure is executed consistently at the required standard. Those executing the measures are typically not privacy specialists, so educating and training individuals is a critical factor in achieving a sustainable PbD framework.  Think of ethics, not just compliance There have been many public cases where personal data has been used perfectly in line with the rules, but far outside societal and ethical norms. In a PbD process, measures can be built-in to detect cases like these. For instance, to what extent an idea or initiative may be considered unethical can be found by asking a number of questions:  Can I explain why I’m going to process this personal data and what I intend to do with it? Would my family and friends be comfortable if their personal data was used in this idea? Would I be happy to explain my idea in the daily news? Does my idea match the values of the company? Where the answers to these types of questions point towards an attitude of trying to hide the idea from the public eye or not wanting to be part of the data processing, the idea may be unethical and may need to be redesigned.  Compliance PbD is integral to ensuring compliance with data privacy legislation for numerous reasons. First, because effective PbD involves seeking independent testing of privacy and security controls, it helps to maintain best practices. Second, PbD builds an organisation’s brand by fostering greater consumer confidence and trust (through, for example, better management of post-breach incidents) and, in turn, supports organisations in their quest for a competitive advantage. In a reactive approach, the costs are much greater, such as through class-action lawsuits, the damage to reputation and loss of consumer confidence and trust.  In summary, PbD reduces the likelihood of fines, penalties and the resulting financial and reputational damage, and ensures that a firm stays ahead of the legislative curve, thereby minimising compliance risk.   Donal Murray is a Director in Risk Advisory in Deloitte Ireland, where he leads the Data Privacy Services team.

Feb 10, 2020
Show Me More News