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

With offices beginning to re-open, how can you engage with a dispersed and disjointed team? By collectively coming up with a team engagement plan, says Anna O’Flanagan, much of the worry and anxiety about returning to work can be expelled.Have you thought about your team engagement plan post-quarantine? How can you rebuild a team that is currently dispersed and disjointed? Without a clear path for people returning to work, there will be some anxiety around the next steps. Instead of letting this mishmash of individual interpretations create the narrative, why not consciously and collectively think about a team plan to determine the 'new normal'?How do we do this? Here are four pointers to get the conversation moving with your team.Figure out the ‘why’It is useful to revisit the ‘why’ of your team. Why does our team exist? Why do we do the work we do? Why do we do it that way?This can focus a team’s attention on the purpose of their work and determine new priorities that may have emerged in the past few months. It can also enhance confidence around the approach and provide an opportunity to clarify any issues.Share the lessons learnedGather your team, either remotely or in person, to discuss the lessons they have taken from this remote or blended working experience and what changes you would all like to make as a result.Create a planWrite up the notes from the two exercises, create a plan, and share it with the team. Explain that it is a living and flexible plan, which can be adapted as you go. Seeing it written down will give team members assurance that they have been heard and that what they have said counts. The plan also provides people with a point of reference, safe in the knowledge that there is a plan that keeps the team at the heart of everything.Meet upGet together in person. It doesn’t have to be for long, and it doesn’t need to be indoors or even have a work focus. But, if it is possible, try to meet outside the office for an enjoyable experience together. Team members have been cooped up, stewing in worry and ambiguity for too long. It is time to meet (safely and socially distanced) for a couple of hours and be together in support of one another in these strange times.Some teams are still cautious about meeting up in person, but there are many ways to bring a team together safely. Meet up in a park near the office on a nice day, or for a fun outdoor activity like an organised, professional treasure hunt or hike. These are effective ways to de-stress and re-unite remote and blended teams.Anna O’Flanagan is the Founder and Head Squirrel at Red Squirrel Team Building.

Aug 10, 2020

While working from home has its advantages, many are looking forward to getting back to a physical working space. Caroline McEnery outlines why working at the office is beneficial for both employers and employees.In this ever-changing environment, the subject of remote working has never been more topical. While it has many advantages, it’s also important to bear in mind the benefits of working from the office.Shared lessonsA key advantage of having a full team in one place is the ease with which colleagues can interact. Individuals learn from each other all the time, and having a colleague nearby to consult with on a query is invaluable. In an office environment, staff can soak up knowledge from others and are generally more aware of the full picture of a case or a client.Work-life balance, time management and productivityRegardless of how disciplined you are, it can be difficult to separate work life and home life when working remotely. Having a clear divide between your work environment and home environment can help ensure that one doesn’t impact on the other. The office provides a structure that allows employees to focus on the tasks at hand and be truly in ‘work mode’.SocialisingLet’s be honest, there is more to work than work! In recent months, we’ve all had to limit our social contact in every aspect of our lives. In a world of Zoom, Skype, Teams and all other manner of virtual communication, there is a lot to be said for real-life human interaction. The social aspect of work – chats with colleagues about non-work issues, humour and laughter – is what many remote workers miss, and the benefits of these social connections and relationships have been studied widely.DisconnectingThe ability to disconnect becomes more challenging when not working from the office, especially for those who are new to remote working. If an employee does not have the luxury of a home office, work inevitably takes over some section of their home and so, they may feel on duty even when they’re not. The ease of access to the remote “office” can lead to employees dipping in and out of emails or other tasks outside of their normal working hours, which can cause issues for the employer when the legal obligations around working hours are considered. It can also cause problems for employees when excessive work hours leads to issues with productivity and burnout, for example.The open doorAll employers should have an open door when it comes to an employee raising concerns, and the vast majority do. However, this open door isn’t quite as approachable when it’s a virtual one. When an employee is in the office, it’s easier to raise issues as it doesn’t have to be a scheduled call or video conference. There is a risk that a virtual open door won’t be used as often, which may lead to issues going unaddressed. This, in turn, has the potential to create long-term negative consequences.Caroline McEnery is Managing Director at The HR Suite and an HR and employment law expert.

Jul 31, 2020

With many offices planning to work remotely until the end of the year, how can we maintain our connections with colleagues and clients? Anna Scally explains the critical role of technology in enabling clear communication to all stakeholders.We have all been through a lot over the last five months. As accountants, many of us have participated in what has been dubbed the “largest working from home experiment”. While there have been speedbumps along the way and a lot of juggling done, most of us have been able to get on with work while working remotely. This has been made possible by our speedy adoption of certain technology tools, which enable us to function fully away from the office.While technology has enabled most of us to do our jobs for many years, never before have we experienced the adoption of certain tools at such pace. In April, Zoom reported over 300 million daily active participants worldwide, a significant jump from its previous high of 10 million.Tools like Zoom, Webex, Bluejeans, Microsoft Teams and others have allowed us to continue to connect with our colleagues and clients and, importantly, continue to meet compliance needs and deliver valuable advice to our clients. Speed of adoption of these platforms has been unprecedented. In KPMG Ireland, for example, we rolled out Microsoft Teams to all employees at breakneck speed at the start of the lockdown, and the rate of adoption has been breathtaking. In May alone, our 2,900 users logged 40,840 meetings and 98,900 hours on calls and video.Moving forwardAs we go into Q3, and as many of our offices move to re-open in a safe and socially distant way, technology will need to play a critical role. While a return to the office will be welcome, accountants will have to remain agile and flexible, and working from home will continue to play a part. Many companies, such as Google, have delayed their return to the office until 2021, while others have already started their phased return. Popular communication tools will continue to play an important part when working with clients and colleagues.While email might be a handy way to send and receive messages, it isn’t always the most secure or efficient means of sharing documents and large files. If they haven’t already done so, companies – particularly SMEs – should ensure that they have access to suitable software for collaboration and sharing documentation. They must also ensure that they have a secure place to store and retrieve data and that they have the appropriate technologies to keep their networks safe and secure.Also, business travel has been put on pause for the time being, in particular for clients in Europe, Asia and the US. International travel will not be an option for the rest of 2020, at least. Video conferencing tools will, therefore, play a significant role in enabling business across borders. It will also play a central role in reminding our clients and contacts that Ireland is still open for business.Anna Scally is Partner and Head of Technology and Media at KPMG Ireland.

Jul 31, 2020

Chartered Accountants share their stories about working at the nexus of technological change.It is often said that Chartered Accountants can be found in every sector, and they are increasingly making their presence felt in the technology space. While some are supporting excellence in financial reporting, others are creating inclusive company cultures and driving new business.In the pages that follow, three Chartered Accountants tell their stories about working at the nexus of technological change. Slack’s Lorna Mac Namara, Stripe’s Joe Kinvi and Hubspot’s Eimear Marrinan are all immersed in various strands of Ireland’s technology scene and have interesting insights to share.Whether you are interested in a career in technology, working in the space already, or simply curious about the people behind the companies driving technological change, the interviews that follow will introduce you to influential Chartered Accountants in some of the world’s best-known organisations.The professional slackerLorna Mac Namara discusses her role as Senior International Accountant at the online messaging platform, Slack.Why did you choose a career in the tech sector?I was looking for a challenge. I qualified in the middle of our last recession and about six months into a permanent, safe job, I saw an advertisement for a contract role with a tech company that would potentially go public. That company turned out to be Workday, and I was lucky to have been there pre- and post-IPO for five years. This was the greatest learning curve for me professionally and from there, I was hooked!Describe your typical day.I wake up at 5.30am. I am a mother of three small children under six, so there isn’t usually an option! I start my work day by catching up on Slack, our own product, which is a channel-based messaging platform. I get to see what decisions were made overnight, see discussions that were had, and progress made on projects and operational activities. I catch up with the international team here in Dublin and what they were working on also. From our Dublin office, we look after all countries outside North America and Canada. As a team, we cover time zones at either side of our day, so flexible working is essential. Most of my work, outside of the day-to-day routine, involves collaborating with colleagues around the world, both internally and externally. I work on cross-functional process improvement projects and international expansion plans.What do you most enjoy about your role?In a fast-growing company, there is a huge opportunity to make a difference and have an impact at every level. I love being part of building a finance function from the bottom up and seeing the company evolve from the start-up phase into a large public company. There is a real focus on finance transformation and continuous improvement here too. Once you have something solved, automated or improved, the company is growing so quickly that a new challenge presents itself. My roles have always evolved and they are diverse, which I love.What surprised or challenged you when you first joined the tech sector?What surprised me most was the energy people have for making our lives simpler, better and more productive. There is an openness to change and an appetite for trying things in new ways.What has been your most important lesson to date?To fully utilise my skills and continuously develop them. I focus on learning in every role and invest in CPD and continuous education as well as ‘on the job’ experience. I have managed payroll, tax, audit and month-end, and having to learn about other areas has benefited me – mostly in my finance transformation work. Also, never be precious about what task you are given at the start because you will get to learn about the company from the ground up. When it comes to career paths, sometimes a sideways move can be more beneficial than the traditional climb to a management role. And crucially, enjoy the people you work with. I am so lucky to have wonderful colleagues; they are the best sounding board during difficult times and late hours.How do you think your particular role will change in the next ten years?I believe the focus will be on adding value to the company and making accounting a strategic advantage along with the day-to-day operational work. I think global collaboration will be a critical factor in our future, particularly with how COVID-19 has affected work practices. Working in tech gives you an insight into how future accounting practices will evolve. I love working in a company like Slack, which is on the cutting edge of how our industry will operate and collaborate over the next decade – particularly when it comes to transparency and remote working.Earning his stripesJoe Kinvi, Growth Account Manager at Stripe, shares his experience of stepping into an area of the tech world that is growing at break-neck speed.Why did you choose a career in the tech sector?I started my career in the financial services sector and early on, I could see the impact tech was having on the industry. I was very attracted to how tech could enable me to do my job and around the same time, fintech was bubbling up in Europe. I knew this would be a massive industry soon and when the opportunity presented itself to work for a fintech start-up, I jumped on it. Fast-forward five years, fintech is here to stay and we are using more fintech products around the world than ever before. I really enjoy working with these fintech companies on a day-to-day basis.Describe your typical day.Unfortunately, a typical day doesn’t exist in the account manager world. But since COVID-19 hit, I’ve tried to structure my week in a way that allows me to handle customer calls early in the week and focus on getting things done during the latter half of the week. The typical Friday involves a retrospective review of my week and discussing various topics with the team. My entire team is based in Dublin, but I have some clients in the US and Canada so I work late the odd night – but that’s very rare. As I’ve been working from home, I get a lot more done because I’ve embraced, and gotten used to, this new way of working. (Pro-tip: get yourself a top-notch chair!)What do you most enjoy about your role?My role is very user-centric and I enjoy interacting with a mix of customer profiles, mostly within the financial services industry. My days are never the same and I spend a considerable amount of time interacting with engineers, product managers, project managers and biz-ops teams. Internally, I liaise with the sales and the engineering team. I really enjoy being the go-to person whenever my clients need something, and I use that as an opportunity to learn about the products we offer at an in-depth level. I aim to move into a product manager role eventually.What surprised or challenged you when you first joined the tech sector?I was quite surprised to see how fragmented the industry was. I used to think about tech companies being the big ones such as Google or HP, for example, but most industries have a tech component or are tech-enabled. The tech sector is quite big and continues to grow every year.What has been your most important lesson to date?Don’t stop learning! The world is ever-changing and new innovations and technologies keep popping up daily. We can only adapt to this through continuous learning.How do you think your particular role will change in the next ten years?The account manager role will be more data-driven and relatively automated, but the human aspect will remain. The typical account manager will, therefore, handle more accounts and use data to optimise client experiences.The crafter of cultureEimear Marrinan discusses her journey from Chartered Accountant to Director of Culture at HubSpot.Why did you choose a career in the tech sector?I joined the technology sector over seven years ago when it was still growing in Dublin. The ability to be part of a high-growth company and industry was so exciting to me. The pace of change, the opportunity to make an impact, and the chance to work somewhere that challenged me to grow both personally and professionally were also huge draws.Describe your typical day.I don’t really have a typical day but in general, I get up with the kids and try to work-out before breakfast (something that has been my saving grace during lockdown!) We’re lucky to have a childminder who comes to our house in the morning, so I have time to check my emails and touch base with my EMEA and JAPAC teams. Since the kids are now at home, I always have lunch with them. Then, the afternoon is generally spent on video calls with my team in NAM and working through my to-do list for the week.What do you most enjoy about your role?At HubSpot, our mission is to help millions of organisations grow better. And as Director of Culture, my team is responsible for bringing this mission to life by inspiring and enabling people to do their best work. This gives me so much joy, knowing that we are making a positive impact on our people first and foremost while helping HubSpot achieve its mission and goals.What surprised or challenged you when you first joined the tech sector?Moving from a company that was headquartered out of Dublin to one that was headquartered out of the US was a definite challenge. It took time for me to effectively structure my day (and calendar), knowing I spent my morning with APAC and my afternoon on calls with the US. On the flip side, the global reach of the tech sector is incredible – being able to pick up my laptop and walk into a video conference where peers join me from India, France and the US is truly amazing.What has been your most important lesson to date?Learn how to focus on fewer things done better. There is so much scope to make an impact and get involved when you join the tech sector, and this can get pretty overwhelming. It is essential to focus on the things that will genuinely make an impact, and nail those before you widen your scope. Also, focus on the things that will scale as the tech sector continues to grow.How do you think your particular role will change in the next ten years?We take culture at HubSpot incredibly seriously, so much so that we have published our own external Culture Code. And at this moment in time, as companies lean more heavily into the world of remote, culture is more important than ever. Organisations will recognise that having someone dedicated to creating an inclusive and diverse culture is not just critical for employee engagement and retention; it is business-critical and mission-critical. As we consider changes to how we work in a more virtual world, my role is already shifting towards creating a culture that transcends physical space and is inclusive of everyone – no matter how, when or where they work.

Jul 31, 2020

Lucy-Anne O’Sullivan, a trainee Chartered Accountant at KPMG and qualified radiographer, talks about her recent return to the front line at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin to help tackle the COVID-19 crisis.How did you arrive at a career in accountancy?It is safe to say that I have taken quite an unconventional route to accountancy. I studied radiography at University College Dublin (UCD) as my undergraduate degree and started working in St Vincent’s University Hospital shortly after. I worked there for two years with a fantastic team and made life-long friends. I was always drawn to the corporate world and wanted to explore this interest further, so I completed a Masters in Management at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. It was something totally different and allowed me to explore various aspects of business. This was my steppingstone to KPMG Risk Consulting, where I am currently preparing to sit my CAP 1 exams.You recently returned to the front line. What was that experience like?When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country earlier this year, I felt compelled to make use of my skills as a radiographer and returned to St Vincent’s. Radiology has had a huge role to play in both the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 patients. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to help out a department that has been under a lot of added pressure.The transition back to the hospital was smooth as I was familiar with St Vincent’s, having worked and trained there before. KPMG was hugely supportive of this move, which I am very thankful for. The first week or two took some getting used to as there were numerous new protocols, but wearing head-to-toe PPE and voluntarily walking into the COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) quickly became the new normal. The hospital looked and felt quite different, but I felt quite safe as the protocols in place are very effective. There are enormous backlogs of exams as a result of the lockdown, but it is reassuring to see that these patients are slowly but surely starting to come back to the hospital as it looks a little more normal each day.Describe your typical day at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis.The role of the radiographer is very hands-on and, as a result, there is no scope to shy away from the virus. A standard day involved running to COVID ED (the COVID-19 emergency department) to perform chest X-rays on every query case that arrived into the hospital. Every ICU patient needed a daily chest x-ray to monitor progress and assess new line positioning. Radiographers can be seen running all over the hospital with portable X-ray machines to examine patients on the wards, as well as treating non-COVID-19-related patients in the emergency department. I trained in the Cardiac Catheterisation lab, so I also spent some time there as standard illnesses are still occurring.What lessons will you bring back to your role in Risk Consulting?My lessons are quite simple: people are critical to the success of any team, regardless of the working environment. My time in St Vincent’s was tough at times, but I never had to face it alone and always had the full support of my team. It is incredible to see what you can overcome with the backing of a good team behind you.If you could give the public one piece of advice, what would it be?Don’t get too complacent too quickly, as the virus is still out there. That said, I am as excited as anyone to get back to normal. Also, hand sanitiser is your best friend!

Jul 30, 2020

In these challenging times, it is comforting to know that everyone can develop resilience. Dr Eddie Murphy explains how.Nobody can be protected from adversity all their lives. In fact, over-protection can result in poor problem solving and later, poor coping skills in the face of adversity. Recently, I planted a Tree of Hope in the People’s Park in Limerick as a symbol of how hope and brighter days will come after the storms pass. Indeed, some people are like trees in that, having survived the most challenging weather conditions and been tested by adversity, they will grow and endure.In reality, bad things happen. We all have periods of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. But how we respond has a significant impact on our wellbeing. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but in principle, we can choose our attitude to what happens. It isn’t always easy in practice, but one of the most exciting findings from recent research is that resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned.What is resilience?Resilience comes from the Latin word resilio, meaning to jump back. It is increasingly used in everyday language to describe our ability to cope with, and bounce back from, adversity. Some define it as the ability to bend instead of break when under pressure or difficulty, or the ability to persevere and adapt when faced with a challenge. The same skills also make us more open to, and willing to take on, new opportunities. In this way, being resilient is more than just survival; it includes letting go, learning and growing, and finding healthy ways to cope.It’s not rareResearch shows that resilience isn’t a rare quality found in a few extraordinary people. One expert on the subject, Dr Ann Masten, describes it as ‘ordinary magic’, noting that it comes from our everyday capabilities, relationships and resources. She argues that resilience is dynamic and that we can be naturally resilient in some situations, or at some times in our lives, and not others. Each person and each case is different.We can all work on our resilience. We can’t always predict or control what life throws at us, but we can build a range of skills to help us respond flexibly, deal with challenges effectively, recover more quickly, and even learn and grow as a result. It can also lower our risk of depression and anxiety and enable us to age successfully. What’s more, the same skills can help us manage the fear of taking on new opportunities and help us develop in other ways too.Areas of influenceThree areas influence our resilience:our development as a child and  teenager;external factors such as our relationships with others or having a faith; andinternal factors, such as how we choose to interpret events, manage our emotions and regulate our behaviour.Parents and those who work with children can do much to help build the resilience of kids and teenagers. While as adults, we can’t change our childhoods, we can do plenty to develop our resilience within the second and third factors. Indeed, research shows that resilience is developable in adults as well as in children.Building resilience skillsThere is saying, ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’. Science has shown that it has some truth: experiencing some adversity during our lives does increase our resilience by enabling us to learn ways of coping and identify and engage our support network. It also gives us a sense of mastery over past adversities, which helps us to feel able to cope in the future. We have probably all experienced things as stressful initially, but later find that similar activities no longer phase us. It is important to learn that, through such struggles, our coping skills and resources can be taxed but not overwhelmed.Some psychologists argue that most of us aren’t prepared to face adversity. We, therefore, run the risk of giving up or feeling helpless in the face of difficulty. But by changing the way we think about adversity, we can boost how resilient we are. Based on extensive research, they believe that our capacity for resilience is not fixed or in our genes, nor are there limits to how resilient we can be. I like this, as it allows for hope that we can change.Resilience and relationshipsOne of the critical external sources of resilience is our network, such as family, friends, neighbours, and work colleagues. Taking time to nurture our relationships is a vital part of building resilience. Knowing when we need help and asking for it is an integral part of resilience. In this era of mental health awareness, reaching out and offering support is critical.Members and students can contact CA Support on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294, by email at casupport@charteredaccountants.ie or online at www.charteredaccountants.ie/ca-supportDr Eddie Murphy is a clinical psychologist, mental health expert and author. 

Jul 30, 2020

Paul McCourt and Fiona Hall consider the possible tax implications of current low asset values and what individuals can do to help protect family finances for the long-term.The COVID-19 outbreak is having a range of effects on families and individuals, with many investors seeing family finances suffer and the value of their assets fall in recent months. An important factor to remember at this point is that when an individual makes a gift, it is the current market value of the asset being gifted that applies for both inheritance tax (IHT) and capital gains tax (CGT) purposes.TrustsThe creation of a trust to hold assets for the benefit of the wider family or dependants has been a long-standing solution for many individuals seeking to pass assets to the next generation. Settling a trust is generally a chargeable IHT event. However, if the settlor’s nil rate band is fully available, individuals can transfer £325,000 of assets into the trust without incurring an IHT liability. This could increase to £650,000 for married couples jointly settling a trust with the availability of two nil rate bands. CGT hold-over relief may also be available so that the gift to trust does not trigger a CGT liability.For those considering using a trust, or who have already established one, now may be the time to gift or sell assets. When assets pass out of the trust to a beneficiary, either by way of an entitlement or an appointment by the trustees, any IHT and CGT liabilities are based on the current market value of the assets passing. Trustees may wish to consider whether the trust continues to meet its objectives and whether it is now appropriate to appoint assets out to trust beneficiaries.Personal giftsGifting an asset to another individual is often a potentially exempt transfer for IHT purposes. As such, if the donor survives for seven years from the date of the gift, it falls out of their IHT estate. However, if the donor does die in this period, the value of the assets gifted at the time the gift was made could become taxable.Where a gift fails the seven-year rule, subject to reliefs and the IHT nil rate band (currently £325,000), IHT could be payable on the gift (by the recipient or the executors) or the value of the estate. Making a gift when asset values are low will mitigate the potential IHT exposure for the individual considering gifting an asset.A gift is treated for CGT as being a disposal of the asset at market value by the donor. This could trigger a capital gain if the value exceeds the allowable cost unless the assets qualify for business assets hold-over relief.When asset values are lower, the likelihood of a gift triggering a gain is reduced, or a gift may give rise to a loss. Care should be taken in generating a loss on gifts, as any losses arising from the disposal of an asset to a connected person can only be set against gains that arise from other disposals to that same person. Capital losses generally carry forward to future years, but not back so timing is vital.Crystallising ‘paper’ lossesIndividuals may consider crystallising a current ‘paper’ or book loss on an investment and repurchasing a similar asset. Any such loss can then be offset against capital gains arising on asset disposals made in the same, or later, tax years. It is important to note, however, that ‘bed and breakfasting’ of shares is often ineffective for tax purposes and particular care is required with transactions conducted personally, via an individual savings account or between spouses.As with any investment decisions, independent investment advice should be sought before proceeding.Exercising share optionsWhere an individual exercises an option to acquire shares in an employer through a non-tax-advantaged share plan, income tax is charged on that exercise on the difference between the market value of the shares at the date of exercise and the amount paid for the shares under the option. If the shares acquired are ‘readily convertible’ (i.e. easy to sell for cash or shares in a subsidiary company) National Insurance contributions will also be due on the exercise of the option.Exercising such options while the value of a company is temporarily reduced could reduce tax liabilities in the longer-term. However, this is clearly a risk-driven investment decision on which independent investment advice should be sought before proceeding. One of the key benefits of holding an option is that it would often be exercised before an exit event (e.g. the sale of the company) so that there is an immediate return of value. In the absence of such an event, the implications of becoming a shareholder in the company, and the risk to the value thereby invested, should be considered carefully.Pensions – lifetime allowanceAn individual whose pension pot was previously above the lifetime allowance of £1,073,100 (and with no protection/enhanced protection) might choose to crystallise pension benefits now while the fund value is reduced to reduce/eliminate the lifetime allowance tax charge.There are many financial, investment and IHT issues to consider carefully before proceeding, but acting now may save tax in the long-term. Action should only be considered as part of overall wealth planning, including advice from an independent financial adviser.Short-term opportunity to achieve long-term goalsThis is a difficult time, but any temporary reduction in asset values may allow clients to pass assets into trust or to the next generation at a lower tax cost than both a year ago and a year from now.Fiona Hall is Principal, Personal Tax, at BDO Northern Ireland.Paul McCourt is Tax Principal at BDO Northern Ireland.

Jul 30, 2020

The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme is ever evolving in the face of uncertainty, writes Maud Clear.The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) was introduced on 26 March 2020. Looking back 20 weeks on, in a world turned upside down by COVID-19, it is fair to say that the Scheme has evolved since its inception. With many businesses facing an uncertain road to recovery, the July Jobs Stimulus package was the next eagerly awaited phase in this evolutionary process.Revenue offered its services to the Department of Finance to pay out the subsidy through real-time reporting tools – an extraordinary move from an institution whose function is to collect tax.While the initial assessment in establishing eligibility was a significant exercise for many employers, Revenue provided consistency and support in their operation of the Scheme.That is until a programme of compliance checks was announced on 23 June for all employers availing of the Scheme. This was an unforeseen turn in the Scheme’s evolution, particularly when Revenue issued guidance on 20 April indicating: “We may in the future, based on risk criteria, review eligibility”.Such a broad stroke approach and the requirement for a response within five days have many employers questioning what is yet to come in the operation of the Scheme.Chartered Accountants Ireland, under the auspices of the CCAB-I, sought an extension to this response time. In response, Revenue may now allow for an extension of the five days where an employer contacts them to explain their difficulty in returning a response within the required timeframe.The announcement of an extension to the TWSS until the end of August came with a warning from the Minister for Finance that “this support cannot last forever”. As the challenges facing employers in re-opening continue to mount, assurance has since been provided by the Minister that the Scheme will not come to “an abrupt end”.  Most employers need the support of the TWSS to get back on their feet. Clarity on how they will get it, and for how long, will be a determining factor in their recovery. It is hoped that the ‘July Jobs’ stimulus package will provide that certainty.Maud Clear is Tax Manager at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jul 30, 2020

The prospect of an EU-wide digital tax raised its head again in June following developments at the OECD. Peter Vale and Kim Doyle consider if we are now closer to implementation of an EU digital tax across all member states, and the impact on Ireland’s offering.The EU agreed last year to park its digital tax proposals to allow global consensus to be reached through the OECD digital tax discussions.Both the EU and OECD proposals aim to allocate a portion of profits based on the location of consumers, reflecting the increasing value that businesses place on consumer data.In June, the US withdrew from the OECD’s digital tax discussions. This has increased the likelihood that the EU will push ahead with its own proposals.In the short-term, the impasse at OECD level is also likely to see other countries push ahead with unilateral digital tax proposals. Indeed, many EU countries have either implemented or proposed their own digital tax proposals.An EU digital taxThe EU’s original digital tax proposals envisaged a simple 3% turnover-based tax as an interim measure, subject to reaching agreement on a means of allocating profits based on digital activity. Given the complexities involved in arriving at such a means, the risk is that any interim ‘quick fix’, such as a flat turnover-based tax, could potentially become permanent.While countries are free to introduce their own digital tax measures, as several have done, implementation of an EU-wide digital tax regime would require unanimity across all EU member states. The need for unanimity could make it challenging to implement as certain countries, including Ireland, are not in favour of the existing EU digital tax proposals.However, the EU is looking to replace unanimity over tax decisions with a form of “qualified majority voting”. While such a change will itself require unanimity, political factors may lead to the removal of the requirement for unanimity in the future. This could potentially pave the way for easier implementation of EU-wide tax changes.Although the removal of the requirement for unanimity on significant EU tax decisions is some years away, countries are often reluctant to use a veto to block EU tax proposals. Hence the real possibility of an EU-wide digital tax in the short- to medium-term.COVID-19 will also drive countries to seek out additional tax revenues to fund spending, with digital tax from large multinationals likely seen as an easy target.What does it mean for Ireland?In recent years, many multinational companies (MNCs) with substantial operations in Ireland have moved their valuable intellectual property (IP) here. Over time, this would be expected to increase corporation tax revenues in Ireland.A simple 3% tax on the ‘digital’ revenues of large MNCs would increase the effective tax rate of these companies and thus dilute the benefit of our 12.5% corporate tax rate. This would impact low-margin businesses most and from a tax perspective, would make it less attractive to operate from Ireland.While the movement of IP to Ireland should see an increase in our corporate tax revenues, an EU-wide digital tax could see a pull the other way; it may cause some groups to reconsider their Irish presence.However, even if our tax regime becomes relatively less attractive, our 12.5% corporate tax rate may still make Ireland the most compelling location in Europe in which to do business and help us retain key employers.Digital tax optionsThe EU acknowledges that a 3% turnover-based tax is a blunt instrument and that more refined taxation of digital activity is the end goal. The OECD considered other options, which would involve looking at the level of activity in the selling country in determining an appropriate allocation between the selling country and the market jurisdiction. However, it is acknowledged that this is a difficult exercise – one that potentially involves a rewriting of transfer pricing principles – hence the EU proposal to start with a straightforward 3% turnover-based tax.Ideally, there would be agreement at EU level on a more sophisticated and accurate means of profit allocation rather than simply jumping into a turnover-based tax regime. While this might take some time to develop, it could be part of negotiations at EU level given that unanimity is required to implement any digital tax proposals (although countries would remain free to continue to develop their own digital tax regimes, which is far from an ideal scenario). A longer-term solution that reflects the value-added activities taking place in the selling jurisdiction, not merely market jurisdiction factors, would be better for Ireland. It would also encourage more knowledge-based businesses to locate here.Wider impactIf the price of any negotiation on digital tax proposals is that unanimity over tax decisions is removed, there is a longer-term vista of other EU proposals being pushed through. This would include the dreaded Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB), which would again look to rewrite the rules in terms of the allocation of a group’s profits. Such moves would be bad for a small, open economy such as Ireland with significant profits diverted to larger market jurisdictions diluting the benefit of our 12.5% corporate tax rate.Once again, we are at a critical juncture in terms of global tax rule changes. Developments to date have generally been positive for Ireland. However, it would be dangerous to think that this will continue to be the case. In practice, our options are limited in terms of influencing the direction of changes to the tax landscape. In any future scenario, however, the location of high value-add activities should continue to play a key role in the allocation of a group’s profits. One thing that is not good for Ireland is uncertainty. Groups cannot make robust plans in an uncertain environment. The sooner there is clarity on digital tax changes, the better for Ireland.Ongoing robust corporate tax receipts evidence the generally positive impact that global tax changes have had in Ireland to date, with a movement away from tax havens to jurisdictions with substance. If Ireland can maintain a regime that both encourages and rewards innovation, we will be in the best possible place to emerge relatively unscathed from the latest round of changes.Kim Doyle FCA is Tax Director, Head of Knowledge Centre at Grant Thornton.Peter Vale FCA is Tax Partner, Head of International Tax at Grant Thornton.

Jul 30, 2020

The General Court of the European Union’s ruling in the Apple tax case affirms Ireland’s reputation as a suitable location for global establishment, argues Claire Lord.In 2016, the EU Commission decided that two tax rulings issued by the Revenue Commissioners in 1991 and 2007 in favour of Apple Sales International (ASI) and Apple Operations Europe (AOE) constituted unlawful state aid under EU law.ASI and AOE were companies incorporated in Ireland, but not tax-resident in Ireland. The contested tax rulings endorsed the methods used by ASI and AOE to determine the taxable profits in Ireland attributable to the trading activity of their respective Irish branches. The Commission calculated that, through these tax rulings, Ireland had granted Apple €13 billion in unlawful tax benefits, which therefore constituted unlawful state aid.The decision of the Commission was appealed to the General Court of the European Union by both Apple and Ireland.General Court’s decisionThe General Court annulled the Commission’s decision on the basis that the Commission did not succeed in proving that ASI and AOE had been granted a selective economic advantage and, by extension, unlawful state aid.The General Court agreed with the Commission’s approach on some fundamental legal issues such as how the principles of advantage and selectivity are to be assessed, the reference framework of Irish tax law and, in broad terms, the application of the ‘arm’s length’ principle. However, it also held against the Commission on several points of law and fact. In particular, it rejected the Commission’s primary argument that the Revenue Commissioners had granted ASI and AOE an advantage by not allocating the Apple group’s intellectual property licences held by ASI and AOE, and the associated sales income, to the Irish branches of ASI and AOE.The Commission had made this argument by effectively contending that such an allocation must be the case because ASI and AOE had no employees anywhere else, despite their boards conducting business outside of Ireland. The General Court found that approach to be wrong in law and fact. It held that as a matter of law, the Commission had to show that, in fact, the Irish branches of AOE and ASI carried out the taxable activity; it was not enough to contend that the Commission had not found such activity elsewhere.In addition, the General Court held that the evidence given by ASI and AOE demonstrated that the relevant taxable activities were not in fact carried out by the Irish branches.The General Court also held that the Commission did not demonstrate that methodological errors (which the Court accepted had occurred in the contested tax rulings) resulted in an advantage for AOE and ASI. While the General Court regretted the incomplete and sometimes inconsistent nature of the contested Irish tax rulings, those infirmities did not, in themselves, prove the existence of a selective advantage. Therefore, such errors did not constitute unlawful state aid.Lastly, the Court also found that the Commission did not prove that the contested tax rulings were the result of discretion exercised by the Revenue Commissioners, which had granted a selective advantage to ASI and AOE. Instead, it found that the correct analysis of 11 other rulings by the Revenue Commissioners was that the approach depended on the facts and this was not objectionable.The Commission may appeal the decision to the EU’s Court of Justice before 26 September. However, an appeal is only on points of law and not on findings of fact.The impact of the decisionThe General Court’s decision is a victory for the position argued by Apple and Ireland. Because it holds against the Commission on several points of law and fact, it will be a difficult decision to appeal successfully should the Commission decide to do so. Also, the points won by the Commission are points of law. They, therefore, may themselves be challenged in any cross-appeal and an adverse decision on any of those points could have systemic effects, which the Commission would not welcome.The decision is obviously newsworthy because of the parties involved, the value at stake and the current global focus on international tax, particularly in relation to multinationals and the digital economy. However, it is noteworthy that many of the points at issue are no longer of relevance for companies doing business in Ireland as the structures and approaches at the heart of the case have not been widely used here in recent years.It does, however, clarify that Ireland did not apply any selective treatment to Apple. It underscores Ireland’s reputation as a straightforward and rules-based jurisdiction which remains an eminently suitable location for global companies to establish significant operations.Claire Lord is a Corporate Partner and Head of Governance and Compliance at Mason Hayes & Curran.

Jul 30, 2020

Níall Fitzgerald explains how boards can use the current crisis to take stock and, where appropriate, reflect new priorities.While the COVID-19 crisis continues, organisations are preparing for the uncertainty ahead. This process presents an opportunity for organisations to rethink their priorities, how they deploy resources, and the way they do things.In the months ahead, boards will face new challenges that can give rise to major concerns. This article examines some of those challenges, the responsibility of boards in facing them, and questions board members can ask to help focus on what is important.Going concernIrish and UK company law requires directors to act in the best interests of the company, which includes promoting its success and ensuring that it continues as a going concern. Past corporate collapses have revealed instances where directors failed in this duty. Failures attributed to directors include having unquestioning optimism rather than a challenging mindset and succumbing to groupthink.Given the current uncertainty, threats to going concern are more likely to feature higher on the risk register in many organisations. Oversight is a key role of the board, and this requires directors to have a questioning mindset, apply their skills, experience and knowledge to challenge management appropriately on their judgements, and ensure that they have sufficient evidence to support those judgements. Having a range of skills, experience and knowledge (in addition to diversity in other forms) on a board will help ensure that a range of perspectives and practicalities are considered. Basic good governance practices such as reviewing meeting papers in advance, arriving to meetings prepared, and an effective chair who allows sufficient time for discussion will make a big difference to the quality of the decisions or actions arising.In June 2020, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) published COVID-19 – Going Concern, Risk and Viability: Reporting in Times of Uncertainty. The paper highlights how challenges that would normally relate to building resilience and flexibility (e.g. sourcing short-term cash resources) have pivoted as a result of the pandemic to threats relating to survival and, therefore, going concern.Other examples of current threats and challenges to going concern include:further restrictions that limit the return to normal operations;restrictions placed on government (or other) capital;timing and continuation of government schemes and support packages;short-term impacts of pricing changes to revenue and expenses; andimpacts on human capital.An Institute article titled Going Concern Considerations for Members Preparing or Auditing Financial Statements in the Context of COVID-19 is available on the COVID-19 Hub on Chartered Accountants Ireland’s website.Social responsibility, and public and employee welfareDirectors have a duty under company law to have regard to the interests of employees and will therefore be involved in making important decisions in relation to workforce policies and practices. In addition, corporate governance codes (e.g. the UK Corporate Governance Code) and sustainability frameworks (e.g. an environmental, social and governance (ESG) framework) highlight how a board’s consideration of all stakeholder interests, including societal impact, is important to ensure the organisation’s long-term success.The COVID-19 crisis forced many organisations to rapidly transform the way they work. In many cases, anticipated obstacles to business continuity either did not arise or were overcome with adjustments to how work and people are managed, as well as investment in ICT infrastructure, connectivity and cybersecurity. In April 2020, The UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) released statistics revealing that 49% of adults in employment were working from home. In May 2020, an Irish survey of remote working during the COVID-19 crisis by the Whittaker Institute at National University Ireland Galway and the Western Development Commission revealed that 51% of respondents never worked remotely before the COVID-19 crisis. Of these, 78% would like to continue to work remotely.As public health restrictions are lifted, boards – or board chairs, at least – should engage with CEOs and executive management to support the restoration of operations and plan the safe return to the workplace of employees, suppliers and customers. Executive management and boards should be aware of, and follow, national and local government protocols issued on returning to the workplace.No plan survives the battlefield, so expect adjustments along the way. Updating the board and seeking direction at every turn is not practical, however. It might, therefore, be wise to establish an oversight working party with regular executive engagement and delegated responsibility for overseeing the implementation of plans to restore operations. Decision-making authority should be clearly defined to ensure issues are, where appropriate, referred to the board for a decision. As boards plan for the return to the workplace, directors should consider the following:what work can be done remotely?do certain internal policies need to be rewritten to support new or future ways of working?are there opportunities for automation or digitalisation?what impact could remote working have on organisational culture, and what changes are necessary to align it with the organisation’s mission, vision and values?Boards also have an opportunity to consider how their organisations can have a greater positive social impact. During the crisis, some organisations went further with social responsibility by redirecting their resources to provide support, services and products to the fight against COVID-19. Charities and other not-for-profit organisations excelled in meeting the social needs of many vulnerable people affected by the crisis. Many organisations incentivised staff to get involved in volunteerism to help with, or raise funds for, good causes. In fact, organisations such as Volunteer Ireland and the Royal Voluntary Service reported a surge in registrations, resulting in a surplus of volunteers.Sustainable ‘reset’An important principle set out in the UK Corporate Governance Code is for a board “to promote the long-term sustainable success of the company”. This involves considering how the organisation generates and preserves value, and contributes to wider society over the long-term. It also involves considering the sustainability of the business model – weighing up resilience with efficiency to achieve long-term success. In times of uncertainty, some efficiencies may be sacrificed to achieve resilience. A board’s macro perspective can make a significant contribution in helping the organisation achieve a balance between these two factors.As part of pre-recovery planning, many organisations will engage in horizon scanning to anticipate changes, sources of uncertainty, and future threats and opportunities. While the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on operations may dominate risk perception, organisations also have a unique opportunity to consider how they can rebuild better, greener, and for a more resilient, sustainable world. Boards are well-positioned to lead and encourage innovation on how organisations can adapt to expectations of sustainability from key stakeholders such as investors, customers and regulators. These expectations are apparent in changing social behaviour (e.g. support for global climate protests), investor conditions (e.g. ESG goals or investors’ adoption of Principles for Responsible Investment), and regulator mandates (e.g. the development of standards for ESG disclosures for financial market participants, advisers and products).The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a blueprint that can be used to define an organisation’s sustainability objectives. The World Economic Forum refer to this opportunity as the ‘great reset’. We all have a vested interest in averting further global crises. When boards are resetting their agenda to focus on new priorities, sustainability must be a key consideration in more ways than one.ConclusionOrganisations can expect further challenges in the months ahead. This is not ‘business as usual’ and boards are adapting as the situation unfolds. Whether an organisation is struggling or thriving in the uncertainty, key priorities for any pre-recovery strategy must include going concern, social responsibility, employee and public welfare, and sustainability.Níall Fitzgerald FCA is Head of Ethics and Governance at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Jul 30, 2020

Gender equality is something many organisations speak about, but gender pay gap reporting will be the first real test of the effectiveness of those policies, writes Sonya Boyce.2020 has certainly been an interesting and unprecedented year for us all. We entered the new year in a position of relative economic prosperity with strong economic growth. Ireland was enjoying the lowest unemployment numbers in recent years, and gender balance was evident in many areas of the labour market. This was all threatened by the uncertainty, upheaval and challenges brought to our lives in March as the State sought to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on society.It is therefore welcome that the programme for our new Government, which was published in June 2020, contains a clear and renewed commitment to legislating for the mandatory reporting and publication of the gender pay gap for companies. This requirement is long overdue in Ireland and one our previous government failed to enact legislation for – notwithstanding the advancements in drafting the legislation.A quick recapThe gender pay gap is defined as the difference between what is earned on average by women and men based on the average gross hourly earnings of all paid employees – not just men and women doing the same job or with the same experience or working patterns. Gender pay gap reporting isn’t just about equal pay; it is part of a broader initiative to address female participation and employment gaps between genders. Gender pay gap reporting is seen as the first step in addressing parity in the employment market in terms of gender, particularly at the management level.The previous government’s Gender Pay Information Bill 2018 aimed to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting for public and private sector organisations in Ireland. This Bill was very much in line with similar legislation already introduced across several European countries, including Germany, France and Spain. Such legislative developments arose in response to the fact that women in the EU are currently paid, on average, over 16% less per hour than men. In Ireland, the average gender pay gap is 13.9% and COVID-19 stands to have a disproportionate impact on women in the labour market because of the higher proportion of women working in specific sectors of our economy, such as retail and hospitality. It is therefore vital that we maintain momentum in our efforts to introduce mandatory reporting for organisations and continue to focus on closing the gender pay gap.The path aheadIt is hoped that the introduction of gender pay gap reporting will provide organisations with an incentive to develop more focused strategies and initiatives to foster greater representation in their workforce – not only from a gender perspective but across the broader spectrum of diversity and inclusion.While there have been significant strides in gender equality, this has yet to become apparent at the senior levels of many organisations. To address this issue, organisations must review and assess their gender pay gap statistics regularly. Gender equality is something many organisations speak about and write policies on, but gender pay gap reporting will be the first real test of the effectiveness of those policies.ConclusionDiversity, equality and inclusion have a positive impact on organisations’ bottom line. Gender pay gap reporting provides a tangible metric that management can rely on to ensure women are paid fairly, are being considered for promotion, and are being promoted and attaining senior-level management positions.All organisations must commit to transparency around pay and progression for all employees. We urge our newly formed Government to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting without delay to ensure gender parity and fairness for all.Sonya Boyce is Director of Human Resources Consulting at Mazars Ireland.

Jul 30, 2020

Michael Cawley has enjoyed a stellar career. In this article, he shares his five favourite lessons in leadership.Over the past four decades, I have encountered some very impressive leaders in my professional life. From Coopers & Lybrand, where I trained to qualify as a Chartered Accountant, to Ryanair, where I worked as Deputy Chief Executive, I have seen many different types of successful leadership.However, the best leaders have all had several traits and characteristics in common. In this article, I discuss the five things great leaders do consistently. The best part about these five tips is that they are all doable with some thought and a little effort. There’s no magic and no secret sauce, but great leadership does require purposeful application.Present a clear missionBusiness isn’t rocket science but all too often, simple things become unnecessarily complicated. It is the job of the leader to simplify wherever possible, by establishing straightforward reporting lines and setting clear objectives. In doing so, your team will be better able to see their impact on the overall mission of the business. This is important as colleagues who can directly relate their efforts to business outcomes will ultimately raise their game to go above and beyond what is required of them. If you have a team of people working on this basis, the sky is the limit.It all begins with clarity, however, and that begins at the top of the organisation. An organisation’s leaders must understand the mission and communicate unambiguously to everyone – no fudge, equivocation or misunderstanding. Joe Schmidt often speaks about how great teams exceed the potential of their constituent parts, and the same applies in business. Be clear about what is required, get everyone pulling in the same direction, and your business’s performance will dramatically improve.Think beyond the possibleIn my view, we all achieve a small percentage of our potential, but good leaders help people see beyond the constraints and what they define as ‘possible’. As an example, in Ryanair we faced a seemingly insoluble issue in Italy some years ago. The airline’s schedule requires that the turnaround time at each airport for each aircraft is 25 minutes. To achieve this, Ryanair needs to refuel the aircraft while passengers disembark and baggage is removed. However, in Italy, uniquely in Europe, the law prevented airlines from fuelling the aircraft as passengers disembarked. Our punctuality in Italy was badly affected by this restriction and when every other option was exhausted, my colleague, the Director of Operations, was charged with the seemingly impossible task of getting the legislation changed.Initially, we all thought this was impossible but faced with no alternative, we developed an innovative strategy which convinced the Italian government of the merits of our case. This involved working at both local and national level at speed throughout Italy.This ability to challenge people so that they tackle issues that appear to be beyond them, but not so far beyond them to put them into a state of despair, is a delicate act – but if done right, can make the seemingly impossible, achievable.Develop self-confidenceLeadership can be a lonely place, particularly when you are the CEO. All leaders therefore need the self-confidence to see them through – not only during the tough times, but also day-to-day. Unfortunately, Irish people tend to harbour a high degree of self-doubt and this can lead to paralysis at the very moment decisiveness and action is required. But how can you build self-confidence as a seasoned professional? Success breeds confidence, and I am a big believer in excellence in basic execution. Too many people give up early – they hit a bump in the road and the journey ends there and then. Some people are also just waiting for you to fail. But if you obsess over the basics and execute brilliantly every single time, your chance of success will increase exponentially – and every little win will add to your confidence and self-belief.You also need to develop a relentless streak, because sometimes even excellent execution will not cut it the first or second time around. Michael O’Leary is a good example of this approach with his unwavering persistence and focus on the end goal. So, begin with the basics, execute brilliantly, and do not give up.Be paranoidTo become, and remain, successful in business, you cannot rest on your laurels. Andrew Grove, the founder of Intel who is famously quoted as saying “only the paranoid survive”, insisted that Intel double the capacity of their microchip every two years in order to stay ahead of the competition. He saw this as key to remaining number one in their sector.The truth is, once you or your business become a success, people are out to get you. Your competitors work night and day to catch up with you, so you need to work even harder to stay ahead. This paranoia isn’t the debilitating kind, however. It drives you to become better and see evolution and change as standard practice.Ryanair floated in 1997, and our grand finale on the investor roadshow was in New York. At the time, we could produce a seat for a fraction of the cost of our nearest competitor and investors jumped on the opportunity. The offering was 19 times oversubscribed but instead of thinking we’d made it, we knew that we had to continue to work hard to keep driving our costs down. Today, a number of airlines have a similar cost base to what Ryanair had in 1997, but we have moved on because we knew we had to. We still have the lowest cost base in Europe by far, which is the key competitive advantage when you are in the short-haul air travel business. This type of paranoia is driven by the realisation that, because you are a success, you inevitably become a target for your competitors and you must be at least one step ahead at all times.Booking.com is another prime example of this phenomenon. The company is valued at $70 billion and run by a formidable bunch of people. Every year, they make up to 10,000 changes to their website – most of which are so minute as to be virtually undetectable. But they continuously work to test and iterate based on what customers respond to – and in that way stay ahead of the competition.It’s all very well being paranoid, but how do you stay ahead as an individual? You must learn continuously and be acutely aware of the fact that you do not have a monopoly on wisdom. I am 66 years of age and I am still conscious of my shortcomings. To overcome them, I read and research continuously.Energy and enthusiasmAs a leader, you set the tone – and this is most apparent when it comes to your energy and enthusiasm. Your colleagues at all levels of the organisation will pick up on everything from the urgency with which issues are dealt with and the speed of your commitments to your body language and your choices. Energy and enthusiasm flow downhill, as does lethargy and tardiness, so you need to ensure that, as a leader, you are sending the right signals to your people. And although it may be more challenging to do in a remote working environment, it’s still possible if you adapt.The best time to test for energy and enthusiasm is at the hiring stage. Employ people with as much, if not more, enthusiasm than you. Look for people with integrity and honesty, who seek to say and do the right thing even when it isn’t what you want to hear.No amount of talent can make up for a poor attitude, so be careful in your hiring processes and set the bar high in your day-to-day work environment.Michael Cawley FCA is an independent non-executive director and former Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Ryanair.

Jul 29, 2020
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