Ethics and Governance

Aoife Newton assesses the prospects for gender pay gap reporting legislation as negotiations continue to form a new government. The outgoing Government made limited progress in introducing gender pay gap reporting legislation in the Republic of Ireland, and it remains to be seen whether the next government will echo the same commitment. Two separate Bills were initiated in the Houses of the Oireachtas in the past three years. First, the Labour party initiated a private members bill titled The Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap) Information Bill 2017, and this was followed by the Gender Pay Gap (Information) Bill 2019. The latter progressed to the third committee stage of the Dáil, but as with the 2017 bill, it lapsed upon the dissolution of the Dáil in January 2020. Although the timing of this legislation is unknown, the next government will be under pressure to advance such legislation. The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution on 30 January 2020, which called on EU member states to strengthen their efforts to definitively close the gender pay gap by strictly enforcing the equal pay principle and adopting legislation increasing pay transparency. The European Commission reports that the overall gender pay gap in the European Union is 16%. In her political guidelines for 2019-2024, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen committed to addressing the gender pay gap within the framework of the upcoming Gender Equality Strategy. The Commission has previously called on member states to close the gender pay gap and address barriers to the participation of women in the labour market.  As there is an emerging consensus from the European Union to close the gender pay gap, there is, therefore, a strong possibility that the next government will introduce gender pay gap legislation to comply with the proposals outlined at a European level. Against this backdrop, employers should start preparations at an early stage. Those who fail to act will find themselves addressing issues in the public domain under the scrutiny of the media, trade unions, their employees, and their customers. Organisations reporting a high gender pay gap may be viewed as being less than fully committed to pay parity, promotion, and development opportunities for women. Where a gender pay gap exists, this may negatively impact an organisation’s brand, employee relations, public reputation, and its ability to attract and retain talent. Organisations operating within a pyramid workforce structure when it comes to gender creates a pay gap, and if such a difference is greater than that of an organisation’s peer employers, it may have some uncomfortable explaining to do to its stakeholders. The all-important narrative The size of the gender pay gap is important, but the accompanying explanation could distinguish progressive employers from those who are merely observing a compliance obligation. Under the Bill, employers would have been required to publish – concurrently with the percentage results – the reasons for such differences and whether they had taken any measures to eliminate or reduce the disparities. This requirement must be replicated in any new legislation, as the mere reporting of data could lead to a compliance complacency while defeating the spirit of the legislation. In contrast, employers who take the opportunity to analyse and explain their gender pay gap are likely to benefit from such transparency. The narrative for any gap is a particularly important opportunity for employers who have a relatively large gender pay gap. The media and the public often confuse the issues of the ‘gender pay gap’ and ‘equal pay’, even though the two are very different concepts. Employers should use their narrative to minimise the risk of confusion and take the opportunity to explain the nuances or legacy issues in their organisation, which may have led to a gender pay gap. This should encourage a level of transparency that enables employees to question and challenge reward models and packages, and employers to highlight their efforts to achieve gender pay parity.   Aoife Newton is Head of Corporate Immigration and Employment Law at KPMG Ireland.

Apr 01, 2020
Spotlight

Six influential Chartered Accountants in business and politics share their stories. Chartered Accountants are in many ways a driving force in the economy. With more than 16,000 members working in industry, and many in C-suite roles, our colleagues are found in every sector and at every level. In the pages that follow, we meet a number of trailblazing Chartered Accountants at various stages in their career. Each has had a significant influence on Ireland Inc. and continues to exemplify the very best aspects of the profession. From Sharon Cunningham, Co-Founder of Shorla Pharma to Michael Cawley, former Deputy Chief Executive at Ryanair, these profiles offer a snapshot of the talent and influence within the membership – qualities that will be in high demand in these uncertain times. Senan Murphy The CRH Group Finance Director discusses his journey from technical subject matter expert to general manager and leader. CRH Group Finance Director, Senan Murphy, divides his career into five chapters, beginning with his education and training as a Chartered Accountant and culminating in his current role. “I was interested in maths, business and science in school and did a BComm in UCD,” he recalls. “You could take a number of routes after that, but Chartered Accountancy looked the most interesting to me. I did a Diploma in Professional Accounting, which took the first three years out of the accounting exams at the time.” Senan joined Arthur Andersen in 1990 when it was one of the so-called Big 8. “I stayed there for five years and it was a very good place to work. It was a great transition from college into the real world. I moved into industry in 1995.” That saw him move to GE and begin chapter two. “Practice is a great experience, but you are an adviser. I wanted to be part of the execution and implementation; not just give advice and come back the following year to see how it worked out.” His GE career took in finance, acquisitions and business development in Europe and then the US, before moving back to Europe to what became GE Money. But the call of home was loud, and he moved back to Ireland with his wife and children in 2003 to begin the next chapter with Eddie O’Connor in Airtricity. “I stayed and helped grow the business until it was sold to SSE in 2008,” he said. That saw the beginning of chapter four with Senan moving into banking, first with RBS Ulster Bank and then Bank of Ireland. “2008 was an interesting time for the sector,” he noted with at least a hint of humour. “When something is in a crisis, you learn more than when things are going smoothly. It was a tough time for the banking industry but an interesting time to be part of it.” He sees the transition from subject matter expert to general management as quite natural for a Chartered Accountant. “The move from accountancy to financial leader to general management happens naturally. You start off learning about the financial side, but most of the job is about managing people. It’s about collaborating, working in teams and leading teams. As a financial manager, you get more and more involved in the commercial and operational sides of the business. In Airtricity, I became more and more involved in growing the business. “In some ways, it’s good to leave the numbers behind,” he continues. “As you go on, it’s about building good teams around you. The expertise around you comes from them. You become an orchestrator in a way. Accountants all start off the same way, and a lot of Chartered Accountants own their own business or end up running businesses. We don’t all stay in the financial world.” His fifth chapter sees him back in the role of Group Finance Director with CRH. “It’s a large organisation with lots of operating companies around the world. My job is to help drive performance and improve the business, but I also help to recruit, develop and promote talent globally. I also spend a fair amount of time talking to the owners of businesses. We have lots of shareholders around the world who want to hear from us.” For Senan, the people agenda is the most enjoyable. “That’s the part I enjoy most. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the people coming through the system who are more capable than their years might suggest. I also enjoy meeting shareholders. Some are supportive; some are quite challenging. Those two parts are very enjoyable.” He believes Chartered Accountancy has provided a good grounding for his career. “When you come out of college, you have to decide if you want to go into a business or go into practice and train as an accountant there. Practice is a good place to start with people of a similar age. You have to be a team player and learn to work with others. You have a number of clients and you have to build relationships with them. You’re not quite in a sales role, but you are really.” Michael Cawley Michael Cawley recalls his unorthodox path to Chartered Accountancy and life as the second in command at one of the world’s most successful airlines. With the candour we’ve come to expect from people associated with Ryanair, Michael Cawley says his reasons for becoming a Chartered Accountant were mostly materialistic. “My sister had a few boyfriends who were accountants and they had cars,” he says. “That was quite impressive, and it stuck out as most people didn’t have cars at that time.” Having never studied accountancy in school, Michael chose to pursue a commerce degree in UCC. “I liked it, and I went to Coopers & Lybrand afterwards. I spent three years auditing, and I hated it with a passion! The moment I qualified and finished my training contract, I walked out the door.” After a year teaching in UCC, he went into industry with the Cork-based motor dealer, Frank Boland. “I wanted to be in the middle of the action rather than just recording what had happened. I worked there until 1981 when I moved to Dublin to work for Kodak for five years.” His next move was to Athlone Extrusions as Managing Director. He led a management buy-out (MBO) of the company in 1990, the biggest such transaction in Irish corporate history at the time. The company later went on to a public flotation. After that, he moved back to the motor industry with Gowan Group in 1993. “I enjoyed my time there, but it was a family-owned company, so there was no prospect of a stake in the business,” he says. His move to Ryanair in 1997 as CFO and later, Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer had its roots in the Athlone Extrusions MBO. “I worked on it with Gerry McEvoy in KPMG and Tony Ryan was one of his clients. I stayed in contact with him and he knew I had ambitions beyond the Gowan Group. I was 42 or 43 at the time and I wanted to really have a good lash at something. Ryanair was about to float at the time.” That connection led him to join the airline at a crucial stage in its history. “Incredible as it may sound, I got on with Michael O’Leary from day one. I had a good few rows with him over the years as well, of course. It was always exciting, sometimes frustrating, but I was extremely lucky to be involved. It suited me from the outset.” He describes it as a phenomenal opportunity. “Low fares were in their infancy back then. We transformed air travel across Europe. I have dealt with more than 300 airports across Europe; lots of them were a bit like Knock back then, small with a few connections. We breathed life into many communities and helped them build up tourism industries. Bergamo in Italy had 130,000 passengers when we started there; that increased to 13 million by 2014. Charleroi grew from 30,000 to 7.5 million.” He stepped down from his executive role with Ryanair in 2014. He took up several non-executive directorships with a wide range of organisations including the Gowan Group, Kingspan plc, Fáilte Ireland and, of course, Ryanair. “I was 60 and grandchildren had started to come along,” he explains. “When I joined, we had 3.5 million passengers, and when I left, we had reached 83 million. It was 142 million last year. I’m delighted to still be on the board. I’m in and out every five or six weeks to catch up, so I haven’t really left. I’ve also been lucky enough to have become involved in a number of very fine businesses.” Michael concludes by   emphasising the need to keep pace with change. “You have to be open to change. Despite the advent of artificial intelligence and so on, accountants will still be able to master their environment. But we have to stay up-to-speed and be flexible and humble about the need to change. You can be top of the pyramid today, and irrelevant in six months’ time.” Ronan Dunne Ronan Dunne, the self-declared “accidental accountant”, has taken opportunities as they arose – and to great effect. A stellar career that has seen Ronan Dunne become Executive Vice President and CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, the largest division of the world’s biggest telecoms company, could have been very different if not for a teachers’ strike back in 1981. “I was all set to do Law in UCD, but there was an examiners’ strike the year I did the Leaving Cert,” he says. “The papers couldn’t be marked and there were no college offers.” And then fate took a hand in the form of intervention by Terry O’Rourke, Managing Partner of Touche Ross, and a past pupil of his school. “He contacted the Dean and said if anyone was interested, they had three to four unfilled slots for trainee accountants. I was one of those kids who was always fascinated by finance. My dad worked for Shell in a finance role and I was always interested in it.” A phone call from the Dean and a chat with O’Rourke sealed the deal. “It sounded like an interesting opportunity, so I decided to give it a go. I am an accidental accountant.” Six years later, the newly qualified Chartered Accountant was about to experience his next encounter with fate. An injury in his final year at school had put paid to a promising rugby career, but he was also an excellent soccer player and went on to play at senior level for the Mount Merrion club in south Dublin. “We were playing in a soccer tournament in Wales, and I visited my brother in London as part of the trip. I was sitting in his apartment when my mother rang, saying a lady had called about a job interview. The job was in London so I borrowed a suit and tie from my brother, went for the interview that afternoon with BNP and by 4.30pm had a job offer. It was 1987 and the markets were on fire. They couldn’t recruit fast enough. I signed a contract, went back home and packed my bags, and returned to London three weeks later.” Rapid promotion followed, and by the age of 25 Ronan had become the chief accountant at the bank. He then switched to the banking side of the operation where he dealt mainly with major US corporates with operations in Europe. And then came a call to jump the fence. That saw him switch to senior finance and treasury roles, first with Waste Management International and then with transport and logistics group, Exel. Dunne’s next move saw him follow his former boss at Exel into BT Mobile, which was about to become O2 and de-merge from its parent. “In 2005, O2 was acquired by Telefónica and I became CEO of Telefónica UK in 2007,” he says. “That was an interesting back story. When I became CFO in 2004, my boss gave me responsibility for legal and regulation, then procurement, and then asked me to take on HR as well. After a while, I pointed out that I was doing all the heavy lifting and doing three jobs instead of one. He said I had missed the point. I clearly had the capability to be a general manager, and he was getting me ready to be a success in such a role. I still thought my future was as a big public company CFO. My boss and my chairman saw my potential before I did.” Dunne’s departure to Verizon followed a blocked sale of the business to Hutchinson in 2015. “I had decided to leave once the deal was closed. I had a fairly extensive non-compete agreement, so I had to move sector or move geography. Verizon is the largest telecoms company in the world and when I got that approach, there was no way I would turn it down. In late 2016, we headed off to New Jersey.” “My training as a Chartered Accountant has been incredibly valuable at every stage in my career,” he adds. “It really is best-in-class, and I don’t think there is a better skillset out there. In my opinion, a good Chartered Accountant is better than any MBA from any business school in the world. It’s the best business qualification out there.” And he has some advice for his fellow accountants. “The biggest challenge and opportunity for accountants is to realise that your success is measured not by what you do, but by what you can make happen and the influence you have on people. Building teams, coaching and developing them, and bringing them on a journey with you is what’s most important.” Sharon Cunningham Ambition and tenacity helped Sharon Cunningham forge a path from practice to the cutting edge of pharmaceutical innovation and entrepreneurship.   Award-winning entrepreneur, Sharon Cunningham, learned about business and accounts literally at the kitchen table. The Shorla Pharma founder was interested in business from a very early age. “Both of my parents owned companies, and it was ingrained in us from a very young age. They did the books on the kitchen table. I used to go to the accountants with my mother and was fascinated by the questions the accountant would ask. My mother was focused on things like sales and cash and had her own goals. The accountant was asking about things like profit margins, inventory management and so on.” That early inspiration led her to a degree in finance in UCC. “I wasn’t 100% sure what I was going to do when I went to college at first, but by the time I finished I knew I wanted to be a Chartered Accountant and wanted to get a training contract, preferably with one of the Big 4.” Sharon went to work with PwC in Waterford initially but soon found herself travelling to Dublin, Chicago, New York and London. “It was fun but difficult; it was lots of hard work, but it was great. I went on an international secondment to an investment fund in Manhattan. That was a great experience.” Her move to industry came about almost by chance. “At the height of the recession in December 2010, I was working on a very challenging audit. A colleague of mine got wind of a job going in a pharmaceutical company I had never heard of in Waterford. I met with the co-founders of EirGen, Tom Brennan and Patsy Carney. They are very inspirational people, and I joined the company.” Having spent seven years with the company, initially as a management accountant and later as Head of Finance, Sharon decided that it was time to start her own venture with her colleague, Orlaith Ryan. “EirGen was sold to a multinational in 2015 for $135 million in a very successful exit,” she explains. “After the takeover, the company started to change and was no longer the entrepreneurial organisation that we knew and loved. The excitement wasn’t there anymore, and both of us knew it was time to move on.” Their idea was to establish a speciality pharmaceutical company based in Clonmel, which would develop a pipeline of innovative oncology drugs for women’s and children’s cancers. “We spent two years planning Shorla at night and in our spare time, and we launched the company in January 2018,” says Cunningham. “Both of us would say that at no point were we scared. We believed in ourselves and our vision for what we wanted to do; we never thought it would fail.” That confidence was well-founded. “We don’t have billions of dollars and 20 years to wait like major pharmaceutical corporations. We are not a major corporation, nor are we a generics company. We are somewhere in between. We take existing active substances and do something novel with them. We put them to different uses and make them less toxic to the patient. The time to market is much quicker. Business is great and we are very busy. We are in the middle of multi-million euro ‘Series A’ funding round and we are growing and scaling up for the US market launch of our first product, a breast and ovarian cancer drug.” It is a bit unusual for a Chartered Accountant to set up a pharmaceutical company, she concedes. “But accountancy is a very useful skill to have in any industry. The Chartered Accountant qualification gives you a certain degree of confidence when you talk about numbers; people listen to you and don’t tend to probe too much. They accept and trust what you say. The profession as a whole has a very positive impact on society.” Sharon’s experience has taught her the value of planning. “It’s much more beneficial to work smarter, not harder,” she says. “Everyone should sit down and decide what they want to do and what they want to be, and then map out a way to get there. Don’t get bogged down in small details; don’t sweat the small stuff.” Michael McGrath Having moved from practice to politics via industry, Michael McGrath has brought his training and experience to bear in his role as Fianna Fáil’s finance spokesperson. One of the most prominent faces in politics in recent years has been that of Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson, Michael McGrath. The Cork South Central deputy has earned plaudits for his work on tracker mortgages and the regulation of so-called vulture funds, among other pressing issues. And he attributes at least part of that success to his training as a Chartered Accountant. “There is no doubt about it, the training I received as a Chartered Accountant has proven to be far more valuable than I ever thought it would,” he says. “It equipped me with the skills to get to grips with the finance portfolio. It also makes you comfortable with numbers and reaching informed decisions. The analytical skills you acquire are hugely valuable when it comes to problem-solving.” He started out on his professional and political journeys at a very young age. “I was the first member of my family to go to college when I went to study Commerce in UCC having just turned 17,” he recalls. “My first election was a contested role in the Commerce and Economics Society, and I won.” Having completed his degree in 1997, he joined KPMG in Cork. “I wanted to stay in Cork and was keen to get a professional qualification. I stayed for four years and was fortunate to work with a number of companies and organisations in a variety of sectors.” Then came the move into industry. “Following the end of the training contract, an excellent opportunity came up to join Red FM, a new start-up commercial radio station in Cork. I joined as Financial Controller in late 2001. The station had yet to go on air, and I was involved in helping set up the processes and systems to run it. It was great working for a station with a youth focus. I was reporting to the CEO and the board, and I enjoyed the diverse range of responsibilities. It was very nice having a company car as a 25-year-old, of course. I didn’t think things could get much better.” He left Red FM for a relatively short stint in the UCC finance function. “It was quite a senior role and a step up for me,” he notes. But the call of politics was loud. “I always had an interest in politics in parallel with my working life,” he explains. “I was fortunate to live in a town that still had a town council. That provided a fantastic platform for a young person to contest an election. A few hundred votes was all you needed to get elected. I ran in 1999 at the age of 22 and managed to get elected. My heart was set on politics after that.” Michael was elected to Cork County Council in 2004 and quickly realised he couldn’t continue working full-time. “I resigned from UCC in 2005 and found some part-time work to tide me through the next year and a half.” Election to the Dáil in 2007 followed. Re-election in 2011 was an altogether more difficult proposition, however. “It was an incredibly tough election. Fianna Fáil lost over 50 seats. At a time when the party vote collapsed, I managed to take the fifth and final seat. I focused on playing my part in rebuilding the party after that. Brian Lenihan passed away in June 2011, and I was appointed spokesperson on finance.” He enjoys his role as a public representative. “It is an enormous privilege to be a member of Dáil Éireann, and I still pinch myself walking in as a member. As a T.D., I am juggling a number of responsibilities. I have the finance portfolio and at a local level, I try to serve people to the best of my ability. What I get most out of it is being able to help people. Very often, people come in with difficult and sensitive issues. Sometimes they need guidance; sometimes they need someone to fight their corner.” Serving in government remains an ambition, of course. “Having spent nine years as finance spokesperson and four years involved in confidence and supply, to present a budget as Minister for Finance would naturally be an ambition,” he says. Fergal O’Dwyer Fergal O’Dwyer is one of the driving forces that helped turn DCC into the industrial powerhouse it is today. DCC is one of those quiet Irish success stories. Since its flotation in 1994, it has grown into a significant force in the energy, electronics and healthcare sectors with a substantial presence in 17 countries. From an investor perspective, the company delivered returns of nearly 7,000% up to the beginning of 2020. One constant throughout that success has been Chief Financial Officer, Fergal O’Dwyer, who joined the company in 1989 when it was still a venture capital firm. “Shortly after I joined, the company decided to change its colours and become an industrial group,” he recalls. “That required a complete transformation. We had a number of minority investments and had to decide which ones fitted in with the new strategy and which did not. Between 1990 and 1994, we spent our time moving out of some of them and moving to ownership positions in the others. I am not aware of other companies that made that strategic change.” He began his accountancy career with Craig Gardner (now PwC) almost straight out of school due to a natural aptitude. “I did maths and accountancy subjects at school and was always going to head towards finance or accountancy. I didn’t have a burning desire to be an accountant or anything, I sort of gravitated towards it.” O’Dwyer qualified as a Chartered Accountant at the age of 21 with a year or so of his training contract remaining. Ireland was in the depths of a recession at the time, and the search for opportunities took him overseas. His search took him and his wife to South Africa. “After we got married in 1983, we headed off to South Africa. I worked for three years there for Thomson McLintock, which represented KPMG at the time, and came back to PwC in 1986.” That move back led him indirectly to DCC. “I had clients who were looking for development capital, and I had worked on a number of deals on their behalf with DCC and they had worked out well for everyone. In 1989, I got a call from the founder and former CEO of DCC, Jim Flavin, who asked me to join the firm.” That was a major change. “I became an associate director of a venture capital company. I was dealing with entrepreneurs and building relationships with them. I learned about the venture capital focus on return on capital employed. That’s still the same mantra in DCC to this day. What is the return we are going to get on every euro? We aim to get a circa 15% return because we want returns well in excess of the cost of capital.” He describes the transformation from venture capitalist to industrial group as “very exciting”, but the flotation in 1994 was not without its challenges. “The flotation was a success, but we didn’t raise any capital, and our share price didn’t perform for quite a long time. We wore out a lot of shoe leather explaining our business and strategy. It has been all about constant delivery over the years, getting investors to listen and building a following. We were growing revenue, growing profits, growing cash flow, but still were having to work hard to sell the story. It was frustrating, but we had to accept that the market is always right.” His advice to other Chartered Accountants starting out on their careers is to keep learning. “The qualification equips you to do much more than just the numbers. You’ve got to interpret and advise on them. I still learn every day and you have to try to learn all the time. And you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. You can find business to be stressful, but if you put in the work and effort, it can be rewarding and fulfilling.”

Apr 01, 2020
Personal Impact

As climate-related threats increasingly dominate our environment, attention is now turning to the impact on global financial stability. Mark Kennedy looks at the effect on the financial services industry and how the regulatory landscape is likely to change. On an almost daily basis, we can see the devastation climate-related events have on our world. Yet as communities battle with the catastrophic impact of storms, floods and bush fires, another threat is emerging: how to manage the risk to the global economy and financial stability. The severity of the threat to financial stability has shifted the agenda from whether central banks and regulators should act on the climate crisis to what measures ought to be put in place. While financial institutions can expect a significant increase in regulatory focus, the complexities supervisory authorities now face in monitoring the physical, liability and transition risks posed by climate-related threats creates several challenges to implementation. A global survey of 33 central banks in six regions by Mazars and the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) highlighted significant hurdles to developing a framework to manage and supervise climate-related risk. They include a lack of climate-risk data at firm level (Figure 1), disagreement over mandate and responsibilities, and a lack of harmonisation on green investment taxonomies.  Financial system exposures For financial firms and investors, the ability to quantify exposure to climate-related risks is vital – particularly as the regulatory dial shifts to a greener investment landscape, where the danger of holding stranded assets is a significant risk for the banking and asset management industry. This shift not only affects their capacity to generate returns, but also their ability to meet capital requirements set by regulators. For insurance companies, climate-related claims or liabilities can be managed to some extent through catastrophe bonds or other financial instruments. However, the growing number and severity of natural catastrophe events also require insurance companies to explore a broader range of tools to manage their natural catastrophe risk exposure more effectively. Failure by financial services firms and regulators to monitor and manage climate risk exposures could result in significant damage to global economies. Also, rising insurance costs and unmanageable claims, asset value destruction, and vastly reduced investment performance could impact the overall stability of the financial system. The question now is: how do we begin to manage these risks? Reaction from regulators As the Mazars report identifies, a consistent approach by regulators to supervise climate risk is still some way off. While central banks are looking to implement models, the sheer scale, speed and complexity of climate risks pose unique challenges for stress-testing and modelling. According to the report, to date, a minority of central banks and regulators surveyed are currently conducting climate-related scenario analyses in their routine stress tests (Figure 2). One barrier to implementation is the growing consensus that conventional macroeconomic models are inadequate. Instead, integrating climate risk scenario analyses into standard stress tests requires drawing from alternative techniques, such as stock-flow consistent and agent-based modelling. There’s a growing appetite for an approach that also factors in the opportunities created as the investment landscape moves from brown to green. Rewarding positive behaviour Initiatives such as the European Green Deal focus on making changes that protect the environment, as well as supporting positive societal and economic change. As investments in clean technology or sustainable projects are given a more prominent platform, there is potential for investment growth and new business opportunities to expand. By rewarding positive behaviour, such initiatives have a significant role to play in reducing the overall risk of climate-related events as societies transition to a greener way of living. Importantly, it also drives positive behaviours at firm level as it encourages the financial services industry to transition business operations towards a more sustainable economic future. Looking ahead, financial firms that embrace green investment taxonomies and promote societal improvements will help to reduce the need for market and regulatory intervention. The impact on reporting As the regulatory landscape reacts and adapts to climate-related threats, CFOs and accountancy firms will need a framework that adopts the right balance of financial and non-financial reporting requirements. While the industry can expect more stringent regulation on stress-testing and modelling specific climate-related scenarios, there is also a need to assess non-financial exposures relating to legislative or practice-led changes on environmental issues. At firm level, this may involve questions on whether a policy change is likely to impact future business strategies and firm sustainability. A standardised approach to categorising different impacts and harmonising definitions is essential. According to the Mazars’ report, “the lack of harmonised definitions is an important deterrent for establishing, in a comparable manner, which activities and sectors should be considered aligned with the goals of environmental sustainability, and therefore to assess institutions’ exposure to climate risk.”  Looking ahead As we move into an era when environmental and societal issues are connected more than ever to the business landscape, it is vital that financial institutions now collaborate and pull together with regulatory authorities and professional bodies to work towards a more sustainable future for all. As a respected global financial hub, Dublin can take the lead on moving the conversation forward and help companies explore approaches to managing climate risk. It is also an opportunity to think about long-term sustainability issues that will help to enhance shareholder value. By asking the right questions, we can begin to implement a framework that not only helps manage the impact of climate-related risk, but also emphasises the opportunities.   Mark Kennedy FCA is Managing Partner at Mazars Ireland.

Apr 01, 2020
Management

Raymond Donegan and Ted Webb outline the four steps to a successful sale. As a business owner, selling up is probably the most significant decision you will make in your working life. It is a difficult and often emotional process. However, with the right guidance, it can be navigated over a period of roughly six to eight months to everyone’s satisfaction. Four steps, if followed, will maximise the potential for a successful sale. Step 1: Preparation  The preparation stage sets the tone for the sale. At this point, your corporate finance adviser will draft an information memorandum with your assistance. This should be a compelling document, which will generally contain an executive summary and details of: business history; products or services offered; customers and market; future opportunities; overview of management, staff and facilities; and recent and forecast financial information. In addition to drafting the information memorandum, a comprehensive list of potential buyers should be drawn up by you and your corporate finance adviser. It is better to sell a business that is enjoying a period of growth with some suggestion of future growth remaining for the next owner. Also, if you want or need to retire by a specific date, it is best not to leave the sale too late. Specific areas of preparation to address include financial items such as fixed assets, working capital such as debtors and creditors, operating expenses, and shareholder costs. It is also crucial to assess the status of non-financial items, including management structure, intellectual property, tax status, and the business’ online presence. Step 2: Value the business and make initial contact with potential buyers The key drivers of value from a potential buyer’s perspective are the ability of your business to generate cash and its future risk and growth prospects. Several valuation methodologies can be used, including EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) multiples, EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) multiples, and discounted cash flow. Once value has been established, it is time to contact potential buyers. The decision on which parties to approach will depend on the nature of your business and the type of sale process you are planning. Generally, the best result comes from a controlled auction process where several potential buyers are contacted. The benefit of this process is that, by the time the sale goes through, you will definitively know the market value of the business. Your corporate finance adviser will ensure that interested potential buyers receive an information memorandum after signing a confidentiality agreement. Prospective buyers then have approximately four weeks to respond with non-binding indicative offers, and once the offers are received, you and your adviser will decide whom to meet. Step 3: Management presentations and preferred buyer selection There is no substitute for face-to-face meetings; this is arguably the most critical stage of the entire sales process. Afterwards, your corporate finance adviser will request revised offers from interested parties. Now, you and your corporate finance adviser will decide on the preferred party. The price will play a large part in that decision, but other vital factors may include the structure of the deal and bidders’ plans for the future. You will naturally prefer to be paid in full immediately, whereas the buyer will prefer to pay over time. Ways to reach a compromise include: Deferred consideration: when an element of the consideration is paid after an agreed period; and Earnout: when the payment of deferred consideration is conditional on achieving specific financial targets such as an agreed level of sales or profits, or non-financial milestones such as renewing a contract. Once a preferred party is chosen, the heads of terms will be negotiated. This is a short document, which details the key financial and commercial terms of the deal. Step 4: Due diligence and negotiations The final stage of the process involves the preferred party undertaking due diligence on the target business, and all parties negotiating the necessary legal documents to conclude the transaction. Due diligence is akin to an invasive audit, but it is a necessary evil. It usually lasts six to eight weeks and covers several areas including financial and tax, commercial, products/services, legal/intellectual property, human resources and pensions, environmental, technical and property. Remember, the potential buyer’s view of your business can be positively reinforced if you can provide the information promptly. After three to four weeks of due diligence, the buyer’s lawyer will produce the first draft of the legal documents that will give effect to the sale. Assuming you are selling a company, these documents will include a share purchase agreement and a tax deed but may also feature other documents.  Conclusion  Selling a business is a complicated, lengthy exercise that most business owners will only do once in their lifetime. There can be a significant difference between a well-run, competitive sale process and a poorly executed transaction. An experienced team of advisers will know the best techniques to enhance value and mitigate risk for you and your business. Only by engaging with such a team can you expect to maximise your position.   Raymond Donegan is Director and Head of Family Businesses at IBI Corporate Finance. Ted Webb FCA is Managing Director at IBI Corporate Finance.

Apr 01, 2020
Innovation

Organisations must develop a cyber strategy and culture that considers the human element if they are to minimise the associated financial, legal and reputational consequences of potential security breaches, writes Sarah Hipkin. Top-level executives are fully aware of the harm cybersecurity breaches can inflict on an organisation, and that having the right safeguards in place is vital. Safeguards include technical assessments, penetration testing, and reporting alongside compliance with applicable regulations, standards and reporting frameworks. These are integral components of the preventative measures organisations should take, yet failing to consider how human behaviour impacts on such technical and operational measures means any existing safeguards remain vulnerable. The latest statistics and trends on data breach notifications from Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) show that, out of the 6,069 notifications made to the DPC in 2019, 83% are classed as ‘unauthorised disclosures’ by employees. These disclosures include emails and texts sent to an incorrect recipient, processing errors, and disclosures through online customer portals. Furthermore, 61% of Irish organisations have suffered cybercrime such as fraud in the last two years, with an average estimated loss of €3.1 million. We have seen the impact of high-profile data breaches on numerous occasions involving Ashley Madison, Wannacry, Yahoo and Facebook. Yet if we look beyond the figures, common to all types of security breaches is the human element that underpins an organisation’s cyberculture. Recognise cyber complexities Recognising the complex nature of cyber threats is the first step to understanding how the human element has an impact. As well as internal breaches caused by human error, one must also consider negligent or malicious employee behaviour. Negligent breaches occur when employees are not fully aware of the expected cyber practices, the benefits of safeguards, or attempt to circumvent policies due to the sophisticated technical measures in place. Malicious cyber behaviour, on the other hand, often stems from a disgruntled employee who plans to leak sensitive data to harm the company or access information for personal financial gain. Cyber threat considerations also extend to third-party suppliers that work closely with an organisation and may have data access privileges. Add to this the ever-present problem of how all employees respond to external threats such as hacking, phishing or ransomware and we can begin to see how human behaviour can impact on an organisation’s ability to contain cyber threats. Develop safe behaviour patterns Employing safe cyber behaviour policies is vital. Safe behaviour is particularly important as organisations increasingly use the cloud to facilitate more flexible working practices and employees, and in the current climate most employees are working from home. Education on the use of social media platforms is another consideration, and organisations must emphasise the difference between safe and unsafe cyber behaviour in terms of how to control information in the public domain. Rather than merely implementing technical measures such as firewalls or rules that list unsafe cyber practices, organisations should adopt strategies that highlight the practical aspects of cyber behaviour. If employees understand the impact their behaviour has on job security, reputation and trust, they will be more likely to understand and adopt safe cyber behaviour practices. Understand cybercrime drivers While developing safe behaviour patterns may not necessarily deter internal or external cybercrime threats intent on financial or reputational damage, it raises employee awareness of malicious cyber behaviour. Such malicious threats can stem from a moral class action initiative or, as we have seen with ransomware incidents, for financial gain. Whatever the motive or format, all threats inflict financial and reputational damage in different ways. Understanding what makes an organisation’s data desirable to a cyber threat is part of the process in formulating a robust cyber strategy and policies. Building a psychological storyboard of potential motives can focus on testing areas such as strengthening customer password technology or supplementing employee role-based training in a particular area. Address cultural differences Policies that are implemented must be closely aligned with the culture of the company. While cyber behaviour commonalities exist across all sectors, the social make-up of the workforce should be a consideration when developing policies and training needs. Creating a cyber behaviour policy and training programme for a retail company will look different from one designed for a public sector organisation, for example. With a younger workforce in general, retail companies may wish to emphasise negligent breaches, particularly around web browsing and social media platforms. A younger workforce can also be at increased risk of phishing emails that focus on entertainment to encourage infectious click-throughs. In contrast, the profile of public sector workers suggests susceptibility to phishing emails that masquerade as official communication. Focus on data hotspots Linked to the social make-up of the workforce, companies should also consider relevant cyber hotspots. Departments that focus on email communication can be more at risk of accidental data breaches, whereas the finance function can be at a higher risk of business email compromise  threats. The careful assessment of human risk and behaviour in these areas can help strengthen more cyber-vulnerable areas of the business and bolster general policies, training and awareness-raising activities. It is also important to refresh risk assessments and training programmes to reflect any changes in the business, such as home working, and ensure that systems have the integrity to keep pace with cyber threats that constantly mutate and evolve. Adopting a preventive approach to cyber threats – one that moves away from implementing technical and operational risk controls in isolation and takes human factors into account – must begin at board level. Leadership from the top not only has the power to enforce cybersecurity awareness more effectively, but it also encourages crucial buy-in from all employees. However, care must be taken to ensure that the measures employed will protect the privacy of employees and customers alike. As we have seen with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), laws on data privacy are not only here to stay but, as our data lives become increasingly connected, the law will become more stringent. Nor should an organisation underestimate the disruption to productivity arising from data breaches. The possibility of data infringements lying undetected for many weeks or months, followed by months of regulatory investigation and follow-up assessments, can stretch human and financial resources to the limit. To minimise such disruption, boards must consider human behaviour elements when developing a cyber strategy and programmes. Doing so will give their organisations the best chance of reducing the financial, legal and reputational consequences of potential security breaches in the future. Sarah Hipkin is Director, Data Protection, at Mazars Ireland.

Apr 01, 2020
Ethics and Governance

Karen Flannery and Níall Fitzgerald consider the critical points in the revised Chartered Accountants Ireland Code of Ethics, which came into effect on 1 March 2020. The revised Chartered Accountants Ireland Code of Ethics took effect on 1 March 2020. The revised Code was necessary to increase alignment with the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA) Code of Ethics, which underwent a significant restructure in recent years. While there are no changes to the fundamental principles, Chartered Accountants familiar with the previous Code of Ethics (effective September 2016 to 29 February 2020) will find the look and feel of the revised Code significantly different. While additional sections and emphasis were included, others were removed. This results in greater clarity and ease of navigation. Figure 1 provides an overview of the revised Chartered Accountants Ireland Code of Ethics. Added emphasis on fundamental principles The five fundamental principles of the Code of Ethics remain unchanged. These include integrity; objectivity; professional competence and due care; confidentiality, and; professional behaviour. The conceptual framework that describes the approach used to identify, evaluate and address threats to compliance with the fundamental principles also remains the same. However, there is now a heightened emphasis on the fundamental principles and the use of the overarching conceptual framework underlying each section of the Code. Before, much of the narrative was contained in a single section of the Code. Responding to non-compliance with laws and regulations New sections were added concerning non-compliance with laws and regulations (NOCLAR) for professional accountants in practice (Section 360) and professional accountants in business (Section 260). These bring the NOCLAR provisions of the IESBA Code of Ethics into the Institute’s Code. A vital feature of the NOCLAR provisions is the specific in-Code permission to breach the principle of confidentiality in the public interest. This permission has been explicit in the Institute’s Code for several years and so, the NOCLAR provisions can be seen as a change of detail rather than of substance. The new sections outline the required actions when NOCLAR is discovered and provide additional guidance in this area. Key points to note concerning the NOCLAR provisions are: The first response to identified NOCLAR is to raise the matter, and seek to address it, at the appropriate level within the relevant organisation (internally); Where NOCLAR is not dealt with appropriately internally, the professional accountant considers whether to report to an external authority in the public interest. The decision to report externally is (as it always has been) a complex one; and Where a report is made in the public interest and good faith, there is no breach of the confidentiality requirements of the Code of Ethics. However, there may be legal implications for the professional accountant to consider. Revised layout The most obvious change is the revised layout of the Code of Ethics, which now mirrors the structure of the IESBA Code of Ethics with additional material for members of Chartered Accountants Ireland. A new paragraph numbering format was introduced and as a result, sections were restructured (e.g. what was “Part C” (Professional Accountants in Business) is now “Part 2” in the revised Code).The revised layout facilitates more natural referencing and distinguishes between the Code’s requirements (in bold text and denoted by the letter ‘R’) and application material or guidance (indicated by the letter ‘A’). Complexity has been reduced by simplifying sentences and language in parts. Also a new ‘Guide to the Code’, explaining how it works, has been included. Other content changes Table 1 highlights other notable developments in the revised Code of Ethics and suggests where you might focus your attention depending on whether you are a member in practice or business. Retained Institute ‘add-on’ material Where existing Institute ‘add-on’ content created important additional requirements beyond the IESBA Code, these ‘add-on’ requirements are retained in the revised Code of Ethics. Such requirements include: Specific requirements regarding communicating with the predecessor accountant (Section 320); Particular obligations regarding transparency around the basis for fees and dealing with fee disputes (Section 330); and Agencies and referrals (Section 331). No new ‘add-on’ material was created. Additional support for members The Institute’s online Ethics Resource Centre is updated regularly with a range of supports and guidance for members. Additional information included in the old Code of Ethics, but removed in the revised Code and still considered useful, has been reproduced in a series of new Ethics Releases. The Ethics Releases are not a substitute for the requirements of the Code, but they do provide additional support for members in particular scenarios, including: Code of Ethics and changes in professional appointments; Code of Ethics and confidentiality; Code of Ethics and marketing of professional services; and Code of Ethics and corporate finance advice. Future updates The last substantial change to the Institute’s Code of Ethics was in 2016. While the Code does not change regularly, there is a significant body of work happening behind the scenes to ensure it remains appropriate, precise and effective in the context of the issues affecting the accounting profession. Members can, therefore, expect amendments from IESBA in the coming years; for example, considerations addressing the impact of technology-related ethics issues on the accounting profession. For members who are insolvency practitioners, a new Insolvency Code of Ethics is imminent. The current Code of Ethics for Insolvency Practitioners, appended as Part D of the Institute’s old Code of Ethics for members, remains in effect until then.  Actions speak louder than words It was evident from the Ethics Research Report, published by the Institute in January 2019, that members hold their professional and business ethics in high regard. While the Code of Ethics does not change regularly, it is a hallmark that establishes a minimum standard which is signed up to and shared by all members of the profession. It is useful to be familiar with its requirements and to remember that it is individual member actions that express commitment to the Code of Ethics in addition to a member’s personal ethics. The revised Code is available via the Institute’s Ethics Resource Centre.   Níall Fitzgerald FCA is Head of Ethics and Governance at Chartered Accountants Ireland.  Karen Flannery FCA is Head of Professional Standards Projects at Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Apr 01, 2020
Feature Interview

Joan Curry, who recently joined the first female majority board of IFAC, discusses her varied career in the public sector. Joan Curry is Head of Finance at the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport; ex-chair of the Chartered Accountants Ireland Public Sector Interest Group; member of Council at Chartered Accountants Ireland; and a board member of the International Federation of Accountants. Add to that six children and a keen golfing interest, and one could reasonably say that Joan leads a hectic life. In terms of her professional career, Joan had an interest in figures and accountancy from an early age. “I was the eldest of five children, and my mother and father both worked outside the home,” she recalled. “We swam and my father was treasurer of the swimming club. I helped him with the money, so it was a subliminal introduction really.” At school, Joan and three friends were the first pupils of Mercy College in Coolock to do higher-level maths. “It didn’t occur to us that we were trailblazers or anything like that,” she said. We just did what we did. I got an honour in maths in the Leaving Cert, so I suppose I always had a head for figures.” No college fun Joan planned to do a commerce degree in university when fate took a hand. “My brother’s football coach was an accountant and he called to the house one evening and convinced me to become a Chartered Accountant by working for an accountancy firm,” Joan said. “I took that advice and qualified with Smith Lawlor & Co., now JPA Brenson Lawlor in 1988.” Joan completed her training contract and qualified in 1988 when she moved into industry with Nokia with a desire to gain commercial experience. Nokia was a tissue paper manufacturer, and Kittensoft was its major brand. The company was a big player in the Irish retail FMCG scene at that time. As a financial accountant, Joan was responsible for budget and financial management including the preparation of accounts for consolidation into the European group headquarters and, subsequently, for the United States when it became part of the James River and Georgia Pacific corporations. Looking back, Joan reflected: “In practice, you are engaging with clients annually. There is more continuity in industry; you are part of decisions and can see their cause and effect and results.” It wasn’t all work in Nokia, however. Joan made up for the lack of fun at college as she met her husband in Nokia. “I married the site engineer after he left the company,” she said. A wide and varied career Joan has spent the past 18 years in the civil service in several roles that have broadened her capacities. She gained extensive experience in multi-disciplinary environments and brings all of that to bear in her current financial role with the Department of Transport, Tourism & Sport. Joan’s career in the public sector began with a contract role as a project accountant for the Department of Finance, as it implemented the JD Edwards financial management system. This was later extended into a contract of indefinite duration. In 2011, Joan moved to the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform on its formation to work in the Government Accounting unit, the standard-setter for government accounts in Ireland. There, she built relationships with colleagues in both finance and internal audit in each government department. Joan also spent three years as Head of Corporate Services for the National Shared Services Office. A role that Joan particularly enjoyed while working in the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform was a secondment as Secretary to the Public Service Pay Commission. This was a non-financial role, utterly different to anything she had done before, and involved supporting the Commission in its examination of recruitment and retention matters in specific areas of the public service. Joan managed the research, contribution and report-writing phases of the Commission’s work and engaged with the public sector employer, union and other stakeholders in the process. Current role Joan joined the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport as Head of Finance in August 2019 and her role covers “vote and expenditure management, financial management, risk management, and responsibility for the procurement framework”. The use of the term “vote” serves to highlight the differences between the public sector and private sector accounting practices. This refers to the financial allocation made to a department or public body by the government, which is approved by a vote of the Oireachtas. The differences run deeper than mere terminology, however. The State doesn’t utilise private sector financial reporting standards, nor does it prepare its accounts on an accrual basis. Joan is a firm believer that the State’s move to re-examine this area and consider the use of accrual accounting is the right one. A change in policy here would be consistent with OECD guidance on the matter Joan stressed. Joan reflects that, in contrast to government accounting, local authorities have been engaged in an advanced form of accrual accounting since 2002. They prepare their accounts in accordance with an accounting code of practice, which complies with FRS102 where applicable. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has an oversight role in various bodies under its aegis and at times, Joan’s expertise is called on by departmental colleagues directly involved in the oversight function. “It extends into the transport sector – public transport, roads, local authorities, and then we have the tourism industry and Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland and the breadth of activity they are involved in to attract tourists. It goes right down to sport and grants to local clubs. I didn’t realise the breadth of services involved until I started working in the department.” And unsurprisingly, there is no such thing as a typical workday for Joan. “There is a huge variety on any given day,” she said. “I try to look at it in its different compartments – vote management, financial management, risk management, and procurement. Those are the four key areas I try to interface with every day.” At the time of writing, the COVID-19 pandemic was taking up much of Joan’s time. “We have been engaged in emergency planning and contingency planning and arranging for staff to work remotely and so on. The staff here have been really fantastic,” Joan said.  Joan is also working daily with critical stakeholders on liquidity funding strategies to keep key transport systems and supply chains going – getting people and goods to where they are needed in light of COVID-19. Volunteer work Joan is a Fellow of the Institute and a Member of Council at Chartered Accountants Ireland. She is also a member and former Chair of the Public Sector Interest Group and recently became a member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). Joan describes her initial introduction to the Institute’s Council as the result of ‘a tap on the shoulder’. “I was approached to run for Council and I agreed. It all goes back to networks. I play in the Chartered Accountants Golf Society and have made some great contacts there. Within an hour of seeking nominations, I had ten nominations and I only needed seven.” Joan’s next step came when she was asked to go forward for the IFAC board. “I was nominated by Chartered Accountants Ireland and was short-listed. I went for the interview and was fortunate enough to be invited to join the board. Being there for Ireland is an immense honour, and being able to contribute that public service perspective is also very important to me.” The 23-member board includes 12 males and 13 females. “It’s gender-balanced, and the overall diversity is great,” she said. “I have four girls and two boys, and I have always stressed to them the importance of equality.” Life outside the office In Joan’s view, one of the best things about working in the public service is the scope offered to do other things. “The support I have received over the years has been invaluable,” she said. “I got better at managing my time and learned that I don’t need to be involved in everything that’s going on. I have improved at delegating and saying no. I have also learned that the time you spend on yourself is good for you and your employer. If you’re not feeling good, you won’t perform at your best.” When her children – Aisling, Ciara, Dearbhla, Shane, Sonia and Karl – are not keeping Joan busy with various college, school and extracurricular activities, she can be found on the golf course. “It’s the perfect place for headspace for me,” she concludes. “And a little competition as well!”

Apr 01, 2020
Management

John Kennedy explains how to turn a casual chat into a steady flow of high-quality clients. A common problem that limits the success of many practices is also one of the most damaging, but happily, it is also one of the easiest to fix. In this article, I will show you how to turn an informal chat into a positive client relationship. When you master this structure, you will be able to manage any conversation so your potential clients will understand how they will benefit from working with you. The self-defeating spiral A typical self-defeating spiral causes significant damage, and it goes something like this: I don’t feel comfortable talking about myself. When I meet potential clients, I often don’t know what to say. I wish I had more clients and more high-quality clients with whom I like to work. I don’t feel successful, so I lack confidence when I talk to potential clients about my practice. For many years, I have focused on identifying what sets high achievers apart. There is overwhelming evidence that the ability to shape and structure a casual conversation is perhaps the single most crucial skill. This skill is not a result of natural talent, charisma or charm – it is a strength that is practised and learned. Successful client conversations It may seem obvious, but a fruitful conversation involves two people taking turns at listening and talking. Yet time and time again, when the pressure of wanting to make a good impression takes over, we make the same mistake. And, odds are, this has happened to you.  It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that your task is to list the many reasons why the other party should become your client. You say more and more about what you think you should tell them until you reach the point – and this can sometimes come frustratingly early – where you run out of things to say or, worse, you keep talking without feeling in control of the conversation as an unwelcome unease inside you begins to grow. Mastering this skill is easier than you think. A fruitful conversation is about listening and talking. You need to understand how to do both effectively and appreciate how each fits together. So, here is the structure of a successful client chat. 1. Prepare The first stage of the conversation takes place when you are on your own. There is no talking or listening, just thinking things through and creating an approach that works. To master the skill of turning casual chats into client contracts, you need to structure your thoughts. You need to understand how best to probe the value your potential client is seeking, the best way to present the value you can offer, and how to propose the next step in what will lead to a long-term, mutually rewarding relationship. 2. Probe The conversation begins here. This stage mostly involves listening and knowing how to guide the other party so that they talk about issues that move the discussion into ‘productive’ territory. Your main task is to keep the conversation casual, interesting to your client, and moving towards an understanding of the value they can achieve by working with you. You do this by asking high-quality questions. As you chat, gently guide the other party through a series of casual questions in a way that helps them clarify their thinking and reach a more valuable understanding of the outcome that is most important to them. The ability to do this effectively is a skill that takes time and practice. However, three fundamental questions form the bedrock of  every successful client conversation: What will success look like? How will you know if we have achieved the success you seek? What is most important to you about achieving that success? You probe your potential client’s thinking by asking these – and related – questions to help them think in a more structured way about their goals. Most clients are unclear as to what they want to achieve, so helping them identify their priorities will encourage them to talk with you more. You don’t do this by telling them how clever you are or by providing all the answers. The real skill and value lie in allowing potential clients to experience your proficiency by helping them structure and organise their thinking. When you master the skill of eliciting the most precise answers possible to these three fundamental questions, you will set yourself apart. By taking this approach, potential clients will experience the value of your expertise, and you will demonstrate that you are focused on helping them define, and then achieve, the success they seek.  These are the firmest possible foundations for a high-value client relationship. 3. Present Only now do you begin to talk more than you listen, and you keep asking questions to maintain focus on the critical issues. In this phase, your task is to help the client see how they will benefit from working with you. You may be inclined to talk about what you will do, but technical considerations are not very motivating for potential clients. Your critical task is to increase their motivation to the point where they decide to work with you. You do this by giving examples, by telling stories of how you helped others facing similar issues, and by focusing on how things will improve. This evidence is already captured in your value menu, where you prepared a store of material that will help your client feel they are in good hands. The stronger they feel about the specific value they will achieve by working with you, the more you will stand out as someone they can trust. 4. Propose In this step, you move the relationship from talk to action. By probing how the other person currently sees things, and how they would like things to be in the future, you are helping them untangle the issues and identify the outcomes about which they feel most strongly. These are the foundations of a strong, trusting relationship. At this point, you may suggest talking further – but before then, you will send a brief note indicating how you can help achieve the success they seek (this is very different to the standard ‘letter of engagement’). The purpose of the note is to confirm that you have fully understood the outcomes your client desires.  A succinct note about the value they will receive will move you from a casual, theoretical chat to a highly practical and highly focused discussion on the specific reasons you should both work together. Like a road journey at night This is likely to be very different to the path you have followed up to now. The traditional, and often ineffective, model tells you that you should outline your expertise at every opportunity; that you should see every conversation as a sales opportunity and sell from the outset. Sometimes this sales “advice” is even more aggressive with outdated jargon that speaks of “closing the deal” or trapping the potential client in the “killing zone”. This is hardly a basis on which to build a high-quality practice with the right clients and high-trust relationships. Instead, the Practice Builder approach outlines the specific steps you should take to help a potential client identify and access the value that is truly important to them. And through a well-structured conversation, you let them experience how you are an essential element in arriving at the outcome they want. It’s like taking a road journey at night. Through your questioning, you help your client identify the destination at which they wish to arrive. You then map out the route and together, you can set off on your conversational journey. You use your questions like headlights, to light up the landmarks and road signs for the next stage of the journey. The critical thing to remember is that you are in the driving seat, choosing the route, and setting the speed – but your client gets to adjust anything that makes the journey comfortable for them, such as opening the window or choosing the music. In this way, the conversation remains a comfortable and stress-free casual chat, but with a clear set of directions, milestones and a destination that you both reach by working together. This approach is fundamentally about helping your client arrive at the success they most value. When you stand out as a master at this, your client will want you on every journey. And they will want to tell all of their friends about you. This is a firm foundation on which to build a successful practice.   John Kennedy is an experienced strategic advisor who has worked with senior management teams in a range of organisations and sectors.

Apr 01, 2020
Innovation

Richard Day and Alannah Comerford explain how Chartered Accountants can enhance their organisations’ data transformation capabilities using Alteryx. With the recent changes to the FAE syllabus, which now includes Tableau, Alteryx and UIPath, the new crop of qualified Chartered Accountants will bring these skills into the workplace. In this article, we will discuss the advantages of using a data processing tool such as Alteryx. The Institute has recognised the value that Alteryx provides, and the onus is now on all of us to leverage the skills and knowledge our bright new crop of young accountants will bring to the workplace. Reflect on the tasks we are required to complete regularly as part of our role as a modern-day Chartered Accountant. Many of us would find that, despite not considering ourselves to be data experts, we cleanse, filter, summarise, append and cross-reference datasets – even if we don’t think of our actions in these terms. We often turn to spreadsheets to do these data-heavy tasks. Many of us have picked up a spreadsheet which has multiple tabs, complex formulae, thousands of rows of data and found it challenging to figure out what is happening. Also, these complex transformations and calculations often have undocumented steps, can be slow to update, require manual effort to repeat, and generally could be better controlled. Alteryx is a data processing tool that facilitates data transformations and calculations in a controlled and repeatable manner and can revolutionise how we process and analyse data.  Given the user-centric design and functionality, all accountants should be able to pick up Alteryx and get started. In Alteryx, steps in a process are represented graphically in a format called a “workflow”. It should, therefore, be far easier for a colleague to view such a workflow and figure out what is happening than if they were to pick up a spreadsheet, as described above.  Repeatable data transformation Take the simple scenario where we need to carry out a task that requires information from two or more systems. We typically export information from each system into separate files and then transfer these files to tabs in a single spreadsheet to carry out the task by summarising information from one tab and looking it up in the other. In an ideal world, with fully integrated systems perfectly tailored to all of our needs, this would be possible to do automatically on the systems themselves. However, this level of integration is not a reality for most of us and as a result, we regularly spend our time on these data transformation tasks. In many cases, data manipulation often represents a significant proportion of the time taken and does not leave much time for the accountant to review and consider the results. Alteryx can help with the data transformation and processing elements of such tasks. It provides the accountant with a way to build a workflow to complete each of the required steps each time such analysis is performed. It would then be a matter of refreshing the input files as needed and running the workflow, eliminating almost all of the time associated with the transformation of the data (see Figure 1). Similarly, Alteryx offers excellent value to an accountant by cleansing the data. In a world with imperfect and unintegrated systems, there may be data quality issues as well as inconsistent data across different systems. We have become used to removing leading zeros in an account or reference number, correcting misspelt names, or translating names of customers or products, so they match across systems. Alteryx allows us to build these data cleansing routines into a workflow to ensure that they are automatically performed the same way any time a file of this type is processed, unlocking real efficiencies. Where we need to perform tasks such as sorting, manipulating or joining files of any reasonable scale, Alteryx comes into its own. Standard steps that are performed regularly are prime targets for Alteryx. This affords excellent opportunities for Chartered Accountants to begin using this tool, as they should have an exceptional understanding of the activity required and the associated inputs and outputs. Robust data processing While many of the functions discussed above would be possible with other tools, Alteryx also has the added advantage of allowing the user to make the data transformation process more robust. While at first, it may be slightly more challenging to use Alteryx rather than filtering, sorting and using copy and paste in a spreadsheet, a Chartered Accountant will quickly become familiar with the tool given its graphical nature. Also, the rigour that is brought to a process by a user deliberately building specific steps into a workflow lends itself to robust processing. In Alteryx, it is also possible and recommended to build in controls to provide comfort over the completeness and accuracy of the information being manipulated at critical stages of the process, assuring that all required data is included and that the result is accurate. The processing is a little more opaque since it generally sits in data files rather than yet another tab on a spreadsheet. You should, therefore, build in the ability to browse the interim data at various stages of your process so you can troubleshoot or review how it looks and check that the different steps are performing as expected. When performing calculations or analysis in a spreadsheet, a small change can cause an error in a set of calculations, and it can be challenging to identify where the error is occurring. There may be hundreds or even thousands of iterations of a formula. As a result, we often see data anomalies fixed with hard-coded values. This is much better in Alteryx as good design will allow errors to be identified and a user cannot revert to hard-coding values, which may not be appropriate for future iterations of a calculation. It is also easier with Alteryx to ensure that inputs are used as provided. It provides a mechanism to revert to the source data when required, which also contributes to the robustness of a process.  Processing at scale In Alteryx, tasks can also be carried out using large volumes of data that would only have been attempted by the bravest of spreadsheet proponents, making tasks that were previously tricky (or in some cases, impossible) more feasible. Some spreadsheets have an outer limit of up to one million lines, but in many cases, the practical limit is much lower since adding formulae to files with only thousands of records can cause them to slow down drastically. Alteryx can handle the bigger datasets we now encounter. In addition, making changes to calculations in spreadsheets can be time-consuming and many have encountered spreadsheet files crashing. Alteryx generally allows changes to be made and re-run quickly. Many workflows will run in seconds while processing simple transformations for millions of records should only take a few minutes. This is a huge advantage when building a workflow, as it enables the user to experiment efficiently and add additional functionality with ease. Documentation The ability to review a workflow and the controls built into it affords management excellent oversight of calculations that may drive critical outputs. Detailed documentation of processes is something that is not always present, especially for data-heavy tasks that began as an ad hoc exercise but are now embedded in everyday activities. Performing data transformation in a tool such as Alteryx and adding annotations to workflows has the added benefit of encouraging the user to define and document what is happening in a process. Outputs The outputs from Alteryx workflows can be produced in a range of formats. It may be that the most convenient output from your Alteryx workflow is a spreadsheet, such as debtors who are over their credit limit. It is also possible for visualisations, such as those covered in previous articles, to be refreshed automatically with data files produced from Alteryx. This can help Chartered Accountants provide significant value to their businesses. Significant value Alteryx may not be required when you are working with easy-to-manipulate data on a once-off basis. In an increasingly regulated and controlled business environment, however, the benefits associated with repeatable, efficient and documented data transformations are of significant value. As we are supported by our soon to be qualified Chartered Accountants on our data analytics journey, we encourage you to share your experiences within your teams. Knowledge-sharing and an open attitude to the improvements technology can bring will breed success.   Richard Day FCA is Partner, Data Analytics & Assurance, at PwC Ireland. Alannah Comerford ACA is Senior Manager, Data Analytics & Assurance, at PwC Ireland.

Apr 01, 2020
Ethics and Governance

From a governance perspective, COVID-19 will test the robustness of our legislation and our ability to take a more technological, and perhaps modern, approach, writes Claire Lord. The Irish Government recently announced additional measures to protect citizens by delaying the spread of COVID-19. One of these measures is social distancing, which requires individuals to keep a two-metre space between them and other people. This measure and the increasing restrictions on international travel is making it difficult for Irish companies to hold ‘in-person’ board meetings and to proceed with shareholder meetings, particularly annual general meetings (AGMs), in the usual way. Against this backdrop, what can companies do to allow business to proceed so as to comply with the law while protecting the health of its directors, employees and shareholders? Board meetings Generally speaking, the board of an Irish company can meet ‘virtually’. This means that board meetings can be conducted by telephone, video conference or a similar facility. For a virtual board meeting to be properly convened, all directors must be able to hear each other and speak to each other. At a virtual board meeting, the quorum is made up of those participating in the meeting. All participating directors are entitled to vote in the usual way and the location of the meeting, consequent on social distancing requirements, is likely to be the location of the chair. The board of an Irish company can also usually pass resolutions in writing. For a written resolution to be valid, it must be signed by all directors of the company at that time. A written resolution takes effect when the last signature is collected. A written resolution can be signed in counterpart and can be circulated and signed electronically. The fully signed version must be retained with the minute book of the company. The written resolution procedure can be used even if one of the directors is not permitted to vote. Where this is the case, the remaining directors sign the resolution and note the name of the director who is not entitled to vote and the reason why. It is always recommended that a directors’ meeting is held where the business to be transacted is contentious, or if it is anticipated that the business to be approved will not be supported unanimously. Directors must also meet where they are required to make a declaration of the company’s solvency as part of the summary approval procedure to approve certain restricted activities. Where these circumstances exist, meeting “virtually” is sufficient. The board of a company must also consider the location of its board meetings or decision-making where it is important from a tax residency perspective for them to be able to demonstrate that the company is managed and controlled in Ireland. Shareholder meetings Companies with AGMs due to occur in the months ahead should consider how best to proceed with their AGMs in a way that complies with the law, and affords shareholders the ability to participate, while observing the Government’s restrictions on mass gatherings. An AGM must have a physical location that is specified in the AGM notice. The quorum for an AGM is determined based on the number of shareholders present in person or by proxy, usually at the physical location of the meeting. Therefore, to avoid a large  number of shareholders attending at the physical location for the meeting, shareholders should be encouraged to appoint a proxy to attend and vote on their behalf. Ideally, shareholders should be encouraged to appoint the same proxy where possible (while always considering how a quorum will be achieved).   While an AGM must have a physical location, a company can permit participation by shareholders at an AGM via technology, once that technology permits shareholders to participate and vote electronically.   Multi-member and single-member private companies limited by shares (LTDs) and single-member companies of other types can dispense with the legal requirement to hold an AGM by opting to carry out the business of the AGM by way of a unanimous written resolution.  Similarly, all company types can pass resolutions in writing.  In the case of LTDs and designated activity companies (DACs), this right applies regardless of any provisions in the company’s constitution.  Similarly, LTDs and DACs can pass majority written resolutions where a particular process is followed. Business as usual? We face significant uncertainty in the months ahead with the spread of COVID-19. Finding ways to conduct business regardless, while protecting the health of others, will test our ingenuity. From a governance perspective, it will allow us to see if our legislation is robust enough to support a more technological and, dare I say it, modern approach.   Claire Lord is a Corporate Partner and Head of Governance and Compliance at Mason Hayes & Curran.

Apr 01, 2020
Personal Development

In the current Covid 19 pandemic, instability and worry have become foremost in our thoughts. We are facing a situation unlike any we have encountered before, but how our mind adapts to the challenges ahead and how resilient we are, will determine the outcome for each of us.   In times of crisis, our mind can become stuck and negative feelings of helplessness, and worry can be amplified. Negative thinking can take over, particularly if we are drawn into regular lengthy updates on news channels, showing each shocking bulletin as it unfolds. Once the mind becomes stuck, our perspective changes and it is harder to find a positive outcome or creative solutions. It also becomes more difficult to connect with others and this is so important to us as social beings.   We can learn and develop resilience; it just takes a bit of practice. Lucy Hone, a resilience expert, advises three simple strategies to help boost our resilience:   Accept the tough times – Unfortunately, we have all experienced the bad stuff. The key to moving past it is to accept it. We are all exposed to obstacles, but how we tackle them is what sets up apart. Life is a tapestry of good, bad, sad and happy events and the journey is different for all of us. Focus the mind – the skill is to evaluate each situation closely and choose carefully and realistically. Ask yourself this key question – can I change this? Focus your attention only on things that you can change. Tune into the good e.g. the opportunity to work from home instead of needing to be in the office. Our minds tend to wander, but in times of crisis this is increases, so identifying the need to be selective and focus on one task can be helpful. Question yourself – is this helping or harming me? By endlessly watching the news channels and feed on Twitter and social media, am I achieving anything worthwhile? Will the outcome change if I switch it off? These are difficult and challenging times so be kind to yourself and don’t overload the brain unnecessarily.    Connection   In this time of social isolation when we cannot physically be with family and friends, we can still connect. Thankfully technology is available to most of us, so checking in with compassion to others who may be feeling anxious and worried is key to enhancing the wellbeing of our loved ones and our colleagues. Older people may be even more isolated so send a note or letter and be kind. Keeping these fragile connections going will be very important to us all.  Hear Lorna Hone’s Ted talk >>> At CA Support we are here to support you in whatever way we can. Contact us through the website or email or call us on (353) 86 024 3294 we will be happy to assist.

Mar 27, 2020
Management

How can leaders stay connected to their teams while working remotely? Communication and understanding, explains Patrick Gallen, is key to successfully navigating these uncertain times. The current global pandemic has the majority of us working from home and, for some, this is a new practice. However, remote working has been around for years in certain sectors, and those leaders have learned lessons, sometimes the hard way, about what works and doesn’t. How can we fast-track our development to quickly adapt our remote leadership skills to lead in the current situation? Adjust your mindset First, it is important for leaders to adjust their mindset, and resist the temptation to rule out certain activities just because you can no longer see your team in front of you. Do you normally have a quick morning meeting in the office? Don't cancel it – use technology to connect virtually instead. We all know that a lot of interaction in the office happens at the coffee machine or staff kitchen, so a leader has to think differently about creating opportunities for informal check-ins, as well. Acknowledge the change With schools out, many team members will be juggling work and parenting responsibilities, so make it clear that it’s OK to have some evidence of family life during your calls. This could also be a topic for informal discussion – sharing tips on home schooling, exercise, and keeping sane during this crisis! Sharing hobbies and activities can inject some fun into team discussions. Accommodate flexible time schedules Asking your team about the best time to schedule calls is also a consideration – working patterns have changed in response to this situation, so the regular nine-to-five is no longer the norm. A leader who has spent time thinking about what their team are going through will be much more considerate and accommodating. Understand the tech Those who have been leading remote teams for years know that the technology is critical to their success. Firms that have invested in the tools to connect virtual teams before this crisis are certainly a step ahead of those that are reactively scrambling to try new systems. If you have easy access to Teams, Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or other collaborative tools, then use them! Give business updates A quick check-in and update from everyone on the team helps to avoid duplication of effort, and keeps the team on track and connected with projects. A business update from the leader can also be very reassuring for the team during this time of uncertainty. People are worried about the state of the economy, the business, and the impact on their jobs, so a leader needs to inform the team about how the organisation is coping, provide client updates, etc. An optimistic and honest response is best. Keep it short and sweet To keep everyone fully engaged during virtual team meetings, you may want to keep the meeting shorter and to the point, and vary the speaker. Turn on the webcams, if possible, so that people are not tempted to ‘multi-task’ during the meeting. And, while it is great to connect the entire team, don’t forget about one-to-ones during this period. Having a check-in with each member on their own is very important and provides an opportunity to listen, so that communication is not only one way. Communication is key to successful team working, and this is still the case while working remotely. This takes extra effort on the part of the leader, but will pay dividends to get through this crisis – and you may just find that many of the new ways of working are worth continuing when we eventually get back to a new normal. Patrick Gallen is Partner of People & Change Consulting in Grant Thornton Northern Ireland.

Mar 26, 2020
News

These uncertain times have brought a big change to the way we work, but that shouldn’t stop you from using your leadership skills to successfully manage your team remotely. Moira Dunne tells us how. We’ve all been taken by surprise by the speed of events in relation to COVID-19. Most people are working from home, and for leaders and managers this means a shift in style and approach. However, the skills required are the same leadership skills you use every day in the office, just with a slight adjustment. Use these pointers to help lead your team from a distance. Provide focus As you streamline your business to essentials activities, many decisions will be made at a senior level. Help people adjust to these changes by explaining the reasons behind them and how the changes will impact everyone’s responsibilities.   Discuss priorities with each person. Listen carefully to their ideas and suggestions and agree weekly and daily targets. This will help people stay on track, and is particularly useful if people are finding it hard to focus while working at home. A target combined with a daily check-in will give people a sense of accountability. It can also provide a sense of achievement and productivity as those targets are reached. Provide connection Being available by phone and email to discuss questions or concerns is key. Consider using video for daily check-ins. Group video calls keep everyone connected and can help keep morale up. Tools like Zoom or Whereby are easy to set up and manage. Perhaps someone in your team would take this on as a mini project to get everyone connected. Collaborative tools like Microsoft Teams, Trello or Slack can also be used for updates on group projects and to track the status of tasks.  Provide flexibility Flexibility is key right now. We are all adjusting to these uncertain times and it is important to help your team manage their stress. Adjust your expectations as you set targets. People can’t be expected to work at the same rate or pace as they did in the office. Some may find they get more work done, as they have fewer distractions. But for most, there will be more demands on their time right now, particularly with children off school. Your people may not be available during usual business hours. Be flexible. Allow them to work at different times if the demands of your business can support it. The new normal For many companies and leaders, this transition to remote working will be tough. But there may be some insights into new ways of working for your business in the future. Keep an open mind and an open ear during these uncertain times. Moira Dunne is the Founder of beproductive.ie.

Mar 26, 2020
Management

Can you influence from a distance? Without a doubt, but first you need to consider your environment and what triggers those around you. Liam Dillon tells us how. In a normal working environment, we interact frequently. With the current ongoing crisis, we find ourselves having to work from home and meet up with people virtually to discuss plans and projects. While everyone has their quirks, managing and influencing effectively from a distance can present its own set of problems. Here are five actions managers can take while trying to influence from a distance. This is simple and intuitive stuff but sometimes bad habits surface, especially when faced with such unexpected circumstances. You do not need to be centre stage Take an interest in what your team is saying about projects. It’s important to remember that you will get to say your piece before the conversation is over, but other people need to be heard even if they aren’t leading the team. Listen to the conversation, take in what they’ve said and add to it, passing the turn back to them to elaborate further. By encouraging conversation, you are relaxing the environment for everyone, especially those who can’t see you face-to-face over camera. In fact, studies have shown that those who express an interest in what someone is saying and then follows-up with questions to encourage debate have a higher chance of influencing those around them. Remember personal details Forgetting someone’s name – especially someone on your team – can ruin rapport. Remembering someone’s name has been shown to make people more likely to help you, buy from you, and is seen as a compliment. Let people talk about themselves Whether we want to admit it or not, we love to talk about ourselves, and the last thing anyone wants is to be cut down, especially when they can’t see your face to judge your emotions. The lesson here is that if you want to make those you are trying to influence feel good, get them talking about themselves and their interests. Focus on others When introducing someone to a group, make them feel important by highlighting their skillsets and placing value on their thoughts and opinions. Try asking questions to delve deeper into their thoughts to get a better picture of who they are and what they can bring to the team; by doing this, you are encouraging each person to engage more in the conversation. Find the similarities We prefer people who are like us. We are more likely to become friends with people who we perceive as being similar to us. So, the rationale should be that we are more likely to listen and take into account the opinions of these people.Find the similarities with the people you are influencing: they are more likely to listen and take your opinions into account if they perceive you as being the same as them. To influence is to know the other party, even if you can’t see them for the time being. Liam Dillon is a Senior Consultant with Turlon & Associates.

Mar 26, 2020
News

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

Mar 08, 2020
Personal Impact

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

Feb 28, 2020
Strategy

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

Feb 19, 2020
Management

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

Feb 14, 2020
News

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

Feb 13, 2020
Management

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

Feb 10, 2020

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