Brexit

In a serious turn of events, the European Commission has officially issued its first notice of legal action to the UK. With the UK’s failure to amend the Internal Market Bill after the EU’s request to do so, the UK authorities now have until the end of the month to respond to this legal action. Read today’s bulletin to find out more details. We also bring updates on the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority’s new Brexit transition rules for the finance sector. Also, read about the EU’s new Customs Action Plan to combat fraud.   European Commission takes legal action against UK over Internal Market BillIn response to the UK’s inaction to overturn conflicting aspects of the controversial Internal Market Bill, the European Commission has issued a letter notifying the UK of the start of formal legal action. Why has the EU taken legal action?As stated by Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, the timely and full implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland is a legal obligation. The UK were given until the end of September to amend the contentious aspects of the Bill, however due to failure to do so, the UK has breached its obligation to act in good faith, as set out in Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement. What’s next?The UK has one month to reply to the EU’s letter. The issue of this letter marks the beginning of the EU’s formal infringement process against the UK. Additionally, the UK’s controversial Internal Market Bill easily cleared its final hurdle in the House of Commons earlier this week, where it passed by 340 votes to 256. The Bill is now at its second reading at the UK’s House of Lords, which has the power to block the legislation by amending it and sending it back to the Commons. UK’s Financial Conduct Authority sets out rules for the end of Brexit transition periodThe Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) based in the UK has outlined  some Brexit transition rules for the financial sector. Firms that are not already in line with the changes will need to show that they have made efforts to comply by 31 December to avoid penalties, as stated by the FCA. The FCA have also released details on how they intend to apply Temporary Transitional Power (TTP) rules following the end of the transition period, allowing firms to transition to the new regime. Where applicable, these rules will mean that firms and other regulated persons can continue to comply with their existing requirements for a limited period of time. After the end of the transition period, onshored* legislation will apply. The FCA expects firms to use the duration of the TTP to prepare for full compliance with changes to UK regulatory obligations by 31 March 2022. Key changes are foreseen in areas such as These include transaction reporting, securitisation, some uses of credit ratings and security aspects of payment services.*Onshoring is the process of amending legislation and regulatory requirements so that they work in a UK-only context, including EU legislation that will form part of UK law by virtue of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.  New Customs Action Plan set to make customs union smarter, says European CommissionIn the latest developments on the customs front, the European Commission has launched its new Customs Union Action Plan, set out with 17 actions to make  EU customs smarter, more innovative and more efficient. The Commission says that this action is in response to reported fraud linked to customs duties and VAT as well as the smuggling of illicit goods into the EU. The Commission is set to implement some of the first steps under this initiative as early as October 2020. The revamp actions in the Customs Action Plan comprise of four key areas: Risk managementManaging e-commercePromotion of complianceCustoms authorities acting as oneSome key initiatives under these headings include setting up a new analytics hub, new customs reporting requirements for platforms, a single window environment for customs, modernised customs equipment, Union Customs Code evaluation, and international customs cooperation. Brexit BitesThe UK government has made available a £200 million Port Infrastructure Fund to support ports in building new facilities.Readers can still register for Revenue’s upcoming series of live streamed Brexit information sessions on customs and movement of goods taking place on 5 and 6 October 2020. Sign up for LEO Workshops: Prepare Your Business for Brexit Customs   For all Brexit updates, visit our Brexit webpage.  

Oct 02, 2020
News

During this period of economic uncertainty, it's important for businesses to get all supports available to them. Barrie Dowsett tells us the best way to write a successful grant-funding application.Financial support and incentives for businesses in the Republic of Ireland are substantial and varied. With coronavirus wreaking economic havoc across the country, research and development (R&D) grants are proving to be a lifeline for many Irish businesses looking to innovate.Now, more than ever, the Irish government is keen to support R&D due to its positive impact on economic growth. Some grants are offered specifically by the Irish government, while others are wider EU grants.For many Irish businesses, this process will be entirely new and for those pursuing it, the question they will be asking is: how do I produce a successful grant funding application?What makes a good grant application?A high-quality grant application should clearly describe the R&D project and what benefits it will bring. It should discuss the project’s resulting products, processes, or services and how it will bring about a significant return on investment (ROI). An in-depth understanding of the target markets should also be evidenced, including potentially competing products and your strategies for commercialisation.Second, the application should explain why the business is more likely than its competitors to succeed with this innovation. It should describe why the proposed product, process, or service is radically new and how it will make an impact on both the business and the economy.Factors to consider even before beginning a funding applicationBefore you begin a funding application, I strongly recommend considering the following:Has the right type of grant funding been chosen to support the project/wider business? Some examples of previous EU funded projects may be helpful here.Is there time and the resources within the company to make a successful application?Is match funding available?Are the business plan and projections watertight and would they hold up under scrutiny?Points to cover when writing an R&D grant applicationThere are certain practical elements that are critical for consideration and inclusion when putting a successful R&D grant application together. Applicants should ask themselves:Is my idea unique, or does it at least have a unique edge over any competition?Have I given a logical summary of the key points?Have I included a strong and measurable plan for the implementation of my R&D project?Have I sourced the right people for my R&D project, or do I at least know where to find them?Have I included a strong and measurable plan for post-project commercialisation?Have I made it clear that I’m willing to put my own cash towards the project, and if so, how much?Does my business have access to the operational and technical equipment it needs?These are all vital pieces of information that need to be present in an application to give it any decent chance of success. If you’re unsure about anything, don’t try to go it alone. There are several R&D grant specialists that are available to offer expert advice.Be aware of the different types of grant funding availableThere are several avenues that Irish businesses can go down regarding grant funding for R&D projects. Briefly, they include:Enterprise Ireland grant fundingEnterprise Ireland’s RD&I fund supports Irish businesses in creating new products, processes or services, or appreciably improving existing ones. The focus is on companies with high export potential and whose market share is growing, ultimately creating high-worth jobs. Enterprise Ireland has also put together its guidelines for making a claim which is worth reading through. Further details are also available on the Enterprise Ireland website.Horizon 2020Horizon 2020 is a European programme that offers large scale grant funding over seven years (2014 to the end of 2020). Its aim is to keep Europe ahead of the game in world-class scientific investment, remove barriers to innovation, and encourage the public and private sectors to innovate collaboratively. You can find out more on the Horizon 2020 website (after this year, Horizon 2020 will be replaced by Horizon Europe).EUREKA EurostarsEUREKA Eurostars is a European programme that gives innovative SMEs the chance to work together with partners across Europe on innovative projects. A very popular and generous funding scheme, more information can be found on the EUREKA Eurostars website.Other noteworthy EU funds and programsThere are many other funding options besides these that are well worth considering too. They include:The EIC pilot programme – specifically for SMEs with dynamic, breakthrough ideas.The Connecting Europe Facility – supporting the development of sustainable, high performing and efficiently interconnected trans-European networks across the energy, digital services and transport sector.COST – which offers research funding for cross-border European networks that involve five or more countries.The LIFE program – designed to provide funding for large-scale climate change, sustainability, and environmental projects.Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund – for collaborative enterprise-driven partnerships that will develop, deploy and commercialise disruptive technologies to transform business.With the backdrop of COVID-19 economic uncertainty, now is an excellent time for innovative Irish businesses to put their plans in action via an R&D grant. By getting the application right and answering all the above points, companies could potentially be many thousands of euros better off – as long as all the key elements are included and professional advice is taken where needed.As a final side note, be sure to also check out Techfunding.eu for a full list of funding schemes by industry.Barrie Dowsett is CEO and owner of Myriad Associates. 

Oct 02, 2020
News

With the government still encouraging people to work from home where they can, how do we stay motivated? Nimesh Shah suggests six ways to help boost productivity while working remotely. Autumn is here and you’re still working from home. The novelty of working from home has most certainly started to wear off. Without the re-assuring repetitiveness of your daily commute and the friendly banter from your team, you may be feeling as bleak as the weather.Not everyone finds it easy to work from home, especially if you are distracted by children, your partner (who is also trying to work from home), household chores and the doorbell constantly ringing. Here are some suggestions on how to keep your motivation levels up while continuing to work from home:Create a routineStructure makes our brains happy because the patterns and routines we don’t have to think about will allow our brain to go into autopilot. Establishing a set routine (with some room for flexibility) will give your day some structure. This should make you more efficient, productive and hopefully more at ease in these uncertain times. If you are consistent and the routine loosely mimics the one you had when you were at the office, it should work for you.Get dressedEven if you put on sweatpants and a jumper, putting on your daytime clothes will make a big difference to your mindset. If you work in your pyjamas, you’ll still be in ‘relax mode’ which won’t make you feel motivated to get things done. Designate a workspaceWorking from bed may be comfortable (although not for long as you may develop back issues), but your mind probably won’t be in ‘work mode’. The key thing is to find a space that will take you away from household distractions and get you to focus on the job.Make mobility part of your routineSeeing the same four walls non-stop isn't good for anyone. Exercise will stop you feeling lethargic from sitting at home all day, especially as the days get shorter. So, leave your phone at home and go for a walk or a run early before the start of the day for the amount of time it would take you to commute into the office, if possible.Room lightingIt’s important to have the right level of room lighting. You need comfortable lighting to be able to see all kinds of documents, but these must be ones that will not blind you. Also, the lighting should not be too dim as this will make you feel sleepy and less productive.Stick to your work hoursWe are well aware of how bad screen time can be for your health. Unless you have a particular deadline that you need to hit, you should stick to your structured work hours as much as possible. It’s important to be able to relax after your workday. This is easier to do if you shut the laptop and ignore your emails from the moment your workday ends.Try to organise fun and relaxing things for yourself to do after work.  Pop on an eye mask and have a long warm bath, have a solo disco, a video chat or read a book to help you slip more easily into ‘relax mode’.Nimesh Shah is Marketing Director at Feel Good Contacts. 

Oct 02, 2020
News

How can companies survive the inevitable recession? It isn't just about cutting costs, argues Darren O'Neill. Businesses need to look at every aspect of their organisation to see where they can become more lean and agile. The coronavirus has had dramatic and sudden impacts on Irish businesses and the Irish economy. Both have experienced significant declines in consumption, investment and exports of goods and services. To survive this time and succeed amid the uncertainty, organisations need to assess and adjust their cost base and reshape themselves to deliver returns that will be sufficient to see them continue to operate.When COVID-19 took hold and started to erode the economy, many business leaders acted quickly to reduce costs and conserve cash. In PwC’s May 2020 CFO Pulse Survey, implementing cost containment measures was the highest priority action that Irish companies were considering as a result of COVID-19. In most cases, rapid cost reduction activities gave them an advantage when facing the economic and organisational impacts of the crisis.While cost-cutting is necessary, it won't be enough in isolation to help a company to emerge with confidence. Costs must be cut in ways that don't harm the business and funds should be redirected to areas that will drive efficiency and growth. COVID-19 has made business leaders rethink their beliefs around costs. Things the business considered not being able to function without, like office space, are now recognised as variable, and things that were on the long-term agenda for businesses, like automation and remote collaboration, have become immediate necessities.With economic uncertainty compounded by factors such as Brexit and changes in international taxation, businesses need to look at every aspect of their organisation to see where they can become more lean and agile. It is not just a case of cost reduction. There needs to be an equivalent strategic reset and reinvestment for future growth. And they need to bring their people with them, and get their engagement and support for the plan for the future. Let's look at those key actions in more detail.Revisiting strategic prioritiesCompanies that thrive after recessions are not those that cut faster and deeper. To emerge stronger, costs need to be redirected to the right growth drivers. Step one in achieving this balance is to answer some simple questions about your current strategy:How has your market changed? What's happened to your customers, suppliers and competitors? What market trends or disruptors have accelerated?What value propositions look promising in a post-COVID-19 world?Can you articulate the few things your organisation needs to do better than anyone else to meet those value propositions? What will your competitive advantage be?Are you investing enough in those few things? Where do you need to spend less so you have the funds to redirect costs to value-creating differentiation?This exercise should help you identify the must haves for your business.Reset your cost structureAt a time of significant cost pressure, corporate vision can become very narrow. Often, a playbook based on belt-tightening and across-the-board cuts gets deployed. Standard actions include cutting from project or functional budgets, reducing vendor spends, and shuttering underperforming locations. Each of these cuts may be necessary, but they should support more than just a cost objective. Instead of just looking at where you can make savings, combine steps to get lean and make it possible to reinvest and grow.Where to take action? How fast to push? Leaders should assign these decisions to teams that can look across the value chain. Work together to identify what's changed for good in your business and how it should respond. You'll need to solve the immediate problems, while keeping the ever-changing future in mind.Bring your people with you Disruption makes people question what they are doing, and it also makes them more willing to change. In the recent crisis, we saw people rally together in real time. They connected more frequently, cutting through bureaucracy to share information, make decisions and get things done. Departments that normally thrive on friction came together naturally with a common purpose: to serve customers and keep the business running. In some cases, rigid rules fell away.Business leaders need to act if these behaviours are to last. Isolate the few behaviours you want to promote and sustain, the ones that have allowed your teams to solve problems quickly. Build them into your new way of operating and promote them rigorously to maintain the level of energy and effort you'll need to make them tentpoles of your operations.The coronavirus crisis resulted in many changed behaviours, including:giving teams autonomy to solve problems;collaborating across the boundaries of hierarchies and functions;showing empathy, express gratitude and place value on learning;taking accountability for decisions and raising the tolerance for imperfection.Darren O'Neill, Partner, Advisory Consulting, PwC Ireland

Oct 02, 2020
Public Policy

Northern Ireland will have the most complex customs and VAT requirements in Europe post Brexit Confusion remains among NI businesses about how Brexit-related changes will impact them, with less than 5 percent fully prepared Businesses need to start preparing now but 37 percent waiting until the picture becomes clearer UK government launches Trader Support Service, a free customs advisory tool for businesses moving goods between NI and GB  New research from Chartered Accountants Ireland shows that uncertainty about the impact of Brexit-related changes is high, while levels of preparedness among Northern Ireland businesses remain low.  The data shows that while three quarters of those surveyed are aware of the customs and VAT changes that the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland will bring, few fully understand their application or impact on trade.  The changes proposed under the Protocol mean that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs territory but will remain somewhat aligned with the EU’s customs union and single market to avoid certain checks on goods on the Irish border. While 60 per cent of businesses in Northern Ireland are aware of the Trader Support Service, a free customs advisory and services tool for businesses launched by the UK Government this week, 38 percent aren’t sure whether or not the system would apply to them. 18 percent of respondents have registered their interest in the scheme to date.  Public Policy Lead in Chartered Accountants Ireland Cróna Clohisey commented: “Northern Ireland faces unprecedented upheaval in terms of VAT and customs next year. There are several changes coming down the tracks and the devil is most certainly in the detail.   “Take VAT for example. Next year, the UK will have three different VAT systems across goods and services with Northern Ireland following EU rules on goods. This will make the system the most complicated in the EU meaning businesses are going to have to align both their knowledge and systems to be ready.  “Our research showed that almost two thirds of those surveyed are confused about the changes.”  Northern Ireland will continue to follow EU customs rules with no customs controls, declarations or duties required for the movement of goods between NI and the Republic of Ireland. However, customs controls will be needed when goods move from GB to NI and very likely on imports into NI from the rest of the world.   This means in addition to significant changes in VAT rules, businesses in Northern Ireland will also have to follow different customs rules depending on the countries they trade with.   Chair of Chartered Accountants Ireland’s Northern Ireland Tax Committee, Alan Gourley said: “Come 1 January, many businesses in Northern Ireland will be dealing with customs formalities for the first time. These are the same businesses that are already struggling with the impact of Covid-19 and may not have the resources at this particular time to get up to speed with import processes and customs and safety declarations.” “The Trader Support Service might suit these businesses. It is free to use and will guide traders through what the Northern Ireland Protocol means for them and the steps that they must take to comply with the new rules.  “Businesses can choose whether they use the system as an education resource or whether they also want the service to complete digital declarations on their behalf. Whichever option they take, we urge businesses to act now to access the information they need to make the preparations required for 1 January. “  

Oct 02, 2020
Careers Development

To pass your CAP2 and FAE exams you need to implement a rigorous study plan during the year as you approach qualification. As an ACA finalist, you will need to implement the same approach and format to your job search and career plan. If you don't structure your job steps through a considered strategic plan, you risk your career pathway making random jumps and just falling into opportunities. Here are a few suggestions to help you build the beginning of your effective long-term career plan:In 10 years when you are an FCA, what role do you think you will want to be settled into? What does this picture look like?  Map it out for yourself in detail At five years PQE (post qualification experience), what role do you anticipate holding?  It should be a good springboard to your 10 year target. It should be in line with the Career Pathway map Do an honest skills set audit: Document the skills you are strong on and identify what you are lacking and will need to shore up / develop if they are important to your 5/10 year plan Speak to people – a lot!  Make your career map part of your business conversations and put your ambition to go out there in a particular direction with peopleDocument your plan: Write it down – keep a detailed spreadsheet.  Track and analyse it like a full ongoing long-term project that you give monthly priority to. (I have seen very average performers reach lofty career heights by giving sufficient time and attention to their career projects and ambitions – don’t put it low on your to-do list). If you aim to move on after qualifying then take a look at the key actions and considerations hereStart meetings with a few mentors and document the tips they give you in your career fileBuild your personal brand both in work and online/LinkedInStart to build your personal network in line with key career influencersPut a slot in your diary each month to spend a few hours on your career projectConsider a mentor: We can put you in touch with an advisor who will share experience, knowledge and tips. Find out more about the mentoring programme hereThere is of course a lot more to building a formal career plan but these are a few initial considerations and initial building blocks to put in place. Once you qualify make sure you connect with your Chartered Accountants Ireland Careers team to map out the rest of the plan and review the wide variety of ACA paths and market opportunities.Dave Riordan (ACA)Recruitment Specialist and Career CoachContact Dave here 

Oct 01, 2020
Tax

The TWSS reconciliation process and the requirement to report the subsidy paid amount to Revenue before 31 October 2020 features as our top Irish story this week. Revenue has also provided details on how payments received under the TWSS and PUP will be taxed.  In the UK, was the Chancellor’s Winter Economy Plan a trick or treat, and what’s new with HMRC? While in international tax, the OECD has published a report on BEPS Action 13 Country by Country Reporting.      IrelandTWSS reconciliation process – employers are required to report the actual subsidy paid to employees to Revenue before 31 October 2020; A Revenue press release sets out details on how payments received under the TWSS and PUP will be taxed;UK Was the Chancellor’s Winter Economy Plan a trick or treat? Read more on the tax measures announced last week; What’s new with HMRC? We set out some takeaways from a recent meeting; andInternationalProgress on transparency, the OECD has published a report on the BEPS Action 13 Country by Country Reporting. 

Oct 01, 2020
Member Profile

Suzie Arbuthnot ACA, the winner of BBC’s Best Home Cook, discusses life as a parent, entrepreneur, and TV presenter.Earlier this year, you were crowned BBC’s Best Home Cook, how did that come about?Back in 2017, I entered the Great British Bake Off. I was first reserve and was devastated when I didn’t get called up. One of my friends told me to enter this other food programme, and so I did. A few days later, I had a phone interview and then a face-to-face meeting in Northern Ireland, where I had to make a savoury and a sweet dish. I was then flown to London to replicate the three stages you see on the show and, as they say, the rest is history!You recorded the show while setting up your own business. What was that experience like?I became self-employed on 1 February 2019 and I flew to London at the very beginning of March to start filming Best Home Cook. I was completely stressed because I wasn’t bringing in an income, but my husband said: “You have worked so hard for this opportunity, you can’t give up now!” So, having won the title and trophy plate, I had to return to normal life and not tell a soul. It was an agonising nine months. I set up my own practice by following the straightforward steps set by Chartered Accountants Ireland. I was extremely fortunate that my old firm (PGR Accountants, Belfast) referred a piece of work to me, and that got me started.What would you describe as your greatest challenge or achievement to date?I used to say: “finally qualifying as Chartered Accountant”, as it took me eight years. I never gave up, and I knew I could do it. I was able to have my family, have my children, and just enjoy life. I don’t regret a moment of it at all. However, I think winning a UK-wide cooking competition and now presenting my own food-focused TV show, Suzie Lee’s Home Cook Heroes, is pretty amazing!What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?Have faith in yourself in whatever you do, as others are quick to knock you down. This has been true in all areas of my life, so be kind to everyone you meet, treat them the way you would like to be treated, and have no regrets.What do we most need in this world?We need to learn how to switch off. I am a huge culprit, but we are too connected these days – attached to our phones, tablets and laptops. The art of social interaction is starting to wane right in front of our eyes, and it’s all down to our devices.How do you recharge?I love keeping busy, but I get my energy from spending time with family, cooking, going to the gym, playing hockey for Lisnagarvey Hockey Club, and singing with Lisburn Harmony Ladies Choir.

Oct 01, 2020
Personal Development

It's the time of year when the weather turns, heralding darker nights and shorter days. This may affect your mood and, in some instances, trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder. Dr Eddie Murphy explains.Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is related to changes in seasons. It begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you are like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the autumn and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.Around 2-10% of Europeans and North Americans are affected by SAD, three quarters of whom are women (although both genders are affected equally in older age). 60% of those suffering from SAD get it to varying degrees every winter, which is a lot of months feeling gloomy. Given that there is a lot of crossover between SAD and other forms of depression, it is always wise to discuss any feelings of low mood with your GP to help you get the appropriate support and treatment you may require.Where does SAD come from?The specific cause of SAD remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:Your biological clock (circadian rhythm): the reduced level of sunlight in autumn and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.Serotonin levels: a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a decrease in serotonin, which may trigger depression.Melatonin levels: the change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, and SAD occurs more frequently in younger adults than in older adults. Factors that may increase your risk of SAD include:Family history: people with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression.Having major depression or bipolar disorder: symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if you have one of these conditions.Living far from the equator: SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator. This may be due to decreased sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months.TreatmentsTreatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).PhototherapyWe know that a lack of light causes SAD and that people with SAD need much more light to function normally than others do. It is not surprising, therefore, that the primary treatment for SAD is bright light. It has been proven to be effective in up to 85% of people diagnosed with SAD.Lightboxes are devices that come in all different sizes and designs. The user sits in front of the lightbox, so that bright light enters the eyes. Light treatment has to be used every day in winter to enable people with SAD to lead a normal life. When treatment starts, it usually takes three to four days to work, but the effect wears off if it is not used for three to four days.Treatment should start in early autumn, ideally before symptoms start, and continue until spring. It can also be used on dull, cloudy days in summer. Light levels in Ireland are very changeable, and some people can be affected by a prolonged downturn in the weather. Although the worst time is inevitably mid-winter, a wet June can sometimes be worse than a sunny February, so be adaptable.Light therapy is a mainstay treatment for SAD at the moment, and a really useful website is www.sada.org.uk. If you cannot access light therapy, try to make your days as bright as possible. Work next to a window, have lights and lamps on at home and spend as much time as possible outdoors. Beware that people with macular degeneration, retinal disease, or photosensitive skin conditions or medications should not use light therapy. Seek advice from your doctor if you are unsure.MedicationDrug treatments for SAD can be used in combination with light therapy. They can also be used alone, which is particularly useful for those who do not respond to light treatment. Your GP prescribes all drug treatments.Cognitive behavioural therapyCBT allows people to talk about the impact of SAD and can assist people with SAD to make positive, constructive changes to their daily winter routines. It may help them to feel better about the fact that they need to adapt to winter, rather than attempt to carry on regardless. They may begin to feel less guilty or frustrated if things are not the same as they are at other times of the year.Finally, embrace ‘hygge’ Learn about hygge (pronounced ‘hooga’), which originated in Scandinavian countries where they barely see daylight for weeks. SAD is a significant problem in such regions, but inhabitants tackle this by embracing the concept of hygge. In essence, it means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with family and friends. Rather than resisting, it is sometimes easier to go with the flow. So embrace the winter, the lights, fires,  and wrapping up warm.Symptoms of SADMood changes: low mood, feelings of hopelessness (especially on the topic of winter, saying things like “I can’t stand this” or “I hate winter”), withdrawing or avoiding social events, irritability, and decreased enjoyment from life or hobbies.Sleep changes: usually oversleeping, extreme tiredness and napping, although some people may also get insomnia or sleep disturbances.Appetite changes: overeating is common and, in particular, an intense craving for carbohydrates or sugary foods. You may find yourself putting on weight over winter. Some people may, however, get a decreased appetite.Concentration: trouble focusing, forgetting things, and difficulty finishing tasks.Physical symptoms: low energy, muscle tension or pain, decreased sexual drive, stomach aches and headaches, and a sensation that your body is heavier or harder to move than usual, and sluggishness.Members and students can contact CA Support on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294, by email at casupport@charteredaccountants.ie or online at www.charteredaccountants.ie/ca-supportDr Eddie Murphy is a clinical psychologist, mental health expert and author.

Oct 01, 2020
Careers

While it might be difficult to find a new job in the current market, it's not impossible. Niamh Collins outlines five key considerations that will put you in the best position to move on in your career. The disruption to employment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been severe. From hiring freezes to the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme to remote working and the tough decision of making redundancies, 2020 has been a year like no other for almost every industry. At the end of July, CSO data showed the COVID-19 adjusted unemployment rate as 16.7% across Ireland – the effects disproportionately spread across younger generations with 41% of 16-25-year-olds out of work compared to 14% for those aged 25-74 years. The employment market is not universally challenged. Despite the economic pressure and instability, there are organisations that need your knowledge, skills and experience. Whatever your reasons for looking for a new role, there are five key considerations which will put you in a better position to get a great job in a challenged market. 1. Be bold with your networking Contacts are invaluable. It’s important to stay in touch with as many people as possible – suppliers, customers, old colleagues and clients. Maintaining these relationships will stand you in good stead because the individuals could provide precious information when it comes to job opportunities, offer useful advice or guidance and even act as a reference when necessary.  Beyond your existing contacts, you can also actively seek out new networking opportunities in your field. Be bold on LinkedIn and connect with plenty of relevant professionals. 2. Be thorough in your research If you have identified a vacancy or a company that you would like to work for, always be thorough in your research. Read up about the business; the values, what they do, who their clients are, and also find out the names of the managers and as much about their careers as you can. Not only will this allow you to address any communications to a specific individual within a department, but it will help you create a better picture of the organisation as a whole.  3. Be flexible about your requirements While you may want the security and stability offered by a permanent job, have you considered pursuing a contract role? The flexibility of hiring a contractor is an attractive prospect for organisations at present. Also, it could be beneficial to weigh-up your salary expectations, especially if (as with many industries) you are able to work remotely. Regularly working from home will save monthly commuting costs and, therefore, lowering your pay demands accordingly (while being sure not to undersell yourself) could increase your attractiveness to employers and might be the difference between being hired or not.  4. Be open to partnering with a recruitment agency Eliciting the assistance of a specialist recruitment agency is a straightforward way to give your job-hunting efforts a boost. It will save you time, give you access to their extensive network of industry contacts, offer a wide range of opportunities that are often not advertised on job search sites and they have the inside line on knowing exactly what hiring organisations are looking for. 5. Be ready to clear your diary and move fast If you are serious about moving jobs, arguably the most important thing to remember is to be ready to act fast as things can change rapidly. Be prepared to clear gaps in your diary so that you can take calls or attend meetings, virtual or otherwise, at short notice.  Clearly explain what your requirements are from the outset and have references ready to go. When markets are difficult and hiring organisations may be looking for its new employee to start at a short turnaround, they will want a quick response if you do get offered a job.  Despite these unusual times, careers are being progressed. Your next role could be a couple of meetings away, but it will require focus, determination and input from you to make it happen. Niamh Collins is Associate Director of Finance & Accounting at Morgan McKinley.

Oct 01, 2020
Tax

David Duffy discusses recent Irish and EU VAT developments.Irish VAT updatesVAT rate decreaseAs most readers already know, the standard rate of Irish VAT has been reduced from 23% to 21% for the period from 1 September 2020 to 28 February 2021. We expect that most businesses will already have made the necessary changes to their systems and processes to apply the new rate to affected transactions from 1 September 2020 onwards. However, when preparing your September/October VAT return in November, it may be helpful to check that the new rate has been correctly applied. Some of the points to check may include:Has the new VAT rate been correctly applied to your sales? The tax point and corresponding VAT rate for your sales may differ depending on whether the sale was to another business or consumer, whether you operate the invoice or cash-receipts basis of accounting for VAT, and whether a payment was received in advance of the supply. The Revenue Tax and Duty Manual on changes in rates of VAT, available on the Revenue website, provides further guidance on how to apply these rules.Has the appropriate VAT rate been applied to purchase invoices received in the period?Has the appropriate VAT rate been applied to credit notes issued or received during the period? In general, the VAT rate applied to the credit note should match the VAT rate applied to the invoice to which the credit note relates.Does VAT charged at the new rate correctly map to the appropriate general ledger accounts and is it correctly captured in your VAT reports for the period?Extension of COVID-19 reliefsRevenue has confirmed an extension of a number of temporary, indirect tax reliefs introduced earlier this year to help combat COVID-19. These reliefs were originally due to expire on 31 July 2020, but have now been extended until 31 October 2020, subject to further review. The temporary reliefs include:The zero-rate of VAT applies to personal protective equipment (PPE), thermometers, medical ventilators, hand sanitiser, and oxygen when supplied to the HSE, hospitals, nursing homes, care homes and GP practices for use in providing COVID-19-related healthcare services. Relief from import VAT and customs duties applies to the import of medical goods to combat COVID-19 by or on behalf of State organisations, disaster relief agencies and other organisations approved by Revenue, and which are provided free of charge for these purposes. No VAT clawback will arise for the owner of a property used to provide emergency accommodation to the State, HSE or other State agencies in order to combat COVID-19. EU VAT updatesDeferral of VAT e-commerce rulesThe EU has recently agreed to defer the introduction of significant changes to the EU VAT rules for e-commerce transactions from 1 January 2021 to 1 July 2021. The deferral was in response to potential challenges of meeting the 1 January 2021 deadline for tax authorities and businesses as a result of COVID-19. While this deferral gives businesses more time to prepare, it is important for businesses that will be impacted by the changes to begin their preparations. Businesses which will be most affected include retailers with online stores, online platforms and marketplaces which facilitate sales of goods to consumers, and postal and logistics operators which handle imports of goods on behalf of retailers or consumers. A brief summary of the changes coming into effect on 1 July 2021 is set out below. The current domestic VAT registration thresholds for cross-border business to consumer (B2C) sales of goods in each EU member state will be abolished. As a result, a retailer selling goods to consumers in other EU member states will be obliged to charge VAT at the appropriate rate in the member state to which the goods are shipped regardless of their value, subject to a very limited exception where the value of sales to consumers across all EU member states is less than €10,000 per year. The VAT payable to tax authorities in other member states on these sales can be remitted through a quarterly One Stop Shop (OSS) registration rather than requiring an overseas VAT registration. VAT will apply to all goods imported into the EU, at the appropriate rate in the EU country of import, regardless of their value. This is as a result of the abolition of the import VAT relief for low-value consignments with a value of up to €22. This is likely to significantly increase the volume of packages imported on which VAT must be paid. To help facilitate the payment of VAT, the retailer or, in certain cases, the online marketplace facilitating the sale can charge the VAT at the time of sale and pay this VAT to the tax authority in the country of import through a new Import One Stop Shop (IOSS). This return would be filed, and related VAT paid, on a monthly basis. However, this will only apply to imported consignments with a value of up to €150. Packages above that value will be subject to import VAT and customs duty in the normal way at the time of import. An online marketplace that facilitates sales of goods to consumers will be deemed to have purchased and resold those goods in two scenarios: first, the goods are imported from outside of the EU in a consignment of up to €150; or second, the goods are sold within the EU by a retailer established outside of the EU. This will bring additional VAT collection and reporting obligations for these platforms.Additional VAT record-keeping requirements will apply to platforms and marketplaces which facilitate other supplies of goods and services to consumers within the EU.VAT on property adjustmentIn the HF case (C-374/19) the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that a VAT clawback was payable by a German retirement home operator where it ceased to carry out taxable supplies in a cafeteria attaching to the main retirement home building. The operator constructed the cafeteria and fully recovered VAT on the construction costs as its intention was to sell food and beverages to visitors. This activity would be subject to VAT. It was subsequently determined that there had been approximately 10% use of the café for VAT exempt supplies to residents of the retirement home, which resulted in a partial adjustment of the VAT reclaimed. This was not in dispute.However, subsequent to that initial adjustment, the taxable activity of sales of food and drinks to visitors ceased entirely. The only remaining use was in respect of the VAT exempt supplies to the residents, albeit there was no absolute increase in their use of the building. The question was, therefore, whether this triggered a further adjustment of VAT.The taxpayer had sought to rely on earlier court judgments which support the position that where VAT is reclaimed based on an intended taxable activity but that activity does not subsequently take place, the taxpayer’s right to VAT recovery is retained. However, the CJEU distinguished this case from the others because the intended taxable activity had commenced but ceased and the property was now only being used for VAT exempt activities. Ireland has adopted similar rules (referred to as the capital goods scheme) which can result in a clawback or uplift in VAT recovery where the proportion of taxable/exempt activity in building changes. This typically needs to be monitored over a period of up to 20 years. It is, therefore, important to carefully consider any changes in use of a building as this could have significant VAT consequences.David Duffy FCA, AITI Chartered Tax Advisor, is an Indirect Tax Partner at KPMG.

Oct 01, 2020
Tax

The pandemic has broken several business taboos and accelerated the role of digitisation in all walks of life. The UK tax system is no different. HMRC’s role in developing the job retention and self-employed schemes’ online portals at speed to deliver support to employers and businesses at a time of crisis has shown that digitisation can be done quickly. It might not have been perfect, but it was very good. On the back of these lessons, the UK Government published its vision for tax administration in the UK in July: building a trusted, modern tax administration system. The strategic importance of this goal has clearly been brought into sharper focus by the pandemic.An important part of the July publication was the announcement of further steppingstones in the roadmap of the Making Tax Digital (MTD) project, starting with extending MTD for VAT to VAT-registered businesses with turnover below the current £85,000 VAT registration threshold from April 2022. MTD for income tax will commence for self-employed businesses and landlords with income over £10,000 from April 2023.But there’s one glaring issue missing from the picture: UK tax legislation is extremely complex. Unless this is seriously addressed, efficient, problem-free, further digitisation of the UK tax system cannot be effectively achieved. For that reason, the Government should also develop a roadmap for simplification of the UK tax system which should work as a precursor to any new digital services developed. This should begin with income tax complexity. If this doesn’t happen, having to navigate legislation that continually increases in complexity coupled with a requirement to make multiple filings to HMRC has the capacity to be extremely challenging for both HMRC, the taxpayer and their agent. The UK Government must simplify to digitise.Leontia Doran FCA is a UK Taxation Specialist with Chartered Accountants Ireland.

Oct 01, 2020
Tax

In late 2018, HMRC surveyed over 1,000 businesses on their awareness of the corporate criminal offences legislation. Claire McGuigan reports on the findings and the next steps for businesses.Corporate criminal offences (CCO) legislation, introduced in the UK two years ago, was designed to drive a behavioural shift in companies and partnerships to take an active role in preventing the facilitation of tax evasion. HMRC conducted a research project in late 2018, one year after the legislation took effect, to examine the extent to which this has been successful.The results show that more work is needed to raise awareness of the legislation:74% have not heard of the Criminal Finances Act (the Act) and, of those aware, only one-third thought it was relevant to their business.Large businesses and those in the financial services and insurance sectors are much more likely to have taken action.64% of businesses had not made changes to operations as a result of the Act.55% of respondents said they had at least one of the five standard prevention procedures in place.Over one-quarter of respondents intended to make changes in the next 12 months.While some operational changes are happening as a result of the introduction of CCO, it is also clear that the key messages in HMRC’s guidance are not getting through. With no de minimis to the CCO legislation and with sanctions including unlimited fines, criminal prosecution and director disqualification, organisations face a genuine risk if they fail to act.Below is a list of commonly asked questions and lessons based on my work in this area.1. What is a corporate criminal offence?The CCO legislation took effect on 30 September 2017. It created two corporate offences, one relating to the evasion of UK tax and one relating to the evasion of foreign tax. It can apply to the evasion of any tax, including indirect and employment taxes, anywhere in the world. Any UK business, UK corporate, or a foreign corporate doing business in the UK will be within the scope of both offences. The business will have a strict liability under criminal law for failing to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion by one of its associates (employee, contractor or any other person providing services for, or on behalf of, the corporate). A defence exists of having ‘reasonable prevention procedures’ in place.2. Who does this affect?All companies and partnerships. There is no de minimis.3. What happens if we don’t do anything? Are we at risk of penalties?Yes, you are. A successful prosecution could lead to:an unlimited fine;a public record of the conviction; andsignificant reputational damage and adverse publicity.4. What has HMRC said since the legislation came into force?HMRC has made it clear that it is taking this legislation very seriously. It has undertaken investigations, for example, which include interviewing staff to see what they know about CCO, what actions they are aware the business is taking in response to CCO, and if personnel know what to look out for to identify tax fraud.5. Can you provide examples of what this legislation covers?Here are three examples:A member of your payroll team deliberately falsifying information relating to a worker so the worker is treated as a contractor rather than deducting PAYE at source.An employee deliberately collaborating with one of your suppliers to falsify the amount paid on an invoice.An employee deliberately conspiring with a supplier to conceal the true source country of goods to evade customs duties.6. We already have Bribery Act and AML/KYC procedures in place. What more do we need to do?You may already have financial and economic crime prevention procedures in place. These existing procedures are relevant, but a risk assessment specific to the facilitation of tax evasion must be carried out and then mapped to current procedures.7. What should the message be from the board?You need top-level commitment. The board is typically best placed to champion this. From here, your staff will need training so they know what they need to do.8. I haven’t done very much. What do I need to do?The CCO legislation is no longer new, and HMRC will expect you to have reasonable procedures to demonstrate a defence to this legislation in place. There are four stages of compliance with the CCO legislation:Risk assessment: your priority is to conduct and document your risk assessment.Implementation: the risk assessment process should include the development of an implementation plan, setting out the next steps and responsibilities.Training and communication: this is to ensure that CCO policies and procedures are communicated within and outside the business.Monitoring, review and testing: this comprises testing current process and the periodic update of the risk assessment.9. What are other organisations doing at a practical level?Once the risk assessment is complete, there are typical ‘quick wins’ and practical steps that businesses can focus on. This includes developing a suite of CCO policies, such as a board paper and communications to suppliers, and ensuring that CCO training is rolled out across the business.10. What should my business do now?All businesses should continue to develop their response both to COVID-19 and an evolving working environment. The challenges and opportunities of a remote workforce and the accelerating pace of digital change mean that different approaches to compliance, governance and regulation must be considered.It is important to ensure that your reasonable prevention procedures are designed to prevent associated persons committing the facilitation offences in the new reality. Ensuring that your staff and other associated persons understand their responsibilities is also a critical control in minimising the risk of enforcement action.Where there are staff reductions, employees working from home or management focused on critical functions only, unique opportunities arise to commit tax fraud. Risk assessments should be reviewed regularly, particularly within the context of COVID-19.For businesses that have already performed a risk assessment, it is important to carry out a periodic review of existing policies and procedures, as well as refreshing your current risk assessment to reflect any changes in the business.Claire McGuigan is Director, Corporate Tax, at BDO Northern Ireland.

Oct 01, 2020
Tax

Budget 2021 is the next instrument in the government's response to the impacts of COVID-19 on the Irish economy. Between the pandemic and a possible disorderly Brexit, Budget 2021 will not be a normal budget, says Kim Doyle.COVID-19 has presented unprecedented challenges for the global economy. Governments, along with their tax authorities worldwide, have adopted and administered emergency measures to preserve the health of their people and defend against collapse of their economies. In Ireland, we had a mini-Budget in the form of the July Jobs Stimulus, a €7.4 billion package of measures aimed at supporting the Irish economy in response to the impact of COVID-19. We also have a number of administrative measures in operation by Revenue to ease taxpayers’ compliance burden. Brexit also brings challenges. At this stage, we do need to respond to the immediate impacts of Brexit, and a possible disorderly Brexit, and plan for the long-term stability and robustness of the Irish economy. Climate change is, too, the ‘defining challenge of our generation’, according to the Minister for Finance. And, indeed, a raft of measures were introduced last year to tackle this challenge, while others were promised in the future. EU and OECD tax reform proposals continue to pose challenges and bring additional uncertainties into play. The impact of these on the Irish economy could extend well beyond corporation tax receipts and may influence unwanted changes in investment decisions by MNC groups going forward.Framing Budget 2021Budget 2021 may target revenue raising measures to cover the expenditure introduced to deal with the recent challenges brought about by COVID-19 and a possible disorderly Brexit, but any budgetary measures must avoid undoing the impact of the July Jobs Stimulus Package. Health and housing priorities will also have to be addressed in the budget. The government has said the measures will focus on the short-term and not beyond 2021.The government has pledged no increases to income tax credits or bands. (This is also promised in the Programme for Government.) The level of government expenditure over the coming months is unlikely to fall substantially, if at all. Despite the backdrop, tax receipts for the first eight months of 2020 are only 2.3% behind the same period in 2019. Given that some of this deficit is a timing issue and will be recovered in 2021, this is a remarkable outturn. September tax returns will be the final “piece in the jigsaw” before the final Budget 2021 is decided, according to the government. ExpectationsPre-COVID-19, Budget 2021 was expected to be framed around Brexit and climate change. Now, amid a pandemic, what are we more likely to see in the Budget from a tax perspective? Income taxConsidering the government has stated there will be no broad based increases in income taxation, we don't expect to see much by way of income tax measures. We may see some modest tax cuts in the form of increased tax credits for stay-at-home parents and other credits and reliefs targeting lower and middle income earners. We would like to see a long-term commitment to a reduction in our high marginal tax rates of 52% and 55% for employees and self-employed respectively; however, there is no fiscal space to make any pledge to reduce these rates in the short-term.The concept of broadening the tax base, so more people pay a little, has long been debated with very little reaction by government. The main reason may be it is likely to be unpopular with constituents. However, considering the challenges for the Irish economy, the government may need to embrace this concept but balance it with the pledge for no broad income tax increases. A new form of tax relief for individuals working remotely is a possible outcome of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation public consultation on Guidance for Remote Working. Some responses to this summer consultation called for changes to the tax rules for reimbursement of employee expenses and changes to the tax treatment of expenses incurred by employees. We may see some tweaks to the Irish Tax Code in response. Corporation taxThe government reaffirmed its commitment to the 12.5% corporation tax rate in the Programme for Government. The importance of this commitment is evident in the remarkable tax receipts for the eight months to end of August 2020, which are largely driven by large corporation tax increases along with a strong start to the year pre-COVID-19 and more resilient income tax receipts. Ireland is obliged under EU law to implement changes to our tax code to restrict the interest tax deduction taken by companies. At the time of writing, these changes are more likely to take effect in 2022. The EU agreed last year to park its digital tax proposals in order to allow global consensus be reached through the OECD digital tax discussions. Changes to accommodate any digital tax proposals will be premature in 2020 and, therefore, unlikely to be a feature of Budget 2021. Capital taxes In order to further stimulate the economy, lowering both the CGT and CAT rates will likely promote activity in the market and should ultimately see assets put to a more productive use. This rate reduction has been called for and debated in recent years. Perhaps Budget 2021 will deliver. Considering residential property prices have fallen in recent months, there may be scope to increase the related Stamp Duty rate. However, such a rate increase will likely be unpopular among constituents and not helpful considering the struggles reported by many in getting a foot on the property ladder. VATThe extension of the 9% VAT rate to construction services would help encourage the scale of property development needed to absorb the current demand and address the housing shortage. The re-introduction of the 9% VAT rate to stimulate the hospitality sector would complement the other measures, such as the Stay and Spend Tax Scheme. An extension of the new temporary 21% VAT rate, while desirable by many, is unlikely; the headline VAT rate is a useful revenue raising measure. Increasing the threshold for cash-receipts basis of accounting, and the VAT registration thresholds, may support businesses to deal with the current challenges. Old reliablesPetrol and diesel excise increases may feature, particularly in the context of requirements to address climate change. Increases in the excise to diesel only to bring it in line with the cost of petrol at the pumps is more likely. Excise increases on alcohol and cigarettes is possible but the hospitality sector has already taken a battering due to COVID-19 and any further perceived attacks may not be in favour. ConclusionOverall there isn’t the fiscal space for wide-ranging and significant tax reductions and reliefs in Budget 2021. But the Budget 2021 equation must consist of tailored tax measures to support and stimulate the hardest hit sectors of the Irish economy and defend against the impacts of a possible disorderly Brexit on the economy while also satisfying climate change targets.Kim Doyle FCA is Tax Director, Head of Tax Knowledge Centre in Grant Thornton.

Sep 30, 2020
Business Law

Taking the time to carry out a corporate simplification project during COVID-19 could help sustain your business while safeguarding employees’ motivation and focus, writes Claire Lord.The effects of COVID-19 are severely impacting the global economy. To ensure long-term protection and sustainability, organisations are likely considering ways to reduce costs and improve business efficiencies. Simplifying your corporate structure by removing dormant or unnecessary companies is one way to achieve both objectives.It is not uncommon for organisations to have complicated corporate structures. While many companies within these structures serve a particular purpose that brings value to the business, other companies may be inactive and costing the organisation money to maintain. A lack of time and resources often results in organisations putting off any review of the efficacy of their corporate structures.Perhaps now, a time when employee capacity could be higher and long-term sustainability is a crucial focus, is time for your organisation to examine whether your current structure meets the changing needs of your business? The sooner the steps in a corporate simplification project are taken, the sooner your organisation can enjoy the many benefits.Cost savingsThe cost of maintaining a dormant or inactive company is usually understated. The actual cost can exceed €8,000 per year when compliance and audit costs are taken into account. This does not include the hidden costs of administration and employees’ and management’s time spent coordinating this compliance.Employee productivityMany employees are worried about job security as a result of COVID-19. A project demonstrating that your business is focused on long-term sustainability may help improve employee motivation and focus, consequently enhancing productivity and alleviating fears of job security. Workloads may also be lighter due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, and utilising employee time to assist with a simplification project can ensure that their time is spent productively to help sustain the business.Business efficiencyManagement, legal and compliance teams must focus their time, now more than ever, on the core companies required to sustain and grow a business. Eliminating unnecessary companies allows these teams the time to do that. A less complicated structure can also simplify the repatriation of cash from trading subsidiaries and other intra-group financing arrangements.Mitigate riskThe existence of a company can expose a business to risk, including error, fraud, or a failure to meet regulatory or compliance requirements. These risks arguably increase with dormant and inactive companies, given the likely reduction in monitoring as management focuses on the core companies required to run the business. There is also the risk that, over time, corporate memory will disappear, making it more difficult to assess whether a company needs to be retained.Governance standards and transparencyWith ever-changing legal and corporate governance requirements for companies, including new anti-bribery and data protection laws, ensuring that companies meet the required standards is a constant challenge. It is easier to maintain these standards with a less complicated structure. Improved transparency through a simplified structure is likely to be welcomed by investors, finance providers, and other stakeholders.Tax benefitsComplicated structures can sometimes lead to tax inefficiencies, such as tax leakage or additional tax compliance burdens when repatriating cash through the business. Simplifying the complexity of a structure may resolve these inefficiencies and allow for improved tax planning for the business.ConclusionAt a time when organisations must reduce costs and increase business efficiencies to ensure long-term sustainability, considering a corporate simplification project may be a simple step that delivers meaningful results.Claire Lord is a Corporate Partner and Head of Governance and Compliance at Mason Hayes & Curran.

Sep 30, 2020
Ethics and Governance

Kieran Moynihan explains how boards, and non-executive directors, in particular, can optimise decision-making during times of crisis.A veteran non-executive board director (NED) recently shared valuable insights into the workings of an experienced board dealing with the severe impacts of COVID-19 on the organisation. While this is quite an experienced board with battle-hardened veterans in both the executive and non-executive ranks, he indicated that they collectively struggled with the enormity of the challenge facing the organisation.While the board was quite mature in terms of risk management and business continuity planning, several significant decisions were required in a very short time frame. He was extremely complimentary of the efforts, understanding and commitment of the employees to the organisation as well as the outstanding leadership shown by the CEO and executive team. He also highlighted how much the NEDs “rolled up their sleeves” and provided great support in reviewing, challenging, and providing valuable input to the crisis management plan. He highlighted that the CEO witnessed a “new side” to the board whereby it demonstrated a huge commitment not only to the organisation, but in supporting the CEO and executive team as they implemented an elaborate crisis management plan under severe pressure.Unfortunately, some boards have not performed as well during the crisis. The core problem, I believe, is often the calibre of board members. Some are not strong enough to cope well in an emergency to add any strategic value to the executive team. This scenario continues to play out in boards across the world where, in some cases, board and executive teams have faced existential challenges in terms of their organisation’s survival. Amid the devastating impact on employees, an organisation’s financial health, and its shareholders and stakeholders, boards must stand up and be counted like never before.The following definition of crisis management from Deloitte caught my eye recently: “Crisis management is a special, strategic discipline that enables an organisation to leave ‘business as usual’ behind, and to enter a different mode of governance and operations, designed to get decisions made, implemented and communicated quickly, with clear – but different – designated authorities.” While a board has many broad types of responsibilities, the fundamental duty of a board is to make significant decisions. At a time of extreme crisis management, this acute responsibility comes to the fore. It represents a real test of a board of directors in terms of its calibre, decisiveness, effectiveness, judgement, and performance. The following factors can help a board optimise decision-making in the eye of a storm.Quality informationThe brutal reality of the COVID-19 crisis is that major decisions must be made in compressed time frames of days or, in extreme cases, hours. Many of these decisions have serious consequences for the organisation and its employees, customers, shareholders, and stakeholders. Board chairs have a critical role in enabling the board to overcome these compressed review/decision cycles and drive coherent and decisive decision-making.In normal times, quality information is the lifeblood of a board in terms of significant decision-making. In times of crisis, however, it is challenging for the CEO and executive team to create comprehensive board packs when you may have just 24 hours before the next virtual board meeting. In this context, quality is more important than quantity in terms of helping the board understand the logic behind significant proposals from the CEO and executive team.While not ideal, firefighting CEOs and executive teams rely heavily on gut instinct to choose from what appear to be radically different options. It is essential to provide the NEDs with your gut instincts and blunt assessment of the pros and cons of each option.Challenge, debate, and oversightWhen the stakes are high for significant board decisions, the board must maintain the highest standards of challenge, debate, and oversight. A CEO and executive team under severe pressure could undoubtedly get a big call wrong or struggle to create a coherent proposal for consideration by the board. Despite the challenging time frames for decision-making, NEDs must prepare for board meetings, ask hard questions, and add genuine value (in some cases, by identifying additional options or variations/combinations of options that will help the executive team see the wood from the trees).The board chair has a vital role in balancing the level of challenge, debate, and oversight with supporting the CEO and executive team. Genuine board diversity has been a very positive strength for boards as the broader range of thinking styles has enabled greater left-field thinking and more creative problem-solving, while significantly reducing the potential for group-think. At such a crucial time, shareholders, employees and stakeholders rely heavily on NEDs to provide such critical challenge, debate, and oversight to reach the best decisions.The trust equationThe COVID-19 crisis is testing the bonds in many board teams. In such fraught times, tensions can morph into damaging conflict, which boards can do without. While some high-performing board teams have managed this challenge in their stride, this crisis has also galvanised many board teams around a common purpose.A crisis of this magnitude shines a bright light on the ‘trust equation’ of a board. It can be challenging in such a volatile landscape, with so much uncertainty in each sector, to make concrete decisions. Decisiveness, however, is nevertheless a vital trait for a board in crisis management situations, and it is much more effective when the trust quotient is high. In order to strengthen trust, boards can extend a greater degree of latitude than normal to the CEO and executive team, enabling them to provide timely, insightful updates back to the board on the progress of major decision implementation.Changing courseOne of the most challenging aspects of the crisis for many company boards has been facing up to the requirement in specific sectors to make significant changes to the company’s business model and strategy. For companies that had a dominant market position for many years, it can be challenging to face up to the reality that the market has changed, customer requirements have changed, and in some cases, barriers to entry have been lowered with disruptive new technologies.'Independence of mind' is a critical quality in a NED whereby the board director who is not involved day-to-day is able to step back, take a cold, objective view on the organisation’s position, assess the options and implications of a major proposal being put forward by the CEO and provide a sound independent judgement. In this scenario, where an organisation is facing severe challenges to its existing strategy and business model, independence of mind in the NEDs plays a critical role as it can help the board and executive team face up to and address severe challenges to the existing strategy. Some boards might hope that everything will go back to normal but, for most sectors, things will never be the same. As a result, the organisations that adapt will stand a much higher chance of thriving in the years ahead. Throughout the crisis, I have seen several progressive NEDs utilise this time as an opportunity to evolve the overall mindset and level of ambition in the organisation. NEDs are ideally placed to catalyse this evolving growth mindset as in the majority of cases, the CEO and executive team are in firefighting mode and struggle to have the bandwidth to think strategically and grasp the growth opportunities that the organisation could be presented with.External expertiseWe are in uncharted waters in terms of crisis management. As a board gears up to make big decisions, it is vital that, where appropriate, key shareholders and stakeholders are consulted. They will be forced to live with the consequences of the board’s decisions for years to come.Besides the fact that this is the right thing to do, engagement builds support and is formally required in some instances. It will also provide valuable feedback that, in specific scenarios, may be incorporated into the board’s thought processes.It is also vital that, where needed, external expertise is sought to assist with significant decisions. This might be an existing advisory partner who understands the organisation and sector, or an independent sector expert who could provide an objective assessment of the options.Avoid ‘all-in’ decisionsI play chess at a competitive level, and one of the things you learn as you get more experienced is to avoid, wherever possible, making very committal decisions. This is particularly important when the chessboard is ‘on fire’ with severe complications, and it is simply not possible to calculate the variations. Instead, you seek to stay in the game and get through the next few moves. As the board position becomes clearer, you then make a more committal decision as you execute your plan.The COVID-19 crisis is changing by the hour. As governments struggle to balance the resumption of normal life with the associated public health risks, it is tough for the majority of boards to accurately predict how their sector will look in three months, not to mention one year from now. In some cases, companies are being forced to consider severe changes to their business model. Boards should avoid making premature decisions based on assumptions about how the COVID-19 crisis will influence customer behaviours, business models, and the overall business landscape. Like a game of chess, boards would be wise to develop a range of scenarios linked to the public health and associated economic impacts with appropriate trigger points.Understand the broader impactsAt the start of the year, many boards had made significant progress in increasing their focus on environment, social and governance (ESG) goals, employee engagement, and ‘doing the right thing’ in terms of focusing on the long-term, sustainable wellbeing of the organisation. This has since been severely tested in how boards signed-off on significant decisions impacting their employees, customers, and stakeholders.In some cases, the COVID-19 crisis is undermining much of the significant progress made with decisions favouring short-term shareholder interests at the expense of employees, other stakeholders, and the long-term sustainability of the organisation. Throughout the world, employees have demonstrated incredibly strong commitment and understanding to their organisations and customers. How boards respond to this commitment says a lot about the character, culture, integrity, and values of an organisation. It is encouraging to see a significant number of institutional investors highlight the importance of this for their portfolio of listed companies. In many respects, we saw ESG at its very best in the first few months of the crisis with so many employees and organisations stepping up to help society in its time of need.I strongly believe that the organisations that commit long-term to the core ESG principles of sustainability, partnering with their employees, going the extra mile for their customers and “doing the right thing to ensure the longer-term interests of the organisation” will be the organisations that flourish and thrive going into this uncertain future. The board has a critical leadership role in this. We are moving into an era where progressive boards are evolving into a far more thoughtful balancing of the interests of shareholders, employees and stakeholders. The COVID-19 crisis has crystallised the importance of this multi-stakeholder engagement model and is now firmly in the mindset of customers, prospective employees, partners and investors when they consider engaging with organisations.ConclusionSeven months on, boards continue to grapple with COVID-19 and struggle to make some of the most significant decisions ever made in the history of their organisation. Even the strongest, most high-performing boards struggle to get this right, so for any board members struggling right now, you are not alone.This is a time for board teams to pull together and work closely with the CEO and executive team. Through challenge and debate, you will collectively make the best decisions possible and help your employees, shareholders, and stakeholders envision a path to better days ahead.Key takeaways for boards and non-executive directorsAt a time of such crisis and volatility, it is vital for the board to regularly discuss what is happening with your customers, how the crisis is impacting them, how their requirements are changing both short-,  medium-and longer-term and how the organisation needs to adapt to support your customers.It has never been more vital for the executive reporting to the board to be high-quality, succinct and utilising executive summaries to enable the board members to prepare effectively for the board meeting and assist in the creation of a meeting that can focus on strategic and “move-the-needle” type discussions.Balance cost-cutting, productivity and risk mitigation with supporting innovation-led growth and strategy and business model shifts where needed.Be aware that boards are moving to agile approaches to strategy and budgeting using scenario planning and triggers that work better in situations of high uncertainty such as the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.Organisations, as they facing their greatest crisis, have never had such a strong requirement for board members to demonstrate a great work ethic and commitment to the board and organisation.Kieran Moynihan is Managing Partner at Board Excellence, which supports boards in Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe.

Sep 30, 2020
News

Mark Kennedy explains how ESG strategies that combine uncertainty management with resilience can lead to a differentiated and sustainable market position.There is an urban myth that COVID-19 has displaced the focus on sustainability issues as a significant concern of business leaders. The pandemic has certainly consumed much of our attention in the past six months but rather than replace the concern about sustainability issues, I would argue that COVID-19 has underlined in a profound way why businesses must engage with sustainability (or environment, social and governance (ESG)) issues if they are to achieve long-term success.A strategic approach to ESG means engaging not only with climate change, but also with the range of societal and governance issues that relate to the risk profile of any business. This is a significant exercise and requires a full view of the business, its operations, and its positioning. The primary role of the leadership team, then, is to formulate strategy and create an environment in which the business can address ESG in a structured way while creating a long-term competitive advantage using ESG as a strategic vector. Such an approach requires boards to consider both the risks and opportunities presented by ESG issues.Risk and resilienceLet us start with risk. Today, we acknowledge that the challenge of business risk management has been transformed in two ways. First, the level of uncertainty has changed. We recognise that unpredictability has increased and that the analysis of uncertainty is becoming a discipline in itself. Second, and perhaps conversely, we can know more about risks and their likelihood than ever before. Despite the feeling of shock we all experienced in relation to COVID-19, experts have been predicting a pandemic event for over a decade. Similarly, the impacts of an overly financialised economy and climate change have been flagged for many years. However, business leaders have not traditionally gathered the data and assessed the consequences of these types of event for their business.Of course, ESG offers an opportunity for many, if not all, businesses. Some will benefit from a clear trend in consumer preferences. There is both a marketing and value advantage to firms positioning appropriately on the ESG issues that relate to their ‘theory of the business’. There are also profound advantages in taking a long-term view of strategic elements of a business, such as supply chain, resource management, financing and state aid, and fiscal policies. The EU Commission has supercharged this trend by creating the EU Green Deal, which provides for a radical reorganisation of economic incentives to support profound environmental action. There is also the unarguable benefit to any business of avoiding the worst consequences of crises. Writing about the improvements made to the resilience of financial systems over the ten years since the global financial crisis, Jon Coaffee noted that “the trick now is to ensure they are fit for purpose, and that means baking in flexibility and adaptability in a way that means they not only bounce back, but also bounce forwards when disruption hits”.Making sense of ESGSo, how does a business begin to address what could be a vast and confusing topic? Boards must consider five key issues to address ESG in a structured way.Understand: the board must take a lead in understanding the ESG context. What are the elements? How do they relate to business? Which are relevant to the theory of business/business model? As well as taking steps to understand the issues themselves, the board must also create a framework for the whole business to understand the context, and for all team members to understand why ESG is important and how it impacts their sphere of influence.Analyse: data is king. We must understand the key assumptions that drive the business and results. We must also analyse carefully the impact of ESG issues on those assumptions. This is a significant exercise and leads to the development of key performance indicators (KPIs), which can steer the business effectively.Plan for uncertainty: the management of risk and unpredictability has become a discipline in itself. Techniques such as forecasting, back-testing, crisis simulation, trend analysis and wargaming can form the basis for a board’s evaluation of the issues and possible solutions.Execute: execution differentiates the successful. Change management, influencing behaviours, reporting, and governance are all essential elements of a successful ESG strategy.Embed processes and strategies: finally, businesses must embed the ESG strategy, as they must any strategic component. This means building the key elements into our culture, infrastructures, feedback systems and reporting.The four Rs of resilienceUncertainty management is a key concept in any strategic analysis. A second key concept might be resilience. Since the global financial crisis, we have progressively moved towards a more resilient financial system. If the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated anything, it is the need to embed resilience in businesses even more widely. What do I mean by resilience? In essence, it has four characteristics:Robustness: the capacity to withstand shock. In a business context, this might include the consideration of issues such as liquidity reserves, brand loyalty, and stock on hand.Resourcefulness: the availability of adequate resources to continue business during a period of crisis. This includes capital assets, financial capital (both equity and debt), operational assets, and people.Responsiveness: the ability to respond effectively during a crisis. This includes governance arrangements, communication technologies, and the processes to make them work.Redundancy: availability of alternatives where there is damage to, or failure of, a key business component. Can an alternate supplier be found? Have we more than one distribution channel? Can additional staff be sourced?In combination, an ESG strategy that embeds both a sophisticated uncertainty management approach and a resilience model offers a business a differentiated and sustainable market position.A look aheadWe have seen how an event beyond our control – in this case, COVID-19 – can impact businesses and push them beyond the normal operating range. Indeed, we have seen businesses succeed – even in these circumstances.The ESG agenda sets out a template for considering both the risks and opportunities facing a business model. The importance of addressing these issues is also increasingly acknowledged by investors and authorities.In Europe, we will see the emergence of additional and more prescriptive non-financial reporting standards over the next two years. The UK, US and China are also working on these issues. This is forcing a change agenda on the business community and creating a situation where both public and private supports provided during the pandemic might be allocated in a more directed fashion.The science tells us that disruptive events will occur periodically, whether economic, financial, geopolitical or public-health. The question is: will your business be ready?The link between ESG and SDGEnvironmental, social, and governance (ESG) refers to the three central factors in measuring the sustainability and societal impact of an investment in a company or business.There is mounting evidence that businesses which focus on ESG as a core part of their strategy outperform rivals in the medium-term and long-term. There are three pillars of ESG, which together form a framework for businesses to consider their strategic focus. They are economic, environment, and society.The ESG pillars are linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which provide a roadmap for society to address key sustainability challenges. The SDGs list 17 global goals, designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. Set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and intended to be achieved by 2030, the SDGs are part of UN Resolution 70/1, the 2030 Agenda.The Sustainable Development Goals are:No povertyZero hungerGood health and wellbeingQuality educationGender equalityClean water and sanitationAffordable and clean energyDecent work and economic growthIndustry, innovation and infrastructureReduced inequalitySustainable cities and communitiesResponsible consumption productionClimate actionLife below waterLife on landPeace and justice strong institutionsPartnerships to achieve the goalFor business leaders, the SDGs and the ESG pillars provide a template that allows businesses to consider their strategic position in an ESG context.Mark Kennedy FCA is Managing Partner at Mazars Ireland.

Sep 30, 2020
Management

Eric O’Rourke explains why organisations should not fear the process of corporate cultural change, and how internal audit can play a pivotal role.“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. When it comes to changing a company’s culture, this quote from Peter Drucker is something I, as an Internal Auditor, have heard often over the years.However, culture can be viewed as amorphous and, therefore, difficult to define and alter. For an organisation’s governance structure (i.e. the board and senior executives), the inability to measure an existing corporate culture can create an apprehension and some degree of fear around how to best progress to a desired culture.Culture matters for any organisation but from a financial services perspective, a positive culture drives conduct by promoting the benefits listed later in this article and protecting against conduct risk. A positive culture provides a guiding light for an organisation, particularly when it faces challenges and difficult choices.Culture guides what you should do, not what you can do. It helps organisations do the right thing and, in the context of financial services, this involves restoring trust and protecting the industry’s social license.In May 2020, the representative body for the funds industry in Ireland, Irish Funds, published the ‘Irish Funds Culture Guidance Paper’ for its members. The paper aims to provide member firms with guidance on key themes and good practices to measure, monitor and embed culture. It considers the critical factors to take into account when implementing cultural change. They include defining culture (present and desired) in addition to metrics that can be used to measure/monitor culture and related changes.Existing culture vs desired cultureFor all organisations, the first step is to evaluate the existing culture while identifying the board’s desired culture, as its members effectively lead the organisation’s strategy. Based on this evaluation, the board can then decide whether a culture change programme is required.Employees at all levels should be engaged to ensure that the echo from the bottom matches the tone from the top. The tone from the top is critical to ensure that culture and values are articulated and hence, can be measured. A ‘cultural roadmap’ should then be created. This task should be championed by the organisation’s appointed culture champion or chief cultural officer from the senior leadership level.The advice of Internal Audit (IA) should also be sought at the outset, as the role of IA extends across organisational structures and can provide unique insight.The art of measurementTo measure culture, multiple cultural touchpoints should be amalgamated to give a full picture to key committees and the board. A ‘corporate culture report card’ should also be compiled every quarter and presented to the board by the cultural champion, as culture change is a long process. The report card should be reviewed thoroughly, and corrective action taken if required.Below are some of the metrics that were published in the Irish Funds Culture Guidance Paper. Evidence from the suggested mechanisms should form the basis of the corporate culture report card (see Table 1). Furthermore, IA should audit these metrics as part of any thematic culture audit, or question auditee culture as part of any audit undertaken.Benefits of a considered and defined cultureMany benefits accrue to organisations that embrace a healthy culture, including:Sustainable growth and improved profitability;A more engaged and motivated workforce;The ability to attract and retain top talent;Better and more transparent decision-making;Responsiveness to change and risk;Improved customer satisfaction; andA corporate image and identity that others aspire to.So the critical question is: what culture is desired? Determining the desired culture and measuring the existing culture are the first steps.In closing, I note the words of Dale Carnegie: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage”. The time is ripe to review and possibly enhance your organisation’s corporate culture. Do not fear change; instead, focus on what can be achieved.Eric O’Rourke ACA is Head of Internal Audit at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Group Global Asset Services and a member of the Irish Funds Internal Audit Discussion Forum.

Sep 30, 2020
Communications

Donnchadh O’Neill explains why boards and their advisers will have to tread carefully as they work to recover their foothold in the new landscape.All professional advisers, including Chartered Accountants, are seeking new ways to support their clients. They are helping them navigate unprecedented changes in their workplaces, their financial reporting, their restructurings, and their contracts. In many cases, they are helping businesses fight for survival. Given the heightened risk of missteps in such a turbulent environment, corporate reputation management is now more vital than ever.In the short-term, clients face practical and legal considerations affecting business reopening following a Government-induced coma. Finance functions have been virtualised and governance structures tested. Workforce and workplace transformation has been sudden. Margin sustainability is the new short-term challenge as costs increase, and that is before you consider the looming recession and inevitable insolvencies that will follow.In the last crisis, services and supports to business changed with firms flexing different muscles more suited to the adverse conditions. Liquidators and receivers found themselves in the headlines, sometimes even taking strict precautions to protect their safety by avoiding media attention.Now no one can predict with any accuracy where this crisis will lead in working trends, in accountability requirements, and in ownership structures post-bailouts and business retrenchment as we face into recession. It is easy to foresee the bloodbath on Grafton Street and in specific sectors, which has already begun in terms of liquidations and receiverships. What is more intangible is the effect this long drawn out crisis will have on corporate behaviour, communications, and corporate reputation. Chartered Accountants are on the front line with their clients as these winds blow.I have worked over many years with excellent companies delivering on what they see as their mandate for their various stakeholders. They focus on delivering shareholder value, but also stakeholder value. Following the financial crisis, good corporate ethics, culture, and governance became a priority. Chartered Accountants Ireland shared a leadership role in this arena, with strong educational initiatives to teach and support members, business executives, and even directors. Accountants helped their clients develop risk management processes, including reputation risk, to embed prudence into corporate culture, prevent hubris, and guide decision-making.Regulation increased, especially in the financial services sector. The banking industry set out to address its behaviours by establishing the Irish Banking Culture Board. The EU grew its oversight activity by exercising its muscle to protect consumers. As climate change moved up the public agenda, companies began to include sustainability reports in their annual reports – and this will continue.Over the past number of years, the corporate sector has increasingly had to become more socially conscious, valuing and measuring its societal impact and its corporate reputation. This emergency has put a whole new speed and power behind what was already a growing trend. As harder decisions are taken in the months ahead, companies and clients will need sound judgement as they implement decisions that have a societal, as well as a financial, impact. The climate crisis is upon us and is already forcing its own reset. Failure to make decisions that account for the common good and the public interest can wreak enormous reputational damage and all the attendant costs of that. Great care and balanced thinking will see companies achieve their goals without being forced by political or public opinion to backtrack or revisit decisions ineptly announced or executed. Markets will judge companies ever more so on their ethical behaviour.Look at the public interest trend of late: companies and wages being kept afloat by the State;   companies declaring a pause in dividends (if only to preserve cash); others being mandated to do so (e.g. the banks). More than 300 listed companies in the UK have cut or cancelled pay-outs. Money earmarked for shareholders will be used instead to service or repay debt, or just to stay afloat. The insurance industry was elbowed by the Minister for Finance, while the courts will probably have the final say. Companies such as Aldi pledged to pay their small suppliers early to keep their cash flow healthy.I do not doubt that as governments the world over ultimately face the bill for this COVID-19 bailout, tax and tax avoidance and wealth taxes will move much faster to the top of the agenda. This will feed into director and corporate reputation management, and advisers will have to be aware of the spirit as well as the letter of the law when advising clients.Commentators are already forecasting a shift away from capitalism and globalisation – that will continue. Growing your food locally and manufacturing locally suddenly look like viable ways to manage your own future risk. Brexit and global trade wars are yet to hit, not to mention the effects of preparing businesses for a low-carbon future.Will companies and their financial advisers, expected to act as citizens, focus on protecting and building up their social capital as well as their share capital? Employee health and protection became the top priority in recent months. How do you provide for unknown bottom line impacts for employee illness, absenteeism, or indeed legal claims? Insecure, gig economy, zero-hours type jobs have also been exposed for their human cruelty, and there will be a continuing priority on workers’ economic health (possibly even a universal wage or basic income for all).While capital will naturally only go where it has a reasonable expectation of a return, will investors be forced to rethink what is proper and possible for successful companies in an era of depression? How will directors and boards justify levels of executive remuneration that might look extreme and still manage to retain the permission to operate under a social contract, maintaining trust and enjoying a corporate reputation that underpins value? Apart from taxes, will companies have to become almost philanthropic in some of their behaviours?Corporate activism will grow as companies need to be seen to be responsible; to solve, not just sell. Liquidators and receivers will have to execute their mandates with an assured eye on the public and political impact of their decisions.Will companies build and wield their ‘soft power’ in focusing on purpose as well as profit? We have all admired genuine public service and public servants in recent months. Will the era of State-owned commercial entities come back into fashion by necessity, forced to step in and own hotels (remember Great Southern?), airlines, food companies (remember Irish Sugar and Erin Foods?), shops and insurance companies? We might well be facing an era of “de-privatisation”.In a perfect storm of increased costs, reduced margins, and recessionary outlook, with bankers and receivers taking hard decisions, the need for companies to communicate, to explain, to justify and most of all, to “do no harm” will be right up there among the top commandments. Boards and their advisers will have to tread carefully as they adjust, speak, and act to recover their foothold in the new landscape. Companies will sustain great reputations not just because they have great products and services, but also because they take full account, in advance, of the public impact on – and reactions to – their decisions.Donnchadh O’Neill is Managing Director of Gibney Communications.

Sep 30, 2020
Personal Development

Dr Joanne Murphy distils four common themes from the battlefield to help you lead and manage through the COVID-19 crisis and into an uncertain future.The COVID-19 pandemic is frequently referred to as a ‘war’. We hear about the battle for ventilators and the need for collective action against an invisible enemy. But what does the reality of wartime tell us about managing through, and beyond, a system shock like COVID-19? While there is no rulebook to guide our responses, we do know a great deal about the positive behaviour of leaders in other extreme situations, navigating rapid system-wide change, and facing risk and imminent danger.My research on leaders and managers operating in extremis provides some insight into the leadership behaviours and practices that work best in stressful and complicated environments. The individuals I have spoken to have managed to maintain organisational life and direction in contexts of emergency, violence and disruption. These include police and other ‘blue light’ services, those running businesses and public services in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, entrepreneurs in the Basque country during the ETA campaigns and, most extreme of all, those driving organisational activity in Bosnia during the dreadful siege of Sarajevo.The dynamic nature of these environments is akin to the large-scale systems change we are experiencing as a result of COVID-19, and effective responses require a similar set of leadership skills and attributes. Four common themes emerge from these experiences that will help us think about how to lead and manage in extremis, and which are relevant to both these times and the challenges that lie ahead.Organisation is everything.Let go of the old to make sense of the new.One leader is not enough.Be courageous.1. Organisation is everythingMany of us will feel that we understand the role of military leadership in conflict, but what do civilian leaders do in war? In 1984, the city of Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics, memorable for the triumphal success of British figure skaters Torvill and Dean. Only a few years later, in 1992, the Bosnian war brought the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted 1,425 days – the longest city siege in modern history. Ismet Kumalic, a director in a state company in the former Yugoslavia, lived in the purpose-built ‘Olympic’ suburb of Dobrinja which, on the frontline of Serb shell and sniper fire from the surrounding hills, was quickly isolated. Ismet became the civilian administrator, accountable for keeping 30,000 people alive under daily bombardment, with meagre supplies of food or fuel. During the siege, he and his team achieved the extraordinary, including the development of a 10km tunnel network to allow people to move between buildings and avoid sniper fire, the cultivation of every inch of available land to grow vegetables, and the management of a school and medical unit. While many residents were killed, Ismet reflects with pride that no one died of starvation (though sometimes food was rationed to just 300 calories a day). He has three messages about leadership in such an extreme environment.The first is about the position of leaders: “In such a situation, you are not that important… you are at the bottom of the pyramid, not the top. You are carrying them on your shoulders.”The second is about management: “Organisation is everything. You cannot succeed without organisation. You must think of everything.”And the third is about decision-making: “You have no time. You have to make decisions. To make decisions without time, you have to be brave.”2. Let go of the old to make sense of the new As in more normal organisational contexts, in extreme environments, it is also important to distinguish between leadership and management. Management relates to how an organisation functions, the implementation of plans and objectives, and the maintenance of a ‘steady-state’. Leadership is different. It relates to change, communication and vision. Leaders are ‘pathfinders’, able to articulate a shared vision and understand strategy as a dynamic process that is always under review.During periods of crisis and threat, people look to leaders to take action. This requires those tasked with leadership to make sense of confusing environments and mixed messages from stakeholders. The ability to let go of existing models in the face of change and embrace new ways of making sense of the shifting world around you is a key requirement. Leaders need to be self-aware and avoid clinging on to old rules or ways of doing things. Successful leaders in periods of extreme change become more receptive to input from followers, more likely to integrate their efforts into teams, more approachable, and less intimidating.When stress is heightened, certain qualities and behaviours become essential. They include the ability to prioritise, understanding the significance of role clarity, and effective communication. One police leader, who had been instrumental in the controversial and emotional transition from the Royal Ulster Constabulary to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said: “Just because you think you have said something, it doesn’t mean that people have heard it. You need to present the message in multiple forms. The more important that message is, the more mediums you use for distribution.”3. One leader is not enoughIt is not uncommon to perceive leadership as involving charismatic individuals, superheroes who can lead through adversity and overcome incredible odds to succeed. However, in extremely challenging environments, such individual leaders are rarely enough. Instead, we see the cultivation of social networks of leadership.The Basque city of Bilbao features the Guggenheim Museum, an architectural marvel designed by Frank Gehry. This beautiful building is just one aspect of a much broader strategy to revitalise and reframe Bilbao away from its reputation as being polluted by its industrial heritage and scarred by the violent ETA campaign for independence and the equally ferocious security response of the Spanish state. Economic regeneration in such an environment seems almost hopeless.When those who worked for the reimagining of the region and its economic regeneration reflect on their achievements, they speak about two important requirements. First is the importance of teams of leaders operating collectively, and the capacity to navigate troubled waters together with a set of common objectives. This requires collectivisation of leadership, which can be a challenging approach for many.Second, for the revitalisation of Bilbao, it was the primacy of beauty and aesthetics. Change, especially in the aftermath of extreme adversity, requires hard work and a little bit of luck – but also an understanding that there is more to regeneration than the economy. In this case, the creation of a beautiful and authentic cityscape, with pride in the built and natural environments, provided a core motivational dimension.4. Courage in the face of fearThe COVID-19 pandemic is not just a physical health crisis; it also presents a considerable threat to people’s mental health and wellbeing. Anxiety caused by lockdown and isolation, fear of losing one’s job and economic hardship are all overlaid with the danger of ill-health and mortality associated with the virus itself.Those who have managed businesses during conflict often speak about their fear, and sometimes terror. The spectre of having to deal with paramilitaries on the one hand and the police on the other left many feeling isolated and alone. One businessman commented on his investment in a bar and the early days of the business, “We had a door that squeaked, and I thought, ‘sometime in my life I’m going to work in this bar, and that door will squeak, and my stomach won’t tighten. I’ll not have fear in me’… the first year was just like hell”.At times of extreme stress, it is easy to default to task-based decision-making and forget the human element, which is critical to maintaining personal and organisational resilience. The individual courage required to lead, and to keep leading, in such environments should not be underestimated. At an organisational level, keeping spirits up in the worst of times is also a critical leadership skill, one that is often lost in the chaos of rapid change. Others have framed it differently. Irish diplomats tasked with crafting a workable peace process amid the seemingly intractable Troubles spoke movingly of having “a duty of hope”, an understanding of both professional duty and personal emotional response. However it is conceived, it represents the last pillar of leadership for these challenging times.Dr Joanne Murphy is Academic Director of the William J. Clinton Leadership Institute at Queen’s University Belfast.

Sep 30, 2020