August 2009

Is 40% average?

Published on: 29 Aug 2009

Students should be well aware that the maximum personal UK income tax rate is 40% but how does this compare to the rest of the EU?

The EU have released the 2009 edition of their report on the “Taxation Trends in the European Union”. There are some interesting findings.

The top personal income tax rates in the EU range from a high of 59% in Denmark to a low of 10% in Bulgaria. The 40% top rate of income tax is also present in Greece, Hungary and Poland.

The arithmetic average of the 27 member states is 37.8% so the UK rate is slightly higher than the average for the EU. What is interesting is that the newer member states such as the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia all have relatively low income tax rates (15%, 16% and 19% respectively). When compared with the older EU member states the UK rate is relatively low.

This is all very interesting but the key thing to remember for the exams is that the top rate of income tax in the UK is 40%. In fact, ask anyone that has qualified since 1988 what the highest income tax rate is and they should say 40%. The top rate has been 40% since 1988!

Do you have the CLOUT?

Published on: 26 Aug 2009

If you look up the word ‘clout’ in a dictionary you will find a variety of meanings.

A blow especially with the hand.

A white cloth on a stake or frame used as a target in archery.

A piece of cloth or leather.

If you are wondering what this has to do with your paper F4 studies, you would be right, absolutely nothing!!

However, what is relevant to your studies, is that based on a decision by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) at its twenty-first session in 1988, the Secretariat established a system for collecting and disseminating information on, court decisions and arbitral awards relating to Conventions and Model Laws that have emanated from the work of the Commission.

The acronym for the system is CLOUT (Case law on UNCITRAL texts).

This would be an obvious source of application questions for the examiner. Some of the CLOUT decisions are referred to already in your study materials.

In future blogs we shall look at some of the more recent cases, the facts of which, which might well feature in examination questions.

Every gentleman is a man, but…

Published on: 22 Aug 2009

Every gentleman is a man, but not every man is a gentleman. Every lady is a woman, but not every woman is a lady.

By now I have either upset all students, regardless of gender, or hopefully I have rather got you all interested enough to read on.

The real message I want to get across is that “Being a good accountant doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a good auditor, but perhaps you cannot be a good auditor unless you are a good accountant!”

Apologies to those of you who have already heard this because I taught you for ACCA F8, but the message is even more important for ACCA P7 the Advanced Audit and Assurance paper.

“Clearly, the auditor must fully understand the relevant financial reporting standards to be able to reach an opinion as to whether they have been complied with. This is why the Paper P7 exam will test, on a regular basis, the matters which an auditor must consider with regard to a variety of financial reporting issues.”

Hopefully you will recognise the above quotation, coming as it does from an article written by Lisa Weaver, the P7 examiner, which appeared in the November 2008 Student Accountant.

So if when you got the good news that you had passed P2 you had a ceremonial burning of your study materials, now is the time to rake through the ashes!

Hard times for deferred tax

Published on: 19 Aug 2009

Deferred tax assets are only assets if they are expected to generate an inflow of benefits.  In the current environment, impairments are hurting lots of companies; one of the World’s most high profile electronics giants included.

In January 2009, Hitachi Corp (New York and Tokyo listed) issued a statement aimed at warning capital markets about group’s intention to book a valuation allowance in the amount of 200 Yen billion against its deferred tax assets as at 31/03/09.

IAS 12 requires recognition of deferred tax assets (that is, “receivables” due from the tax authorities, as arising from the temporary deductible differences between the accounting and the tax bases of reporting entity’s assets and liabilities as at the reporting date) only if the reporting entity can prove recoverability of such assets, in the form of tax savings by reducing taxes payable in the future.  This is done by deducting calculated temporary deductible differences at the current reporting date from future expected taxable profits. If such future profits can no longer be reliably foreseen (and that is supposed to happen pretty often in economic downturn times, as it was with Hitachi’s case), any previously recognised deferred tax assets are impaired, with the consequent adverse effect on the entity’s reported net income for the year.  This makes bad times worse, as disappointing profits are made worse by tax asset write-offs.  Ouch.

As the columnist Paul Davis put it in the one of the September 2009 issues of the “American Banker” magazine, “’Deferred Tax Assets’ May Be Next Bottom-Line Hit”

Iceland, Computers and PESTEL Analysis

Published on: 15 Aug 2009

One of my best ever trips was when I visited Iceland. It is a fantastic country with some great people and some truly dramatic scenery. There are also some very large whales and some very cute puffins!

Their financial crisis has been in the headlines over the last year or so but there was an interesting piece of news that was recently reported. Iceland has a year round cool climate and chilled fresh water. At the same time the number of computer servers that are needed around the world to store the ever increasing amount of data that the world is generating is growing rapidly.

A key component of data storage is to keep the servers cool. With Iceland’s below average temperatures it means that the cost of cooling servers is significantly less than in other countries with average or above average temperatures. Some businesses are now putting the cool Icelandic climate and the increasing server storage demands together and data parks are being designed and built in Iceland.

The cool temperatures and developed business environment in Iceland make it an ideal place for such a scheme to work.

Now, back to the exams. What exactly does this news have to do with exam? Given the exam is just around the corner I’m hopeful that I don’t need to explain what PESTEL analysis is and I’ll leave it up to you to decide which out of P, E, S, T, E and L the cool climate of Iceland relates to!

Count UP 12345 NOT down 54321

Published on: 12 Aug 2009

Count UP 12345 NOT down 54321.

If you want to improve your marks in the real exam, that seems to be the message from your ACCA F8 examiner Alan Lewin.

Requirement (a) of Question 1 of the June 2009 F8 exam required candidates to ‘list and explain the purpose of the main sections of an audit strategy document’.

You are reminded that the examination consists of 5 compulsory questions, with total marks allocated to each question being as follows:
Q1 – 30 marks
Q2 – 10 marks
Q3 – 20 marks
Q4 – 20 marks

Q5 20 marks

In his specific comments on the performance of candidates on Q1(a) the examiner stated “A significant number of candidates did not appear to be aware of what an audit strategy is.”

This comment is in itself quite worrying, but perhaps of even more concern is that it would appear that many candidates do not have any strategy for tackling the paper as a whole!

If we look at the examiner’s general comments he has this to say:

“Many candidates presented their answer to question 1 first, indicating appropriate use of reading time to prepare for the main scenario. A significant number of candidates answered questions in reverse order in this sitting (i.e. 5,4,3,2 and finally 1) or attempted question 2 first, leaving question 1 to the end of the examination, with question 1 rarely being completed. The pass rate for these candidates was also lower than those where question 1 was attempted first.”

The format of the paper on all subjects is known in advance and as part of developing a successful exam technique, it is clearly vital that you have a clear strategy (which you have practised beforehand) on what your approach to the paper is going to be.

Proper planning is vital to quality control of an audit engagement.

Proper planning is vital to quality control of your examination answers!

That reminded me.

Published on: 08 Aug 2009

Question 10 in the June ACCA paper F4 (GLO) exam was a 2-parter dealing with the two criminal offences of ‘money laundering’ and ‘insider dealing’. It would appear that the examiner was fairly pleased with the standard of answers on the former, but not the latter.

He commented as follows:

“However, there was some concern as to the insider dealing part of the problem, which raised some concerns and suggests that a full question on that area would have met with much less success (could this be a hint for the future??!!). The essential problem was that candidates seemed to think that insider dealing was just using or revealing information gained from inside a company. That, of course, is completely incorrect and it is not insider dealing unless the purchase or sale of securities is involved.”

Earlier this year the UK financial regulator, the Financial Services Authority brought a successful criminal prosecution against solicitor Christopher McQuoid and his father-in-law James William Melbourne. The facts of the case were that McQuoid discovered that his employer, TTP Communications was about to be taken over by Motorola. Just 2 days before the announcement of the takeover, Melbourne purchased over 150,000 shares in the company.

After the takeover had gone through, Melbourne sold the shares making a profit of around £50,000, half of which he then paid over to McQuoid.

Since this topic was first brought into the syllabus, it has prompted a number of questions in the exam. Will you be well prepared for the next one?

Looking for a good bedtime read?

Published on: 05 Aug 2009

Reporter Norman C. Miller won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for his reporting on the De Angelis story.

Tino De Angelis was the ‘brains’ behind ‘The Great Salad Oil Swindle’ (the name of the book).

This case showed quite clearly that attendance at stocktaking by an auditor, will not provide, in itself, sufficient appropriate audit evidence on which to base the audit opinion.

I have always found one of the most interesting ways of studying internal control systems and auditing procedures is by looking at reports on frauds, indicating where things have gone wrong in real life.

Last time I looked on Amazon there were some copies of one of my favourite books available, alternatively perhaps try your local library.
Happy bedtime reading!

Of course it should be the 6th April!?

Published on: 05 Aug 2009

There appears to be a bit of a love/hate relationship between students and the UK tax papers. Students tend to either love them or hate them. There’s seldom any half way position.

It’s also one of those subjects where generally either you know it or you don’t know it. There’s not a lot of scope for guessing or trying to “waffle” to get the correct answer.

One of the most frequently asked questions by students is “Why does the UK tax year start on 6 April instead of say 1 January?” Note that this will not be asked in the actual exam so the answer is for personal use only or to impress your friends!

HM Revenue & Customs are a very helpful lot and explained the reason why the tax year starts on 6 April as follows:

The reason for the tax year running from 6 April to 5 April is primarily historical and has its origin in the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752.

It had been calculated in the 16th Century that the Julian calendar had lost 9 days since its introduction in 46 BC. Most of Europe changed to the new, more accurate, Gregorian calendar in 1582, but the UK continued with the old one until September 1752 by which time the error had increased to 11 days.

These 11 days were ‘caught up’ by being removed from the calendar altogether – 2 September was followed by 14 September. In order not to lose 11 days’ tax revenue in that tax year, though, the authorities decided to tack the missing days on at the end, which meant moving the beginning of the tax year from the 25 March, Lady Day, (which since the Middle Ages has been regarded as the beginning of the legal year) to 6 April.

The dates were adopted for income tax on its re-imposition in 1842 and have not changed since.

So now you know!

Not-for-profit organisations face several challenges.

Published on: 01 Aug 2009

I had to recently go into hospital for a minor operation on my knee. The nurses and doctors were fantastic there and thankfully everything is now fine with my knee.

The hospital I was in was a classic not-for-profit (NFP) organization and during my time there it really made me appreciate the challenges that NFPs face when setting objectives.

Hospitals have a significant number of stakeholders with a high level of interest. Patients like me are stakeholders with an obvious high level of interest in matters. Other local individuals who are not patients are also interested in case at some stage they need to use the hospital. The doctors, nurses and admin staff are also stakeholders with a keen interest in the activities and the government is another stakeholder interested in the hospital.

In summary, NFPs are different from most other organizations when it comes to stakeholders in that there tends to be a wider range of stakeholders with a high interest in a NFP organization than compared with other organizations.

Another issue that occurred to me during my stay was that there are a number of objectives that the hospital needs to balance. Two obvious ones are the quality of care given to a patient when he’s in the hospital versus treating more patients.

A final area I thought about was the classic finance term of Cost Benefit Analysis. Costs within hospitals are easy to measure but the benefits can be inherently difficult to measure. For example, how would they measure the benefit of reducing the waiting time for a knee operation by one month or 6 months?

You are not necessarily expected to be able to provide all the answers to the challenges of running a hospital in the exam but it is important to have an understanding of the challenges that a NFP organization faces when running its business.

The ExP Group