September 2010

How much does it cost to buy your loyalty?

Published on: 29 Sep 2010

Last week one of the top policemen in the UK admitted to getting discounted flights for his family by using air miles obtained on tax payer funded flights.

John Yates, who is the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (i.e. the  Greater London Police), is entitled to fly business class on official trips abroad. This enables him to amass significant amounts of air miles which can then be used for free flights in the future.

With a nice corporate governance angle the rules of the Metropolitan Police say that these air miles must be used for future work related flights and not personal ones. In what he claimed was an oversight, Mr Yates however used these air miles for a number of personal flights.

I’m sure it was the last thing on Mr Yates mind but from the Airline’s point of view, the provision of air miles can involve big figures.

The IFRS Interpretation Committee (formerly known as IFRIC) didn’t make many friends when they wrote IFRIC 13: Loyalty Programmes.

Broadly, IFRIC 13 says that when you are given loyalty programme points by a business, they have to recognise a proportion of the total sale to you as a sale of loyalty points.  In other words, they are buying your loyalty, rather than rewarding it.

This means that each sale has to be unbundled into two components – a sale of loyalty points at the value to the customer (which is likely to be very much higher than the cost of delivering the promised service) and the underlying sale itself.

As the loyalty points are used up or expire, the deferred revenue from loyalty points sold is recognised as revenue.

Previously, the accounting policy of most companies had been to recognise loyalty costs as a provision at the expected marginal cost of delivering the service.

This can be a fairly significant figure.  By “fairly significant”, we naturally mean “completely massive”.  Have a guess what the effect was on shareholders’ equity in the restated 2008 accounts of British Airways for implementation of IFRIC 13.

The answer is £206 million.  Nope, that’s not a typo; getting towards a quarter of a billion British Pounds.  Ouch.

We at ExP travel fairly a lot for work and we’ve noticed that airline loyalty programmes have become a little less generous of late.  Maybe the new accounting rules are something to do with this?

Do you own a iPhone or is it a Hiphone, an Ephone or a Ciphone?

Published on: 27 Sep 2010

On Saturday Apple officially launched the iPhone 4 in China. They also opened up two new flagship stores in Shanghai and Beijing.

China is the world’s largest mobile market with more than 800 million subscribers so it would seem to make sense that Apple sell their products there.

Why has is taken them so long to launch the iPhone 4 in China though? After all, the iPhone 4 was originally launched in the US back in June and in countries such as Australia, Netherlands and Singapore in July.

The handsets themselves are manufactured in China so it’s not as though they haven’t had any experience of doing business in the country.

There are various reasons why companies have phased product roll outs in different countries. The sheer scale of a “global launch” for a company like Apple would be extremely challenging. Having sufficient inventory in stock on global launch day would not only be a logistical nightmare but would probably be physically impossible.

An additional challenge for Apple is that they need to agree matters with their strategic communication service providers in each territory (in other words, the mobile phone operator they will be partnering with in each particular country). This also takes time.

Anyway, from now onwards we’ll be seeing the iPhone 4 in China but anyone that has been to China recently though could be forgiven for thinking that the iPhone 4 has already been in the country for a while.

A significant issue for Apple is the increase in the number of iPhone clone companies.

As well as clone companies that produce illegal fake copies of the phone there are also businesses that produce reasonable quality phones which are very similar to the iPhone. They are designed so that they try not to break any patent protection that Apple has set up. I’m sure though that Apple’s patent lawyers are monitoring these products very closely!

A quick search on the internet for example shows websites selling products such as the HiPhone, the Ephone and the Ciphone. With prices starting at less than $100 there will be a significant number of people opting for these items.

Oh, and in case you were wondering the photo above is of the Hiphone.

Is this your shopping list: bread, milk, eggs and Viagra?

Published on: 24 Sep 2010

Monday could be a big day for a lot of people.

Tesco, one of the leading UK supermarkets, will commence selling the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.

Viagra has been a huge success for Pfizer. It’s one of their blockbuster drugs and millions of the little blue tablets have been sold over the last 10 years.

One of the drawbacks though for a lot of men that want the drug is where to get hold of it from. In the UK you generally need either a doctors prescription or to risk buying it from potentially suspect internet sites.

Tesco are one of the most successful supermarket chains in the world. In strategic Ansoff’s Matrix terminology they have done very well with market development (4,811 stores in 14 countries with an amazing 2,482 stores in the UK alone) together with product development (an estimated 40,000 product lines ranging from pizza to petrol to perfume).

Tesco are about to add another product line to their offerings and from next Monday shoppers will be able to pick up Viagra from over 300 Tesco stores.

As finance people we know all about the challenge of getting pricing decisions right.

Tesco are not the first mainstream chain of stores to stock Viagra. Last year, the high street chemist Boots became the first store in the UK to sell Viagra without a prescription. You can currently buy 4 of the blue pills from Boots for £55.

A price skimming or premium pricing strategy for Tesco wouldn’t really work as the Viagra market is a mature market. Tesco has instead undertaken a classic penetration pricing strategy whereby they price the product at an attractive price with the aim of growing its market share.

From Monday, you will be able to buy 8 of the blue pills at Tesco for £52.

Whilst the per tablet charge at Tesco is a lot lower than what can be found at Boots, £52 is still a significant amount of money. There’s a recession on and times are hard for a lot of people. Only time will tell whether Tesco made the correct pricing decision.

Has the Big 4 become the Big 3?

Published on: 22 Sep 2010

Things have changed. You won’t be hearing much about PricewaterhouseCoopers any more.

Is this breaking news? Does this mean that we will be talking about the Big 3 rather than the Big 4?

Should PricewaterhouseCoopers partners and staff be rushing to recruitment consultants to get another job?

There’s no need to panic as all is well with the company. What they have done though is undertaken a rebranding exercise.

The company has commonly been referred to as PwC since it was established via a merger back in 1998 between Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand. With effect from Monday though they will now officially go by the name of pwc.

As part of a multi-million pound make over not only will the company be known as pwc but the corporate logo and corporate colours have changed.

The new logo incorporates the letters “pwc” in lower case along with a 6 rectangle symbol in shades of orange and red.

According to pwc, the brand was refreshed “in order to strengthen, and modernise how it represents its worldwide network to its clients, its people and the communities in which it operates.”

Global brand consultants Wolff Olins designed the logo in collaboration with PwC employees and clients. The complete rebranding process reportedly took two years.

From a personal point of view, I like the new logo and orange/red spectrum colours which I think are nice fresh, clean colours.

What about people from some of the other accounting firms? My guess is that they must be relieved. With KPMG having blue/white, Ernst & Young black/yellow and Deloitte navy/green it must have been a relief all round that pwc went for orange/red.

Auditing the auditors – in a rather public way!

Published on: 17 Sep 2010

In the UK, the Professional Oversight Board is one of the bodies that works towards improving the quality of audit work and audit firms.

They have just published their 2010 inspection reports into the Big Four audit firms.  If you feel so inspired, you can read these reports free here.

Obviously, not only the Big Four know how to audit.  However, it’s probably fair to assume that if there is a pattern in perceived weakness in audit within the biggest firms, it’s probably a pattern within the profession as a whole.

The good news is that in almost all cases, the POB found that audit work was done well or acceptably, though with room for improvement.  There’s something very healthy about a profession that scrutinises its own commanding heights and then publishes its findings in a wholly public way.

The general public are all stakeholders in our profession and they deserve to see the results of our own introspection.  Partners in big audit firms whose work has just been the subject of constructive criticism may feel somewhat differently about this of course!

A pattern within the reports is that nobody seems to be especially strong at conducting goodwill impairments.  Three of the Big Four were specifically criticised by the POB for failing to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to support the clients’ assertions that goodwill had not been impaired.

In the frank but diplomatic language of these reports, it sounds like the audit teams in certain particular audits didn’t really know how to approach deciding whether purchased goodwill had actually been impaired.

Is this the fault of the auditor, or is it the fault of accounting standards that require goodwill impairments to be recorded but aren’t entirely specific about how to do it?  We think it might well be a bit of both.

Criticisms such as audit reports being issued on a date before the audit working papers had been signed are somewhat harder to justify, however.

We imagine that the partner responsible for that one might have a table to himself or herself at the office Christmas party.

It’s 2010 so should a Witch pay income tax or not? Well, according to the Romanian government…

Published on: 15 Sep 2010

“Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble” so goes the famous Witch’s chant from Act 4, scene 1 of Macbeth but was a similar chant taking place last week when a potential Witch Tax was rejected by the Romanian Senate?

Like many countries around the world Romania suffered badly during the recession. In an attempt to balance the books the government has undertaken cuts in public sector wages as well as raising the VAT rate.

In a somewhat unusual move last week though, Alin Popoviciu and Cristi Dugulescu, two members of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party drafted a law whereby Witches would have had to produce receipts for the services they performed and hence be taxed on them.

Now whilst the image of Witches queuing up to submit their tax returns may cast an unlikely picture there are a number of interesting issues.

First of all then surely they are just self employed individuals? From a tax point of view they are no different from for example a self employed builder or a self employed accountant who both have to pay income taxes.

Admittedly, from a non tax point of view it probably elicits some interesting expressions on the face of the person who asks them what they do for a living but back to tax and there would be some questions that needed to be answered:

What about Witches training courses? Surely they would be a tax deductible expense?

Would the costs of keeping a black cat be considered a personal expense or an expense of the business?

What about the purchase of a new broom. Would it be a capital or revenue expense?

In another move which no doubt came as a complete surprise for all concerned, fortune tellers were told that they were to be held liable for any incorrect predictions that they made.

The Witches and fortune tellers needn’t have worried too much though as Romania’s Senate voted down the proposal on Tuesday.

Popoviciu allegedly claimed that the lawmakers didn’t implement the law as they were frightened of a Witches’ curse being made on them.

Benjamin Franklin once famously said “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Maybe the Senators that voted down the Witches tax in Romania were concerned that the two would be combined.

If you go to the bank today be careful in case you Kop some abuse for being a toxic asset.

Published on: 13 Sep 2010

On Saturday Wayne Rooney the England and Manchester United footballer was dropped for the game against Everton.

According to the Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, he was dropped so that he wouldn’t have to endure excessive abuse from the Everton fans (whilst the married Mr Rooney has recently gone through a barren patch of scoring on the pitch he was reported in the press last week as having scored off the pitch with a number of prostitutes).

So, the Everton supporters didn’t have the opportunity to direct their witty chants towards Mr Rooney.

The Accountants amongst the Everton supporters though must now be looking forward to when they play their neighbours and fierce rivals, Liverpool.

Last week it was reported that Liverpool FC’s loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) had been reclassified and moved to RBS’s toxic debt division. In other words the £260 million loan is now within the “bad bank” part of RBS which was created to put all their toxic assets from the recent worldwide financial crisis.

Even though RBS were reportedly getting £1million interest per week on the loan it is now considered clear that they have severe doubts over whether they will get their money back.

We blogged a couple of months ago about the going concern risk with Liverpool FC and this latest news can only add to the excitement.

One thing’s for sure though and the toxic debt division of RBS won’t be very sympathetic with Liverpool and will be looking to recover their money as soon as possible. A quick sale of the football club at a knock down price is expected.

Now, all you accountants in the Everton crowd get your singing voice ready and altogether “You’re toxic and you know you are, you’re toxic and you know you are….”

Forget the great Polish and Russian vodkas, the best vodka in the world is officially English. Now, go and open a packet of crisps to celebrate.

Published on: 10 Sep 2010

At this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition the best Vodka in the world award was won by a small distillery based in rural England in Herefordshire. Chase Vodka beat off 115 other entries to win.

This is a superb achievement by them.

I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the vodka. It’s certainly very nice and I have to say I think their award was thoroughly deserved. I hasten to add though that I haven’t tasted the other 115 vodkas so can’t really give an unbiased view!

Chase vodka has got a rather unusual background. It was founded by local potato farmer William Chase. Now William certainly knows a thing or two about potatos. He was the person that founded the upmarket potato crisp company Tyrrells.

Tyrrell’s crisps were only launched 8 years ago in 2002. In classic strategy terminology they were very much promoted on the differentiated manner as being of a better class of crisp, being hand crafted and a top quality product. His passion for potatos paid off and in 2008 he sold 75% of the crisp brand for a rather tasty £40 million.

Not content with sailing the world on his personal yacht or buying a private island to retire to he built on his core competencies and developed his love of potatos into another upmarket brand but this time to be enjoyed by adults only.

Again, using strategy speak the chase vodka business is nicely vertically integrated with the potatos being grown on the farm as well as the distillery and the bottling process being in the same location.

It’s not cheap – retailing at £32.95 it is over 3 times as expensive as the supermarket own brands but it’s hand crafted by a small team of workers and each bottle is reportedly made out of 250 top quality potatos. Comparing this with the mass market vodkas made out of left over grain then you can see why the pricing is different.

Using Ansoff’s matrix terminology they have also undertaken rather nice product development and launched a limited edition Marmalade Vodka.

Now, for me a lovely breakfast is a fresh pot of tea with some nice toast and marmalade. Should I be rethinking things though so that I opt for Marmalade Vodka instead?

PwC in the UK have just released their results. So how much did each partner make?

Published on: 08 Sep 2010

PricewaterhouseCoopers is a great company. It’s one of the top companies in the world and it’s also a truly global company. The latest reported figures show over 160,000 PwC people working around the world including 8,500 partners.

On Monday PwC released their UK results for the year ended June 2010.

So, how did they do?

First of all the good news. Their turnover in the UK rose 4% to £2.33 billion.

Their profit before tax in the UK however fell 3% to £665 million.

This fall in profit was put down to some significant investment during the year including recruiting 1,750 staff, appointing 57 new partners and moving into a new environmentally friendly office in London (incidentally, there’s a previous blog entry on the proximity of a PwC office to a Ernst & Young office here).

As maybe a positive sign on their view as to which direction the economy is heading they also stated that they were planning on creating 800 new jobs in the UK over the next year as well as continuing with their significant graduate recruitment by taking on 1,200 new graduate level joiners.

Now onto the exciting bit that I’m sure lots of people are interested in and that is what is the average payout for each of the 820 PwC UK partners?

Although it was down by 2% on the previous year it was still a healthy average figure of £759,000 per partner.

PwC’s UK chairman, Ian Powell, was reported as receiving £3.6 million.

Look out for two prostitutes, £3.7 million of stolen cash and a 58 year old accountant at your local Toys R Us store.

Published on: 06 Sep 2010

Toys R Us is one of the largest toy store chains in the world.

It’s very successful and has nearly 1,300 stores around the world. What it didn’t have though was a strong internal control system in their UK purchase ledger department.

Between 2006 and 2008, married father of two and accounts payable manager Paul Hopes made over 20 illegal payments ranging from £100,000 to £300,000 to bank accounts of fictitious toy suppliers in the Far East which he had set up himself.

The £3.7 million of illicit money was then spent on various items. One of Mr Hopes favourite methods of spending the money was on Wednesday nights when he would regularly entertain 2 prostitutes at luxury hotel suites.

As well as paying for their time and energy he also bought them a string of luxury cars including a Bentley, Toyota Land Cruiser and a BMW M3 (incidentally, his wife was at the time driving the family Ford Mondeo).

In total he spent nearly £2.5 million on the two prostitutes.

It all came to a sticky ending for Mr Hopes though as he was sentenced to 7 years in jail.

What is interesting about the sentencing is that under the Proceeds of Crime Act the Judge ordered Mr Hopes to repay £3.4 million of the £3.7 million stolen. If he fails to repay the £3.4 million then an additional 10 years will be added to his 7 year sentence. At the end of the 17 year sentence he will still be obliged to repay the £3.4 million.

Now, remember that Mr Hopes is an Accountant so I’m sure he’s an expert in double entry but even the best bookkeeping skills won’t be able to make “income” of £3.7 million minus “expenses” of £2.5 million equal a balance of £3.4 million.

I guess he’s hoping that these two particular ladies are now desperately trying to find him every Wednesday evening to give him the money back.

The ExP Group