November 2010

ACCA exam tips released today and I hope you’ll be better prepared than this person…

Published on: 26 Nov 2010

To put it bluntly, in order to pass the ACCA exams and qualify as an accountant you have to be intelligent.

You will have needed to have put in a significant amount of work over the last few months to cover all of the main areas of the syllabus.

Now whilst no training company knows for sure what will actually be in the exams next month our ACCA exam tips identify areas which we believe you should have covered particularly well.

Being properly prepared though isn’t just applicable for people who are trying to pass their professional exams.

If your chosen method of progressing in life is to be a getaway driver for a gang of jewellery shop raiders then I guess there should also be an element of preparation.

A shop raiding gang in Essex in the UK put 19 year old Mohammed Alasow in charge of being their getaway driver.

It took his colleagues a mere 20 seconds to break open the shop window with a pickaxe and sledgehammer. They managed to grab £9,000 of jewellery and jumped into the getaway car where Mr Alasow put his foot down and the car shot off at speed.

Alas for the poor driver and his friends the car didn’t get very far as it ran out of petrol and stopped in the middle of the road a few miles away.

Things got even worse for the gang as a kindly policeman stopped to see if they needed some help and spotted a sledgehammer, masks and jewellery on the back seat of the car. Fast forward a few months and they were recently jailed for 8 years.

Now being a getaway driver and forgetting to fill the car with petrol doesn’t really indicate a thorough preparation for the role.

Back to a more respectable profession and in terms of last minute preparation for the ACCA exams then we advise that if you haven’t done so already to print off a copy of our free ExPress notes from www.theexpgroup.com and review them in the run up to the exam. These notes cover the key areas of the syllabus and are a perfect last minute revision aid.

Also, don’t forget that the exam papers will be marked using scanning technology. The scripts will be completed as normal by students but will be marked on screen by the markers.

It’s important therefore that you use a black pen in the exams. If you use anything else such as coloured pens or pencils there is a risk that the scanning technology may not pick up your writing.

Good luck with your final revision and click here for the links to the our ACCA exam tips.

Is it a phone or a computer and what on earth does that button do exactly!?

Published on: 22 Nov 2010

A few years ago things were fairly simple when it came to deciding what was a computer and what was a phone.

A computer tended to fill a room and a phone was attached by a wire to the wall.

Then along came mobile phones and laptop computers.

It was still possible to tell the difference though. You held the phone to your ear to make calls and you used your fingers to type on the computer keyboard.

In April of this year the Apple iPad was released. This was a tablet PC and although if you were clever you could make internet based phone calls it wasn’t possible to make calls via a mobile network.

Samsung have just released their 7-inch Android-powered tablet here in the UK. This is slightly different to the iPad in that it is designed to make calls and is now available on all the major mobile networks.

So, is it a phone or a computer?

In fact do we care anyway?

Well, if you’re a lucky person that has been provided with a Samsung galaxy tab by your employer then yes, you probably will care whether it’s a phone or a computer.

For UK tax purposes, a phone provided by an employer is a tax free benefit (i.e. you will not be charged income tax on it). A computer on the other hand is a taxable benefit and generally the value on which tax will be applied will be equal to 20% of the cost of the computer.

So, in summary, if you were provided with a Samsung Galaxy Tab phone by your employer it’s tax free.

If however you’re provided with a Samsung Galaxy Tab computer by your employer you will be taxed on it.

Unfortunately for any individuals in such a position this guidance by the UK tax authorities indicates that it is likely to be taxed on the employee.

As well as a tax discussion, the Samsung Galaxy Tab also provides an interesting example of some of the challenges companies can face when launching products in different countries.

The photo to the left shows the Galaxy Tab when it was first launched in the European country of Romania.

There is a button marked “Porn” clearly visible on the screenshot.

This isn’t what you may think though and doesn’t provide a short cut to adult related content.

It is in fact an abbreviation that Samsung initially used for the “home button”. “Porn” was used as an abbreviation of the word “Pornire” which means “start” in the Romanian language.

Samsung quickly changed the abbreviation following its launch.

How many sandwiches can a stockbroker in Hong Kong eat in 2 hours?

Published on: 19 Nov 2010

What did you have for lunch today? Did you manage to get out of the office or did you grab a quick sandwich at your desk?

If you’re a stockbroker working at the Hong Kong stock exchange then the chances are you had a rather nice long lunch.

The Hong Kong stock exchange has one of the shortest “opening hours” out of the major stock exchanges.

It is open for business 4 hours a day and also enjoys a rather pleasant 2 hour lunch break.

It also does fairly well when looking at the opening hours of the other major stock exchanges around the world:

  • London, Paris and Frankfurt – 8.5 hours
  • New York – 6.5 hours
  • Australia – 6 hours
  • Tokyo – 4.5 hours

For anyone that has lived or worked in Hong Kong this may come as a bit of a surprise as it’s one of the busiest most frenetic cities in the world.

Alas, it seems that their 2 hour lunch break is now under threat.

A consultation paper has recently been issued and it is raises the proposal of:

  1. Starting half an hour earlier at 9.30am (surely it’s virtually impossible to have a nice breakfast if you have to be in the office at 9.30?)
  2. Reducing the lunch break from 2 hours to an almost impossible to fit in a 3 course meal and a bottle of wine timescale of 1 hour.
  3. Luckily there are no plans to change the closing time of 4pm so the brokers will at least have a reasonable time to get ready for dinner.

The arguments in favour of adjusting the opening hours are to enable it to tie in with the mainland Shanghai exchange opening hours.

In what can only be described as “hardly the surprise of the century” it was reported that 70% of the Hong Kong Securities Professionals Association members that were asked their opinion on the proposals felt that the 2 hour lunch break should remain.

Closing for lunch isn’t something that you find in the majority of stock exchanges elsewhere around the world.

If for example you wanted to get the views of somebody from London who had actually experienced the London stock exchange closing for lunch you’d have to find a very elderly broker. The London Stock exchange last closed for lunch 60 years ago in 1950.

Out of the pwc girls and the Deloitte guys who do you think are the most attractive?

Published on: 17 Nov 2010

When I was younger I was given some good advice.

“Never write something about somebody else in an email that you would feel embarrassed about if that message ended up pinned to the office noticeboard”.

The thought behind this was that it’s easy to fire off an email but once it’s sent it can quickly be forwarded by other people and isn’t always guaranteed to remain confidential.

A certain male member of staff at the pwc Dublin office will no doubt from now on be thinking twice before he hits the send button on any of his messages.

A couple of weeks ago on what must have been a quiet afternoon in the office he sent an email to 14 male colleagues.

Sending emails to colleagues isn’t in itself a bad thing but the message was in fact asking his friends to rate the attractiveness of some recent female new joiners to the firm.

It also included staff photos of the ladies in question, all of whom were trainee accountants.

The subject line of the email was “this would be my shortlist for the Top 10”.

A colleague replied an hour later after obviously undertaking a detailed peer review and came up with a somewhat un-gentlemanly comment about whether one of the ladies justified being in the top 10.

Such is the ease with which emails are sent that within a few days the message had been forwarded to thousands of people and had “gone viral” around the globe.

My guess is that over the years the majority of employees in most companies have at one stage or another got together over a drink after work and debated the attractiveness of their colleagues.

Taking photos from the staff directory and emailing them though is probably on a different level. pwc are understandably taking this matter seriously and have reportedly launched an investigation.

Now before any ladies out there start accusing this of being purely a male problem it’s worth reminding people about former Deloitte employee, Ms. Holly Leam-Taylor.

In an email sent last December Ms Leam-Taylor’s message entitled “Deloitte first year analysts Christmas awards” asked her female colleagues to vote on which men in the office they considered to be the most attractive.

This message also “went viral” and became a global internet hit.

The conclusion to this article?

Well I guess it’s not to preach about whether or not you should make top 10 lists but rather if you do then don’t put it in an email as it may well end up being pinned on a global noticeboard.

A bank run? Don’t worry, it’s only a bit of fun…

Published on: 15 Nov 2010

It hardly seems possible that the bank run on the UK bank Northern Rock happened over 3 years ago but last week some people thought that there was a similar run on the Spanish bank BBVA.

A bank run occurs when a large number of people with deposits at a particular bank head to branches of the bank to get their money out as quick as possible.

It often follows a rumour about problems with the bank and can lead to a self fulfilling prophecy.

Large numbers of people withdraw money. This can cause liquidity problems at the bank which in turn causes more concern which leads to more people rushing to withdraw their money which leads to liquidity problems with leads to….. and so on until a vicious circle develops.

A bank makes its money from lending.

If it just keeps depositors money without using the deposits to generate revenue by for example lending to borrowers then the bank is in effect just a safe deposit box for the deposits.

In the great depression of the 1930s sudden withdrawals by panicky depositors caused liquidity problems to such an extent that a number of healthy banks were forced to close.

Nowadays, as long as the bank is solvent, any short term liquidity problems should be resolved by borrowing cash from its central bank as a “lender of last resort”.

Bank runs can still happen though and last week the queues of people outside of BBVA bank in Madrid caused rumours that resulted in the share price falling sharply.

It took a while for the markets to identify what was going on and it wasn’t so much a bank run that was causing the queues but rather a “fun run”

There was a 10km fun run sponsored by BBVA and joggers were queuing up to get their race numbers and t-shirts from the bank for the run on the Sunday.

Unfortunately rumours quickly spread around the financial markets that there were large queues outside the bank and in the jittery post financial crisis atmosphere the share price plummeted by nearly 4%.

Luckily a hour or so later the markets realised that the bank withdrawals were race t-shirts rather than cash and the share price recovered.

Finally, to test your knowledge of the financial markets there are two pictures in this blog entry. One shows a bank run whilst the other shows a fun run. Can you tell the difference…

What’s the link between George Bush and the ACCA exams next month?

Published on: 12 Nov 2010

George W Bush is a controversial figure.  Two years after leaving office, his policies during his presidency of the United States still stir controversy, both within the USA and around the world.

He has just published his autobiography.  Perhaps surprisingly, he appears to be rather frank in his admission that he personally authorised the use of “water boarding” techniques, in which the subject believes themselves to be drowning.

Although no permanent physical damage occurs in this process, it’s designed to be traumatic. The current US president, Barak Obama has banned its use.

The justification given by the former president for authorising the use of torture was that he believed that the information extracted from the subjects of this process saved lives elsewhere.

We’re not commenting on whether we agree with this or not as an ethical standpoint.

For people taking an ethics exam, such as ACCA paper P1, this could be an interesting example of ethical stances and especially the difference between deontological and teleological (consequentialist ethics).

President Bush’s viewpoint is an example of utilitarian teleological ethics.

In teleological ethics, the rightness or wrongness of the action is assessed by investigating its consequences.  Utilitarianism looks at the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people.  So if great, but non-lethal, suffering of one person saves the life of another, it’s justifiable, even if the act itself may be repugnant to some people.

Compare that with deontological ethics and particularly the three maxims of Emmanuel Kant.

In deontological ethics, water boarding is probably never justifiable.

Deontology looks at the rightness or wrongness of the action itself, regardless of its consequences.  It would be possible to express a duty (“imperative”) if it passes the three maxims of Kant:

Consistency: Would it be possible for everybody to follow the rule of “no waterboarding”?  The answer here seems to be yes.

Respect for human dignity: Does the rule respect the dignity of others.  A no torture rule easily passes this test.

Universality: Would it be possible for somebody to understand that breaking the rule would bring the disapproval of society as a whole?  Again, the answer here is yes.  If torture were universally accepted as wrong, it would be possible for a violator of that rule to anticipate society’s disapproval.

There are no conclusions to this article.  It’s just pointing out an example of the two different ethical approaches and how we are each prone to prefer one over the other in different circumstances.

It could be a good example for people taking the P1 exam to use if asked to explain the differences in the deontological and teleological approaches to ethics.

It’s a Relentless exercise to choose the name of your business…

Published on: 08 Nov 2010

When small businesses choose their business name, the reasons are often personal.  Business names are often a homage to somebody or something special to the business owner.

A fish restaurant, for example, could well be named after a boat that the owner is sentimentally attached to.

This all seems reasonable, but it’s best to choose a boat that isn’t called something like “TGI Friday”, or “McDonald”.

Scott Matthews, aged 24 and from the south coast of England, recently learned this.  His restaurant is called “Relentless”, apparently after his father’s sturdy fishing boat.

He says that the logo was simply made up by typing “Relentless” into his word processing software, using an old English script.  He chose a black background because he likes black backgrounds.

Recently, he heard from the Coca-Cola company, who have an energy drink with a similar brand name and similar logo.

Mr Matthews claims that his first contact from Coca-Cola came in the less than cosy form of a seventeen page legal document demanding that he change the name and signage of his business.

His reaction appears to have been rather assertive and rather shorter than 17 pages.  He’s not saying entirely what he said, but we’re guessing it could pithily be summarised in two words.

This is an example of the civil wrong of “passing off”.  If a product has a similar name to another product and is likely to imply endorsement or some other form of customer confusion, then it’s possible to petition a court for an order to mandate the party who got the name second to change their name.

Of course, the court does not necessarily grant such an order.  There has to be some evidence of customers being likely to be confused by the similarity.

It’s hard to imagine somebody opening a can of energy drink and being crestfallen at the non-emergence therefrom of a steak and lobster dinner, for example.

However, it’s possible to imagine somebody being attracted to a restaurant because of an apparent association with a better known product, such as an energy drink.

It seems that both Mr Matthews and the Coca-Cola company intend being somewhat relentless in this case.  We will let you know what happens if we’re able to find out.

Is it a historical drama? Is it a romantic novel? No, it’s a never ending story of…

Published on: 03 Nov 2010

Classic Russian novels are famous for being somewhat large.

My copy of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” weighs in at 1,024 pages.  That is a big book.

Some day, I will get beyond page 20.

Dostoyevski’s “Crime and Punishment” is 448 pages.  I’m up to page 25 on that one.

According to a recent survey by Deloitte of UK listed companies, the size of IFRS accounts grew from an average size of 44 pages in 1996 to 101 pages in 2010.  That’s an annual growth rate of 6%, with a 7% rate of growth in the years from 2005.  The rate of growth itself appears to be growing.

So, just for fun, if you’re of a mathematical bent, and assuming that the rate of growth in volume in IFRS accounts continues at its current pace, answer this question:

How many years will it be before the page count in a set of IFRS accounts exceeds the page count for “War and Peace” and for “Crime and Punishment”?  The answer is at the bottom of this item.

Within all this bulk (which Deloitte criticises as being “swimming in words”), there is some notably useful information, such as 90% of companies clearly identified an average of 7 key performance indicators, up from 84% in 2009.

4% of companies (2009: 7%) received a modified audit opinion relating to going concern.

Surprisingly, only 35% of companies fully complied with the UK’s Combined Code on corporate governance.  That leaves a fair bit of explaining to do, on the “comply or explain” approach.

If you’re interested in the answer to the question of how many years will it be before the page count in a set of IFRS accounts exceeds the page count for “War and Peace” and for “Crime and Punishment” then IFRS accounts, at their current rate of paper busting growth, will be longer than “War and Peace” in 35 years and “Crime and Punishment” in a mere 22 years.

Who can really be trusted to keep a secret? Accountants or lawyers?

Published on: 01 Nov 2010

When you speak with your lawyer, you can say almost anything and be confident in the knowledge that the lawyer will be able to preserve the confidentiality of your discussion.

Most people probably assume the same thing when having discussions with their accountant, especially in the context of discussing tax planning opportunities with a tax advisor.

Unfortunately, English readers should pay careful attention to the decision in a recent case, R (on the application of Prudential PLC) v HMRC, EWCA Civ 1094 if you would like the full legal citation.

This Court of Appeal decision stated that client privilege only extends between a lawyer and a client.  This means that any discussion between a client and an accountant cannot be guaranteed to be confidential.

This is an English legal case, which is binding in England and Wales only, but the judgment is based on common law, so is likely to be highly influential in jurisdictions based on the English system globally.

As the accountancy and legal professions increasingly compete, especially in the area of tax advice, this gives a significant advantage to the legal profession over the accountancy profession.

Who would you rather seek advice from: a lawyer who you are confident cannot be compelled to reveal the content of your discussion, or an expert accountant who is unable to promise confidentiality?

If you talk to a lawyer about this then they may well say they were pleased that they had this advantage over accountants.

Note of course though that if they felt like it they wouldn’t have to disclose what was said in your conversation…

The ExP Group