December 2011

Will you be sat next to the love of your life or an obnoxious smelly person?

Published on: 19 Dec 2011

More and more companies are using social media such as Facebook to engage with their customers and potential customers.

KLM, the Dutch airline, has just introduced a new initiative which could make your next flight with them very interesting.

They are allowing their passengers to link their Facebook profiles to their check-in information.

This in effect means that when you check in you can view the Facebook profiles of other people on your flight who have agreed to show their profile.

If you like the look of them or think that they would be interesting to sit next to for the flight then you can choose a seat next to that person. KLM call it the “meat and seat” service.

A quick discussion in the office this morning showed opposing views on this one. Some thought that it would be a great opportunity to meet new and interesting people whilst others thought it would be a bit creepy for someone to select you to sit next to.

Either way, it’s certainly a novel approach by KLM in terms of integrating social media into a core function of their business.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea and I shall straight away set up a Facebook profile identifying myself as extremely overweight, opinionated and loud mouthed as well as suffering from severe personal hygiene problems.

With any luck that will mean that the seat next to me will be free and I can read the newspaper in peace and quiet…

The team here at ExP are now taking a break over Christmas and we’ll be back blogging in January but we will be posting on our Facebook page though and with no requirement to check into a flight, our Facebook page can be found here.

Thanks to all of you that read our blog and we’ll see you in 2012!

KPMG are into underwear and Deloitte are into shoes…

Published on: 16 Dec 2011

It’s a sign of the times but two of the UK’s highest profile high street shopping chains are in financial trouble.

La Senza, the luxury women’s underwear shop, has reportedly called in KPMG to help restructure the business.

Whilst some of the less professional male readers amongst you may well suggest that the first thing they should do is to undertake a reasonableness review of the lingerie brochures, the chances are that KPMG’s consulting work with La Senza will involve a lot more.

It’s possible that the retail chain will either get additional investment or perhaps more likely close a number of shops or even put the company into administration (this is where a company is controlled by an administrator who is independent from the directors and in effect decides for example whether the company can become a going concern again or whether it should be broken up or even liquidated)

Is it really a surprise though that the bottom has fallen out of the luxury underwear market?

With the onset of the recession many people are buying less luxurious underwear or simply making do with what they’ve got.

With the emergence of internet shopping there’s also the fact that the cost structure of these “bricks and mortar businesses” is significantly higher than retailers selling over the internet.

In simple terms, revenue is down but costs are still high. The end result is that a formerly profitable company has turned into a loss making business and La Senza is at risk of going bust.

Deloitte meanwhile have been appointed as Administrators of the shoe shop chain Barratts.

Barratts has nearly 200 shops in the UK and according to press reports Deloitte are said to be “working closely with suppliers to ensure the business has the best possible platform to secure a sale, preserve jobs and generate as much value as possible for all creditors.”

Whilst it’s not good news for the employees of La Senza and Barrats, I’ve got a feeling that unfortunately there will probably be more retail companies facing trouble on the high street in the near future.

Is it better to be loyal or disloyal?

Published on: 14 Dec 2011

We’ve all heard of the big coffee chains such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee and with their growth over recent years it’s become more and more difficult for the smaller independent coffee shops to compete.

Over in Singapore though a novel approach to competing with these “coffee shop big boys” has just been introduced.

Lots of businesses have a “loyalty card” programme whereby people earn various points each time they spend money with a company. They can then use these points to buy various items with the company.

The giant Tesco supermarket chain for example has one of the largest loyalty card schemes in the UK whereby “Tesco points” can be used to purchase Tesco products. Most international airlines also have loyalty programmes such as Sky team and Star Alliance where the points earned can be exchanged for free flights.

Antic Studios, a creative agency in Singapore has just come up with a new concept and it’s a “disloyalty card”.

The aim is to help a group of 8 smaller independent coffee shops in Singapore develop.

The idea is that an individual picks up a disloyalty card at one of the independent coffee shops. If they then visit the other 7 independent shops they get their card stamped and can then return to the original coffee shop to claim their free drink.

It’s a novel way of smaller companies who are in effect in competition with each other joining together to create awareness of themselves and encouraging people to try them out instead of staying with the big guys.

Smaller competitors working together to create stronger competition against the big coffee chains – a nice idea and well worth discussing over a cup of coffee.

It’s really not me. It’s him…

Published on: 09 Dec 2011

It’s an exciting time in anyone’s career when they apply for a job. Unfortunately for a lot of people in today’s economic environment the chances of success in getting a job are not always that high.

I’m probably biased in my outlook though but for certain professions I think there will always be a demand and anyone that furthers their knowledge in the financial and business functions will be ahead of the game.

What about politics and agriculture though? And more to the point how important is your name in determining whether you get a good job or not?

There was a rather amusing mix up the other day when following Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation, Italy’s new government got a bit confused in its appointment of a new cabinet.

They contacted Professor Francesco Braga who is an expert in agriculture at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and told him that he had been appointed as the new deputy agriculture secretary in Mario Monti’s new government.

This probably came as a bit of a shock to Professor Braga as although he’s an expert in agriculture he’s lived in Canada for 28 years.

He reportedly told The Toronto Star newspaper: “I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’ I replied to their email. Suddenly, there is a flood of emails from friends, foes and industry associations, all kinds of important players in Italian agribusiness, congratulating me. So I thought, ‘OK, it must be true.’”

Alas for Professor Braga though the appointment was meant for another Professor who is also called Franco Braga.

Now the second Professor Braga does in fact live in Italy but the interesting point here is that he is not an expert on agriculture as he is in fact a professor of construction engineering at Rome’s Sapienza University.

He had been recommended by Altero Matteoli, the previous infrastructure minister and to make matters even more confusing, he was not recommended for the agriculture post but was instead recommended for the position in infrastructure.

So in conclusion, the Italian economy was in turmoil and Silvio Berlusconi’s government were widely blamed for the problems.

A new government led by Mario Monti is being set up to hopefully bring some stability to the economy.

One of the new government’s first appointments was a deputy agricultural minister who they mistakenly thought was a Canadian agricultural professor but then it turned out that it was a professor of construction.

In summary then things appear to be all under control…

Paper or plastic – which is best?

Published on: 07 Dec 2011

Money makes the world go around but does it matter if it’s paper or plastic money?

A few years ago if you looked in your wallet or purse you would probably have seen paper banknotes. Dollars, Euros, pound sterling and other currencies had paper notes of various denominations.

Today though there are 23 countries around the world that use plastic banknotes instead of paper notes.

Canada recently joined the list of plastic note countries and has just launched a plastic $100 note.

Why the switch to plastic notes though as after all the world has managed with paper notes for plenty of time. There are a few reasons for the switch.

Durability is perhaps the major one. The usable life of plastic banknotes for example can be up to 2.5 times longer than the traditional paper note.

There are also better security features on the plastic notes. Sophisticated holograms on plastic banknotes make it more difficult for counterfeit notes to be made.

So with all these benefits why don’t more countries use plastic notes?

On the downside of things, whilst the useful life is longer the initial upfront cost of production can be quite a bit higher with more complex banknote production facilities required.

Some people have also said that plastic notes are more slippery and therefore more difficult to count large amounts of money. To me though this wouldn’t necessarily be a major problem if the large amounts of banknotes that were being counted were mine!

Whichever way you look at it the chances are that over the next few years more and more notes will be plastic rather than paper and for any of you that have pulled a pair of trousers out of the washing machine and found a soggy broken paper banknote in the pocket this can only be a good thing.

Does $300m mean bigger is better?

Published on: 05 Dec 2011

Here’s an interesting development. MP3 players such as the iPod Nano are getting smaller and smaller but due to advances in technology the sounds that they emit are getting better and better.

Whilst music fans are appreciating the portability of the smaller MP3 players together with the flexibility of having quality music players on their phones there’s a trend at the moment of the headphones getting bigger and bigger.

It used to be bigger players and smaller headphones but now it’s the other way around.

As is often the case it’s the fashion conscious younger generation that are driving the change.

HMV, the UK chain of music shops where people used to flock to to buy the latest CDs has unsurprisingly seem a dramatic drop in sales of CDs as more and more people are now buying their music online via Apple iTunes for example.

There is some short term hope for HMV though at least in terms of their sales of headphones and it’s been reported that their sales from headphones and other technology will shortly exceed their sales of CDs and DVDs.

Now these headphones aren’t cheap. Some of the better known high end headphone brands such as Dr Dre go for in excess of £350. That’s quite a lot when you consider the iPod Nano that the headphones could be plugged into retails for less than £100.

Manufacturers have started to segment the market nicely for headphones with for example the Bob Marley Reggae inspired “House of Marley” headphone range recently being launched by Bob Marley’s son Julian.

So, what’s next on the horizon in the business world when it comes to headphones?

I mentioned one of the best known brands of headphones Dr Dre earlier and you’ve no doubt heard of HTC which offer very good Smartphones and are in competition to Apple and their iPhone.

Well, earlier this summer HTC paid $300 million for 51% of a US company called Beats Electronics. What’s the main brand that Beats Electronics has? Yep, none other than Dr Dre.

This could be quite a smart move by HTC.

They are building up their technology and design on the Smartphone side of things and by buying Dr Dre they are getting a sudden jump up in headphone technology.

Will this be the sweet sound of success for HTC?

The Big 4 don’t appear to be happy about this…

Published on: 02 Dec 2011

We blogged earlier this year about Michel Barnier, the EU internal market commissioner announcing plans to issue new laws which would dramatically impact the “Big 4” (namely Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PwC.)

Well, these changes have now got a bit closer as the draft law has just been released.

In an attempt to reduce conflict of interest and to introduce more competition into the industry the main proposal of the draft law includes the requirement for the Big 4 firms to separate their auditing and consulting divisions in the EU.

This is a pretty big issue as in simple terms if the law becomes final it could prevent the Big 4 “audit firms” from providing any non audit related services such as consulting, providing tax advice or running training courses.

This could see a major restructuring of the audit profession.

Other provisions in the draft law include banks being banned from insisting that a company uses a Big 4 firm if they are to be lent money by the bank (at the moment a number of banks make it a requirement for a company to be audited by a Big 4 firm before they will release significant loans.)

There is also a proposed requirement for audit firms to be rotated every 6 to 12 years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the Big 4 are reported to be against any changes to the current rules (after all as the saying goes, “how many turkeys would vote for Christmas?”).

I’m pretty sure though that the “mid tier group” of auditing firms that are below the Big 4 in terms of size such as BDO, Grant Thornton and Mazars would maybe take a different view to the Big 4 and be in favour of Mr Barnier’s views as this could open up a number of opportunities for them.

Before everyone that works at a Big 4 company starts rushing to rearrange the office furniture though it’s worth noting that the law at the moment is only draft and the EU states and the European Parliament have to provide the final sign off before the law becomes a reality.

The ExP Group