Would you send a photo?

Picture the scene. You’re one of the largest supermarket chains in the Netherlands employing more than 100,000 people. You’re planning on introducing a new staff uniform. Do you ask people what size uniform they are or do you ask them to upload semi-naked photographs of themselves to an app so that it can work out the sizes?

Yep, you guessed it. The supermarket chain, Albert Heijn asked staff at their Nijmegen branch to upload photos of themselves in their underwear or tight-fitting sports gear.

It was supposed to be a trial to see how it worked before rolling it out to the whole organisation.

Apparently, the idea behind it was that it would be more efficient to load up 100,000 images to an app to analyse the sizes rather than receive 100,000 emails.

Whoever came up with the idea failed to appreciate that not everyone would be keen to load up a half-naked photo to an app run by their employer.

It was not only the staff that thought this was a bit strange as the Dutch Data Protection Authority described it as bizarre saying the company had “no grounds whatsoever to require its staff to do this”.

The news was first reported by the Dutch newspaper NRC who highlighted that a poster had appeared in the staff canteen at the Nijmegen supermarket saying “Wear underwear or tight-fitting sportswear so the contours of your body can be measured as accurately as possible. And ask someone to help you take the photos”.

Now, whilst the person that came up with the idea probably thought this would be an efficient way of getting the sizes, it does remind everyone to always take a step back and ask yourself “is this ok?”

A spokesman for the company said “We have cancelled the pilot and apologised to all involved”.

Ericsson fined $1 billion for bribery.

The Swedish telecommunications group Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (or Ericsson as most people refer to it as and how my spell checker prefers) is an incredibly successful organisation.

The group provides services, software and infrastructure in information and communications technology.

Oh, and they were also recently fined $1 billion to settle bribery charges.

The company was founded in 1876 by Lars Magnus Ericsson and now employs nearly 100,000 people and operates in around 180 countries.

Not all of these employees were ethical though and Ericsson’s Egyptian subsidiary recently pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the US’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

This bribery had been taking place for 17 years and was reported to have netted the group business worth more than $400m.

US attorney Geoffrey Berman was quoted as saying “Through slush funds, bribes, gifts, and graft, Ericsson conducted telecom business with the guiding principle that money talks.” He went to say “Today’s guilty plea and surrender of over a billion dollars in combined penalties should communicate clearly to all corporate actors that doing business this way will not be tolerated.”

The bribery took place in a number of countries. It appointed agents and consultants to bribe government officials in Djibouti, China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Kuwait.

One example of the techniques involved was in Kuwait where an Ericsson subsidiary agreed a payment of approximately $450,000 to a “consulting company”.

No consulting actually took place but a fake invoice for the consulting services was issued to Ericsson.

As a result of this payment, inside information about a tender for the modernisation of a state-owned telecommunications company’s radio access network in Kuwait was obtained.

The end result was that the modernisation contract, which was valued at $182m, was awarded to an Ericsson subsidiary. In return Ericsson paid the $450,000 to the consulting company and improperly recorded it in its books as consulting fees rather than as a bribe.

IRS Criminal Investigation head Don Fort was quoted as saying that “Implementing strong compliance systems and internal controls are basic principles that international companies must follow to steer clear of illegal activity. Ericsson’s shortcomings in these areas made it easier for its executives and employees to pay bribes and falsify its books and records. We will continue to pursue cases such as these in order to preserve a global commerce system free of corruption.”

Wave hello to a discount

The accountants amongst you will be well aware of the different methods of setting the price of a product or service.

Going rate, cost-plus and perceived value are all fairly common but what about basing the price of your service on the size of ocean waves?

This month, Alaska Airlines have segmented the market nicely and are targeting surfers by offering discounts on flights to Hawaii. These discounts are based on the forecast size of the waves which they hope the surfers will soon be surfing.

They have teamed up with surfline.com who forecast the size of the waves and the higher the forecast waves, the higher the discount.

The discounts start off at 10% for waves up to 10ft (3m) and go to a maximum of 30% for waves above 21ft (6.4m)

All in all, a nice way to target surfers

You can’t McFlurry Love

Until recently, Steve Easterbrook was the boss of McDonalds. He had been with them for a long time having started working for them back in 1993 as a manager in London.

Mr Easterbrook no doubt had a lot of affection for the company he ran but it turned out that he also had a lot of affection for a colleague as he had started dating a lady who also worked for McDonalds.

Although the relationship with his colleague was consensual, it didn’t go down too well with McDonalds.

According to the company, Mr Easterbrook had “violated company policy” and shown “poor judgement” (by “poor judgement” I assume that refers to him having the relationship rather than the choice of who he had the relationship with).

Now, whilst some people may say that it was a consensual relationship between two adults so let them get on with it, the key thing here is that it was against company policy and the two people involved had agreed to the company policy when they joined the firm so it’s a straight forward case of a breach of that policy.

More and more companies are having either outright bans on any relationships or are requiring individuals to disclose any relationships (I’m not a legal expert here but it does raise some interesting questions as to what is the definition of a relationship and how quickly after reaching that definition you need to notify your employer – is it minutes, hours, days…).

Mr Easterbrook won’t be short of funds to carry on wining and dining his new love as the termination package is pretty significant. He earned nearly $16m last year and will receive 26 weeks of pay on his departure.

Bloomberg estimate that his total leaving package which includes previously granted shares will be in excess of $37m.

That should buy a few romantic meals at Burger King for the two love birds.

Just to be a bit different I’ll eat…

What do you fancy for lunch today?

Do you want your usual lunch or would you like something a bit different?

A survey by New Covent Garden Soup found that office workers tended to show a complete lack of imagination when it came to lunch with most of those surveyed choosing the same lunch as they had yesterday.

More than 75% of workers who were surveyed had eaten the same meal for lunch for the past 9 months.

The most common lunches were sandwiches with the top 3 being ham in first place followed by cheese and then chicken. In 4th place was salad.

Yep, three quarters of people had eaten the same sandwich for 9 months.

In what was without a doubt, not a surprise, over 80% of respondents to the survey said they were “bored” with lunch.

Becky Spelman, a psychologist said that “eating the same thing every day means we risk not getting a wide enough array of nutrients, as well as simply being very monotonous. Making small changes, such as trying something new for our lunchtime meal, can – in a small way – help to open our minds to new experiences in other areas of life too.”

In summary, if you’re heading out to buy your lunch now and you’ve been eating the same ham sandwich for the last 9 months then maybe you could go for something dramatically different like a tuna sandwich instead…

Working from home?

Let’s be honest now – have you ever had a day off work when you really shouldn’t have? Have you ever called in sick when you were actually feeling ok?

Well, even if you have taken a day off work when you should have been in the office then you are nowhere near as bad as Mr Joaquin Garcia.

Mr Garcia was a Spanish civil servant who was paid €37,000 a year by a water company run by a local authority in the Spanish city of Cadiz.

He had worked for the organisation for so long that he became eligible for a long service award. The deputy mayor was due to award Mr Garcia a plaque for 20 years’ service but unfortunately Mr Garcia was not in the office.

Further investigation led to the discovery that despite being paid €37,000 a year the Spanish civil servant had failed to turn up for work for “at least” 6 years. Yes, he was employed and was being paid but hadn’t turned up for work for at least 6 years and nobody had noticed!

The water company thought that Mr Garcia was being supervised by the local authority whilst the local authority thought that the water company was supervising him. The end result was that Mr Garcia was not in the office, was not working but was receiving his full salary.

The local authority was understandably not that happy at paying somebody a full salary when that person was at home enjoying life and took Mr Garcia to court. The court found in favour of the local authority and ordered Mr Garcia to pay a fine.

Despite the local authority paying Mr Garcia for doing no work for at least 6 years, the maximum amount of fine that the company could legally reclaim was equivalent to one year’s salary.

Mr Garcia has since retired. No doubt to take it easy after all of his hard work over the last 6 years…

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

What’s one way of increasing the chances of getting hold of someone’s password?

Does it involve the use of the very latest supercomputer? Does it involve some clever IT geeks hacking into a computer for you?

Or does it involve chocolate?

A bit of research published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour attempted to find out how people are obligated by the kindness of others. Or in other words, if someone does something nice for a person, how likely is it that the person will be nice back to them?

The researchers in Luxembourg conducted a survey of random people in the street asking them about internet security including questions about passwords.

Some of the people interviewed were given chocolate and some weren’t.

30% of those that were not given chocolate revealed their passwords which to me is a surprisingly high percentage and just goes to show that quite often human stupidity is the weakest link in internet security.

For the people who were given chocolate at the beginning of the interview the figure rose to 44% and if the chocolate was given just before the question on passwords was asked an incredible 48% gave their passwords! Yes, nearly half of the people asked their passwords as part of a survey told a complete stranger their password if they had been given chocolate.

Andre Melzer, the author of the study said that “when someone does something nice for us we automatically feel obliged to return the favour”.

So, in conclusion, if someone walks up to you in the office and offers you a piece of chocolate be careful what you say…

#problemswithreturns

It’s common knowledge that high street shops are struggling. A number of household names have gone (or are going!) out of business and one of the reasons for this is the rise of online shopping.

But the online stores haven’t got it easy and online clothing stores in particular are facing an emerging threat driven by social media.

A lot of people are reluctant to buy clothes online in case they don’t fit properly. To get around this a number of online stores offer free returns.

This has led an increasing number of people to take advantage of the free returns policy.

By take advantage I mean to order clothes that they have NO intention of keeping. Instead, they want to order the clothes so that they can have their photo taken wearing them and then post those photos on social media sites before returning them free of charge.

Whilst this enables individuals to look super trendy in front of their friends on sites such as Instagram and Facebook, it is proving to be a problem for retailers.

The giant credit / debit card provider Barclaycard, which sees nearly half of the UK’s credit and debit card transactions, recently undertook some research which showed the scale of the problem.

The research showed that 9% of online shoppers in the UK had bought clothes online with the aim of wearing them for a photo to post on social media and then returning them. The age group who were the largest culprits were 35 – 44 year olds where the percentage rose to a staggering 17%.

Perhaps surprisingly, men were more likely than women to “snap and send back” (12% of male shoppers compared to 7% of female shoppers).

It’s a major issue for online retailers.

George Allardice, Head of Strategy at Barclaycard Payment Solutions said “It’s interesting to see the social media trend further fuelling the returns culture. We know from our research that returns are having a big impact on retailers, with a huge figure of seven billion pounds a year in sales that they potentially can’t recognise”.

In summary, “snap and send back” equals #bigproblemswithreturns

You’re fired…

How many CEOs of top global companies were replaced last year?

Well, the answer may surprise you and what also may surprise you is the reason they lost their job.

PwC have been keeping track of the movements of the CEOs of the largest 2,500 global publicly listed companies since 2000 and the most recent data for 2018 has been released and it shows some interesting things.

In 2018 the number of departures of CEOs reached a record level with nearly 18% being replaced (up from 12% in 2010).

It was the reason for their departure though which raised some eyebrows.

CEOs can leave their jobs for a variety of reason and PwC categorised the reasons as planned (e.g. they were due to retire), forced (e.g. they did something a bit “naughty”) or M&A (e.g. they were no longer needed due to a merger or acquisition).

The latest split showed the 18% of departures as:

Planned – 12.0%

Forced – 3.6%

M&A – 2.0%

Digging a bit deeper though into the forced departures shows some worrying reasons.

Historically the main reason CEOs were forced out was due to poor results but for the first time the largest group of CEOs forced out was due to integrity reasons.

In 2018, 39% of those forced out were due to integrity reasons. Ten years ago in 2008 the corresponding figure was only 10%.

These integrity issues could include scandals such as improper conduct, fraud, bribery, insider trading, environmental disasters, misleading CVs, and sexual indiscretions, according to PwC.

So, in summary more CEOs are being fired and the main reason is integrity issues.

All in all, a pretty poor performance…

On your bike…

If you drive to work, one of the nice things is to have a parking place. There’s nothing worse than being on time for work and then you can’t find anywhere to park and you end up being really late.

HSBC Bank in the UK has 700 car parking places in it’s two new regional centres but has recently announced that this is going to change.

90% of the car parking spaces will be removed and replaced with bike storage racks and changing rooms.

It’s all part of an 8-year programme in which the bank’s staff will be part of the “Cycle Nation Project”. HSBC Is hoping to enlist 1,280 staff to take part in an academic project which will study employee’s activity levels, motivation, cardiovascular health and the number of sick days they take.

The hope I guess is that the health benefits of cycling to work rather than sat in a car will result in a healthier and more motivated work force.

Ian Stuart, the Chief Executive of HSBC UK was reported as saying “Nobody gets a car parking space [at our Birmingham HQ] unless they have a disability. It won’t suit everyone and I understand that.”

The bank is planning on spending in excess of £3m this year on installing bike racks and shower facilities as well as providing electric bikes to some of the staff.

This is not the only money they are spending. The Cycle Nation Project forms part of the eight-year partnership between HSBC UK and British Cycling. HSBC will reportedly invest between £80 million and £100 million in the project.

The ambition for the Cycle Nation Project is to prove which real-world methods work best and provide clear guidance on how to get more people on their bikes.

All in all, a good cause and I’m sure the HSBC employees are fully behind it unless of course they live at the top of a steep hill and it rains a lot….

Dog seized to pay tax bill…

It’s always best to keep up to date with your tax affairs. Although most people don’t enjoy paying their taxes, it’s the law and if you don’t pay there can be serious consequences.

Over in Germany reports have emerged that make it fairly clear that you don’t mess with the German authorities when it comes to taxes.

An unnamed lady was behind in paying her taxes.

The authorities sent a debt collector around to collect whatever assets the family had to settle the tax liability.

According to the lady in question, two valuable items were identified.

One was the wheelchair of her paraplegic husband. Now, before even getting into the rights and wrongs of taking a disabled person’s wheelchair to settle debts, luckily for the family it was not an issue as it turned out that it was owned by a local association and was not the property of the family so the debt collectors couldn’t take it.

The authorities though have denied they tried to take the wheelchair and a spokesman said “Mobility aids for the disabled are absolutely exempt from being seized as collateral.”

One item though which was not exempt from being seized was the family pet.

Alas for Edda, the family dog, she was taken by the debt collector.

Edda is a pug and they are a pretty fashionable dog breed at the moment and the debt collector took the dog as settlement for the debt.

Edda was then listed on eBay and was sold to Michaela Jordan, a local police officer for €750 (approx. £650).

There’s a twist in the “tail” though in that the new owner has now sued the local authorities who sold Edda as apparently, she was advertised as being a healthy dog but has required veterinary treatment costing approximately €1,800.

We wish Edda well.

Would you send a selfie of your legs for a bonus?

I’m all for equal rights in the workplace. It doesn’t matter whether you’re male or female. It doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is or your religious preferences. The only thing that does matter is whether or not you can do your job.

Not everyone shares the same view though and in Russia, aluminium manufacturing company Tatprof is offering a bonus to its female employees if they wear a skirt and makeup.

Oh, and to get the bonus they have to send a selfie of them showing their legs and make up to their (mostly male) bosses.

The bonus is 100 Russian Rubles (approx. £1.25) and it’s been reported that 60 people have so far sent in selfies to get the bonus.

Some may say that there are 2 sides to the argument.

The first, and probably most obvious, is that this is a step backwards in the workplace. A person should be judged by their ability to do their job rather than what their legs and make up look like. It’s 2019 for goodness sake and not the 1950s.

A counter argument though was put forward by Anasasia Kirillova, who works for the company’s department of corporate culture and internal communications who said that “Many women automatically put on trousers, so we hope that [the campaign] will increase our ladies’ awareness, allowing them to feel their femininity and charm when they make the choice of wearing a skirt or dress”.

It seems the message is coming from the top of the company.

According to Ms Kirillova, Tatprof’s male CEO Sergei Rachkov “really wants to maintain the female essence in every female employee of the company, so that young women do not have male haircuts, do not change into trousers, so that they engage themselves in handicraft, project all their warmth into raising children”.

Now, I’m personally not convinced by this counter argument but what about opening up the bonus option to everyone in the company?

What about offering the bonus to men as well as women who send a selfie of themselves wearing a skirt?

Not the brightest fraudster…

A lot of us will have to take taxis to meet clients. Some may occasionally take a taxi whilst others may take them on a regular basis. But what about over £90,000 worth of taxi fares?

Yes, that does seem a lot but for a (now ex) employee of Deloitte in London it seemed reasonable. Or at least reasonable in the sense that he fraudulently claimed non-existent taxi fares and false professional subscriptions which together totalled £95,540.

Gurgyan Singh Kaley’s career at Deloitte started well. He joined the company on a salary of £54,000 and had a great career ahead of him.

Unfortunately for him, he got greedy and over 39 months submitted false and fraudulent claims for expenses.

These expenses were mostly taxi rides and not just one or two taxi rides. No, he claimed for approximately 1,000 fake journeys.

Mr Kaley was probably not the brightest individual as that was an incredibly high number of journeys and was bound to raise suspicions. In the last 7 weeks before he was found out he claimed for 383 journeys which works out at a clearly suspicious 11 taxi journeys per working day.

He was eventually caught out when auditors noticed the suspicious expenses and he recently appeared in court where he was found guilty of fraud.

He was spared an immediate prison sentence but faces a 2-year suspended sentence. He must also pay Deloitte £75,000 within 12 months or serve 21 months in prison.

A Deloitte spokesperson said, “We note the outcome of the hearing and are satisfied with the final decision. Deloitte has a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and we expect all our people to adhere to our strict guidelines of conduct. Anyone found to have acted in bad faith will, of course, face immediate and appropriate action.”

Is this for real?

If you buy a Chelsea or Manchester United football shirt and it turns out to be a fake it can be annoying but if you buy medicines and they turn out to be fakes it could be a lot worse as it could kill you.

Illegal copies and fakes of products are one of the big problems facing businesses today (£300 billion is the estimated size of the global counterfeit market) but some scientists have recently developed what they believe could be a cheap solution to the problem.

The technology is currently being developed by a company called Quantum Base and in simple terms involves placing an extremely small microdot onto the product which gives off a unique light signature.

The microdot is really small and I do mean really small – it’s a tiny flake of atoms which is a thousandth of the width of a human hair. Not only will it be impossible for a human to see but it will be unique. The flake of atoms which will make up the microdot will be unique and cannot be cloned. They will be placed on the product at the production facilities and then the atomic structures will be recorded on a database.

The technique for preventing fake products is that when an individual buys a product such as medicine or designer clothes they can scan their phone over the label and an app on their phone will identify the light source from the atomic structure on the microdot and send it to the database to confirm whether or not it is on the database.

If it is on the database, it’s genuine. If it’s not, it’s fake.

An excellent way of identifying whether the product you are buying is real or fake.

As mentioned, the technology is still be developed and made ready for the market by Quantum Base but it looks very promising in terms of helping to eradicate the problem of fake products.

Would you drink this coffee?

Anyone that has studied hard for their exams will almost certainly at one time or another utilised the services of a strong coffee.

Whilst desperately trying to cram that last bit of knowledge into your brain before the exams there is often a temptation to grab a strong coffee late in the night to keep your mind awake.

For years students around the world have been utilising the caffeine in coffee to help get that extra mark or two.

Coffee is said to originate from East Africa where legend has it that a 9th century Ethiopian goat herder by the name of Starbucks Kaldi noticed that after his goats had ate some coffee beans they started bouncing around like teenagers at the local disco.

This started the journey of coffee and associated caffeine hits so loved by students around the world.

Over in Thailand though a new type of coffee has just been put on sale which has, how can I put it, but a pretty unusual processing method.

The key staff involved in the processing function are also unusual as they have massive heads and bodies, weigh on average 4,000 kg and are grey in colour.

Yes, that’s right. The key team members involved in processing coffee are 20 Thai elephants.

The new brew of coffee is “processed” by getting the elephants to eat some coffee beans and then stepping back (in fact stepping way back) and letting the natural digestive juices in their stomachs do the job of “processing” the beans before they are deposited naturally on the ground a day later.

The beans are then handpicked out of the elephant dung by people who probably don’t bite their nails before being dried and then ground into coffee.

The finished coffee is said to have a slight pooey taste smooth flavour without the bitterness of normal coffee and is some of the most expensive coffee in the world selling for nearly £150 per kilo.

It’s certainly an unusual production technique but it’s also for a good cause as 8% of the sales revenue goes towards the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, a refuge for rescued elephants in Thailand.

Are you better looking than your boss?

So who’s better looking – you or your boss?

Well, if you are male and your boss is also male there could be some disappointing career news for you if you think you are better looking than your boss.

A study has suggested that male bosses are less likely to promote good-looking men who work for them.

The study by University College London’s School of Management concluded that good-looking men were considered competent by their male bosses but as a result were also seen as a threat to them and their own personal career aspirations.

This raises an interesting point. Organisations no doubt want to employ the most competent people but if a male boss is reluctant to recruit or promote good-looking men because they take the view they are a threat to them personally then it means that good-looking men could be discriminated against whether or not they are competent.

Dr Sun Young Lee, the lead researcher on the study was quoted as saying “organisations want to hire competent candidates but individuals have their own agenda. When employing someone, they do not want the newcomer to do better than them and show them up”.

“What about good-looking females” I hear you say?

The study concluded that the same prejudice did not apply to women. Being a good looking lady was not associated with competence according to the study.

The study was published in the Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes journal and Dr Lee felt her results suggested that organisations should consider appointing external recruitment consultants to avoid personal preferences impacting on recruitment decisions.

One additional point though is that if you yourself are male and have recently been overlooked for a promotion by your male boss then surely the only reason you didn’t get the promotion was because you are better looking than him…

What’s the link between almonds, PESTEL and water?

It wasn’t long ago that you only saw almonds in health food shops but things are changing quickly.

The health benefits of almonds are extensive. They are a rich source of vitamin E, calcium, iron and zinc to name just a few items. They can be eaten raw, made into almond oil or almond milk. They are one of nature’s super foods.

If almonds have been around for a long time, why is there suddenly such an interest in them?

If you link it to the environmental analysis model PESTEL you could argue that one of the areas within the “Social” element of PESTEL that has changed recently is that people are more health aware (if you are tucking into your burger and chips whilst reading this I should stress that health awareness doesn’t necessarily mean everyone undertakes healthy eating!)

However, it does seem that people around the world are eating significantly more almonds. So much so that there is a rush to plant almond trees.

The world’s almond crop is estimated to be worth nearly $5 billion per year and the centre of almond production is California where 80% of the world’s almond crop is produced. During the last three years alone 150,000 acres of almond trees have been planted in California.

Whilst the ever increasing number of almond eaters around the world are no doubt happy about this, there are a number of people who are far from happy.

California farmers have been removing tomato, melons and other crops to replace them with almond crops. There is a problem though as the almond tree require significantly more water than the other crops.

To produce a single almond requires about 4.5 litres of water. Multiply that by the millions of almonds that will be produced on the land and you can see what an impact it will have on the local water supply.

California has been suffering droughts for a number of years and in the past there have been certain water restrictions in place for individuals. So far, the almond growers have escaped these water restrictions but a number of activist groups have been set up and this situation could soon change.

Will we see a lot of thirsty almond trees in California in the near future….

A €40,000 pudding…

If you’re gong to hide cash then I guess hiding it in the oven may not be a good idea.

Alberto Vazzoler used to be a dentist. He moved on from that but his new activities were allegedly far from legal as he’s currently on trial in Italy accused of money laundering.

Money Laundering is where “dirty” illegally obtained money is “washed” and then reintroduced into general circulation as clean money. In simple terms, criminals disguise the method of obtaining the money from criminal activities to make it look as though it was derived from legitimate sources.

Now although Mr Vazzoler was a dentist, he’s been accused of making serious amounts of money by way of laundering more than €46 million for criminals across Europe.

Together with his accomplices, he’s been accused of channelling funds through various off shore tax havens and amongst other things, “cleaning” some money by way of converting cash into gold.

His girlfriend, Silvia Moro, has also been charged with money laundering.

Details of some expensive cooking emerged during a court session last week when an investigator told the course that Ms Moro sent a WhatsApp message to her sister saying “I’ve done a stupid thing. I put a strudel in the oven to cook where €40,000 was hidden.”

Although a cost of €40,000 would probably make the strudel the most expensive pudding in the world I guess that the couple have more pressing things on their minds now they are in court charged with money laundering and tax evasion which could result in a lengthy prison sentence.

Causing a bit of a stink…

There’s no room in the modern workplace for bullying and intimidating work colleagues.

Companies should have anti bullying practices in place and in most countries around the world there are laws to protect people who are being bullied.

The Oxford dictionary defines bullying as seeking to “harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable” but in some situations it’s difficult to decide whether or not an activity is actually bullying.

Over in Australia a worker claimed that he was bullied by a colleague who repeatedly broke wind at him.

David Hingst claimed that his ex-colleague Greg Short would “lift his bum and fart” on him up to 6 times a day.

Mr Hingst didn’t take this well and sued his former employer for A$1.8m (nearly £1m).

Now, let’s pause here for a moment and hold our breath.

Bullying in the workplace is clearly wrong but claiming damages of nearly £1 million when somebody breaks wind in front of you does seem a bit steep.

Mr Hingst was adamant though and last year took his case to the Supreme Court of Victoria.

The Court found that there was no bullying.

Mr Hingst didn’t agree with the decision and appealed against it and last week the appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal.

Mr Hingst reportedly told the Australian Associated Press that “I would be sitting with my face to the wall and he would come into the room, which was small and had no windows. He would fart behind me and walk away. He would do this five or six times a day”.

Mr Short, the alleged perpetrator of this “crime” had said that he may “have done it once or twice” but denied doing it with the intention of distressing or harassing Mr Hingst.

Alas for Mr Hingst, the Court of Appeal rejected his appeal and found there was no bullying.

Mr Hingst though isn’t taking this sitting down and reportedly has said that he plans to appeal to the High Court.

How many accountants?

So, how do you think accounting firms are doing when it comes to their fee income?

In today’s uncertain economic times then surely there’s pressure on the fees that accountants can charge. Surely, their fee revenue will be falling?

The answer is the complete opposite.

Each year, the International Accounting Bulletin (IAB) publishes a world ranking of accounting firms on the basis of their fee income. The latest results for 2018 have just been released and they are looking pretty good for the firms.

All of the top 10 firms increased their fee income in 2018 when compared to 2017. The majority saw increases of at least 10%.

The 10 largest firms had 2018 global revenues of:

  1. Deloitte – $43.2bn (up 11% from the previous year).
  2. PwC – $41.28bn (up 10%)
  3. EY – $34.77bn (up 11%)
  4. KPMG – $28.96bn (up 10%)
  5. BDO – $8.99nb (up 11%)
  6. Grant Thornton – $5.44bn (up 9%)
  7. RSM – $5.37bn (up 5%)
  8. Crowe – $4.33bn (up 14%)
  9. Nexia International – $4bn (up 10%)
  10. Baker Tilly International – $3.63bn (up 7%)

Whilst the top 10 firms all saw significant increases, the international associations of accountancy firms also did very well.

These associations are networks of independent accounting firms who operate by way of alliances.

There were 31 associations in the IAB listing and they are pretty significant.

The largest association is Praxity which had a turnover of $5.83 bn. Together, the 31 networks had combined revenue of $196bn.

It’s not just fee income which is impressive. The firms also employ significant numbers of people. All of the Big 4 employ more than 200,000 people with Deloitte being the largest employer with a workforce of 286,000.

Let’s pause for a moment.

286,000.

That’s a huge number of people. Over a quarter of a million people work for Deloitte.

All in all, the accountancy profession around the world seems to be going well.

Click to buy a Tesla…

Most of you have probably bought something on the internet but how many of you have bought a car on the internet?

My guess is not many but things may be about to change.

The Tesla company is renowned for doing things differently. They have led the way in developing electric vehicles with their Models S and X being some of the best electric cars on the road at the moment.

Whilst the Models S and X are great cars, they are pretty expensive. The Model S starts at £72,000 and the Model X at £80,000.

As an alternative to their luxury models, Tesla announced its Model 3 car back in 2016. This was planned to be a more economical version and hoped to bring electric cars to the masses.

They were aiming for a price point of $35,000 but have been finding it difficult to reach that figure. Back in September last year the car was on sale for $50,000 but they have just announced that they have achieved their target and the car will now be sold in the US for $35,000.

They’ve got the price down and a key factor in getting the price down has been restructuring their distribution methods.

They’ve come up with what I think is a pretty innovative way of selling their cars. They are closing their physical showrooms and only selling their cars via the internet.

This is radically different from other car manufacturers.

There are clear advantages – the cost saving of not having physical showrooms and not having to employ staff to work in these showrooms is reported to allow the firm to cut costs by 5%.

What about the disadvantages? Well, an obvious one is whether customers will be willing to buy a car without looking at the car and having a test drive.

Tesla have come up with a nice solution to this problem.

Tesla announced that “We are also making it much easier to try out and return a Tesla, so that a test drive prior to purchase isn’t needed. You can now return a car within 7 days or 1,000 miles for a full refund. Quite literally, you could buy a Tesla, drive several hundred miles for a weekend road trip with friends and then return it for free.”

I personally think this is a pretty good idea but if you’re currently working for another car company in one of their showrooms, should you start to be worried?

Free ACCA Study Materials

All of us here at ExP are excited. We’re excited for 2 reasons.

First of all, we’ve just gone over 350,000 followers on Facebook and a huge thank you to all of our followers.

In fact, 350,000 thank you’s!

The second reason is that we’ve just released our free ACCA eBooks. These can be downloaded free of charge on the following page:

Free ACCA Study Resources

We hope that all of you that are studying for your ACCA exams find them useful. If you’re not studying ACCA, you’ll find the eBooks useful if you want an overview of some key finance and business topics.

Thanks again for the Facebook follows and best wishes from all of us at ExP.

Don’t bank on it…

You think they would have known better wouldn’t you?

One was the CEO and the other was their reputation and risk leader and director of independence.

And we’re not talking about any company here. We’re talking about Deloitte Japan.

The SEC has just fined them $2million for breaching independence rules.

Futomichi Amano, the (now former) CEO of Deloitte Japan and his (now former) colleague Yuji Itagaki who was director of independence held bank accounts at one of their banking clients.

It isn’t necessary a problem if auditors have bank accounts at a client but if the amount they have in those accounts is above a pre-determined limit it could impact on their independence.

After all, if you’re an auditor checking the books of a bank and you have a lot of your own money in that bank you may be reluctant to highlight any problems if the bank could go under as a result and you lose your money.

The SEC press release explained “Under the SEC’s rules, accountants are not considered to be independent if they maintain bank accounts with an audit client with balances greater than FDIC or similar depositary insurance limits. According to the SEC’s order, Deloitte Japan knew but failed to adequately disclose that Amano maintained bank account balances with the audit client’s subsidiary bank that compromised his independence.“

It wasn’t just the CEO and director of independence that held bank accounts. The SEC press release continued with

“A subsequent investigation by the firm revealed that 88 other Deloitte Japan employees had financial relationships with the audit client that compromised their independence as well. The SEC’s order also found that Deloitte Japan’s system of quality controls did not provide reasonable assurances that the firm and its auditors were independent from audit clients. For example, the SEC’s order found that Deloitte Japan failed to adequately staff and supervise its Office of Independence and caused certain independence violations by making deposits to partners’ bank accounts that exceeded the deposit insurance limits.”

The outcome was that Deloitte Japan agreed to pay $2 million in monetary sanctions and be censured. Mr Amano and Mr Itagaki agreed to be suspended from appearing and practicing before the SEC as accountants, which includes not participating in the financial reporting or audits of public companies.

More than a coke…

When people think of Coca Cola, they almost certainly will have a red can or bottle with the ubiquitous “Coke Red” in their mind.

Coca Cola as a business though is much more than the coke drink.

Whether it’s organic tea, juices, coconut water, sports drinks, mineral waters, ready-to-drink coffees or protein drinks they’ve got it covered.

They have over 500 brands in their portfolio and the company has done a great job of diversifying into other non-alcoholic drinks. In the UK for example, they purchased Costa (the coffee chain shop) last October for £3.9bn.

They have just released their latest set of financial figures though and the market didn’t react favourably.

The company is quoted on the New York stock exchange and yesterday their share price fell by 8.5%. This was their largest one-day percentage decline for over 10 years.

The company reported their 4th quarter results and revenue had fallen from $7.5bn in the corresponding period last year to $7.1bn.

The company warned that weak overseas sales would hit profits this year. Areas highlighted as performing below expectations were Argentina, Turkey and the Middle East. There were also foreign exchange issues in connection with the strong dollar.

In summary, there were a few issues which spooked the investors a bit yesterday but it’s fair to say that the future looks ok for Coca Cola as their market value is still pretty impressive.

Even after the 8.5% fall the company is valued at $212 billion.

Something to drone on about…

Years ago, when I was an audit junior, I remember having to attend year-end inventory counts. Given that a lot of clients had 31 December year ends then a number of these inventory counts took place on 1 January which was never conducive to a great New Year’s Eve night out.

Things have moved on though and PwC has just undertaken their first inventory count using a drone.

The drone, which was manufactured and operated by UK drone company QuestUAV, was used to take over 300 images of a coal reserve in Wales owned by the giant German energy company, RWE.

The images were then used to create a “digital twin” on the coal pile in order to measure it’s volume. Impressively, the digital twin enabled the value of the coal to be calculated to within 99%+ accuracy based on the volume measurement.

Richard French, audit partner at PwC, commented:

“Coal stock has a material value on RWE’s balance sheet, so we carry out an annual stock observation and evaluation as part of our audit process. We observe the manual coal count carried out by RWE’s external surveyor, then assess the resulting data which feeds into the financial statements. The traditional stock count method involves climbing over the coal pile and using a two metre GPS tracking pole to measure the area and elevation from the ground at various points. The data is then used to build a contour of the reserves and estimate its volume.

“While the traditional method remains reliable and will still be used for RWE’s formal year-end financial statements, the drone trial was conducted to explore ways of challenging the traditional method of stock counting. It was a classic example of new technology challenging the old – and based on our results, the potential is groundbreaking.”

PwC went on to mention that there were several benefits including:

  • The traditional method of manually traversing the coal pile can take around 4 hours, whereas using a drone it can be done in half an hour – a reduction of 85%;
  • The drone captured c.900 data points per cubic metre, obtaining impressive overall accuracy levels of 2cm. This is compared to c.1,200 readings taken across the whole site using the traditional method, therefore the drone enhances accuracy by providing a true, continuous representation of the coal pile;
  • The preparation for the drone flight requires access to only a limited area of the coal pile and therefore poses less of a health and safety risk, particularly when parts of the coal pile are unstable; and
  • The flight does not interrupt normal operations on the coal pile, e.g. movement of machinery, and therefore is a less disruptive method.

All in all, a great use of technology and for any audit team members who previously had to climb over the coal, the use of a drone is no doubt very welcome news.

Banking benefits for babies…

Life can be tough for new mums when they go back to work after having a baby. Being away from the new arrival, tiredness and getting back into things at work can all increase the pressure on the new mum.

Goldman Sachs, the giant investment bank, used to have a pretty tough reputation when it came to employees. For example, they reportedly only used to give staff four hours off of work for bereavements.

Times are changing though and they have now becoming more flexible and family friendly for their workforce.

Goldman Sachs employs 6,000 people in the UK and they have become the first company in the UK to offer to pay for its breastfeeding working mums to courier their expressed milk back to their babies if they are travelling with work.

The bank told their staff that “Parenting and work can sometimes feel at odds. Goldman Sachs aim[s] to make the balancing act a little easier”.

Whilst some people may feel that this is a way of putting pressure on mums to return to work as soon as possible, it has to be said that the company offers some of the most generous maternity leave out there. They currently offer six months’ full paid maternity leave to new mums.

Whilst Goldman Sachs are the first company in the UK to offer this benefit to new mums, there are already several companies in the US that provide a similar “baby milk shipping” service to their staff.

IBM, Twitter, EY and Accenture all provide this benefit.

All in all, a nice initiative and I’m sure the new babies are especially happy.

Happy New Desk

Well it’s that time of year again when a lot of people set themselves a New Year Resolution.

On average, approximately a third of people in the UK will set themselves a New Year Resolution with the most popular ones being to be exercise more, eat healthily and give up smoking and drinking alcohol.

New Year Resolutions have their origins in a variety of places.

The Babylonians, an ancient culture from the Middle East, used to make promises to the gods at the start of each year and the Ancient Romans used to start each year by making promises to Janus – the Roman God of beginnings and after whom the month of January is named.

The majority of resolution nowadays though are unsuccessful and a study from the University of Bristol found that 88 per cent of people who make New Year’s resolutions fail.

But what can you do if your resolution is to be healthier but you’re working long hours at the office?

After all, long working hours and keeping fit don’t tend to work well together.

Well, now there’s an answer to this problem as you can buy a treadmill desk.

Yes, lifespanfitness.com offer a selection of treadmill desks and treadmill desks can be pretty expensive. Some cost nearly £3,000.

That’s quite a lot of money and I’m not sure your boss would react too favourably if you asked him or her to buy you a desk which nearly £3,000.

Then again, you could point out that if you had a treadmill desk instead of the normal desk then you would be more productive as you would be running and wouldn’t be able to drink the bottle of wine that you normally have in the office whilst sat at your desk…