Subscribing To A Hot Seat

A lot of us are used to paying a monthly fee for a wide range of goods and services as customers. For example, we may pay a monthly fee to stream music and television shows or a monthly fee for a data plan for our mobile phones. As an accountant, we may use various SAAS (Software As A Service) options but now there’s a new option available for BMW car owners where subscriptions can be made to unlock features on their car.

Car companies have put more functions and services behind paywalls. This includes some features that are built into the car itself, such as heated seats.

BMW for example have the option to pay £10 a month to activate the heated seats on your car.

The heating coils and other hardware that are required to actually heat the seats are already installed in the vehicle; however, owners have the option of paying BMW a monthly charge in order to make the heating coils and other gear functional. The benefit would be that the car would cost less to buy at first, and you could pay for the feature only when you needed it, like when it’s cold outside

If the BMW drivers who sign up for the programme decide not to pay then BMW will, of course, turn off the heated seats in their cars.

It isn’t just the heated seats that will be available through a subscription service.

The car company has said that the features that will be available through a subscription will vary from market to market.

Other features which are already available via subscription in some countries includes “remote start” capabilities which enables drivers to start the engine from a distance so that the vehicle can warm up before you get in.

You can also subscribe to get access to a feature known as “BMW Drive Recorder,” which makes video recordings similar to those taken by a dashboard camera using the external cameras of the vehicle.

So, are we going to see more and more features in cars available under a “SAAS” feature?

I guess as long as we don’t see SAAS for the steering and brakes we should be ok…

Should you always agree with your boss?

It’s always a good idea to take a step back and ask if what your boss is wanting you to do is ok.

Unfortunately for former KPMG employee Pratik Paw he’s had to learn a hard lesson about not questioning his boss.

The background to things is that Pratik was a junior working on the audit of the outsourcing firm Carillion before it went bust.

He was told by his boss to type up handwritten notes of meetings. The important point here being that the meetings were supposed to have taken place many months earlier.

Now, let’s just pause for a moment and think what you would have done in that situation.

My guess is that a lot of you would have simply typed them up. After all, most juniors in large auditing companies have a long list of things to do and work long hours so a request from your boss to type something up seems ok so let’s get it done asap and move onto the next piece of work.

Things didn’t go to plan though and following Carillion’s collapse the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) investigated.

Part of that investigation involved the meetings which Pratik typed up the minutes for.

Did they actually take place? Were the minutes an accurate record of what was said during those meetings?

There’s a big question mark over why they were typed up so long after the meetings allegedly took place.

During the subsequent tribunal Pratik said that “I would have just carried out those instructions as quickly as I could to move on to my other work”.

In other words, doing what a lot of us would do and getting it off of our to-do list.

The tribunal wasn’t impressed with this though and said that he should have asked why the typing up was so long after the event and then, if the answer wasn’t convincing, he should have raised the matter with the “ethics and independence partner”.

OK, so we all make mistakes but what will be shocking to a lot of people is that the FRC wanted Pratik to be banned from the accounting profession for 4 years and fined £50,000.

Pratik was 25 years old and a junior at KPMG. The fine was twice his annual salary at the time and he would have been forced to sell his matrimonial home to fund the fine.

His lawyers put forward arguments that the fine would be over the top for a junior who maybe should have known better but wasn’t acting dishonestly.

The tribunal agreed and decided not to fine him and ban him but to give him a severe reprimand saying he’d acted “without integrity” but “not dishonestly”.

A valuable lesson though in that next time your boss asks you to do something you should question it if it doesn’t feel right.

I guess though that this doesn’t include if he or she asks you to get a cup of coffee…

Deloitte executive gets drunk and…

Royal Ascot is one of the world’s greatest horse racing events. If you are ever lucky enough to attend it, would you (a) soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the sporting spectacle on display or (b) get extremely drunk and go on a 30 minute rant insulting a lot of your colleagues?

Unfortunately for Stephen Cahill, a Deloitte executive who ran its executive compensation practice in the UK, he chose the latter.

Witnesses told the Financial Times that Cahill had attended the racecourse with some friends but later in the day joined around 30 colleagues from Deloitte’s executive compensation team. The witnesses claimed that at this stage he was very drunk.

He then went on a 30-minute “sexist, racist and bullying” rant which allegedly included an offensive remark about an ethnic minority employee.

All in all, not a very good performance by Mr Cahill.

The next morning, no doubt nursing a hangover, Mr Cahill rang to apologise to colleagues and reported the matter to Deloitte.

As any respected organisation would do, an internal investigation was then launched.

However, the end result hasn’t impressed everyone.

There was no sign of Mr Cahill being fired but instead he has announced his retirement.

One of the witnesses to the drunken tirade told the FT that “Badging it as a retirement is not appropriate. Big companies have so much education and training on what is appropriate and taking a zero-tolerance approach . . . this does not feel like ‘zero tolerance’.”

The end result of Mr Cahill getting really drunk at the horse racing is that he no longer works for Deloitte. Deloitte themselves have also faced criticism for not firing him and allowing him to retire.

I guess a lesson to be learnt here is it’s probably best not to get really drunk when you’re next out with colleagues.

Are these real Nikes?

Originally founded in 1964 as “Blue Ribbon Sports” by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight the company officially became Nike Inc. 6 years later. Since then, Nike has grown to become one of a handful of truly global household names.

So, what do they sell?

My guess is that most of you would reply along the lines of sports clothing, shoes and equipment.

You wouldn’t be wrong but maybe the format of an increasing proportion of the items they sell is not exactly what you were thinking of.

Let me explain a bit more.

The metaverse is a digital world and within the metaverse, Nike have built “Nikeland”.

Nikeland is on a popular gaming platform called Roblox and the number of visitors to the virtual Nike land since it was launched last November has been pretty impressive.

To be more accurate, more than 21 million people have explored it in the last 10 months.

The visitors to Nikeland can compete in a variety of games such as Basketball and dodgeball but crucially to Nike’s digital strategy they can also browse a virtual shop and buy virtual products such as Nike’s famous Air max shoes.

So what can people do with the virtual shoes they have just bought? Can they wear them?

There’s a clue in the word “virtual” and the answer is that they as a person cannot wear them but their avatar in the virtual world can wear them. People are therefore paying real money to buy virtual shoes to dress their avatars in and in the meantime are acting as moving adverts for Nike products in Nikeland.

A very clever move by Nike and there are also a range of other benefits. For example, through Nikeland they are now introducing the brand to a younger generation and at the same time can find out through the virtual world what are the popular styles so that they can then produce them for the real world.

All of this is part of Nike’s move to pivot from the traditional relationship with retail (i.e. physical shops, etc) towards digital consumerism (online sales as well as Nikeland) and it seems to be working.

At the most recent quarterly earnings, it was revealed that Nike Digital (their digital channels and applications, now accounts for 26 per cent of the company’s total revenue). The company’s target is for Nike Digital to reach 40% by 2025 and they have invested heavily in data science and buying a firm called RTFKT, which specialises in creating virtual products using game engines, blockchain and augmented reality to try to achieve this target.

Matt Friend, Nike’s CFO said “Consumers continue to shift toward digital to find the products they love, and Nike’s digital experience continues to build deep consumer connections and capture digital market share.”

Nike is certainly keeping up with the times.

EY to split into 2?

Interesting times for EY, the Big 4 accounting group.

They have just reported record global revenues of $45.4 billion in the year to the end of June. That’s a pretty impressive figure and represents an increase of nearly 14% on the previous year’s figure.

Carmine Di Sibio, EY’s global chairman, was quoted as saying “We have tremendous momentum right now, and growth means opportunity — for EY people, clients and broader stakeholders.”

There’s a pretty good chance though that the figures will be different next year.

The group is on the verge of breaking up into two entirely separate businesses.

One will be an audit and assurance firm whilst the other will be a consulting firm.

EY is one of the Big 4 accounting firms and has been around for over 170 years having its origins in a small firm in England in 1849. It’s fair to say that splitting the group into two separate businesses will be one of the most significant milestones in its history.

So, why are they thinking of splitting the group?

There are two main potential reasons.

The first involves conflict of interest rules around the world which prevent auditors “signing off” on work done by their colleagues which could have had a significant impact on the results. For example, auditors auditing tax planning schemes prepared by their colleagues. After all, if the tax department of an accounting company devise an aggressive tax planning scheme which may be challenged by the tax authorities, will their colleagues in the audit department say their colleagues in the tax department are wrong?

By splitting the firm into two separate businesses this conflict of interest is removed.

The second reason involves the speed at which the two functions of the business are growing.

It’s been reported that some partners in the consulting arm are keen to separate from the audit business as the audit business hasn’t been able to keep up with the speed of the consulting divisions growth.

Figures from the most recent year end in June show EY’s global consulting revenue rising 24.5% to $13.9 billion. Global assurance revenue increased by 6% to $14.4 billion.

The tax division (which would go with the consulting business) improved 7.9% to $11.3 billion whilst the strategy and transactions team (which would go with the assurance group) improved 22.8% to $5.9 billion.

The decision as to whether to split is expected to be voted on by EYs 13,000 partners in November.

Cristiano Ronaldo and the Chancellor

It’s not often that you read about the Premier League footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the same sentence but things are a little bit different at the moment.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the current UK Chancellor, delivered a mini-budget and it’s fair to say there were a number of surprise features.

The chancellor pledged £45bn worth of tax cuts, funded by borrowing, as part of a plan to boost economic growth. The markets didn’t react favourably with sterling hitting record lows against the dollar and the Bank of England having to step in calm the market by buying £65bn of government debt at an “urgent pace” to help restore “orderly market conditions”.

So, what has all of this to do with Premier League footballers?

It’s no surprise that footballers of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo of Manchester United and Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City are well paid.

One of the chancellor’s tax cuts was to reduce the top rate of income tax from 45% to 40%. This top rate was applicable to people with taxable earnings over £150,000 per year.

The average Premier League player makes significantly more than £150,000. In fact, according to the Times newspaper the average Premier League player earns in the region of £4 million a year which approximately works out at a tidy £75,000 a week.

This reduction in tax from 45% to 40% will result in some pretty significant figures in terms of extra income hitting the players’ bank accounts.

Kieran Maguire, the renowned football author and academic highlighted that Cristiano Ronaldo will have an extra £1.3 million of net income on his £400,000 a week (yes, that’s £400,000 per week) salary from Manchester United as a result of the tax cuts.

The Premier League already pays out the highest average salary in European football and with the tax cuts there’s a possibility that the Premier League will become an even more attractive destination for top footballers.

In terms of the other top European football destinations there are a variety of tax situations.

Tax rules in Italy allow overseas players to have the first 50 per cent of their wages tax-free for five years if they have a contract for at least two years. Italy’s maximum tax rate is 43 per cent.

In France, foreign footballers can pay as low a tax rate as 27 per cent.

Spain used to have tax exemptions for football players but this has now ended and the top rate is 47%.

Germany’s top rate is 45%.

Back to the mini -budget and the Premier League players. Not every player is as well paid as Cristiano Ronaldo but the average earnings are still pretty impressive. It’s been estimated that Premier League players will be around £240,000 better off each year on average as a result of the tax cuts.

According to tax cut theories one of the benefits of reducing the tax on higher earners is the “trickle down effect”. In simple terms this is where tax cuts result in the higher earners spending more money which will then create jobs and income for other people.

So, does this mean that the Premier League footballers will be spending their additional income in the local fish and chip shop or will it be on a new Ferrari imported from Italy or another luxury holiday in the Maldives…

[3 October 2022 UPDATE: what a difference a weekend makes. This article was written last Friday and today on Monday the Chancellor announced a U-turn on the decrease in the 45% tax rates and the top rate of income tax will not be reduced to 40%. Maybe the players need to cancel that order for the new Ferrari…]

Second hand servers + personal data = $35 million

Morgan Stanley is one of the most renowned banks in the world. It started business on Wall Street in New York back in 1935 and has grown so that it now has a market capitalisation of around $150 billion and employs approximately 70,000.

It’s obviously good at a lot of things but one area it wasn’t so good at was looking after the personal data of about 15 million customers.

Probably one of the first things that come to mind when protecting the personal details of clients are the security systems to protect the data within the bank such as passwords, firewalls, etc.

The problem for Morgan Stanley though was the data that was in computer hardware that was scrapped.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused Smith Barney (Morgan Stanley’s wealth management business), of “astonishing” shortcomings.

The problems arose when Morgan Stanley disposed of thousands of hard drives and servers.

On multiple occasions a moving and storage business with no experience in data destruction services was hired to decommission these hard drives.

In other words, the hard drives and servers which were being scrapped should have had all the personal details removed.

Unfortunately this didn’t happen and instead the moving business then sold thousands of these devices to a third party. This third party then resold them on an internet auction site.

Some of the devices were subsequently recovered but the SEC said that Morgan Stanley “has not recovered the vast majority of the devices”.

The devices which were recovered were found to contain “thousands of pieces of unencrypted customer data”.

The end result is that Morgan Stanley has agreed to pay a $35 million penalty to settle charges.

There’s a valuable lesson to be learnt from this as responsibility for the safeguarding of personal data remains with the organisation and this includes making sure that the destruction of hardware containing that data is done in such a way that the data is erased and does not find it’s way into other people’s hands.

Big 4 Students Cheat in Ethics Exam

Albert Einstein famously said that “relativity applies to physics, not ethics.”

The point here being that morality is a concept that applies to everyone, and there are no exceptions that make it OK for a person to lie, steal, … or cheat. This seems like a fairly intuitive observation, but as a recent news story suggests, it’s clear that not everyone abides by the rules of ethics.

A group of audit professionals working for Ernst and Young in America made national headlines back in June when they were revealed to have cheated in, of all things, an ethics exam. You’d think these students would be well versed in the difference between right and wrong, but as this ironic transgression shows, the wise words of Einstein and other moral philosophers had made little impact.

According to the results of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), 49 EY audit professionals cheated on exams over multiple years in order to acquire and maintain their Certified Public Accountant licences. They succeeded by using answer keys and sharing these amongst their colleagues. In addition to the 49 main offenders, there were several other staff members who did not cheat, but still violated the firm’s code of conduct by knowing about the offence and failing to report it.

Ernst and Young agreed to pay a record $100 million fine to US investigators, and released a statement in response to the wrongdoing:

“Nothing is more important than our integrity and our ethics,” the statement read. “We are confident that the outcomes of the undertakings will reinforce steps we have already taken in the years since these situations occurred. “Sharing answers on any assessment or exam is a violation of our Code of Conduct and is not tolerated at EY. Our response to this unacceptable past behaviour has been thorough, extensive, and effective.”

So what lessons can we learn from this story?

In short, if you’re studying for your ACCA exams, avoid any sort of misconduct at all costs, ironic or not. Here are a few tips to get you through this stressful time without resorting to cheating.

– Study: It sounds obvious but the only way to get through your exams is to study hard. Given we’re an ACCA Platinum provider of courses we’d strongly recommend one of our ACCA eLearning courses and you can register for a free ACCA demo course here.

– Be prepared: Preparation is key to exam success, so don’t leave everything to the last minute. Our courses include a unique study plan tailored for you which uses elements of Artificial Intelligence. This sets out recommended dates for studying based on your study style but the key thing is not to leave it to the last minute!

– Stay calm: Exams can be stressful, so it’s important to keep calm and not let your nerves overwhelm you. Get plenty of sleep the night before your exam, and take a moment to think about each question before you rush into an answer.

Good luck!

10 reasons to become ACCA or CIMA qualified

If you’re considering a career in accountancy, then you’ve probably already heard of the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) exams. After all, a lot of people consider one of these qualifications a prerequisite to exploring this career and are often listed under required qualifications in job interviews.

However, if you’re still not convinced, here are 10 reasons to become ACCA or CIMA qualified!

1. Access to global work opportunities.

Both ACCA and CIMA are globally recognised qualifications in over 100 countries, which means that they are great qualifications for those who are considering working abroad.

2. You’ll gain practical experience.

Theoretical knowledge is important, but it often does not surpass practical hands-on experience. Both the ACCA and CIMA qualification works to prepare you for the reality of a career in accountancy, by providing you with all of the necessary skills to succeed.

3. You’ll gain expert-level knowledge.

No matter your previous experience, once you’ve got an ACCA or CIMA qualification, you are prepared to begin your professional accountancy career, because you’ve worked through an extensive and detailed curriculum.

4. You can study on your own terms.

You can study for the ACCA and CIMA certification whenever you want, meaning you can balance your studies around your career, university or childcare responsibilities. Our ACCA and CIMA courses operate online so you can also study from the comfort of your own home.

5. You can increase your earning potential.

When it comes to applying for jobs, the more skills and qualifications you have under the belt, the higher your earning potential. As a result, you can apply for higher-salaried positions within accountancy despite being relatively new to the industry.

6. You can stand out in the job market.

On average, 118 people apply for a single job opening. As a result, you need to find as many ways as possible to enhance your resume – and having additional qualifications under your belt is a great way to achieve this goal.

7. You can fight off imposter syndrome.

According to a recent study, 70% of workers experience imposter syndrome in the early stages of their career. That is the fear that they don’t belong in their position, perhaps due to a lack of experience or knowledge. As the ACCA and CIMA qualifications prepares you for a career as an accountant, it will be easier to put these worries to bed. Not only do you deserve your position, but you have all the skills you need to perform well and impress.

8. You’ll learn something new every day.

When you are studying a course as varied as the ACCA or CIMA ones you will learn a lot of new things, which is a great way to ensure you remain focused and invested in your studies.

9. You’ll progress in your career quickly.

While the speed at which you obtain your ACCA or CIMA qualification will vary depending on your study patterns (part-time, full-time etc), having these credentials to add to your CV will enable you to progress quickly in your career.

10. ACCA and CIMA are badges of honour.

The ACCA and CIMA qualifications are highly-regarded in the world of accountancy and finance – as a result, they’re a great credential to put on your resume.

If you’re studying for the ACCA or CIMA qualifications but feel as though you need a helping hand, why not sign up for one of our eLearning courses?

Led by industry experts, they are designed to help you get up to speed with your studies while developing the skills you need to succeed. Register for a free demo ACCA course today on this link or a free demo CIMA course on this link to find out more!

Not the best way to resign…

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of someone resigning from their job?

Perhaps an early morning meeting with their boss?

Maybe a polite letter to the company explaining why the time has come for them to move on?

Well, not so fast. Some workers are more inventive than that. According to reports in South Africa, one worker decided to exit in style. Instead of writing a letter or holding a frank meeting with his superiors, he decided to take “extreme action” on his boss’s desk after mistakenly believing that he had won the lottery. Now the man in question has no job, no money, and is facing criminal charges.

But what went wrong?

It turns out that the quitter was a victim of a trick. The worker in question allegedly played Lotto and Powerball every week. The morning after one fateful Powerball draw, his brother decided to prank him. He bought a ticket with the previous day’s winning numbers on it and gave it to the man in question.

Convinced he had won, the man marched to his company’s office where he had been working for the past twenty years, defecated on his boss’s desk, urinated around it, and then shouted at colleagues, telling them what he thought of them (which wasn’t nice stuff, by the way). He then marched out triumphantly, believing he was a multi-millionaire.

Unfortunately, the man hadn’t won anything. And now there is little prospect of him ever getting his old job back.

There is hope, though. He could still win the lottery next week…

Cash is king but jewellery looks nicer…

Before cash came along, people used to barter. Somebody who had grown vegetables would exchange potatoes they’d grown with a baker who’d baked bread. A farmer would exchange a cow with someone who had grown rice. And so on…

This was all very well if you had lots of vegetables or lots of cows but exchanging 1,000 kg of potatoes for the latest Xbox or taking a cow with you to pay for cinema tickets was never going to work.

As a result, along came cash.

The Lydians (now part of Turkey) are widely believed to be the first Western culture to make coins and their first coins came in to existence way back around the time of 700 BC.

Since then things have developed.

Bills of Exchange were introduced in Italy in the 12th century (Bills of Exchange are paper documents which enable traders to buy and sell goods without having to carry cash).

The Bank of England introduced printed cheques in 1717.

The first credit card in the UK was issued in 1966.

Online banking was launched in the late 1990s.

Through all of this cash has remained and there are now 180 currencies recognised as legal tender by the United Nations member states.

Things are changing though and Apple, Samsung and Google all have contactless payment systems whereby money is loaded onto an app on your phone and payment can be made by scanning your phone at a contactless terminal.

The company Ringly have taken things a step further though and have a partnership with MasterCard which enables you to pay for items with the tap of a ring.

The rings that Ringly sell (including the ring shown in the photo above) cost between $195 and $260 and use technology to link the ring to your phone to access the Ringly app. The app will then enable payment to be made. This is pretty impressive given that all the technology has to be fitted onto the surface of the ring.

The end result is that you will be able to purchase items via a contactless terminal by simply tapping your ring without getting your wallet or purse out.

So, is this a genuinely useful idea or just a “gimmick”? After all, you’ll still need your phone with you to make a payment.

Either way, it’s a nice excuse if you were thinking of buying a new ring.

Laziness and intelligence.

Are you lazy? Do you know anyone who is lazy?

Whilst a lot of you won’t admit to being lazy (and I’m sure most of you aren’t in fact lazy!), some of you will know somebody who you feel is lazy.

Is it such a bad thing to be lazy though?

Perhaps not, as according to a study by scientists from Florida Gulf Coast University laziness could correlate with high intelligence.

The study found that people with a high IQ rarely got bored. As a result, they spent more time lost in thought. On the other hand, the study suggested that less intelligent people were more likely to be prone to boredom and consequently were more likely to do more physical activity.

The researchers worked with 2 types of students. The first group expressed a strong desire to think a lot whilst the second group were keen to avoid doing things which were mentally taxing.

The participants were then fitted with fitness trackers which monitored how much they exercised over a 7 day period. The study found that people who thought a lot were much less active than those individuals who avoided high-level thinking. Interestingly, this discrepancy in levels of activity only happened during the week and there was no difference during the weekend.

Before any of the lazy people out there start claiming that they are more intelligent, it’s worth noting that the sample size of the test was small and further tests will be needed to prove the correlation.

DR Book $1.2m; CR Cash $1.2m

If I asked you how much would you pay for a book on double-entry, I’m guessing most of you wouldn’t be willing to pay $1.2m.

Whilst accountants the world over know and (sometimes) love double-entry, the most that most people would have paid for a book on double entry would be £20 to £30 when they were studying for their exams.

A book on double entry was sold a couple of years ago though for a lot more.

A great deal more in fact. 

$1,215,000 to be exact.

The book is an extremely rare book written by Luca Pacioli.

Luca Pacioli?

That name probably sounds familiar to many accountants reading this as Luca Pacioli was a Franciscan monk who came up with the concept of double entry back in the 15th century.

The book that was sold is called Summa de arithmetica and was printed in Venice in 1494. It contains the first published description of double-entry bookkeeping.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW) hold two copies of the book (neither of these are the book that was sold for $1.2m).

If you’re interested in looking at the contents of Summa de arithmetica you can do so courtesy of ICAEW’s “Turning the page library”.

Summa de arithmetica can be viewed here.

Burning calories and cash

Do you have a bank card and do you go to the gym?

If you do, then watch out if the gym has lockers which are locked using a code on a pin pad.

London accountant, Matthew Spencer, had nearly £10,000 stolen from his bank account and he believes it all happened while he was working out at an upmarket gym in Canary Wharf.

The fraudsters were very clever as it looks like they saw what pin code Matthew used when locking his locker and then when he was out of the changing room used that code to open his locker. Rather than steal his whole wallet though they only stole his HSBC debit card from his wallet.

Having taken his debit card they then correctly assumed that the pin code he’d used on the locker was the same for his debit card.

It was only later that day when Matthew went to buy a tube ticket that he realised his debit card was missing and after checking with the bank found that nearly £10,000 had been spent that day on computers, top restaurants and cash withdrawals.

Unfortunately for Matthew, the bank refused to refund the money as the card was used with the pin code. 

The moral of this unfortunate situation though is that if you do go to the gym and use lockers with a pin code then make sure it is a different code from the one you use on your bank cards.

Something to crow about…

At the time of writing the Puy du Fou historical theme park in France has got over 16,000 TripAdvisor reviews and a 5 star rating. It’s clearly a very successful theme park and it’s the second most visited theme park in France behind Disneyland Paris.

The staff at the theme park no doubt work very hard to keep it running smoothly but there are 6 of the team who are very different.

These 6 team members are hard working but they are different to the rest of the team in that they won’t receive a salary and they won’t have fixed working hours.

Oh, and they are different in that they are crows.

Yes, the 6 team members are birds.

These aren’t just any birds though. They are birds who have been trained to pick up cigarette ends and other small pieces of rubbish. In exchange for dropping this rubbish in a specially designed rubbish box they will receive a small bit of bird food as a reward.

Nicolas de Villiers of the Puy du Fou park was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as saying “The goal is not just to clear up, because the visitors are generally careful to keep things clean” but also to show that “nature itself can teach us to take care of the environment”.

A very nice initiative by the park and certainly something to crow about…

How to impress over a business lunch…

Picture the scene. You’ve got an important business lunch coming up. You want to make a good impression on the person you are meeting with. What should you eat for lunch?

A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology has some interesting findings which indicate that if you have an important business lunch, there are various benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress.

Scientists from the University of Chicago studied nearly 500 people to identify whether eating the same food helped them agree in negotiations.

The researcher’s conclusion was that people who are served the same food are more likely to trust each other, smooth out problems and make deals.

As part of the study, participants in the research were told to imagine they were “investors” who had to decide whether to invest in funds operated by their “fund manager” eating partners. The researchers found that those people who were served similar food invested more money.

Another interesting finding in the study was the link between food consumption and the effectiveness of advertising. The authors said that “consumers are more trusting of information about non-food products – e.g. a software product – when the advertiser in the product testimonial eats similar food to them”.

Back to the business lunch though and although the research found that there are benefits to ordering the same food as the person you are trying to impress, I’m not sure that if you’re wearing a nice clean white shirt to the lunch meeting you should necessarily follow the other person in ordering that “tricky to eat tidily spaghetti with the sloppy tomato sauce”…

Would you stand for this?

Do you work in an office? Do you sit down at your desk most of the working day?

If you do, then it may be a good idea to ensure you stand up and move around a bit during the day.

Recent research has estimated that 1 in 9 deaths can be blamed on sitting down for at least 6 hours a day.

Let’s pause for a moment as that’s a shocking figure!

In the UK alone that would equate to thousands of people dying every year due to lack of movement and the cost to the National Health Service is estimated at £700 million annually.

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health estimated that 17% of diabetes, 5% of heart disease and 8% of lung cancer cases could be avoided with less sitting.

Leonie Heron from Queen’s University Belfast was the lead author of the study and said “You need to put your body under a little bit of stress to maintain a healthy heart and whole system”.

She went on to say that “It suggests that it is bad for our health how our working lives are structured for a lot of people. You can attenuate that risk by being more active in your leisure time, but it’s something employers can look at. Maybe they should be providing opportunities for employees to be active during the day, perhaps making sure people move every hour…or providing opportunities during lunch and coffee breaks.”

My guess is that a lot of you do sit down for at least 6 hours a day working at your computer. It’s probably a good idea therefore to remind yourself to get up and move a bit when you can as it will be good for your health.

Unless, that is of course, you’re getting up to walk out of the office to have a cigarette…

Splash out on a new purchase

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA often comes up with innovative advertising ideas. One of those was when they ran a magazine advert that offered a discount on a baby’s crib to pregnant mothers.

Now, whilst in itself there’s nothing unusual about offering promotions to certain segments of the market, what is unusual is how the promotion is claimed.

The magazine advert ran in an issue of the Swedish lifestyle magazine Amelia, and the full-page advert read: “Peeing on this ad might change your life.”

Yes, there was a patch on the magazine which was an actual pregnancy test. If you peed on it and were pregnant then a discount code would be revealed which would provide you with a discount on the IKEA crib.

A couple of points spring to mind.

Making sure you’ve finished reading the magazine before trying to reveal the discount code is one of them and also an online order would probably be better than taking in the “code voucher” to your nearest IKEA store is the second.

Having said that you have to admire the ad agency behind the novel idea.

Akestam Holst were the ad agency that came up with the idea and they told adweek that “In order to make the interactive functions of this ad work in reality, we had to make several technical advancements. The pregnancy test strip was used as a starting point, which relies on antibodies that bind to the pregnancy hormone hCG, resulting in a color change. For scaling up of this technique and adopting it to the physical format of a printed ad, Mercene Labs has used their experience in development of surface active materials for microfluidics and medical diagnostics. Careful selection of materials, together with a controlled capillary flow have been crucial for the success of this project. Technical advancements made during the work with this campaign have the potential to improve medical diagnostics.”

So all in all, a very unusual advert and whilst some people thought it was a hoax, it is true and the pregnancy test (and discount code) both work.

In summary, it is true and it is not taking the ….

(Let’s just say it’s not taking the mick).

Superman helps hackers.

It’s a sign of the times that hackers are constantly on the lookout for weaknesses in people’s computer security systems.

Individuals can go a long way to making things more difficult for the hackers by ensuring they have up to date anti-virus software in place and that their passwords are good passwords.

But what is a good password?

Before answering that, let’s look at some bad passwords.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) released a report on some of the most hacked passwords. They analysed hacked accounts where details were being sold by hackers.

In one year alone an astonishing 23 million people around the world with the password “123456” were hacked.

You should really hang your head in shame if your password is 123456 as it’s very easy to hack into.

OK, what about the name of your favourite football team as your password. Would that provide you with more protection?

Alas not as football team names are very common passwords.

Roughly 280,000 accounts were breached in a year with the password “Liverpool”. 

“Chelsea” and “Man-Utd” passwords were breached 216,000 and 59,000 times respectively.

Using the names of your favourite music artist also isn’t a good idea.

The most popular passwords using the names of music artists are “blink182” and “50cent” (these are probably popular as they satisfy the need to have letters and numbers in a password).

If you’re a fan of superheroes then avoid Superman, which was the most common superhero inspired password.

So, onto good passwords.

According to Ian Levy, the Technical Director of NCSC, “Using hard to guess passwords is a strong first step and we recommend combining three random but memorable words. Be creative and use words memorable to you, so people can’t guess your password.”

There you go.

As easy as 123 or should that be, as easy as “123456”…

I’ll stick to that…

New product innovation is vital for lots of organisations. Sometimes though the idea for a new product can come from unusual places.

VELCRO is a type of hook and loop fastener which we’ve all seen. It has that characteristic “rasping” sound when you pull it apart and will stick back together with the minimum of fuss. It’s commonly used in clothing and shoes to replace buttons, zips and laces.

So, who came up with the idea?

George de Mestral was a Swiss engineer and in 1941 he got the inspiration for VELCRO whilst out with his dog in the Alps.

He noticed that as his dog ran past Burdock plants, the burrs of the plant (a tiny seed covered in hundreds of microscopic ‘hooks’) would catch onto his dog’s fur.

That was his “eureka moment” and he spent the next 10 years investigating how he could get “hooks” like those found on the plant to engage with the “loops” found on materials.

The key thing was to be able to secure it together but then pull it apart (and then keep on repeating this without it breaking!)

Luckily, he had friends in the weaving industry who helped him work on prototypes and the end result was that in 1955 he filed his first patent for the hook and loop fasteners.

He also needed a distinctive name to go with his invention and he came up with VELCRO.

VELCRO is in fact a combination of the French words “velour” (velvet) and “crochet” (hook). VELCRO therefore in effect means “hooked velvet”.

Since it’s launch it has gone on to become one of the most used items in clothing and all of this came about as a result of a man walking with his dog in 1941.

Does your corporate logo cover a continent?

112 years ago Theodor Tobler and Emil Baumann invented the chocolate bar Toblerone. The name is a play on the names “Tobler” and “Torrone”, the Italian word for honey and almond nougat.

It is one of the most recognizable brands in the world and anyone that has travelled through a major airport will almost certainly have seen the famous chocolate bar produced by Kraft Foods for sale in one of the duty free outlets.

One of the most important aspects of a successful brand is the logo.

The Toblerone logo is well known but do you see an animal hidden inside it?

Toblerone originated in Bern, Switzerland – a city whose name is rumored to mean, “City of bears”. Look at the logo again closely and you will find a bear facing to the right and stood on its hind legs.

Although I’m biased I love the ExP logo. According to the designers it is fresh, sharp, simple and easy to remember. Also, the “ExP Man” in the middle emphasises the people aspect of the business.

It’s great but there is another logo which I think is extremely clever.

If you look at the Yoga Australia Logo what do you see?

At first glance the logo may look like a simple picture of a woman doing her yoga exercise but if you look at it carefully the body posture is creating the Australia Map.

A great design and thankfully I didn’t pose for it as the map would have looked like a crumpled mess.

Exams for sale….

One of the five fundamental ethical principles is Integrity.

Being straightforward and honest is a vital characteristic of being a professional accountant.

Most people who are studying for their professional exams have one thing on their mind. Namely, to pass their exams but four students who were studying for their ACCA exams had other things on their minds and at the same time, were not the brightest individuals out there.

What they planned to do was to register for some Computer Based Exams (CBEs) and then whilst sitting the exams they would use their mobile phones to take photos of the computer screen showing the questions. They would then sell these photos with the questions on them via the internet.

The four individuals involved, Chen Yiyun, Hiujiao Ru, Zehui Gong and Ziying Wang decided to sell the questions on Taobao Marketplace, a Chinese shopping website.

They no doubt thought that this was an extremely clever way of making some money. What could possibly go wrong by taking photos of the questions and then selling them online?

One of the other fundamental ethical principles is that of Professional Competence.

Now, if these individuals had even a minuscule amount of Professional Competence, they would have reviewed the photos before selling them.

Alas for them they didn’t review them.

If they had reviewed them, they would have seen at the top of the computer screen in the photos their ACCA student registration number and the exam centre.

ACCA were made aware of the questions being for sale and made a test purchase on the Taobao Marketplace. Given the student registration numbers were on the screen, they didn’t need a team of top detectives to identify the individuals involved.

Unsurprisingly, the four individuals are now ex-students of ACCA having been found guilty of misconduct and they were ordered to pay costs ranging from £3,500 to £7,000.

Would a good liar make a good accountant?

Do you have children? Have they ever told you a lie? Even a small teeny weeny lie?

Well, if they have then although you may not be particularly pleased with them, it may actually mean that they have good memories and excellent thinking skills.

Psychologists at the University of Sheffield tested 135 children and found that those children that lied performed much better than the honest children in the group.

The children in the study were aged between 6 and 7 years old and during the study they were given a trivia game. The answers to the trivia game were on the back of the card which they had been given. Initially, each child was in a room accompanied by one of the researchers but the researcher then left the child alone with the card with the answer on the back.

Before leaving the room the researcher told the children not to look at the answer but what the children didn’t know was that when they were alone in the room there were hidden cameras which were monitoring whether they would look at the answers on the back.

25% of the group subsequently cheated and looked at the answers on the back of their cards but claimed that they hadn’t cheated when the researcher returned to the room.

At a later stage, all of the children had to perform a separate memory test and the research found that the children who had lied performed significantly better than those children who didn’t lie.

Dr Tracy Alloway, project lead from the University of North Florida was also involved in the research and said that “this research shows that thought processes, specifically verbal working memory, are important to complex social interactions like lying because the children needed to juggle multiple pieces of information while keeping the researcher’s perspective in mind”.

This has got me thinking as a lot of the readers of this blog are accountants or studying to be accountants.

“Thought processes”, “verbal working memory”, “juggling multiple pieces of information” and “keeping other people’s perspective in mind” are all skills which many accountants need.

Does this mean that you would make a good accountant if you were a good liar when you were a child?

Whatever your answer is, I’m not sure I would believe you…

Some spicy people to follow…

There are over 300 million twitter accounts and more than 500 million tweets are sent per day. That’s an impressive figure that works out at over 5,000 tweets per second.

It can be a useful tool for companies. They can use it to engage with their customers and potential customers by way of branding and promotional activities. They can also use it as a form of a helpdesk or customer support. The Dutch airline KLM for example uses Twitter and Facebook to enable customers to contact them and get a reply within an hour.

Most companies will use Twitter to promote items or get their message out but Twitter user @edgette22 has identified a secret the fast food giant KFC has been keeping within their Twitter account.

KFC is the world’s second-largest restaurant chain (as measured by sales) after McDonald’s, with nearly 20,000 locations globally in over 100 countries.

They also have over a million Twitter followers.

But they only follow 11 people.

And the 11 people they follow are a strange mix.

KFC follows:

Geri Halliwell, Mel B, Emma Bunton, Mel C and Victoria Beckham (in other words the 5 ladies who made up the Spice Girls).

They also follow Herb Scribner, Herb J. Wesson Jr, Herb Waters, Herb Dean, Herb Sendek and Herb Alpert.

Or to put it another way, KFC follow five Spice Girls and 6 Herbs.

Five spices and six herbs?

That sounds familiar as the secret recipe for KFC chicken is 11 herbs and spices.

Either the social media department of KFC were having a quiet day and decided to play a few games or it was a deliberate move to get people talking about KFC when their followers were noticed.

Either way, congratulations are due to whoever was behind the idea.

Remind me – what was I going to buy?

Do you wish you had a better memory? Perhaps you do but you can’t remember whether or not you do.

If this is the case then help may be at hand.

University researchers have suggested a simple technique which could improve your memory.

Dr Mark Moss from Northumbria University led a research study which found that students studying in a room with the smell of the herb rosemary (in the form of essential oils) achieved 5% to 7% better memory results than students undertaking similar studying in a room without the smell of rosemary.

Dr Moss reported that the sense of smell in humans is highly sensitive and sends messages to the brain which can set off reactions and responses.

In the case of rosemary, the smell could well result in a better memory.

This view isn’t new though as ancient Greek students used to wear garlands of rosemary in their exams and Ophelia, the young noblewoman in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet said “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”

So, in conclusion, the next time you are studying hard for an exam it may be an idea to buy some rosemary essential oils to help your memory.

That is of course, if you can remember to buy some in the first place…

(Details of some of the work done by Northumbria University can be found here).

Is this real or not?

That’s the question some Manchester City supporters may be asking themselves soon.

We’re not talking about their performance on the football pitch but rather their move into Facebook’s metaverse.

The metaverse is an imagined digital world that people can explore as avatars. Facebook are leading this new technology, and they’re aiming for “a set of virtual spaces where you can create and explore with other people who aren’t in the same physical space as you”.

On the football side of things Manchester City are currently top of the Premium League but they are also taking the lead in developing activities in the metaverse with the club recently announcing plans to build a football stadium inside the metaverse.

With the help of virtual reality experts at Sony, Manchester City are hoping to create a world where fans can come together and support their team in ways never before possible.

The plan is that supporters will be able to experience the Eithad Stadium without visiting it in person. They will be able to view a game in real time via their virtual avatar and be able to interact with the people around them.

This could be a game-changer for sports fans around the world who previously would never have been able to visit the real stadium in Manchester but there are also benefits for the club.

“The whole point we could imagine of having a metaverse is you can recreate a game, you could watch the game live, you’re part of the action in a different way through different angles and you can fill the stadium as much as you want because it’s unlimited, it’s completely virtual,” Nuria Tarre, City Football Group’s chief marketing and fan engagement officer was reported as saying to the i-newspaper.

Whilst purist football supporters may not be in favour of virtual stadiums there are benefits to supporters who may not be able to get to the real stadium as well as potentially significant financial benefits for clubs.

Anyone fancy a virtual kick around?

Enjoy the freeze…

Working from home has become a fact of life for a lot of people due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Synonymous with working from home are the video conferencing facilities such as Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams.

The growth in use of these technologies has been phenomenal. Back in December 2019 for example there were on average 10 million daily meeting participants on zoom. Fast forward to today and the daily averages are around 300 million.

The technologies have been incredibly useful for keeping teams together and maintaining working practices but with back-to-back zoom meetings sometimes going on for hours some people are suffering from “zoom fatigue”.

There’s also the issue of what happens if you are desperate for a cup of coffee or a call of nature during a particularly long and boring meeting?

It’s pretty obvious on the screen if you try and sneak out for a couple of minutes and taking your laptop with you to the kitchen or toilet is best avoided.

Enter freezingcam.com which as the name suggests enables you to simply click a button on screen and your webcam will freeze and give the impression that you are having internet connection issues.

After quickly popping out of the room to do whatever you wanted to do, you can get back to your desk, click the unfreeze button and lo and behold you are back at the meeting and everyone thinks you were having internet issues rather than looking for those chocolate digestive biscuits in the kitchen…

Pass the doughnuts…

Does your weight affect the amount of money you earn?

That’s an interesting question and researchers from the universities of Strathclyde in Glasgow and Potsdam in Germany have come up with a potential answer.

They analysed data from nearly 15,000 working men and found that men within that the recommended Body Mass Index (BMI) health range earnt more than those who were outside of the range.

Individuals who were underweight on the body mass index were found to earn 8% less than those who were in the top end of the healthy bracket. They found that the effect was more prominent in manual jobs where no doubt the extra strength of the guys in the healthy weight bracket helped increase their earnings.

What was perhaps surprising though was that there was also a difference in earnings in white-collar office jobs. They found that in the more middle-class occupations the rewards peaked at a BMI of around 21.

It wasn’t just men who were impacted though. The study also looked at the weight and earnings of 15,000 German women and found that the slimmest earnt the most and the obese the least.

Jonny Gifford, of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development was quoted in the press as saying “it is depressing that, in this day and age, looks are in any way a factor in how much people are paid”.

I have to agree with him as organisations should employ people on the basis of their abilities as opposed to how heavy they weigh.

Anyway, best dash as I’ve got a doughnut to finish…

You are (probably) a liar…

Here’s a nice ethical question for you – have you lied recently?

My guess is that you have. Now before you get all righteous about it, I think that you probably did it without even thinking.

Wow, this is pretty worrying isn’t it? A lot of you are studying for professional exams and if I’m here saying that you have lied without thinking about it then what does that mean for your profession going forward?

Terms and conditions (or T&Cs) are essential for companies which are operating on the Internet or providing apps. For example, they clarify the relationship between the user and the supplier and make it clear what it provided. In reality, the chances are that they also limit the liability of the provider!

A report by thinkmoney identified the number of words in the T&Cs of some of the leading apps.

They found that the combined terms and conditions of 13 top apps including TikTok, WhatsApp and Zoom would take 17 hours and five minutes to read!

The longest was Microsoft Teams which was 18,282 words long.

To put this into perspective, there are more words in the Microsoft T&Cs than there are in Shakespeare’s famous play Macbeth (if you’re interested, a mere 18,110 words).

For those of you that are fans of Shakespeare you may prefer Hamlet to Macbeth.

Instead of reading Hamlet you could read the T&Cs of TikTok (11,698 words), WhatsApp (9,920 words) and Facebook (8,588).

A combined number of words for these 3 of 30,206 words which is more than the 30,066 word count of Hamlet.

Back to my original point when I said that you are (probably) a liar.

So, have you ever clicked that you have read and agree to the T&Cs…

Don’t worry, he’s ok…

A few years ago if a company wanted to advertise their products they mainly used the traditional media methods of TV, radio and print.

Nowadays the world is awash with viral marketing and social media promotion.

Although the main delivery methods used in advertising have no doubt faced rapid change I would argue that the basic technique of getting peoples attention and keeping it until the message is delivered in a memorable way is still key.

The “advert” below is in my opinion a great example of how advertising should be done.

It’s got the viral marketing angle to it as it’s great for viewing on phones and computers (and of course pausing and replaying it). It also works for the traditional TV ads.

What’s nice about it is that in less than one and half minutes it covers a range of human emotions. There are also no words spoken and the only text comes up at the end.

It also highlights the power of music in advertising. Three well known songs were used so there was no need to specially commission some song writing.

If you watch the advert without the music it has a far lower impact.

Have a look (and listen) and see what you think.

Oh and in case you get concerned mid way through don’t worry as it’s got a happy ending.

The interesting thing about this though is that it’s actually a fake advert. It was created by filmmaker John Nolan to showcase his animatronics skills.

John is clearly a creative genius when it comes to animatronics film making and I’m sure the big cheese companies would love to have somebody with his skills working for them.

Start walking…

Do you sit at a desk when you’re at work?

If you do, how long do you spend sat there before you get up to move around?

If you sit at your desk and work on your computer without moving around then I’ve for some unfortunate news for you because a sedentary lifestyle where you sit at your desk without moving around is bad for you.

Researchers at the University of Utah examined the health, exercise and nutrition records of over 3,000 Americans over a 3 year period and on average they spent 34 minutes sitting or lying down per hour whilst working.

Ignoring the question as to what were they doing lying down it will come as no surprise that the more time they spent on sedentary activities the more likely they were to die during the study.

Swapping sitting with standing up appeared to make no difference to the risk of death but what did make a difference was replacing 2 minutes sitting with 2 minutes of walking around

2 minutes of walking around per hour instead of sitting down reduced the risk of death by 33%.

So, the trick is to make sure you walk around for a couple of minutes an hour whilst at the office.

Of course, if those 2 minutes are spent walking to the vending machine to stock up on crisps and chocolate to eat at your desk there may not be that much of a benefit…

I never emailed you…

Sometimes it’s the simple scams that can cause the most damage.

We hear all the time about ignoring scam phishing emails where fraudsters are pretending to be banks to get online bank account log in details but there’s a new scam involving email which is costing some people a lot of money.

The Art Newspaper reported that at least nine art galleries and art dealers have been caught up by the fraud. The amounts lost to the fraudsters have been significant with amounts ranging from £10,000 to £1 million.

The fraud itself is fairly simple.

The fraudsters hack into an organisation’s email system and look out for emails sending invoices to clients.

For example, if an art dealer has made a sale of a piece of art and then emails the invoice through to the customer for payment, the fraudsters send another email straight after the original email.

This second email looks like it’s come from the art dealer and includes an identical invoice with the only exception being it has a different bank account on it for payment of the invoice. Yes, you’ve guessed it but the bank details on the second invoice are not those of the art dealer but instead are details of a bank account in the name of the fraudsters.

The customer innocently pays the invoice as it looks genuine and as soon as the money is received the fraudsters withdraw the money, close the bank account and are never heard of again.

As far as the art dealer is concerned they are waiting for the payment to be made but the customer has already paid the money but to the fraudster. By the time the fraud is discovered it is too late.

There’s a fairly simple solution to this and ensuring that anti-virus programmes are up to date and email passwords are changed regularly will go a long way in preventing this sort of fraud.

Does this help you concentrate?

The Journal of Consumer Research published the results of five experiments into how the level of background noise can impact on performance when someone is working on creative tasks.

The  results are interesting and in simple terms found that a moderate level of ambient noise is better for enhancing performance on creative tasks than both low levels and high levels of ambient noise.

Or put another way, people are more likely to be able to work creatively if there is a medium level of ambient noise compared to where there is silence or loud noise in the background.

So, what lessons can we learn from this if we’re studying?

Whilst the optimum situation and level of background noise is very much a personal preference the science behind it could indicate that we should head somewhere with a mid level background noise.

Now, where could we find such a place?

Well, the local pub around the corner has a great mid level background noise as far as I’m concerned but there are some liquid distractions that will harm studying.

What about a coffee shop or cafe? Again, there would be some great mid levels of background noise but you’ve got to get there and what happens if you don’t find a seat. All of this will dig into your valuable study time.

Well, up step the fantastic website coffitivity.com which enables you to play background coffeeshop noise on your computer whilst you’re studying.

You can’t order a Cafe Latte or Cappuccino but in my opinion it’s a great tool for those who like to study with a non intrusive background noise.

It’s also excellent for people who don’t have any friends to go to the coffee shop with.

A nice snappy idea…

The Carlsberg Group is one of the oldest brewing groups in the world. They were established way back in 1847 and their portfolio of products include Tuborg, Baltika and of course, Carlsberg.

They sell a lot of beer and their products are sold in more than 150 markets.

The “6 pack” is synonymous with beer and no, I’m not talking about the 6 pack on the beer drinkers abs. Rather, I’m talking about the 6 pack of beer that people can buy from shops.

One unfortunate problem with the 6 pack is that the cans are held together with a plastic wrapping. With so many 6 packs being sold around the world that means a lot of plastic is used.

People are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental damage that plastic is doing and Carlsberg have come up with a pretty innovative solution to reducing plastic on their 6 packs.

They have introduced what they call a “snap pack”.

In the snap pack the cans of beer are held together by glue rather than plastic wrapping. The cans of beer can be “snapped off”.

This saves a significant amount of plastic – according to Carlsberg this equates to reducing plastic waste by more than 1,200 tonnes a year. That’s a huge amount and is the equivalent of 60 million plastic bags.

Bo Oksnebjerg, Secretary General in WWF Denmark, was quoted as saying “Our wildlife is drowning in plastic – and the problem is unfortunately growing considerably. We therefore need to act now. We need less plastic to end up in nature. That is why we consider it huge progress that Carlsberg is now launching solutions that significantly reduce the amount of plastic in its packaging. With these new solutions, Carlsberg has taken the first big steps on the journey towards a more clean and green future.”

Nice work Carlsberg and I’ll drink to that. Or should I say, I’ll snap one off and drink to that…

Standing up for productivity.

How would you feel if your chair was taken away from you at work? Probably not too happy I would guess.

A bit of research though may make your boss think otherwise.

Scientists from the Texas A&M Health Science Centre School of Public Health installed “standing desks” in a call centre employing over 150 people. The standing desks could be adjusted so that the employee could work at them either sitting down or standing up.

Half of the employees were given sit–stand desks to use whilst the other half were given traditional sitting desks. The performance of the employees was recorded over a period of 6 months and the results were surprising.

Despite the employees who had the sit–stand desks only using the desks in the standing position for a third of the time, their productivity increased by 50%. Productivity was measured by the number of successful calls that the employee made to the clients with “successful” being defined as being when the company earned revenue from that call.

Each employee typically made in the region of 400 to 500 calls every month and the company wanted them to achieve on average 2 successful calls per hour. Those with the sit–stand desks achieved the target whilst those with the traditional seated desks averaged 1.5 successful calls per hour.

Dr Gregory Garrett from the centre was quoted as saying that “having the ability to move throughout the day really makes a big difference”.

So, is it time to introduce standing chairs in your office?

Don’t sweat your exams

Most people enjoy it when the weather gets warmer. Sunny weather often makes people happier but some research indicates that a heatwave may not be good news if you’re taking an exam.

Researchers from Harvard Chan School of Public Health found that students who were exposed to hotter temperatures did significantly less well in cognitive tests than those students who lived in a temperature-controlled environment.

The research involved a group of students who had already been allocated accommodation on campus. Half of the rooms had air conditioning and half didn’t.

The students were followed during a 5-day heatwave where temperatures exceeded 26C.

Before, during and after the heatwave, the students had to perform a number of cognitive tests which measured the speed they processed matters as well as their working memory. The results showed that the scores of these students in the hotter accommodation fell by 13% compared to their colleagues in the air-conditioned temperature stable environment.

The researchers said that it was not clear what was behind the drop in performance during an increase in temperature. It could have been because the brain was working harder on maintaining critical body functions such as thermoregulation or it could have been due to a poorer quality of sleep due to the heat.

Either way, let’s hope it’s not a heatwave the next time you sit an exam…

Is this worth smiling for?

Are you happy when you spend money? I guess the answer depends on what you’re spending the money on but over in China, KFC have technology which enables a person to pay for their KFC meal with a smile.

Yes, a smile.

Nothing else is needed – no bank card, no phone app. Just a smile.

That’s a pretty advanced system and involves facial recognition technology.

Customers who want to get their dose of fast food at the KFC branch in Hangzhou can leave their cash and cards behind and instead smile at a scanner, press confirm and then hey presto you’ve paid for your meal without moving your hands and you will soon be tucking into your Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Payment is taken from a cash account which has been linked to the person’s face.

China has some of the most advanced facial scanning technology in the world. Collecting images of the public doesn’t need any consent in China and the technology is likely to spread.

For example, it’s been reported that students in several universities in China are now registering by scanning their faces and lecturers will soon be able to track the facial expressions of students to see how well they are following the lectures.

It may be advisable for these students to master the act of hiding those yawns during a boring lecture and instead start to practice for the KFC they’re planning to get after the lecture…

Would you do this with your job?

If a company outsources jobs, in some situations it can be seen as good business practice but if an individual outsources his own job then what is that seen as?

Outsourcing is where a company gets another organisation to undertake a job or business function that would have previously been completed in-house. This is often done for cost saving reasons and an illustration of outsourcing would for example be getting another organisation to maintain your payroll.

A while ago there was the first example I’d heard of an individual outsourcing his own job.

Verison is one of the leading telecoms companies in the US and their security team provided details of a case study where an employee by the name of “Bob” who was a top developer had actually outsourced his own job to China without his employers knowing about it.

In other words, he had received his salary from his employers but had personally paid for somebody else to do his job at a cheaper rate without his employer knowing about it!

He was paid in excess of USD 100,000 for his job and yet he was paying a Chinese consulting firm less than 20% of that to do the job for him.

According to Verison a typical day for Bob was:

9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos (!!)
11:30 a.m. – Take lunch
1:00 p.m. – Ebay time.
2:00 – ish p.m Facebook updates – LinkedIn
4:30 p.m. – End of day update e-mail to management.
5:00 p.m. – Go home

Despite not actually doing any of the work himself his performance reviews were excellent and he had been regarded as the best developer in the building.

So, in summary – he was paid a pretty good salary and all he did was play around on the internet.

All his real work was outsourced by him to a Chinese company. He paid them whilst his employer paid him 5 times the amount that he had paid the Chinese company.

Bob lost his job but it does raise an interesting debate as when a company outsources it’s seen as a clever move but when an individual outsources their own job they end up losing that job.

Anyway, whilst you’re thinking of that particular point I’d like to mention that the next blog article will be written by a Chinese company but please don’t tell my employer.

Meanwhile I’m off to watch some cat videos…

Don’t put your foot in it…

If you look at the finance side of running a bar then things should (in theory) be quite simple. Revenue is what your customers pay for the drinks they buy and the main expenses are the amount you pay to the brewery for the beer, staff wages and property costs.

Over in Belgium though some bars have faced a unique problem which is causing unwanted expenses but it looks though that they have come up with some ingenious solutions.

Belgium is famous for its beers. Monks from local Abbeys started brewing different types of beer in the 12th century and nowadays some of the bars in tourist areas in Brussels and Bruges stock several hundred different types of beers.

Each of these beers has their own particular glass which it is served in. These glasses come in all shapes and sizes and are nice looking objects.

Unfortunately for the bar owners they are also very collectable in the eyes of certain tourists. As a result, lots of these glasses go missing as tourists take them for a souvenir.

This can involve a significant number of glasses. Tens of thousands of glasses a year are stolen in Belgium and replacing these glasses represents a significant cost.

Some of the bars are coming up with innovative ideas to stop the thefts.

The Bruges Beerwall café had 4,000 glasses taken in one year and has now introduced security alarms which are attached to each glass. If a glass is taken past the scanner at the door an alarm sounds.

A slightly less hi-tech solution to the problem (but arguably as effective) can be found at the Dulle Griet bar in the Belgium town of Ghent.

The bar stocks over 500 different types of beers and has some very attractive glasses in which these are served. If you want to have a drink though you have to hand over some security to make sure you don’t steal the glass.

The security is a shoe.

And not just any shoe but one of the shoes you are wearing. You hand it over and it is put in a basket which is then pulled up to the ceiling so that you can have a drink knowing that your “security shoe” is safe in the basket.

A great idea by the bar to keep the thefts of their glasses to a minimum and it has proved so successful that it has now become a bit of a tourist attraction with people popping in to look at the basket and have a drink.

One thought does spring to mind though and with 500 tasty beers on the menu I wonder how many customers have had one too many drinks and woke up in the morning with different shoes on each foot….

Flying high with creativity.

Sometimes a little bit of creative thinking can go a long way. This bit of creativity though went a very long way indeed.

Creativity can add value to all types of businesses and this particular project involved technology and one of the largest sea birds.

There are 22 species of the albatross bird. With a wingspan of up to 3.5 metres, the wandering albatross species has the largest wingspan of any living flying bird. Importantly for this project though, they are also capable of flying long distances out to sea.

Illegal fishing by trawlers can seriously impact on fish levels. Organisations tasked with protecting fish levels can find it almost impossible to prevent this illegal fishing. In simple terms, the ocean is very large and the boats are pretty small so keeping track of them and what they are fishing for is very difficult.

In an innovative project led by the French National Centre for Scientific Research, 169 Albatrosses have been equipped with sensors. If the birds are in the vicinity of a boat, these sensors are able to tell whether the boat’s Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) are switched off.

Having the AIS systems switched off on a boat is common when the boat is fishing illegally.

The beauty of this project is that the albatrosses can cover huge areas and when the sensors identify boats with their AIS switched off, the enforcement boats can head to that location to investigate further.

The initiative was trialled off the coast of New Zealand and over a 6 month period the birds located 353 boats, 37% of which were not emitting the AIS signal.

Will auditors become more like Tom Cruise in the future?

Gone are the days when auditors were manually checking and ticking lots of pieces of paper. Today’s auditing techniques involve significant use of computers.

But how far can this computer use go? Will they be able to predict when accounting fraud is going to take place as opposed to tracking transactions that have already occurred?

The film Minority Report starring Tom Cruise was based around software that could predict when a crime was going to happen and the culprits would be arrested before they actually committed the crime. Although this film seemed well and truly within the realms of science fiction, IBM have worked in conjunction with the Memphis police department in America to develop a sophisticated computer software package which aims to predict where and when future crimes are likely to occur.

The software is known as Crush (Criminal Reduction Utilising Statistical History) and is used to identify potential crime hotspots based on a variety of data including crime reports, offender profiles and strangely enough even weather forecasts.

Once these upcoming crime hotspots have been identified then the police can allocate resources accordingly.

The rollout of this software reportedly resulted in a reduction of serious crime by 30%.

Back to auditing though and will the next step be predicting when a fraud is likely to occur using statistical analysis based on industry, profit movements, director’s personal life and spending habits (plus the weather of course)?

Given the reliability of some computers though, one thing for sure is that if you happen to live in a town called “Syntax Error” then you may have a surprise visit from a Tom Cruise lookalike with a briefcase and a calculator…

The Captain was sober, the First Mate was drunk. Was that true? Was that fair?

I’ve been a qualified accountant for a fair few years now.

I had the pleasure of bumping into my first auditing lecturer recently. It was at a business mixer event and even though it was a long time since we last saw each other he really hadn’t changed that much.

We got talking and I reminded him of something that he told me that I’ve remembered ever since and to me is a great way of explaining what is meant by “True and Fair”. Those of you that have studied financial reporting papers will be aware of the importance of “True and Fair” in connection with financial statements.

In summary, financial statements should provide what is generally understood as a true and fair view of the reporting entity’s financial position, performance and changes in financial position.

I always remember my lecturer telling me the story of the ship’s captain that was having a problem with his first mate who was always drunk. In the end the captain wrote an official entry in the captains log saying “Today, the first mate was drunk.”

The first mate was upset about this and the next time he took charge of the ship when the captain was asleep, he wrote in the log that “Today, the captain was sober”. This of course implied that on other days the captain wasn’t sober as he was drunk.

Now, the statement “today, the captain was sober” was clearly true but I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not it was fair!

Best to take it back…

Most of you have probably had an interview. In fact, some of you may have had a number of interviews but a boss of one of the top companies in Australia has recently disclosed a pretty unusual way of deciding who not to offer a job to.

Trent Innes, who heads up Xero in Australia said that he will greet the person when he or she arrives for the interview and then take them to the kitchen to offer them a drink before heading to the meeting room with the drink. Even if they aren’t tea or coffee drinkers they will generally walk away with a glass of water.

He explained in the Venture Podcast with Lambros Photios that after taking the drink back for the interview “one of the things I’m always looking for at the end of the interview is, does the person doing the interview want to take that empty cup back to the kitchen?”

He explained that what “I was trying to find was what was the lowest level task I could find that regardless of what you did inside the organisation was still super important that would actually really drive a culture of ownership.”

He went on to say, “You can develop skills, you can gain knowledge and experience but it really does come down to attitude, and the attitude that we talk a lot about is the concept of ‘wash your own coffee cup’.”

That’s quite a smart move by Mr Innes as he said that attitude was the most important trait he looked for when hiring people.

He said that “Especially in a fast growth company or a start-up environment or scale up environment – you need people with a really strong growth mindset and that comes back to their attitude.”

So, how many interviewees do you think offered to take their cups back?

Perhaps surprisingly, the number of people who offered to take their cup back to the kitchen was pretty high. According to Mr Innes only 5 to 10 per cent of the interviewees didn’t offer to return their empty coffee cup back to the kitchen.

So there you go. If you’re attending an interview and you go to the kitchen with the boss to get a drink, it’s probably a good idea to offer to take the cup back.

Was this an Innocent transaction by Coke?

“Smoothie drinks” have become very fashionable over recent years.

Smoothies are drinks made out of crushed fruit and are seen as a healthy alternative to carbonated drinks such as Coke or Pepsi.

Perhaps the most famous smoothie manufacturer in the UK is Innocent Smoothies. The business was set up in 1999 by three friends who famously gave up their jobs to start the business after they invested £500 on fruit and turned it into smoothies and sold them at a music festival. The business has grown since then and been a true success story.

The brand has a “quirky, playful” image as well as promoting itself to be ethically aware (it donates 10% of its profits to charity).

So, what has Coca-Cola got to do with all of this?

Porter’s 5 Forces strategy model is well known to students of professional exams.

If a 5 forces analysis is done on for example the traditional Coca-Cola carbonated drink then a substitute product would be a smoothie. There is a general trend in a lot of countries towards healthier living and the threat of a substitute product such as a smoothie could be seen as a threat.

In 2009 Coca-Cola bought an 18% stake in Innocent for £30 million and then in the following year increased its shareholding to 58% for a reported £65 million. They then increased their shareholding to over 90% for an undisclosed sum. From a Porter’s 5 forces point of view this is a good move as it means that one of the substitute products is now within the Coke family.

There has been a fair amount of discussion since the aquisition about whether Innocent is still the ethical likeable  “under dog” that it was given that it is now part of one of the biggest companies in the world.

One thing is for sure though and whilst it was certainly an Innocent transaction it was also definitely a well thought out strategic acquisition.

A great recovery

We’ve all made mistakes but the key thing is how you recover from those mistakes. ASOS, the global internet clothing company recently made a mistake but recovered from it really well.

ASOS is an incredibly successful company. They sell over 80,000 products on their website and last year had over 15 million active customers and sales of nearly £2 billion.

One thing they are not that good at though is using the spell check function as they printed 17,000 packaging bags with the slogan “discover fashion online” spelt using “onilne” instead of “online”.

Now, what would you have done in that situation?

Would you have ignored it and hoped that no one noticed or cared about it?

Would you have scrapped the bags?

ASOS did neither of those and recovered brilliantly by tweeting:

“Ok, so we *may* have printed 17,000 bags with a typo. We’re calling it a limited edition”.

So, depending on how you look at it you’ve either got a bag with a typo on it or a limited edition collector’s item.

A brilliant recovery by ASOS. Turning a typo into some great publicity.

An unexpected ending…

A lot of you may have been on business trips but I bet your trip wasn’t as exciting (and tragic) as this gentlemen’s trip was.

What was also surprising was that his employer was found liable for his death as it was classified as an industrial accident.

The exact cause of death was a cardiac arrest whilst he was having sex with a stranger he had met on the business trip.

Now, whilst having a heart attack during sex with a stranger probably wouldn’t meet most people’s definition of an “industrial accident” a French court found otherwise. The court stated that the employer was responsible for any accident occurring during a business trip and ruled that his family were entitled to compensation.

The man who died on the job, named as Xavier X, was working as an engineer for TSO, a railway services company based near Paris and his employer had perhaps quite reasonably argued that he was not carrying out professional duties when he got into an extra marital relationship with a total stranger in his hotel room.

This opinion though wasn’t accepted by the court and they upheld the view that sexual activity was normal, “like taking a shower or a meal”.

As a result of it being classified as a normal activity on a business trip, the death was considered to be an industrial accident and under French law, partners or children of industrial accident victims receive up to 80 per cent of their salary until what would have been the person’s retirement age, with pension contributions paid from then on.

He won’t be scratching the surface on this one.

A good friend of mine collect labels from beer bottles. As he travels around the world on holiday or business he collect labels from bottles of the local beer.

I think it’s a nice idea as it is a unique souvenir of where he’s visited, it’s relatively cheap and perhaps most importantly it gives him a great excuse to try out some local beers.

Things may be about to become more difficult for him though as a number of beer producers seem to be changing their marketing mix to save money and (some would argue) make the bottles look more fashionable.

As a lot of readers will appreciate, the marketing mix is also known as the 4Ps (Product, Price, Place, Promotion). If you look at the product component of the mix then not only does it include the beer itself but it also includes the packaging. This packaging in turn includes bottles (both glass and plastic) as well as cans.

Drinking some bottles of beer during a recent evening out with friends at a restaurant got the accountant in me thinking about what it costs to create the bottle that holds the beer.

Well if you think about it the raw materials that go into the bottle are glass (for the bottle) and metal (for the top) together with paper and glue for the label.

How can you reduce the cost of the packaging?

Can you reduce the quantity or quality of the glass? This would be tricky as the bottle could break.

What about the top? Again, this is awkward as you don’t want the beer to suddenly start leaking from the top of the bottle.

That leaves the paper and glue for the label and what a number of manufacturers now appear to be doing is producing bottles without the main label on it but instead embossing the name of the beer on the bottle itself (no additional material costs) and having the only label as a small paper “collar” around the neck of the bottle. An example of such a bottle can be seen in the image above from the successful Fosters Beer adverts in the UK.

Reducing the label size seems to make sense for bottles of beer that are sold in restaurants. After all, the label on the bottle has little impact on the purchasing decision when a person is looking at the menu or asking the waiter or waitress what beer they have. They may even know what beer they want already or can’t see the bottle anyway so the bottle wouldn’t impact on their decision.

It seems a good idea therefore for the beer companies to save money by removing the labels. Even though the paper used by one label is quite small, if you multiply that by the thousands of bottles which are sold around the world every day it could turn into a very significant saving.

What is interesting though is that if you go into a shop or supermarket that is selling beer, you will see bottles which have larger more “attention grabbing” labels on them. As people are wandering through the supermarket aisles they haven’t necessarily made up their mind whether they want to purchase a bottle of beer or if they have, what particular beer they want so having a big label which will grab their attention is a good thing.

In summary then it appears that two out of three people are happy. The accountant in the beer company is happy as production costs have been reduced due to reducing the labelling on the restaurant bottles. The marketing person is happy as he or she can use their skills on the design and thought process behind the labelling for bottles that are sold in supermarkets.

As for my friend that collect the beer bottle labels well my guess is that he may soon be unhappy as instead of trying to peel off the labels from the bottles whilst sat at a restaurant table he’s having to try to do that at the supermarket…

Is the joke on Volkswagen?

The German carmaker Volkswagen said “we regret if it appeared to some that we overshot the mark of this campaign.”

The campaign involved announcing that it would change its name in North America from Volkswagen to “Voltswagen” as a reflection of its commitment to an electric car future.

The market was impressed by the news and the share price of the company shot up by 5%.

One of the leading newspapers in the UK, the Guardian wrote that “For 65 years, Volkswagen has been one of the most popular names in American motoring, its VW Beetle snaring generations of enthusiasts and selling millions of vehicles. But now, in North America at least, the Volkswagen brand is no more.”

Wall Street analysts provided guidance about the company’s strategic direction. Wedbush analyst Dan Ives was reported as saying to investors that the name change “underscores VW’s clear commitment to its EV [Electric Vehicle] brand”

The problem with the announcement though was that it was a joke.

An April Fool’s joke to be exact.

A lot of people were unhappy about the announcement.

After all, April Fool’s jokes tend to have a short life span being announced on the morning of 1 April and then revealed as a joke later that day.

Volkswagen took it a step further though.

They ran the news for several days in the run up to 1 April.

The campaign could get the company into trouble with the US Securities and Exchange Commission who are likely to look as the stunt in case it is seen as an attempt to manipulate the company’s stock price.

Volkswagen said in a statement to CNN that “It is a publicity measure in the context of the market launch of the ID.4 and the e-mobility push in the USA.”

Diversity champion leaves…

If you are the diversity champion of an organisation with approximately 20,000 employees it’s probably best if you’re not bullying staff.

Deloitte’s (now ex) deputy chief executive and diversity champion Dimple Agarwal has resigned from her role after allegations of bullying by her were received from several staff members.

The British newspaper, the Telegraph first reported Ms Agarwal was facing multiple complaints from staff over inappropriate working practices.

Distressed staff alleged she was aggressive towards them on calls and in emails as well as demanding they work long hours including joining calls before dawn and late at night.

Before her resignation, Ms Agarwal had said that the physical and mental wellbeing of the firm’s employees during lockdown is a priority for Deloitte.

Deloitte UK boss Richard Houston reportedly said “I cannot comment on any of the allegations contained in the article. But, as I have consistently made clear, I’m absolutely committed to ensuring that everyone in our firm is treated with respect, and I will not tolerate behaviours or actions that are inconsistent with our global shared values.”

Ms Agarwal isn’t the only senior executive from the Big 4 to leave due to some awkward behaviour.

Last month, the UK chair of KPMG resigned from his role after telling staff to “stop moaning” about their working conditions during the pandemic and claiming unconscious bias was “complete crap”.

I’m not kicking a ball, I’m being looked at.

Professional footballers must have a great life. Playing football and earning significant amounts of money. Oh, and using some very clever tax advisers…

There are serious amounts of money being paid to some of the top footballers. Payments of in excess of £200,000 per week are fairly common (over £10 million per year).

This income doesn’t simply go into the tax return as salary. No, there are far more sneaky/clever [delete as you feel appropriate] ways of minimising the tax liability (or should I say maximising the after-tax income).

One of the methods used to minimise the tax is to make two types of payments to the player.

One would be for playing football whilst the other would be for “image rights”.

“What are image rights?” I hear you say.

Well, the basic idea is that the player would agree to let the football club use his image in any sponsorship or TV deals that the club has.

Without going into too much technical detail, the key difference from a tax point of view is that the payments made to the player for playing football would be classified as employment income and would be taxed at 45%.

Payments for image rights on the other hand would in effect be rental payments for an intangible asset. Players would assign their image rights to a company (where they could be the 100% shareholder) and the company would only pay corporation tax of 19% on the income.

With the globalisation of the Premier League, there are now numerous players who are not tax domiciled in the UK and if their image rights were channelled through a non-UK company they could potentially escape tax altogether.

Given the size of the payments involved there’s a lot of tax at stake and no doubt the tax authorities will be looking closely at these schemes.

In the meantime, most of the readers of this blog are not professional footballers but instead undertake far more interesting finance and accounting activities in an office. Why not suggest to your boss at your next pay review that you’d like image rights instead of a pay rise so that you can receive more tax advantageous rental income from an intangible asset via your personal company…