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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…

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”…

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…

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…

There’s a 90% chance…

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There’s been a significant reduction in the use of cash during the pandemic. A lot of shops now only accept card payments so that they minimise the handling of cash which could potentially be carrying the Covid-19 virus.

Even before Covid-19 reduced the use of cash though there was one cash note that you were very unlikely to see unless you were involved in some unscrupulous behaviour.

The UK doesn’t officially use the Euro, though there are a small number of shops that choose to accept it voluntarily, and normally at a rather unattractive rate of exchange.

One Euro note that you won’t find however is the €500 note. This rare beast of considerable value used to be fairly commonly seen in countries such as Germany, where it was culturally normal to pay for even large purchases in cash.

The other place that it’s found is in the hands of criminals and money launderers.

Proceeds from serious crime (e.g. people trafficking) are not much use unless they can get into the banking system and from there used to buy nice things like expensive cars and villas in some nice, warm place. Getting dirty money into the apparently clean banking system often involves having a “friendly” bank somewhere that will turn a blind eye to where the funds are coming from.

This does, however, give a logistical challenge to the UK based serious criminal. If one wishes to transport £500,000 from London to a “friendly” bank abroad, it’s necessary to fly and go through pesky things like X-ray machines and customs declarations. Airport security staff are trained to spot the metal strips in bank notes in X-ray machines and alert police to what is likely to be proceeds of crime being moved. The logic is that if the flow of money out can be stopped, the flow of illicit activity in will also dry up.

Enter the €500 note. This wee beast is compact enough that €20,000 can be rolled into the inside of a cigarette packet, which conveniently is wrapped in metal, thus becoming invisible on X-ray machines. It’s about 20 times more compact than the £20 bank note.

The UK government estimated that a full 90% of €500 notes in the UK were used to service serious crime. A number of years ago they changed the law so that the €500 note can no longer legally be sold in Britain.

If you happen to find a cigarette pack full of €500 notes then the good news is that although the European Central Bank stopped production of new €500 notes back in 2019 any circulating €500 notes remain legal tender.

The bad news I guess though is that whoever the cigarette packet belonged to may well come looking for you.

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.

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…

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…

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.

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.

Should you employ good looking people?

Should you employ good-looking people or not so good-looking people?

Whilst the obvious answer would appear to be that it doesn’t matter what a person looks like as long as they can do their job properly, researchers in Japan have found out that the attractiveness of an employee can have an impact on the sales of a business.

Interestingly though, it’s probably not the correlation most people would think applies.

Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong studied retail sales in shops and found that the more attractive the shop assistants of the opposite sex were, the lower the sales were. The researchers found that male shoppers were less likely to go into the shop if the more attractive woman in the research study was serving.

Even if they entered the shop with the attractive shop assistant in it, only 40% of them bought something. This compared to 56% who purchased something when a less attractive assistant was serving.

Lisa Wan of the University said “attractive service providers can lead consumers to become self-conscious or embarrassed. This is especially true when the provider is of the opposite sex. Even when the attractive salesperson is the same sex, consumers may feel a sense of inadequacy through self-comparison.

In either case, the shopper may avoid interacting with physically attractive providers, rendering the salespeople ineffective”.

It’s worth mentioning though that the scientists undertaking the research were monitoring a shop selling figures from Japanese comics and the male shoppers were obsessed with computers.

“Male shoppers obsessed with computers” – surely they would only notice the female shop assistant if she was holding a computer?

Zooming in…

At the start of the year zoom calls were relatively uncommon. Now though, with the global pandemic, they are a common feature of business life for most of us.

Whilst some people will creatively claim that their video isn’t working so that they can scroll through their phone whilst half listening to the meeting, most people will have their video on so that the rest of the people in the meeting can see them.

This has had a bit of an impact on fashion. After all, if the lower half of you isn’t being seen why worry too much about what shoes or trousers/skirt you’re wearing.

The London and Milan fashion weeks which took place last month had a definite “waist-up” focus.

For example, the leading fashion house Prada had its logo near the collars of its top. Prada reportedly said that this was not inspired by zoom but rather by the “contemporary human relationship with technology”.

As anyone who has met me will confirm, I’m clearly not an expert on fashion but the cynic in me feels that some people who spend a lot of money on designer clothes will want other people to know what brand of clothes they are wearing.

What better way of highlighting your expensive clothes on a zoom call than to have the logo just below the collar. A clever move by Prada

Other changes which have been reported in women’s fashion recently include an increase in the popularity of jewellery whilst sales of handbags and shoes have fallen.

In summary therefore, it’s important how you look on a zoom call but only if it’s visible…

Out of this world advertising…

Getting professional photos taken for advertising can be expensive but this particular photo shoot for Estee Lauder is expensive.

Very expensive in fact.

4 hours of photography will cost USD 128,000.

That certainly is expensive for 4 hours of work but to be fair it’s a very unusual photoshoot as it will take place inside the International Space Station and the photographers will be the astronauts.

In what will be a first for advertising, Nasa is charging Estee Lauder USD128,000 for Nasa astronauts to take photos and to film some shots of Estee Lauder’s Advanced Night Repair serum face cream in various locations around the space station.

The total fee includes the astronauts’ time at USD17,500 per hour (which is a pretty impressive charge out rate!).

A Nasa spokeswoman said that Estée Lauder was “paying for the astronauts to be the photographer, not to use the product, not to put the product on themselves, not even to open the product”.

Estee Lauder obviously think that the advertising will pay off but some people will no doubt argue that the cost of such photoshoots ultimately has to be recovered by the company and the way they do that is in the price of their products.

The counter argument to this though is that it’s more than just being about the photos in the adverts. The general publicity that Estee Lauder will get from being the first cosmetics business to have their products in space will also be valuable for the company.

A bitter coffee taste…

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

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

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

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

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

Over in China, one coffee chain has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Luckin Coffee was only set up 3 years ago but had lofty ambitions.

They described themselves as “a pioneer of a technology-driven new retail model to provide coffee and other products of high quality, high affordability, and high convenience to customers” and had vowed to overtake Starbucks as China’s biggest coffee chain.

They grew quickly.

Very quickly in fact as within 3 years they had 4,500 outlets around China.

They were also one of the small number of Chinese organisations to quote their shares on the US Nasdaq market.

Things weren’t all they were made out to be though as in April their shares were suspended on the Nasdaq market after the company revealed that they had uncovered $310 million in fake transactions.

It appears that some people in the organisation were so keen for the growth of the company to continue that they created fake sales so as to give the impression that their revenue was growing quicker than it was in reality.

The company announced the discovery and warned the market that investors could no longer rely on previous financial statements that showed rapid growth.

The ongoing financial investigation by the company has resulted in the chief executive and the chief operating officer being fired yesterday and six other employers have been suspended whilst investigations continue.

The shares are currently suspended on the Nasdaq.

KPMG partners cheated in exams.

Ethics are pretty important if you’re a partner in an accounting firm. Unfortunately for these guys though they weren’t the most ethical of people as they were involved in cheating in exams.

The cheating was uncovered by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) in the US. They were initially investigating claims that KPMG had altered previously completed audit work after receiving stolen information about what inspections would be conducted by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

During that investigation however they also found that numerous KPMG audit professionals cheated on internal training exams by sharing answers.

Cheating at exams by sharing answers? Surely that would be a junior member?

Actually, no.

The key people involved were (now former) KPMG audit partners.

The investigation stated that former partners Timothy Daly, Michael Bellach, and John Donovan were involved in the cheating.

They had obtained images of questions and answers to the tests from subordinates and then shared them with members of their team.

The tests which were taking place were in connection with ensuring that KPMG audit staff understood certain accounting and auditing principles.

KPMG themselves became aware of potential cheating on the exams and began an investigation. They sent a document preservation notice to all KPMG staff (this basically means not to delete or destroy any potential evidence).

The ex-partners however ignored this preservation notice. They deleted various text messages and denied any wrongdoing to KPMG investigators.

KPMG were obviously not happy with the situation when the truth emerged and the partners soon became ex-partners of KPMG.

The three individuals were also suspended from appearing or practicing as an accountant before the SEC (although they can apply for reinstatement in the future).

KPMG had a pretty bad time of it last year in terms of the stolen PCAOB information and the exam cheating and had to pay a penalty of $50 million.

Steven Peikin, co-director of the SEC’s division of enforcement, said: “Audit professionals play a critical role in the integrity of the financial reporting process and the protection of investors. These actions reflect our commitment to hold these gatekeepers responsible for breaches of their professional obligations.”

A KPMG spokesperson said “We are a stronger firm as a result of the actions we are taking to strengthen our culture, governance and compliance program.”

How much for a speech?

The salary of Boris Johnson, the current UK prime minister is just over £150,000. I’m sure that most Prime Minsters don’t do the job for the money but there can be some pretty significant financial benefits when they move on from being the prime minister.

As the PM, Mr Johnson can’t do any other work whilst in his job but other MPs can. Theresa May was Boris Johnson’s predecessor but now is back to being a standard MP.

According to the government’s register of interests though she’s doing quite nicely on the financial side of things.

PwC for example paid Mrs May in January to do a speech. The total time involved including preparation and travel was 12 hours.

So, how much do you think PwC paid Mrs May for this?

Go on, have a guess.

She received approximately £96,000 for the speech.

Now, that’s not bad for 12 hours work.

As well as receiving £96,000 from PwC she also received money from other organisations for speeches delivered during the first quarter of 2020. These were:

Approximately £115,000 from Dubai Women Establishment for a speech in February (19 hours, including preparation and travel).

Approximately £115,000 from the Structured Finance Association for a speech in February (25 hours, including preparation and travel).

Approximately £115,000 from Brown University, Rhode Island, USA. (14 hours, including preparation and travel).

Approximately £115,000 from Trinity University, Texas, USA. (14 hours, including preparation and travel).

Over £500,000 for 5 speeches in 3 months.

Not bad work if you can get it.

According to a statement by Mrs May in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, these payments “are made to the Office of Theresa May Limited and used to pay employees, maintain my ongoing involvement in public life and support my charitable work.”

KPMG fined £700,000.

KPMG in the UK has been fined by the Financial Reporting Council for what only can be described as pretty poor auditing.

The situation behind the fine involves professional scepticism, or to be more precise, a lack of professional scepticism.

Professional standards define professional scepticism as “an attitude that includes a questioning mind, being alert to conditions that may indicate possible misstatement due to fraud or error, and a critical assessment of audit evidence.”

Or to put into simple words, to question and challenge what the client is saying and not to simply accept what they are saying at face value.

KPMG were fined £700,000 (which was reduced to £455,000 for early settlement) and reprimanded former senior partner for Manchester, Nicola Quayle for a “failure to apply sufficient professional scepticism”. Nicola was also fined £45,000 (reduced to £29,250 for early settlement).

The reason for the fine was because the FRC held that KPMG had failed to obtain and document sufficient audit evidence in relation to supplier-funded rebates.

These were “complex supplier arrangements” and KPMG should have been on alert to pay particular attention to “these types of complex supplier arrangements.”

Claudia Mortimore, deputy executive counsel to the FRC, said: “This is a measured and proportionate package of sanctions, which balances on the one hand the limited nature of the breaches, which did not call into question the truth or fairness of the financial statements, with the fact that auditors should have been on alert to pay particular attention to these types of complex supplier arrangements. Professional scepticism remains at the core of an auditor’s duty and the FRC will take appropriate action where it has been lacking, as in this case.”

This event took place back in the 2015/16 financial year and KPMG in the UK released a statement saying:

“We regret that specific aspects of our audit of this company for the 2015/2016 financial year did not meet the required standards.

As the FRC makes clear, there is no question as to the truth and fairness of the financial statements. Audit quality is of paramount importance to our firm and we have updated our audit processes and procedures to address the areas of concern.”

Would the real Hugo Boss please stand up?

Joe Lycett is a British comedian. In fact, I should say that Joe Lycett used to be a comedian because although the person still exists his name doesn’t.

This sounds all very confusing and also, what has it got to do with the leading fashion house, Hugo Boss?

Like most large companies around the world, Hugo Boss defends it’s name when it feels other businesses are using similar names which could cause confusion in the eyes of the consumer.

If for example you decided to set up a clothing brand called “Hugo Bass” I’m pretty sure Hugo Boss would take legal action against you.

Hugo Boss was involved in a high-profile case involving a brewery in Wales called Boss Brewing and in particular two of the beers that it made called Boss Boss and Boss Black.

Hugo Boss took legal action against Boss Brewery but it was held that there was no need for the Brewery to change it’s name.

That was all very well for the Brewery but it cost them a significant amount of money in legal fees to defend the issue in court and for a small business that was challenging.

Joe Lycett wasn’t happy about this and decided to legally change his name as a protest.

His new name is… yes, you guessed it… Hugo Boss.

He tweeted a picture of the official confirmation of his name change and wrote

“So @HUGOBOSS (who turnover approx $2.7 billion a year) have sent cease & desist letters to a number of small businesses & charities who use the word ‘BOSS’ or similar, including a small brewery in Swansea costing them thousands in legal fees and rebranding.

It’s clear that @HUGOBOSS HATES people using their name.

Unfortunately for them this week I legally changed my name by deed poll and I am now officially known as Hugo Boss.

All future statements from me are not from Joe Lycett but from Hugo Boss. Enjoy.”

In what could have been a bit of bad PR for Hugo Boss (the company), they responded well to the new Hugo Boss (formerly Joe Lycett).

They released a statement saying: “We welcome the comedian formerly known as Joe Lycett as a member of the HUGO BOSS family.

As he will know, as a ‘well-known’ trademark (as opposed to a ‘regular’ trademark) HUGO BOSS enjoys increased protection not only against trademarks for similar goods, but also for dissimilar goods across all product categories for our brands and trademarks BOSS and BOSS Black and their associated visual appearance.

Following the application by Boss Brewing to register a trademark similar to our ‘well-known’ trademark, we approached them to prevent potential misunderstanding regarding the brands BOSS and BOSS Black, which were being used to market beer and items of clothing.

Both parties worked constructively to find a solution, which allows Boss Brewing the continued use of its name and all of its products, other than two beers (BOSS BLACK and BOSS BOSS) where a slight change of the name was agreed upon.

As an open-minded company we would like to clarify that we do not oppose the free use of language in any way and we accept the generic term ‘boss’ and its various and frequent uses in different languages.”

Fancy working for the Queen?

I’m not sure where you work or what your office is like but my guess is that it’s not as historic as where you would work if you were successful in applying for this job.

The Royal Family has advertised for a new Management Accountant to look after the “Privy Purse” (the British sovereign’s private income). The job is based at Buckingham Palace.

Candidates for the job need to be qualified and should have “outstanding problem-solving skills”. They will need to produce management information and financial accounts and the advert promises that “no two days will be the same and the deadlines we work to will stretch you. Yet in all that you do, you’ll rise to the challenge and deliver faultless accuracy and a first-class service to this unique organisation”.

It’s not just a solid knowledge of figures that they require as the advert goes on to say that candidates need to demonstrate that they are “as good with people as you are with numbers, which is crucial given the customer focussed nature of this role”.

Now let’s get down to the exciting part and how much are they prepared to pay for this position?

According to leading recruiter Robert Half, the average salary for a Management Accountant in London is currently £58,100.

The salary that is being offered for the Royal job is £40,000.

Ericsson fined $1 billion for bribery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can’t McFlurry Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just to be a bit different I’ll eat…

What do you fancy for lunch today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re fired…

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latest split showed the 18% of departures as:

Planned – 12.0%

Forced – 3.6%

M&A – 2.0%

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, a pretty poor performance…

Dog seized to pay tax bill…

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

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

An unnamed lady was behind in paying her taxes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We wish Edda well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this for real?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you drink this coffee?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you better looking than your boss?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A €40,000 pudding…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Causing a bit of a stink…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Court found that there was no bullying.

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

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

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

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

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

Free ACCA Study Materials

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

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

In fact, 350,000 thank you’s!

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

Free ACCA Study Resources

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

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

An awkward mistake.

Have you ever sent an email to the wrong person by mistake? What about posting something on social media which, with hindsight you’d wished you hadn’t?

We all make mistakes and it’s not the end of the world but I’ve got a feeling that Magnús Örn Hákonarson will be remembering his recent mistake for a while to come.

Magnús is in charge of his employer’s social media activities and recently what was supposed to be a private message was posted on his employer’s Facebook page.

Magnus works for The Landsbjargar’s Accident Investigation Company in Iceland and he accidentally posted an invite to a party to all the followers of the company. To add to the excitement, this wasn’t a normal party but was an invite to all the followers to take part in a bondage party with a fetish dress code.

The invitation highlighted the dress code as fetish or alternative and included information about safe words, leather masks and whips. Members of the BDSM society Magnus was a member of were able to buy the tickets for 1,000 ISK (£7) whilst non-members had to pay 3,000 ISK (£21).

As soon as he realised his mistake he removed the party invitation from the company’s Facebook page.

Whether or not his colleagues knew about his hobby is by the by. They certainly do now and the nice thing about it is that his employers realised it was a genuine mistake and have been very supportive.

Given his interest in BDSM he might have been slightly disappointed that he wasn’t punished but instead his employers issued a statement saying “There are many people with different backgrounds and interests within the volunteer group. People are engaged in all kinds of sports and hobbies and the rescue team’s board of directors will not distinguish these interests, as long as they are legal.”

All in all, nothing to beat yourself up about.

Room for improvement at the Big 4…

Oh dear. It certainly wasn’t a great performance by the Big 4 when it came to their annual inspections by the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) in the UK.

The quality of the audits performed had decreased and for KPMG in particular, according to the FRC “there has been an unacceptable deterioration in quality”.

The FRC is an independent body who check the quality of the audits undertaken by the 8 largest firms in the UK. Think of it as “auditing the auditors”.

They rate the quality of the audits undertaken using the following scale:

• Good (category 1)
• Limited improvements required (category 2A)
• Improvements required (category 2B)
• Significant improvements required (category 3)

Overall results from the most recent FRC inspections during 2017/18 show that 72% of audits required no more than limited improvements (compared to 78% in 2016/17). Or to put it another way, 28% of the audits reviewed required improvements (category 2B) or significant improvements (category 3).

For KPMG though things were particularly bad. When the FRC looked at their audits within the FTSE 350 (the largest 350 companies on the London stock exchange), they found that 50% required MORE than just limited improvements (compared to 35% in the previous year).

If you take a step back then this really isn’t very good is it. If you went to a restaurant where 50% of the meals served required more than limited improvements you’d be unlikely to go back to that restaurant again and I’m sure that restaurant wouldn’t be in business for much longer.

KPMG are going to face increased scrutiny by the FRC in the next round of inspections. 25% more KPMG audits will be examined over the 2018/19 cycle of work and the implementation of their Audit Quality Plan will be closely monitored.

So what went wrong?

The FRC noted that there were a number of factors. These included a failure to challenge management and show appropriate scepticism across their audits.

Stephen Haddrill, CEO of the FRC, said “At a time when public trust in business and in audit is in the spotlight, the Big 4 must improve the quality of their audits and do so quickly. They must address urgently several factors that are vital to audit, including the level of challenge and scepticism by auditors, in particular in their bank audits. We also expect improvements in group audits and in the audit of pension balances. Firms must strenuously renew their efforts to improve audit quality to meet the legitimate expectation of investors and other stakeholders.”

Whilst the level of quality found within the Big 4 audits fell, the performance of the mid tier companies improved. The FRC inspections on BDO, GT, Mazars and Moore Stephens showed general improvements in the quality of inspected audits.

The FRC’s Audit Quality Review is explained in more detail here and if you’re interested in reading the reports on the individual firms they can be found on the following links:

BDO LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Deloitte LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Ernst & Young LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Grant Thornton LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

KPMG LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Mazars LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

Moore Stephens LLP Public Report 2017/18 (PDF)

PwC LLP Public Reporting 2017/18 (PDF)

Grab your goat and let’s go…

Creativity and innovation in any organisation should always be welcome and whilst technology is often at the forefront of innovation it is sometimes the really simple ideas that can create benefits.

Unfortunately, in this particular situation it didn’t quite go according to plan.

The initial idea was good. Officials in charge of the 1,200 acre Minto-Brown Island Park in Oregon in America were concerned that several invasive plants were taking over the park and killing off a number of the native flora including maple and hazelnut trees.

The solution put forward was to create a crack team of 75 goats who would eat the invasive plants such as the Armenian blackberry and the English Ivy which would then mean that the native flora would thrive.

75 goats were duly obtained from a company called Yoder Goat Rentals (as an interesting aside I wonder how many of you were aware that you could rent a team of goats. I certainly wasn’t.)

The goats got down to work but 6 weeks later the project was cancelled.

There were a number of issues.

Firstly, the goats were fairly relaxed about what they ate. In terms of the invasive Armenian blackberry for example they decided to eat the tasty blackberry leaves but left the prickly bramble. This resulted in the plant carrying on growing.

Secondly, they didn’t show any distinction between the (tasty) maple and hazelnut trees which they were supposed to be helping and the invasive plants.

Thirdly, the total cost of the 6-week pilot programme was $20,719 which was nearly 5 times the $4,245 cost for a normal parks maintenance man supported by a prison inmate work crew.

Finally, according to a report to the city council the goats “had a barnyard aroma”.

In summary, a nice try but it didn’t quite work. Still, as any successful business person will surely agree, you don’t progress unless you try. Better luck next time and at least the goats had a nice 6-week holiday in a lovely park…

EY confirm the women were real

Some of you may have heard of the website Ashley Madison.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Ashley Madison, it’s a website where married people can register to meet other married people without their respective husband or wife knowing and then have an affair.

In fact, some of you may be registered members of the site (this does raise the question that if you are a registered member of Ashley Madison and are reading this business blog then at the moment you are finding business stories more interesting than having an affair so well done on that).

Ignoring the rights or wrongs of a website facilitating affairs, Ashley Madison has had an up and down ride over recent years.

Back in 2015, they were hacked. As a result the personal details of their users were leaked and there were a lot of users. When I say “a lot”, there were 32 million users.

The situation got worse for Ashley Madison though.

As well as their systems being hacked and details of who had signed up being leaked, it turned out that the vast majority of users were men and of the women who had signed up a significant proportion were Bots (i.e. a piece of software) or prostitutes.

All in all, not great selling points when trying to encourage new members.

In an attempt to build up trust (if trust is a relevant word for people looking for affairs that is…), Ashley Madison commissioned Ernst & Young to cast an eye over the membership data and see if it stood up to scrutiny.

There were some interesting results including the fact that 15,542 new members signed up each day in 2017 (that’s nearly half a million new users per month).

There were also more active women on the site than men. Globally, the ratio of active males to active females was 1 to 1.13 but there were variations on a regional basis ranging from Australia where the male to female ratio was 1 to 0.78 and Columbia where the ratio was 1 to 2.39.

Ernst & Young also reported that “The Client had used Bot programs to generate message activity with paying customers in prior years. The Bot programs were decommissioned in 2015 and our procedures related to calendar 2017 found no evidence that the use of Bot programs previously operated had been reinstated.”

So, in theory the registrations are human and there’s no danger of falling in love with a bot.

The full Ernst & Young report can be found at www.ashleymadison.com/2017report but I would be careful as if you’re viewing this on a computer at home and your husband or wife finds you’ve been visiting ashleymadison.com then there could be some difficult questions to answer.

Then again, if you start typing in the website and your web browser recognises it from a previous visit to that site then maybe…

Nicely said Mr Musk

We’ve all been there haven’t we? Long boring meetings that don’t seem to be going anywhere.

Maybe you’ve tried to give the impression of being interested in what was being said but in reality the meeting wasn’t relevant for you and your mind was wandering to other more interesting things.

Well, if you’re not a great lover of excessive meetings then you are not alone. In fact, you share the thoughts of an incredibly successful and admired business person. Namely, Elon Musk.

Mr Musk’s current business interests include Tesla and SpaceX.

In the past he founded x.com which later became PayPal. Paypal was subsequently bought by eBay for $1.5 billion.

He currently has a net worth in excess of $20 billion.

But what does he think about meetings?

In an email to his staff that was leaked to the electrek website there were a few productivity recommendations:

In the words of Mr Musk, these include:

– Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

– Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.

– Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time.

– Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.

– Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the “chain of command”. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.

– A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.

– In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a “company rule” is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.

Nicely said Mr Musk.

She did what for a living?

Businesses can pay significant amounts of money for celebrities to endorse their products.

For example, the American singer and actress Selena Gomez is reportedly paid USD 550,000 per post that she promotes to her 133 million Instagram followers. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese footballer on the other hand “only” receives USD 400,000 per promoted post to his 120 million followers.

But not everyone is happy for famous people to be associated with a product.

Charles de Cazanove is a Champagne house that was founded by Charles de Bigault de Cazanove way back in 1811.

The Cazanove brand is now owned by the GH Martel Group and they have launched their latest Champagne vintage in a promotion with Clara Morgane. The champagne is imaginatively called “Le Champagne by Clara Morgane” and sells for €50 a bottle.

So, do you know who Clara Morgan is?

If you don’t and you’re a lady then ask your husband or boyfriend if he knows who Clara Morgan is.

If he does know who she is then there is probably another question you should ask him as Ms Morgan is famous as an adult movie actress.

Although Ms Morgan now performs with her clothes on (she’s a singer), it’s not good enough for a descendant of the founder of the Cazanove brand.

Count Loic Chiroussot de Bigault de Cazanove, who apart from needing a very long business card, isn’t happy that his family’s name is being associated with an adult movie star.

He reportedly said that “I am truly shocked. It’s simply scandalous. How could anyone associate the name of my illustrious family to that of Clara Morgane? It’s inconceivable.”

Although the family sold the brand back in 1958, the Count has been reportedly getting lawyers to try to remove his family’s name from the Clara Morgane vintage.

Either way, with all this publicity I’m sure the GH Martel Group are drinking to the success…

How much do Big 4 partners get paid?

KPMG UK released their results last month for their most recent accounting period and they showed a fall of 10% in pay for the KPMG partners when compared to the previous year.

Although the firm’s revenue rose by 5% to £2.2 billion, it’s profit fell to £301 million.

The firm wrote off a number of technology investments.

KPMG, like the rest of the Big 4, have invested heavily in technology companies in an attempt to stay at the forefront of technology.

Unfortunately for KPMG, not all of their investments were successful. Bill Michael, the Chairman of KPMG, highlighted one investment that hadn’t done so well – KPMG had committed £3 million to Flexeye, a tech company that analyses large amounts of data and it hadn’t proved to be the wisest investment.

Whilst profits fell, it hasn’t all been bad news for KPMG as their audit practice grew by 10%.

Back to the average pay of the KPMG partners though and although their average pay fell by 10% I’m sure that the partners will still be able to afford to buy a sandwich for lunch.

The average pay for the KPMG partners was £519,000 each.

That’s not too bad is it?

But how does it compare with the average pay from the partners of the remaining Big 4.

The most recent reported results show the following average pay per partner:

Deloitte – £865,000

EY – £677,000

pwc – £652,000

It looks like Deloitte partners will be having the more expensive sandwiches for lunch.

It’s the language of…

Language schools are big business. Research from the British Council predicts that more than 1.9 billion people will be actively learning English around the world by 2020. That’s a lot of people but will a recent bit of technology result in a change in the number of people learning another language?

A small US start-up company has recently launched a translation earphone.

Waverly Labs has introduced technology that may be the first step in making the need to learn another language redundant in years to come.

They have launched a translation device which is similar to a wireless earpiece. The earpiece is linked to an app on a mobile phone and when one person speaks in for example French the words are processed by software so that the words are played back in the earpiece in another language such as English. The impressive thing is that the translation is in real time with only a few seconds lag.

The first batch of headsets will support English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish languages.

More languages are expected to be rolled out soon.

Whilst there are already translation devices on mobile phones such as Google Translate, the Waverly Labs product is the first that offers a discreet earpiece to translate so that a face to face conversation can be held without having to look at your mobile phone to understand what is being said.

The earpieces can be pre-ordered for $249 and could well be the first step in terms of making face to face communication between different languages a lot easier.

All in all, very nice.

Or should I say, très agréable, sehr schön, molto bella, muito agradável, muy agradable.