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Cash is king but jewellery looks nicer…

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

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

As a result, along came cash.

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

Since then things have developed.

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

The Bank of England introduced printed cheques in 1717.

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

Online banking was launched in the late 1990s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laziness and intelligence.

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

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

Is it such a bad thing to be lazy though?

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

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

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

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

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

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…

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…

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…

Does this help you concentrate?

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

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

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

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

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

Now, where could we find such a place?

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

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

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

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

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

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…

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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)

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…

1-0 to the Premier League

If you’re a premier league footballer it’s kind of obvious that you’re going to make a lot of money.

Deloitte, the Big 4 accounting company, prepare annual reviews of the Premier League’s finances and has just released some figures from the 2016/17 season.

In total, Premier League footballers took home £2.5bn in wages. This was the highest figure on record and showed an increase of 9% on the previous season.

The increase in wages though was quite a bit lower than the increase in the clubs’ revenue.

Total revenue increased by nearly £1bn to £4.5bn in the 2016/17 season and this was also a new record.

Although revenue increased by a higher percentage than wages, the proportion of revenue spent on wages is still pretty significant with the wage to revenue ratio being 55%.

Collective pre-tax profit was also a new record high being £0.5bn. This was almost three times the previous record of £0.2bn from back in 2013/14.

Deloitte partner Dan Jones said “As predicted last year, the Premier League’s three year broadcast deals which came into effect in the 2016/17 season helped drive revenue to record levels.

“Despite wages increasing by 9% to £2.5bn, this increase is nowhere near the level of revenue growth noted. This relative restraint from Premier League clubs reflects both the extent of their financial advantage over other leagues and the impact of domestic and European cost control measures.”

The financial success was spread across all clubs with all 20 Premier League teams making an operating profit.

Deloitte’s full report on the Premier Leagues finances will be available in June.

Can you trust an accountant?

That’s an interesting question and I’m sure that along with most other professions there are people you can trust and people you can’t trust.

If I asked the question about trusting accountants to the rock band Deep Purple though I’m pretty sure what answer I’d get.

Dipak Shanker Rao looked after the accounts of Deep Purple for more than 20 years.

In fact, to be fair when I said that he “looked after” the accounts maybe I should have said that he siphoned off more than £2 million of the band’s money without their permission.

Mr Rao has admitted “borrowing” at least £2.27 million from two of the companies within the Deep Purple empire. HEC Enterprises and Deep Purple (Overseas) owned the copyright to a lot of the band’s songs but the companies went into receivership in 2016.

Out of the £2.27 million borrowed by Rao, only £477,000 has been recovered. Ian Gillan, Ian Paice and Roger Glover (members of the band) are suing Mr Rao for up to £4 million.

In the meantime, Mr Rao has been struck off as an accountant and banned from managing or controlling a company until 2028.

One of Deep Purple’s most famous songs is called “Mistreated” and I’m sure that they feel that way at the moment…

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.

KPMG fires unethical partners

Picture the scene – you’re the senior auditing partner of KPMG in America with more than 30 years of experience serving some of KPMG’s most prestigious clients. There are over 9,000 KPMG people in the US who look up to you as the boss.

You receive some leaked information about which of your audits the US audit watchdog is going to examine as part of their annual inspection of how well KPMG perform audits.

Do you:

(a) Disclose this unethical breach immediately, or

(b) Try to keep things quiet and make sure that the audit files of the audits selected are perfect?

Unfortunately for Scott Marcello, the (now ex) head of KPMG’s audit practice in America, he didn’t choose option (a).

The background to the issue is that every year the US audit regulator, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) selects a sample of audits to inspect and ensure they have been performed properly.

A former employee of the PCAOB had joined KPMG. A friend of his who was still working at the PCAOB tipped him off about which audits would be selected for inspection this year.

The confidential information was then passed up the KPMG hierarchy until it reached Mr Marcello.

We can only guess what Mr Marcello and 4 other KPMG partners were planning on doing with the leaked information but one thing was for sure and that was they didn’t disclose the leak.

Whilst the 5 partners clearly weren’t very ethical, KPMG as an organisation acted quickly once they found out about it.

The 5 partners were fired and Lynne Doughtie, the chairwoman and chief executive of KPMG was quoted as saying “KPMG has zero tolerance for such unethical behaviour. Quality and integrity are the cornerstone of all we do and that includes operating with the utmost respect and regard for the regulatory process. We are taking additional steps to ensure that such a situation should not happen again”.

The PCOAB publish the results of their inspections and the previous results of the KPMG inspections perhaps give a reason for why Mr Marcello was keen for any help, whether it was ethical or unethical.

In 2014 and 2015, KPMG had more deficiencies in their audits than any of the other Big 4 in America.

38% of their inspected audits in 2015 were found to be deficient whilst in 2014, 54% were found to be deficient.

Goodbye tax advisors?

Do you know anyone who works in tax?

If by any chance you are in Australia then if I ask you this question in 5 years’ time, as a result of Ailira the answer may well be “no, as no-one works in tax”.

“Who is Ailira?” I hear you say.

Ailira is the brainchild of Adelaide based tax lawyer Adrian Cartland and stands for “Artificially Intelligent Legal Information Resource Assistant”.

Mr Cartland created Ailira to help people with their tax affairs and believes that she could eventually replace human tax agents.

He told the Australian Business Review that “Your tax agents will probably be gone within five years”.

What was interesting was that although to a certain extent Ailira functions like a search engine, you can ask it tax questions in the same way that you would ask a person who works in tax.

Mr Cartland said that “The one thing we had difficulty with is that people are so used to doing keyword searches that they struggle to ask a question as you would to another human.

“So we did some upgrades of Ailira’s interface to encourage people to treat Ailira like a human, more in plain English.”

That’s an interesting phase “plain English” as anyone who has worked in tax or studied tax will appreciate that it’s not always possible to explain tax in plain English as the tax laws can be pretty complex.

Still, good luck to Mr Cartland and importantly, good luck to Ailira who by the sound of things may well be doing a lot of work in the future.

It’s maturing nicely…

“Don’t worry, it’s secured with cheese” isn’t the most common phrase you hear when discussing the bond markets but a €6 million bond issue may well change that.

When a company issues a bond, the investor is lending money to that company in exchange for the bond. When the bond matures the company will repay the money that was lent (together with interest).

If you put yourself in the shoes of the investor, then what type of company would you invest in?

The chances are that you would be looking for large, well established and financially secure companies to invest in. That means that smaller companies generally find it challenging to raise funds via bonds.

An Italian cheese manufacturer has found a novel way around this problem.

4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia is a relatively small Modena based cooperative firm which produces 75,000 wheels of Parmigiano cheese annually (nearly 2% of the world production of the famous cheese). It has issued a €6 million bond offering an annual yield of 5% with the capital being repaid in 5 annual amounts starting in 2018 and ending in 2022. The funds raised will be used to support their commercial expansion plans.

The interesting thing about the bond issue though is that it is secured by Parmigiano cheese worth 120% of the bond value. This means that if the company fails to repay the money the investors can get Parmigiano cheese from the company.

€7.2 million worth of cheese – that’s a lot of cheese! Let’s hope the bond matures nicely without any problems.

A good excuse to buy another handbag?

How much do the Louis Vuitton handbags cost?

A lot is the simple answer but some recent research by Deloitte’s has shown that the price of luxury items varies significantly around the world and foreign exchange movements play a big part in that valuation.

According to Deloitte, in US dollar terms London is now the “cheapest” city to buy designer and luxury goods.

Since the Brexit vote in June, at the time of writing the pound has fallen by more than 17% against the dollar (i.e. you need 17% more pounds now to buy the same amount of dollars you would have received back in June).

According to the research, on 7 October a Speedy 30 handbag from Louis Vuitton costs £645 ($802) in London, €760 ($850) in Paris and $970 in New York. China was the most expensive place to buy it with the handbag costing 7,450 Yuan ($1,115).

Nick Pope, fashion and luxury lead at Deloitte, told the BBC that “the trend in luxury pricing in the UK is being driven mainly by the depression on the sterling – thus making the same item more affordable in the UK than in any other luxury market”.

Of course, if your income is in British pounds then the cost to buy the handbag in London remains the same. If however your income is in another currency such as US dollars then it is $313 cheaper to buy in London than in China for example. If you are stocking up on your luxury handbags should you be planning a trip to the UK?

It’s not just the ladies from outside the UK who are buying luxury handbags who could be benefiting from the exchange rate movement.

Any male readers may be interested to know that a Brunello Cucinelli cashmere V-neck sweater now “only” costs £650 ($843) in the UK compared with $942 in France and $995 in the US.

$843 for a sweater?

Please form an orderly queue as you rush to the shops to buy one. Or maybe two…

It’s a dog’s life…

Greece has had a bad time of it over the last couple of years in terms of their finances but a recent announcement by their Finance Ministry may result in animals coming to the rescue.

When I say animals, I should be more specific and say that dogs will be helping out and not just any dogs but dogs who can sniff out money.

Let me explain a bit.

It’s been well documented that Greece has had a few financial problems. There were fears that they would crash out of the euro. Capital controls followed and there was a new international bailout for the country.

As a result, a lot of the Greek population perhaps understandably didn’t feel that confident in trusting the banks to look after their cash and a significant amount of money is being held outside of banks.

From November 2014 to July 2015 over 50 billion euros was withdrawn from the banks and It’s been estimated that between 15 to 20 billion euros is still being held by Greeks outside of the banking system.

That’s a lot of mattresses to be storing cash under and people are looking at avoiding capital controls and instead take the money out of the country without the authorities knowing.

Taking a suitcase of cash out of the country is seen as a safe option for a lot of people.

So, where do the dogs come in?

Well, a recent posting on a government website said that a team would be put together to assess tenders for the provision of dogs whose job is to detect cash. The dogs would be in place to sniff out significant amounts of cash being taken out of the country at border points.

Given all the money problems in Greece, one big advantage of this plan is that the dogs won’t be paid in cash. Instead, they will be more than happy to be rewarded with a biscuit or two…

You can’t read this book…

Everyone seems to be on their smartphone or tablet at the moment. After all, when was the last time you read a book? Or let me ask you a slightly different question, when was the last time you coloured in a colouring book?

“Coloured in a colouring book!? I’m not a child”, I hear you say but whilst most people will come to the conclusion that the last time they coloured in a colouring book was when they were a young child, things may be changing.

One of the latest crazes doing the rounds in the UK at the moment is adult colouring books where grown men and women are buying adult colouring books to colour in. A quick Google search of “adult colouring books” will reveal the vast variety of such type of books (as an aside make sure you include the word “colouring” when searching for adult colouring books otherwise you may get an unexpected search result).

It’s been reported that more than 3 million adult colouring books were sold in the UK last year which represented over £20 million worth of revenue for the publishing industry.

Now, whilst certain trendy people may well be rushing to buy colouring books, the tax authorities in the UK are also getting interested in the trend.

The reason behind the tax authorities interest is that colouring books are currently treated as children’s books and as such are zero rated for VAT purposes (in other words VAT is not charged on the books).

The tax authorities are currently in talks with publishers about plans to classify adult colouring books as uncompleted books which would then make them liable to VAT at 20% in the same way that diaries and notepads are.

The net result is that if the tax authorities do reclassify the adult colouring books then either the books will become 20% more expensive for the individual purchasers or if they remain at the same published price, the publishers will have to take the hit.

More expensive adult colouring books? It’s enough to make you throw your toys out of the cot.

Who audits the auditors?

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has just published its audit quality inspection reports for the 6 largest auditing companies in the UK. The job of the FRC’s Audit Quality Review (AQR) team is to monitor the quality of the audit work of those UK audit firms that audit public interest and large entities.

The AQR team have been busy over the last year and have now released lengthy reports for BDO, Deloitte, EY, Grant Thornton, KPMG and PwC.

Overall, the quality of the audits has improved during the last year with the number of audits that required “significant improvements” dropping from 10 to 2 for the Big 4. There were no audits that required significant improvements at BDO or Grant Thornton.

Unfortunately for KPMG though, they were the company that undertook the two audits that were highlighted by the FRC as needing significant improvements.

The FRC reviewed 22 KPMG audits and out of those there were 2 that required significant improvements.

The first one involved a change of systems and a 3rd party IT provider. The FRC identified that the KPMG audit team did not “design and perform procedures to obtain sufficient audit evidence in response to the migration risk”.

In the second audit where there were problems the FRC highlighted that insufficient audit work had been performed in relation to revenue and inventory.

Details of the scope of the reviews can be found here and are the full reports on the individual companies are on the following links:

BDO
Deloitte
EY
Grant Thornton
KPMG
PwC

Would you buy a bottle of whisky or invest in a bottle of whisky?

Buying whisky or investing in whisky – that’s an interesting question and my guess is that most people who buy whisky are planning on gently pouring it into a glass and maybe adding some ice or a mixer before settling back to savour the flavour (before possibly waking up the next day with a headache…)

But should you be buying whisky as an investment rather than as a consumable item?

Most people are aware of the leading share indexes around the world such as the FTSE 100 and the S&P 500 (which show the index for the largest 100 and 500 companies quoted on the London and New York stock exchanges respectively) but there are also a number of other indexes out there.

These indexes measure movements and one of the more interesting ones is the Rare Whisky Apex 1000 which measures the price movement for rare scotch whisky.

It’s a significant market and last year there were rare whiskies sold at auction in the UK amounting to £9.6 million.

There was also a strong demand for rare whisky in Asia. In August last year a bottle of 1960 Japanese Karuizawa whisky was sold for over £80,000 which is a pretty significant figure for a bottle of whisky!

Back to the indexes though and the performance of the rare whisky index last year was impressive. It grew by 14%. Other indexes in comparison performed as follows in 2015:

FTSE 100 – down by 4.9%
S&P 500 – up by 0.7%
Gold index – fell by 10%.

So the increase in the Whisky index of 14% looks very good when compared to the major indexes but I guess there could be one problem.

Namely, if you’ve had a bit too much to drink and are looking for something to finish the evening off you’re more likely to drink some of your whisky investment than consume some of your share or gold investment.

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…

Let’s not run this up the flag pole…

Most of us have been there. Sat in a meeting when somebody decides to use “management speak” or “corporate jargon” to make something sound more impressive than it is.

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “think outside the box” but what about “let’s not boil the ocean”?

Michael Sugden, chief executive of the advertising agency VCCP, recently put together a list of the most irritating metaphors used in the corporate world.

He wrote in Marketing Magazine that the increased use of corporate jargon in recent years has resulted in meetings degenerating “into a quagmire of nonsensical verbal piffle”.

He put together his top 10 of the most annoying phrases and in reverse order the results are shown below.

Oh and in case you’re “not singing off the same hymn sheet” I’ve translated the “management speak” into English in the italics below the phrase.

10. Think outside the box
– come up with new ideas…

9. I may have a window for you
– I can see you on…

8. Content is king
–  first used by Bill Gates in 1996 to indicate that content would drive the success of the internet. It now appears to be used for random purposes in meetings…

7. Let’s not boil the ocean
– let’s not make this too complicated…

6. Level playing field
– keep things equal…

5. Let’s workshop this
– let’s spend far too long talking about this in a meeting…

4. Shift the dial
– to be honest I’m not 100% sure but possibly means talk about something else. Either way it sounds very dramatic in a meeting…

3. Let’s socialise this
– let’s talk about this…

2. Fail forward
– when something doesn’t work but we try to learn from it (if we still have a job after the error of course…)

1. Growth hacking
– again, I don’t think anyone is 100% sure what it means but it does sound very impressive…

So, there you go. A list of 10 phrases to [impress / annoy – delete according to how you feel about the phrases] your colleagues at meetings.

Surely this is genuine?

How do you feel when you return to the office after a holiday?

Do you feel refreshed and raring to go?

Or are you at the other extreme and cannot stand being back at work and are just a whisper away from handing in your notice…

My guess is that a lot of you are somewhere in between. It’s nice to be back at work but if we’re honest an extra week of holiday would be quite nice.

If you could do with an extra week’s holiday then you are not alone.

One reddit user recently posted an excellent attempt at securing an extra week’s holiday. Whilst the culprit wasn’t trying to get an extra week away from the office. I think we can all learn something from her determination.

The reddit user who posted the image above explained that her “daughter got the mail today (it’s Sunday), apparently they have another week off school”.

A quick audit review of the evidence suggests a few problems.

First of all, it was delivered on a Sunday when there wasn’t a postal delivery. Secondly, “break” was spelt incorrectly.

But that’s only two inaccuracies I hear you say. What about the details that appear to indicate it’s a genuine letter?

For example, the information was written with a black pen whilst the signature was signed with a blue pen. Surely this indicates it’s genuine?

For me, the thing which convinces me that it is a real letter from the little girl’s school is that it has an official stamp on the letter indicating that it’s a genuine official letter from the school and the girl should be entitled to an extra week’s holiday.

Ok, so the stamp is of a pink princess but surely that would pass the audit review test?

Is it a good idea to unfriend a colleague?

Are you Facebook friends with a colleague at work? Have you ever been tempted to unfriend them?

Whilst unfriending someone on Facebook only involves a simple click, the Fair Work Commission (an employment tribunal) in Australia has found that unfriending a colleague on Facebook was workplace bullying.

Rachel Roberts worked at the Australian estate agent View and alleged that the firm’s owner and his wife had subjected her to workplace bullying on 18 separate occasions.

Rachel Roberts argued that amongst other things James and Lisa Bird deliberately left her work unprocessed for more than a week and refused to showcase her properties in the business’s front window.

Perhaps the most interesting allegation though was that after a meeting between Ms Roberts and Mrs Bird where Mrs Bird described Ms Roberts as “a naughty little schoolgirl running to the teacher,” Ms Roberts tried to leave the room but was initially prevented from leaving by Mrs Bird standing in front of the door.

She eventually managed to leave the room and was sat in her car in a “very distressed state” when it occurred to her that Mrs Bird may make a Facebook comment about the incident.

Miss Roberts went on to Facebook to check for any comments but found that she had… (wait for the drama to unfold)… been unfriended by Mrs Bird.

Yes, shock of all shocks but she had been unfriended on Facebook…

Now, whilst a lot of you may well be thinking that being unfriended on Facebook isn’t a major deal, the Fair Work Commission specifically cited the Facebook unfriending in its decision, saying that it evidenced “a lack of emotional maturity and is indicative of unreasonable behaviour.”

Now, before everyone starts worrying about which colleagues they are friends with on Facebook and whether or not they should unfriend them, it’s worth noting that the Facebook unfriending incident in this situation was one of 8 occasions when it was considered to be “unreasonable behaviour”. In other words, it’s unlikely that unfriending someone in isolation would be considered to be bullying.

Improving productivity or big brother surveillance?

Is this a clever way to improve productivity or a big brother surveillance system creeping into corporate life?

Humanyze, a technology company, produces devices which monitor the activity of employees and one of the more well known companies that has used it recently is Deloitte in Canada where volunteers in their St John’s, Newfoundland office wore the devices which are like oversized ID cards.

According to Humanyze their “social sensing platform” uses a variety of sensors and is capable of capturing face-to-face interactions, extracting social signals from speech and body movement, and measuring the proximity and relative location of users.

They combine these with other data sources such as electronic communications, objective productivity metrics, and spatial analysis to provide insights on how complex work gets done in the modern organization.

CBC Canada reported that the Deloitte team in Newfoundland were changing from a traditional cubicle office layout to an open concept space and the Humanyze badges were used to measure how well employees were performing in the new layout.

The participation by the Deloitte staff was optional and they were provided with contracts that made them the owners of the data.

All the information was collected anonymously and the employees were given personalised dashboards that showed their performance benchmarked against their colleagues.

Silvia Gonzalez-Zamora, an analytics leader at Deloitte said that “The minute that you get the report that you’re not speaking enough and that you don’t show leadership, immediately, the next day, you change your behaviour. It’s powerful to see how people want to display better behaviours or the behaviours that you’re moving them towards.”

So, is this a clever use of technology or the first step towards big brother monitoring?

Either way, I guess it may help identify the office winner of the “who spends the most time in the toilet award”…

Is it a load of bear or a load of bull?

The major stock markets around the world have had a rough ride this last week. The drop in share prices has been driven by the heavy falls on the Chinese stock market. At the time of writing the Shanghai Composite index (a stock market index of all stocks that are traded at the Shanghai Stock Exchange) has fallen by nearly 16% over the last week.

If you read the financial press words such as “bear market”, “bull market” and “correction” are being used a lot.

What do these phrases mean and where do they come from?

A bear market is where share prices are falling and is commonly regarded as coming into existence when share indexes have fallen by 20% or more. A market correction is similar to a bear market but not as bad (a market correction is where there is a fall of 10% from a market’s peak).

A bull market on the other hand is where share prices are increasing.

So, where do the phrases bear market and bull market come from?

There are two main views on the origin of these terms.

The first view is based on the methods with which the two animals attack. A bear for example will swipe downwards on its target whilst a bull will thrust upwards with its horns. A bear market therefore is a downwards market with declining prices whilst a bull market is the opposite with rising prices.

The second view on the origin is based around the “short selling” of bearskins several hundred years ago by traders. Traders would sell bearskins before they actually owned them in the hope that the prices would fall by the time they bought them from the hunters and then transferred them to their customers. These traders became known as bears and the term stuck for a downwards market. Due to the once-popular blood sport of bull and bear fights, a bull was considered to be the opposite of a bear so the term bull market was born.

Whatever the actual origin of the terms though I’m sure most people will be hoping for a bull market rather than a bear market.

They are outside but still inside.

You don’t have to be working inside a company to be charged with insider dealing.

Insider dealing is where a person uses information which is not in the public domain to make money out of share price movements.

A typical example of insider dealing would be where an individual works for a company whose shares are quoted on a stock exchange. The individual becomes aware that the financial results of the company which are about to be released to the public are better than expected. Before this information is made public though the individual buys shares so that he or she can sell them for a profit when the unexpected good news about the financial results is made public and the share price increases.

In other words, the individual is making a financial gain by “dealing” in shares using information which is “inside” the company and not available outside of the company. Hence the name “insider dealing”.

Insider dealing is illegal and action taken by the authorities against individuals involved in insider dealing is normally taken against employees of the company in question who are undertaking the insider dealing and / or their friends or associates who may have been involved in the insider dealing activities.

Recently though there was an unusual case where it was announced that federal investigators in the US had broken an insider trading gang who had a rather different approach.

Their unusual approach was that rather than working for the organisation who were about to release their results the gang instead hacked into the systems of financial newswire services to get hold of press releases of companies who were about to release their financial results.

The key thing though was that by hacking into the systems of the newswire services they got hold of these press releases before they were made public and used the information in the press release to purchase shares before these shares increased in value once the results were made public by the press release.

This was a pretty sophisticated criminal activity as it was reported that more than 100,000 press releases were stolen and as a result over $100 million of illegal profits were made by the gang.

The gang was said to have been run from Ukraine and 32 people have been charged in connection with the offence.

In conclusion therefore, you can be outside the company and still be charged with insider trading.

Dancing towards a big mistake.

When you’re at work it’s always worth taking a step back and doing a reality check every now and then to check that everything is ok.

Steve Pallet, a Jersey politician is no doubt a busy man but he should have taken a step back to review things a couple of weeks ago.

Earlier this month, in what was probably one of the simpler tasks on his to-do list, he needed to fly from the UK to Bucharest, the capital of Romania to be present at the handover of the Dance World Cup.

This year’s Dance World Cup took place in Bucharest where nearly 3,000 competitors from 32 countries took place in the annual dance event.

Jersey is hosting next year’s Dance World Cup and Mr Pallet was flying to Bucharest to attend the official handover where he was due to make a speech and receive a special flag from his Romanian hosts marking the fact that Jersey will be hosting the next World Cup.

You’re probably thinking that there’s nothing particularly difficult about flying from one country to another to give a short speech, receive a flag, shake a few hands and no doubt have a nice meal and a couple of drinks.

Whilst most people would probably agree with the assumption that it was a fairly simple exercise, Mr Pallet decided to prove everyone wrong. Instead of flying to Bucharest in Romania he flew to Budapest, the capital of Hungary which is about 500 miles (800 km) short of where he should have been.

Mr Pallet only realised his mistake as his plane was coming in to land in Budapest. It was too late for him to arrange transport from Budapest to Bucharest and as a result he was unable to accept the official handover of the World Cup flag.

When the news of his error broke he pointed out that the flight booking had been made by a colleague of his but this isn’t really a particularly good excuse as it was him personally who got on a plane flying to the capital of Hungary expecting to land in Romania.

He did apologise though and said “It is really disappointing, I have to apologise for wasting taxpayers’ money and for letting down the Dance World Cup. I don’t know the exact cost as I’ve still got some figures to come back, but it won’t be less than £1,000. All I can do is apologise for what is a schoolboy error.”

He mentioned it was a “schoolboy error” but given Mr Pallet’s geographical knowledge (or rather, his lack of geographical knowledge), then I guess he probably made plenty of schoolboy errors in his geography lessons at school.

Who audits the auditors?

It’s a great life being an auditor. You visit your clients and can ask as many questions as you like.

After all, your job is to confirm the accounts are showing a “true and fair view” or to be more precise, your job according to “International Standard on Auditing (ISA) 700, Forming an Opinion and Reporting on Financial Statements”, is to “form an opinion on whether the financial statements are prepared, in all material respects, in accordance with the applicable financial reporting framework.”

So, that’s the job of the auditors.

Who checks the quality of the audits though?

In the UK, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) undertakes annual quality inspections of the largest auditing firms in the UK including Deloitte, EY, KPMG, pwc and a number of mid tier firms.

The latest annual report has been released and whilst there has been an improvement in the performance compared to previous years with 67% of all audits inspected in 2014/15 being assessed as either good or only requiring limited improvements, 33% of the audits inspected fell below the highest standards set by the accounting regulator and were classified as either requiring improvements or significant improvements.

Let’s just pause there for a moment.

What this is saying is that one in every three audits undertaken by the leading accounting companies in the UK have been classified as needing improvements or even worse, needing significant improvements.

Three of the more common issues identified in the report were:

  • Insufficient scepticism in challenging the appropriateness of assumptions in key areas of audit judgement such as impairment testing and property valuations.
  • Insufficient or inappropriate procedures being performed. This is common to many areas including revenue recognition.
  • The failure to adequately identify the threats and related safeguards to auditor independence and to appropriately communicate these to audit committees.

The FRC do however appear to be trying to improve things and have introduced various initiatives.

For example, they now “require firms to develop action plans to address the weaknesses identified in individual audit engagements and firm-wide procedures”. In conjunction with the development of these action plans they now require firms to undertake a detailed rootcause analysis of the factors contributing to the issues arising from the inspections and those action plans together with the related analyses will then be subject to follow-up inspections.

A copy of the report can be found here.

The FRC also prepared individual reports for the Big 4 and they can be found on the following links:

Deloitte

EY

KPMG

pwc

Is it clothing or a blanket?

If you’ve just had a baby the concept of taxation is probably one of the last things on your mind but for anyone who has purchased a SnuggleBundl for their baby there is an interesting link to taxation.

blog-Snugglebundl-268x275According to the manufacturers the SnuggleBundl is “the world’s first lifting wrap for babies. This beautiful multi-award winning hooded baby garment ties at the front and the soft, strong handles on this wearable wrap let you lift and lay your baby so gently that they’ll stay sleeping”.

It seems that they have been selling very well and there have no doubt been lots of parents, babies and possibly very small adults who are extremely pleased with the warmth and comfort of the SnuggleBundl.

The tax authorities though had different things on their minds. They were more concerned as to whether the SnuggleBundl was baby clothing or was a blanket.

And the reason the tax authorities were so concerned about the classification was because of?

Well, the reason was all down to VAT. As is the case in a number of countries, the UK tax authorities do not levy VAT on children’s clothes. They do however levy VAT at 20% on blankets.

The tax authorities claimed the product was a blanket whilst the company claimed it was clothing.

The simple difference was that if it was classified as clothing it would be sold for £34.99 whereas if it was classified as a blanket it would be sold for £41.99 (£34.99 plus 20% VAT of £7).

This difference in price would have a major impact on the number of SnuggleBundl’s sold as it’s a big difference for a parent if they have to pay £34.99 or £41.99 for the item.

Given that in both of these cases the company would end up with the same amount of money, it was obvious why the company wanted it to be classified as clothing (if the item was classified as a blanket and sold at £41.99 the £7 VAT would need to be paid over to the tax authorities by the company leaving them with £34.99).

In what no doubt caused a huge sigh of relief the company (plus a few happy gurgles by some babies) the company won the case and the courts found that the product was in fact clothing and not blankets.

The directors of the company can sleep peacefully now…

The Vatican Bank releases their results.

The Institute for Religious Works, or as it’s more commonly known “the Vatican Bank”, has just released its latest set of accounts and they show a sharp increase in profits.

blog-vatican-262x275The bank has just reported net profits of €69.3 million for 2014 which compares very favourably with the corresponding figure of €2.9 million in 2013.

So what has caused the turnaround?

The bank has reported that the improved figures were as a result of a fall in operating expenses together with higher income from trading in securities.

Last year, the management of the bank was replaced as part of a clean up ordered by the Pope to remove corruption in the bank. The reforms also involved the bank bringing in anti-money laundering experts to screen all the accounts to ensure they comply with international laws governing the banking sector and the bank’s new standards for clients. Over 4,000 accounts have now been closed since 2013 and whilst the majority were dormant accounts, 554 accounts were closed because they did not meeting the bank’s new standards.

President of the Board of Superintendence, Jean-Baptiste de Franssu said that “The long-term, strategic plan of the Institute revolves around two key objectives: putting the interests of the clients first by offering appropriate and improved services and by de-risking the activities of the Institute”.

In summary, the bank seems to be doing much better now. If you are interested in opening an account with the bank though it’s worth noting that the use of the bank is limited to clergy, Vatican employees and staff at its embassies. There are now reportedly over 15,000 clients on the banks books.

More details on the Vatican bank’s accounts can be found here.

Should you be able to get this benefit at work?

How much do you get paid? My guess is it’s not as much as the chief executive of WPP.

Sir Martin Sorrell (pictured) is chief executive of the advertising business WPP and his annual pay has just been revealed in the company’s annual report.

blog-sirmartinsorrell4-275x275His total pay was £42.98 million. In case you think that’s a typo – it’s not. He received nearly £43 million in pay.

As well as being the chief executive, Martin Sorrell is the founder of the company.

The company has grown significantly since it was founded in 1985 and it is now quoted and part of the FTSE 100 (the largest 100 companies on the London stock market).

As a result of being quoted there are numerous corporate governance requirements which need to take place. One of these is the disclosure of the directors’ remuneration policy in the published accounts. 

Following the publishing of his remuneration package in the accounts it became apparent that one element of his package was very unusual.

Included within his remuneration package of $43 million is a payment to him in respect of his wife’s travel expenses. Now his wife’s travel expenses which were paid by his employer were pretty significant and definitely amounted to more than the occasional taxi journey. In fact, they amounted to £274,000!

That’s not a bad amount for travel expenses is it?

So, should you suggest to your boss at your next salary review that you should receive a travel allowance for your husband or wife?

My guess is that if you do, the response to your request would be fairly brief and probably include a rude word or two…

Dividends – do you want them in cash or clothes?

Despite being one of the best known names on the retail market, Marks & Spencer is unusual.

Finland - M&S Helsinki Event Zone 3M&S is unusual in that it has got a very high proportion of individual shareholders.

Whilst a lot of other companies have major corporate shareholders such as pension and investment funds, M&S has over 190,000 private investors who between them hold 30% of the shares.

M&S has just announced an extremely novel idea involving these individual shareholders and their next dividend payment. The individual shareholders will be offered the chance to exchange their dividends for M&S vouchers at a 10% discount. In other words, they can exchange a dividend of £900 for M&S vouchers of £1,000.

That’s a very nice idea.

It’s optional and not compulsory so if individual shareholders still want to receive the dividend in cash they can.

Shareholders however who are interested in buying items from M&S get more for their money and from M&S’s point of view, given that their gross profit margin is more than 10%, they will still be making a profit on items that they sell to holders of these vouchers.

All in all a very innovative idea which works well for all parties.

Will we see this idea spreading to other companies when considering their dividend payments?

Probably not a good idea to do this before an interview.

Interviews can be stressful occasions. The best you can do though is to be as prepared as possible, be confident and answer questions as well as you can.

Unfortunately for this particular individual though, no matter how well he performed in the interview he was never going to get the job.

tube stationMatt Buckland was on the tube in London heading to the office. Anyone that has been on the tube in rush hour will know that it gets very crowded but generally people can get in and out of the train without too much drama.

Matt got to his station and was waiting for the doors to open to get off the train when a gentleman behind him started pushing and trying to get past him.

Matt politely told the other individual that he was getting off at that station but the other guy just ignored him, pushed him out of the way and then turned to him and rather aggressively told him to, how can I say it, but perform an act on himself which as far as my understanding of biology goes would be physically impossible.

Anyway, the grumpy individual carried on his way and Matt headed into the office where he was due to interview some people for a job.

In a fantastic coincidence, one of the people that Matt was interviewing that day was the grumpy guy who had told him to “go forth and multiply with himself” on the tube.

Brilliant! A rude person pushes past you and swears at you but you then meet them again a short while later to decide whether or not they should be offered a job at the company you work for.

Needless to say the individual didn’t get the job and as a learning point from this it’s best not to be rude to too many people on the way to an interview.

Would you like to do this at lunchtime?

What do you normally do at lunchtime?

Do you grab a bite to eat and head back to your desk to continue working (or at least pretend to work whilst playing on the internet)?

cat in the officeDo you grab some fresh air outside the office to recharge your batteries?

A recent initiative between the app based taxi service Uber and an animal rescue organisation has resulted in what I think would be a fantastic way to spend your lunch break and also to recharge your batteries.

You can get a kitten delivered to your office for 15 minutes between midday and 4 pm.

Yes, a real live cute fluffy kitten!

What a great way to de-stress the office – adorable kittens arrive for 15 minutes of playtime in the office.

The kitten visit costs approximately £20 and they can be ordered vie Uber’s app. All the proceeds go to the animal rescue centre.

Everyone here in the office was getting excited when they heard the news but sadly the service isn’t currently available in the UK (at the moment it is only available in Australia and America).

I think it’s a brilliant idea though – it can help de-stress the office, the cat’s rescue centre gets additional revenue and if you happen to fall in love with the kitten the kitten may well find it’s new “forever home” rather than have to stay at the cat’s rescue centre.

It also has an added benefit if you happen to dislike a colleague in your office who is allergic to cats…