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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…

I never emailed you…

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

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

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

The fraud itself is fairly simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nice snappy idea…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing up for productivity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you do this with your job?

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Verison a typical day for Bob was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile I’m off to watch some cat videos…

Don’t put your foot in it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The security is a shoe.

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

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

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

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…

Diversity champion leaves…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 3 person honeymoon and Belbin team roles…

Picture the scene. It’s the first night of your honeymoon. You’ve just married a beautiful Italian Signorina called Marianna. You’re Italian and Italian men have a reputation for being some of the most romantic men in the world.

Now, even though some may say this reputation has largely been self created, there are still certain things you should do on your honeymoon and certain things you should definitely not do on your honeymoon.

Due to Italian privacy laws the individuals concerned can only be identified by their Christian names but what did Stefano do on his honeymoon that led to his new wife divorcing him one month into their marriage?

From a project management point of view there are various tools and techniques that can be used to ensure a project runs smoothly. One of these is to ensure that the team is made up of the right type of person as well as the appropriate number of people.

A well known theory behind what makes a good team is Belbin’s team role models.

In simple terms, Belbin’s theory says that people are born with certain characteristics. Belbin gave names to the different types of people. For example, a “plant” is a person that likes to come up with ideas and is usually quite creative. A “Monitor Evaluator” is somebody with a logical eye who can make impartial judgements.

Back to the one month marriage though and Stefano decided that rather than the traditional 2 person project team that goes on the majority of honeymoons he would make his a 3 person team.

To his wife’s understandable annoyance, Stefano’s 3 person honeymoon team included himself, his new wife and his mother.

The project team first started showing signs of a split when the mother-in-law turned up at the airport for the flight to the honeymoon destination of Paris.

A honeymoon in Paris sounds great until you realise that your mother-in-law is staying in an adjoining room at the hotel you’re staying at and accompanying you to every meal and romantic boat trip along the Seine.

One month after the wedding and Marianna left the marriage home they shared in Rome and returned to her home town of Naples leaving the 39 year old Stefano without a wife.

Maybe Marianna is more of a Belbin’s “Completer Finisher” than Stefan and his mum may have thought.

Who are you sat next to?

If you’re in the office at the moment take a look at the person next to you. Would you say that he or she is a “good worker” or a “toxic neighbour”?

A recent bit of research by economists from Harvard Business School has shed some light on the type of person you should be sitting next to.

If you’re an “average worker” and you sit next to a hard working and diligent person then your performance is likely to improve.

Unfortunately though the opposite is true and if you’re an average person who sits next to somebody who isn’t very good at their job then that badly performing person could well take you down to their level.

The researchers studied data from seating plans and reports from over 2,000 employees. The performance of these employees was rated based on the time they spent to complete a task as well as quality and effectiveness. Their efficiency was based on how often they had to ask for help.

One of the interesting bits of the research was finding out whether when a person sat next to a high performing individual that person’s performance improved because they learnt from the better performing individual or they were inspired by him or her.

When the research team split these people back up again the average worker’s performance reverted back to the average level rather than stay at the high performing level. This implied that the improvement was not due to learning new skills but instead was due to being inspired by the good worker.

When it comes to sitting next to a “toxic employee” who doesn’t perform, the bad news is that the negativity rubs off on the good employee almost immediately.

So it may well be worth trying to sit next to the stars of the office rather than the toxic ones

A quick word of warning though and if the person you sit next to has recently asked their boss to move away from you asap then the chances are that you aren’t the star of the office but instead are…

A bitter coffee taste…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They grew quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The shares are currently suspended on the Nasdaq.

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.

Working from home?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

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

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

Or does it involve chocolate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When is an ice cream not an ice cream?

It sounds like the start of a riddle but there’s an important underlying message. Namely, organisations should be monitoring the environment they are operating in to see if any changes could be impacting on their business.

A classic model for analysing the impact the external environment can have on an organisation is the PESTEL model. Those of you that are thinking of studying for your professional exams will possibly be thinking that it stands for Parties, Eating, Sleeping, Talking, Entertaining and Laughing but if you’ve passed your exams then you are probably more comfortable with the fact that it stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal.

Whilst all the components of this model can be important, one area which is particularly topical is the “social” component.

Within the social component one change which a lot of countries are currently seeing is people’s increased health awareness and the increase in demand for vegetarian (no meat) and vegan (no meat or dairy) food.

Ben & Jerry’s is one of the world’s leading ice cream companies and they no doubt have a very sophisticated approach to monitoring the environment. One of the more impressive things they’ve done over the last couple of years is to launch some new products which will appeal to the vegan market.

If you are a vegan, then you don’t eat meat or dairy products and whilst you are unlikely to find an ice cream made out of chicken you are extremely likely to find an ice cream made out of milk.

Ben & Jerry’s though have nicely got around this problem by launching a number of flavours of vegan ice cream.

“How can they be vegan if they are ice cream?” I hear you say.

Well, the vegan ice creams are made with almond milk as opposed to dairy milk. Now technically that means they are frozen desserts and not ice cream but I can’t see any vegan being particularly upset about that.

The non dairy range has recently expanded in the UK and Ben & Jerry’s have just launched their first coconut flavoured vegan ice cream.

It’s called “Coconutterly Caramel’d” and blends coconut-flavoured ice cream with ribbons of caramel, Fair Trade chocolate, and cookies.

“Coconut ice cream, caramel, chocolate and cookies” – I don’t know about you but just reading that description makes me feel peckish.

(Un) Happy Christmas Mr Orangutan

Advertising can have a dramatic impact on what people buy and in countries which celebrate Christmas, one of the busiest buying seasons is upon us.

It’s traditional in the run up to Christmas in the UK for the big retailers to release a major TV advert. The retailer John Lewis for example has released it’s Christmas advert staring Elton John (who reportedly received a fee of £5 million for his input).

For me though the clear winner in the Christmas adverts is the “Rang tang” advert by the supermarket chain Iceland.

The advert was originally produced by the global charity Greenpeace and highlights the destruction of the rainforest caused by the production of palm oil (palm oil is found in many everyday products ranging from food staples such as bread to cosmetics).

The companies that produce palm oil are cutting down vast amounts of trees and as a result the Orangutan apes are really suffering. In simple terms, their homes are being destroyed and they are dying as they have nowhere to live.

Iceland spent £500,000 on putting the advertising campaign together and have pledged to remove palm oil from all their own brand products.

The advert, which was voiced over by actress Emma Thompson, has run into some problems with Clearcast, the body which approves or rejects television adverts in the UK. They have ruled that it is too political and as a result it has been banned from being shown on television.

The good news for this advert though is that Clearcast don’t regulate social media and the advert has been a hit on Facebook and YouTube.

At the time of writing, the advert had been viewed over 5 million times on YouTube.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d urge you to watch it below as it’s a great advert which raises awareness of an important global issue.

An awkward mistake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in all, nothing to beat yourself up about.

PwC, a Bishop and a thief…

What do you do if you work for PwC and you’re due to be promoted to a partner in October?

Well, if you’re Max Livingstone-Learmonth the answer is to catch a suspected handbag thief.

Now, this in itself is admirable but Mr Livingstone-Learmonth did it in style as he was actually dressed as a bishop.

“A future partner of PwC dressed as a bishop?” I hear you ask.

Although it may sound strange that he was dressed as a bishop, he was in fact in fancy dress as he was part of a charity world record attempt for the longest non-stop relay.

He was running as part of the I Move London Relay. This involved 2,500 runners taking it in turns to carry a relay baton over a combined distance of 4,000 miles by running 10km and 5km loops continuously over 30 days and nights in central London.

Mr Livingstone-Learmonth was part of the team of runners and according to London’s Evening Standard newspaper, he saw a woman chasing a man who had reportedly taken her bag. He then sprinted 100 metres to her rescue and caught up with the thief keeping him pinned to the wall until the police arrived.

He told the newspaper that “I’m not religious but it does feel a bit like divine intervention that I was there”.

He went on to explain that “A guy shouted, ‘stop that man’, and it was just pure instinct to run after him. I caught up to him and pinned him to a wall with my crosier.”

“I said, ‘It’s not your day if you’ve been run down by a bishop’,” he added.

So, well done to the future partner but one thing is even more impressive – during the struggle he kept hold of the relay baton. If he had dropped it the Guinness World Record attempt would have been jeopardised as it would not have been a complete relay.

Nice work Mr Livingstone-Learmonth.

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)

This is shocking…

A lot of our readers are accountants or are training to be accountants. It should arguably follow therefore that you are good with figures. You are good with numbers and can manage your finances.

Not everyone though may be as good at managing their own personal finances and for any of you who may have problems controlling your spending, a new product will shortly be hitting the market which could be of interest to you.

A British company by the name of Intelligent Environments has developed a wristband that will deliver an electric shock to the wearer when they exceed pre-set spending limits.

The Pavlok wristband links to an individual’s online bank account and when a pre-set limit is exceeded a 255-volt electric charge is delivered to the wearer. The wristband is named after the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov whose research showed that the behaviour of dogs could be altered by the prospect of reward or punishment.

Submitting yourself to an electric shock to stop yourself spending money does seem a bit extreme and with a cost of £120 then the buyer may well end up having an electric shock earlier than anticipated…

Nicely said Mr Musk

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what does he think about meetings?

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

In the words of Mr Musk, these include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicely said Mr Musk.

More Change Please

Homelessness is a growing problem in a lot of countries but coffee company “Change Please” has come up with a brilliant business model that could help.

They’ve brought together the problem of homelessness with people’s love of coffee and have created a radically different coffee company that is now looking to expand around the globe.

Their whole focus is on helping people whilst at the same time providing an excellent cup of coffee to the end customer at a fair market price.

When it comes to suppliers, the coffee beans they use are from farms that support local communities. For example, one of their suppliers from Peru helps victims of domestic abuse and a supplier from Tanzania helps people injured by landmines.

Once the coffee beans arrive in the UK, the people who roast them and serve them are people who have been homeless and sleeping on the streets. They are trained as baristas and work at one of the company’s locations. They are paid the Living Wage of £10.20 per hour and are given help in terms of opening bank accounts and finding housing.

Whilst the big coffee chains such as Starbucks and Costa Coffee are discussing introducing recyclable cups, Change Please has beaten them to it as all of their cups are 100% recyclable.

All profits are being invested in helping reduce the level of homelessness.

Things are going well for the organisation and they are planning on expanding the number of locations they operate from in the UK. They are also in talks to open in Australia and America with the same ethos of helping homeless people get back on their feet via a well and truly ethical cup of coffee.

They have also signed agreements with 2 big supermarkets, Sainsburys and Ocado, to stock packets of Change Please coffee beans.

It’s a common sound on the streets of cities in the UK to hear people asking if you have any “Change please”. With this fantastic business model for a coffee company, hopefully it will soon be a common sight to see the request for “Change please” replaced by coffee outlets called “Change Please”.

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…

Not the brightest fraudster

There are clever frauds and there are not so clever frauds.

Both are morally wrong but this gentleman’s attempt at fraud clearly showed that he wasn’t the brightest individual. It’s also resulted in him receiving an 8 year jail sentence.

Mohammed Shareef from Harrow in the UK ran a number of ice-cream shops and thought that an easy way to fraudulently obtain money was via his VAT affairs.

If somebody is registered for VAT they have to charge VAT on their sales but they can offset any VAT on eligible expenses. If the VAT on their sales is greater than the VAT on their purchases, they pay the balance to the tax authorities. If VAT on their sales is less than the VAT on their purchases, they can reclaim the excess VAT suffered from the tax authorities.

This is where Mr Shareef’s grand plan originated.

His plan was to submit false VAT repayment claims and to do so he needed some false VAT expenses.

Mr Shareef’s plan went to his head though as instead of small amounts, he submitted false VAT repayment claims amounting to £1,669,463 over a number of years.

These claims came to the attention of the authorities and they investigated the expenses. They found that Mr Shareef clearly didn’t have the greatest criminal mind in history.

Ignoring the shops he actually owned, he instead submitted invoices for shops that didn’t even exist.

He also claimed he had no knowledge of certain documents but they were all found on his computer and investigators proved he was the author of the documents.

He also created fake bank statements but these statements were obviously fake as they had spelling errors in them. He also had fake 2012 statements where he had mistakenly put transactions in with a date of 2011.

He was found guilty of cheating the public revenue and sentenced to 8 years in jail.

Should you employ good-looking men?

That’s an interesting question and unless you’re a modelling agency then the answer for most jobs should be that looks aren’t important and it’s the ability to do the job that counts.

Research from Aarhus University in Denmark though has raised some interesting observations which could have an impact on fast food restaurants.

The study found that women were more likely to order healthy options such as salad instead of unhealthy options such as chips when they were in the company of a good-looking man. The research found that a woman was more likely to go for low calorie items when they were with a handsome man.

This healthy eating wasn’t present though when a women was eating with a good-looking woman.

Men on the other hand, tended to spend more on expensive food and drink when they were with an attractive woman.

Whilst we can probably guess that a woman doesn’t want to be seen as somebody who could eat a whole restaurant on a date and a man wants to be seen as wealthy and able to afford expensive food, Tobias Otterbring, the author of the study puts it nicely when he says “this research reveals how, why, and when appearance induced mate attraction leads to sex-specific consumption preferences for various food and beverages.”

He went on to say that “the most valued characteristics men seek in a female mate are beauty and health, whereas status and wealth are the top priorities for women.”

He also said that the study findings suggested that fast food chains should consider whether to employ good-looking men in case it encouraged women to look elsewhere for healthy options.

Somehow though, I can’t see many fast food restaurants saying that “good-looking men should not apply” in their job adverts.

How do you feel?

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that people get sick. In the winter months especially, there can be a lot of cold and flu bugs going around.

But what percentage of working hours do you think are lost to sickness?

The ONS (Office of National statistics) in the UK has just released details of the number of sick days in 2016. The number of hours lost to sickness as a percentage of working hours was 1.9% or to put it another way, about 137 million working days were lost due to illness in the UK last year.

This may sound a lot but of the number of sick days taken has fallen over the last few years. Last year the average number of sick days per worker was 4.3 whereas when records began in 1993 it was 7.2 days per worker.

It looks like the fall in sick days could be down to a number of factors.

The economic downturn in the late 2000’s arguably caused people to “struggle on” through an illness rather than risk losing their job. Companies are also more flexible nowadays when it comes to letting people work from home. If someone isn’t feeling 100%, a lot of employers will let them work from home and even if they are not up to full speed at least they will be doing some work.

The details also show that there’s a difference between the public sector and the private sector. The percentage absenteeism in the public sector is 2.9% compared to 1.7% in the private sector.

The most common reasons for missing work last year included minor illnesses such as colds (25%), musculoskeletal problems such as back ache (22%), mental health problems including stress and depression (11.5%), stomach upsets (6.6%) and headaches and migraines (3.4%).

Restaurants and children…

Nowadays more and more children are eating at restaurants with their parents. Whilst this can be great for the restaurateur, there can also be problems.

On the positive side, allowing children into restaurants with their parents should bring more family customers into the restaurant but on the negative side, if the children misbehave or run around causing chaos then some customers will be put off spending time in the restaurant.

If you head to a child friendly restaurant such as the fast food giant McDonalds then you would expect children to be children and to be loud, excitable and bouncing around.

But what about if you run an upmarket, select restaurant with clientele who are looking for a quiet time to relax over a good quality meal and fine wines. Boisterous children could damage the image and banning children from the restaurant would be a bit extreme.

Antonio Ferrari, the owner of an upmarket restaurant in Padua, Italy has come up with a novel approach to encouraging good behaviour amongst the junior member of families visiting for a meal.

He has introduced a “polite children discount” which offers 5% off of the bill if children are well behaved.

The Times newspaper quoted Mr Ferrari saying “We are not set up for kids – we have no crèche, the spaces are tight, bottles can be knocked over and we have a clientele that spends a bit of money to be tranquil while eating well.”

Has it been a success?

Well, one thing’s for sure and the discount hasn’t been offered that often.

In the 6 months the scheme has been active, there have only been 3 occasions the polite children discount has been offered.

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.

Sam Allardyce and José Mourinho

As England’s football manager there are certain things that you should do and certain things that you shouldn’t do.

Winning a major tournament is a thing that you should do for example whilst looking to receive large amounts of money to advise people how to get around football transfer rules is something you shouldn’t do.

Alas for Sam Allardyce he did the latter and not the former and is now no longer the England football manager.

There are plenty of ways that football managers can make money in a legitimate and ethical way and maybe Mr Allardyce should have followed the example of the current Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho.

In addition to the £12 million wages Mr Mourinho receives from Manchester United he also does pretty well from various other activities.

Hublot watches, Adidas, Jaguar, BT Sport, Lipton Tea and EA Sports all pay a significant amount of money to Mr Mourinho to endorse their products. They see him as an internationally recognised figure with global appeal.

The latest big name to sign him up is Heineken. They reportedly will pay him £4 million for a 2-year deal to be Heineken’s global football ambassador.

That’s a pretty nice sum of money to receive and it got the accountant in me thinking about the financials from Heineken’s point of view. How many additional litres of beer would Heineken need to sell to cover the cost of appointing José Mourinho?

Heineken’s latest set of published accounts show revenue of €20.5 billion with an operating profit of €3.4 billion. In 2015 they sold 18.8 billion litres of beer. Ignoring various accounting items such as contribution and fixed costs it follows that each litre of beer generates approximately €1.09 of revenue and €0.18 of operating profit.

To cover the £4 million (approximately €4.6 million) cost of José the company would need to sell an additional 26 million litres of Heineken!

This clearly shows the challenges involved when an organisation is deciding whether or not to undertake any form of sponsorship or increasing brand awareness as it is virtually impossible to accurately place a financial value to the benefits achieved. The marketing guys would argue that the value is more than purely an increase in immediate sales revenue.

The fact is that it is extremely difficult to directly link an appointment of a brand ambassador to an increase in sales. There are numerous other items which can impact on the sales of a product. For example, a sudden heatwave would increase the amount of cold beer that is drunk and not even Jose Mourinho could claim to be able to impact the weather.

Back to Mr Allardyce though and whilst I doubt that many companies will be approaching him to sign him up as a brand ambassador, at least he can claim to be the only England manager who won all of the games where he was in charge (even if it was only for one game…)

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…

Would you do this for a bit of chocolate?

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

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

Or does it involve chocolate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is shocking…

A lot of our readers are accountants or are training to be accountants. It should arguably follow therefore that you are good with figures. You are good with numbers and can manage your finances.

Not everyone though may be as good at managing their own personal finances and for any of you who may have problems controlling your spending, a new product will shortly be hitting the market which could be of interest to you.

A British company by the name of Intelligent Environments has developed a wristband that will deliver an electric shock to the wearer when they exceed pre-set spending limits.

The Pavlok wristband links to an individual’s online bank account and when a pre-set limit is exceeded a 255-volt electric charge is delivered to the wearer. The wristband is named after the Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov whose research showed that the behaviour of dogs could be altered by the prospect of reward or punishment.

Submitting yourself to an electric shock to stop yourself spending money does seem a bit extreme and with a cost of £120 then the buyer may well end up having an electric shock earlier than anticipated…

Maintaining eye contact…

It’s always nice to grab a social bite to eat with colleagues or clients but if I’m honest, I’m not sure I’d recommend the Bunyadi restaurant for such events.

The reason I wouldn’t recommend the restaurant for such events is not because of the food, location or service (which I’m sure are all very good).

No, the reason I think it would be an awkward location for colleague or client dinners is due to the fact that, how can I put it but using business terminology, they have taken an extremely differentiated approach to competing.

The Bunyadi restaurant has announced that it is opening in central London in June and the different thing about it is that it will be a naked restaurant.

Whilst an increasing number of people are choosing to eat their food in a more “natural” state without additives or preservatives, the company behind Bunyadi are taking things a step further by having a naked section in the restaurant.

Seb Lyall, the founder of the company behind the restaurant said “we believe people should get the chance to enjoy and experience a night out without any impurities: no chemicals, no artificial colours, no electricity, no gas, no phone and even no clothes if they wish to. The idea is to experience true liberation.”

When you arrive at the restaurant, you’ll enter the bar area (where everyone is fully clothed) and then head to the changing rooms where you will be given a gown. You then go to the naked area, take off your gown, fold it and put it on your seat and then sit down to enjoy your meal (and no doubt concentrate very carefully when eating your hot soup so that you avoid spilling any of it in your lap).

If you are interested in going to the restaurant you can sign up on their website but you’d better hurry. At the time of writing, there were over 15,000 people on the waiting list.

My Little Pony or My Little Font?

My Little Pony is a very successful entertainment brand developed by the giant US toy multinational company Hasbro. The My Little Pony range of products first started back in the early 1980s when a line of plastic pony toys was introduced.

Since then the toy line has been joined by a number of animated TV series as well as an animated full length feature film.

All in all, a great success but there’s now a potentially very serious issue concerning the font they use on their products.

Typeface company Font Brothers design fonts and last month filed a law suit against Hasbro claiming that My Little Pony uses one of their fonts without permission.

According to Font Brothers, Hasbro used their “Generation B” font for their My Little Pony products and website without obtaining the correct licence. In other words, they are claiming that My Little Pony is using a pirated font.

Now whilst some people may say that using a font is a minor issue, if the courts find that they have been using it without the proper licence then it could be a very serious matter.

The complaint filed at the New York federal court stated that “Defendant Hasbro has used or instructed others to use unauthorised copies of the Generation B Font in the creation of, but not limited to, all products, goods, merchandise, television and film properties, and advertising material connected with the ‘My Little Pony’ product line…”.

It went on to say that “Defendant Hasbro has created unauthorised and infringing copies of the Generation B Font software and impermissibly distributed the same to third parties.”

Some fonts are so similar that it is difficult to prove which font is being used but the style sheet on Hasbro’s website specifically mentioned the Generation B Font so it will be difficult for them to claim that they weren’t using the font!

It looks like Font Brothers tried to settle matters before it got to court as they wrote in their complaint that they had contacted Hasbro about the unauthorised use but the toy company refused to license the font for their products.

The matter is now in the hands of the court but seeing as the infringements cover such a significant product there is a chance that damages could amount to a significant figure.

It may well be that it wasn’t My Little Font but it was in fact Your Little Font.

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?

Using food to pay a fine.

It’s never a good feeling when you receive a parking ticket. You may only be a few minutes late back to your car but if you’ve been issued with a penalty notice then there’s not a lot you can do apart from pay the fine. Similarly if you park in an illegal place and are issued with a penalty notice then again you’ll have to pay the fine.

So is this fair? Well I guess it is as you can argue that public authorities have an obligation to maintain parking order on the streets and police officers and traffic wardens in most countries have the power to issue fines for inappropriate parking.

But it’s December and the festive season is nearly upon us. Surely therefore there should be some festive spirit and there should be some leeway given on parking fines??

“Letting people off of a parking fine because it’s Christmas!” – well, that’s certainly a debatable point and I can’t see that happening in a lot of places.

Over in America though one Authority is offering a middle ground when it comes to parking tickets.

The City of Lexington Parking Authority in Kentucky has launched a “Food for Fines” scheme.

From 16 November to 18 December, anyone who receives a parking ticket issued by the Lexington Police Department or parking authority will be able to pay for it using cans of food instead of cash.

The food donated will be passed to the local food bank where it will then be donated to people in need (there are 4 food banks in Lexington and they provide over 120,000 meals a day to people across Kentucky).

For every 10 cans of food donated, $15 will be taken off of the parking fine.

This is the second year the scheme has been in operation and Gary Means, Executive Director of LexPark said “Last year, citizens brought in over 6,200 cans of food as payment for over 600 meter citations”.

That’s an impressive figure and I wonder whether the local shops will be stocking up on very small cans of food in anticipation of a similar number of parking violations…

Don’t upset your web developer.

Cash flow can be a real challenge for businesses. Smaller ones especially can find it very tough to get paid on time and bigger organisations can sometimes dominate the relationship.

After all, if for example you’re an individual freelancer and are negotiating with a large company for work you will find it tough to get short settlement terms. Also, if the big company is late in paying it’s very difficult for the smaller party to “force payment”. Going to court for payment of a relatively small amount of money isn’t cost effective as the legal fees would far outweigh the money owed.

Reddit user absando is a freelance web designer and recently posted a great illustration of how he dealt with things when a big company “forgot” to pay him.

He posted that ‘I used to do freelance translating work a few years ago and I finished a 1,200 word technical manual for an Indian client that had good reviews on their industry profile. Normally payment for freelance transitions can range between 30 to 60 days, and under my contract they had 60 days to pay the amount.’

Straight away we can see that absando has a tough time as 60 days isn’t a particularly short payment term.

Things got worse for him though.

He continued explaining ‘Fast forward to the 65th day since I delivered the project and I didn’t hear anything from them. After multiple phone calls, e-mails and Skype messages, I received no word from the client so I decided to give up, write a negative review and move on.’

Whilst a lot of people in that situation would have had to write off the debt, absando was lucky.

Six months later the same company got in touch with him and obviously forgot that they hadn’t paid him last time. This time the project was for some web design work and he played it really well as rather than ask for the money he was owed, he kept quiet about it and got on with the project.

In a stroke of genius though he completed the project on time but didn’t send it all in. Instead, he changed the lock screen to the fine piece of artwork shown above.

He continued: “Surely enough a couple of hours from the deadline the translation company was frantically trying to reach me, sending emails and even trying to call my American number. They were freaking out because the project was due for their client on the very same day, and if they didn’t get it they’d lose their business with them.

I gladly responded, saying: ‘Hey remember that freelancer you stood up 6 months ago, yeah that’s me. I have your project ready to go, but you need to pay me for my previous work PLUS interest.”

Needless to say the cash was deposited into his account within 30 minutes.

Nice work!

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.

How much would you really take?

How much holiday would you take in a year if your boss said you could take as much as you liked?

If it were me, I’d become a virtual stranger in the office given the number of days I would be lounging about on holiday.

In reality though the few companies who are offering their staff unlimited time off are actually finding that their employees are taking fewer days holiday when they are given the option of taking as many days off as they like.

Bloomberg has reported that Grant Thornton, the 6th largest accounting firm in the US has just announced that they will be offering their US staff unlimited time off.

GT has launched a video of some of their staff being told the news and perhaps unsurprisingly they seem happy (possibly also, a little unsure as to whether the person behind the video camera had been drinking and was making the whole thing up…)

Bloomberg reports that When it comes to the Big 4 accounting firms in the US, KPMG LLP offers a maximum of 30 days, Deloitte LLP has a maximum 35 days and PwC has a maximum of 22 for management level staff, according to the companies. EY has a minimum of 15 days with additional days added with years of service.

GT though are no doubt hoping their new holiday policy will make them a more attractive employer and Pamela Harless, chief people and culture officer for GT said “This is a modern move for an industry where these types of benefits aren’t really common”. GT are “convinced it will help us to be far more attractive in retaining talent as well as attracting talent.”

What is perhaps surprising though is that for the very small percentage of companies who already offer their employees unlimited holiday entitlement, their experience has been that the number of days taken as holiday as actually fallen since unlimited time off was introduced!

Haje Jan Kamps, the founder of Triggertrap identified this problem and highlighted that “Because we weren’t explicitly tracking, people felt guilty about taking time off. It also turns out that there was a difference in the patterns for how people took time off: Some were taking a week here and a week there, but others were just taking the odd day.

The problem with the latter is that it seemed like they were always away. That’s OK, of course, but if other members of the team feel as if someone’s taking the piss, that’s bad for morale all around.”
In summary though, an interesting development for GT and well done to them for launching such an initiative with the aim of incentivising and motivating their staff.

One interesting final question though – if you could take as much time out of the office as holiday without it affecting your career prospects, how much would you take?

Is Toby the Gorilla more talented than you?

Gorillas are the largest member of the primate family and 98% of their DNA is the same as humans. They are amazing animals but unfortunately they live in areas of the world that have suffered from genocide, war and natural disasters. They are on the verge of extinction and have been classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

There are less than 900 mountain gorillas left in the world today.

This really is a shocking statistic but luckily there is hope out there.

The not for profit (charity) industry is a significant sized industry. The latest reported figures for the UK alone show that there are over 164,000 registered charities with a combined annual income of £64 billion.

Although these organisations are not for profit organisations they share a lot of business characteristics with commercial organisations but there is one key difference.

Commercial (for profit) organisations generate revenues and incur expenses. The expectation is that the income they generate will exceed the expenses incurred and as a result there will be a profit for the shareholders.

Not for profit organisations also generate revenues and incur expenses. The key difference though is that the focus isn’t on making a profit. Instead, they aim to have as high a surplus as possible between their revenue and their expenses so that this surplus can be spent on supporting the causes they want to support.

The revenue for a not for profit organisation includes for example donations from the public whilst the expenses would include the costs of running the charity such as staff salaries and office rental expenses.

In simple terms therefore, the more a charity can increase its income whilst keeping their expenses as low as possible means that they will have more to spend on the causes they are supporting.

One of the challenges facing charities in today’s environment is getting awareness of the work they do to the public in the hope that the public will help with donations. Awareness and PR campaigns can be very expensive and are out of the reach of most charities.

The Gorilla Organisation is an excellent charity. They have a team of hard working inspirational people who are doing as much as they can to help the critically endangered species. The brains behind the Gorilla Organisation have recently pulled together some fantastic volunteers who also just happen to have some amazing talent.

Some famous actors, producers, directors, editors and creatives have all got together to produce a series of short films.

If you go to mygorilla.org you can see some marvellous short videos featuring an extremely talented Gorilla called Toby.

As well as being the creators of what is in my opinion without a doubt the best series of short gorilla films, the Gorilla Organisation also hosts the iconic Great Gorilla Run where thousands of people dress up as Gorillas and run around the City of London.

In the film below, Toby the Gorilla is promoting the Great Gorilla Run as well as showing off his skills on the piano.

For details on the fantastic work the Gorilla Organisation does visit gorillas.org.

For details of the Great Gorilla Run visit greatgorillarun.org.

The image at the top of this post is courtesy of the Gorilla Organisation.

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.

How did he get away with this?

Picture the scene. It’s the office Christmas party and you’ve had a couple of drinks. You’re relaxed and are having a good time.

So far so good but what would you do next?

Would you:

a) Carry on in a chilled relaxed way to enjoy yourself and celebrate the festive period, or

b) Drink too much, tell one of the directors of the company and a senior project manager to (rude word removed so as not to offend any of our readers) off, make a female colleague cry by telling her that she was a stuck up (another rude word deleted), keep on pestering another female colleague to go horse riding together, hold another female colleague’s face in your hands and kiss her on the mouth and then finish the evening off by asking another female colleague what colour underwear she was wearing.

Whilst most normal people would opt for option a), Stephen Keenan, a team leader at Leighton Boral and Amey Joint Venture in Australia chose option b).

Mr Keenhan had reportedly had about 10 beers and one vodka and was by all accounts extremely drunk.

Telling a director to “go forth and multiply” as well as insulting female colleagues and kissing them against their wishes isn’t the most impressive way to act during a Christmas party and it was probably no surprise when he was called into the office on his return to work after the Christmas break to be told that he would be dismissed for sexual harassment.

However, what will probably come as a bit of a surprise though was that he made a claim for unfair dismissal at the Australian Fair Work Commission (FWC) and surprisingly enough he actually won his case.

Yes, despite insulting a number of his colleagues and trying to kiss a female colleague against her wishes he won his case for unfair dismissal.

Adam Hatcher, a vice-president at the FWC found that none of the incidents were valid grounds for dismissal and concluded that Mr Keenan had been unfairly dismissed.

The FWC tribunal found that there was no evidence the board member took offence or remembered the incident. They also found that proposing to meet up with a colleague was not sexual harassment and the kiss occurred in the upstairs bar after the function had officially ended. As a result it was not connected to Mr Keenan’s employment.

Mr Hatcher also said that “In my view, it is contradictory and self-defeating for an employer to require compliance with its usual standards of behaviour at a function but at the same time to allow the unlimited service of free alcohol at the function,”

In other words, the employee couldn’t be held responsible as the employer had partly contributed to the actions by serving unlimited free drinks.

Now whilst Mr Keenhan is no doubt pretty happy about the decision (and in fact will probably head out for a few celebratory drinks…), the decision of the tribunal is causing a fair amount of concern for some people in Australia. After all, the fact that an employee’s unacceptable behaviour was excused due to free alcohol being supplied by the employer has led some to worry that to avoid such a situation in the future, Australian firms may stop providing free alcohol at their Christmas parties.

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.

A very forward thinking leader…

She is the first female boss of a major accountancy company in the UK and Sacha Romanovitch is doing things differently.

At 47, Sacha who heads up Grant Thornton in the UK is one of the youngest leaders of a major City firm and has certainly got some innovative views in terms of how she plans to run Grant Thornton.

She has just announced a profit share scheme for the whole business which could boost salaries by 25%. She will oversee a “shared enterprise” scheme which will allow future profits to be shared between all of its 4,500 staff instead of being restricted to the most senior staff.

Ms Romanovitch was quoted as saying “The benchmark that we are working to is that in great organisations that do this, it ends up being between 10 and 25 per cent of a person’s salary. That is what they can potentially earn as a profit share. John Lewis [a prestigious UK department store] does it, Arup [an engineering firm] is the other one that does it really well.”

She has also announced plans to “crowd source” new business ideas and to consider allowing lower ranked staff to join board meetings.

In a move which will no doubt endear her to the team at Grant Thornton she has also agreed to cap her own salary. She has stated that her salary will be limited to a maximum of 20 times the average salary in the company.

This is an admirable move, especially when you consider that bosses of FTSE 100 firms (the largest 100 stock exchange quoted companies in the UK) have on average a salary which is 149 times the average salary in their respective firms.

In a recent newspaper interview Ms Romanovitch, who is a married mother of two and who works from home in the beautiful county of Devon on Fridays, said she was a fan of social media and thinks firms that restrict staff use of social media are wrong.

She said “A lot of firms don’t let their people use social media because they’re worried that they will say something they shouldn’t.

I find that a bit scary. I employ great people. If I was worried that they were going to say something on social media that they shouldn’t, I’d question whether I should employ them at all.”

Congratulations on a great start Sacha and if you’re interested, the marvellous photo of Sacha at the top of this article is from her twitter page which can be found here.

Not the brightest individual.

Be honest now – have you ever thought that it would be nice to be able to cheat in your exams and get away with it? Have you ever thought it would be great to be able to pass your exams with ease without putting in any real effort?

blog-exam-cheat-man-275x275Well, if the thought has crossed your mind you are not the only one. The girlfriend of Ayan Zhademov thought it would be a good idea to cheat in her exams and she managed to persuade 20 year old Mr Zhademov to help her cheat.

Unfortunately for the lady (but fortunately for all the hard-working honest students who were sitting the exam) the plan wasn’t the smartest and her boyfriend didn’t look much like a woman.

“Didn’t look much like a woman” – why does it matter whether or not he looked like a woman I hear you say?

Well, the plan was for Mr Zhademov to pretend that he was his girlfriend and to sit her exam for her.

When the day of the exam came around, he wore her clothes together with a wig and lots of make-up.

It was reported that despite his efforts to dress up as a woman he simply look like a man wearing a dress and make-up which had been put on badly. The exam invigilators noticed something was wrong and became even more suspicious when he spoke as he had an extremely deep manly voice.

The end result was that he was caught out, his girlfriend failed her exam and he was fined £1,400.

The morale of the story is that it doesn’t pay to cheat and no matter how tempting it may appear to be, just don’t do it. Not even if your girlfriend or boyfriend is a genius and looks exactly like you.

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…