Archives For ACCA

Brian Cox has got it easy…

accapr —  19 September 2014 — Leave a comment

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By Jason Piper, manager for tax and business law, ACCA

The recent launch of the OECD’s proposals for the BEPS project resulted in a deluge of response, commentary and reaction.

Too much is ill, mis or uninformed, and often from people who ought to know better. There’s a rush to present simplified answers, to try to clear everything up with a couple of soundbites and a nod to popular opinion.

But it’s not simple.

People say “oh, it’s not rocket science”. As these things go, rocket science is actually a comparatively simple bunch of equations. Rocket engineering on the other hand, now that’s difficult. Any 6th form physics student can (or at least, should be able to) do the theoretical calculations on how much fuel you need to get a given payload to escape velocity. But actually designing the pumps, tanks & nozzles to get the stuff to burn, let alone actually building them (hands up anyone with the knowledge of metallurgy to understand precisely which alloys you should be using where?) is a different matter, and only the most gifted and dedicated of amateurs have even a hope of getting a rocket to actually work (and even then they’d be the first to admit their debt to the professionals who build the parts).

Tax is much the same. Should everyone pay a fair amount of tax? Well that’s so trite it barely even deserves to be a question.

What is a fair amount of tax? You might as well ask what’s the right shade of blue, or how tall should a politician be.

Laws are the next best proxy we have to fairness when it comes to tax. But then the laws are (to put it mildly) complicated. And Brian Cox can point to planetary movements, reel off the equations, and explain what’s happened. When someone asks why a baseball pitch doesn’t work the same way, that’s easy – baseballs are operating in an atmosphere, and under another heavy gravitational field. And there’s no real mileage in trying to establish the physics of what would happen to a baseball in space, or a planet in the earth’s atmosphere and gravity, because the two scenarios are implausible. And there’s no need to worry about how a watermelon would operate at high altitude, or a whale sized object on the edge of the atmosphere, because such things don’t exist. There is no gentle graded curve between the tiny everyday objects that we all handle and work with and the vast numbers and forces which operate in astronomical models. There’s a clear break between them; no need for complex transitional calculations.

But tax isn’t like that. There’s no legal difference between the structure your window cleaner can set up to run his business and the one that a multinational might use to handle its international treasury function. There’s no difference in principle between the calculations that a business handling nuclear waste reprocessing does to work out its tax liability and those that a corner shop might do. And the tax system isn’t just trying to run one set of equations at once; it’s got two or three sets to cope with (companies, partnerships, limited vs unlimited liability variants, sole traders – they’re all valid forms of business, and it’s open to business to mix and match the legal forms to get itself the best result.) So it’s a bit like having planets that can behave like baseballs if they want to.

And the best bit is that the tax system isn’t like physics, which gets done to us and we just have to try to work it out from the evidence. The international tax system is something we’ve done to ourselves (albeit perhaps indirectly, in that it’s actually the work of elected politicians).

Now, I have to say that if we were in a position to be able to revise the equations that govern the temperature that the sun burns at, or the force exerted by gravity, I’d probably advise caution in the choice of those writing the new rules. I’d certainly want them to have a pretty firm grasp of astrophysics; a background in marketing or even an advanced degree in economics just wouldn’t quite be what I was hoping for.

But when it comes to the tax rules, there is a nasty tendency for the value of knowledge and experience to be ignored. I’m sure it would be terribly helpful to have the sun coming out at night instead, when the light would be more useful. Clearly weakening the force of gravity would make us all lighter and put diet clubs out of business overnight. Spinning the planet’s axis of rotation through 90 degrees would put London in the tropics and make for much warmer winters; bound to be a good thing.

It’s fairly obvious that actually none of those would be terribly good ideas, and no half-sane scientist would ever fall for them. But of course that’s another advantage the physicists have; they can be reasonably certain that their system works and they’re not at serious risk of breaking it. Tax systems aren’t like that. The British one was described this week as “complex, confused, irrational, punitive and in urgent need of root and branch reform”. And that got it a rating of 21st out of 34; quite what they’d have to say about the US system (33) or the French (34) is anybody’s guess. And yet unsound proposals get put forward for tax all the time in the comments columns of the internet, and explaining why they won’t work can require a degree of engagement and willingness to learn that all too few seem prepared to put in. I’d love to help more people understand the basics of tax system design, it’s really important stuff. I’ve tried to do some of it here: http://bit.ly/TaxSimplicity

But please, don’t ask me to condense 746 pages of BEPS documentation into 140 characters. It’d be about as much use as posting  and if you know what that means, you don’t need me to explain it.

(It’s the Tsiolkivsky Rocket equation, for which I must thank Randall Munroe, of XKCD – see http://what-if.xkcd.com/7/ )

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By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

Last week I had the honour of being part of the judging panel for the British Accountancy Awards 2014. Since the Awards were re-launched four years ago, ACCA has been proud to be involved as the lead partner and we are pleased to have seen a year on year increase in terms of both the number and quality of entries received.

The most interesting and important categories for me have been those which recognise the ‘Independent Firm of the Year’ across the UK’s various regions. These provide a valuable opportunity for smaller practices to demonstrate how they have both adjusted to and thrived during what have proved to be challenging times for our economy. I was also a judge in 2013 and I continue to be delighted to see great examples of the focus, drive and innovation that has led to increases in turnover, profit and – most importantly of all – client satisfaction.

If you are part of a practice which has a good story to tell, please seriously consider entering in 2015. For a flavour of what it’s all about, why not consider attending this year’s awards’ ceremony in London on Tuesday 25 November? You will be able to meet some of the short-listed firms, individuals and previous winners. I promise you will be inspired!

For more information visit www.britishaccountancyawards.co.uk

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By Nikki Walker, diversity and inclusion expert, More2Gain

What springs to mind when someone says Finance Director? Or Diversity Director for that matter? Very different skills and personalities, I am sure, based on some fairly ingrained stereotypes. But, actually, does anyone really care?

I certainly did. When I moved from being a Finance Director to Head of Diversity & Inclusion, EMEA, at Cisco Systems, I found myself battling a tidal wave of stereotypes and bias.

“What on earth are you thinking of?” was a typical reaction from many of my finance colleagues. Followed closely by, “I’ll give you three months before you are begging to come back to the real world of finance.”

And from my new diversity colleagues, both internal and external, I also encountered a fair amount of scepticism. “Why would a finance person want to do this job? She hasn’t even worked in HR! Will she really be able to get to grips with this?” And this, no less, from diversity professionals!

And so I found myself in the rather novel position of having to defend my choices, prove I hadn’t taken leave of my senses and overcome some pretty ingrained views about the value and abilities of two very different professions – from both sides of the camp.

This is a real pity and a missed opportunity. Because it is when we work together and blend different skills that we achieve the best solutions. Whether it was offering a fresh pair of eyes, critiquing strategies or applying “forensic commercial” analysis to combine many strands of employee data and surveys, the new insights I shared helped leaders understand the opportunity they were missing shape thinking and bring about lasting change.

The very fact that I was an “outsider” gave me a huge advantage, enabling me to challenge orthodoxies and come up with new perspectives and solutions. My finance and commercial skills enabled me to anchor the case for change in measurable business benefit.

I also learned a huge amount from spending time with people whose viewpoint is not “centred on the numbers.” In short, I realised how much I had to offer… and how much I had to learn. A journey that is still ongoing now that I have changed careers again to run my own inclusion and diversity consultancy, More2Gain, focused on helping organisations realise the power of Inclusion and Diversity,

And so I would like to leave you with a final thought. In finance, we focus heavily on measuring “returns.” Well, I can say with absolute certainty, that there are rich returns to be gained (for you and your organisation) whenever you connect with people outside of your group.

So reach out to your diversity colleagues and offer to help. Partner with them to jointly seek out new ideas. Be bold, make new connections, use your finance skills and help to advance diversity and inclusion in your organisation. Whatever you do next, do not allow convention and stereotypes to hold you back. I didn’t and I really am the richer for it.

ACCA, in collaboration with ESRC (Economic Social Research Council) and Brunel University, has launching a paper about diversity in business – read it here.

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By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

The results of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission survey give cause for grave concern and demonstrate that not enough is being done to prevent Britain remaining an exclusive ‘club’ at the top of our society. Relative social mobility, the extent to which an individual’s chances depend on their parent’s class or income, seems to be shrinking.

This summer Thomas Picketty’s book Capital: in the 21st Century reignited a debate for western governments to address the issue of inequality. The book has ignited political discussion across Western Europe; Picketty’s central thesis is where the rate of return on capital outstrips economic growth, wealth inequality ineluctably rises. The impressive amount of data he uses to back up his thesis is why the book has received such acclaim. However despite the excitement which surrounded the book and a call for action, today’s survey results are a reminder that clearly concern about inequality and social mobility has not translated into action. Or that any action has taken effect?

In our recent submission to the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s State of the Nation report we called on an end to unpaid internships and a recent survey of our members showed us that not only do our members feel strongly on this issue but 76% of the 1,500 surveyed also felt their companies should pay the living wage. Social mobility cannot be viewed in isolation and the level of income inequality is an issue that all three of the parties should address. The report recognises that practical steps can be taken to prevent the drive towards improving social mobility settling into a pedestrian pace.

The commission has rightly called on government to collect data on its staff and lead by example and we hope the government will take note of this. ACCA is currently working to do the same; a founding feature of ACCA is accessibility and we continually review our policies to ensure that our qualification is open to everyone whatever their background.

Today’s results demonstrate that we cannot afford to soften and settle into a pedestrian pace, but the reality is that change is slow. Inter-generational mobility, as the name suggests, takes a lifetime to achieve. There is a need for practical solutions and we urge organisations of all sizes to adopt the Professions for Good Social Mobility Toolkit. The toolkit does not claim to be a silver bullet but is designed for organisations to be able to tailor it according to resource. Built from the ground up, the toolkit is fit for use by small employer organisations with no dedicated HR functions, with easy low-cost recommendations.

The SMCP Commission’s survey has done well to put further pressure on governments to act – public bodies must ensure they do too.

ACCA will be publishing a report on social mobility in the autumn.

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By Sarah Hathaway, head of ACCA UK

For many young people, this time of year is filled with anticipation, maybe even fear, and then hopefully reward once those hard-fought results are confirmed. Those of us that took our GCSEs and A levels over 20 years ago may struggle to remember the details of results day, but I for one can remember being paralysed with indecision as to ‘what next’.

It’s still the case in many schools that university is ‘the’ recommended destination, at any cost, but even then it’s which university, which course, which career. You would hope these students are also aware of other routes to a valuable career – school leaver schemes, apprenticeships, further education, professional education… ‘How do I make that seemingly all-important decision’ and ‘who do I turn to for advice’ are definitely on the FAQ list for August. However, new research from The Student Room says there is a “black hole” in school careers advice.

From a personal perspective, I usually offer a couple of pieces of advice when I meet young people looking for some insight. Firstly, never assume your next decision is your last. Where your career path starts does not dictate where it ends up. I can speak from experience there – and you will have many opportunities to change direction, specialise or do further study. Modern careers are not as linear as they used to be, and employers do value a wide range of experience, if you know how to sell them the benefits of that variety in experience.

Secondly, seek advice and information from as many different sources as possible. That may be parents, friends’ parents, their work colleagues, your work experience mentor, teachers, careers specialists. There are often lots of people willing to share their own perspective, if you just ask. But everyone’s knowledge is limited in one way or another, so gathering as much as possible before making a decision is important.

And this is true for many people. At ACCA we have people joining us who have made a decision to be an accountant in their 20s, 30s, 40s, even 50s! People who may have been working in finance for a while who have decided to build on their experience, mums coming back into the workplace, those who have worked in an entirely different sector and want a change. The majority of these people too will have tapped into advice from a number of different contacts or places. And they’ve made a decision that, at that point in time, a professional accountancy qualification is the route for them. If you’re 18 and looking for an alternative to university, it may be the right decision for you too.

Many of the A-level students who get their results this week are on their way to becoming a finance professional without even realising it. Three GCSEs and two A levels (including maths and English) is enough to pursue ACCA’s globally recognised qualification, which is a badge of credibility with employers.

Find out more about studying to become an ACCA finance professional.