Archive for Accounting

How visionary CFOs approach tech investment

How visionary CFOs approach tech investment

Customer experience

Digital transformation is on the minds of CFOs, who expect to invest more in advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) that can transform their businesses by improving customer experience.

That’s according to a recent Grant Thornton report, which shows that 69% of CFOs and senior finance executives plan to increase investment in technologies that quicken business change. CFOs themselves will need to have more technical skills, and they are divided in how to improve their overall workforce’s financial and technical expertise.

“It’s really a question of who’s more visionary as a CFO in moving forward with their products and services and reaching their customers,” said Srikant Sastry, Grant Thornton’s national managing principal for advisory services.

IMPROVEMENT TIED TO DIGITAL INITIATIVES

Companies that have figured out a way to reach customers more effectively through digital advances are reaping benefits. In one notable increase, Costco saw its second-quarter 2018 e-commerce sales grow about 29% year-over-year, to $1.5 billion, CFO Richard Galanti told analysts and reporters on a recent earnings call.

Additionally, firms that embraced digital transformation averaged a 55% increase in gross margins over a three-year period, according to a 2016 Harvard Business School study. Companies that were slow to adapt generated lower margin growth on average (37%) during the same period.

Meanwhile, International Data Corporation estimates that, by 2019, enterprises will spend $1.7 trillion on digital transformation — a 42% increase compared with 2017.

A year ago, Sastry said CFOs likened strategising on digital transformation to gazing into a crystal ball. Now, he says they are trying to gain a clearer picture of what is inside the sphere.

Accordingly, CFOs are not necessarily seeking digital transformation to improve efficiencies in their IT systems. The goals now are to enhance the customer experience, grow the business, and outperform the competition, according to the Grant Thornton report.

CHANGING THE VIEW OF ANALYTICS

CFOs have recognised that they were not thinking enough about analytics. Consequently, 24% of respondents said their finance team is currently adopting advanced analytics, another 24% will do likewise over the next year, and an additional 25% plan to adopt advanced analytics within two years. But CFOs will have to adapt, too.

CFOs have traditionally been focused on operational performance, cost reduction, and business management, but now they want to drive strategy and clear a path to digital transformation by leveraging information and technology, Sastry said.

“They have to make sure that they have the right skillset and innovation to leverage advanced analytics,” he said. “So the crystal ball is still there, but I think they’re trying to clarify the fog in the ball.”

Forty-one per cent of respondents do not believe they have good financial metrics that show the return on IT investments. And only 12% strongly agree that they possess an effective system to measure financial performance tied to newly implemented technology.

The report points out tension between companies’ current need to invest in maintenance and system updates and their desire to allocate funds to new automation technologies, such as AI. Investment in AI is projected to increase significantly: Beyond the 7% who say they have already adopted AI, an additional 47% expect to adopt it over the course of five years. A similar number of CFO respondents expect implementation of innovations such as distributed-ledger technology (also known as blockchain), machine learning, robotic-process automation, and optical-character recognition within five years.

“Ostensibly, AI will help improve quality, improve accuracy, and streamline the number of people required to perform tasks,” Sastry said. “It’ll change the face of business, including financial management.”

The top IT challenges in the survey are:

  • Systems complexity, including enterprise-wide systems integration;
  • Upkeep of legacy systems; and
  • IT talent.

Regarding the talent challenge, most executives — 52% — would prefer to retrain existing staff. Twenty per cent want to recruit new, technically skilled employees, and 17% aim to outsource tech hiring.

In addition to being aware of AI concepts, Sastry said, CFOs will need to know how AI systems work and how they can improve the business through a better customer experience.

“Those skillsets have, historically, resided in the technology space,” he said. “They’ve resided in the IT shop and the CIO [chief information officer] function. So CFOs need to really embrace the technology portions of their business, or the CIOs.”

Source : FM

10 ways to generate and deliver great insights

10 ways to generate and deliver great insights

A model helps organisations deal with the data deluge and provide insights that support robust decision-making.

In a world where uncertainty is the new norm, where technology is getting smarter, where robots are automating and simulating human activity, and where big data is getting bigger, the pace of winning and losing is getting even faster. The margin for error for organisations is now even smaller, meaning high-quality decisions grounded in insight have never been more important. 

It’s true: Technology is capable of automating a lot of what we used to do when it comes to analysing data. It can even take this a step further and simulate some of our thought processes. That said, technology has one shortfall: It is not human, and generating insights is an inherently human process that needs human traits to interpret what is happening.

Faced with a deluge of data, finding a way to combine these human qualities with the tools on offer will provide organisations with more opportunities to make high-quality decisions grounded in great insights.

I propose a ten-step approach to accelerate the process of generating and delivering insights, which forms the basis of the Define-Determine-Deliver model. The model draws on a number of sources. First and foremost, it is based on my experiences of working with some of the largest insight-driven companies in the UK and US. (Deloitte defines an insight-driven organisation as “one which has succeeded in embedding analysis, data, and reasoning into its decision-making processes”.) I was able to observe best practice in the way these companies collected and organised huge amounts of diverse data, and I gained a profound understanding of performance and how they were able to engage their people to take the right next steps, which led to stronger performance.

Second, the model takes up the themes being debated by practitioners, experts, and authors, in terms of how to organise and interpret the huge, diverse data sets organisations are now collecting. And the more diverse and complex the data, the greater the challenge of communicating insights.

The model consists of three stages. The define stage will help you clarify what you need to do and why. The determine stage offers a set of principles to help you generate insights, and the final stage looks at how to deliver your message to achieve the level of impact and influence your insights deserve.

DEFINE: PLANNING YOUR ANALYSIS

1. Be clear on the value of your insights. The beginning of the insight process involves being clear about what you are being asked to analyse. Over the years of working for a number of insight-led companies I quickly came to appreciate that the significant first question was not “what?”, but “so what?” Understanding the value (the “so what”) that your insights will add helps you engage with what the person requesting the information is trying to do. When you are informed and engaged, you build a more relevant and more focused analysis plan.

Tip: If the person making the request hasn’t already outlined the “so what”, asking them “How will the analysis help?” is a good way to understand what they are hoping to gain from the insight.

2. Partner with an expert. In my experience, those who seek help from someone who knows the particular area of operations well deliver the best insights. They could be a call-centre agent or warehouse manager, for example. Share what you are trying to do with them and ask their opinion. Their support can come in many forms. They may share their experiences of the topic being analysed, may highlight obvious pitfalls, or simply confirm that what you are doing is on the right track.

Tip: Ask the person making the request to recommend the right contact. Once you have a partner, be curious, ask good questions, and listen well to what they have to say.

3. Create a hypothesis. It is important that when you are doing your analysis, you don’t try to analyse all the data available because this could take too long. The process of forming a hypothesis will help you think about the relationships between your data, which should end with your forming an opinion (your hypothesis) on the answer you might find once you have done your analysis. A clear hypothesis, therefore, provides you with an indicator of what to look out for when doing your analysis, helping you to stay focused, whilst reducing any wasted effort.

Always create a hypothesis statement that captures this belief before you start analysing your data (eg, “product availability has decreased because supplier “˜out of stocks’ have grown as the cost of raw materials has increased”).

Tip: Take time to run through your hypothesis with your expert (from tip 2) or any other relevant people. This will help ensure you have a reasonable and balanced hypothesis, and help to avoid confirmation bias.

4. Visualise your analysis. It is all too easy to just dive in and start analysing data. Before you begin, be specific about what you need to analyse. This involves visualising what your analysis will look like once it is finished.

Tip: Get a sheet of paper and sketch out what your data will look like once you have collected it all, listing the rows of data down the left-hand side and the column headings across the top. Then sketch out the analysis you will carry out or the techniques you will apply. For example, do you plan to create a column of data that looks at the difference between two data points or a graph of certain variables? Be as specific as you can, as this will really pressure test what you are planning to do and whether it will add value.

DETERMINE: DOING YOUR ANALYSIS

5. Collect, clean, stay connected. Developing a plan of how and when you will collect your data is important, as this will help to ensure you have everything you need when you are ready to start analysing. Before you start the analysis, you will need to clean your data to ensure it is accurate, complete, and in the right format. There is nothing worse than unclean data undermining the credibility of your insights. Finally, staying in touch with your expert partner from the previous stage will ensure you get the most out of your analysis.

Tip: It is helpful to have a few (but not too many) expert partners. Picking partners with different types of experience is a great way to get a variety of viewpoints, leading to a fuller piece of analysis.

6. Analyse well. In practice, every piece of analysis is different. Therefore, adapt your approach using these key principles:

  • Let the data lead you to the insight. Don’t assume you know the answer before you have done your analysis; this could really bias your analysis. Be open-minded and let the data lead you to the answer.
  • If there is an elephant in the room, say so. Sometimes, when it comes to analysis, we don’t want to accept the most obvious insight; we yearn for something more detailed and more profound. But sometimes the most obvious answer is the right one, and it’s OK to accept it.
  • Correlation doesn’t equal causality. Take care when verifying whether two variables are linked.
  • Focus on what the business needs. If the person asking you for insights needs them in two days to assess an opportunity, then focus on what can be done in that time frame, rather than on the ideal piece of analysis you would produce given more time.

Tip: When analysing data, it is often more useful to focus on trends rather than on single data points. Trends often give you a more reliable view of what is happening. For example, if you are trying to determine which stores are driving low product availability over the year, then focus on the stores that are experiencing consistent decline over the time period (those trending downwards) rather than focusing on one store that had a low score for a small amount of time. (It would be interesting to know why, but don’t miss the big trends contributing to your low product availability.)

7. Bring it all together with a conclusion and indicated actions. Once you have developed some good insights, the next step is explaining what is happening and how the business should respond. This can be a daunting task for finance teams, as the fear of suggesting the wrong thing can create a lot of pressure. Grounding your “indicated actions” in insights will give you confidence in your proposal.

Tip: Seek to ensure your conclusion-indicated actions are correct by writing them out using the following structure: dilemma, insight conclusion, indicated actions:

“I conclude that the reason for ‘the shortfall in sales’ (the dilemma) is because store staff are struggling to get the stock out onto the shelves as the increase in customer numbers means they do not have enough time to restock (the insight conclusion). I propose a pilot project to increase staff in the stores with the biggest declines in sales. If this is successful, I propose a wider review of resourcing in our stores (the indicated actions).”

DELIVER: COMMUNICATING YOUR INSIGHTS

8. Prepare a clear insight message for your audience. The previous step, in which you generate conclusion-indicated actions, is based on what is happening and what you need to do next. The critical difference in this step is that you need to build an insight message to convey to your audience. The insight message is often the only part of your process that the audience sees, and if you want to achieve the right impact and influence, the message needs to be clear and engaging.

Tip: Do the “elevator test” to see if you are ready to deliver your insight message. If you were in the elevator with your manager, could you convey your message (the dilemma, the insights, your recommendation) clearly and succinctly in the time it takes to reach the right floor, all in a way that will resonate and inspire the audience to act on your findings?

9. Craft an engaging message. If you want to deliver an engaging message, then logic alone will not be enough. Engagement requires you to connect to people’s emotions. Your message may well have a good structure, clear visuals, clear arguments, and recommendations grounded in your insight findings. But you also need to build an emotional connection by finding the right tone, forming a connection based on shared aspirations, or focusing on how the proposal will directly benefit the insight requestor and their teams.

Tip: Stories are a good way of helping to deliver a more engaging and memorable message. Stories grab people’s attention, bring messages to life, and help link insights to the big picture. For example, if you are trying to put new customer service metrics into context, you could use statistics. “Customer service scores are at 60%. This is a reduction of 10% versus last year, and we need to do better.” Alternatively, you could tell a story that brings your numbers to life. “Last year we were not at our best for 40,000 customers. That is two out of every five customers that came to us. Here are some of the things our customers said and how we impacted their lives by not being at our best …”

10. Build an insight-led culture. Having a framework is a good way to accelerate the insight process. In the insight-led companies that I have worked for, this framework was embedded into the beliefs of their people, which was demonstrated every day in their behaviours. This level of engagement with the principles of the framework allowed these companies to accelerate insight generation, as well as to adapt those principles to address a particular problem when required.

Tip: Always be a role model for insights, giving your teams or colleagues the confidence and the right to be curious and to always seek out the underlying truth as to what is driving performance.

Source : FM

How To Predict Which Of Your Employees Are About To Quit

How To Predict Which Of Your Employees Are About To Quit

You’ve got more data on how your team members are behaving, thinking, and feeling than you probably realize. Here’s how (and why) to tap into it.

How To Predict Which Of Your Employees Are About To Quit

“People analytics” may sound daunting, expensive, and difficult—something the ordinary manager can’t possibly concern herself with even if she’d like to. But the field isn’t necessarily as high-tech as you might imagine.

There’s more untapped data, of some kind or another, floating around your workplace than you probably think. With a little extra effort to spot behavioral patterns, you may be able to get ahead of some of the more common issues, like employee attrition, that can hurt your workplace and your organization’s bottom line. Here’s how.

PHONING IT IN

Turnover tends to be high at call centers, where many people take jobs temporarily, then quit when once they’ve earned enough to return to school or cover a big expense. Lower attrition means higher performance, so managers are interested in predicting and reducing attrition.

My company helped one call center analyze some basic data that it was already collecting: the length and number of calls operators were taking, and how often those calls got escalated or resolved. At the end of each shift, employees received a “report card” reflecting those data points. Since the call center employees’ compensation was linked directly to that performance data, they were highly incentivized to earn good marks.

But a low overall score wasn’t necessarily a sign that an employee was performing poorly, getting paid less, and therefore planning to bounce. Analysts found two specific factors were much more predictive: increased time spent on calls, and fewer calls ending in resolutions. Those operators were just going through the motions.

So the call center’s managers sent supervisors to meet with each operator within a day of those two indicators popping up. Most, however, hadn’t yet reached a point where they were considering quitting. But they often didreveal job frustrations that were usually easy to address, a like a faulty headset or having to work an undesirable shift. Supervisors were empowered to fix most of these problems, and over the next few months, the call center’s attrition rate fell by half.

FEELINGS AND ACTIONS YOU’RE NOT PICKING UP ON

“Sounds great,” you might be thinking, “but I don’t run a call center.” Even so, you can probably start looking for small, early signs of dissatisfaction that are relatively easy to remedy once you spot them. Here are two:

1. Ask employees how they’re feeling–continuously. Measuring “perceptions” might seem impossible, but it’s not. To collect data on something like this, you can use pulse surveys, run focus groups, or take snap polls using common Slack integrations like Polly.

Some large, physical office spaces even go analog and install those sentiment buttons you might have seen in airports or hotels. They’re simple, inexpensive devices that ask a question like, “How was your day?” and provide red (bad), yellow (okay), and green (good) buttons for people to press quickly as they go about their day. Whatever method you use to gather sentiment data, aim for something easy and anonymous, and watch for trends, not absolute values.

2. Look for dips in hours worked or effort spent. A basic place to start is total login time, but unless your office requires workers to “punch in” or “out,” introducing software to monitor exactly who’s sitting in front of their computers when can feel like surveillance. So start with the data you’ve already got on hand but may not be analyzing fully: How much sick leave is being taken this quarter, compared with last quarter or with the same quarter the prior year? How much annual leave is being requested (regardless of what’s actually granted)?

These are usually good indicators of who may be on their way out. Sick days can be requested to attend interviews or to burn up unused leave balances—or maybe that person is just feeling burned out and needs to take some mental heath days to deal with on-the-job stress.

THE LINKEDIN TRICK

There’s a third method, too, that I’ve seen work wonders. A well-known tech firm that recently worked with my company was losing its precious engineers. Recruiters who spent a lot of time looking for coders on LinkedIn were already in the habit of noticing recently updated “Skills” sections, interpreting that as a sign an engineer might be interested in hearing about new opportunities. So it occurred to the tech company to apply this principle in reverse.

The managers realized that their own coders were probably doing the same thing–updating their LinkedIn profiles whenever they were ready to hear from other firms. So the company wrote a simple script to capture the LinkedIn update feed for the profiles of around 2,000 of its top-performing coders. That let managers to react quickly whenever one of those employees added new info. Similar to the call managers, supervisors then swooped in to discuss the career goals and professional-development opportunities with the coders who might be wavering.

As a result, turnover fell, and many of those engineers were moved to assignments or projects that suited their talents and interests much better.

USE YOUR DATA WISELY–AND FAST

Whatever patterns you decide to watch, make sure you’re gathering data for two weeks to two months, so you’ll have enough information to perform a reasonable analysis.

But once you do spot a certain trend, don’t wait to act. Start looking for the source of the dissatisfaction in the corner of the company where you’re picking up on it. Maybe a certain team just really needs flex schedules or better recognition, or they feel starved for information. Often the most effective remedies aren’t even monetary. Once you’ve determined a solution, measure its effectiveness to make sure it continues to produce the outcome you’re hoping for.

At the end of the day, most employees all want the same basic things. Done right, people analytics starts from that humane premise and doesn’t reduce people to numbers–it just helps companies understand why certain situations cause people to keep behaving in certain ways. Ideally, it’s good for everyone when there are fewer surprises, and there’s more happiness to go around.

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Are Innovative Companies More Profitable?

Are Innovative Companies More Profitable?

By at least one measure, the answer is yes.

We recently researched this question across five years of data from 154 companies. Because these companies all used the same ideation management software, we were able to seek correlations between their commitment to innovation and their public financial results, such as growth and profit. (The data about individual participants at each company and about the companies themselves remains private; this study analyzed only public financial information and anonymized company metadata.)

The companies in this study all used a platform that enables employees to share ideas in response to challenges created by management, or comment or vote on ideas shared by others. As we demonstrated in our previous research, the key variable that predicts successful innovation across these companies is ideation rate: the number of winning ideas generated per 1,000 active users. In this context, winning ideas means employee-generated ideas that were finally selected by management for active development and implementation.

We examined the relationship between ideation rate and several publicly reported financial metrics (based on generally accepted accounting principles [GAAP]) for the 28 public companies in our data set for the time period between 2014 and 2016. We found a significant correlation between the ideation rate at these companies and growth in profit or net income: The more ideation, the faster they grew. (See “Profit Growth Is Correlated With More Accepted Ideas.”) While the correlation is far from perfect, this clearly is not a random effect; you’d expect to see a correlation this strong by random chance less than one time in 100.

Each data point here is a fascinating case study. For example, the enterprise with the highest ideation rate was a large health care company in which a highly active ideation program generated 500 winning ideas per 1,000 active users — and where the net profit grew 6% over the two years we studied. And the company in the sample with the fastest-growing profit, a semiconductor company, was generating a healthy 340 winning ideas per 1,000 active users.

The left side of the chart is illustrative, too. When we look at the ideation laggards — companies with ideation rates below 100 winning ideas per 1,000 active users — about half of them had no growth in profits at all.

Growing companies need ideas, and companies that generate lots of good ideas tend to have profitable growth. But it’s unlikely that simply goosing up the ideation rate is what made these companies grow profitably. A more likely explanation is that both healthy ideation and net income growth are a result of a third factor: a culture of innovation.

When a corporate culture is designed not just to encourage innovation but to systematically nurture employee ideas, the results are dramatic. Companies like this boost employee participation in innovation challenges created by management, generate more actionable ideas, and then implement those ideas in a way that generates profitable growth. As a result, you can actually assess the level of innovation at a company on a quarter-by-quarter basis by measuring its ideation rate.

When you visit one of these innovative companies, you can feel a palpable difference in the way the company welcomes ideas from employees.

Consider the case of a company that operates hundreds of medical clinics. Because of the decentralized nature of this business, the company empowers its field workers to solve problems. The mindset of employees is, “I have a voice; my opinion and ideas matter.” So it made sense to tap into that same problem-solving energy across the company to improve operations and efficiency.

For example, a local worker at one of the company’s clinics identified a common problem: helping patients who experience dry mouth during a time-consuming type of therapy but are on a restricted fluid intake. The solution they came up with was to create a spray bottle that was printed with reminders of the best ways that patients could manage their fluid intake — educating the patient with the actual device they were using to cure the dry mouth problem.

Problem-solving of this kind happens in every company. But with this company’s culture of innovation, the workers solving the problem naturally thought, “Who else could benefit?” As a result, they posted their solution on the company’s idea hub, and it eventually became a nationwide standard that improved the patient experience in all the company’s clinics.

Because of the company’s culture, the commitment to innovation spans from the mass of employees to the ranks of management. Ideation challenges put this commitment into practice. Managers show their commitment to the ideation program with internal marketing to drive engagement: They conduct “innovation road shows” locally and use March Madness-style brackets to surface the best ideas in each region. Local winners present their ideas to senior leadership with support from corporate. This way, a nurse in a facility anywhere in the country can get the opportunity to deliver a professional-quality presentation on his or her idea to people who can actually make it effective across all the company’s clinics.

These attitudes have led to a healthy ideation rate and an 11% growth in profit over the two years we studied. But what these numbers can’t measure is the attitude of the staff. At this company — and at all the successful companies we’ve monitored — the culture of innovation is woven throughout the workday. Managers know that ideas will come from the rank and file, while workers recognize that they have an important role to play in identifying problems and spreading solutions that may ultimately affect operations and products far beyond their day-to-day experience. Growth and profitability spring directly from this culture, which energizes employees. As one clinic administrator at the medical company told the people running the innovation challenges, “Thank you so much for what you are doing. I finally feel like we have a voice, and our ideas aren’t dropping into a black hole.”

Another company, EDF Energy PLC in the United Kingdom, had a similar experience. Consumer supply of energy in the U.K. is highly competitive; EDF, which delivers one-fifth of the U.K.’s electricity, has 45 competitors. Its management wanted to harness the ideas of as many of its workers as possible to improve its service to customers, so they launched an ideation challenge to more than 6,000 employees, including meter readers, call center staff, back-office workers, human resources staff, and IT employees.

Because they wanted to show rapid results, they framed the challenge with this question: “What ideas do you have for products and services that can be implemented in the next 12 months?”

The launch of the challenge, using the company’s idea management software, included a high degree of visibility from senior managers, many of whom made sure to comment on the ideas flowing from workers. Constant communication — both digitally and in physical locations — ensured that people remained aware of how they could contribute and how their contributions would be visible to management and colleagues. Over a four-week challenge, employees generated 151 ideas.

“The thing that was most surprising was the number of people who engaged in the process from our operations part of the organization,” said Shetal Edwards, EDF Energy’s head of innovation partnerships. She pointed out that 60% of the ideas came from the operations staff.

After participants had voted on the best ideas, the company selected 10 finalists and brought in professional coaches to help them perfect their presentations to top management, which then selected a winning idea.

The winning idea actually came from a call center worker. This staffer had noticed that a significant number of the company’s complaints came from customers seeking explanations for increases in their electric bills — increases that in many cases were due to new appliance purchases. She suggested creating an app that would enable customers to estimate the likely cost of electricity for new appliances they were considering purchasing.

After that audacious start, EDF has gone on to run many more challenges and has generated many more useful ideas from its employees. It eventually attained an ideation rate of 224 winning ideas per 1,000 active users, one of the highest levels of ideation of any of the companies we tracked.

Our research shows a similar pattern across energy companies, telecom companies, retailers, manufacturers, financial services providers, and health care companies. The companies that have the greatest level of participation have the best ideas. They also have the strongest profit growth. And it all stems from a culture that recognizes that effective innovations can come from a call center worker, a clinic staffer, or just about anyone else in the organization bright enough to identify where the right ideas could make a difference.

Take a hike: Ending client relationships

Take a hike: Ending client relationships

Consider this scenario: A key deadline is nearing, and the client is just now returning your calls and emails. But instead of responding to the open issues, the client indicates there is no real problem and irately demands that services be completed immediately. It is clearly time to end this client relationship.

Many accountants confess to daydreams of uttering “Take a hike!” to a less-than-ideal client. While it may seem like a good idea in the moment, such phrasing is not the most desirable way to terminate a client relationship. However, the process of telling a client to take a hike provides a useful analogy to guide a more professional, less risky end to contentious and cooperative client relationships alike. Treat a client termination as if it were a hike through uncharted lands.

STEP 1: PREPARE FOR THE JOURNEY

Most journeys take expert planning and attention to detail. A client termination requires similar efforts. It is important to remember that both good and bad client relationships may need to end unexpectedly. No signpost indicates when a client relationship takes a wrong turn. The following are tools that may be useful in preparing for an unforeseen client termination:

  • Termination provisions: Including a clear termination provision in an engagement letter, indicating an engagement can be terminated without completion for any reason, can provide significant latitude, if termination becomes necessary. By including such a provision, the CPA firm may reduce the likelihood of a client asserting that the firm cannot withdraw from the engagement.
  • Deadline communication: Clients that are chronically noncompliant with terms of the engagement may need a gentle reminder of their responsibilities in the form of a written communication. Deadlines should be communicated in an engagement letter. A separate stand-alone letter or email may be appropriate if there are concerns about a client’s ability to meet the identified timing. A properly timed communication could even prevent the need for a client termination.
  • Ideal client profile: CPA firms should establish an ideal client profile and regularly evaluate the existing client base against the profile to identify clients that are no longer a fit for the firm. This protocol helps identify potential problem clients before the relationship becomes tenuous.

STEP 2: BE AWARE OF THE DANGERS

Any journey will have its own set of pitfalls and obstacles. The same can be said of client relationships. Though no maps, GPS, or satellite imagery guide a termination, awareness can help CPAs through the dangers of a contentious client relationship. It can be easy to overlook negative indicators, especially if the fees are substantial, the relationship is long-standing, or new clients are hard to find. Even more difficult to overcome are strong interpersonal connections between the engagement team and the client. Recognizing a bias toward retaining a client and being mindful of already serious or mounting issues can be the difference between exiting a client relationship unharmed or falling into a conflict. Common indictors may include:

  • Concerns regarding client integrity.
  • Fee or service complaints.
  • Disputes within the client organization.
  • Untimely or incomplete responses to requests.
  • Negative responses to constructive suggestions.
  • Poor attitude toward internal controls.
  • High accounting or management turnover.
  • Dismissive treatment of engagement team members.
  • Disrespectful treatment of client employees.

While counterintuitive, a client’s rapid success or expansion also could be an indicator that the relationship may need to be reevaluated. The client’s successes may require services and expertise that are beyond the CPA firm’s capabilities. However a proactive plan may prevent the CPA from making unintended errors that could result in professional liability claims, if services were to continue.

STEP 3: MAP OUT YOUR PATH

Whether the end of a client relationship is ambiguous or obvious, a client termination is not complete until it is formalized in a written communication to the client. Guidance on drafting the letter is as follows:

  • Omit the reason for the termination: A termination letter is not the time to win an argument with a client. The letter simply represents a method to inform the client that you are no longer providing services and identify the client’s responsibilities going forward. Explaining why the firm is ending services may only upset the client further or create a problem that previously did not exist.
  • Items for client followupAfter parting ways, your client will need to be pointed in the right direction to complete its journey. The letter should clearly map out the client’s responsibilities going forward and issues that should be raised with a successor CPA. Matters of particular importance to include are deadlines (statutory, regulatory, or operational), internal control weaknesses or breakdowns, and indicators of potential fraud or violations of laws and regulations. If deadlines are missed or a theft occurs and the CPA had not informed the client of those in writing, the client may blame the CPA firm.
  • Fees: At times, clients assert that CPAs knew they did not provide proper services because they do not request outstanding fees. As a result, whether or not you expect to collect unpaid fees, a termination letter should state the outstanding balance of fees due. A final billing statement may resolve any confusion and could be included as an enclosure with the termination letter.
  • Send a hard copy: Advances in technology have made most interpersonal communications nearly instantaneous. Yet, the professionalism and permanence of an actual mailed letter cannot be ignored. Unless there is a looming deadline or other rare situation, a hard copy of the termination letter should always be sent by a method that will confirm receipt by the client. Further, the letter should be sent via a traceable method to demonstrate delivery andreceipt.

STEP 4: FINISH THE JOURNEY

The client termination process is no walk in the park. It involves a commitment of will, time, and professionalism. It is not an easy choice or one that should be made on a whim. Once started, the process should be seen through to completion. The following tips will assist in managing this process:

  • Evaluate your mindset: While it is important to assess the client’s actions in making a termination decision, it is equally important to assess your own mentality once the decision to terminate has been made. The goal of a termination is to lessen or avoid a conflict with a client. Failing to maintain a professional attitude throughout the termination could elicit a client response that results in unnecessary stress, reputational damage, or even a professional liability claim.
  • Stick to the path: Once your services have been officially terminated, do not continue to provide services or reengage with the client for additional services. Allowing a client to talk you into providing services is akin to traversing a bridge that you already know to be perilous. It may seem as though you are performing just one more task before concluding the engagement, but continuing to provide services lessens the likelihood that the client will ever accept that the relationship has ended. Just remember, when the relationship terminates, it is a final decision.

 

9 tips for being more responsive to clients

“One of the top reasons accountants lose clients is because they are not responsive enough,” said Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, partner at WithumSmith+Brown in New Brunswick, N.J.

But being responsive isn’t always easy. CPAs and their firms face daily pressures and have hectic schedules. Clients contact them via phone, email, and text. Multiple clients may want attention simultaneously. And clients may expect their CPAs to be on call day and night.

If communication is light or lacking, sometimes CPAs do not realize that clients are dissatisfied with their level of responsiveness.

How can CPAs and their firms ensure they are being sufficiently responsive to their clients? Leaders in the profession offer the following advice:

  • Return calls, emails, and texts in a timely manner to establish trust. It’s all too easy to push things off until the next day. Many firms have a 24-hour rule, stressing the importance of callbacks or returned emails or texts within that time frame. “I try to return every client phone call by the end of that day,” Mendlowitz said. “Returning phone calls is an indication of availability. Clients want to know that you are there if they have a real serious problem. If a client calls you at an inconvenient time, ask them when you can call them back.”
  • Establish a response policy. Firm leaders should create a policy that explains how quickly clients must receive a response, and then communicate that policy to employees, said Hank Levy, CPA, founder of The Henry Levy Group in Oakland, Calif., and a partner at ELLO, an MGO member firm. Joseph Tarasco, CPA, founder and CEO of consulting firm Accountants Advisory Group in Cold Spring, N.Y., advises firms to drop everything if a client has a crisis. “With competition you have to respond,” he said. “That’s today’s world—everyone is walking around with cellphones, and clients know this.”
  • Choose to communicate in a way that suits your client. Some clients prefer emails; others prefer texts or phone calls. Some want to meet in person. So know how your clients want to communicate. “Respond back in a fashion that will retain that client and keep that client happy,” Tarasco said. Also, reach out to clients occasionally just to say hello, as that can help build relationships as well.
  • Prioritize. Make lists of clients you need to contact and/or respond to. Take advantage of different productivity tools, such as spreadsheets and apps, and keep revisiting and updating your lists, Levy said. Also, if at all possible, don’t delegate client-related tasks that are priorities and time-sensitive. “If you do delegate, make sure you follow up. Do not assume that it will always get done,” Tarasco said.
  • Use language your client will understand. Your clients “are not tax accountants with advanced tax degrees,” Tarasco noted. So avoid sending them jargon-filled emails and instead explain things to them in layman’s terms.
  • If a client wants to meet, do it. If a client requests a meeting, “do not make an appointment for two weeks out,” Mendlowitz said. Instead, try to meet as soon as possible, even the next day if you have time. Doing so highlights your availability and responsiveness. Similarly, don’t write a 10-page email if there is a lot to discuss. In addition to the necessary written documentation, you also should meet face-to-face for something that is important or complicated, Tarasco advised.
  • Be compassionate. Clients should view you as a trusted adviser, and that means being a good listener. “If a client has pain, try to find out the pain and meet with the client to help them through it,” Mendlowitz said. “Empathize with the client and feel what they are going through.” Also, be sensitive to clients’ changing needs.
  • Follow up. Even if a client seems satisfied with your response to issues that arise, contact them again within a few days. Ask, “How are things going? Did it work out as planned? Did my advice help? Did anything else get uncovered?” Tarasco said. “Follow-up is key.”
  • Keep your client roster manageable. While it’s great to add more clients to your roster, having too many can make it difficult to serve all of them in a timely manner and keep them happy, so don’t take on too much. “If you are not responsive to clients, you give them a reason to leave you, look outside, and complain,” said Richard Lash, CPA, managing partner at Walthall CPAs in Cleveland.

Most partners in public accounting firms achieved their success because they were responsive to their clients. “That’s the No. 1 commandment,” Tarasco said. “So if you are breaking that No. 1 commandment, you can’t stay in business.”

Delegating like a boss

It isn’t always easy. Delegating can be difficult because many people link accomplishments with working hard. They may also fear being viewed as bossy or lazy. But delegation can help advance careers. “If you’re focusing on the most important things that need your attention, you’re going to make more impact on the organization and more impact on your career success,” said Joel Garfinkle, an executive coach and author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level. “Shift the mindset from ‘I’m going to do everything myself’ to ‘I’m going to let people learn.'”

Here’s how to get started:

Think about what you can give up. Consider what only you can do and keep that. Anything confidential, essential, or sensitive likely needs to stay with you. Client meetings might be kept, but scheduling those meetings could be passed along to someone else. But don’t focus on just the mundane tasks, Garfinkle said. Delegate things that will help colleagues enrich their jobs and feel empowered.

Identify to whom you can delegate. People have to have the “skill and the will,” said Lisa Barrington, a workplace strategist and speaker based in Phoenix. An employee with more experience may not be interested, but a lower-level staffer may be willing to take on the task. You can also consider peers at your level, provided they can benefit from the work. Remember that everyone can “get bored if they’re not trying new things or learning new things,” Barrington said. Of course, beware of overloading someone.

Do the heavy lifting early. To ensure the task is done properly, delegating requires ongoing communication. First, explain that this as a growth opportunity, provide detailed instructions, and be specific on outcome expectations. “The more you’re involved upfront, the less time you need to be later on,” Garfinkle said. Then, set up check-ins to discuss progress and issues. Express gratitude for a job well done.

Alter guidance. Be available for questions, and be willing to make adjustments as needed. Then, as the person masters the task, reduce your oversight. “You can pull back on the direction to more of a guide,” Barrington said. Then, let them “come to you if they need to.”

The Strategic Decisions That Caused Nokia’s Failure

 

The moves that led to Nokia’s decline paint a cautionary tale for successful firms.

In less than a decade, Nokia emerged from Finland to lead the mobile phone revolution. It rapidly grew to have one of the most recognisable and valuable brands in the world. At its height Nokia commanded a global market share in mobile phones of over 40 percent. While its journey to the top was swift, its decline was equally so, culminating in the sale of its mobile phone business to Microsoft in 2013.

It is tempting to lay the blame for Nokia’s demise at the doors of Apple, Google and Samsung. But as I argue in my latest book, Ringtone: Exploring the Rise and Fall of Nokia in Mobile Phones, this ignores one very important fact: Nokia had begun to collapse from within well before any of these companies entered the mobile communications market. In these times of technological advancement, rapid market change and growing complexity, analysing the story of Nokia provides salutary lessons for any company wanting to either forge or maintain a leading position in their industry.

Early success

With a young, united and energetic leadership team at the helm, Nokia’s early success was primarily the result of visionary and courageous management choices that leveraged the firm’s innovative technologies as digitalisation and deregulation of telecom networks quickly spread across Europe. But in the mid-1990s, the near collapse of its supply chain meant Nokia was on the precipice of being a victim of its success. In response, disciplined systems and processes were put in place, which enabled Nokia to become extremely efficient and further scale up production and sales much faster than its competitors.

Between 1996 and 2000, the headcount at Nokia Mobile Phones (NMP) increased 150 percent to 27,353, while revenues over the period were up 503 percent. This rapid growth came at a cost. And that cost was that managers at Nokia’s main development centres found themselves under ever increasing short-term performance pressure and were unable to dedicate time and resources to innovation.

While the core business focused on incremental improvements, Nokia’s relatively small data group took up the innovation mantle. In 1996, it launched the world’s first smartphone, the Communicator, and was also responsible for Nokia’s first camera phone in 2001 and its second-generation smartphone, the innovative 7650.

The search for an elusive third leg

Nokia’s leaders were aware of the importance of finding what they called a “third leg” – a new growth area to complement the hugely successful mobile phone and network businesses. Their efforts began in 1995 with the New Venture Board but this failed to gain traction as the core businesses ran their own venturing activities and executives were too absorbed with managing growth in existing areas to focus on finding new growth.

A renewed effort to find the third leg was launched with the Nokia Ventures Organisation (NVO) under the leadership of one of Nokia’s top management team. This visionary programme absorbed all existing ventures and sought out new technologies. It was successful in the sense that it nurtured a number of critical projects which were transferred to the core businesses. In fact, many opportunities NVO identified were too far ahead of their time; for instance, NVO correctly identified “the internet of things” and found opportunities in multimedia health management – a current growth area. But it ultimately failed due to an inherent contradiction between the long-term nature of its activities and the short-term performance requirements imposed on it.

Reorganising for agility

Although Nokia’s results were strong, the share price high and customers around the world satisfied and loyal, Nokia’s CEO Jorma Ollila was increasingly concerned that rapid growth had brought about a loss of agility and entrepreneurialism. Between 2001 and 2005, a number of decisions were made to attempt to rekindle Nokia’s earlier drive and energy but, far from reinvigorating Nokia, they actually set up the beginning of the decline.

Key amongst these decisions was the reallocation of important leadership roles and the poorly implemented 2004 reorganisation into a matrix structure. This led to the departure of vital members of the executive team, which led to the deterioration of strategic thinking.

Tensions within matrix organisations are common as different groups with different priorities and performance criteria are required to work collaboratively. At Nokia,which had been acccustomed to decentralised initiatives, this new way of working proved an anathema. Mid-level executives had neither the experience nor training in the subtle integrative negotiations fundamental in a successful matrix.

As I explain in my book, process trumps structure in reorganisations. And so reorganisations will be ineffective without paying attention to resource allocation processes, product policy and product management, sales priorities and providing the right incentives for well-prepared managers to support these processes. Unfortunately, this did not happen at Nokia.

NMP became locked into an increasingly conflicted product development matrix between product line executives with P&L responsibility and common “horizontal resource platforms” whose managers were struggling to allocate scarce resources. They had to meet the various and growing demands of increasingly numerous and disparate product development programmes without sufficient software architecture development and software project management skills. This conflictual way of working slowed decision-making and seriously dented morale, while the wear and tear of extraordinary growth combined with an abrasive CEO personality also began to take their toll. Many managers left.

Beyond 2004, top management was no longer sufficiently technologically savvy or strategically integrative to set priorities and resolve conflicts arising in the new matrix. Increased cost reduction pressures rendered Nokia’s strategy of product differentiation through market segmentation ineffective and resulted in a proliferation of poorer quality products.

The swift decline

The following years marked a period of infighting and strategic stasis that successive reorganisations did nothing to alleviate. By this stage, Nokia was trapped by a reliance on its unwieldy operating system called Symbian. While Symbian had given Nokia an early advantage, it was a device-centric system in what was becoming a platform- and application-centric world. To make matters worse, Symbian exacerbated delays in new phone launches as whole new sets of code had to be developed and tested for each phone model. By 2009, Nokia was using 57 different and incompatible versions of its operating system.

While Nokia posted some of its best financial results in the late 2000s, the management team was struggling to find a response to a changing environment: Software was taking precedence over hardware as the critical competitive feature in the industry. At the same time, the importance of application ecosystems was becoming apparent, but as dominant industry leader Nokia lacked the skills, and inclination to engage with this new way of working.

By 2010, the limitations of Symbian had become painfully obvious and it was clear Nokia had missed the shift toward apps pioneered by Apple. Not only did Nokia’s strategic options seem limited, but none were particularly attractive. In the mobile phone market, Nokia had become a sitting duck to growing competitive forces and accelerating market changes. The game was lost, and it was left to a new CEO Stephen Elop and new Chairman Risto Siilasmaa to draw from the lessons and successfully disengage Nokia from mobile phones to refocus the company on its other core business, network infrastructure equipment.

What can we learn from Nokia

Nokia’s decline in mobile phones cannot be explained by a single, simple answer: Management decisions, dysfunctional organisational structures, growing bureaucracy and deep internal rivalries all played a part in preventing Nokia from recognising the shift from product-based competition to one based on platforms.

Nokia’s mobile phone story exemplifies a common trait we see in mature, successful companies: Success breeds conservatism and hubris which, over time, results in a decline of the strategy processes leading to poor strategic decisions. Where once companies embraced new ideas and experimentation to spur growth, with success they become risk averse and less innovative. Such considerations will be crucial for companies that want to grow and avoid one of the biggest disruptive threats to their future – their own success.

Yves Doz is an Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management at INSEAD. He is the programme director for the Managing Partnerships and Strategic Alliances programme.

 

China to lift ownership restrictions for foreign financial firms

China to lift ownership restrictions for foreign financial firms

New rules will open the way for possible acquisition of Chinese banks

The People’s Bank of China.

BEIJING — The Chinese government said Friday it will open its financial sector to foreign companies, a move aimed at spurring modernization of the domestic industry through the greater presence of foreign companies.

The new rules will allow full foreign ownership of local securities companies in 2020, and of insurance companies in 2022. Foreign banks will be able to acquire local banks. Currently, China does not allow foreign majority ownership of companies in these sectors.

The announcement was timed for a visit to China by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been calling for greater market access for U.S. companies.

Chinese President Xi Jinping explained the move to Trump during their talks in Beijing on Thursday. The new rules will apply to all foreign financial institutions, including those from Europe and Japan.

Under current rules, foreign firms can operate securities or life-insurance services only through joint ventures, with foreign ownership capped at 49% for securities services, and 50% for life-insurance services.

The limit will be raised to 51% as early as this year for securities businesses and removed entirely in 2020. For life-insurance services, the cap will be raised to 51% in 2020 and removed entirely in 2022.

Banks are already allowed to operate wholly owned subsidiaries in China. Under the new rules, the cap will be raised on foreign ownership of local banks. Currently, foreign banks can only have a 25% stake in local banks.

It is not clear whether the liberalization will actually result in more foreign-owned brokerages and insurers in China, as regulatory approval is still needed to establish local companies. How Chinese regulators apply the new rules to foreign firms is not yet clear.

Source :  Asian Review

Workplace Health and Safety a Vital Component of Mature Risk Management

Businesses of all types are being transformed by technology, and so are the many kinds of workplaces that support their operations. Changing business strategies and increased productivity lead to rapid changes in process, which often means that executives lack a full understanding of the impact on the health and safety of employees and third parties. Workplace health and safety risks are among the most critical to address, as they can result directly in loss of life and limb—not to mention chronic injury and illness, work stoppage, lawsuits, and damage to brand reputation.

Traditionally, workplace health and safety matters have been addressed by dedicated safety teams working apart from the business, and risk management teams relying on spreadsheets, checklists, and incident reports as tools of the trade. As the number and interdependence of risk factors increases, this is no longer a sustainable approach—the cost of managing each regulation, requirement, change, or incident out of siloed programs will continue to rise, while effectiveness erodes.

The growing influence of international standards for risk management (e.g., ISO 31000, ISO 9001 and ISO 45001), and emphasis on integrated risk management as a key factor in cultivating business resiliency have created prime opportunities for workplace safety professionals to raise awareness of their role in risk management and of the impacts of accidents. With the right processes and technology, safety professionals can help protect their organizations from a range of negative outcomes from employee absences to insurance premium increases to fines and lawsuits.

With this in mind, health and safety leaders, C-level executives, and boards should be incorporating workforce well-being into strategic planning, corporate responsibility programs, and risk maturity initiatives across the enterprise. Governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC) efforts are not abstract—they are interrelated, and each function can be made stronger when addressed holistically. Carrying out integrated GRC initiatives (including health and safety programs) involves orchestrating and centralizing numerous interdependent policies, processes, and reports.

Integrated risk management should raise continuous, data-driven improvement of health and safety measures to the same level as other operational risk measures (e.g., cyber security, outsourcing, fraud prevention). Supporting these efforts with a systematic and streamlined process and toolset for documentation, tracking, training, reporting, and analysis is fundamental to incorporating them throughout the enterprise.

Integrated risk management processes help organizations foster accountability and collaboration, form a clear and complete picture of risk, cover compliance obligations more efficiently, reduce safety and health incidents, and improve incident response. The longer problems remain unaddressed, the greater the liability and risk exposure. Ineffective responses to workplace health and safety issues can lead to repeat accidents, illnesses, absences, loss of productivity, higher fines, higher insurance premiums and increased scrutiny from regulators and business partners. The GRC processes that need to be optimized include: performing risk analysis and business impact analysis; maintaining and reviewing process and safety documentation; investigating and reporting on accidents, injuries, illnesses and near misses; analyzing injuries and issues by site to pinpoint and measure risk; automating generation of incident forms for outside agencies (e.g., OSHA and HSE); executing job hazard analyses; managing site inspections and remediation actions; and ensuring employees are aware of safety processes.

There are few excuses for the blind spots that lead to major workplace health and safety issues. If we integrate policies and controls with processes and systems across the enterprise, we can gather and analyze metrics on just about every aspect of operations, as well as incorporating employee input and best practice guidelines. GRC technology solutions that include a health and safety component can help automate and bring a new level of intelligence to the associated risk analysis.

Enterprise-wide data integration enables predictive analytics capabilities, making it possible to identify health and safety issues and communicate them to executive decision-makers before they turn into incidents and losses for the company. Data captured during risk or safety assessments, and investigations into near misses and incidents generates insights to be incorporated into safety protocols and job training. The same types of analyses can be applied to vendor and supply chain management to improve health and safety outcomes throughout the value chain.

Data-driven safety programs should also include mechanisms for gathering input and feedback from the workforce. Whistleblower capabilities, responsive communications, and reliable procedures for following up after an incident or near-miss cultivate a safety-first environment. The ability to reassure workers that their wellbeing is a management priority positively impacts everything from recruitment and retention to incident rates, productivity, and corporate reputation.

Organizations cannot reach a mature, effective level of risk management without incorporating health and safety into their operational risk programs. An informed and comprehensive view of risk leaves enterprises better prepared for planned growth as well as unexpected opportunities and challenges. To strengthen business resiliency and sustain competitive advantage, executives must prioritize the continuous monitoring of health and safety risk and compliance across all business units, partners, and vendors. Mature risk management not only saves lives, but also lowers insurance costs, increases productivity and protects the sizable investments companies make in acquiring, training, and retaining their workforce.