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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN EAGLES GATHER?

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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN EAGLES GATHER?

Executive Round Table delivers fascinating insights on what’s getting American accountants excited

When an invitation for the ‘Gathering of Eagles’ arrived in my in-box, I was intrigued. In my 30 years working in the profession and at Sage, I cannot recall one event in the UK where everyone comes together to share insights and perspectives for the common good of the profession. This was too good an opportunity to miss with the chance to connect with some of the US accountancy profession’s top thought leaders, software vendors and media at an event hosted by the CPA and AICPA in New York.

Gavin May

Gavin May

 Here are the highlights:

Heightened awareness of position on technology adoption curve

What was fascinating to see was how US firms demonstrated a rare level of self -awareness based on where they position themselves on the technology adoption curve. They had taken the time to look closely at their own firms’ response to technology and had openly positioned themselves as ‘Innovators’ or ‘Early Adopters’ or even ‘Laggards’ The discussion that took place was all about helping to match up the more innovative software providers with accountants who are eager to differentiate themselves through innovative technology. This makes it all together easier for vendors to find the people who are ready to consider their services.

Surprisingly the UK leads US in Cloud accounting software adoption

It is a misnomer to think that the US is more advanced in Cloud technology adoption than the UK. While globally, there is a massive push for the small business market to transition from their desktop accounting software to cloud based accounting applications, it is *New Zealand and Australia that are leading the way followed by the UK and with the US trailing behind with just 5% of small business having chosen the Cloud option.

One of the most popular topics was the Cloud with many mentions of being ‘past the tipping point’ but the bigger issue to me seemed to be that the same generic terminology was continually being used without any detailed context. I spent time discussing this with James E. Carpp, Director of Consulting, at Rehmann, one of the largest accounting and consulting firms in the US, and he explained his firm’s view: “We believe Cloud computing is the key differentiator going forward. Organisations can free up their capital, select best-of-breed solutions that provide for scalability and eliminate the need for in-house information technology resources while at the same time enhancing productivity through streamlined solutions.”

Clients’ needs are changing

US CPA firms reported that Cloud is the biggest change in terms of technology to affect the profession and yet, it appeared to me listening to some of the accounting firms that attended that they still need to be convinced that this isn’t about them and what technology they need to adopt, also it isn’t about IT per se; it’s about evolving and providing up to date modern services their clients want and expect from them.

It’s about evolution not revolution and things have a habit of being cyclical. For example, the new cloud technologies and software offerings promote more real time collaboration between accounting firms and their clients and this means more real-time data and insights.  As an example, accountants who have embraced the collaborative technologies have evolved the old and out of favour booking service and turned it into a modern up to date and hugely valuable client accounting service.  Some firms also offer a virtual CFO service as part of the package.  This type of outsourcing model is a huge source of growth for forward thinking US firms.

A UK technology company leading the world with a very different proposition

The news that our baby, MyFirmsApp had been named the best online App for accountants by Accounting Today broke during the Roundtable and helped reinforce the UK as a leader in innovative new technology.

Technology is disrupting the traditional relationship between firm and client, by enabling Non-Accountants to become the first port of call for queries on accounts, finance and tax – at MyFirmsApp we call this the Google-effect.  A large software vendor even declared at the event that AI and machine learning would result in the end of the accounting firms. Fortunately, accountancy firms are uniquely well placed to ensure that they do not become disenfranchised as technology disrupts the profession.  When I asked James Carpp for his view he echoed this: “The current trend is clear, momentum is moving away from the personal computer to mobile devices as well as from in-house solutions to SaaS solutions. As our clients make this transition, firms need to be on the front end. The next logical conclusion for firms is to provide a focal point to gather disparate data into an easy to use mobile application. Firms that do this will remain relevant.”

I also spoke to Geni Whitehouse, a keynote presenter whose aim is to make accountancy and technology interesting and writes a highly entertaining blog ‘Even a nerd can be heard’.  Geni sees the value and potential of mobile: A firms own App is a no-brainer for any accountant who wants to stand out, own their brand and meet their clients where they are – on their phone.  The mobile solution is the missing piece in providing timely and relevant information when managing clients.”

Blockchain

The excellent session led by Ron Quaranta on Blockchain really grabbed my attention.  The technology behind Bit-Coin is a game-changer and is another example of the Internet and collaboration in real time driving change.  Blockchain is set to impact accounting firms globally and potentially has serious implications for accountants and auditors.  The profession has the opportunity to evolve new services that add value so I suggest accountants everywhere to get up to speed.  Expect to hear a lot more about Blockchain.

It was a real honour to be invited to help shape a vision for the future of the profession and in her own inimitable way, Geni summed up the ‘Gathering of Eagles’ perfectly. “This event reinforced the importance of continuous learning that goes far beyond the basics needed to maintain our professional designations. Too few traditional accountants are even aware of most of the incredible technology that was on display at this gathering. Whatever the medium, we accountants must keep learning so we can constantly evolve and innovate.”

 *Source – Panalitix 2016

Gavin Disney-May is a senior executive, corporate development professional, entrepreneur and investor with a proven track record of leadership and achievement in the software industry. He currently acts as a strategic adviser to a number of technology businesses, M&A firms and private equity houses and is Chairman of MyFirmsApp, a global FinTech company and the world leader in App and mobile technology, with a particular focus on financial advisers, accounting and bookkeeping firms.

www.myfirmsapp.co.uk

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Holiday bookings soar as Britons hope for travel restart

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Holiday bookings soar as Britons hope for travel restart 1

By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) – International holiday bookings surged by as much as 600% after Britain laid out plans to gradually relax coronavirus restrictions, giving battered airlines and tour operators hope that a bumper summer could come to their rescue.

EasyJet said flight bookings from Britain jumped over 300% and holiday bookings surged by more than 600% week on week after the government indicated on Monday that travel could restart from mid-May, while holiday company TUI UK said that its holiday bookings surged 500%.

This summer is make-or-break for many airlines and holiday companies which are struggling to survive with close to a year of almost no revenue due to pandemic restrictions. Without it many will need extra funds after burning through cash reserves.

UK-listed travel stocks were buoyed after new bookings flooded in on Monday evening and Tuesday despite ongoing uncertainty over exactly how and when international routes can reopen.

Shares in easyJet jumped 9%, while British Airways-owner IAG traded up 6%, TUI and Jet2 both jumped 6% and Ryanair was 3% higher.

While British tourists are some of the biggest spenders in Europe, the presence of a more infectious variant of coronavirus in the UK could alarm some countries. France and Spain have shut their borders to most UK travellers due to variants.

UK holidaymakers will know more on April 12 when the government publishes a travel review. It has said that a lockdown ban on most international travel will stay until at least May 17.

That should give airlines time to plan their summer schedule, a process which takes months.

EasyJet said trips from the UK to beach destinations such as Malaga, Alicante and Palma in Spain, Faro in Portugal and Crete, Greece, were the most popular destinations with holidaymakers keenest to travel in August. July and September were the next most popular months.

TUI said destinations in Greece, Spain and Turkey were the most booked overnight, with people opting to go from July onwards.

Britain’s route back to normality is helped by rapid progress with its vaccine plan. Over 17.7 million people, or a quarter of the population, have already had a first dose of the jab. The government is also considering options for vaccine passports.

The airlines and travel companies hope such progress will mean that from May 17 the UK will end its holiday ban and remove a 10-day quarantine requirement, a big deterrent for holidaymakers, and some of its COVID-19 testing rules.

(Reporting by Sarah Young, Editing by Paul Sandle and Susan Fenton)

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Concern over rich-poor divide seen on the increase during pandemic

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Concern over rich-poor divide seen on the increase during pandemic 2

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – People have become more concerned about the gap between rich and poor during the coronavirus pandemic, especially the young, the authors of a new global study said on Tuesday, urging governments to take steps to redress the balance.

More than 8,700 people in 24 nations were surveyed at the start and end of 2020 by the Glocalities market research agency, with the findings showing an increase in the share of respondents who thought income differences should be reduced.

As the coronavirus pummeled the global economy last year, the survey also found a 10-point rise in the percentage who said decent work and economic growth were the most important means of improving quality of life.

“It has slapped people in the face and made them realize that things are not going well,” Ronald Inglehart, one of the lead authors of the study, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, referring to the pandemic.

“We need government intervention on a larger scale. We don’t want a state-run economy, but some of the resources need to be reallocated to balance off this powerful trend.”

Policies that will create “good-paying jobs” in the fields of child care, environmental protection and infrastructure would help address mounting frustration over income inequality Inglehart added.

Young people are particularly concerned about income disparities, the study found.

A third of respondents aged between 18 and 34 said they were more concerned about income inequality than unemployment or economic growth at the end of 2020, up from 29% at the start of the year – before the coronavirus had spread around the world.

“Feelings of being upset, being afraid, feeling let down, feeling like ‘I have no prospective anymore’ are on the rise,” said Martijn Lampert, who also co-authored the study.

“So this requires very wise and just government interventions to channel this unrest in a positive way.”

Inglehart said he sees evidence of such sentiments among the students he teaches at the University of Michigan.

“The job market is dismal … My best students, the stars, they’re finding jobs at a lower level than they’re anticipating. And the ones who aren’t stars are getting nothing,” he said.

The global economy is seen shrinking 3.5% last year, according to the latest estimates by the International Monetary Fund, and numerous studies have shown how the global health crisis has exacerbated economic inequalities.

As a result of the pandemic, the number of people living in poverty has doubled to more than 500 million, according to a report issued last month by the charity Oxfam.

Meanwhile, the collective wealth of the world’s billionaires rose $3.9 trillion between March and December 2020 to reach $11.95 trillion, the report said.

(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes; Editing by Helen Popper; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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Boon or bane? Malaysian island reclamation plan divides residents

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Boon or bane? Malaysian island reclamation plan divides residents 3

By Rina Chandran

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The island of Penang on the northwest coast of Malaysia is known for its sandy beaches, the colourful wall murals of its capital Georgetown, and its fiery street food.

In time, it will also be known for three man-made islands that state authorities say are needed to provide housing and economic opportunities for an expanding population, while also generating funds for a modern transport network.

But the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) project, dubbed BiodiverCity, has pitted the government and businesses against fishermen and environmentalists who say it will wreck the lives of residents, and damage the coast.

“The area is rich in prawns and fish. If you build islands, what we will see is permanent environmental degradation,” said Mahadi Md Rodzi, chairman of the Penang Fishermen’s Association that represents about 6,000 fisherman.

“Fishermen have been told to upskill or get another job, but many of us are born fishermen and depend on the sea to live. The proposed compensation from the state is too insufficient for something that will affect our livelihoods forever,” he said.

Many fishermen have rejected the 20,000-ringitt ($4,950) compensation offered, as well as the Environmental Impact Assessment report, which conservationists say does not reflect the potential damage or propose adequate mitigation measures.

Authorities say BiodiverCity, which is a part of the Penang 2030 vision of improving liveability and sustainability, will be a “socially and economically inclusive development” with an emphasis on green spaces, clean energy and car-free transport.

The 4,500-acre (1,821 hectares) project comprising three lilypad-shaped islands will house about 15,000 people each, and use natural and recycled materials such as bamboo and timber for construction of homes and offices, according to the plan.

But the scale of the dredging and reclamation work over more than a decade will cause “massive and long-term environmental destruction”, said Evelyn Teh, an environmental researcher in Penang.

“Fifteen years of land reclamation is a long onslaught to any marine ecology and the fishery industry that depends on it. The reclaimed islands will bury existing fishing areas while deteriorating the surrounding marine water quality,” she said.

“Coastal communities who rely on the marine and coastal area for their livelihood will experience an irreversible negative impact,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

‘COLOSSAL MISAPPROPRIATION’

From Denmark to Singapore, planners have reclaimed land from the sea for decades for offices, apartments and tourism.

Cities and island states that are running out of space are reclaiming land, expanding vertically or going underground.

A United Nations-backed partnership is studying the prospect of floating cities that can help coastal cities at risk of flooding from worsening climate-change impacts.

In Asia, land reclamation has become a contentious issue, with Cambodia and Malaysia banning sand exports, while Jakarta has suspended its reclamation project, and a plan to build an artificial island in Hong Kong has drawn fierce criticism.

Malaysia has two other major reclamation projects underway: Melaka Gateway, a deep-sea-port and cruise terminal that is part of China’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure plan, and Forest City in Johor near Singapore, aimed at foreign investors.

Large-scale reclamation allows more flexibility in city planning, but also lets governments engage “more ambitiously and aggressively with the business of land-banking,” said Keng-Khoon Ng, a lecturer at UCSI University Kuala Lumpur.

“These island-making projects are designed to boost state coffers. They represent a colossal misappropriation of resources at a time of intensifying housing unaffordability and social injustice,” he said.

But the PSR is needed as Penang has “run out of land”, resulting in ad-hoc developments, fewer economic opportunities, and a shortage of affordable housing, said Eddie Chan, executive director of SRS Consortium, the project developer.

A quarter of residential units will be earmarked for affordable housing in the average price range of 350,000 ringgit, and a fishermen’s taskforce set up by the state government is addressing any social impacts, he said.

“With proper design and construction methods applied to dredging and reclamation, and pollution prevention and mitigation measures to minimise environmental impact, we are confident that reclamation can be done sustainably,” Chan said.

RADICAL RETHINK

The PSR project, designed by Copenhagen-based Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), is scheduled to break ground in March after approvals.

Reclamation has hugely benefited Penang, with parts of the Bayan Lepas industrial zone, as well as heritage clan jetties built on reclaimed land, said Joshua Woo, a former local councillor.

“There are fancy land reclamation projects for the wealthy, but there are also land reclamation projects for a city’s survival. PSR belongs to the latter group,” he said.

“The project will open up new economic opportunities and social spaces for us,” he added.

In fact, PSR is a “feasible solution” to address urgent environmental issues such as climate change and sea-level rises, said Farizan Darus, chief executive of government agency Penang Infrastructure Corporation that is overseeing the project.

“More than half of Penang island is hilly terrain, therefore the next best approach is land reclamation,” he said.

“Without strategic land, Penang’s growth will be stunted. Now is the best time to implement PSR to provide a much-needed economic boost to Penang, and prepare the state for the post-pandemic economy,” he added.

Meanwhile, an online petition by a local heritage advocate against the project, has garnered more than 115,000 signatures, while a group of residents have held several protests under the Penang Tolak Tambak (Penang Rejects Reclamation) banner.

In building PSR and using it to fund the 46-billion ringgit ($11.4 billion) transport network, the state is taking on a huge financial risk during an economic slowdown, and putting commercial interests above the environment and people, said Teh.

Particularly now, when the coronavirus pandemic has revealed deep-rooted inequalities in urbanisation, authorities should instead favour a “radical rethink on building back better”, she said, including low-carbon public transport networks.

“The government risks putting too much focus on a massively expensive and environmentally destructive project that will only benefit a small group of people at the expense of the wider population during an unprecedented economic crisis,” Teh said.

“Penang may be biting off more than it can chew.”

($1 = 4.03691 Malaysian ringgit)

(Reporting by Rina Chandran in Bangkok, with additional reporting by Beh Lih Yi in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Astrid Zweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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