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Back to basics: the work environment

Forget nap pods, climbing walls and free fruit. When two thirds of employees say that they believe they are more productive in a work environment that supports their health and wellbeing, they’re not talking about a gym on site or bringing their dog to work: they want two very basic things more than anything else – natural light and good air quality. When more than two thirds also say that they would consider moving to, or staying with, an organisation that better provides these, then employers need to start listening. Easily overlooked in favour of trendier perks, natural daylight or an outdoor view can have a significant impact on the employee experience, and therefore productivity. Over 30% of employees say they lose at least an hour a day due to workplace environmental issues, and while some of this can be down to uncomfortable temperature or distracting acoustics, the majority is cited as air quality and a lack of natural light. One study claims that exposure to natural light can help improve productivity levels by as much as 20%. Another showed that workers in a daylight office environment reported a 51% drop in the incidence of eyestrain, a 63% drop in the incidence of headaches and a 56% reduction in drowsiness. Poor air quality is similarly known to make people drowsy (and therefore less productive) and only one in four people believe their office air quality is good enough. Indoor air quality is notoriously worse than outside air because it is continuously recycled and given the majority of us spend so much time inside with our office-based jobs, even the conservative 8-10% decrease in productivity attributed to air quality, is worth tackling. A number of large companies are already changing their workspace to mitigate the productivity drop, as well as use it as a recruitment tool. Amazon’s centre in Seattle has a jungle area with 40,000 plants. As well as the associated natural light and air quality that comes with it, employees are encouraged to walk around this “nature” to reduce stress and stay active. Airbnb’s call centre is an open space that maximises natural light and, importantly, views of their surroundings. Some EU countries even have employee proximity to window views as mandatory. For many organisations though it’s not an easy fix if the office has already been built as a windowless void. But there are steps that can be taken to improve the employee experience even if there is no view. A study from Australia showed that hanging workplace art, depicting natural landscapes and nature, improved wellbeing, with reduced stress and improved fatigue levels noted. There are also sophisticated lighting solutions available that mimic the shifting daylight outside, changing colour and temperature just like the natural environment. What is your office environment like? Do you have a desk with a view or access to fresh air? We’d love to hear your comments.

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Why today’s Finance function needs to look forward

Until recently, the role of the Finance function was primarily there in the back office to keep costs in check, ensure compliance, and support a business from a more reporting position, but things have changed. Organisations today, exposed to increasing risk and more stringent regulations, need more from Finance in these economically uncertain times. Finance functions are therefore now looking forward rather than back and stepping forward to become valued business partners, included in strategic decision making, and at the forefront of technological advances. But adapting to this new era is not without its difficulties. To be effective, the modern Finance function must evolve to overcome the challenges presented by not only its organisation’s requirements, but also by the adoption of tech in the workplace, and everchanging compliance and risk constraints. Here are the key challenges we’ve discussed with some of our clients: The needs of the business Finance functions need to integrate better with other business areas, especially IT, and lose any silo mentality. Stakeholder engagement is key to ensure visibility and help improve compliance and relevant processes across the business. Communication is the key. Reduced costs are as important as ever, so improvements at a process level, through the adoption of the right technology is crucial Training, development and upskilling of the Finance team is imperative, both in terms of new tech and processes, but also in the wider remit of the overall business strategy. Hiring specialist talent is also high on the agenda. Such an overhaul will often see a full change management program required, to integrate new systems or retrain individuals, again often resulting in CM or PM hires. Technology The adoption of any new tech, from ERP to AI, is increasingly under the remit of Finance, in conjunction with IT. Global platforms for reporting or financial planning and automation for processes are already commonplace, with their efficiency affording additional time to add value in other areas. All new systems require integration with legacy systems, a transition period and inevitable training – all to be implemented with no downtime to the day-to-day Finance tasks Cloud technology and advances in tech in general mean cybersecurity moves up the agenda Advances in tech are fast and systems can become obsolete, so future proofing is vital and regular reviews should be standard Compliance Legislation is changing rapidly, particularly in areas such as AML – keeping a team up to speed with regulations will remain a challenge. Brexit is likely to result in new regulations, compliance processes and new challenges – as such Finance professionals with cross-border specialist skills will be in high demand. Individual accountability on CFO’s and senior professionals is also on the increase and needs to be planned for. In meeting these challenges, a Finance function will be well placed to be the streamlined, effective, strategic business partner that every business needs. If your Finance function is entering a period of change, or you need specialist help on how to evolve to the best of your abilities, contact us today.

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Congratulations! Now what?

It’s that time of year again: exam results are out and newly-qualified accountants are exploring their options! If you’ve updated your LinkedIn profile with your newly qualified status and are already getting messages from recruiters, then congratulations, now that you’re qualified, there are plenty of options open to you and soon there will be offers on the table. So, what exactly do you need to consider to be able to make the right decision? Salary and title: Qualifying typically sees a decent pay rise come into play, varying from firm to firm, and you may have also been given a new title to reflect your newly qualified status. You may be happy with both, one, or neither, but try to be objective about it. In terms of salary, it’s important to understand what the market rate for someone with your qualification and specialism expertise is. We can help you with that. Secondly, titles are fairly arbitrary as they change from firm to firm, so don’t worry about the wording itself. It’s all about your skill sets at this stage. Practice v industry: There is no right and wrong decision here and the stats show that it’s almost 50/50 in terms of who leaves practice for industry. We often hear, “I want a commercial role” and you can read more about finding a commercial role here. But if you know that you do want to move into commerce, now is the ideal time, though bear in mind, it can be extremely competitive. Remember too that staying practice doesn’t have to mean staying where you are – there may be better career progression at another firm. Specialism: You may well have specialised for quite a while over the course of your studies, and want a change, which is understandable. Now is a great time to switch into tax, transactional services or whatever interests you, but also consider that there is the option to stay in your specialism and move to a top firm as many of them offer secondment opportunities after your first year. Career progression: Along with your new pay rise and title to reflect your experience to date and new qualification, it’s important that you see some tangible proof of progression. If you don’t have increased responsibilities or more challenging work on the horizon, now is the time to query that, certainly before making any decision to stay. Consider whether there are bigger clients you could be getting involved with or management opportunities. If the answer is no, then it could be time to look elsewhere. Study fees: How do you leave the employer who paid for you to qualify and what about the outstanding fees? We looked in more detail at clawback fees last year and decided that the money shouldn’t get in the way of a move. While it may feel disloyal because of the sum involved, they are there as much for that psychological reason as anything else. Most firms will help out with anything you owe, so don’t let money on this side of the equation sway your decision making. If you have recently qualified and would like any advice on your next career move, contact us today.

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Moving into Finance after University

Graduating can feel like a weight lifted off your shoulders, but that relief is often short lived when you are confronted with the dilemma of what comes next. Typically, some student debt is going to mean that you want to start earning as soon as possible, so what should you do first if you’ve got your heart set on a career in Finance? Use the support and services at your disposal Universities pride themselves on their vocational guidance and post-graduation support, often up to two years after you’ve left, so use it while it’s there. Career guidance is easier when you have a direction in mind, so be as specific as you can if you know where you want to head. Work on your CV You may think that’s it’s going to be a short document at this stage, but there is a surprising amount of additional information you can bolster your CV with to help you stand out from the competition and get the job you want: part time work, volunteering, any roles you have held in university societies should all be included. Sound out some potential references while you are doing this too. Audit your social media channels It sounds obvious, but it’s a small step that is often overlooked. Delete anything dodgy! Recruiters and prospective employers will look online, so get those security settings in place and clean up your various profiles that have documented your recent student life. Intern Notoriously tough to get on, but there are avenues in Finance, both in industry and banking, to get onto a summer internship programme. They usually run throughout the summer for 8-10 weeks, but a place needs securing well in advance of your graduation. Worth trying for if you can afford not to earn immediately, as they are excellent on your CV. Partner with a recruiter Good finance recruitment consultants who work with grads can be invaluable, from the CV points above, to helping with interview technique and above all, putting you forward for the right graduate roles. Of course, you can apply for jobs directly, but consultants will look at the bigger picture, with your interests in mind, in terms of opportunities and career progression, and are connected throughout your chosen sector. All businesses in all sectors need people with financial skills and, as Accountancy, Banking and Finance are very broad areas, there are numerous roles and areas of work you can focus on. Discuss with your recruitment consultant which specialism or type of role would best suited not just for your qualifications, but your skills, personality and interests. For example, not everyone is suited to working in a huge organisation, they may prefer to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. You may have already decided that you want a Finance role in industry rather than Financial Services, but even then, there is much to consider. The sector list in industry is endless – FMCG, Retail, Pharma, Media, Telecommunications, Energy, IT etc. – and there are pros and cons to each, some with broader future career options to pivot elsewhere, others more specialist and tougher to move away from. This is where the research skills from your studying will come to the fore, as you need to drill down in sectors and then the potential employers. Remember, your degree doesn’t have to be in finance or business studies to work in this area. Employers are equally interested in the transferable skills you have gained as a student, so don’t be put off if you decided on a career in Finance two years into your Psychology degree. If you are a recent graduate and interested in a career in Finance, contact us today to see how we can help you embark on your career.

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The implications of IR35

The Finance Bill was published earlier this month including the much anticipated legislation for the private sector off-payroll rules that we discussed in our last blog, and which are coming into force from April next year. IR35 is a new tax law being introduced to counter tax avoidance by contractors providing services to clients via a limited company, who could otherwise be considered an employee. It is estimated that almost a quarter of the UK’s workforce now works on a contingent basis as a contractor or consultant, either in the public or private sector and as such, there is plenty to think about from both the contractor and the hiring client perspective. Don’t forget, HMRC will be ready to investigate all parties in a contractual chain should they not receive the correct tax or NI contributions, so it is nothing to be taken lightly. Contractors are understandably concerned that new, complicated legislation that could result in an HMRC investigation into a company may put off many hiring companies from using contractors, despite the recent increased uptake for contract work caused by the economic uncertainty over Brexit. Furthermore, it will no longer be up to the contractor to say whether or not they fall inside or outside of IR35 – the status determination from April 2020 will be with the engaging client. When this happened in the public sector, there were a number of cases of clients issuing blanket assessments, whether or not a contractor was genuinely self-employed, and, despite the recent legislation stating that blanket statements will not be permitted this time, contractors are reasonably nervous about a retrospective tax bill. With nine months to go before the legislation comes in, there are some practical steps contractors can take to prepare: Contact your clients – make sure that they are on top of managing their own IR35 process and that they understand your situation correctly Get a Confirmation of Arrangement (CoA) document in place, where your status is confirmed Ensure your own documentation, equipment, and processes clearly demonstrate that you are self-employed, as you may need to prove it Get a second opinion if you’re not convinced about any contract you’ve been presented with Educate yourself on the official disagreement process should you wish to challenge a status ruling On the other side of the coin, hiring clients are also apprehensive about the new legislation, particularly with recent research claiming that contractors will be prepared to walk away from projects if hiring companies are not fully ready and compliant with IR35. On top of that potential talent shortage, hiring clients will also have the onus of determining who is inside and outside of IR35 and are also ultimately liable for payments to HMRC should the contractual chain fail at any stage. With the cost and responsibilities on employers significant, it’s surprising that almost half of businesses are yet to tackle IR35 when there are steps that they can take too to prepare: Review existing contractors and identify their status individually, using the online CEST service should you wish Review the contracts, roles and requirements that you have historically placed on contractors, as many clauses could hint at a “disguised employee”. Do the maths – consider that there might be additional payroll and NIC’s to take on board Review your job advertising – you will need to clarify future contract roles with an eye on IR35 If you would like any advice on IR35, either from a contractor or hiring client point of view, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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