Sally's Blog

Why the UK’s next economic shock could be just around the corner

On Friday 7 November, new business radio station Share Radio interviewed me on the topics of interest rates, the problems in the eurozone and the broader business environment.

Presenter Sandra Kilhof asked lots of challenging questions about the economic outlook for both the UK and the wider global economy.

I explained that while the UK economy has performed strongly in 2014, there are signs that the economy is slowing as we reach the end of the year. This is particularly evident in the services and construction sectors. Wages have also been growing slowly and there are  concerns that the UK’s employment situation is not quite as healthy as the figures suggest. Furthermore, inflation is falling, which is good in one way because it makes our goods and services cheaper, but potentially hazardous because we don’t want to be on the verge of deflation in the way that the eurozone is.

In addition, the wider global outlook is very uncertain. The eurozone, which is our main trading partner, appears to be on the edge of a triple-dip recession. Growth is slowing in China and attempts to stimulate the Japanese economy don’t seem to have come to much. There is also a lot of political uncertainty, for example, in the Middle East and Ukraine.

The fact that the Bank of England is so reluctant to lift interest rates, despite predicting that our growth rate will be around 3.5% this year, shows that it is not confident that our economic recovery is on a sustained footing.

And it is right to think this – there is too much uncertainty within the world’s major markets and there are also clear indicators of asset bubbles within the housing markets and stock markets.

So it is very important that we are not fooled into thinking that the UK economy is home and dry right now. We need to be very cautious about the recovery and make sure that we don’t take it for granted. Who knows, the next economic shock could be just around the corner.

 

Three reasons why I’m embarrassed to be English this week

Picture the scenario. An English man has been married to a Scottish woman for a number of years. They had a tempestuous relationship before the wedding but decided to give union a chance anyway. Over the years, they bought a house, brought up a family, took foreign holidays and had their inevitable ups and downs. And the marriage rumbled along.

Then, without meaning to, the man started to get complacent and began to take his wife for granted. She, in turn, made occasional noises about leaving him yet he never took her seriously. But suddenly, one day, she came downstairs with her bags packed and announced that she wanted a divorce.

The man felt a sense of foreboding flood over him. “You can’t go,” he cried. “You’ll never cope on your own! How will you manage financially? You’re a terrible spender and don’t have the first clue about how to make ends meet. And what about our mortgage and the credit bills? Who’s going to pay for those?”

“I’ve got a good job,” huffed the woman. “I can take care of myself. As for the debts, I have half a mind to leave them all to you to pay off!”

“Well then, what about our friends?” pleaded the man, starting to feel desperate. “None of them is going to understand why you have left me. They want us to come to dinner parties together. I may not get as many invites on my own.”

“Not my problem,” retorted the woman stoutly, picking up her bag and heading for the door.

By now, the man was jumping up and down, his fists balled up in rage. “OK, then go!” he shouted. “But don’t think I’m going to grant you joint custody of the dog!”

Snorting, the woman banged the door shut behind her.  The man stared after her disconsolately. “But what about me?” he called. “I love you!”

For five brief seconds the letterbox flapped open, giving the woman enough time to hiss: “Too little, too late, I’m afraid. You’ll get the paperwork in the post!”

 

I’m sure everyone who read the above story will see the immediate parallels with what’s going on in the union at the moment. Normally I consider myself both proud and fortunate to be an English person. (Indeed, I just have to take a look at what is going on in other countries around the world to realise just how fortunate I am.) But, this week, I feel embarrassed by England’s reaction to the prospect of Scottish independence for three reasons.

 1.    We didn’t see it coming.

The Scottish referendum was announced in March 2013. We, in England, have taken it seriously for approximately 10 days. What is even more worrying is that our political leaders seem to have taken it seriously for approximately 10 days as well. If we loved Scotland that much, we should have made it clear a longer time ago.

 2.    We played on fear. 

England’s reaction to the prospect of Scottish independence has been this: you’ll never survive without us. Politicians, economists and business leaders have consistently painted a picture of economic doom for an independent Scotland. But if the last six years have taught us anything, it should be to be sceptical of the views of politicians, economists and business leaders. Lots of small countries can – and do – cope perfectly well. Heard of New Zealand, anyone?

 3.    We panicked.

When the penny finally dropped in England that Scotland was deadly serious about going its own way, what did we do? We panicked. We promised fresh powers for Scotland, flew the saltire above council halls and sent our politicians scrambling north of the border in a last-ditch attempt to woo Scottish voters. The question is: are the Scots really going to be convinced by all this cupboard love? Or is it just too little, too late?

We will find out on Thursday.

 

Five reasons why treasury is a great career

It’s that time of year when school students, university graduates and newly qualified accountants will be thinking about their futures. Many will already have a clear idea about what they want to do. For others, the options will seem limitless and bewildering.

But if you want to work in finance, and you don’t know which niche to specialise in, why not think about a career in treasury?

Here are five reasons why treasury is a great career:

1. Treasury is fun. 

Don’t snigger – it’s certainly the most fun that you’re going to get in finance in any case. You will play a crucial role in any mergers or acquisitions that your company undertakes and you may get to carry out eye-wateringly large foreign exchange deals. Not only that, but you’ll get the indescribable joy of being able to log in to your company’s online bank accounts every day and (hopefully) see a long row of numbers staring back at you. What more could you ask for in a job?

2. Treasury has a great sense of community.

Corporate treasurers are a close-knit community, numbering a few thousand in the UK. As a result, they are very well networked and keen to share best practice with each other. They are also a pretty personable bunch of people who like to get out and about. You can find out more about the treasury community from the Association of Corporate Treasurers at: www.treasurers.org

3. Your banker will love you.

We all know what it’s like to be the customer of a retail bank. You never hear from them unless you’ve exceeded your overdraft limit or they want to sell you home insurance. But if you’re a corporate treasurer, you will find out what it is truly like to bask in a banker’s adoration (providing your company is in a healthy financial state, of course). Expect to be wined and dined and to be a name, not just a number. It’s treatment that the rest of us can only dream of, so enjoy it on our behalves…

4. Treasury has a certain mystique.

A lot of people don’t know what corporate treasurers do. A lot of people who work in finance don’t even know what corporate treasurers do. So you will be able to exude a satisfying air of mystery to all your friends, acquaintances and the hot guy or girl who lives down the road when they ask you what you do for a living. Just lift your eyebrow like James Bond and say: “I’m in treasury, corporate treasury.” You will have them swooning, I promise.

5. Treasury is well paid.

I left this point to last since money should not be the only reason that you embark on a certain career. But if you are looking for interesting work, which is also well paid, then treasury is just the ticket. According to Hays’ Accountancy & Finance Market Overview & Salary Guide 2014, treasury analysts in Greater London start at £35,000 with group treasurers of large listed companies potentially earning up to £200,000.

Thus concludes my five reasons as to why treasury is a great career. So what are you waiting for?

You need to work harder at diversity, KPMG

Yesterday, KPMG announced that it would be appointing 52 new partners in October and a third of these are women. The firm has been pilloried in the press over the fact that just 15% of its partners overall are female – and this is indeed a cause for concern – but it deserves some credit for how far it’s come over the past five years.

Back in 2009, I wrote an article on gender diversity within the partnerships of the Big Four while I was editor of Accountancy magazine. That year, 15% of PwC’s new partners were female, 15% of EY’s new partners were female, 11% of Deloitte’s new partners were female and KPMG (which was apparently having a particularly bad year in 2009) reported that just 10% of its new partners were women.

So KPMG really has made some progress since then.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that women are a significant minority within the partnerships of the Big Four firms. They do not make up more than 20% of partners in any of them.

This is shocking for two main reasons:

  • Approximately 50% of the world’s population is female; and
  • Approximately 50% of new entrants to the accountancy profession are female.

Furthermore, the accountancy profession is – quite rightly – very vocal in its support of encouraging more women to land board positions in industry. KPMG itself is a member of the UK 30% Club, which was launched in 2010 with the aim of getting 30% women onto FTSE 100 boards by the end of 2015. Currently that figure stands at 22.2%, according to the 30% Club.

But diversity is gathering momentum within business, particularly thanks to European proposals for a 40% quota for female executives on the boards of large companies by 2020.

So the risk for the Big Four firms is that they could soon find that their clients are making far more progress than they are in terms of helping women to reach senior leadership roles. This, in turn, could lead to some awkward questions about governance and equality of opportunity when they bid for work.

Well done, KMPG, for appointing a partnership cohort where a third of new partners are women. There’s plenty more work to be done yet, however, to boost the number of women in your partnership overall.

Eight jokes about accountants

Earlier this year, I asked my Twitter followers to share their best jokes about accountants. So here goes…

1. What’s the definition of an actuary? A person who found accountancy too exciting! @DerekBoughton 

My verdict: Well worn, but still prompts a giggle when you haven’t heard it for a while.

2. Accountants don’t die – they just lose their balance. @jwgn

My verdict: This one is dry and I rather like it.

3. How many accountants does it take to change a light bulb? Well, the management accountant is needed to work out the cost/profit ratio. The financial accountant needs to agree the purchase order. The procurement accountant surveys the market for the cheapest offer. The treasury accountant takes money off deposit to procure the bulb. The bought ledger accountant remits payment to the supplier. And the internal auditor checks that there has been no fraud or bribery. But none of the above changes the light bulb because they have not been trained to. The chief operating officer does it instead. ‏‪@VatDaddy

My verdict: It’s a long joke but it’s definitely worth it when you get to the end.

4. How do you spot an extrovert accountant? She’s staring at your shoes, not hers. @jwgn

My verdict: Yes, it’s a cliché but is there some truth in it somewhere?

5. “It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.” Quote from Ramalinga Raju, former chairman of Indian IT company Satyam, where an accounting scandal erupted in 2009. @MichaelJRWhite

My verdict: OK, so it’s not a joke exactly but it’s amusing nevertheless.

6. Why did the auditor cross the road? Because he did it last year. @WayneT_Derby

My verdict: Simple, but effective.

7. The Eiffel Tower is the Empire State Building after taxes. @jwgn

 My verdict: That’s one way of putting it.

8. I say, I say, I say: what’s a Big Four partner’s favourite wine?

In a whiny voice: “We don’t all get average profit per partner, you know.” @TruenFairview 

My verdict: Oh, don’t we know it!

What do you need to know about Twitter?

This morning I attended a briefing by Bruce Daisley, UK managing director of Twitter (a privilege of belonging to the British Society of Magazine Editors – hurrah!)

He made quite a few interesting points, a lot of which were targeted at his audience of – you’ve guessed it, magazine editors – but many of which equally relate to how businesses and accountancy firms use Twitter.

Twitter is generally seen to have three purposes – to facilitate human interaction, to enable self-expression and to support content discovery. It’s this latter purpose that is most important.

Daisley described Twitter as a “bridge to other media”. So don’t use Twitter to tell people what you had for breakfast; use it to point them in the direction of interesting material that you have found elsewhere on the web. And make sure your voice is authentic. The people who are most successful on Twitter understand how to be three-dimensional ie they convey their professional expertise while being true to their own personality.

The kinds of themes that go down well on Twitter include sport (hmm, possibly a bit tricky for accountancy firms to cover off), music and basically anything that sparks a passion in people. So not tax returns, then? Er…… probably not. Although your followers would probably have plenty to say about tax rises / cuts should we get one. But if you can somehow combine tax and accounting with sport or music, well…

Humour apparently performs well on Twitter, too. So it’s time to churn out those accountant jokes … Anyone know any? Please tweet me if you do and I’ll get a list going and publish it on my blog.

Daisley also revealed that ‘moments’ are one of the biggest drivers of Twitter. It’s all about being in the here and now because the ‘moment’ quickly passes.

Ever wondered about whether it’s best to ‘own’ your own Twitter conversation with the use of hashtag or whether it’s preferable to jump into other people’s conversations? Well, Daisley said that if you’re a celebrity or you have a unique story to tell, you can get away with owning your own conversation. The rest of us are probably best off trying to jump on the bandwagon of existing hashtags as much as we can.

Then there’s the issue of trolls. Should you ever be bothered by them, what should you do? Daisley’s advice is to ignore them. You can also make use of Twitter’s reporting system in the event you are showered with foul remarks. “Retweeting abuse,” said Daisley, “is just about the worst thing you can do.”

Finally, Daisley emphasised the importance of picking one social medium and using it really effectively. He pointed out that it’s hard to be effective across lots of different platforms at once.

Contact

To contact Sally or to request further examples of her work:

Tel: +44 (0) 7917 063752

Email: Sally@sallypercy.co.uk

Follow Sally on Twitter