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CLOUD NINE: HOW CLOUD ACCOUNTANCY CAN LEVEL UP YOUR BUSINESS

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CLOUD NINE: HOW CLOUD ACCOUNTANCY CAN LEVEL UP YOUR BUSINESS

The pandemic helped to accelerate digital transformation, and that has included companies’ accounting systems. Haines Watts’ cloud accountancy expert Riaz Kala explains how cloud accounting can help businesses to ‘level up’ their processes and get better value from their accountants at the same time.

The days of hand-written ledgers and shoeboxes stuffed full of receipts are long gone for most companies – but you’d be surprised how many still prefer to deal with their accounts in an analogue way. Perhaps because it is closer to the way they were trained, or perhaps it feels more tangible to them.

But the digital age is upon us. Haines Watts has been advocating the switch to digital-first accountancy for many years, and one of the impacts of the pandemic has been to accelerate that digital transformation. Companies from every sector have been clamouring to find ways to reach and sell to new audiences, and technology has been at the forefront of that.

The same goes for accounting. With a reduction in face-to-face contact, it becomes harder to hand over paperwork and files in person, so more businesses have embraced digital solutions to help streamline and speed up the process.

It’s music to our ears: we still cherish our direct client contact but switching to digital platforms means we can do so much more with the time we do have available for clients.

 

Migrating to the cloud

My role at Haines Watts is overseeing our cloud strategy and integrating our use of tech at every level of the business. Even prior to the pandemic, we had worked with most of our businesses to migrate them to platforms such as Xero, which meant we were well placed to deal with the challenges of remote working that the lockdowns presented.

However, we constantly review our use of tech and the way our clients use the cloud, and we are in the process now of migrating our remaining non-cloud clients onto the cloud from Excel or paper-based systems.

Even once we’ve got clients onto the cloud, that reviewing process never stops: part of our change management strategy is monitoring developments and making sure that knowledge is passed on around the business. We have training plans in place to make sure that we are always on top of the latest updates, such as Xero HQ and the new generation of features that brings.

 

Levelling up your accounting

At the heart of everything, though, lies our strategy for improving the flow of information to Haines Watts: when we talk about our use of the cloud, we are typically looking at three key things: Firstly, bank Feeds, ie are they using a platform such as Xero/Sage? Then comes invoice automation, and finally monthly reconciliation: how often we do speak to clients, and how often are they reconciling their information and learning from it.

Based on those stages, we have three ‘levels’ that we apply to businesses to describe their progress along the digital transformation route.

Level 1

Migration onto a cloud platform such as Xero, Sage or Quickbooks.

Level 2

Using AI, machine learning and robotic process automation to automate processes with bank feeds and rules, invoice collection and processing and payment facilitation. As processing time decreases more regular maintenance of bookkeeping software is essential for accurate and real time information.

Level 3

Integrating apps to improve processes and cashflow and management forecasting, and industry-specific apps to help improve business operations.

A company operating at Level 3 will have fantastic integration, smooth processes and will be in a position to benefit from the insights that the available data can provide.

In addition, we are now offering clients digital health-checks and finance function reviews, and doing app research that can include more bespoke apps that could be implemented outside our standard app stack, such as electronic point-of-sale (EPOS) and stock systems.

 

Benefits: beyond time saving

Without complications, a ‘standard’ migration onto a digital platform can take around a day, plus the time taken to tidy up the information, but that can vary greatly from client to client depending on the complexity of their business. Once the set-up is completed, the time taken to doing so is quickly recovered.

The time-saving alone is a compelling reason to embrace cloud accountancy, but the benefits go way beyond getting rid of the physical paper trail and saving time.

That extensive stack of digital apps can offer huge strategic and analytical benefits if they are integrated in the right way.

One of Haines Watts’ core values is that we offer true insight to our clients, working with them to do far more than simply crunch the numbers. Moving to digital buys us the time to nurture that relationship and to offer far more added-value to clients.

We work with our clients as trusted advisors, peers, sounding boards and even friends, and the intel we now have access to on a ‘level 3’ client allows us to offer incredible insights to those clients.

 

Choosing apps? Stay focused!

Xero alone has an ecosystem that supports over 1,000 apps, so it can be pretty overwhelming and difficult to know where to start. We recommend being focused and very selective, so we work loosely with our clients to make sure they are only integrating the apps that really complement their business.

We are creating an app stack – outlined below – that forms the core of our cloud accountancy toolkit and we tend to recommend using these as a starting point. They cover what we feel are the key areas of a finance function with each app having a primary use but also other uses.

We decided to limit ourselves to one app per finance function area, choosing apps that can be used in different areas as to avoid ‘app overwhelm’ with clients. However, when scoping our clients’ app requirements it is important to understand how other apps, with similar purposes, assist with their chosen processes as they may be a better match than those within our app stack.

Again, though, the most important message here is that the apps are being used properly and that the data they give you is being interpreted correctly.

 

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Green growth: The unstoppable rise of climate technology investment

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With the investment community focusing more and more on renewable technologies, investor interest is at an all-time high. Ian Thomas, managing director, Turquoise, reviews the current investment landscape and highlights the opportunities for investors keen to capitalise on this growing trend.

Green, or climate, finance is a label for providers of finance who are supporting investments seeking positive environmental impact. The label covers investments in green infrastructure, venture capital investment in clean technologies and renewable energy. Green finance has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, supporting public wellbeing and social equity while reducing environmental risks and improving ecological integrity.

Worldwide, energy investment is forecast to increase by 8% in 2022 to $2.4 trillion, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency, with the expected rise coming mostly from clean energy – $1.4 trillion in total. To put this rocketing figure into some perspective, clean energy investment only rose by 2% annually in the five years following the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Energy transition investment has some way to go, however – between 2022 and 2025, to get on track for global net zero, it must rise by three times the current amount to average $2,063 billion. [1]

Turquoise has been active for almost 20 years as a venture capital investor and adviser to companies in the climate technology space that are raising capital and/or selling their business to a strategic acquirer. Reviewing current industry investment news, as well as drawing on examples from the portfolio of Low Carbon Innovation Fund 2 (LCIF2), managed by Turquoise, I have commented below the latest on the renewable energy trends most piquing investor interest.

 

Solar PV

Renewable power is leading the charge when it comes to investment, with wind energy and solar PV emerging as the cheapest option for new power generation across many countries, and now accounting for more than 80% of total power sector investment. Solar power is responsible for half of new investment in renewable power, with spending divided roughly equally between utility scale projects and distributed solar PV systems.

This huge increase in solar spending, which continues in spite of supply chain issues affecting raw material delivery, has been driven by Asia, largely China (BloombergNEF, 2022). Meanwhile, Europe is re-doubling its efforts to achieve an energy transition away from Russian gas and other fossil fuels, building on investment that was already rising steadily prior to the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Germany, the UK, France and Spain all exceeded $10 billion on low-carbon spending in 2021.[2]

 

Wind

Last year was a record year for offshore wind deployment with more than 20GW commissioned, accounting for approximately $40 billion in investment. The first half of 2022 saw $32 billion invested in offshore wind, 52% more than in the same period in 2021 (BloombergNEF, 2022). Taking into account also onshore wind, in 2021 investment was spearheaded by China, followed by the US and Brazil.[3]

In the UK, suggested targets include plans to host 50GW of offshore wind capacity, as well as 10GW of green and blue hydrogen production, by 2030. Investors will naturally be encouraged by proposals to simplify the planning process across the board for renewable projects.[4] France and Germany have also increased their offshore wind targets, signalling further support for investment.

 

Decarbonising housing: the business opportunity

The need to decarbonise residential housing, made all the more urgent by current energy prices, also offers substantial scope for investment. The gas price spike is naturally increasing interest in technology such as electric heat pumps, which had already enjoyed 15% growth in 2021 albeit from a very low base.

Recently, Turquoise announced an investment by Low Carbon Innovation Fund 2 (LCIF2) in Switchd, which operates MakeMyHouseGreen, a data-driven platform that allows homeowners to source and install domestic renewable energy generation, including solar panels and battery storage with other energy saving products in the pipeline. The investment will enable Switchd to roll out the MakeMyHouseGreen platform to a much larger number of customers. The latest episode of the Talks with Turquoise podcast series saw us interview Switchd co-founder Llewellyn Kinch about the UK energy market and national transition to decarbonisation, covering the rise of residential renewable energy and energy efficiency.

 

Adapting to the low-carbon economy

Meanwhile, investors should not forget opportunities on the other side of the energy market. Renewables are undoubtedly exciting investors, but there are also opportunities for fossil fuel companies to adapt their business models to the low-carbon economy. Turquoise advised GT Energy, a portfolio company from our first fund that develops deep geothermal heat projects, on its sale to IGas Energy, a leading UK onshore oil & gas producer. Under IGas ownership, GT Energy will progress its flagship 14MW project to supply zero-carbon heat to the city of Stoke-on-Trent through a council-owned district heating network.

 

A broad investment landscape

Forecasts show that renewables will increase to 60% of power generation in Europe by 2030, and 40% in the US and China by the same date.[5] As demand rises for climate technology, the investment opportunities in green finance are far broader than they ever have been. Undoubtedly, as the energy crisis continues, investor interest will continue to soar to even greater heights.

[1] https://www.iea.org/news/record-clean-energy-spending-is-set-to-help-global-energy-investment-grow-by-8-in-2022
[2] https://ihsmarkit.com/research-analysis/global-power-and-renewables-research-highlights-july-2022.html
[3] https://dialogochino.net/en/uncategorised/56938-global-wind-energy-council-vice-chair-brazil-offshore-wind-accelerating-2/
[4] https://www.edie.net/uks-clean-energy-investment-ranking-rises-after-government-sets-95-low-carbon-electricity-target-for-2030/
[5] https://www.spglobal.com/en/research-insights/featured/energy-transition-renewables-remain-the-cornerstone-of-future-power-generation

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A Culture of Cyber Security Throughout Financial Services Organisations

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Michael Cantor, CIO, Park Place Technologies

Financial Services organisations have long been a top target for cyber-attacks given both the nature of their financial transactions and the sensitivity of the data being held and processed. It is not just the digital transactions themselves that entice cyber criminals to regularly try and breach existing security protocols. Financial Services’ organisations hold full Personally Identifiable Information (PII) data sets of customers, including home addresses, social security numbers, banking details, transaction history, phone numbers, email addresses, and income information.

When breaches occur with this level of dependency information, cyber criminals can go on to easily access accounts, copy payment cards and make fraudulent purchases. Unsurprisingly, breaches are incredibly bad news and high impact in this sector as they undermine customer confidence, create large compensation cases, and regularly cause large fines for non-compliancy of data protection regulations (GDPR).

CISOs and Risk Managers

Creation of a complete culture of cyber security that spans right across financial establishments has therefore been a high priority for CISOs and Risk Managers in the finance arena, who find themselves at the forefront of the fight to engineer, foster and encourage a culture of pervasive cyber security awareness. These financial CISOs are the risk management

Michael Cantor

professionals who live and breathe with the knowledge that any lapse by any employee can leave the entire organization exposed and vulnerable, and who understand the importance and safety that adherence to a detailed cyber security plan, unique to their organization, brings. Financial establishments and financial services have, more than any other sector, seen heightened advances in digital innovations through internet banking, mobile apps, and instant payments – and all occurring within a relatively short timescale.  Such fast adoption of new technology platforms can cause a perfect storm of vulnerabilities largely through lack of familiarity, potentially increasing the finance industry’s attack vector.

Given the scope of the threat, no one CISO or group of cyber security specialists can be completely responsible for stemming attacks or changing employee behaviours. The requirement to create a pervasive culture of accountability for cyber security in finance has never been more critical with such a surge in digital innovation. Some CISOs struggle to gain immediate internal acceptance of cyber initiatives as they invariably increase extra security processes or in more extreme scenarios, can initially decrease productivity levels as users grapple with additional layers and verifications. Instead, CISOs should embark on a graduated path of security sensitivities. There are three routes in this journey that CISOs need to develop.

Understanding Roles

First, if they are to successfully increase defences, CISOs need to fully understand roles and processes in the existing regime to understand why and when job functions rely on systems that could pose and increase vulnerabilities. Secondly, as with all successful change, CISOs should spend the first months of cyber change initiatives on the ground, familiarising themselves with workflows and identifying suitable departmental ‘champions’ who can act as envoys or ambassadors. They will become practical flag bearers for ongoing change who will be on-point for communications for threat handling and remediation. These departmental cyber champions will also field questions and interactions about cyber concerns, as you would with a local Health and Safety Officer. Creating any true culture change needs to facilitate two-way communications from day one and needs to embrace everyone, so selecting the right team is essential. Recognised accredited cyber training relevant to the expected outcomes of a cyber ambassador is critical here as responsibilities move outside of IT. Not only does individualised cyber training bring empowerment and extra capabilities internally, but it leads to personal recognition that reflects positively on future career opportunities.

Once a thorough understanding and a development of a network of cyber ambassadors has occurred, CISOs need to quickly move to developing extra employee security practices and providing direction on ongoing cadences. But these new or enhanced security prevention measures invariably add to the time that it takes for employees to finish jobs. Collective attitudes towards prioritising cyber – and by extension, creating a cyber culture – can only be changed by first educating employees on the importance and rationale in changing behaviours or methods of completing a task. This education process can take many forms, starting with various impacts via a series of simple simulated attacks that provide anonymised responses back to risk professionals to highlight gaps in knowledge and provide early indicators on how easily breaches can occur and how fast new cyber processes can be adopted. Additionally, real world documented examples are often used to show how breaches have been catastrophic in similar sized organisations. Ongoing interactive education is key to building a continued culture of security. Education and learnings on the impact of the breach ramifications – from board level to new recruits – is essential, at all times building cyber security as an enabler rather than another workflow process to achieve. Successful financial companies who avoid security breaches on an ongoing basis additionally bring the importance of cyber security into annual employee reviews, keeping it top of mind and primary to employees’ performance (and renumeration). HR therefore also play a key part determining a blame-free, but responsible and empowering security culture.

Empowering Employees

Establishing a culture means by its very nature, that all are driving towards the same goal. That means gentle, but constant re-enforcement. And here’s where the third part of cyber empowerment needs a careful balance to avoid falling into negative scare tactics or blame. Financial CISOs, for their part, need to at all times, empower employees with the right tools and resources to intelligently identify, question and report suspected attacks. They also need to deploy easy to use, reliable preventative tools such as password managers and dependable email security software, while not neglecting their own role in the ongoing monitoring of asset discovery to see which assets and software are lurking in the infrastructure (or may have been recently added to the infrastructure). Endpoint security, especially in hybrid environments, is more important than ever in these environments.

Once a culture exists internally, next, CISO attention must turn towards suppliers and partners who themselves can create an entry point for breach. This can be achieved by clearly setting the organisations cyber security expectations up front and asking suppliers to prove compliance and adherence towards these standards, but within a reasonable, pre-agreed timeframe.

Creating this inherent cyber culture can only occur through ongoing education and training of employees on the ever-changing threat landscape and linking the importance and rationale to adopt best practices. To achieve an ongoing culture of acceptance, cyber security must clearly help employees get their jobs done so that being security conscious is a positive, ongoing experience for any financial services business.

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