International Sustainability Standards Board launched

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It’s fair to say there are differing opinions on whether the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) adequately addressed the pressing issues facing our planet. But there was at least one significant announcement that will have a far-reaching impact on how companies do business for years to come.

The Glasgow showpiece saw world leaders stand shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the biggest names in industry. The International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS) used this stage to launch its International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB). IFRS oversees accounting standards in more than 140 nations, and the ISSB initiative will develop high-quality standards for sustainability disclosure in accountancy.

Having already appointed former Danone CEO Emmanuel Faber as Chair, the board’s remit will be to deliver a comprehensive global baseline for sustainability-related standards which will enable investors to make informed decisions.

The ISSB will work closely with the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) to ensure both sets of standards work seamlessly alongside each other.

The IFRS said the decision to create the ISSB was prompted by consultation feedback. This feedback, which included two public consultations, found international investors with global portfolios were increasingly calling for transparent and reliable reporting by companies on a range of matters relating to the climate, society, the environment, and governance.

Announcing the creation of this new international sustainability standards board at COP26, Erkki Liikanen, Chair of the IFRS Foundation Trustees, said: “Sustainability, and particularly climate change, is the defining issue of our time. To properly assess related opportunities and risks, investors require high-quality, transparent, and globally comparable sustainability disclosures that are compatible with the financial . Establishing the ISSB and building on the innovation and expertise of the CDSB, the Value Reporting Foundation and others will provide the foundations to achieve this goal.”

IFRS Sustainability Disclosure Standards

So what are the IFRS requirements? 

While we do not yet know exactly what the finalised standards look like, we do have enough information to make an early assessment of what they are likely to resemble.

The IFRS has said it aims to release a draft set of standards by the first quarter of 2022 and have a climate-related disclosures standard as well as a standard on general requirements for sustainability-related financial disclosures ready by the second half of the year.

The IFRS sustainability disclosure standards themselves will be based on the groundwork put in place by the Technical Readiness Working Group (TRWG) which was set up in March of 2021.

The establishment of the TRWG was partly a response to calls by the Organisation of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) for greater consistency in how sustainability factored into the decisions made by companies, information which could then inform decisions of investors for whom sustainability was a concern.

On 3 November 2021, to coincide with the announcement about the formation of the ISSB at COP26, the TRWG also published two prototypes.

These were:

  • The Climate Prototype. This sets out the requirements for the identification, measurement, and disclosure of specific climate-related financial information. This will vary depending on industry but includes information such as sourcing of materials used in manufacturing processes.  
  • The General Requirements Prototype. This requires an entity to disclose a complete, neutral, and accurate depiction of its significant sustainability risks and opportunities. It includes things such as the targets set by management to mitigate or adapt to sustainability-related risks as well as those that enhance stainability-related opportunities to achieve strategic goals.

The prototypes were developed following six months of joint work by representatives of the CDSB, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), the VRF, and the World Economic Forum (Forum). It was also supported by the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) and its Technical Expert Group of securities regulators.

With this additional backing, the TRWG consolidated key aspects into a combined set of recommendations for consideration by the ISSB.

Now up and running, the ISSB said it will consider the prototypes in its work program, with the climate-related disclosure looking likely to be the first one issued, with others then set to follow. This could include standards on broader sustainability.

Over the course of early 2022, exposure drafts will be issued and comments received, re-deliberation will then be followed by the issuing of final standards.  

In terms of adoption, it will be down to individual jurisdictions to decide whether they adopt the new standards, with some likely to do so early on.

The United Kingdom, for example, has already said it expects to put ISSB at the centre of its own sustainability reporting requirements. It remains unclear however, how they may be adopted in other jurisdictions such as the United States and European Union.

That being said, many jurisdictions and companies are already undertaking similar work. Firms which have, for example, adopted TCFD recommendations on climate-related financial disclosures will themselves be well placed to adopt the new standards once they are finalised and released in 2022.

To help further the adoption of the new standards, the Trustees have formed a working group to enable further formal engagement between the ISSB and jurisdictional representatives. This will also include those in emerging markets.

The intention is for the ISSB to be a truly global presence, and it said that engagement with developing and emerging economies will be ‘an important priority’.

The board and chair will be based in Frankfurt, while Montreal will be responsible for supporting the new board and for deeper co-operation with regional stakeholders. Work at both offices is due to begin in early 2022.

Offices in San Francisco and London will also provide technical support, help with market engagement and assist in creating further cooperation with regional stakeholders.

Further discussions will continue with proposals for offices from Beijing and Tokyo to finalise the board’s footprint in Asia and  Oceania.

Working with other regulatory bodies

As highlighted earlier, the ISSB will work in close cooperation with the IASB, which will see the International Financial Reporting Standards and the ISSB’s sustainability standards almost as two sides of the same coin. Both boards will be independent and overseen by the IFRS Foundation trustees.

The TRWG already represents several organisations which have experience in standard setting. The VRF and the CDSB will be consolidated into the ISSB and it will work closely alongside the IASB.

The IFRS Trustees announced the ISSB at COP26 and also revealed a commitment by leading investor-focused sustainability disclosure organisations to consolidate into the new board. By June 2022, the IFRS Foundation will also carry out the consolidation of the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) and the Value Reporting Foundation (VR), which houses the Integrated Reporting Framework and the SASB Standards.  

The ISSB will also have access to expertise from advisory groups. Technical advice on sustainability will be provided by a new Sustainability Consultative Committee. Its members have been drawn from a range of organisations including the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Bank. There will also be other experts drawn from private, public, and non-governmental organisations.

The bigger picture

It is important to not simply take the new standards in isolation but to consider them in the broader context of society and business.

COP26 was just the latest example of how the public is demanding more not just of governments, but of business when it comes to the climate agenda. With this in mind, it is clear that sustainability reporting standards have a number of crucial benefits.

The most obvious one is the benefit to the environment. Standards provide clarity of guidance to firms who want to do their part in the fight against climate change. Until now, they have not had a baseline to compare their efforts to, and had fewer ways to clearly understand the impact that their actions were having.

Another benefit is to the business itself, the efficiency of how it operates, perception, and the bottom line.

In terms of perception. A company’s green credentials are a major factor in how it is viewed by the public and in turn by prospective clients who wish to be associated with it – or not, as the case may be. 

For example, a global report from The Economist Intelligence Unit, commissioned by WWF, revealed a 71% rise in online searches for sustainable goods globally over the past five years.

So it is becoming increasingly important for a company to be able to demonstrate – not just state – its green credentials. By being transparent, it becomes possible to quantify the commitment a company is making towards the sustainability agenda helping to build trust and loyalty.

Reporting standards can also help streamline business operations, provide risk-management benefits and lead to the necessary collation of more data which can then in turn be fed into the decision-making process.  

What’s next?

By any measure, things are moving very quickly. Having only formed TRWG in March last year and with the announcement of the ISSB in November, work is already well underway to turn prototypes into standards which will then go out over the course of early 2022. 

Following his recent appointment at the helm, Emmanuel Faber, said: “The ISSB represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fulfill that need in a fast-changing world, where the climate in particular will drive major shifts in the coming years. We should move diligently and build on the great momentum resulting from the formation of the ISSB at COP26.”

With the Chair now in place, nominations will be received for the remaining board members, with the ISSB planning to launch its first public consultation on its proposed reporting standards by the end of March 2022.  

How important is sustainability to your organisation and are you prepared for the new reporting standards? Get in touch with HLB for more information. 

 

Polyvios A Polyviou

Global IFRS Leader

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Grasp the innovation imperative

Blog by HLB Global CEO, Marco Donzelli

5 January 2022

For many businesses 2021 provided some respite from the ongoing impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, albeit less relief than some had hoped.  

 In last year’s annual Survey of Business Leaders, we explored how the crisis has prompted many enterprises to take a fresh look at their business models and pivot towards broader, longer-term and more enlightened priorities.  

 For the agile, the disruption of the pandemic has actually created the right conditions for businesses and whole sectors to benefit from rapid market shifts. The health and biotech sectors provide a great example of just how quickly enterprises can innovate in response to a crisis.  

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An early finding from this year’s HLB Survey of Business Leaders supports a modest increase in business agility, with 89% of leaders agree that they are able to innovate with greater speed than in the past. 

 Given this, I have to ask myself if this increased speed of innovation is possible in the health sector, what else might businesses be capable of to prepare for the next great transformation?  

 Further early insights confirm that, in addition to strengthening their resolve, challenging trading conditions provide forward momentum for more successful innovation: 

 

  • In terms of confidence, 86% of business leaders agree that they are more confident in their ability to innovate today as compared to pre-pandemic 
  • 91% also agree that market disruption motivates them to innovate 
  • Most encouragingly, 93% of business leaders feel confident to challenge the way things get done in their own organisations 

 

“What surprised a lot of business leaders during the pandemic was their organisation’s ability to innovate, under pressure and under duress, when there was an existential threat,” according to David Sales, Head of Training, St Johns Innovation Centre in Cambridge, one of the experts in innovation we have spoken with to inform our research. “The big question now is, how do we sustain that capability to innovate? As the world settles down after the pandemic, let’s not revert to the age-old acceptance that innovation takes a long time and it needs to be expensive’’. 

 

One thing is for sure, as societies and economies adapt to living with the coronavirus, attention is now firmly on creating new market opportunities to drive sustainable long-term growth. Over 80% of those we’ve polled agree or strongly agree that more rapid and effective innovation will be critical to driving this future growth.  

 I look forward to sharing further insights on the innovation imperative, from the barriers business leaders encounter to the key enablers to successful innovation, including the benefits of a diverse workforce. Reserve your space at the live launch of HLB’s annual global Survey of Business Leaders on 27 January 2022:

 

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The sustainability challenges for agriculture from COP26

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At the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) summit held in Glasgow, 45 governments agreed to move towards sustainable farming methods while protecting nature. In addition, 95 businesses pledged to be “Nature Positive.”

Potential solutions include biotechnology, soil and manure management and climate-smart agriculture. However, organisations and farmers in 26 nations face challenges with fulfilling their commitment to changing agricultural policies. In this article we review the key sustainability considerations and actions for agriculture from COP26.

Addressing supply chain issues

According to Gartner, “in the last nine months, the percentage of the 2,000 global largest companies with net-zero targets rose from 20% to 33%.” Reducing value chain emissions of greenhouse gases is vital. Companies are tasked with decreasing emissions in their operations, as these account for most output. 

The agriculture supply chain faces numerous challenges as the industry continues to navigate the pandemic. It’s easier for enterprises to visualise their own emissions than to understand those from complex supply chain tiers. Collecting data for accurate calculations is, therefore, the first barrier that organisations face. Technologies and strategic partnerships can help to enable transparency on scope 3 emissions and indirect supply chains.  Other solutions include forest conservation policies, increasing materials traceability and transport infrastructure improvements. 

Leaders need to develop more robust reporting and governance policies — especially since lenders and investors increasingly evaluate corporations’ performance on sustainability. Organisations must also develop insights about risks and identify revenue-driving opportunities. Having said this, companies can’t get overly caught-up in planning as swift execution is essential for the .5 degrees Celsius pathway.

The global impact of animal feed production

Imported soya for livestock and poultry feeds contribute to the destruction of rainforests, and the UK government says “around 80% of global deforestation is driven by agriculture.” According to the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), over half of imported soya to the UK comes from the US or Canada or is certified as responsibility sourced. Yet, the Soil Association reports that the UK imports more than 2.2m tonnes of soya. 

The use of imported soya will be restricted in the future, thanks to a deal to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.  However, higher feed prices could lead to additional challenges for small food producers already facing very tight margins in difficult market conditions. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) reports that “farms smaller than 2 hectares produce roughly 35% of the world’s food.” 

Agriculture leaders and policymakers can deploy remote sensors, drones, mobile applications and satellite imaging to support smallholder farms. Doing so could improve market access and productivity to balance the higher cost of livestock feed. Likewise, livestock management improvements through agropastoral production systems could reduce risks faced by livestock keepers while helping the climate. 

Reducing methane production from animal farming

Methane causes a third of human-generated warming. At COP26, more than 100 countries agreed to cut 30% of methane emissions by 2030. But methods like adding fat to cows’ diets or developing more digestible feed haven’t been cost-effective.

Some countries, like the US, have made it clear that they aren’t looking to decrease cow populations. However, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has joined the Dairy Net Zero declaration. Again, the measure doesn’t focus on cutting dairy production. Instead, it aims to improve productivity and resource consumption.

Resilient agricultural systems that prioritise manure management and improve nutrient use can help farmers reduce methane production globally.  Governments could also consider give incentives to farmers and ranchers to reduce their cattle’s emissions.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recently gave a positive assessment about 3-nitrooxypropanol or Bovaer, made by the Dutch company DSM. According to Reuters, DSM “says emissions are reduced by between 20% and 35% without affecting production.” The EFSA agreed that it does cut emissions in dairy cattle.  Other positive signs come from research showing that “red seaweed supplementation reduces enteric methane by over 80% in beef steers.” But this requires major regulatory agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration to approve seaweed as a feed supplement for commercial cattle. 

Considering water and drought solutions

Inexplicably, water plays a role in climate change and food hunger objectives. Rising water scarcity, declining water quality and less reliable water availability impact consumers and food producers. Given that 69% of global water use stems from agriculture, the farming industry needs to adopt climate-smart agricultural water management (AWM) technologies and practices. 

Other solutions include:

  • Climate-resilient crop varieties
  • Improved soil health
  • Protection for carbon sinks such as forests and wetlands

There has already been resistance to some strategies – like using recycled water for irrigation. Overcoming water challenges will require cooperation between governments, policymakers and corporations.  This will mean reducing the demand for freshwater, while developing fair and equitable ways to distribute existing resources. 

Overcoming agriculture sustainability challenges

The outcomes from COP26 are a step in the right direction. Food producers are already feeling the effects of climate change on international agriculture, but the solutions aren’t simple or inexpensive. Additional challenges stem from ensuring every farmer has the support and resources needed to achieve outcomes that directly or indirectly impact the environment.

Chris Solt

Global Agriculture & Food Industry Leader

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SPACs: The possible benefits and potential pitfalls

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Going public is a highly regulated process that can take years to complete. Instead of doing it in a traditional way, private companies are increasingly turning to SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) to march around the SEC’s administrative strain and access the public market in a fast-laned process. 

As a shell company—but a publicly-traded one—a SPAC’s sole purpose is to raise capital that must be used to invest in an operating business at a later date. As they have no commercial operations, SPACs are able to list faster than a traditional IPO due to the lesser scrutiny required by SEC.  Another consideration is the SPAC price is also fixed at $10.00 from the offering, vs market conditions driving the capital raise/IPO price.  Later they merge with private companies to acquire their business operations. As a result, the private company becomes publicly traded. 

As SPACs appears poised to become an alternative listing route, here we take a deep dive into the benefits and potential pitfalls of this structure through the lens of three different key stakeholders in the process.

Benefits of SPACs for key stakeholders

For sponsors—usually formal hedge fund managers, private equity managers, tankers, or chief executives of fortune 500 companies— the SPAC structure offers easier access to capital and considerable upside potential with 20% founders’ equity at nominal cost. 

and also have the redemption protection, whereby they can redeem their share and get the original $10.00 back if they don’t like the merger deal. The public investor can vote yes for the transaction to go through, redeem their share for the money back, and keep the warrant in case the deal is really successful. Previously, they couldn’t fully benefit from the IPO market as they didn’t have the opportunity to invest before the IPO.  Since the IPO prices are already pretty rich, private equity and VC firms were reaping most benefits. But with SPACs, public market investors— including retail— can invest in early-stage companies that offer good growth potential. 

For the acquired company, SPACs can bring many benefits, including a faster listing process, valuation certainty, strategic partnership and lower marketing costs. Through SPACs, companies can negotiate the deal directly with sponsors, getting more valuation certainty. They can also have more autonomy to select the sponsors, choosing ones that can act as strategic partners able to support the growth of the business post-merger. In contrast, traditional IPOs require time-consuming and expensive roadshows. Also, companies are not allowed to give projections and forecasts, while operating companies merging with SPACs can make projections for the next two to three years.

What are the potential pitfalls?

Certain risks inherent to the SPAC structure are common for all stakeholders, for sponsors, investors and acquired companies alike.

For example, there is a certain degree of criticism around SPACs because of the lacking transparency and the considerable potential for fraud or allegations. Conflicts of interest are the main red flags between the sponsor and potentially the target companies, especially with private equity involved.  They can, essentially, exit one of their portfolio companies through a SPAC. This risk very much depends on how forward projections are being made. Because of this, management has to be very careful in getting the valuation justified with the projections they have in mind.   

For sponsors, there is the challenge of time constraint. In the SPAC structure, cash capital is held in a trust account which will retain the proceeds for two years. The SPAC has to clinch the deal and merge with an operating business within the time limit. If it fails to deliver within two years, the money from the trust account will have to be returned to all investors. Also, there is the issue of quality and supply of target companies. With fierce competition for targets, this means an increased risk of overpaying for acquisitions. 

For public investors, risks to be aware of include the quality of sponsors and their alignment of interests, as well as potential equity dilution. Sponsors are critical as success often depends on the sponsor’s reputation. Also, investors should be aware that those who buy post-IPO and hold shares through the SPAC merger have no downside protection once SPACs have completed a merger and become an operating company. Performance of SPACs post-merger can be disappointing

Finally, there are some potential pitfalls for acquired companies too. For example, SPACs provide a listing. There is usually cash that rolls over from the trust account into the operating company. Sometimes, it is used to pay the founders of the target company their exit price, but most of the time, cash stays in the company to provide for the growth plan of the new company. This is why there is usually a minimum cash requirement in the merger deal. 

Next, there is the question of the public company readiness for all the regulatory and public scrutiny post-merger. Also, even if the merger has been approved by the majority of the shareholders, those who vote against can still redeem from the trust account. Finally, it often happens that the target company has to restate its projections because certain assumptions have failed to materialise, such as information affecting the timeline for launching new products.

Final thoughts 

Although SPACs have been around for decades, their popularity has surged in the US over the recent years, and lately, they have been spreading into other markets such as South East Asia.  Another milestone for this deal structure was reached on 6th December 2021 when it became possible for SPACs to be listed and traded in Switzerland on the SIX Swiss Exchange.

For SPACs to succeed, certain elements appear critical. First, sponsor quality and expertise are often pivotal, but so is the leadership team of the target company. Also, the ability of the company to scale and offer more products in the future, as well as its current and future revenue growth and profitability, are essential for success. Finally, good governance is critical for building investors’ trust to avoid becoming seen as the equivalent of claw machines in an arcade.

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The rise and applications of NFTs

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 In early 2021, the artist Beeple sold a non-fungible token (NFT) collection at Christie’s for a record-setting $69 million.  The rise of NFTs is changing how collectibles are bought and sold. But what exactly is an NFT, and how is it used beyond art collections? What are the implications for creators, owners, sellers, and investors? How are NFTs used in a business context?

What is a Non-Fungible Token (NFT)?

The term “fungible goods” is used by economists to describe interchangeable goods (e.g., a bushel of wheat.) A non-fungible asset, like a piece of artwork, can’t be traded or exchanged at equivalency like you could with currencies or cryptocurrencies, which are a medium for commercial transactions.

A non-fungible asset can be either digital or physical. An NFT is a cryptographic record of ownership for an item encoded into a blockchain with unique identification codes and metadata.  The token enables the transfer and tracking of ownership of these assets among holders.

How are NFTs used?

Currently, most NFTs are based on the Ethereum blockchain. The tokenised assets can be bought, sold, and traded globally without the risk of fraud and forgery. NFTs can also be used to present individual identities, property rights, and more.

Although NFTs can be applied to any assets (eg, real estate,) their current market focuses on collectibles, such as digital artwork and sports cards. People are also trading highlights of sports or other events (e.g., NBA) as digital cards and video clips on NFTs. Meanwhile, Twitter founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey tokenised the first tweet ever written and sold it for $2.9 million.

The application of NFTs will become much wider as more people and organisations realise its many advantages. For example, it can remove intermediaries in a transaction and facilitate identity management. It can also connect buyers and sellers to create new markets that don’t yet exist.

What do NFTs mean to buyers, sellers, owners, investors, and businesses?

By enabling digital representation of physical assets and combining it with a tamper-resistant blockchain of smart contracts, NFTs are introducing significant changes in how assets are traded. 

Market efficiency

NFTs essentially convert a physical asset into a digital one, which helps remove intermediaries in transactions. For example, artists can connect directly with collectors instead of working through an agent. NFTs can also improve business processes, for instance, by allowing different parties in a supply chain to verify the provenance, production, and sale of a product to ensure its authenticity. 

Identity management

By converting physical identification documents (e.g., passports) into NFTs, entities can verify their identities without physically presenting a piece of documentation. This can help facilitate cross-border transactions and streamline business processes while reducing the risks of identity theft and fraud that can cost companies reputational and monetary losses.

Fractional ownership

The digitalisation of physical assets makes fractional ownership and the democratisation of investment feasible. The ability to verify and track ownership can open up more investment opportunities in many asset types while the ease of investing and trading can increase the worth and revenue of an asset.

New markets

By simplifying business processes and transactions, NFTs can facilitate the creation of new markets or investment vehicles. For example, a seller can tokenise a piece of land. Each parcel will have its unique characteristics and be priced differently using relevant metadata. This bypasses traditional complex and bureaucratic trading processes and enables more investors to participate in the market. 

Understanding the taxation implication of NFTs

As NFTs become more widely used, we need to consider how taxation and financial reporting work for these assets. Governments are still grappling with this new form of investment, and investors must understand their local tax laws when buying and selling NFTs.

In the US NFTs are classified as capital assets unless the seller is in the trade or business of buying and selling NFTs. While artists and creators may not be taxed for creating an NFT, the sale can be taxed as ordinary income subject to self-employment tax.

In Canada, NFT ownership is treated as an asset. The disposal of an NFT is calculated and taxed as a gain or loss. In the UK, an NFT is often considered as a capital asset held for investment purposes. The sales, which generate a capital gain or loss, are subject to Capital Gains Tax (CGT).

Navigating the new world of NFTs

NFTs offer many benefits to creators, buyers, investors, and businesses as an investment vehicle or a method to facilitate transactions. As a fast-evolving field, there are still many questions about how NFTs fit into the current financial infrastructure and how individuals and businesses should account for an NFT’s value. Therefore, it’s important to work with qualified financial and accounting professionals who understand the global implication of NFT transactions as the rules and regulations evolve.

 

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How technology is shaping the future of travel

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The travel industry continues to face difficulties nearly two years into the pandemic. Unfortunately, travel-related disruptions will stretch into 2022 and possibly beyond. However, companies that really embrace technology transformations can balance challenges with operational and customer experience (CX) improvements. 

As we move into the fourth industrial revolution, digital technologies will empower consumers and bolster the travel and tourism sectors. In this article we’ll discuss how technology is shaping the future of travel and what these innovations mean for your organisation.

Using technology to build resilience 

Disruptions have unravelled the travel supply strain. Cancelled flights and local closures can reduce consumer confidence, whilst longer waiting times at security checkpoints combined with supply shortages are eroding the customer experience.  The tourism sector must continue to adjust to ongoing disruption and take steps to build resilience. 

Earlier in 2021, at the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Aid for Trade Stocktaking event, a panel on tourism resilience identified three key actions:

  • Improve traveller confidence
  • Understand and monitor new market trends and demand drivers
  • Focus on building a resilient and inclusive travel sector

In each case, technology plays a role. It can ease waiting times and prioritise safety while providing travellers with extra assistance when adjusting to new protocols. Digital tools also give tourism businesses access to real-time data affecting customer safety and experiences. Organisations can then use this information to identify friction points and track consumer sentiment and behaviour trends. 

Lastly, technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) can reduce unconscious bias and the need for high-touch security measures. Travellers can pass through sensors that detect anomalies more effectively and less obtrusively than pat-downs and other methods. 

Building security into every project

TransUnion’s quarterly analysis to 30 June 2021 shows the digital fraud attempt rate rose 155.9% in the travel and leisure sector over the previous year. But, organisations aren’t backing down from technology initiatives. Instead, leaders realise the importance of considering security before, during and after product development. 

According to IBM, the number of CIOs reporting higher maturity levels in their security and privacy transformation has increased 218% since 2019.  By addressing cybersecurity early, travel and hospitality companies can roll out new customer-facing tools and features while lowering vulnerabilities.  

Reimagining the traveller journey

Even as lockdowns occurred, people went online to discover new destinations and dream about future travel. Although companies cut back on marketing and advertising initiatives, they pushed ahead on customer engagement tools, especially those that drive direct traffic. 

Going forward, organisations will use technology to capture and keep travellers’ attention. The travel and tourism industry can use technology to learn how traveller behaviour changes, while interacting with customers using their preferred methods to continue building relationships. 

Key customer-facing technologies include:

  • Cross-channel approach to messaging. Travel and leisure businesses pair conventional platforms like texting, email and push notifications with in-product tools such as in-browser or in-app messages. 
  • Virtual reality (VR) for decision-making. Online VR tours help travellers scope potential destinations and feel comfortable choosing tourist activities. People can explore outdoor environments, attractions and landmarks from the comfort of their homes.
  • Augmented reality (AR) for real-life experiences. More and more consumers are looking for AR-based apps for wayfinding at a destination or as a real-life guide to local tourist attractions.  
  • Virtual assistants for better experiences. Travellers interact with AI-powered chatbots to learn about safety or hygiene measures, COVID-19 policies and inventory or room availability. Companies can collect data about usage and use it to develop personalised experiences. 
  • Secure interactions using recognition technology. Consumers use biometric features on their cellphones to approve transactions. Travel companies can use key tools to support biometric logins, including contactless check-ins, payments and more. 

Focusing on workforce optimisation and agility

According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Human Capital Trends survey, “53% of respondents said that between half and all of their workforce will need to change their skills and capabilities in the next three years.” Unfortunately, “38% said that identifying workforce development needs and priorities is their greatest barrier to workforce development.”

Technology can help travel and tourism leaders identify skill gaps, develop workforces and retain staff. Skills graphs map current skills and capabilities to roles, performance, demographics and external trends. Interactive tools can also let employees take self-assessments and tailor their learning goals to personal interests and self-development objectives. 

Leveraging data for operational and CX enhancements

Nearly every device and system supplies data which industry leaders can use to identify challenges and opportunities. For instance, IoT technology can automate maintenance tasks and alerts, helping to solve problems before it affects the customer experience. Likewise, in-room devices let guests personalise settings in conferencing or private spaces. In return, organisations can collect this data to track usage and monitor resources. 

Other data touchpoints supply information to predict demand or uncover new consumer behaviour patterns. Leaders can use data to optimise pricing, promotional strategies and operational performance. Purposeful technology objectives can increase profitability across the board. 

Technology drives business value in the travel industry

Today, every airport or hotel is a technology company. Digital tools create seamless, secure experiences. Indeed, when backed by customer-centric support teams empowered by consumer intent and sentiment data, travel and tourism companies can shape the customer journey. 

 

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Live webcast launch event

HLB Survey of Business Leaders 2022

17 December 2021

How are CEOs rising to the challenge of powering their innovation engines amidst ongoing fluctuation in market conditions, shifts in consumer sentiments, and disruptions to the supply chain? Through a comprehensive survey of 586 business leaders from 46 countries, and indepth interviews with innovation experts, we explore how businesses are planning to propel themselves forward in a future where innovation must be executed at warp speed and across multiple vectors.

Join our team of international business experts on Thursday 27 January at 4pm GMT as they discuss the findings of our research during a Q&A panel session. Register today: 

 

Are you accounting for your SaaS arrangements correctly?

By Michelle Warren, HLB Australia

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Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) – or cloud-based software – is fast becoming mainstream. However, as businesses move away from on-premise software to SaaS arrangements, they should be mindful of the accounting implications. In this article we consider the two agenda decisions issued by the IFRS Interpretations Committee (IFRIC) relating to SaaS arrangements.

SaaS is a way to deliver software services to customers through the internet, meaning customers  can access data from any device as long as it has an internet connection. In this web-based model, software suppliers host and maintain (i.e. control) the servers, databases and the code that makes up the application. SaaS arrangements differ from traditional on-premises software in the following ways:

  • The software is not installed or stored on the customer’s computer systems
  • The SaaS services and infrastructure are managed by the SaaS supplier and shared by many customers
  • Customisation of the SaaS services is limited
  • SaaS services are typically paid for on a subscription basis

With this is mind, let’s consider the accounting treatment of SaaS arrangements by reference to the  two agenda decisions issued by the IFRIC.

Software asset or service?

The March 2019 agenda decision considers how to account for a SaaS cloud computing arrangement in which the customer contracts to pay a fee in exchange for a right to receive access to the supplier’s application software for a specified term. The question that arises here is whether the customer receives a software asset at the commencement of the contract or a service over the period of the contract. A customer receives a software asset at the contract commencement date if either:

  • the contract contains a software lease; or
  • the customer otherwise obtains control of the software on the date the contract starts.

For a lease to exist, a contract must convey the right  to control the use of an identified asset. For such a right to exist, a customer must have both:

  • the right to obtain substantially all the economic benefits from use of the identified asset; and
  • the right to direct the use of the asset (i. the customer can direct how and for what purpose the asset is used).

 A cloud-based software arrangement generally does not give rise to a lease under IFRS 16 Leases.  This is because a right to receive future access to the supplier’s software running on the supplier’s cloud infrastructure does not in itself give the customer any decision-making rights about how and for what purpose the software is used.

In assessing whether the customer obtains control of a software asset at contract commencement date, the  requirements of IAS 38 Intangible Assets need to be considered. For an intangible asset to be recognised, the ‘identifiability’ and ‘control’ criteria must be met.

A right to receive future access to the supplier’s software does not give the customer the power to obtain the future economic benefits flowing from the software itself and to restrict others’ access to those benefits. SaaS arrangements, therefore, do not usually give rise to an intangible asset.  In conclusion, where a SaaS arrangement does not give rise to a software lease nor does it give rise to an intangible asset that the entity controls, then the right to access the supplier’s application software in the future is a service contract. The customer recognises the expenditure for the service (being access to the software) as the services are received. If the customer  pays the supplier before it receives the service, an asset is recognised for the prepayment representing the customer’s right to future services.

Configuration and customisation costs

 Building on the earlier agenda decision discussed above, the April 2021 agenda decision considers how to account for costs incurred to configure or customise a supplier’s application software in a SaaS  arrangement. In the scenario presented to the IFRIC, the supplier (and not the customer) controls the cloud application software to which the customer has access (so the same kind of service arrangement present in the March 2019 agenda decision). Configuration and customisation are specifically described in the fact pattern: Configuration involves the setting of various flags or switches within the application software, or defining values or parameters, to set up the software’s existing code to function in a specified way. Customisation involves modifying the software code in the application, or writing additional code.

The assessment of whether configuration or customisation of cloud-based software results in an intangible asset depends on the nature and output of   the configuration or customisation performed.

Intangible asset not recognised

 Where a customer does not control the software being configured or customised, the customer would  not recognise an intangible asset for the costs it incurs. This is because such costs do not create a resource controlled by the customer that is separate from the supplier’s software hosted in the cloud.

In this scenario, the costs would be expensed when the customer receives the configuration or customisation services. Under IAS 38, services are received when they are performed by a supplier in accordance with a contract to deliver them to the entity, and not when the entity uses them to deliver another service. This means the costs are expensed as the service is received and not when the customer accesses the SaaS arrangement to which the configuration and customisation services relate.

The IFRIC agenda decision goes on to explain that  IAS 38 provides no guidance on how to identify the services that the customer receives and when the supplier performs those services. It is, therefore, appropriate to draw guidance from IFRS 15 Revenue from Contracts with Customers that deals with similar and related issues.

Applying IFRS 15

 In situations where the supplier of the cloud software (or a third party contracted by the supplier) also provides the configuration or customisation services, the customer determines when it receives those services as follows:

  • if the configuration or customisation services are distinct, then the customer recognises the costs as an expense when the supplier configures or customises the application
  • if the configuration or customisation services are not distinct (because those services are not separately identifiable from the customer’s right to receive access to the supplier’s application software), then the customer recognises the costs as an expense when the supplier provides access to the application software over the contract

For those situations where the customer engages  a third party to supply the configuration or customisation services, the costs are recognised as an  expense when the third-party supplier configures or customises the application software.

Entities may encounter difficulties assessing whether the configuration or customisation services performed  by the supplier are distinct from the right to access the supplier’s cloud software over the term of the contract. The guidance in IFRS 15 states that a good or service promised in a contract is distinct if  both the following criteria are met:

  • the customer can benefit from the good or service either on its own, or together with other resources that are readily available to the customer; and
  • the entity’s promise to transfer the good or service to the customer is separately identifiable from other promises in the

 Applying the first criterion to the scenario under discussion, indicators that the configuration or customisation services are distinct would be if such services are provided separately by other suppliers, or if the customer could use the SaaS application software without the configuration or customisation  services. On the other hand, if these services require the supplier to significantly modify (customise) its own cloud-based software so that it functions together with the customer’s existing infrastructure, it  may be appropriate to conclude that the customisation service is not distinct on the basis that what is being promised by the supplier is a fully-integrated system. That is, the promises to provide the customisation service and access to the cloud-based software are not separately identifiable (second criterion above).

Intangible asset recognised

It may be the case that a SaaS arrangement results  in the customer modifying its own existing software, or creating new software that it owns and controls – for example, to allow for entity-specific functionality of the supplier’s cloud software, or to enable the customer’s on-premise  applications to interface with the supplier’s cloud-based applications. In these situations, it is likely that a separate intangible asset can be recognised for certain costs under the  requirements of IAS 38, remembering that costs related to research and training, as well as indirect costs and general overheads cannot be capitalised as part of an intangible asset.

 

 

What do agenda decisions mean for entities?

 The existence of agenda decisions is not well known  outside of the accounting technical community, but they can prove to be quite helpful if you know they are there. The IFRIC deliberates IFRS application issues from IFRS users worldwide. It then decides whether to recommend standard setting to address these issues. Where the IFRIC decides that standard setting is not required to address a specific issue (because IFRS provides adequate guidance), the basis for such a decision needs to be communicated to the public. This is where agenda decisions come in: they explain  the basis of not recommending  standard setting for the issues rejected by the IFRIC and aim to improve the consistency of IFRS application.

Entities that claim compliance with IFRS need to follow the guidance in agenda decisions (since agenda decisions derive their authority from IFRS  itself). 

Where an entity’s current accounting practice needs to change because of an agenda decision, this constitutes a change in accounting policy. Such changes are generally accounted for retrospectively, meaning numbers reported in previous periods would need to be restated where the changes are material. Specific disclosures are required for changes in accounting policies. Agenda decisions do not have effective dates. The expectation is that entities adopt the changes stemming from agenda decisions in a timely manner, meaning they should evaluate the impact of relevant agenda decisions and reflect any required changes in their financial statements as soon as possible.

For further guidance or information please get in touch with HLB’s IFRS advisers.

 

Polyvios A Polyviou

Global IFRS Leader

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How can hospitality businesses prepare to thrive in 2022?

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After a tumultuous couple of years, hospitality businesses want relief and stability. However, staff shortages and supply chain problems combined with ongoing concerns about infectious disease outbreaks, from COVID-19 to the flu, are impacting the industry. Will the uncertainty continue into 2022?  If so, how can organisations adapt and prioritise future plans? 

Disruptions are already occurring again in some countries, and may also be sprinkled across 2022, but business leaders can act now to mitigate the effects. It’s time to move beyond survival mode. In this article we explore the hospitality sector’s key challenges and discuss how building resilience can prepare companies for the upcoming year. 

Cashflow challenges and solutions

Many restaurateurs and hoteliers cut back on service hours or amenities, and this trend will persist due to ongoing labour shortages. In addition, experts predict food inventory costs to remain higher through much of 2022. Cash flow during specific dayparts or from various revenue streams may also vary. 

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that advanced economies will see their real gross domestic product (GDP) decrease in 2022, except Germany, Spain and Japan. Likewise, emerging market and middle-income economies will decrease, whereas low-income developing countries will increase. 

Without detailed cashflows, it is almost impossible to estimate how much cash companies will need during this recovery period. Cashflow forecasts should include:

  • Cash outflows for the repayment of debts, including government-backed loans
  • Return on investment (ROI) projections for sales and marketing tactics
  • Various “what if” scenarios to understand investment and customer experience priorities
  • Ongoing expenses for customer and employee COVID-19 safeguards
  • Real-time figures showing the financial impact of changing business hours
  • Assumptions based on the current state of global tourismand local factors 

Customers: expectations and experiences

Increasing footfall will continue to be a key priority for hospitality businesses in 2022. However, guests aren’t ready to let go of convenient experiences. They’re still looking for contactless services, delivery and meal kits. Consequently, hospitality businesses should assess the customer journey, including experiences from the last two years and expectations going forward. To sufficiently plan ahead, consider the following points:

  • Consumers want transparency about safety and sanitation protocols, including frequent updates on your website and communication with loyal customers. 
  • Ongoing remote work may alter lunchtime hours and demand type (delivery versus on-premises meals). Hours and menus may need adjusting.
  • Are pandemic-related income streams, such as meal kits or individual alcoholic drinks sold at the front desk sustainable? 
  • Guests still want contactless payments, check-in kiosks and quick response (QR) codes for wayfinding and ordering. Hospitality leaders should appraise the ROI of technology investments.

Hospitality and leisure supply chain considerations

Steep cost increases, long lead times and product availability concerns could decrease in 2022. However, it’ll be a bumpy road until then. Unexpected hurdles in 2022 stemming from geopolitical unrest, virus outbreaks or new variants, and consumer demand could reduce available quantities of key products. Hospitality leaders should remain optimistic while prioritising supply chain resilience. 

Along with broadening their food and beverage supply chain, hospitality businesses can evaluate existing vendor relationships and alternative product costs versus function and aesthetics. On the one hand, companies may want to continue new practices, such as offering condiments for to-go orders by request only. Yet, it’s equally important to determine if inventory changes affect the customer experience. If so, organisations can focus on their messaging to keep guests abreast of ongoing challenges. 

Barriers to staffing 

Businesses that have been reliant on government support may need to reassess their staffing arrangements and carefully consider whether redundancies will need to be made. Will businesses need to close during quieter times? If so, how can you reduce the impact on guests and current employees? 

Again, consistent communication is critical. Regular updates on your social channels, websites and third-party listings should reflect your current situation. Supervisors can use scheduling platforms and data-driven insights to adequately staff shifts and forecast shortages. Additionally, flexible schedules and outsourcing non-core tasks could help reduce some labour challenges.

Leaders may also need to take a closer look at automation tools to streamline workflows and fill service gaps. Sensor technologies can reduce daily maintenance requirements without risking unforeseen disruptions. Cross-training and upskilling will also remain crucial in the upcoming year. Hospitality and leisure businesses should review skillsets and prepare staff for future changes. For instance, customer service talent remains a priority, but those employees increasingly require technical skills. 

Technology: understand the benefits and drawbacks

Technology adoption skyrocketed during the pandemic, and there’s no turning back. Yet, in an industry where high-touch means an upgraded experience, hoteliers and restaurateurs need to consider the impact of technology on the customer experience and also on the workplace. The best tools reduce costs and increase efficiency, but they should also provide secure, user-friendly customer and employee-facing apps. 

Keep in mind that incorporating new technologies without proper support could negatively affect your customer and employee retention. Hospitality and leisure companies can train human resources, customer service agents and technology staff to identify friction points and assist individuals. Plans for 2022 should assess:

  • Current technology usage and adoption rates
  • Risks and benefits of new technologies or tools
  • Rollout strategies for upcoming investments
  • Cybersecurity issues such as privacy vulnerabilities for software and endpoints

Looking ahead: a new definition of stability

Uncertainty can breed innovation and deliver valuable lessons – but it doesn’t always come easily. Completing a full assessment followed by strategic actions could reduce future disruption while helping hospitality leaders weather new storms. Despite all the challenges over the past year, hospitality and leisure have remained robust. Whilst the end of 2021 may continue to create challenges, there are opportunities in 2022, and the sector needs to be ready to flourish.

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HLB Cross-Border Business Talks Podcast Series

Welcome to our podcast series, where we’ll be exploring the latest cross-border business topics with HLB thought leaders and special guests. Our podcast episodes provide bite-size analysis on today’s issues in 10 to 15 minute long episodes.

New episodes will appear regularly, as we share insights and ideas on a range of international business topics, from FDI and global economic trends, to the latest technology advancements in business and sector specific analyses. Sign up to listen to our podcast series via  Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

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    Eps 25: The integration of accounting and cyber forensics

    Eps 24: Emerging growth companies and M&A activity during the pandemic

    Eps 23: Cyber-risks in the age of remote working

    Eps 22: How the European investment climate is adapting to the New Normal

    Eps 21: COVID-19’s impact on the North American investment climate

    Eps 20: The ongoing impact of COVID-19 on financial reporting

    Eps 19: Transfer Pricing considerations in light of COVID-19

    Eps 18: Emerging technology trends for 2020

    Eps 17: Transforming business through AI

    Eps 16: Investor confidence remains uncertain but opportunities are ahead

    Eps 15: The role of Not-For-Profits in the development of Africa

    Eps 14: M&A Trends in Africa

    Eps 13: Cities of the Future

    Eps 12: Consumer behaviour changes and the response of global businesses

    Eps 11: Challenges and opportunities in today’s global real estate market

    Eps 10: Why does the world need Cyber Security Awareness Month?

    Eps 9: Blockchain intelligence: A compliance framework for crypto-currency transactions

    Eps 8: Made in Italy: How Italian companies are successfully conducting cross-border business

    Eps 7: The importance of soft skills in business

    Eps 6: A profession in transformation: Audit practices are becoming more technology driven and culturally diverse

    Eps 5: Investor confidence remains fragile

    Eps 4: Why the revision of ISA 540 is creating a more collaborative dialogue between auditors and clients

    Eps 3: The next generation of start-ups: Going across borders

    Eps 2: US-China trade conflict: In every crisis there are always opportunities

    Eps 1: Challenges and opportunities for foreign companies in the US in times of trade uncertainty

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    The advantages of blockchain across sectors and jurisdictions

    Webinar: 16 December 2021, 1pm GMT

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    The introduction of blockchain and cryptocurrency in business is offering creative and innovative ways to improve performance. In this webinar we explore the competitive advantages of using blockchain and cryptocurrency across jurisdictions, we outline trends from 2021 and emerging trends shaping the future outlook for 2022.  Our panelists will offer their unique perspectives using case studies across a range of sectors including financial services, esports and gaming.

    Panelists:

    Mark Eckerle, HLB USA .  Mark is team leader of Withum’s Blockchain, Cryptocurrency and ICO services group and specialises in technology and emerging growth industry.

    Kendra Ross, Shelgeyr Ltd.  Kendra runs fully crypto gaming platforms, allowing players to bet on sports and in a casino with bitcoin and altcoins.

    Chris Kissack,  HLB Isle of Man.  Chris is business development manager at Affinity Group, based on the Isle of Man, and at the forefront of emerging sectors including fintech, esports and gaming.

     

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    What skills and capabilities are we looking for in our business leaders?

    Marina Kooijmans, Chief People Officer

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    There’s a lot going on in the world at the moment. We’re all trying to cope with change and uncertainty and many leaders are facing challenges they’ve never encountered before. 

    Our 2021 survey of 583 business leaders from 55 countries found that business leaders are concerned or are very concerned about a number of issues, from the consequences of Covid-19 to climate risks.  Their top concerns are:

    To navigate the uncertainty, today’s leaders need specific skills to keep their workforces strong. Skills like adaptability, empathy and problem-solving matter.  

    Alongside this, professionals are also thinking differently about what they want from their careers.  We’re in the midst of what is being referred to as the Great Resignation, with workers quitting their jobs in record numbers. In markets around the globe, workers want to feel like they belong and fit in with their organisation and in their careers. 

    How our leaders behave during this time will affect the stability and growth of their organisations. So, what makes a good leader in the current climate? We see the following skills as crucial during these ever-changing times.

    Empathy

    The COVID-19 pandemic brought stress upon many workers. Employees may have lost loved ones or had to become caretakers for sick family members. Virtual school turned parents into classroom supervisors. An upended world changed how we shopped, saw each other and related to others.

    The disruption has also emphasised the importance of authenticity in the workplace. According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index survey, compared to a year ago, 39% of people say they’re more likely to be their full, authentic selves at work. What’s more, 17% of professionals have cried with a coworker in the past year.

    We need leaders who can focus on the “human” side of leadership. A 2021 report by “Forbes” cited several research studies in which empathy was cited as an essential leadership skill that positively contributed to workforces.

    Leaders today need to be understanding of what their employees are going through. They need to build relationships with their people and provide support that fosters work-life balance and that prioritises mental health for all.

    Inclusivity

    We also need inclusive leaders, who recognise the value of diversity and equity in the workplace. Inclusive leaders make everyone feel like they’re valued and like they belong. They treat all employees with respect and strive to inspire and instill confidence in their teams.

    According to research from Deloitte, teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report they’re high-performing and are 29% more likely to say they behave collaboratively. Inclusive leadership also leads to teams being 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions.

    Our own research found 93% of leaders agree it’s even more important in the current environment that employers ensure equal opportunities and support to all their people. Inclusive leaders develop open mindsets where they encourage contributions and innovation from everyone, no matter what their role or rank is. 

    Inclusive leaders are great listeners. They’re aware of how bias can affect a workplace and work to accept diverse points-of-view.

    Adaptability

    The past few years have taught us that anything can happen. Leaders must have an agile mindset and be able to adapt to changing industries and events. 

    Adaptability also requires an action-oriented approach. Technology is rapidly evolving, and leaders must possess “technological intelligence,” which goes beyond a mere understanding of how current technologies work. Technological intelligence requires being open to new technologies that can support business growth, creativity and innovation.

    When business challenges emerge, adaptable leaders pivot to recover. A study of 300,000 leaders reported by “Inc.” found out of the 10 characteristics of successful leaders, problem-solving and issue analysis were prominent leadership skills.

    Our research found 91% of leaders are confident they can steer their business in a new direction post-pandemic. Leaders look at problems as an opportunity to improve strategy, show resilience and come out better.

    Commitment to people

    Managers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement, Gallup reports, yet most employees aren’t engaged at work. You can greatly improve your business results when you invest in your team. According to the “Harvard Business Review,” employees who feel inspired are 125% more productive compared to workers who are just “satisfied.”

    Great leaders:

    • Meet with employees to talk about their career goals
    • Create action plans to help team members grow their careers
    • Provide learning and development opportunities to employees
    • Encourage employees to take on new responsibilities and work outside their comfort zone

    Effective leaders make a commitment to the development of their people and their talent. They know how much their team matters to their business’ success. They know that if they invest in their people, they will in turn give back more to the company.

    Purpose driven

    Great leaders unite a team behind a shared purpose, mission and vision. Leaders strive to continually create positive change. They’re willing to take risks that could result in better outcomes, all while remembering the business mission that drives decision-making.

    As Gallup points out, a , including uniting fragmented teams. Leaders can communicate purpose by reinforcing:

    • The company’s mission, values and goals
    • How to measure success
    • What a team’s strengths and areas of improvement are
    • How to define effective collaboration 

    Leaders should exemplify the purpose and values behind their company. They motivate others to achieve specific goals and objectives. They’re willing to put in the work themselves and are great examples to those they lead.

    Good leaders combine it all to drive business results

    Leadership supports the people at your company and influences the quality of your product or service. Good leaders foster collaboration. They approach work from a people-centered viewpoint. They motivate, inspire and include all team members.

    Whether you’re in a leadership position or aspire to be in one, rapidly changing times require adaptability, reflectiveness and cultural intelligence. Great leaders share in the same goals as their team. They support employees so that the entire workforce can achieve amazing business results for the organisation as a whole.  

    #togetherwemakeithappen

    Marina Kooijmans

    Chief People Officer

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