Author: David J. James

53 year old accountant who loves languages, literature, history, religion, politics, internet, vlogging and blogging and lively written discussion. Conservative Christian, married to an angel, we have three kids, and live in Warsaw, Poland.

An alternative approach to Brexit


Here’s a thought. The EU moghuls want the UK to pay a €60b Brexit bill. That would be about €2000 per working UK citizen. Some people don’t want to pay that and want a hard Brexit, some are happy for us to pay and hopefully enjoy the benefits of market freedoms in the future.

Why does this have to be a one size fits all approach? Would it not be better (I know this is an alien concept to the EU and politicians/lawmakers in general, but…) to democratise it? Let British people who want to have a permanent set of personal rights pay for an additional ID card like a superpassport (could be the prototype of a real EU passport) at €2000 per head or €5000 for a couple and their dependent children, with subsequent top up payments of say a quarter of the entry sum annually (collected say every four years) and the same for EU nationals wishing to work in the UK. Likewise companies wishing to import or export goods and services under the four freedoms would pay based on their employee numbers not having the card. If all their employees including subbies had the card then the company could trade up to a certain volume per head of employee based on what appears normal in databases like Amadeus. If they wanted to import unusual amounts for the size of the workforce in their sector then even if all their workforce are paid up Europeans they could make top-up payments for higher export and again that would work in both directions.

Then people, and private companies, can actually decide to be European or not. Their contributions would among other things fund their own representation as a constituency of UK Europeans in the European Government at all levels and they would also vote for their representatives. EU nation states citizens wishing to do border and tariff-free trade in the UK and buying the card in that direction could also vote for their own MP in the UK parliament, their own representation even in the House of Lords and representation at other levels of government as relevant to them. If living in the UK, they would remain entitled to vote in local elections.

In other words, the EU as far as the UK is concerned and vice versa would be an individual driven, opt-in system with complete respect for the individual and whether they identify as European or not.

If it works then it could after some years become a blueprint for further EU expansion or for those nations in the EU today potentially, for all we know as most are afraid to have a referendum, against the will of the majority of their people.

What is “gravitas” and how does one develop it?


I think that “gravitas” means really the opposite of being a visibly light-hearted, humorous and happy-go-lucky person. Therefore you have to be able to switch the level of gravitas on and off, that’s the tricky bit. There are people who get noted for being able to make people laugh and sometimes, if they are not carefully, they become regarded as “clowns” who are not really to be taken seriously. On the other hand, too much of the opposite will mean you are seen as someone with gravitas, but maybe not someone with a great sense of humour, which could create distance in situations where you don’t want it.

A certain dignity in not being too open about one’s personal life is probably good – familiarity can breed contempt, and making sure that your use of humour is aimed at quality rather than quantity will do a lot to enable you to come off as someone with gravitas. Other than that it is something which grows with age, experience and the ability to show a certain classic style of speech, choice of language, dress and posture. But you can’t stand on your dignity the whole time. If you make a mistake and people laugh at you, better join in the joke rather than get offended or that will undermine gravitas quicker than anything else.

Certainly a serious demeanour going hand in hand with a genuine reputation for being ethical and having a flawless integrity, these are things which many of us aspire to and should aspire to. For many successful people, this is what they tend to have in common and for many this is what they will sum up as “gravitas”.

A former boss of mine suggested that I increase my level of gravitas in order to get on, he did not say how I should go about it, but I think to a degree I did it anyway. Now I am pleased to say I can still make people laugh, but I can just as easily get them to take an issue seriously. That’s what I wanted to achieve and that’s a target I recommend people to aim for whenever I hear them talking about gravitas.

What should the relationship of internal and external audit look like?


Not every organisation has both an external audit and internal audit. In some jurisdictions you can get companies that have internal audit but no external audit, while in most countries you get quite a prevalent external audit with far less incidence of internal audits. Russia is a prime example of the latter case.

External audits done under ISAs are supposed to plan and carry out work in order to have a reasonable expectation of detecting fraud and other irregularities, and certainly the expectation of users has traditionally been that external auditors are responsible for finding fraud.

I work both as external auditor and I also carry out internal audits for clients who don’t have their own departments or who do but still need to be beefed up locally by brought-in experts. Therefore I have no particular axe to grind, but I will say this – a lot seems to be expected of external auditors with relation to fraud without giving them the tools necessary to find instances of fraud.

Internal audit departments can, within reason (they cannot supercede data protection law or labour law, etc, or contravene people’s basic human rights when monitoring them) have whatever tools they like if they are within budget. I can just imagine what my clients would think if I as an external would start installing cameras, GPS trackers on company vehicles, doing spot checks for alcohol, lifestyle checks on managers, and all the other things that internals can do. And yet if you take the standards literally I have to do a job not far off that of a policeman as an external auditor.

All we are usually given as external auditors is a couple of generic questionnaires which we try to go through with the client’s management adapting it to the specifics of their business, then we have the duty and hopefully also the ability to map out and analyse the systems of the client, including the controls and to perform walk-through tests and seek to identify key controls. The way an external auditor assesses a key control and the way an internal auditor assesses a key control are also different in a number of ways, and how we define a key control for our respective purposes differs, and then the timing and frequency of checks on that control will differ. Many people who have worked only in external audit won’t know how or why they differ and therefore their ability to get the best from internal if it is even there will be in many cases limited.

Actually most of the fraud questionnaires in use are a good start because they are based in fact on the fraud triangle originally talked about by notable criminologist Donald Cressey back in the 1960s and 70s. This is the triangle of means, motivation and rationalisation or self-justification. It is based on the idea that if a person hasn’t got the opportunity to get around the system, doesn’t really need to and thinks it would be wrong to, then the chances of that person committing fraud are extremely remote. If on the other hand a person thinks that they know how to get away with it, need the money and also think they deserve to do it, then the fraudulent activity by that person is virtually certain. Various permutations of this give varying degrees of likelihood of fraud. The questions in fraud questionnaires would be good at helping to build a “fraud triangle” exercise in a given context, but only as long as the person doing it knows what they are doing both in theory and in practice. Often it is given to quite junior people to carry out and also very often in assessing audits I have seen that the answers don’t necessarily carry through to specific tests relevant to those answers, but instead increase general risk meaning that there is a likelihood that the sample sizes for other detailed substantive tests (by the way the weakest set of tests for detecting fraud) will be higher. And sometimes you are lucky to even get that much of a response.

Externals go on to make their control tests if they do recognise a key control (and on a worldwide scale I would hazard a guess that tests of controls are still done on only a small minority of audits, with most defaulting to the substantive route based really on lack of time or confidence with control work by the external audit team) and also the other big weapon they have in the arsenal is substantive analytical review. But SAR is only as good as the in-depth knowledge of the branch or business, so externals – especially those which are not branch specific as some Big Four externals are – don’t really have the sector knowledge that the internal audit team have and so their chance of noticing something that doesn’t stack up as they go through their analyses of ratios, or building of expectations and confronting to reality is not as good as that of the internal in many cases.

And then auditors finish every section by mopping up whatever needed assurance they could not derive from the earlier procedures by other substantive procedures based if done properly on a statistical sample, which is designed to get them from the assurance they got from less time-consuming procedures through to within their tolerable error (a function of risk and materiality from their perspective, which again differs from the internal auditor’s perspective which may not even be couched in money figures but in non-monetary terms). However the chances of getting at fraud looking through sampled accounting documents is miniscule, and here many external auditors do the bulk of their work.

So naturally if there is an internal audit team, an enlightened external auditor should be ver anxious to understand how they decided their work plan, what they did, and how many key controls have been checked thoroughly and how many risks are still open. If they want to give the organisation real value for money they will design tests that supplement, rather than duplicate the work of internal auditors.

Internal auditors will encourage this – they too will want to see that the organisation’s budget for external audit work goes on procedures that help to improve the risk heat map and the overall picture for the organisation. This call only be done when each side understands the other and “speaks their language”. Many internals have worked as external but not many are continually doing both types and therefore able to think through an assurance issue from both perspectives.

Plaxo as a personal CRM business tool


In these days of below-the-line marketing, everyone should have a personal social-media CRM independently to whatever CRM they have in their office. This reflects the blurring of the work and play areas of life which is one of the recognised aspects of Generations Y and Z, as well as a very natural result of the interactive technology most of our readers will be native to and working in every day of their lives.

Plaxo (www.plaxo.com) is an address book synchronising and back-up tool which has a number of interesting features such as the ability to access your contacts from the net, to import and export as CSV files, to send greetings cards to check duplicates and synchronise in a limited way with google applications, facebook and other social media.

The interface seems to offer a lot of benefits and certainly the ability to send greetings cards is a useful one. There are, however a whole series of issues and bugs and incomplete aspects to Plaxo which means that it can easily be superseded as the personal CRM of choice by any app maker able to sort out these issues more efficiently.

1) There’s no official Plaxo app on Android phones and so the synchronisation goes via Google Apps and is clunky. Whenever codeword security runs out, it seems to stop synchronising. Also the synchronising doesn’t seem to work well all the time and in my case telephone numbers have been moved from one person to another, which is very troublesome.

2) There are not really enough greetings cards and they are in too few languages.

3) Intelligent updating from the web of what our contacts are doing seems not to be working half the time. Occasionally the robot makes a half-hearted attempt to find and update people, but nowhere near what you’d expect for the annual fee.

4) Above about 3000 contacts and the site works slowly. It is unable to offer you a print out of the whole database at that size.

5) It often loses the pictures it has imported from facebook and doesn’t seem to be able to import any at all from Linked In. It cannot update calendars directly to Android, again only via Google apps.

6) It doesn’t deal properly with any scripts beyond basic Latin script, so it mangles names written even with Polish or Czech letters, leave alone Cyrillics or Chinese names.

7) The folders are a clunky interface, but even when you have done the work of putting contacts into the appropriate folders, they don’t carry through to the greetings cards area, so you cannot, for instance, make a folder of people who would receive, let’s say, and Eidh card or a more/less traditional Hannukah card and then easily access that folder from the greetings card area. Also send outs of more than about 200 cards per time tend to fail and need all that work to be done again.

These are my main Plaxo gripes. I am airing them in the hope that Plaxo will finally get their act together and repair their product before their remaining users find another app on the market among the choice which seems to be growing every day that does all the things that Plaxo is expected to do, but still fails to deliver.

 

 

 

 

Quoracy readers’ poll on mobile phone interfaces


Out of interest, what is your preferred choice of phone operating system? This is purely for the sake of providing a barometer or benchmark for fellow subscribers. We have no association with any particular platform.

Thanks for your vote! Please freely add your comments and experience as comments to this article.

The Money Value of Time


The National Audit Office building, built orig...
The National Audit Office building, built originally as the Imperial Airways Empire Terminal. The statue, “Speed Wings over the World” is by Eric Broadbent” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to page 2 of today’s UK Financial Times, a UK National Audit Office report shows over 6.5m people waited more than 10 minutes to get their calls answered by HMRC, adding £33m to customer’s phone bills and wasting £103m of their time last year.

This snippet of information triggered a few things that I wanted to say to you this morning. The first of these is, that, despite the fact that it is obviously pretty dire that people need to wait so long to get their calls answered by the service they are paying taxes to fund in the first place, at least in the UK there is a body which is concerened at the loss of time and places a value, in monetary terms, on that loss of time by the customer.

Anyone who has spent any time either in government offices, or even banks or supermarkets in this part of the world will probably confirm that the idea that the customer’s time is valuable and should be respected is a rather alien concept. Not so long ago it was an utterly alien concept, but even today it is still a concept which they find rather hard to grasp.

Not as bad as China, though, from what I heard and also saw. People being expected to queue all day outside the Chinese consulate for their visa and then at the very moment that the scheduled closing time of the office came the shutters come down like with Kiosk Keith and that was that. The spare time of the employees was utterly sacrosanct, that of the customer not at all. This of course shows an elitist mentality, which can be found in almost all state sector offices to one or another degree anywhere in the world. Expect it and try somehow to deal with it.

Much less acceptable is the wasting of the customer’s time in business. If the customer is paying then they have a right to have their matters expedited and people who keep people waiting ought either to invest in more infrastructure to avoid it or to wonder if they are in the right business. Continue reading “The Money Value of Time”

What are the per diem and travel expense allowability rates in the Czech Republic?


CZK 1 coin.

Please find below information regarding the Czech per diem as well as other travel expenses, correct as at the close of 2012 going into 2013, courtesy of Baker Tilly Czech Republic’s Head of Tax Lucia Rablova.

Per diem

The new aspect is the obligation to reduce meal allowances when a free meal was provided.

The minimum statutory rates of meal allowances in case of domestic business trips are shown in the following table:

Period of domestic business trip in calendar day Meal allowances according to the decree Obligatory reduction for 1 free meal
5 – 12 hours min. CZK 64 (max. CZK 76) up to 70%
12 – 18 hours min. CZK 96 (max. CZK 116) up to 35%
more than 18 hours min. CZK 151 (max. CZK 181) up to 25%

The minimum statutory rates of meal allowances in case of business trips abroad are shown in the following table:

Period of domestic business trip in calendar day Meal allowances Obligatory reduction for 1 free meal
less than 1 hour ——— ——–
5 – 12 hours 1/3 of basic rate up to 70%
12 – 18 hours 2/3 of basic rate up to 35%
more than 18 hours the basic rate up to 25%

Naturally, an employer may provide meal allowances to a higher amount, i.e. may set a higher rate of meal allowances or may claim reduction in lower than the statutory rate. From the corporate income tax point of view, the full amount of meal allowances is tax deductible. However, any difference between actually paid meal allowances and statutory provided maximum limits for employees in the public budgets sphere (see column II in table 1 – max. amount) is subject to personal income tax from dependent activities and is counted also for social and health insurance computations.

 

Mileage

–          CZK 3.70 per km and petrol usage reimbursement (price according to the receipt or average price according to the annually issued decree may be used)

Accommodation

–          by receipt

Should you have any further questions in respect of the above please do not hesitate to contact Lucia via this portal, using czechtax@quoracy.com, or via the http://www.bakertilly.cz website.