Whether you love or hate Jeremy Clarkson, the Clarkson’s Farm series on Amazon conveys many of the challenges faced by farmers. In the last ten minutes of the final episode of Season 1, the financial challenges are highlighted. As I watched this part of the show, I guessed a figure of £10,000 profit. The actual profit shown was £144 on arable farming in what was a weather affected year ( yields were down 40%). This would be increased by subsidies, but one has to question the viability, or more importantly the sustainability of farming if such low incomes are generated. Of course, as many farmers know, today profits are less from growing or rearing, and more in things like direct sales through farm shops or other items like tourism.
This made me think about what we teach (or do not) about accounting for farming. One might think it is something which should be covered in an accounting syllabus at university, but it in my experience it is not. I have never been taught or have I taught IAS 41 Agriculture. As an accounting standard, it is not very complex, so teaching it is not much effort. Perhaps what is more useful to teach is how to actually prepare accounts of farms. The Irish leaving certificate (an exam for entry to university) includes some more practical items, such as an “enterprise analysis account” – an account which shows revenues, costs and profits of each part of the farm/farm activity. Such an account is useful as it can be the basis for decision making in the same way that departmental accounts can be in other business sectors.
My previous post was on a new definition of accounting. Linking it to this post, I am wondering how farm accounting fits with the “enable the flourishing of organisations, people and nature” element of the definition. It is, or will be, difficult for people and nature to flourish (by being fed, having good farming practices) if the financial return on farming is poor or subject more risks from climate change. I could go on, but some food for thought here I hope.
It has been a while since my last post, busy times. I hope to be able to get back to more regular posting now.
When I teach accounting to students for the first time, I typically draw on definitions which used words like “economic” and “communication”. Such definitions are of course a bit dated, and I typically provide more current insights on what accounting actually is, bringing in accounting for non-financial items and accounting for resources. I am always keen to emphasise the communicative element of accounting – it is after all data, transposed to information, and information is of less value if not communicated.
Recently Carnegie et al. (2021) published a really great commentary on what accounting is. As well as giving some very useful historic background, they provide a definition of accounting as follows:
Accounting is a technical, social and moral practice concerned with the sustainable utilisation of resources and proper accountability to stakeholders to enable the flourishing of organisations, people and nature.
Hats off, I cannot argue with the above, it captures what accounting is, or perhaps should be. I have been lucky enough to hear Gary Carnegie speak about the above definition, and he really presents a great case. The paper also poses the definition as something for debate and future work.
For what it is worth, my contribution to the debate is a simple one. The definition is fine, but let us not forget the word communicate and/or communication. Decisions in business can only be made on the basis of information, which should imply communication. Thus, perhaps as part of the operationalisation of the above definition, some notes or comments could re-affirm that communicate/communication is a must for accounting. It could of course be argued that “accountability” in the above definition implies communication. However, as a management accountant I can recall times from industry when communication could have led to accountability. A chicken and egg point perhaps, so let me put it another way. Accounting is a (not the) language of business, and while languages and meaning of words evolve (like accounting), they die out if not used to communicate.
Thanks to Garry Carnegie, Lee Parker and Eva Tsahuridu for kicking off what is an interesting and worthy debate.
Not many large firms hold bitcoin as an asset, but Tesla is one of them. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlights how bitcoin is accounted for by Tesla.
According to the article, Tesla holds about $1.5 billion in bitcoin. This, like any currency holdings, is an asset on the company balance sheet. If you have read any media reports of late you may know that bitcoin hit some historic highs recently, but it’s value is volatile. From a balance sheet perspective, as an asset it must be tested for impairment at least annually and any gains or losses are reported immediately against earnings/profit. The WSJ article suggests some positive results reported by Tesla in recent times are a result of selling some bitcoin holdings – alongside sales of some other credits it holds.
As most companies do not yet sell products for bitcoin or other crypto currency, we do not get to see how volatility effects balance sheets. I am not sure it would be a good thing to have balance sheets subjected to such fluctuations, as is the case in some hyperinflationary economies with devaluing currency.
Lean if a termed usually used to describe process efficiency. There are various terms used in the field of “lean” such as lean thinking, lean manufacturing/production, lean management etc, but to me the easiest way to think of “lean” concepts is to think of the normal meaning of lean – fit, strong and without fat. In organisational terms we can think of lean as being about not only doing things in a lean way, but always looking for ways to improve (or kanban).
In my time as a management accountant I have been lucky enough to be involved in projects with a lean emphasis, mainly around lean production and the notion of a pull system – where orders are pulled through the production process to meet customer delivery dates.
It has been a while since my lean experience days, and yesterday I was vividly reminded of them through a LinkedIn connection. John O’Shanahan from LeanBPI wrote a wonderful blog post of his experience being vaccinated against Covid19 in one of Ireland’s large vaccine centres. You can read the post at the link in full, but some points made by John are classic examples of lean in action. One point was how those attending had their appointment time confirmed before being allowed to enter. If someone were permitted to enter earlier or late, this could upset the process which is designed to ensure full flow through the vaccination centre. A second point relates to a Covid history check. John noted:
At the Covid-19 history check, the checker was ready to record if there was an issue but was not recording the results for all persons checked. Most patients presenting for vaccine will pass the Covid-19 history check, it makes sense to only record the exceptions and turn these patients away before entering.
Finally, the use of technology to capture information is noted. Tablets used were prepopulated with certain information from the vaccine registration portal, and little new data was captured. However, what was captured simply adds to the exist data and does not create a new process or data. I have seen other comments noting that the only paper in the process was the small card given to each person at the end (like a Vaccine ID) and information leaflets distributed. This contrasts with eight pages of forms in German vaccine centres, for example.
Do read the full post by John if you have time.
At one of my recent management accounting lectures, my students had the pleasure of been given a short talk by an accountant who worked in the TV/film sector. There is quite a lot going on in Northern Ireland in this arena (think Game of Thrones etc). While I have often noticed the “Production Accountant” title on movie/TV credits, I have never really thought about what the role entails.
As I learned from the talk, the one name on the credits typically hides a whole team of accountants. Another thing I learned is the vast range of tasks production accounting entails. The tasks include legal aspects (e.g. employment law), payroll, bookkeeping, planning costs, tracking costs and many more things (see here). Having heard what production accounting involves, it struck me that it is an amazing learning ground for early career accountants and/or accounting graduates, as you have to deal with all aspects of accounting.
To add to the broad role, production accounting will vary by location as filming locations can be in different countries/legal jurisdictions. Thus for example, you would have to require knowledge of local GAAP, local tax rules and local business law. Thus there is a potential to learn about international environments.
The Production Guild has prepared some useful resources for production accounting and you can find them here . These resources reflect the broad nature of the tasks, as mentioned. As an example, an asset register reflects that some production assets may be purchased and moved from one production to another – very similar to an asset used in a construction contract. Another example is a template to capture the budget and actual costs of artists (actors) in a production.
One downside to being a production accountant may be that you are typically self-employed. Having said that, if you are an accountant in practice you may be self-employed regardless.
Throughout my professional and academic career as a management accountant/teacher of same, the issue of sustainability has always been something with just made intuitive sense to me. This may be due to my rural background which has instilled an appreciation of all things around me into my ways of working and thinking.
Of course, sustainability is a key issue for business and us all. I recently stumbled upon a CIMA Research Insight report on sustainable development which I had not read previously. The report focuses on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs) and the role of management accounting. Rather than summarise it here, it may be best to read the report yourself, but one quote from within the report really captures the important relationship between business and sustainability. The quote is:
“If business isn’t sustainable then society is at risk. And if society isn’t sustainable then business is at risk.” – Mark Wilson, Group Chief Executive Officer, AVIVA
What a clear and simple quote!
Many governments are helping/have helped businesses during the last year since Covid 19 appeared on the scene. There are probably as many ways to help those businesses affected as there are countries in the world, and some sectors need more help than others. I would imagine from both the perspective of a business needing help, and from a government perspective, keeping this simple is key
Focusing solely on helping business with costs, probably the easiest thing a government can do is help a business with fixed costs. These costs are incurred even if a business is closed. Some such costs are imposed by government (e.g. business rates) and these are being postponed in many countries. Other fixed costs such as rent, security or insurance may still be incurred by a business, and some governments are helping business by covering a portion of such costs. Another method I have read about is how some governments are giving loans to cover such costs – as ultimately a surviving business can pay taxes, and of course government borrowing is very cheap at the moment.
Any schemes which help business by covering fixed costs should be relatively easy to operate and understand for two reasons. First, any business should have cost data to hand from its annual accounts at least, or from its accounting systems at best. Second, fixed costs are understood by even the smallest business. Of course, fixed costs are different for different businesses and sectors, and ideally any subsidy or help should take this in account.
It is often said accounting is the language of business. I have been recently putting this to a small test, to see how accounting works across different (spoken) languages and countries. My rather unsophisticated test stems from an experience in 2016 in Italy. While in the Abruzzo region, I came across a church in a mountain village. On it’s notice board were the parish accounts. I do not speak Italian, but my knowledge of the general format and layout of financial statements. combined some common sense, allowed me to understand the accounts quite well.
For my “test”, which I am using for a class I teach as a way to summarise various financial statement formats, I have collected the financial statements of several types/size of company and in several languages – English, Spanish, German and Irish. While I do speak some German and Spanish, my Irish is terrible (sad as an Irish person perhaps). Looking across the various financial statements in these languages – even though different rule and laws may apply – there is a typical structure which implies even a non-speaker can understand the basics. This of course stems from the fact that the double entry system underlies the financial statements, regardless of which language is used in their construction. The look and layout of the financial statements is also a good visual clue as to which statement it is – the balance sheet for example is easy to locate, given its two totals being equal.
In summary, while I am a bit embarrassed to say my Irish is terrible, I was able to understand a balance sheet in Irish – and of course in Spanish and German too. Thus, the results of my “test” – I speak accounting better than Irish!
A few months ago, myself and a colleague from Dublin City University, Orla Feeney, published a paper in Accounting Auditing and Accountability Journal titled “Domestic waste policy in Ireland – economization and the role of accounting” – see this link.
The paper details how domestic waste collection in Ireland evolved over time from a free (to the end consumer) merit good, to a pay by weight system run by private enterprises. We used the notion of economization to frame the story of how accounting concepts played a role in this journey. The paper abstract is below.
In the paper, we noted “to say the sector became “financialized” would be an over claim as all firms involved were/are privately owned and not subject to financial market forces”. Well, this is perhaps no longer the case, as the Irish Times of January 15th reports one of the waste firms is up for graps with a valuation of €1bn – see here. Great to see a link from the paper to actual events.
See more of my research publications look at my research profile .
This paper examines how accounting concepts were utilised in domestic waste collection services in Ireland over the past two decades or so. In comparison to other former “free” services in the Irish context, the prevalence of accounting concepts has been greater and delivered a more successful outcome.
Drawing on the concepts of calculation, the “economic” and economization, events around domestic waste policy in Ireland are examined, and the increasing prevalence of concepts such as price, cost and profitability in these processes are a focal point. Publicly available documents such as government policy documents, parliamentary records and media reports are utilised to draw out these concepts. The period of analysis is 1996–2018.
The findings reveal the role of accounting concepts in the economization of domestic waste policy in Ireland. The result of the economization process was a fully privatised, profit-oriented, price-monitored system.
This research provides a broad view of accounting concepts in the management of domestic waste. It highlights how waste policy in Ireland travelled through instances of being political and economic over time. The research is limited by its use of secondary data.
This study highlights how accounting concepts were used in varying ways to bring about a satisfactory solution to domestic waste disposal in Ireland, namely the privatisation of waste services.
As an accountant, I tend to automatically equate value to economic value. When teaching management accounting of course, I know there is more than just financial/economic value. Such “other” values are probably much more important to us and our planet – time is precious as the photo of this post captures.
I was intrigued recently to read how a “tampon tax” was abolished in the UK from January 1st 2021. The tax, value-added tax (VAT) of 5%, no longer applies to sanitary products such as tampons. As I read around the topic (and I know the issue of free sanitary products is a hot topic), I found that Ireland never charged VAT on such products. From my days of studying taxation, I recall that a basic principle of VAT in Ireland was that basic needs (e.g. bread, medicines) were outside VAT scope, but “luxury items” were subject to VAT (e.g. sweet cakes – in contrast to plain white bread).
The above made me think of what value should we be considering in VAT and is there value other than economic value. Allowing women to have cheaper or tax free sanitary products is something which I think adds value to society. Or take another example, back in 2012 a baker in Saxony, Germany was held liable to pay VAT on unsold bread donated to homeless people (I think this debate may still be rumbling in Germany). This baker was certainly adding value to society by helping others less fortunate, and again it is questionable should such an activity be taxed.
I am sure there are more examples like these two. Of course, governments around the world are introducing taxes to help protect our environment etc, but I do wonder should legislators consider the existing and well embedded taxes too. Some simple changes as to what constitutes “value” might be worthwhile to improve society.
The are many examples of how Covid 19 is affecting business. An article in the Irish Times of 18/11/2020 provides a nice example, from Dublin Zoo. We all love a visit to the Zoo – well, I certainly do – but we probably never stop to think about the costs of running a zoo.
According to the Irish Times article, Covid 19 has left a €10 million hole in the finances of Dublin Zoo, and it costs €500,000 per month to feed and care for the animals. Looking at recent annual reports, the annual income of Dublin Zoo is about €20m. That would mean about 30% of the the income is used to cover feeding costs (500000 x 12 = €6m). This is a fixed cost, as the animals must be feed and cared for. If income has fallen to zero in recent months due to Covid 19, it is easy to see how Dublin Zoo – or any zoo – could get into financial trouble quite quickly.
First of all, let me say I am no expert on the area of social housing, so I apologise in advance if I am missing some key points in the debate. Second, this blog post emerged as I searched for some thoughts on cost effectiveness. The post may be a little Ireland-centric in context, but I am sure Ireland is not the only country where the sale of new homes is taxed.
Housing is an ongoing problem in Ireland, and the issue of affordability is often mentioned by the media, governments and other actors. While searching for some material on cost effectiveness, I found several articles which suggested that more affordable homes/social housing could come from local authorities taking on the building themselves. This makes some intuitive sense in that a construction firm’s profit margin does not need to be paid and thus the cost per house may be lower. However, this made me think of two things:
- When I was younger (30-35 years ago) local authorities began to phase out building and maintenance of homes as third parties could do so more efficiently and at a lower cost. Thus, an infrastructure to start doing so again is not there, needs to be built (pardon the pun) and will cost money.
- The VAT rate on new homes is 13.5 % presently. Thus, if a person pays €350000 for a new home, €42,630 is VAT and must be paid over to the government – assuming a developer builds/sells a house. If a local authority (e.g. a city) built a house for re-sale, as far as I know VAT is still included in the price. If it were renting the house to a tenant – again as far as I know – it is not chargeable, but VAT on the cost of building cannot be reclaimed.
You may be thinking, so what, as the VAT can be used by the government to build more houses, or even be paid back to the purchaser – I do not believe we can be sure the former would happen (unless ring-fenced), and the latter does not happen as far as I know.
Taking the above two points, it is questionable if house building by governments is more cost effective. If we consider VAT as a cost to the end-purchaser, surely some scheme which reduces or eliminates VAT in certain circumstances would result in more cost effective housing regardless of who builds them?
It’s been a while since my last post, apologies. This posts recounts a recent experience I had with the digital bank Revolut, and is a good example of the need to know some basic accounting concepts.
Let’s start with a definition of income from the IASB’s conceptual framework – “income is increases in economic benefits during the accounting period in the form of inflows or enhancements of assets or decreases of liabilities that result in increases in equity, other than those relating to contributions from equity participants”. For the purposes of this post, assume I am the accounting entity.
I should say I am a fan of the digital bank Revolut (although it’s not my main bank). They are among the fintechs changing banking. At the same time, I’m cautious – I am an accountant, and from the below, you’ll see I will remain cautious
Without getting into too much personal detail, I get paid in GBP but live in Ireland so spend in EUR. I recently got a message from Revolut asking me to verify my income of €116,000. I think that cannot be right, I don’t earn that much net of taxes – I might like too :). They provided no breakdown of this amount or any ability to easily analyse it. I downloaded my statements from Revolut into Excel and did my own sums. While I could not get their exact figure, I could get close. The explanation was that transfers from my GBP to EUR account (within Revolut) were counted as income when I transfered to EUR. This is double counting, as both cannot be income. If I relate to the definition of income above, when I get paid in GBP, I get an increase in my economic benefits ( I have more cash). When I transfer this same money from GBP to EUR, it is the same money, there is no increase in the economic benefits I have – unless due to currency fluctuations, but let’s keep it simple.
Quite a fundamental and basic error occurred in the above scenario. It is yet another example of how basic accounting concepts need to be clearly understood and applied.
I recently finished reading The Templars by Dan Jones. The Templars are the stuff of legend in many texts movies, and Jones’s book is a great and detailed read on the history of the Templars.
As I did not know a lot about the Templars – outside of movies – I was surprised at how good they became at accounting. The Templars were a military order, founded in 1119 and remained active for about two centuries until their papal suppression in 1312. They were involved in several Crusades to the Holy Land, all of which entailed military and financial resources. It seems as a result of this and their well structured organisation, they became not only good at accounting, but so good they were trusted by others to hold cash assets on their behalf and act as a bank.
Jones’s book gives many insights from an accounting perspective, here are just two examples. A letter from 1220 written by Pope Honorius wanted to ensure that taxes collected to fund the Crusades did not flow via Rome. The Templars were thus used as agents to account for and deliver cash from tax collected to the Holy Land. A second example which appears throughout Jones’s book is how the Templars accumulated wealth as an order over time. They acquired land and similar immovable assets, and these were used productively to generate moveable assets – oil, wine and grains for example. All of this has to be accounted for and controlled. Jones also mentions how ultimately one way the Templars were hurt as an order – their wealth was attacked.