Tuesday, 25 June 2013

On being a professional

'Professionalism' is a term that is loaded with positive connotations.  Everyone knows that if you get a professional to do a job, it will be done properly, completely, and with a concern for customer satisfaction.  Whereas the opposite is - what?  An amateur, a time-server, a dabbler, a novice?

Being a professional means having high standards of work, specialist skills and training that are not easily attainable, and a set of ethical norms that look beyond simple self-interest.  Many of the scandals that have made the news recently would not have happened had people followed professional standards.

Prospero operates to the set of values set out below.  I'd be interested to hear comments on these.  Have we missed anything important?  Or, on the other hand, are some of these norms no longer appropriate?

We believe in the fundamental value of each person and will treat everyone with whom we deal with proper respect and without discrimination.
We will always tell the truth, however uncomfortable.  We will be open and honest with everyone.
We do the best we possibly can to help our clients.  We ensure our skills and competences are of the highest level and continually renewed and updated.
We will comply with all applicable laws and regulations and strongly advise clients to do the same.  We will decline or terminate an engagement if we are at risk of breaching this principle.
We are a profit making organisation aiming to produce the best possible return for our Associates, but this will never be at the expense of our other values.

We will strive to find better ways to do everything.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

The dangers of Microsoft Excel

JP Morgan incurred losses estimated at nine billion dollars in the 'London Whale' case and it turns out that a major cause was a flaw in an Excel spreadsheet.  A formula picked up a sum when it should have taken an average, leading to a series of catastrophic decisions.

What may be even worse, the economic model that has been used to justify austerity policies across the western world in recent years incorporates an Excel error that invalidates its calculations. In fairness, the model's authors do claim that their conclusions would be the same with the correction made.

Excel's flexibility and ease of use make it invaluable in every business.  But it can be incredibly dangerous if proper disciplines are not followed.  It's very easy to make a mistake and Excel won't tell you when there's been an error - it will just give you the wrong answer.

All Prospero FDs are experts in using Excel in a controlled and disciplined way to support business decisions.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Austerity - a dangerous idea?

Professor Mark Blyth explains how the austerity policies came about, what they hope to achieve and why they don't seem to be working.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

We're all just peasants!

The shocking revelations about the extent to which the US government is searching online traffic are troubling and throw light on the curious relationship we have with the internet titans like Google & Facebook.  They give us some amazing services for free.  In return, we provide them with intimate details of our life, loves and business.

The Harvard Business Review has an arresting metaphor for this arrangement:

"If you've started to think of yourself as a hapless peasant in a Game of Thrones power struggle, you're more right than you may realize. These are not traditional companies, and we are not traditional customers. These are feudal lords, and we are their vassals, peasants, and serfs."

The latest privacy scandal may lead to an overthrow of this system:

"In the longer term, we all need to work to reduce the power imbalance. Medieval feudalism evolved into a more balanced relationship in which lords had responsibilities as well as rights....We need a similar process to rein in our internet lords, and it's not something that market forces are likely to provide."

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Digital life destroyed by hackers

Few of us are as careful as we should be when it comes to securing our digital life.  It's all too common to use an easily guessable password on all of one's websites.  Here's a shocking tale about how this can go wrong, when an American journalist was targeted by a hacker.

In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my AppleID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.

Well worth reading - and acting upon.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

HMRC's performance

How are you getting on with the taxman?  There's a disturbing groundswell of opinion that staff cuts and under investment are seriously impairing HMRC's efficiency and performance.  For instance, here, here and here.  And, while it is anecdotal evidence, a lot of people we speak to complain of slow responses, difficulties in communications and inconsistent treatment.

Nobody wants to pay more tax than they have to, but people do expect to be treated fairly and promptly when they deal with the tax authorities.   And surely a business-like approach to reducing the deficit would mean that HMRC would be the one government department that should be strengthened and invested in.  A better performance on closing the tax gap might enable us to avoid some of the more unpleasant aspects of the austerity programme.