Cryptocurrencies and blockchain

By CA Student Blog

25 May 2017

In today's blog, we outline the differences in required notice period for a director or auditor mid-term - is it 28 or 14 days? Our business law tutor is on hand to explain. 

We also have part one of our top 20 books to read in your 20s, looking at the themes of influential people and choice fiction - how many have you already ticked off your list? 

And finally we end with a look at the new 12-sided £1 coin - what do you need to know about this new currency design? For starters, it's a solid reminder that we have not yet transferred to a fully digital currency, and hard cash still pays the way for most. 

Which is probably a good thing in the current atmosphere of digital attacks, and the ongoing investigation into an attack related to WannaCry, which is thought to have attached itself to over 200,000 computers to 'mine' digital currency.

It was fully disclosed on May 2017, by which point it is thought to have already generated more than $1 million through a hole in Microsoft Windows systems. 

We've discovered and patched a critical bug that affects all CryptoNote-based cryptocurrencies, and allows for the creation of an unlimited number of coins in a way that is undetectable.

Technologies based on blockchain can allow for the creation of a new currency, specifically Monero, "in exchange for solving complex math problems", although the value can change according to the market and unofficial quantitative easing.

Monero touts itself as a 'secure, private, untraceable currency', and released a statement on 17 May stating: 

"In Monero we've discovered and patched a critical bug that affects all CryptoNote-based cryptocurrencies, and allows for the creation of an unlimited number of coins in a way that is undetectable to an observer unless they know about the fatal flaw and can search for it. 

"We patched it quite some time ago, and confirmed that the Monero blockchain had NEVER been exploited using this, but until the hard fork that we had a few weeks ago we were unsure as to whether or not the entire network had updated... 

"We strongly caution against anyone using, trading, exchanging, or running services involving the following currencies affected by this issue: Bytecoin, DashCoin, DigitalNote." 

What lesson can we learn from this? With digital currencies and disruptor technologies, there is the capacity for disrupted finance and heavy losses through lax cyber policies and unpatched systems, so it's recommended that security updates are regularly applied as soon as they become available.

Get in touch

Are you using cryptocurrencies? What has been your experience so far? Get in touch with or tweet us @ICAS_students as we'd love to interview you!

Notice period conundrums

A notice period conundrum cropped up for one of our students, so our Business Law tutor is on hand with the answers.

20 books to read in your 20s: Part 1

Your 20s can be a hectic time, but reading is the perfect hobby to take up and give your brain a break from any stress. Here are our recommendations for 20 books to read in your 20s.

The new £1: what you need to know

Paper fivers are out and 12-sided coins are in, but do you know what to do about the old £1? The last ever batch of round £1 coins was minted at the beginning of May and consumers only have five months left to spend them.

CABLE, the interactive learning platform

Monday 22 May

Thursday 18 May

May 2017

Essential cyber checklists: Monday 22 May 2017

Cybersecurity is the hot topic on everybody's lips after the recent large-scale attack on computers using an unpatched Microsoft operating system, including NHS networks and US company FedEx.

A strain of ransomware known as Wanna Decryptor or WannaCry had a global impact on Saturday 13 May when it infiltrated an estimated 300,000 computers in 150 different countries.

Hackers use ransomware to lock the data on a computer and demand a payment to release it back to the owner. In this case, users were asked to pay $300 (£230) in Bitcoin to access their files and the BBC suggested that nearly £30,000 had been paid by victims by Monday morning.

This is just one form of malware used in cyber crime to corrupt data or extort money. Others include:

  • Adware: Delivers pop-up adverts on web pages and generates advertising across the internet. Often combined with spyware (see below).
  • Bots: Programs that automatically perform operations. Can be used maliciously to send spam, steal server data and distribute other malware.
  • Rootkits: Designed to remotely control a computer system and alter software, execute files or copy information.
  • Spyware: Software that monitors any activity on a computer by logging keystrokes, stealing login information and data harvesting.
  • Trojans: Malware disguised as normal files that is usually used to take control of infected computers.
  • Viruses: Malware that can copy itself and spread to numerous systems, generally through email.
  • Worms: Exploit operating system vulnerabilities to consume bandwidth and overload servers. They can also deliver 'payloads' of other damaging malware.

If you are concerned about cybersecurity, have a look at our checklist to see if there is anything more you can do to keep your data and systems safe.

In today's blog, we are also offering some guidance on filling out your achievement logs and saving a deposit for your first home. We also have all the info you need for sitting TPS Afin exams again or after deferral - the modules have changed for 2017 so find out how. 

And for Business Ethics 1 students, it's important to complete your assignment as soon as possible - please check your BE1 CABLE resource for everything you need to know.

Achievement logs shouldn't be a slog!

All students have to complete an online achievement log to accurately record their practical experience but it doesn’t have to be difficult! Matt Gorrie deals with the most common FAQs from students.

What you need to know for TPS Afin exams

If you attended TPS Advanced Finance classes in 2016 but are sitting TPS Advanced Finance exams in 2017 (either through exam failure or exam deferral) then this is the information you need.

Who are the zombie firms?

Productivity gains in the UK have been largely stagnant since interest rates were dramatically slashed in 2008, making the past nine years the longest period of non-growth in two centuries. We investigate the 'zombie firms'.

Where are the trends?: Thursday 18 May 2017

If you're ever looking for trends information to support business decisions or investigate new avenues for revenue, consider the following tools for up to the minute data and shareable graphics. 

Google Trends: Business UK provides scrolling data on what the world or specific countries are searching for, which provides an eye-opening look into consumer and business habits, mergers, deals and most popular business news stories. 

As a CA you will find yourself advising on trends, ideas and related financial aspects for clients or companies, so start thinking about potential data sources that you can easily access. 

Atlas, by Quartz, is an open platform that allows you to build your own data charts, as well as the use of their charts created for news stories. You can search across a variety of topics or 'obsessions' - such as UK Business Trends.

For example, here is a chart produced on self-employment rates for the UK, and they all come with download options / embeddable codes / share buttons to add to websites.

The Fuld + Company blog also reports interesting news stories based on their trend watches and data analysis. 

In today's blog we have our own insights into saving a deposit for your first home, and a light-hearted look at the books you should pack for upcoming holidays or well-deserved down time. And in case you missed it, here's the debits and credits infographic to help you know DEAL and CLIP inside and out.

Saving a deposit for your first home

With the recent news from Which? Mortgage Advisors that close to a third of first-time buyers are saving for more than half a decade to afford their deposit, we offer some advice on how to get started. 

Helping you tackle debits and credits with an infographic

One of the fundamental accounting concepts taught in Financial Accounting is the dual aspect, which gives rise to ‘debits and credits’. If you've not previously studied accounting, this infographic will help you navigate the first progress test.  

Top books for a better life

It’s the time of year when many people are thinking about a good book to read on a relaxing holiday. Here are our recommendations to make your summer holidays and study downtime an enjoyable learning experience.

Facebook: The social experiment taking over the world: Monday 15 May 2017

From humble beginnings in a Harvard dorm room to one of the wealthiest companies in the world, the social media giant Facebook has reported that its number of monthly users has jumped to 1.94 billion people. That's more than a quarter (25.9%) of the world's population. 

The network is the perfect example of an entrepreneurial success. What started as a student prank has grown into one of the most successful businesses and most recognisable brands in existence.

Dramatic elements of the story are fairly common knowledge, thanks to the 2010 film, The Social Network, which documented the origins of the site. While several legal and ethical conundrums were highlighted around the social network and its Founder, Mark Zuckerburg, the financial history of Facebook also holds some intrigue.

Facebook is worth an estimated $435bn and has pulled in a profit of $3bn in just the first quarter of 2017.

The company was initially incorporated as a Florida LLC in 2004, funded entirely by Zuckerburg and his then partner Eduardo Saverin, with a small amount of advert revenue generated to cover operating costs. Later that year, the first major boon came in the form of a $500,000 angel investment from venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

That seed money, given in return for a 10.2% stake in the business, was converted into equity at the end of 2004 as Facebook neared its goal of 1.5 million users.

Less than a year later in April 2005, Accel Partners made a $12.7m venture capital investment in a deal that valued Zuckerburg's company at $98m.

The meteoric growth continued with buy-ins from Greylock Partners, Meritech Capital and, most famously, Microsoft. Today, Facebook is worth an estimated $435bn and has pulled in a profit of $3bn in just the first quarter of 2017.

While your own finances may not be in the billions (yet!), everyone still has to start planning for the future at some point. In today's blog, we take a look at how you may expect your pension to evolve over the next few decades and what options are open to you.

We also go over the changes to the Assurance and Business Systems course for 2017 and asked your lecturers for their tips on writing journals for Financial Reporting.

Pressing pension problems for Millennials

Your pension is likely to operate on completely different principles than your parents'. Are you prepared for your golden years?

The materials you need for ABS

The Assurance and Business Systems course has had a reshuffle of module numbers for 2017 - this reflects the removal of content duplicated at the TC PAR level which can still be examined at TPS. Find out where to get update materials and what you will need for exams.

How to prepare final accounts in Financial Reporting

Writing journals is one of the most important skills every student should work on - you need to be able to produce accurate journal entries in an efficient manner, so find out how!

Banking, tax and TED talks: Thursday 11 May 2017

Your generation is not solely defined by your age group. Whether you have come to know yourself as Gen X, Y, or Z, your life experience has guided your attitude and approach to life. 

The newest generation, C, is acknowledged as digital natives of any age, from 9 to 92 years, and defined by their attitude and approach to life rather than any particular age bracket. 

Although it has been widely associated with teens and young adults, the opportunity for people from all walks of life to engage through content on digital platforms has given rise to a new group of connected minds. Try our quiz and find out what generational mindset you live by!

Quiz: what generation are you?

In today's blog:

We examine the resources available to you for tackling the ITP exam, take a look at three top TED talks on fighting corruption and cybercrime in business, and venture into the current housing market to find out who the rising lender is - they're closer to home than you might think!

Resources to help you prepare for your ITP exam

Some of you will be embarking on ITP (ICAS Tax Professional) studies in the coming weeks, moving towards exams in September this year. We wanted to remind you about the resources available to you as you get stuck into the tax books!

The bank reducing social mobility

Inherited or gifted deposits from family now account for a third of all first-time buyers' capital - but it's reducing wider social mobility on the open market. 

Three TED Talks on corruption and cybercrime

TED Talks feature some of the best and brightest speakers from the worlds of business, academia and beyond. Here’s our pick for CAs looking to do more in guarding against fraud and corruption in the financial world.

Out with the old, in with the new: Monday 8 May 2017

The paper £5 note has become a rare sight in wallets and purses across the UK as its plastic successor has successfully taken over. And, unfortunately, it's bad news if you still happen to have one or two lying around.

The old notes ceased to qualify as legal tender on 5 May 2017. However, there's no need to panic as banks, building societies and Post Offices will all exchange your paper for plastic.

In particular, the Bank of England is required to honour this arrangement, even if other banks begin to stop doing so.

There will not be a particularly easy solution, however, when round £1 coins stop being accepted on 15 October 2017. Already some problems have arisen in that several vending machines and self-service machines do not recognise the new coin.

The new 12-sided design, featuring the four national flowers of the UK emerging from a coronet, has been in circulation since January.

Counterfeiting was a big issue for the old-style coin, which was first minted in 1983. It's been estimated that for every 30 £1 coins being spent, one is an illegitimate copy.

If you still have some of the old coins after the cut-off date, they will not be valid for use or exchange anywhere. You either need to spend them first or start a decommissioned coin collection.

Next on the list for a plastic upgrade are £10 notes, expected to go out of circulation this summer, and £20 notes in 2020.

In today's blog:

We're helping you get ready for the next stage of your studies with all the information you need for TPS exams, including the materials you need to check out for Financial Reporting, and we try out the Pomodoro technique for productivity in just 25 minutes!

We also want to wish our TPE students the best of luck in their exams tomorrow - you can do it!

What you need to know about TPS exams 

If you attended TPS classes in 2016 but are sitting TPS exams in 2017 (either through exam failure or exam deferral) then this is what you need to know.

How to be productive in just 25 mins

Have you ever wanted to get more out of your day? Are you easily distracted or do you find it hard to concentrate on one task at a time?

The materials you need for Financial Reporting

A new leasing standard has been released and this is the most significant change to the FR course for 2017 (see Module 6). The full module, including WSE, is included in the FR Update Pack.

Could a Frexit be on the cards?: Thursday 4 May 2017

First Brexit, and now a potential Frexit: French voters head to the polls on Sunday 7 May to decide the identity of their next President. But is favourite Emmanuel Macron guaranteed an easy win against Marine Le Pen's suggestion of leaving the European Union?

Wider Europe has also displayed a fair amount of interest in the outcome, largely due to Le Pen's calls for France to leave the eurozone - realising the potential for a 'Frexit'. Macron's policies are targeted on making France attractive for foreign business, particularly after Brexit.

Centrist candidate Macron came out ahead of far-right leader Le Pen in the first round of voting and need only maintain his lead to win the election.

While successfully qualifying as one of the top two candidates in the primary stage, Le Pen's anti-establishment stance could make it difficult for her to build a strong enough opposition to challenge Macron as they go head-to-head in the final round of the election.

Supporters of conservative François Fillon and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who were both eliminated from the running in the first round, accounted for nearly 40% of first round votes and are expected to switch allegiances to Macron, should they vote at all.

Voter turnout could have a massive impact as some are expecting high levels of abstention. Polls have suggested that, while smaller, Le Pen's support base could be more inclined toward putting in the effort to vote.

This year's election falls on a holiday weekend in France which could discourage people from the polls. However, the first round had close to an 80% turnout, suggesting a high level of engagement.

In today's blog:

Tutor Stephanie Pentland CA reflects on her own studies with ICAS with advice for students, and we take a look at how to assess businesses for cybersecurity - who needs it, and what are the potential physical risks?

Tutor Profile: Stephanie Pentland CA

Lecturer Stephanie Pentland CA shares some of her career highlights and explains why she decided to join the tutor team here at ICAS, and her key advice for students.

How do we assess cybersecurity insurance needs for business?

Cybersecurity insurance is one of the fastest growing insurance products in recent years, and research shows that it’s only going to keep growing. We find out how this affects financial institutions and businesses handling client money, and what should be done to prepare and assess needs.

Four TED Talks for refining business strategy

TED Talks feature some of the best and brightest speakers from the worlds of business, academia and beyond. Here’s our pick for CAs looking to improve the strategic approach of their organisations.

Recognising the talents of young CAs (and future CAs!): Monday 1 May 2017

Do you know an excellent CA under 35 you would like to nominate for One Young CA? Perhaps someone in your training office or network who became a member at the Admissions Ceremony in March 2017?

Nominations have opened for the new leading 35 CAs under 35 and ICAS One Young CA 2017 in association with Investec Click & Invest.

The search to find the best young members of ICAS has launched for this year and is more exciting than ever. Building on the success of 2016, which saw a record number of entries from around the world, the competition has evolved to match the ambitions and priorities of our membership.

Expert judges with a wealth of experience in a variety of different sectors will single out the most promising and inspiring young CAs in five categories: entrepreneurship, innovation & technology, leadership & influence, sustainability & CSR.

The successful candidates will be recognised in a highly-publicised list as the 35 CAs under 35 that are representing ICAS on the global professional stage.

Speaking at the 2017 Admission Ceremony, ICAS CEO Anton Colella said: "This competition searches to find the best and brightest young members in our profession. Not just someone who has done great things in their day job but someone who can see beyond the numbers and use their CA skills for the greater good."

It's also never too early for our student CAs to start thinking about their own nomination once a member, so perhaps take a few moments to consider all of your achievements to date, and where you intend to go once qualified - the only limit is your imagination!

In today's blog:

We want to ensure you are off to the right start in your career, and part of this is success in your TPE exams. There are now just eight days to go until the TPE exam, and with that in mind, we have the answers to your frequently asked questions.

We also take a look at the lessons that can be learned from F1's overhaul and financing arrangements, and present a great infographic on debits and credits for your study needs.

Happy reading!

What you need to know about TPE exams

We speak to the Examinations Manager, Hayley Reid, about the most common questions related to the TPE exam, including what you should take into the exam, appropriate ID, and how you will receive your exam results.

What lessons can we learn from the financing of Formula 1?

When Liberty Media took over global business and brand Formula 1, their acquisition included $4.1bn of existing F1 debt, a major rebrand and the appointment of a new chairman and CEO. How can we apply the concerns of high-octane racing to the business skills of a CA?

What's the DEAL?

One of the fundamental accounting concepts taught in Financial Accounting is the dual aspect, which gives rise to ‘debits and credits’. If you've not previously studied accounting, this infographic will help you navigate the first progress test.

April 2017

Tapping into zeitgeist for business and marketing strategy: Thursday 27 April 2017

Throughout your studies, you will learn about business strategy, tapping into new markets, and the potential for valuable returns on business decisions; you may also be interested in a new product coming from Canada that taps into current zeitgeist as well as consumer desire: Fake News Ale.

Nieman Lab has described it as 'the beer all the cool journalists are gonna be drinking this summer', and it will be produced by Toronto craft brewery, Northern Maverick (available from June).

The can is emblazoned with a caricature of President Donald Trump - the man who brought 'fake news' into everyday language - but the bad news is that it will only be sold in Canada.

As well as leveraging the 'make American great again' slogan used by Trump (#MakeBeerGreatAgain), they will be using profits to tackle a 'questionable policy' he has introduced, as voted by people on their website.

The company has not even opened their brewery yet, so the above combines to a highly-shareable marketing strategy to ensure their product makes it to market with maximum success. Certainly food (or drink) for thought for our promising young entrepreneurs amongst us!

In today's blog:

TPE and Business Management students will find the tutor analysis of the 2016 Samsung phone issues, which resulted in heavy losses and reduced consumer confidence, a very helpful tool. TC students should save our infographic on how to calculate and assemble books of prime entry, for an easy step by step guide to success.

And for those TPE students gearing up for their exam on 9 May, check out our feature on ideal breakfasts for exam day, including the phytonutrients that deliver maximum impact for your most powerful resource - your brain!

Happy reading!

Breakfast for exams day

Your brain needs fat, water, vitamins, minerals and glucose - in that order. It might seem surprising that fat comes above water, but your brain couldn’t survive without a nourishing meal. Our quick-fire guide and links to easy recipes will take the stress out of nutritious eating for study and exams.

Samsung lessons in business management

Samsung’s decision to cease all production and distribution of its flagship Galaxy Note 7 took the the tech giant out of the business pages and onto the front pages. This is a great example of commercial, accounting and business related issues, covered during the TPE course, mirrored in real life by Samsung.

Books of Prime Entry: Infographic

The Books of Prime Entry allow us to capture raw financial data and process it, through a journal entry, into the financial information within the nominal ledger. In turn, we can create a trial balance and our final presentation of the financial statements. This infographic takes explains the Books of Prime Entry step by step.

Are you missing out on ICAS communications such as news, events and exam instructions? 

If you have signed up to ICAS with your university email address which is no longer active or an unused email account, then it's important to update to an email address you currently use.

Candidate instructions are essential for your exams, so we want you to receive all the necessary information on time. At the start of classes, you should receive a confirmation of personal details form, so take a minute to check we have the most up to date details for you.

It will confirm your preferred exam location, class location, personal contact details and reference to updating your information on the website. You can also directly update this on the website by logging in, clicking 'My Profile', and entering updated email info in 'About Me'.

Have you registered to vote?: Monday 24 April 2017

Got your voter registration sorted? In the week after Theresa May announced a snap election for 8 June, we're taking a moment to remind you to register to vote.

Standing about in a church or primary school may not be the most exciting activity for a weekday evening, but casting your vote in the general elections will go some way to securing the future you want, by the party you want.

From the 1960s to 1992, voter turnout for young people peaked at around 66%, and dropped down to 38% by 2005. At this point in time, voter turnout by young people is at its lowest point in history, and the length of time for voter registration has been cited as one of the deterrents.

There are several ways to vote, and although it's still not possible to do it by text or app - which would most likely be the preferred option for younger generations - we're making it easy for you.

Register to vote here.

If you're not sure about whether you are already registered to vote (although let's face it, there's been so many votes we've probably registered ourselves three or four times in the last few years!), then you can also find that out.

You can choose to cast your vote in person, or if you're quick enough, request a postal vote to do in your own time and way before anyone else; that smug feeling as everyone else traipses to the polls in the rain (British Summer!) safe in the knowledge that you posted your vote a few weeks earlier!

The Independent has produced a checklist and itemisation of what you need to vote and what would preclude someone from voting. What we can't do is tell you who to vote for, so it's in your civic interest to brush up on the parties' policies and cast your chosen vote!

In today's blog:

How many emails do you have in your personal or workplace mailbox? Hundreds? Thousands? And how many are unread?

Staying on top of emails can cause anxiety amongst even the most robust of us, but there a few ways to ensure your digital communications become streamlined and manageable. Check out our article on tackling email anxiety to introduce calm to communications.

And we're keeping in line with our TPE countdown to the May exam, featuring a reminder on how to improve your commercial awareness for TPE and as a CA - find out how to apply your knowledge and analysis to any business situation for a critical and insightful eye.

A critical and studious eye will also come in handy for question practice, so find out the dos and don'ts of how to approach this for any level.

Improving your commercial awareness 

Commercial awareness needs to be advanced over time. During class, we discuss tips to improve your commercial awareness and how it can be applied in any type of business situation to allow you to know your employer / client and their business. Here are five quick-fire tips on how to be commercially aware.

What to do and what not to do for question practice 

Practice questions are an essential part of your studies. Here’s how to get the most from using them.

Tackling email anxiety

What is email anxiety? Ever logged on and felt an overwhelming sense of dread before checking your mailbox? Are you hoarding emails? You may have email anxiety and need these tips.

The TPE Countdown begins: Thursday 20th April 2017

We're counting down to the TPE exam on 9 May, and it's a great time to get acquainted with the various materials and resources available to you through ICAS. You will, of course, have acquainted yourself with CABLE, but have you seen the following helpful articles?

TPE examination FAQ

We speak to the Examinations Manager, Hayley Reid, about the most common questions related to the TPE exam, including what you should take into the exam, appropriate ID, and how you will receive your exam results.

Why chocolate puns matter to TPE and TC students

Module 12 in BM discusses various business improvement techniques that focus on getting the products “right first time” and minimising the cost and indeed reputational damage that large scale recalls can prompt.

Six tips for better business writing for TPE

A successful CA must have excellent communication skills; one of our TPE examiners looks at how better business writing can improve your performance in the TPE exam.

TPE in practice: Product recalls

Are you familiar with how to analyse business issues and what you should look out for in terms of skills practice? 

The Test of Professional Expertise resource pages

Everything you need to know for exam dates, laptops, prizes and support for completing the TPE level. 

In today's blog, we look at how we are improving the TPS course for students, based on your feedback, because we take your ideas and suggestions seriously! Read on to find out what's changing and why. 

And for those based in the Scotland, discover the impact of the new Scottish Income Tax and what it means for Scotland and the wider UK. (Note - it's essential reading for anyone working in the UK!)

And for those of you with an entrepreneurial spirit, check out the top 3 TED talks on how to reach your goals and bolster startups for success.  

Happy reading!

What you need to know about Scottish Income Tax, even if you don’t live in Scotland

In April 2016, the "Scottish Rate of Income Tax" (SRIT) was introduced for ‘Scottish taxpayers’. Since then, some of the Income Tax paid by Scottish taxpayers goes directly to Holyrood and from April 2017, the SRIT has been replaced by Scottish Income Tax. But what does this mean? 

Improving TPS through feedback

Noticing some changes to our Test of Professional Skills course? We're putting your feedback and suggestions into action! Here is how we measure up and what we're going to improve.

Three inspiring TED Talks for entrepreneurs 

TED Talks feature some of the best and brightest speakers from the worlds of business, academia and beyond. Here’s our pick for entrepreneurial CAs looking for success.

Fake news! Or is it?: Monday 17th April 2017

Google is fighting back against fake news with a new measure to tackle misinformation; ‘fact check’ tags are being rolled out to articles in news results, calling on partners and publishers to mark out the truth.

It’s impossible for Google to single-handedly take control of the internet and monitor all information on the internet, not without employing thousands (or millions) of staff to do so. But now Google will be working with Snopes, PolitiFact and similar fact-checking organisations to bring a new level of clarity to internet searches.

The new ‘checked’ search results list will identify the person or organisation reporting the fact, but newspapers are also going to be included in the tagging system – including The Washington Post and The New York Times.

This will certainly be interesting in practice – would rival newspapers cast doubt on the facts of another publication through the process? Publishers can write labels on search results (news items only, not opinion pieces), and apparently, that includes the tag ‘pants on fire’!

"These fact checks are not Google’s and are presented so people can make more informed judgments," Google said. "Even though differing conclusions may be presented, we think it’s still helpful for people to understand the degree of consensus around a particular claim and have clear information on which sources agree."

Google Brings Fake News Fact-Checking to News Searches: Bloomberg Technology

We've also produced guides and a call to action for all CAs in the search for reliable truths and avoiding the tide of fake news in a digitised world.

  1. How to spot fake news
  2. Searching for the truth: the CAs mission

In today's blog, we highlight a real-life case of how attention to detail can avoid hefty financial costs later down the line, and deliver the tips you need for completing the TPE exam on 9 May.

Hopefully, you will have carefully read our eight quick tips on preparing for the exam, but this next article will lead you through what to do on the day.

We also look at the changes to personal tax and finance after the implementation of the Finance Act 2017 - alcohol, cigarettes and room relief are all up for changes!

Happy reading.

The cost of not paying attention

It's the little things that matter, especially when it comes to writing and reading legal documents. This became very clear to a dairy company in Maine, USA when the lack of an Oxford comma won a case for their delivery drivers.

8 tips to conquer the TPE exam

You have done the study work and practised your case studies, but what about tackling the TPE exam on the day? TPE level controller Cat Devaney shares her timely advice on how to tackle questions and pick up extra marks.

Ups and downs of Finance Act 2017

Not sure about wading through all 726 pages of the Finance Act 2017- the longest Finance Bill ever published - to find out rates that relate to you? Here is our summary of changes that may affect your everyday life.

The rise of own brands to beat inflation: Thursday 13th April 2017

As inflation continues to climb and the side-effects of Brexit are felt, the daily costs of food and snacks are moving in an upwards trajectory faster than wages. Indeed, grocery prices rose by 2.3% from the end of December to 26 March (Kantar Worldpanel), and in turn, this has caused shoppers to look at discount options.

The slightly sad-looking 'value' packaging of the supermarkets is being embraced by people at all socio-economic levels to stem the tide of rising weekly shops, as well as looking towards discounter brands and supermarket own-brand.

The winners in this battle for achievable food costs are Aldi, Lidl and Iceland, who are seeing a steady rise in footfall and sales.

Shoppers are turning to budget supermarkets and own-brand labels as the cost of butter, fish, tea and other staples rise, delivering a 15% sales growth for Lidl, and increasing their market share from 0.5% to 4.9%.

The foodstuffs witnessing a sales growth include gluten or dairy-free products, as evidenced by 54% of the UK population purchasing a specialist product over the last three months.

The supermarket was closely followed by Aldi, who saw a 14.3% sales growth going resulting in a 6.8% market share. What does this mean in practice? An extra 1.1 million shoppers for the German discounter duo in just three months.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar Worldpanel, said: 'Inflation shows no signs of abating. Rising prices have cost households an additional £21.31 on average during the past 12 weeks. We expect inflation to continue to accelerate, and as a result we're likely to see consumers looking for cheaper alternatives.

"Despite rising prices, we've seen shoppers' minds turn to healthy eating after the excess of the festive period and before the temptation of Easter.'

The foodstuffs witnessing a sales growth are gluten or dairy-free products, as evidenced by 54% of the UK population purchasing a specialist product over the last three months.

In today's blog, we take your (potentially high-cost) lunch and demonstrate 10 ways to use your break for mind, body and soul; no more eating at desks and dripping mayonnaise into the keyboard! We also want to prepare you for the upcoming TPE exam, so carefully read over Cat Devaney's tips for structuring your practice periods.

Happy reading!

10 ways to use your lunchbreak

You need a break. It’s not lazy to take a little time out of the day to regroup, refresh and regenerate. Research in the UK and USA has shown that a majority of workers do not take lunch: in fact, up to two-thirds of staff in Britain are failing to take a break and this impacts on productivity. Is lunch a leisurely activity for you, or a mad rush to eat and catch up on work? We’ve compiled a list of 10 things to do on your lunchbreak.

Preparing for the TPE exam

Success is just around the corner for our students and we know that you will do your utmost to achieve your qualification at every turn. If you have finished block 2 of TPE and wondering what to do next, then take some time to digest these tutor tips on preparing for the TPE exam.

Corporate tax measures in the spring budget 2017

The Chancellor said that ‘a strong economy needs a fair, stable and competitive tax system, creating the growth that will underpin our future prosperity’. He confirmed that the corporation tax rate will reduce to 19% from April 2017 and to 17% in 2020.  This continues the trend of recent years which has seen the rate for large companies fall from 28% in 2010.

Monday 10th April 2017

Millennials are slightly more likely to spend their hard-earned cash on holidays than save up their pennies for a house... and no one should be surprised.

Research from YouGov has shown that a higher percentage of young workers in London are saving for upcoming holidays than putting money away or a downpayment on their first home.

As a result, millennials have been branded as the 'vacation generation' and, at first glance, the title seems appropriate. However, this trend actually highlights a much deeper financial issue.

House prices have been rising faster than wages everywhere in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The City, in particular, has seen the average house price climb by 68%, almost a third more than the rest of the country.

When you also consider that rising rental prices have been far ahead of wage growth in London since 2011, it becomes clear why short-term goals may be a priority.

On the bright side, following the implementation of Article 50, house prices in the UK have begun to fall for the first time since June 2015. Maybe you could buy your dream home sooner than you think?

What are millennials saving for in 2017?

House deposit30%
No specific goal19%
Not saving13%
Mortgage payments10%
Property repairs/improvements4%

Source: City A.M.

Young people are also saving for clothes, cars, technology and their weddings. Nearly a fifth of those polled admitted to not having a particular goal in mind and 13% said they weren't saving at all.

In today's blog, our tutors share their best advice for business writing in the TPE exam. Do you think enough about your structure and tone?

We also look at the impact the 2017 Finance Act will have in the near and long-term future, and how it will impact ICAS notes. In addition, your comments on the quality of the TC course have been addressed by the ICAS Education team.

6 tips for TPE business writing

A successful CA must have excellent communication skills; one of our TPE examiners looks at how better business writing can improve your performance in the TPE exam.

The Finance Act decoded

The Chancellor recently gave his 2017 Budget Statement to Parliament, announcing several changes to the tax system for the coming years. These changes will be brought into law as part of the Finance Act 2017 and many of them will be incorporated into the ICAS course notes for TC classes beginning from August 2017 and for TPS, TPE and ITP classes in 2018.

Putting your feedback into action for TC

What happens with your feedback, and how does it influence your course? Find out how we action your issues and suggestions.

Thursday 6th April 2017

Fans of the TV series, Mr Robot, may have already been 'fangirling' / 'fanboying' over FBI agent Dominique's Alexa, a voice-controlled robot designed by Amazon, so you'll be excited for the launch of Google Home, which is arriving in stores today.

The Alexa 'home assistant' can control your music, tv, the internet and smart devices, and is content to answer any question you may have in mind (CA qualification questions most likely excluded!), but now Google is ready to move into the market with their own version.

The assistant is one of the major steps of introducing artificial intelligence devices into everyday life for ordinary people and provides yet another opportunity for us to relinquish use of our hands when communicating with machines.

"A combination of our natural language processing, machine learning and voice-recognition expertise allow users to interact naturally with the assistant," said Suveer Kothari, director of product planning at Google.

"And of course, we've hidden a few British treats for you to discover. Just try asking Google Home about its hobbies or favourite foods."

The device will launch in stores today (6 April), and coincidentally features the same four colours as ICAS (red, green, blue, yellow), but there's no word yet on whether TPS information is hidden inside its databanks!

In today's digital-but-not-voice-commanded blog

We've taken a detailed look at tax, including the personal changes you need to know about and go inside NIC - how does it connect with tax, and what should you know for studies?

And don't forget the five blogs you should follow as a student CA - valuable information, insight and a great introduction to the community!

Happy reading!

6 personal tax changes for 2017

The new budget is in effect, and it means more cash in your pocket or savings: find out the six key personal tax changes that will affect your pay.

5 blogs you should follow

Blogs can be a great source of news, insight and opinion on the topics of the day, and provide a fitting companion to your future CA role. Read our picks for the best blogs that CA students should follow.

NICs: A tax, or a cost of welfare

NIC, The topic of National Insurance Contributions (NIC) is covered in Principles of Taxation and also in the ITP Taxation of Individuals materials. As a topic, it remains examinable in TPS Taxation and TPE.

Students can find NIC to be a confusing subject, as the names of the various classes of NIC give no clue as to their applicability to taxpayers; the lack of the word 'tax' in the titles often means this is an area that students forget to consider altogether!

In this article, Donald Drysdale discusses some of the recent publicity surrounding NIC whilst also giving an insight into the origins of the system.

Monday 3rd April 2017

A new tax year is upon us: 6 April marks the beginning of a new tax year in the UK, but have you ever wondered why it lies on that particular date?

Countries in Europe began to move away from the Julian calendar between the 16th and 18th centuries. Pope Gregory XIII devised the new system in 1582 to correct the length of the year by 0.0002% as the original calendar miscalculated the solar year by 11 minutes, therefore resulting in errors every 128 years.

The start of the tax year in the Julian calendar was 25 March, also known as 'Lady Day', which was the earliest Christian holiday of the year, commemorating the day that the Virgin Mary was told by angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ.

Collecting debts on religious holidays

All debts and rents had to be settled by this date and similarly by three other religious days spread out to each quarter of the year. Presumably, because people were more likely to be at home or at church on these days, and therefore it was easier to make collections.

The Gregorian calendar was implemented in the UK in 1752 by the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750. The populace rioted for 11 days under the belief that their lives would be shortened as they had gone to bed on Wednesday 2 September and woken up on Thursday 14 September.

This would have seemed especially maddening as other adjustments in 1751 meant the year only lasted 282 in days in England.

After the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the beginning of the tax year moved from 25 March to 5 April in 1753 to avoid losing 11 days of tax revenue. This was adjusted again to 6 April in 1800 due to a leap year and one day of revenue loss.

And that, dear CA Students and pub quiz enthusiasts, is why the new tax year will starts on 6 April!

In today's blog 

We have more nuggets of knowledge for you in this week's blog as we go back to basics with audit risk and buy-to-let property income. Keep on top of the key points ahead of your next exams!

Tutor Graham Foster (and pub quiz enthusiast) also tells us all about why the CIPFA qualification was worth the hard work for him.

Back to basics: Audit Risk

Have you got to grips with the Principles of Audit and Reporting (PAR)? Anna Cameron takes us back to basics on audit risks to make sure you’re on PAR for success!

Back to basics: Buy-to-let property

Using the practical example of a buy-to-let property is a great way to see the interaction of taxes that are studied at TC and TPS levels. In this short article, we remind you of the key tax points relating to an individual with a buy-to-let property.

Tutor Profile: Graham Foster

Outdoorsman and tutor Graham Foster shares his pathway to CIPFA qualification from philosophical studies at university to exploring the full impact of financial decisions for public services, and why it doesn't stop at the bottom line.

March 2017

Thursday 30th March 2017: Lessons in finance from the US Treasury Secretary of 1789

The creator and star of smash-hit Broadway musical Hamilton spoke to Morgan Stanley about the financial advice he wishes someone had given him in his 20s.

"There is so much I wish I knew about money when I was first starting out my adult life," said Lin-Manuel Miranda in an interview with professional services firm Morgan Stanley.

The writer and actor is thought to have earned $6 million from his show depicting the life of the first US Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in the last year alone. However, he admitted his financial literacy wasn't always top-notch.

"I was so nervous about incurring debt that I didn’t open my first credit card until age 28, after my first show had opened on Broadway. As a result, even though I had enough money in the bank, I didn’t have sufficient credit history to purchase my first apartment. My father had to help me buy it by co-signing the mortgage."

This experience [with Hamilton] taught me first-hand how important it is to educate yourself about the basic principles of financial planning.

Lin soon learned and had a much more in-depth introduction to the financial system while writing from the view of its founder in the US. He now believes that understanding the world of money - and especially your own personal finances - is a key part of achieving your goals in life.

"To educate yourself about personal finance is to empower yourself with the resources and tools needed to help you achieve your goals: whether it be owning your own home, starting a business, making a living off of your passions, providing for a family, having a healthy relationship with money, or paying it forward," he said.

"This experience [with Hamilton] taught me first-hand how important it is to educate yourself about the basic principles of financial planning. When you are focused on doing what you love, it can be easy to brush aside the need to understand the monetary implications of upcoming milestones.

"However, regardless of who you are and what you are most passionate about, everyone should master the fundamentals in order to find and fulfil your own greater purpose."

As we approach the end of the financial year, now is as good a time as any to tie up end-of-year loose ends. 

Review our financial checklist below to make sure you've stayed on top!

  • Consider opening a ‘Help to Buy ISA’ before 5 April or a 'lifetime ISA' after 5 April. 
  • Check your new PAYE code as you will be entitled to a greater personal allowance in April and therefore your net pay may increase.
  • Be aware of the new different basic rate bands in Scotland versus the rest of the UK.
  • Check the current level of your student loan as you may wish to notify the Student Loans Company that you want to pay the outstanding balance and stop the collection of repayments via PAYE.
  • Check the level of your pension contributions for the year ahead.
  • If you're a buy-to-let landlord, remember that the restriction on mortgage interest relief is being phased in, reducing the available mortgage interest relief for higher-rate taxpayers.
  • Find out if you can earn some tax-free cash in 2017/18 – by using the rent-a-room limit of £7,500, the trading allowance of £1,000 or the property income allowance of £1,000.

Today's blog also features some tips on how to successfully execute a working lunch with important colleagues and peers, as well as a few habits you should pick up to help ease anxiety. 

Surviving a business lunch

Business and networking lunches a la Mad Men-style activities have decreased in popularity due to a) the need to be sober in the workplace, and b) the volume of work handled in-house through meetings, emails and phone-calls. 

If the idea of a ‘business lunch’ is completely alien to you, make sure you don’t look to film culture for explanation – they are highly unlikely to play out in a Wolf of Wall Street manner! Instead, read our tips for lunching with style.

5 skills to calm your nerves

Work, exams and the pressures of everyday life can unexpectedly wear you down. Stress and anxiety lead to sleepless nights, a lack of focus and even illness, but there are methods to treat yourself well - read our nerve-calming skills for a zen-like attitude!

Achieve your career goals: top five tips for aspiring new members

TPE-qualified moving to full member? Here's how to achieve and amplify your career goals with a great head-start on refining your talents.

Monday 27th March 2017: Britain bids adieu to the EU later this week

Prime Minister Theresa May has stated her intention to officially trigger Article 50 on Wednesday 29 March. Brexit is about to happen, so we're looking back at the history of the 28-nation bloc before it becomes 27. 

The European Union (EU) was established by the Maastricht Treaty on 1 November 1993, replacing the common market of the European Economic Community (EEC).

Founded by France, West Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands in 1957, the EEC was a purely economic alliance that allowed for free trade of labour and goods among the 12 member nations.

However, while trade did indeed improve dramatically among these countries, difficulties in decision-making and policy management became apparent by the early 1960s. This led to the creation of several internal international bodies: a court, a commission, a Council of Ministers and a Common Assembly, which we now call the European Parliament.

European integration began to be seen as an attractive alternative to the growing powers of Russia and the United States. The purpose and responsibilities of the EEC thus began to evolve to have influence in foreign policy and legislation.

On 7 February 1992, the Treaty on European Union - or Maastricht Treaty - was signed, coming into effect the following year and creating the modern EU.

Over the years, the union has expanded to include the 28 nations we are familiar with today:

  • 1957: Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
  • 1973: Denmark, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
  • 1981: Greece.
  • 1986: Portugal and Spain.
  • 1995: Austria, Finland, and Sweden.
  • 2004: Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia.
  • 2007: Bulgaria and Romania.
  • 2013: Croatia.

The UK will be the first ever nation to voluntarily exit the EU.

Also this week, we hear from incoming ICAS President-Elect and Chairman of Stagecoach, Sir Brian Souter CA, on his plans for 2017 and how the CA qualification has benefitted his career.

We catch up with a few of the CAs taking up volunteering opportunities with Accounting for International Development (AfID) and go over Activity Based Costing for Business Management students.

Sir Brian Souter CA: Transport mogul shares his experiences

Globally known for his successful transport enterprises, Sir Brian Souter CA will join ICAS as President in April 2017. Alex Burden caught up with him ahead of his new role to talk about his career experiences and the benefits of qualification.

Infographic: Activity Based Costing - as easy as ABC 

Business Management students can find it hard to get to grips with the various types of costing methods the course covers. This infographic will be very useful to any BM student still to sit their BM exams, especially once they have covered BM Module 10.

Inspirational AfID volunteers changing the world

Eleven inspirational ICAS members were placed on exciting overseas volunteer assignments by Accounting for International Development (AfID): find out what opportunities were available to them, and could be available to you.

Thursday 23rd March 2017: ONS - Unemployment down but wages stagnant

It's been a great news week for the UK's unemployment rate, which witnessed a slow to 4.7% over November to January, meaning that it's the lowest level since 1975.

There are now 1.58 million people categorised as unemployed, a decrease of 31,000 people over three months. This could be attributed in part to the flurry of Christmas-only roles with retail, distribution and postal services, so we will await the stats for February to April.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) also revealed that zero-hour contracts rose by 101,000 from October to December, which may play a part in job rises. 

The unemployment decrease was not matched by rising wages, however, as the ONS revealed that growth slowed to 2.3%, compared to 2.6% in the previous three months.

On a more positive note, wages are still outpacing the rate of inflation (1.8%), but not galloping ahead as ordinary workers would prefer.

Fifteen years without a pay rise. I’m rather lost for superlatives. This is completely unprecedented. - IFS

"March's labour market release reported a solid performance on the jobs side, but included worrying signs of weakness with regards to wages," said Martin Beck, senior economic advisor to the EY Item Club.

"We remain cautiously optimistic that this trend will reverse... but with a high proportion of annual pay settlements coming in the early part of the year, the next few months are crucial."

There was a similar sentiment from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), who decried the stagnant wage levels.

"On current forecasts, average earnings will be no higher in 2022 than they were in 2007," said Paul Johnson, director of IFS. "Fifteen years without a pay rise. I’m rather lost for superlatives. This is completely unprecedented.”

Pantheon Macroneconomics' chief UK economist, Samuel Tombs, added that the slow in growth was partly related to a 'moderation' of pay in the financial and business sectors.

The slow has also meant that the Bank of England decided to hold interest rates at 0.25%, resulting in an instant jump in the British pound.

"All told, the combination of meagre wage growth despite very low unemployment supports the MPC's view that enough slack remains in the labour market to warrant keeping rates on hold during the imminent period of high inflation," said Samuel.

In today's not-so-stagnant blog, we deliver the tips on how to remember names - essential for large workplaces and frequent client meetings, as well as mastering mortgage basics (part 2).

How to remember names

Ever been stuck for words when introducing someone at work or a conference? Their name becomes a fleeting memory and dances on the tip of your tongue, despite only meeting them five seconds previously. If this happens to you, then you need these tips for perfecting the art of remembering names.

Mastering mortgage basics: part 2

In the second part of our feature on mastering the mortgage basics, we investigate all the kinds of mortgages that are available, where to get one and just how much deposit you should save.

Changes to tax - make your voice heard

ICAS and the University of Dundee are collaborating on a three-year project of a UK-wide study to determine the awareness of the changes to Scottish income tax amongst ICAS members and students.

This survey is anonymous and will take around 10 minutes to complete. ICAS will use the results from the survey to provide insights into the awareness of Scottish income tax. The University of Dundee will use the results to contribute to the academic debate on tax devolution and accountability.

We would be most grateful if you could complete the survey by 4 April and make your contribution to the debate on Scottish tax devolution. Please check your email from ICAS, dated 20 March 2017.

Monday 20th March 2017: What's in the inflation basket?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has updated the contents of their annual shopping basket, providing insight into the evolving spending habits of UK shoppers.

The ONS 'basket of goods' is an annually-changing group of products that are used as an indicator for inflation measurement. Items like popular foodstuffs, hobby equipment and regular financial expenses are collated from the price movements of 700 goods and services in 20,000 UK outlets. 

The intention is to reflect the spending of an average consumer over the course of a year, incorporating contemporary habits and technology to calculate an accurate estimate of the cost of living.

Council tax has been included for the first time this year while products like specialty gin and cycle helmets are making a comeback after more than a decade since they last made the list.

ONS Senior Statistician Phil Gooding said: “The annual basket review enables us to keep up to date with all the latest trends, ensuring our inflation measures reflect the changing costs experienced by consumers.

“The addition of council tax to CPIH will ensure it remains our most comprehensive measure of consumer inflation."

So what does this year's basket look like?

'In' for 2017

'Out' for 2017

  • Council tax bills
  • Mobile phone handsets that are not smartphones
  • Cough mixture
  • Menthol cigarettes
  • Half-chocolate coated biscuits (a VAT headache?)
  • Brake pads
  • Jigsaws
  • Single drainer sink
  • Canned apple cider and bottled flavoured cider
  • Apple cider
  • Children's scooters
  • Children's swings
  • Gin
  • Fees for stopping a cheque

The full basket can be found on the ONS website.

We are also looking to the year ahead in ICAS with a comprehensive guide to the benefits available for new members, due to be inducted this weekend on 25 March. 

Keep an eye out for for the CA Student Blog team at the 2017 Admissions Ceremony on Saturday - we want to hear from you!

Meanwhile, tutor Fiona Winter tells us about her journey with ICAS and BPP explain their training relationship with us and how it works for students.

What can ICAS do for you?

With the 2017 Admissions Ceremony just around the corner for a whole host of new CAs, we round up some of the benefits that come from being an ICAS member after you qualify.

Tutor profile: Fiona Winter

Fiona Winter seemed destined to be a tutor with ICAS, but she didn't know it at the time. Here's how she turned a life-long love of numbers and teaching into a satisfying and rewarding career with the CAs of tomorrow.

Inside BPP: How we work with ICAS

At 9am, every morning in every BPP centre across the UK, the curtain goes up and the “performance” begins. For almost 40 years now, BPP has delivered accountancy exam training and has done so by trying to make the difficult become easy, the complicated become simple and the technical become entertaining. Martin Taylor, CEO of BPP Professional Qualifications, explains how ICAS and BPP work in partnership to deliver the CA qualification.

Thursday 17th March 2017: Knowledge is global power

Ever wanted to know where poll and survey information comes from and how you can use the findings for business decisions and identifying trends?

Polls are a great way to analyse the ‘mood’ of a nation or event and can even be used to spot trends in markets for business. 

Finding pollsters who use large base sizes (the number of people interviewed) helps with deciding how closely the data matches with the general population – for instance, a poll of 50 people is not likely to be representative of the population of Wales, but a poll for 5,000 people is likely to give a high ‘confidence’ level.

The Gallup global poll, for example, is often used by academia and organisations to find answers to their own questions, or cross-analyse their own data with that collected in global surveys.

As a CA, you’ll be called upon for your excellent analysis skills and ability to determine trends to follow for financial success, so think about all the resources that will be available to you when in practice.

Projects include the Global Findex, which is “the world’s most comprehensive database on financial inclusion”, utilising data from 150,000 adults from over 140 countries to help inform decisions about how people spend, save and borrow: the poll found that by 2014, 62% of the world’s adult population held a bank account, which tells banks that there are still around 2 billion adults who do not have an account.

Data can be refined down to specific areas, and this helps with determining where a company should focus its efforts, such as increased provision and access in third world countries.

As a CA, you’ll be called upon for your excellent analysis skills and ability to determine trends to follow for financial success, so think about all the resources that will be available to you when in practice.

In today's blog we examine what makes an ethical workplace - do you embody the values and encourage others to do so? Especially prescient for our Business Ethics students!

And we help you get your first foot on the property ladder, with a helpful guide to mastering the basics of mortgages: why you should choose your mortgage type carefully and think twice about how much money you offer above the market value.

Mastering mortgage basics

Home ownership is in decline, indeed The Guardian reported that home ownership in England was at its lowest level in 30 years; gone are the days of no deposit mortgages and lower prices, but when you have enough money saved, you then face the decision of tracker versus fixed, multiple interest rates and little explanation of how they work for your individual situation.

What are the next steps; which type of mortgage is better than the others? Have no fear, here’s our simplified guide on how they work and where to go for help.

What makes an ethical workplace?

Most people consider that they know the difference between right and wrong, that it’s a matter of instinct. However, as with many things in the real world, ethics is sometimes far from straightforward and can be even downright tricky...

Four finance trends that are transforming business lending

It’s no secret that it’s becoming increasingly tough for small businesses to raise capital from traditional lending routes. But there are other ways for businesses to borrow. Colin Swanston, Managing Director of the Transport Division of Close Brothers Asset Finance, discusses a range of alternative finance options and ‘runs the rule’ over each of them.

Monday 13th March 2017: Spring (Budget) is here! 

Did you catch the awaited Spring Budget for announcements on how things will change with Brexit? ICAS took to Twitter to live-tweet the news nuggets under #Budget2017, and the policy leadership team have neatly summarised the major (or not-so-major) changes ahead. 

Anton Colella, Chief Executive of ICAS, said: “The Brexit budget and forecasts of robust growth, record employment and a reduced deficit, may provide a ray of light, but uncertainty is still significant and the test for the Chancellor is whether he has done enough to weather any storm.

“It was a mixed bag for small business but one announcement which gets a standing ovation from ICAS is his decision to delay the introduction of Making Tax Digital for businesses below the VAT threshold. 

"ICAS supports the overall objectives of Making Tax Digital, but has long been concerned with the unrealistic timescale for the project. This shows a Chancellor who has listened.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond made several references to building up enough cash reserves for "gas in the tank".

The self-employed face a raise in taxes, but this is likely to be countered by the abolition of Class 2 NICs - freelancers and contractors can now pay tax according to their profit level and do not have to pay into a weekly flat-rate.   

There's also been plenty of fears about who is likely to be subject to quarterly digital tax returns, but a sigh of relief could be felt when it was announced that 'Making Tax Digital' will only apply to businesses registered for VAT. 

Chancellor Philip Hammond made several references to building up enough cash reserves for "gas in the tank"; a hint towards the potential costs of Brexit, but these were not fully laid out in the speech. Just how much 'gas' will be needed to trigger Article 50 and smooth through any rippling effects, remains to be seen. 

Meanwhile, in today's blog, we provide you with the resources to maximise your learning experience in a larger group of people, with excellent tips for learners who prefer one on one interactions. We also look at the recent Rolls-Royce bribery case and reflect on how this relates to ethical issues you may face in your working life. 

And we continue our countdown to the Admission Ceremony, which happens in less than two weeks! There is still time to become a member if you have submitted your logbook, so find out how. 

Happy reading!

How to tackle learning in a large class

Our class sizes vary throughout the country, but each individual is sure to have a preferred learning style and setting to make the most out of their time - here are our tips for taking on any learning environment, whether it's with ICAS or in-house company training. 

Rolls-Royce and Bribery

Rolls-Royce has been back in the news for agreeing, under a deferred prosecution agreement, to pay a record-breaking £671m fine. Lecturer Jenifer Cloke reveals the ethical issues behind this fine. 

Admissions Ceremony 2017

ICAS is delighted to invite newly qualified CAs and their family and friends to celebrate becoming a world-class business professional and joining the global ICAS community.

Date: 25 March 2017

Time: 9.30am for 10.30am, concluding by 2pm

Location: Edinburgh International Conference Centre

Join us to acknowledge and celebrate the hard work and level of achievement each newly qualified member has undertaken and to discover how ICAS can further support you throughout your lifetime as a CA.

Important booking information - please read: Newly qualified members can bring three guests to the ceremony free of charge.

The final admission deadline for logbooks was 10 March 2017, but you can be admitted to membership up until the day before the ceremony. If your logbook is awaiting approval please contact the Education team to ascertain the status of your approval.

Thursday 9th March 2017: Are we witnessing the homogenisation of high streets?

Bookstore chain Waterstones recently came under fire for opening a small number of 'unbranded' stores, as consumers begin to fear the homogenisation of UK high streets.  

Franchises and franchisees are an all too common sight in the shopping centres of most towns. Many coffee shops, fast food restaurants and independent retailers take the opportunity to move under the corporate umbrella of a big brand without losing ownership of their store.  

However, the impact of this increasingly popular practice is that large franchised companies like Starbucks, Pizza Hut and Subway are largely outnumbering more 'traditional' shops.

Waterstones have somewhat distanced themselves from this aspect of the idea, by opening small branches in Rye, Southwold and Harpenden under different names - with only small signs in the windows indicating their true owners.

We are coming into quite sensitive high streets with predominantly independent retailers on them and we wish to behave as they do. Waterstones

This approach somewhat controversially eliminates the need for a local business owner to choose the franchise but also avoids what might be called the 'stigma' of being a well-known corporation in a small town.

Waterstones' Managing Director, James Daunt told BBC Radio 4: “The vast majority [of people] have welcomed them greatly. They are very small shops in towns that had independents and very much wish they still had independents but don’t.

“We can’t open up great big Waterstones here but we can open up small ones. We are coming into quite sensitive high streets with predominantly independent retailers on them and we wish to behave as they do.”

Local shopkeepers, however, have accused the chain of subterfuge. The arrival of national chains on high streets is often blamed for pushing up rents and therefore affecting business rates, which are due to rise sharply in many places over the next few years.

This is a topic that the TPE examiners have touched on before, requiring students to think strategically about the advantages and disadvantages of such a model.

So, is franchising and this new subverted version of it bad for business overall?

Being a franchisee offers a level of financial security, defined borders with your competition and ongoing support. But it also comes with fees and a lack of control over decisions made about your business.

What do you think? This is a topic that the TPE examiners have touched on before, requiring students to think strategically about the advantages and disadvantages of such a model.

In today's blog, we line up your weekend viewing with our recommendations for a night in front of the TV for our top five accountant-affiliated shows; we promise they're only a little educational!

We've also put together a quick refresher on how to find content or access student resources on and highlight superb hacks for getting the most out of Excel.

The top TV shows for CAs and students

In the downtime between exams, performance reports and spreadsheets, there's nothing like a good old TV binge. Whether you like a series founded in clever satire, glossy drama, action-packed crime or all of the above, we have put together a list of the must-see shows featuring accountants and finance professionals.

How to navigate

Not sure how to find content or resources on Familiarise yourself with this great guide on getting the most out of our online facilities.

How-to Handbook: 10 excel hacks

Spreadsheets are an essential tool in any CA's arsenal. Microsoft Excel is undoubtedly the forerunner in its field with a huge global user base. What follows is a rundown of some simple tricks and shortcuts to help you become even more of an Excel pro.

Monday 6th March 2017: Consumer confidence down but budget could be up

It's potentially good news for the Chancellor this week, with an expected £29bn 'windfall' for the UK budget. 

The Resolution Foundation think-tank estimated that public borrowing could fall to £56bn in 2016-2017, which could have a positive knock-on effect for public finances, as well as potentially reducing the first reduction in an OBR forecast in the last three years. This hasn't changed consumer confidence, however, as Brexit has impacted upon spending across households - pessimism is riding high. 

GfK, who produce the UK's major purchase index found that consumer confidence dropped a point in February to -6. 

Joe Staton, Head of Market Dynamics at GfK, said: “Against a backdrop of rising food and fuel prices, sterling depreciation, nominal earnings growth and a burgeoning fear of rapid inflation, concern about our personal financial situation for 2017 has contributed to a drop in UK consumer confidence this month (to -6).

Consumer spending continues to drive economic growth in the UK so any further fall in confidence could support forecasts for a slowdown of the overall economy this year.

"Any momentum behind the post-Brexit, debt-fuelled, consumer-spending boom now appears to be softening. Mounting pressures on disposable income are starting to bite as witnessed by two months of falling retail sales (ONS) and a further drop in the Major Purchase Index (this month down by five points). 

"Consumer spending continues to drive economic growth in the UK so any further fall in confidence could support forecasts for a slowdown of the overall economy this year.” 

For all you newly-qualified students set to become official members at the 2017 Admission Ceremony, keep an eye out for our Brexit Tracker Survey released later this year. The survey, produced in association with law firm Brodies LLP, will be open during two-week periods from 9 May, 5 September and 30 November, and will chart the experiences of ICAS members during this period of transition. 

In today's blog we explore tips for newly-qualified members, and those who will qualify within the next year - check out our partner piece on achieving your aspirations for your career and top tips to meet your goals. 

And for our financial accounting students, you will want to read our five-step process to conquering long-form questions. Read and absorb these brilliant steps from tutor Stephanie Pentland. TPS students can rejoice at our handy hints on tax penalties too!

Tutor tip: Financial Accounting long-form

Sitting Financial Accounting (FA) long-form, and wondering how to tackle the questions? Stephanie Pentland shares the five key steps that you should use for success. 

Achieving your career aspirations - top tips for NQs

Will be you qualifying next year or have just qualified? You need these tips on what to do next. Sophie Randles, Head of Practice at Rutherford Cross, shares her advice for newly-qualified professionals.

Eight tax penalty tips for TPS

Understanding how HMRC tax penalties work are an essential part of the Principles of Taxation course. There’s lots of information to take in, so we’ve developed these handy tips to help you remember the key details. This is especially helpful for those studying TPS as you will often meet these penalties in future questions.

Thurs 2nd March 2017: What is shrinkflation and why is it increasing?

'Shrinkflation' is the reduction sensation that's sweeping the nation, much to the chagrin of consumers. 

Fluctuations in currency values, particularly in the post-Brexit result pound (GBP), have led to several retailers and consumer goods companies compensating for losses by cutting the size of their products without reducing the price.

The practice has helped avoid major price increases being passed on to customers while the cost of raw materials and imports rises.

However, while some slimmed-down snacks have undergone a fairly subtle transformation, others are a little more on the nose. Here are some of the well-loved food brands that you may have noticed looking a little lighter:

  • Mr Kipling Angel Slices: Nine-pack boxes are now missing a slice.
  • Tropicana: The family-sized 1.75 litres carton has been reduced to 1.6 litres. 
  • Maltesers: Mars has cut the size of shareable pouches from 121g to 103g.
  • Bulmer’s flavoured cider: Replacing the 568ml bottle is a slightly less refreshing 500ml one.
  • Birds Eye Fish Fingers: The traditional 12 finger box now only contains 10.
  • Morland Old Speckled Hen Ale: 500ml bottles in a 12 pack have been reduced to 440ml.
  • Toblerone: The 170g chocolate bar has shed 10% of its weight with a new, controversial design.

Speaking to Channel 4's Dispatches, the British Retail Consortium, said: "Major supermarkets have worked with Government and public bodies to make pricing clearer and simpler for customers, such as improving the way that unit price is displayed.

"Sizing and pricing of products are regularly reviewed and are impacted by a number of factors, including: the cost of raw materials, commercial negotiations with manufacturers and changing portion sizes. Prices and sizes of all products are clearly labelled so that customers can make informed decisions about their purchases."

Staying on the subject of food, in today's blog we look at how the distinction between chocolate bars, biscuits and cake affects the complex world of VAT - is it a philosophical issue?

In other news, we examine the rising popularity of cybersecurity insurance in the wake of several high-profile data breaches and malevolent hacks - how do you insure the intangible?

We also offer some advice on how to avoid being fooled by the 'fake news' headlines that may be filling up your online life.

Assessing the intangible: cybersecurity insurance

One of the fastest growing insurance products in recent years is cybersecurity insurance, and research shows that it’s only going to increase even further. We find out how this affects financial institutions and organisations who handle client money, and what should be done to prepare.

Sweet nothings: Zero-rated cakes

To cake or not to cake: it's a frequent taxation question. The multi-layered tax system in the UK means that particular food groups are afforded different levels of VAT; find out how a biscuit can make all the difference and where the inspiration for 'giant' Jaffa Cakes started.

How to spot fake news

Telling the real from the fake is now a major challenge in the digitally-connected information society - and just how can you tell if a news report is false? Talk of 'fake news' is increasingly cropping up in discussions and debates, with everyone from Mark Zuckerburg to Vladimir Putin accused of spreading rumours, gossip and outright 'alternative facts' in the media.


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