Dos and don'ts of question practice

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


Start your question practice as early as possible.

Get yourself into the habit of using the practice questions as early as possible. The most effective learning is about more than simply reading over your notes or making your own notes. You need to take things one step further by testing yourself and consolidating your learning as you go along. View the practice questions as an integral aspect of your learning, and not something ‘separate’ that you can tackle later on.

Work through lots of practice questions.

By doing lots of practice questions over a period of time, you’ll refine your exam technique, get more confident with the technical material and give yourself a much stronger chance of passing the exams first time. Doing as many as you can will also familiarise you with the terminology and vocabulary used in the actual exam.

An awful lot of exam success is simply down to your technique and how you use all the knowledge you’ve built up. It’s how you demonstrate that knowledge in the exam that determines how well you will do – and that’s where the practice questions are really beneficial.

Review the questions that you get incorrect.

A really important part of your learning is to spend some time looking at the practice questions you didn’t get right the first time around. With these, refer back to your notes. Aim to pinpoint specifically where and why you went wrong.

For example, was the error the result not reading the question carefully and picking up incorrect information (e.g. dates, time periods or financial information), or was it because you needed to know more about a particular concept or principle?

Once you’ve established where you went wrong, go back to your notes and brush up on that issue. Don’t forget to review your performance in the progress tests and mock exams as part of this process.


Go straight to the solution if you don’t know the answer.

Instead, try to work through it by referring back to the relevant section of your notes. If you still feel unsure or don’t understand how to work things out, speak to your tutor in class, drop them an email or simply pick up the phone to chat it through.

Particularly in the early days of your studies, try not to worry too much if you get the practice questions wrong, as that’s what they are there for.

Leave all the practice questions until revision week.

Not looking at the practice questions until revision week means that you will miss out on many of the great benefits that they offer – time management, improving your confidence and understanding how the final exam content will be presented to name just a few.

Revision week is a busy and often stressful time, so don’t make things worse by leaving all the practice questions till the last minute.

Wait until you’ve learnt all of the technical material.

Remember that you don’t need to know all of the technical content inside out before attempting the practice questions – your tutors are not expecting you to be an expert before getting stuck into the questions.

Get started with some open book question practice using your course notes alongside for support. Then as you get more confident, start to move towards a more closed book approach and test yourself under exam conditions.

Accessing questions

You can access all workshop exercises right here on, as well as in your paper notes.  Revision questions will be made available to you when you reach the end of your class time.

March 2017

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.

February 2017

Monday 27th February: Scottish income tax bands are set! Find out how they differ

Did you manage to catch the long-awaited debate (and subsequent approval) on Scottish Rate of Income Tax last week? If not, you can get up to date with all the juicy bits right here:

The Scottish basic rate of tax will be 20%, charged on taxable non-savings income over the tax-free personal allowance of £11,500, up to a Scottish basic rate limit of £31,500, and 40% will be charged on non-savings income over the tax-free allowance and basic rate, up to a higher rate of £150,000.

Anyone earning more than £150,000 will then be charged the additional rate of 45%. Scottish taxpayers will pay the UK rates of tax on their savings and dividend income.

Taxpayers in the rest of the UK will also pay 20% on taxable income falling within the basic rate limit but this limit will be £2,000 higher at £33,500.

In today's blog, we look at what you need to know about the FRS 102 for the Financial Reporting course. While the exam focus is on IFRS, it's important to know a few things about the standard that totally changed FR in the UK.

And if you don't have enough 'Rs' in your life, check out our look at Integrated Reporting, the newest addition to corporate reports that provide a holistic take on all operations - could this be the future of reporting to stakeholders and investors?

We take a quick look at the changes to TPE terminology for 2017, along with full explanations of what examiners will be looking for when they ask for 'knowledge and comprehension', for example.

The Admissions Ceremony is still taking sign-ups, if you've completed your logbook, contract and exams, find out the final deadline for sending it to us for joining as a member. We want to celebrate all you have achieved in becoming a CA!

What you need to know about FRS 102 for Financial Reporting

Within the Financial Reporting material, how much do I need to know about FRS 102 and how it might be examined? As you know from the FR course, we concentrate on IFRS and that is the textbook you will take into the exam. However, FRS 102 (also FRS 100-101) has fundamentally reformed financial reporting in the UK and has replaced all previous UK accounting standards, so you need some awareness of it.

Revised TPE terminology for 2017

Are you sitting or re-sitting TPE in 2017? Find out how TPE has been revised to ensure the qualification remains relevant for accounting profession needs.

An intro to Integrated Reporting

Are you familiar with the new kid on the block, Integrated Reporting <IR>? This holistic reporting method is a fantastic new method of collating and presenting financial and strategic information.

Admissions Ceremony 2017

Date: 25 March 2017

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

Location: Edinburgh

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.

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.

And remember that your log book, exams and training contract need to be completed - you can be admitted to membership up until the day before the ceremony.

The final admission deadline for logbooks is 10 March 2017. If your logbook is awaiting approval please contact the Education team to ascertain the status of your Logbook approval.

Thursday 23rd February: Banks and retail lose out in customer complaints

A recent study by Ombudsmen Services found that banks rather than the transport sector are more likely to lose money by upsetting customers.

Major travel disruption on the rails and in the skies over 2016 and 2017 has caused considerable mayhem for workers as they attempt to reach work on time, but despite the terrible impact it can have on journey times, there are fewer repercussions for the transport sector. 

Yet another strike on the London Underground, this time affecting the Central Line for 24 hours, disrupted the journeys of over 800,000 passengers on Tuesday 21 and Wednesday 22 February. 

However, despite rail services seeing a 30% increase in customer complaints, the independent Ombudsmen Services found that the retail and banking sectors are more likely to lose out from bad customer service.

Why do banks and retail lose out?

Users often have little choice in regards to changing supplier when it comes to transport. This isn't the case with banks and building societies, of which more than 40 are now signed up to the Current Account Switching Service (CASS).

Lewis Shand Smith, Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services, told Sky News: "This research shows that much more needs to be done to make the customer 'king' from a customer service point of view.

"The problem is that 63% of consumers feel disillusioned and feel resigned to poor service, and no longer trust businesses to do the right thing."

Many banks now offer extra incentives to entice customers away from rival lenders. For example, HSBC, First Direct, M&S, the Co-operative Bank and Halifax all offer a cash reward.

By putting consumers at the heart of what they do, businesses can prevent customers from taking their custom elsewhere, which is good for consumers and good for business. - Lewis Shand Smith, Ombudsman Services.

Over 3 million current accounts have been switched with CASS since 2013. Are we seeing an end to brand loyalty?

Lewis said: "By putting consumers at the heart of what they do, businesses can prevent customers from taking their custom elsewhere, which is good for consumers and good for business."

Speaking of what is good for consumers and business, in today's blog, lecturer Lauren O'Brien covers product recalls for TPE students; how does it affect a business going forward and what measures should be taken? 

We also offer our advice on how to be more assertive at work and break out the glad rags to gear up for the Oscars with PwC - find out how they are involved and what their staff do to make the magical night happen! 

PwC at the 89th Oscars

Movie fan? Dying to see the Oscars on 26 February? Well, did you know that since 1934, Big Four firm PwC has been responsible for the mighty ballot briefcase and voting process? Find out what they do to ensure the success of the world's biggest awards show.

How to be assertive

You may already be a few years into the world of work or just starting out with your training firm, but assertiveness is a skill that will help you at every stage of your career. Get up to speed with our top tips.

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? Product recall recently featured in a TPE exam and has a whole host of real-world examples to which you can apply your expertise. How would you tackle 'Sophie the Giraffe' as a business issue?

Monday 20th February: Back to basics on VAT and discovering when IFRS 16 applies

HMRC may need to re-issue coding notices to employers across Scotland as figures quoted by the Scottish Government are subject to change, this week.  

The tax body recently published the P9X, an official document that contains information on rates, thresholds and tax code increases required by employers and payroll providers. For recipients in Scotland, this data is highly dependent on the Scottish Higher Rate threshold

However, the figures in the latest publication were based on the rate announced in the Draft Scottish Budget in December 2016, which is now subject to change.

A deal between the SNP and Greens on the Scottish Budget was announced at Holyrood earlier this month that - in lieu of the planned increase in income tax for high-earners - they will instead freeze rates on the 40p threshold.

What does this mean for Scottish employers? 

Well, they are essentially in tax limbo with regards to preparing payroll records for 6 April 2017 until the codes are either corrected or confirmed.

HMRC released the following statement: "Until they are confirmed by the Scottish Parliament, HMRC will not know the correct tax rates and thresholds for Scottish taxpayers for the tax year commencing April 2017.  

"We realise this will impact on finalising your 2017/18 software products. Please be assured that HMRC will advise you of the correct Scottish income tax rates and thresholds for 2017/18 as soon as they are ratified by the Scottish Parliament. 

"The Scottish Government have advised that the Scottish Parliament is currently scheduled to agree these in the week commencing 20 February."

The debate on a final rate decision is scheduled for Tuesday 21 February, so stay tuned for more info

In today's blog, we catch up with PAR Subject Controller Anna Cameron about why she made the move from a Big Four firm to teaching at ICAS and shares her secret to becoming popular at the office - cake!

We also take a closer look at the ins and outs of VAT and the new accounting standard on leases issued by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) last year. The IFRS 16 replaces the IAS 17 for all TC and TPS students; get a head start with tutor Stephanie Pentland!

Tutor profile: Anna Cameron

Anna Cameron is our own hockey-playing, cupcake-baking lecturer on the ICAS tutor team. She made the move into teaching at ICAS from a Big Four firm in 2014 and hasn't looked back. Pictured left: Tim Burrows enjoys his special record-themed cake by Anna!

Tutor tip: new accounting standard on leases IFRS 16

In 2016, the International Accounting Standards Board (‘IASB’) issued the long-awaited accounting standard on leases: IFRS 16, Leases.

This replaces the IAS 17 standard, which was previously covered in TC Financial Accounting and TPS Financial Reporting. IFRS 16 is mandatory for accounting periods commencing on or after 1 January 2019, although earlier adoption is permitted.

Back to Basics: VAT

Value Added Tax is an indirect tax - a tax on spending. In the UK, the price displayed on an item normally already incorporates the VAT, but in other countries, you'll often find the equivalent tax referred to as a sales tax and you’ll see it being added to the price when you pay.

Thurs 16th February

On this day in history, the Medici family were announced as the official bankers of the papacy in 1412, in Italy. They were noted for pioneering banking and accounting procedures such as developing double entry and debit / credit tracking.

The Medicis were thought to be the richest family in Europe at the time, with a wealth horde comprised of lands and gold, and they were the bank of choice for most wealthy families in Europe; their chosen currency, the florin, became widely used for commercial and trade activities.

The vast amounts of money held by the church allowed the family to invest and extend their business, and it was alleged that they even gave the Pope of that period the money to buy his cardinal hat.

They even paid a ransom for Pope John XXIII to be released from prison - when he died he left the family a finger of St John the Baptist in his will! They definitely ran a lucrative business; at the time, you had to pay 10% of your earnings to the church, which the Medici bank collected.

Receiving a saint's finger and buying the pope's hat are bizarre working practices, and modern day banking cultures pale in comparison!

People flocked to the bank as they wanted an account with the Pope's financial institute of choice, and it stayed afloat due to the introduction of limited liability, where regional bank managers held shares in the business. They also avoided giving loans to royalty because of the low returns or non-payment!

Modern day accounting was shaped in part due to their innovations and ability to spot lucrative money-generating activities.

Receiving a saint's finger and buying the pope's hat are bizarre working practices, and modern day cultures pale in comparison! In today's blog, we examine the more unusual work activities around the world, including mandatory exercise and getting into the steamiest room imaginable with your work colleagues - how does your work match up?

HMRC has released details of the weirdest expense claims by taxpayers, so we also take a look at these bizarre attempts recorded on tax returns - claiming for pants and cats anyone?

And we investigate the move to criminalise student loan evasion, with arrests in New Zealand and stricter regulations touted for Britain. How will the selling of the student loan log book to private debt collection companies pan out?

The weirdest expense claims sent to HMRC

January saw the self-assessment deadline come to pass and HMRC, perhaps fearing the worst, decided to share some of the rather odd claims that have been denied over the years - including Armani jeans for decorating.

Alternative employee well-being: saunas and mandated push-ups

It’s been a long week, and it’s time for some team bonding to strengthen relationships – but how would you feel about taking your clothes off and jumping in the sauna?

From student to loan evader?

Should student loan defaulters be treated like tax evaders? The New Zealand method could gain traction in the UK as loan debt rises to £70bn.

Mon 13th February

Good news for students looking to work in financial planning and analysis in the future; the latest research by finance recruitment specialists, Robert Half, reveals that this role is in line for an increase in pay as demand for specialist skills grows. 

Phil Sheridan, Senior Managing Director, said: "The rise in starting salaries is a reflection of organisations taking on business transformation projects, financial planning and risk mitigation which is adding additional strain on the limited supply of professionals with these skills. 

"To win the growing war for talent, businesses need to offer competitive salaries, opportunities for development and a supportive company culture to remain an employer of choice.”

The CA Salary Survey 2016 showed that 36% of CAs received an above-inflation pay rise last year, bringing financial controllers' wages to an average of £89,600 per annum.

Risk managers, financial controllers and financial project managers are expected to see increases as well, which is great news for our students as the roles make use of the varied and expertise skills you learn as a CA! 

Financial sector leaders also stated that they expect current employee salaries to rise, along with increased bonuses. 

The report also revealed that two-thirds of leaders in the financial sector expect the salaries of current employees to rise and 38% predict bonuses will increase. The CA Salary Survey 2016 showed that 36% of CAs received an above-inflation pay rise last year, bringing financial controllers' wages to an average of £89,600 per annum. 

This is considerably better news than the Brussels think tank announcement that a 'hard Brexit' could eradicate 30,000 London jobs and £1.5 trillion of assets. 

The think tank Bruegel has issued estimates of a 30% drop in London's share of European wholesale finance markets largely due to the potential inability to sell products and services in EU states. So, at the end of news last week, we could say pay might increase but London-based jobs could decrease! 

In today's blog, we get into a brighter mood by looking at Valentine's day in numbers and exploring the custom (and big business) around the world and hear from ICAS Policy Leadership tax team on ways to save tax by 5 April (and spend it all on chocolate?). 

We examine the rise in inflation and how this will affect consumer spending levels and speak to former student Suzy Kerton on her MBA initiative seeking to eradicate sexist language and myths from the world of business.

Inflation set to rise and rise? 

What does the rate of consumer spending, the falling price of oil and a forecast warning from the Bank of England all add up to? The annual inflation rate in developed countries is at its highest level since 2014, according to research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Valentine's day in numbers

Roses are red, violets are blue, the numbers add up for couples of two. With the season of love upon us, we round up 14 fun facts in numbers about Valentine's Day; black bean sauce and 'obligation chocolate' anyone?

Interview with Suzy Kerton CA: Dispelling sexist business myths

Following on from our look at the hurdles faced by female CAs, we caught up with Suzy Kerton CA to discuss her MBA initiative, dispelling sexist myths and language in business.

5 ways to save tax by 5 April

Are you studying ITP, TPS or TPE? Check out this great policy leadership resource by Donald Drysdale on five ways to save tax. 

Tutor Duncan McKellar said: "Working in tax can involve dealing with client’s self-assessment compliance (as those of you just finished completing 2015/16 Personal Tax Returns will no doubt be aware!), but it can also involve putting forward simple planning strategies to try to help clients plan their affairs in the most tax-efficient manner. 

"Students working towards the ICAS Tax Professional qualification get the opportunity to study some of these strategies with a view to being able to provide ‘value added’ advice to clients on tax exposure. 

"The following article explores five tax planning opportunities for clients in business and also gives a useful overview of some of these ITP topics in a practical context. If you are a CA student studying for TPS Tax or TPE you will also be aware of some of these points and can expand your knowledge using this article."

Thurs 9th February

With the Criminal Finances Bill 2016-17 moving to the report stage for review by the House of Commons, we investigate the rise of financial fraud and examine how CAs can make a difference in today's blog.

The bill will have an opportunity to be reviewed before its third reading and move to the House of Lords in preparation for Royal Assent in Spring. One of the major changes is the introduction of Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs). 

The orders allow for the UK to confiscate property and assets (including bank accounts), where the owner is unable to explain how they purchased it. HMRC and the Serious Fraud Office will work together to assess assets worth more than £100,000; it is hoped the measure will highlight illegal or questionable sources of income. 

"Unexplained wealth orders will help make the UK an even more hostile place for the corrupt and the criminal and their proposed introduction has received universal support from law enforcement and civil society groups," said a Home Office spokesperson.

“The introduction of this measure complements a range of investigative powers available to law enforcement agencies. Of course, our ambition is to use UWOs where the evidence or investigation requires us to do so."

In many instances, even when they are picked up, corporates prefer to resolve the situation privately to avoid the public scrutiny that comes from going to court.

2016 was a big year for fraud in general, with millions of credit cards being cancelled due to scams and cyber attacks. The bill may actually help identify where this money ends up, through unexplained purchases and no obvious source of legal income. 

Research by BDO found that the overall level of reported fraud in the UK increased more than 31% to a five-year high of £2bn. Kaley Crossthwaite, Partner and Head of Fraud, said: “Sadly, the findings of this research are just the tip of the iceberg and many frauds continue to go on undetected. 

"In many instances, even when they are picked up, corporates prefer to resolve the situation privately to avoid the public scrutiny that comes from going to court.”

On the upside, the value of last year money laundering showed a sharp decrease, falling from £201.6m to £98.9m, thanks to increased awareness and regulatory measures.

Read our advice for reporting suspicious activity and hear from Ken Murray CA, Head of Forensic Accounting at Police Scotland in our anti-money laundering podcast.

In today's blog, we also take a look at how best to survive a long working week and frequently asked questions on achievement logs - if you're in your final year, find out what to do with deferred competencies!

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! 

Our achievement logs manager, Matt Gorrie, deals with the most commonly asked questions from students so you submit your achievement log in record time! 

This is especially important if you have completed your TPE exams and training contract, and would like to become an ICAS member in 2017.

UK financial fraud increases by 40% 

New data from the Office for National Statistics reveals a 40% increase in UK financial fraud from September 2015-2016. Fraud relating to finances, including card fraud or online scams, is largely unreported by the general public, suggesting that the real figure is far higher than reported...

10 tips for surviving a long workday

Long working days are reducing across the industrialised world, but trainee CAs will have occasion to burn the midnight oil as you tackle a training contract and studies at the same time. You need our survival guide for avoiding burnout! 

What CAs need to know this week

Looking at how business, accountancy and politics has unfolded this week.

Mon 6th February

We were intrigued by the news that Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand (CAANZ) will be launching a mental health programme in a few month's time to tackle stress and associated issues for its members. 

Their members can currently access a dedicated support group, but will soon be able to access training and awareness in dealing with mental health. 

"We don't have any data about mental health in the accounting profession, but we know anecdotally that it is an issue," said Sue Ashe, speaking on behalf of CAANZ.

"The project will provide access to mental health support for members in their individual capacities as well as in their roles as colleagues, employers and as service providers to clients."

This holistic approach to work is a positive development and demonstrates a progressive move towards safeguarding members' health. 

The Scottish Chartered Accountants Benevolent Association (SCABA) provides similar support to ICAS members. As well as financial assistance, the group can deliver practical support and guidance; the SCABA team includes a support worker with experience in the NHS, social work and the benefits system. 

In today's blog we examine the roots of the '99% economy' and how it has become enmeshed with political leanings; how much truth is there in the claims?

We also have practical advice on how to approach TPE business analysis, with a look at how product recalls can affect the trajectory of a company. 

TPE students commencing their block 1 should check out CABLE as soon as possible: the new material is being launched from today so peruse at your earliest convenience! If you're unsure of how to use CABLE, check out our guide on getting the most from the platform.

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? Students embarking on TPE classes in February and March will no doubt be eagerly completing their pre-course work and wondering exactly what the level is all about...

Analysis: Who are the 99%?

There has been much talk of the '99%' in recent years, but what is it, and where did the term come from? The ongoing divide between the '1% elite' and the rest of the world has been a point of some contention for years and has been a significant contributing factor to the rise of populism in recent times.

Top tips for using CABLE to your advantage

CABLE is the online learning tool designed to guide you through course material. Nena and Roddy from the ICAS team bring you their top tips for getting the most from this great resource.

Five financial hubs that run the world

Our list of five European locations which attract global benchmarks in financial services and technology.

Thurs 2nd February

Theresa May became the first foreign leader to personally extend the hand of friendship to President Trump last week. Now we ask: Just how important are 'special relationships'?

Negotiating a mutually beneficial compromise between a vision of a free-trade Britain and the protectionist 'America First' ideal is the task that faces politicians on both sides of the pond, for better or worse.

In the past, co-operation between the US and UK has largely depended on the relationship between the residents of 10 Downing Street and the White House. Think Bush and Blair, or Thatcher and Reagan, caught on camera in social settings as often as governmental offices. 

Diplomacy is the highest end of networking; building personal connections in order to maintain inclusion with exclusive opportunities. It is a skill that every CA can bank on and one that the Prime Minister will need in spades.

For a refresher on how you can make a good impression on the right people, read our tips for getting noticed at networking events.

In other news, ICAS Executive Director of Education, Mark Allison, updates us on the latest expansion to freedom of movement for our future and current CAs. We also share our top tips for de-cluttering your digital life and find out which are the biggest, most valuable corporations in the world.

Happy reading!

Increasing free movement for CAs

Have you envisioned yourself working across the globe as you build your CA career? The freedom of movement for CAs is being extended across Europe to enhance the status of the ICAS qualification and strengthen reciprocity agreements.

Who runs the world? Top ten global corporations

The new list of corporates dominating the economy is out, with surprising additions and a sharp move away from the power of financials.

De-clutter these five digital dumps

A cluttered office or messy workstation can have a negative impact on productivity and add to stress in the workplace. But what about your digital desktop?


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