Grant Thornton fined R47m for missing ‘red flags’ in UK audit work

The UK’s accounting watchdog has imposed sanctions against Grant Thornton Ltd. and a partner at the business, for its role in the alleged accounting fraud at the Patisserie Valerie bakery chain.

The Financial Reporting Council fined Grant Thornton 2.3 million pounds (R47 million), for its auditing work on the company between 2015 and 2017, the regulator said Monday. It also ordered non-financial sanctions including a review of the audit practice’s culture and reporting to the FRC annually for four years.

David Newstead, Grant Thornton’s audit engagement partner, was fined 87,750 pounds, and given a three-year prohibition from carrying out statutory audits, for missing the red flags in the audit of Patisserie Holdings, the bakery’s holding company.

The FRC said both Grant Thornton and Newstead have accepted the failures in the audit work.

“We have co-operated fully with the FRC and acknowledge the investigation’s findings relating to our audits in 2015-2017,” a spokesperson for Grant Thornton said in a statement. “We regret the quality of our work fell short of what was expected of us in this instance.”


Published by News24 | 27 September 2021

What Mentors Wish Their Mentees Knew

The mentor-mentee relationship is a tango between a more senior person and a junior one. Just as in dance, coordination and orchestration between parties is necessary for grace and success. And while we and others have written about what makes the ideal mentor, comparatively less attention has been given to the other partner. This gap is unfortunate because, like mentorship, menteeship requires specific behaviors — without which the mentee’s success may be threatened.

In this article, we outline six habits of ideal mentees and provide anecdotes and views from our combined years of academic experience. While we focus on the relationship in academic medicine, the takeaways apply to most any field.

Clarify what you need. 

“I need a mentor” is a plea often heard in the hallowed halls of hospitals, especially academic medical centers that serve as the training grounds for future physicians. As academic physicians, we have responded to this overture countless times in our careers. The first thing anyone seeking a mentor must do is determine what kind of support they need.

While many mentees — people aspiring to become physician-scientists, for instance — require formal, long-term guidance, others may just need support with one-time needs. For example, they may need advice on negotiating a job offer, speaking at a national meeting, or finding a job at another hospital. These latter situations require distinct types of mentors, ones we classify in an upcoming JAMA Internal Medicine paper as coaches, sponsors, and connectors. Some mentees with specific, narrower challenges such as preparing for a speaking engagement often benefit from a coach — someone who helps improve performance related to a particular issue. “Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance,” says Atul Gawande, the surgeon and writer who enlisted a coach to improve his surgical technique.

Other times, mentees need a sponsor: senior physicians (such as chiefs, chairs, or deans) who have garnered substantial social and political capital over their careers. Sponsors use their cachet to help high-potential individuals join prestigious committees, study groups, or honorific societies.

And finally, some mentees need a connector, a seasoned guide who can help the mentor and mentee unite, or build a mentorship team. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes connectors as multipliers who help create relationships between people.

Choose wisely.

Knowing what you need is the first step; finding the right person is the second. Like selecting a partner for marriage, your choice of a mentor affects 95% of your success and happiness. Begin by identifying highly successful individuals whom you like, respect, and trust. Just as the accomplishments of your mentor matter, so do their personal attributes, such as altruism, work-life balance, and patience. Find a mentor whom you can relate to and who shares your goals and understands your priorities. And remember that someone at the top of their field may not necessarily be ideal. We tell mentees to find mentors they can see themselves becoming — and make sure they are up to the challenge.

Underpromise and overdeliver.

Remember that mentors are looking for closers: those that finish what they start. So make sure you know the Golden Rules. Ideal mentees share certain qualities: They are enthusiastic, energetic, organized, and focused. They embrace feedback while remaining honest and responsive. They always behave with integrity and recognize that hard work and sacrifice pays dividends down the road. Ideal mentees thus learn to underpromise (“I’ll have a first draft to you in one week”) and overdeliver (“I know it’s only been three days, but I have a first draft ready to share with you”). And they always make sure their work is high quality. Always.

Mind your mentor’s time.

Good mentors are successful for a reason: They manage their time wisely, often doing multiple things at any given time in order to ensure success. As a mentee, you must learn to respect your mentor’s time. For example, give your mentor enough time to review work products (for example, one week for abstracts and at least two to three weeks for grants). Define goals for meetings ahead of time by knowing what you want to discuss and accomplish during your meeting. Importantly, avoid long, winding emails with little in the form of an answerable question. Rather, frame questions so that they can be answered with yes-or-no answers, while reserving longer concerns for face-to-face meetings. Your mentor’s time is a precious commodity, and thinking about how best to use it — both in their physical presence and outside of it — is important for success.

Beware of pitfalls.

Just as in the world of management, mentees must learn to manage up — that is, to help their mentor guide them. When mentors go awry, mentees must be ready. “Mentorship malpractice” represents a set of mentor behaviors that — whether intentional or not — will disproportionately affect your success. Recognize the warning signs and know what countermeasures to employ. For example, if your mentor becomes a bottleneck, set firm deadlines and clearly state what will happen when they arrive. Conversely, if your mentor begins to hijack your ideas, more drastic measures might be necessary. Equally, you must be careful to avoid missteps that might jeopardize your success. For example, do not “ghost” on your mentor, keeping out of sight to avoid dealing with a difficult issue. Similarly, don’t be a “vampire,” draining the life from them by asking many questions or sending excessive communications. Mentee “missteps” are avoidable but require recognition and careful monitoring during training.

Be engaged and energizing.

The best mentees are fun to work with. They are energy donors, not energy recipients. They come to work with enthusiasm, excitement, and eagerness to move projects forward. Mentors are more likely to respond positively to a mentee who presents the upside to their efforts rather than the downside. With this in mind, avoid excessive complaining about other people or a particular situation. If problems arise — and they usually do — it is best to frame your problem as a growth opportunity. Present several solutions, and see if your mentor advises one course of action over the others.

Relatedly, maturity is important, especially when receiving feedback about a manuscript, grant proposal, or talk. Avoid being defensive and putting your mentors in the awkward position of having to be responsible for your well-being. We know of mentors who have exited relationships with overly defensive mentees because giving constructive feedback to these individuals became quite time-consuming and emotionally fraught for both parties. Such an outcome disproportionately hurts the mentee. And remember that generosity goes far: Acknowledge and thank those who help you succeed.

Just as in other fields, the relationship between a mentor and mentee in medicine is a two-way street. In addition to producing high-quality results with integrity, excellent mentees know what type of help they need, select the right people to help them, finish tasks ahead of schedule, are mindful of their mentor’s time, are energized and engaging, and credit others liberally. Do you have what it takes?


Published by by Vineet Chopr and Sanjay Saint | Harvard Business Review

The future of accounting: co-habitation with bots

The new breed of techno-colleague is here to stay. We can avoid them at our peril, or we can form a mutually beneficial working relationship.

“Humans need not apply.” Imagine reading those words on a job-seeker website portal. The smart technology era introduced us to computer systems that can be programmed to do the tasks that most human workers do daily.

Computers can see (computer vision), they can speak and hear (natural language processing), they can execute tasks (robotic process automation) and they can think and learn (machine learning). One might wonder what is left for human workers to do in an age where robots can do what we do faster, more accurately, without being involved with unions and industrial action, and never needing sleep or sick leave.

In his book Humans Need Not Apply:A Guide to Wealth & Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, futurist and technology entrepreneur Jerry Kaplan cautions readers that the warning signs of techno-unemployment are before us. “The two great scourges of the modern developed world – persistent unemployment and increasing income inequality – plague our society even as our economy continues to grow. If these are left unchecked, we may witness the spectacle of widespread poverty against a backdrop of escalating comfort and wealth.”

White-collar bots are here
For decades white-collar jobs were mostly spared the onslaught of automation. While robots may be taking over less educated individuals’ blue-collar employment, artificial intelligence (AI) is set to disrupt higher-paying occupations for university- educated professionals, ensuring that no one is immune to the influence of technology on the global workforce.

In order to compete in the global market, organisations are utilising smart automation technology to decrease their operating costs, increase the development and delivery of new products and services, and offering clients a better experience.

Many businesses are attempting to leave their infant shoes of basic process automation. Others are only now learning to walk without assistance by implementing platforms like Robotic Process Automation while others have learned to run the course by embracing smart technology like AI. The race is swift and lengthy, and the finishing line is continually moving out of sight.

On the horizon glimmers a new day of intelligent automation. Those businesses which are in their infant shoes or only now learning to walk are very, very far behind in the race. Will they ever be able to catch up?

In a recent global survey, covering all business domains, nearly 90% of business leaders indicated that they plan to deploy intelligent automation to stay ahead of their competitors.

42% of CEOs indicated that their organisations are already on a digital transformation journey, with 56% indicating they have experienced gains with the implementation of intelligent automation.

Finance functions on techno steroids

All the functional areas in business are candidates for smarter automation. Perhaps the best of all is the finance function. Supplier onboarding, accounts payable, audits, procurement, cost management, closure processing, and customer enquiries are among the accounting activities and procedures that computing technology can streamline.

Technology like machine learning may help firms boost their value by improving loan underwriting and lowering financial risk. As corporate accountants, analysts, treasurers, and investors strive toward long-term prosperity, AI may help reduce financial crime through enhanced fraud detection and pick up on unusual transactional behaviour.

Smart technology is influencing the sorts of employment roles that will be accessible in the future of accounting. Humans will undertake more of the analysis as improved technologies handle monotonous tasks, making them the essential link between data and clients. In the future, technology will continue to have an influence on the function of the accountant and the need for accountants.

Accounting is reaching new heights thanks to technological advancements. Whether you’re an experienced accounting professional wanting to keep on the cutting edge of the business or an ambitious novice, you’ll want to be aware of how the accounting profession is changing due to smarter technological platforms.

Are they coming for our jobs?

When people hear robots will be introduced into the workforce, it is normally met with suspicion if not outright fear and resistance.A few years ago, I worked in the technology division of a large bank. The bank was the first local one to introduce a humanoid robot called Pepper. Standing just under a meter-and-a- half tall, weighing nearly 30kg and with large child-like eyes, Pepper was destined to welcome customers as they entered a bank branch.

Despite all the excitement generated around our little electronic co-worker, many of my colleagues expressed a sense of unease. What made matters worse was that in the same week the bank’s financial results were announced. The CEO’s remarks were taken out of context and the media reported that the bank would be getting rid of thousands of workers. Imagine that: The first of a potential cohort of robot workers are introduced and it seems that many would be left without a job.

The bank’s leader actually said that they plan to employ fewer people over the next financial year due to smarter ways of working and better automation.

Educate for the future

What are finance professionals to do? Almost all the mundane, repetitive tasks in the finance function are candidates for automation. They need to ensure that they have a good understanding of the business applications of smart technology. They do not need to become technical experts who can write the algorithms which enable a machine-learning platform to operate. They need to understand how their profession is moving from mainly historical reporting and analysis to anticipating and advising on future trends utilising prediction models.

With automation expected to become a big part of accounting in the near future, it’s critical to have the abilities needed to perform the managerial and analytical jobs that technology can’t. Many accountants may also take on a consulting position with customers, which means they’ll need to be adept at analysing large amounts of data to detect patterns and trends. Knowledge of data mining and other data science techniques is essential.

The education of future finance professionals must be built on a solid understanding of technology applications to the craft. Tertiary educational institutions across the board need to review their curricula considering the rapidly changing demand for skilled, tech-savvy workers.

Technologies impacting finance

Audits, tax preparation, banking, and payroll are just a few of the labour-intensive aspects of accounting that are fast becoming entirely automated. As AI is used to develop self-learning systems, technology will take over the repetitive and time-consuming activities, allowing finance professionals to handle the analytical and advisory responsibilities.

Cloud computing enables access to resources like data and processing power. The constant updating of information is a significant benefit of a cloud-based system, allowing accountants and clients to analyse data and make decisions based on the most up-to-date information.Blockchain technology will influence the demand for accountants in the future. The appeal of blockchain for accounting stems from the prospect of a new form of accounting ledger — one that can be updated and validated in real-time without the risk of being tampered with or damaged.

Welcoming the future

A new neighbour has moved in next door in the financial fraternity. Do we fear and avoid it, or do we welcome it and learn to live together in harmony? The new breed of techno-colleagues is here to stay. We can avoid them at our peril, or we can form a mutually beneficial co-habitation ecosystem.


Published by News24 | 19 September 2021 | Written by Johan Steyn

Organisations urgently need to set net zero targets and the pathways to achieve them

Good intentions are ‘disconnected from the pace of climate action that is urgently needed’, says new research

Global research among 3,000 accountants and finance professionals reveals that just 15% say their organisations have set targets to be net zero compliant by 2050 – and only 38% say their organisation will be willing to invest much more than today in addressing climate change over the next three to five years.

These illuminating facts in ACCA’s report Climate action and the accountancy profession: building a sustainable future come ahead of the COP26 summit which begins on 31 October in Glasgow, Scotland.

The key findings and the opinions from participants from both the public and private sectors, in organisations large and small, reveal the gap between the good intentions of organisations, and the urgent and speedy need for climate action.

Helen Brand OBE, chief executive of ACCA, says: ‘There’s a critical need for leaders, whether in governments, the private or public sectors, to grasp the scale of this challenge and to respond to it. The accountancy profession has a critical role to play in this, both to lead long-term value creation in sustainable economies, and to champion responsible practices for the public good.’

The report highlights that accountancy and finance professionals can bring an integrated approach that places sustainability at the heart of organisational decision making, rather than it being an additional consideration. This approach links strategy and governance to data-driven decision making and rigorous measurement of performance using science-based targets, coherent reporting and trustworthy assurance of information used by stakeholders.

Narayanan Vaidyanathan, head of business insights at ACCA, comments: ‘Very few organisations are progressing at the pace and scale needed to counter the devastating and world-altering threats climate change is posing. Organisations must leverage the expertise of accountancy and finance professionals to increase the pace of climate action. This is needed to future proof their organisations and to deliver value while coexisting with natural ecosystems.’

The report reveals that:

  • Only 23% integrate climate key performance indicators (KPIs) into their business strategy and/or risk frameworks.
  • Only 29% say that climate change considerations play a significant role in financial decision-making in their organisation.
  • 48% say the impact will come through physical effects of climate change such as changing weather patterns, extreme heat or flooding.
  • 52% believe climate change regulation – in the form of climate pricing or new reporting requirements – will impact their organisation over the next five years.
  • 73% say it’s important that their future career involves taking action on climate change.
  • 75% say it’s important that accountancy and finance teams are involved in supporting their organisations to tackle climate change.

Despite the appetite of finance teams to support their organisations, they also feel that there are barriers to be overcome – the most cited one (54%) being an internal organisational perception that climate action was not viewed as the responsibility of the finance team. Lack of commercial incentive around climate action (36%), a lack of support from leadership (32%), poor data to work with (28%), and their own lack of professional skills in the area of expertise (23%) were also seen as barriers.

Narayanan Vaidyanathan concludes: ‘While some of these findings are concerning, there are clear opportunities. We see ahead a new purpose for organisations, a new way for them to operate, and an opportunity for accountancy and finance professionals to provide leadership. Their ability to drive strategy and decision making by connecting financial and non-financial information into a coherent narrative, ethical lens, and trustworthy assurance of information will play a key role. Our report includes practical tips and guidance on reshaping organisations for a post-fossil fuel economy and the skills and mindset needed for this.’

As part of its commitment to the UN SDGs ACCA aims to become net zero by 2030. It will report on progress in its annual integrated report. As a member of the A4S Accounting Bodies Network (ABN), ACCA has also joined 12 other accountancy bodies to commit to achieve net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within their own organisations, as well as provide an enabling environment for their membership to do the same.

The report can be downloaded here:


Published by ACCA | 26 October 2021

Create, protect and sustain value – the role of accountants as trusted professionals at the heart of sustainable organisations

Analysis from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) uncovers the drivers of change shaping sustainable business and the must-have capabilities needed from accountants as sustainable business and finance professionals of the next decade.

ACCA is building on its global research programme with the launch of the new report, Professional accountants at the heart of sustainable organisations. This latest research considers the future of the accountancy profession and identifies four new emerging career zones of opportunity for finance professionals where they can make vital contributions to businesses and other organisations:

  • Zone 1: Transformation drivers
  • Zone 2: Enterprise analysts
  • Zone 3: Assurance providers
  • Zone 4: Stakeholder reporters

The report also outlines the core competencies needed in assessing the outlook to 2030, reflecting the skills, knowledge and behaviours required for an ACCA-qualified accountant to meet the future needs and demands of the profession. Individuals will need to balance these core capabilities – such as  collaboration, ethics, sustainability and expertise – to fit their role and stage of career.

Helen Brand OBE, chief executive of ACCA, said: ‘With the unprecedented challenges the world has faced since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, our world today is not as many expected. This new report emphasises the role of business in society. Organisations large and small – in the private and public sectors – will play an essential role in forging a better world for the longer term beyond the ravages of the pandemic, and in dealing with the growing environmental emergency. The accountancy profession is an integral part of this.

‘The newly identified career zones represent a wealth of opportunity for accountancy jobs in all sectors and industries across the globe. Professional accountants are the sustainable business and finance professionals of the next decade, driving good business decision-making, creating new organisational value, protecting existing value, and communicating that value to the outside world through their reporting.

‘In tomorrow’s complex world, a human touch is still needed, where finance professionals bring their competencies, ethical and professional judgment to bear alongside their technical mastery and technological know-how to support organisations to generate sustainable societal value.’

The report uses findings gathered over the past two years, including a survey of over 2,000 responses from finance professionals, and is enriched by a wide-ranging and extensive engagement programme of roundtables with external stakeholders across the world from October 2020 to June 2021. These explored the drivers of change impacting the profession as well as examining the core capabilities needed by accountants in the future including consultation with focus groups, ACCA global forums and market specific external experts.

This engagement has informed ACCA’s new skills framework, which details the essential capabilities that all sustainable business and finance professionals will need to thrive in the future. Furthermore, it showcases how these capabilities will be needed across the various career opportunities ahead.

Report author, Jamie Lyon, said: ‘With growing organisational complexity, competing stakeholder needs, monumental societal change, workforce transition, challenged finances, technological disruption and an environmental emergency, organisations across the globe are challenged as never before. The 2020s in accountancy are a decade in which the profession is integral to building sustainable businesses that generate both financial returns and long-term value for society, while caring for the planet.

‘The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated business change at a pace unimaginable before the onset of the crisis and has presented organisations with unforeseen challenges but also unprecedented opportunities. There are major drivers of change that organisations now must navigate as they seek to be sustainable financially for the long term and create societal value -from the economy, to geopolitics to the climate crisis. It’s a world of great opportunity for the sustainable business and finance professional.’

To help people understand the opportunities, ACCA is also launching a new career navigator. This tool will help users understand the core capabilities needed at different stages of a career journey and set them apart as a sustainable business and finance professional. They’ll be able to plan their career path by exploring emerging career opportunities and job roles mapped to the blend of capabilities these require, and access relevant learning and job opportunities.

For more information, visit


Published by ACCA | 29 September 2021

How to Give Tough Feedback That Helps People Grow

Over the years, I’ve asked hundreds of executive students what skills they believe are essential for leaders. “The ability to give tough feedback” comes up frequently. But what exactly is “tough feedback”? The phrase connotes bad news, like when you have to tell a team member that they’ve screwed up on something important. Tough also signifies the way we think we need to be when giving negative feedback: firm, resolute, and unyielding.

But “tough” also points to the discomfort some of us experience when giving negative feedback, and to the challenge of doing so in a way that motivates change instead of making the other person feel defensive.

Managers fall into a number of common traps. We might be angry at an employee and use the feedback conversation to blow off steam rather than to coach. Or we may delay giving needed feedback because we anticipate that the employee will become argumentative and refuse to accept responsibility. We might try surrounding negative feedback with positive feedback, like a bitter-tasting pill in a spoonful of honey. But this approach is misguided, because we don’t want the negative feedback to slip by unnoticed in the honey. Instead, it’s essential to create conditions in which the receiver can take in feedback, reflect on it, and learn from it.

To get a feel for what this looks like in practice, I juxtapose two feedback conversations that occurred following a workplace conflict. MJ Paulitz, a physical therapist in the Pacific Northwest, was treating a hospital patient one day when a fellow staff member paged her. Following procedure, she excused herself and stepped out of the treatment room to respond to the page. The colleague who sent it didn’t answer her phone when MJ called, nor had she left a message describing the situation that warranted the page. This happened two more times during the same treatment session. The third time she left her patient to respond to the page, MJ lost her cool and left an angry voicemail message for her colleague. Upset upon hearing the message, the staff member reported it to their supervisor as abusive.

MJ’s first feedback session took place in her supervisor’s office. She recalls, “When I went into his office, he had already decided that I was the person at fault, he had all the information he needed, and he wasn’t interested in hearing my side of the story. He did not address the three times she pulled me out of patient care. He did not acknowledge that that might have been the fuse that set me off.” Her supervisor referred MJ to the human resources department for corrective action. She left seething with a sense of injustice.

MJ describes the subsequent feedback conversation with human resources as transformative. “The woman in HR could see that I had a lot of just-under-the-surface feelings, and she acknowledged them. The way she did it was genius: she eased into it. She didn’t make me go first. Instead, she said, ‘I can only imagine what you’re feeling right now. Here you are in my office, in corrective action. If it were me, I might be feeling angry, frustrated, embarrassed… Are any of these true for you?’ That made a huge difference.”

With trust established, MJ was ready to take responsibility for her behavior and commit to changing it. Next the HR person said, “Now let’s talk about how you reacted to those feelings in the moment.” She created a space that opened up a genuine dialogue.

The subsequent conversation created powerful learning that has stuck with MJ to this day. “Oftentimes when we’re feeling a strong emotion, we go down what the HR person called a “cowpath,” because it’s well worn, very narrow, and always leads to the same place. Let’s say you’re angry. What do you do? You blow up. It’s okay that you feel those things; it’s just not okay to blow up. She asked me to think about what I could do to get on a different path.”

“The feedback from the HR person helped me learn to find the space between what I’m feeling and the next thing that slides out of my mouth. She gave me the opportunity to grow internally. What made it work was establishing a safe space, trust, and rapport, and then getting down to ‘you need to change’ — rather than starting with ‘you need to change,’ which is what my supervisor did. I did need to change; that was the whole point of the corrective action. But she couldn’t start there, because I would have become defensive, shut down and not taken responsibility. I still to this day think that my co-worker should have been reprimanded. But I also own my part in it. I see that I went down that cowpath, and I know that I won’t do it a second time.”

The difference in the two feedback sessions illustrated above boils down to coaching, which deepens self-awareness and catalyzes growth, versus reprimanding, which sparks self-protection and avoidance of responsibility.

To summarize, powerful, high-impact feedback conversations share the following elements:
  1. An intention to help the employee grow, rather than to show him he was wrong. The feedback should increase, not drain, the employee’s motivation and resources for change. When preparing for a feedback conversation as a manager, reflect on what you hope to achieve and on what impact you’d like to have on the employee, perhaps by doing a short meditation just before the meeting.
  2. Openness on the part of the feedback giver, which is essential to creating a high-quality connection that facilitates change. If you start off feeling uncomfortable and self-protective, your employee will match that energy, and you’ll each leave the conversation frustrated with the other person.
  3. Inviting the employee into the problem-solving process. You can ask questions such as: What ideas do you have? What are you taking away from this conversation? What steps will you take, by when, and how will I know?

Giving developmental feedback that sparks growth is a critical challenge to master, because it can make the difference between an employee who contributes powerfully and positively to the organization and one who feels diminished by the organization and contributes far less. A single conversation can switch an employee on — or shut her down. A true developmental leader sees the raw material for brilliance in every employee and creates the conditions to let it shine, even when the challenge is tough.


Written by Monique Valcour | Published by Harvard Business Review

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