Vigilance, Slavery and Estates

Appearing in In The Black magazine, December 2020

See Sooner, Act Faster: How Vigilant Leaders Thrive in an Era of Digital Turbulence
By George Day and Paul Schoemaker
MIT Press, $50, 208 pages

There is not much new in saying that the business environment is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – and that was before the COVID-19 crisis. Knowing what to do about it is a different matter, and the aim of the authors of this book is to provide a roadmap for anticipating and responding to change. A key issue is being able to discern real change signals from background noise, and there is good advice on how to do that by linking pieces of information together.

At the same time, leaders have to be willing and able to delegate a range of operational tasks to others, so they can focus on strategy and building resilience into the culture. There are good examples of companies who were successful in taking advantage of shifting trends, such as Adobe’s move to the Cloud and Mastercard’s digital transformation. There are also lessons from some who failed.

A useful aspect of this book is the diagnostic tools, including checklists and templates, that it provides. The ‘vigilance assessment’ test at the end is especially interesting. Day and Shoemaker were obviously writing with American readers in mind but the lessons of See Sooner, Act Faster are universal.

Addressing Modern Slavery
By Justine Nolan and Martijn Boersma
NewSouth Books, $35, 272 pages

The current form of slavery, say academics Nolan and Boersma, is less about the ownership of people than their exploitation through deceit, intimidation, and coercion. People from under-developed countries are the most likely victims, often tricked into working in factories, on farms or in mines, because paying them effectively nothing is more cost-effective than using machinery. It is not just an overseas problem: in Australia there have been many cases of illegal immigrants or others of dubious legal status being exploited. There is now legislation in force, the Modern Slavery Act 2018, that requires large corporate entities ($100 million and over in annual revenue) operating in Australia to report on what they are doing to monitor the situation and address the problem in their supply chains, subsidiaries and contractors.

Finance professionals and others who prepare company reports need to know their obligations, as do directors. They should also understand how to report offences when found, and the legal follow-through. Nolan and Boersma clearly have strong feelings about their subject but they show admirable restraint in their writing. Nevertheless, the nightmare stories stay in the reader’s mind. This is an awful book, and a very important one.

Taxation of Deceased Estates for Estate Practitioners(2nd edition)
By Ian Raspin
BNR Partners, $25, 47 pages

With an aging population and the increasing complexity of personal finance arrangements, estate management is an area that most accountants in public practice will encounter at some point. Raspin, a senior CPA and director of the specialist firm BNR Partners, notes that this is one of the fastest-growing areas of litigation in Australia, and practitioners should understand it as part of their risk management processes. This second edition of Taxation of Deceased Estates updates and expands the first edition, and includes recent changes in regulations and caselaw. An important issue is the new ATO Practice Compliance Guidelines affecting estates, which Raspin unpacks with the systematic approach of the well-organised expert.

He clearly knows everything there is to know about his subject, and he is able to communicate his points in a straightforward, comprehensive way. The scenarios he discusses are pertinent and realistic. Anyone wanting a complete picture of tax and estates should also look at Raspin’s other books, especially The Australian Tax Pitfalls of Administering an Estate with International Connections. Another Raspin book, The Tax Obligations of a Legal Personal Representative, is available as a free e-book from Raspin’s site.

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