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COVID-19 pandemic in Greece by Serafim Sotiriadis

Greece, among most of the countries in the world, was hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The Greek Government gradually took necessary measures and, ultimately, forced the country to a general “lockdown” on 23 of March. This led most of the businesses to temporarily suspend their operations and activities, while, at the same time, they were allowed to suspend the employment contracts without being required to pay salaries or damages and cover social insurance obligations. As a general measure, the country undertook the obligation to pay 800 Euros per employee whose contract was suspended.

Despite being absolutely necessary for the confrontation of the pandemic outbreak, the measures had dramatic consequences for the businesses and the Greek economy in general. In regards with the businesses, the most negative impact was the drastic fall of their turnovers and consequently their inability to perform their debt obligations, even for financially healthy companies. For this reason, the Greek Government has proceeded to the announcement of new measures, of financial nature this time, with a purpose to keep Greek businesses, to the extent possible, intact from the impact of the “lockdown” or at least to restrict the negative consequences.

Measures announced to be taken from May 2020

The Greek Government announced on 28th of April the undertaking of financial measures in order to relieve the Greek businesses and employees that were hit by Covid-19 outbreak and support the recommencement of the economy. The most important measures in relation to businesses are:

  • Financial aid to the Greek SMEs through loans granted by the Greek State that will be repaid in the next years with minimum interest rate based on each company’s performance. The total value of the aid will be 1 billion Euros, while each company will not receive more than 500.000 Euros. The main criteria require, first, the companies’ turnover to decrease due to Covid-19 outbreak and, second, the companies not to proceed to lay-offs.
  • Financial aid to the Greek SMEs through grant regarding business loans interest payments for a 3-month period (April, May & June 2020), provided that these companies were still performing on their debt obligations in relation to these loans and they have not proceeded to lay-offs.
  • Starting from May 2020, the Greek companies will be able to receive business loans by the Greek banks up to the amount that correspond to the 25% of their turnover with Greek State guarantees.
  • Suspension of VAT and assessed tax debt payments to the Greek State, however if a company pays the April 2020 instalment, a 25% discount is provided. Again, one of the necessary requirements is for the applying companies to retain the employment positions.

Considering that most of these applications can be made electronically through platforms, our law firm assist our clients in the electronic filling and submission of these applications. It, also, uses its contacts to get additional information, if needed, by making using of the available electronic means, so that the applications are properly filled. In these harsh times, the firm provides its advisory services with the best possible manner to assist the companies – clients, especially those hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Greece’s Economy

These liquidity measures are expected to relieve the Greek businesses which were forced to stop operating for more than one month (11 March 2020 – May 2020) and are now gradually being able to get back to their activities. The measures are considered to be of vital importance if taken into account that the country had just exited an 8-year financial recession implementing harsh economic re-adjustment and austerity measures. Except this, tourism constitutes the backbone of Greece’s economy and the largest contributor to its GDP and it is expected to be severely affected for 2020, as Covid-19 crisis broke out just before the summer.

According to the recently published IMF’s World Economic Outlook report, the projections for 2020 have been substantially altered, as the “lockdown” applied by the most of the Eurozone countries will have immense impact on their economic status. In particular, Greece is expected to lose approximately 10% out of its GDP for 2020, in contrary to the 2.2% GDP increase that was projected for the same year before the coronavirus outbreak. However, the country is forecasted to return to growth in the next year, to 5.1% for 2021. Despite the deeper economic impact for 2020, Greece’s recovery is projected to be more dynamic than other economies, such as Spain’s and Italy’s. This fact is justified by the timely actions of the Greek Government in response to the coronavirus outbreak and the periodic consequences of the tourism’s underperformance for 2020.

In the aftermath of the pandemic

The gradual lifting of the pandemic measures, starting from the 4th of May, earmarks the return to “normality” which will not be the same as known before. The epidemiologists warn that the pandemic is not over yet and the perils of another outbreak cannot be ignored. For this, the Greek Government has set, alongside the economic relief measures, certain rules in order to restrict the possibilities for the pandemic to break out again. These measures purport to minimise the personal contacts that could lead to the spread of the virus.

Among these rules, the most important for the companies are:

  • Flexible schedules must be followed for the next months, so that people attend their working place alternately.
  • Teleworking must be encouraged, where possible, to avoid unnecessary contacts.

Our law firm, trying to be in line with the recent legislation, has applied new methods in the working environment and in the manner, it delivers its legal services to our clients by making use the capabilities that technology offers today. Indicatively, the firm conduct their usual internal meetings only by electronic means through live video calls, while meetings with clients and fellow advisors are made through teleconferences maintaining the level of the services in the same standards as before. Also, the firm in order to protect its personnel applies a repeating working schedule enabling a certain number of associates/partners to attend the office each time, while in person meetings with clients are scheduled, where absolutely necessary, applying the hygiene rules.

Mason Advisory listed in 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain report

The thriving North West IT consultancy celebrates five years in operation so this accolade adds to the celebrations. The sixth edition of the London Stock Exchange Group’s 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain report celebrates some of the fastest-growing, dynamic SMEs with companies representing over 40 sectors and spanning every country and region across the UK. It also examines the opportunities and challenges facing businesses and looks at the sectors and trends that will shape the future of British economics.

To be included in the report, companies need to show positive revenue growth over the last three years and demonstrate that they are outperforming their sector peers.

Established by Steve Watmough, Mason Advisory has a growing reputation in the UK and globally as an IT specialist, renowned for its high-quality consultants, specialist skills, and support through digital transformation projects and partnerships. It counts many well-known brands as customers, from sectors such as finance, life sciences, retail, FMCG, emergency services, health, energy, water, education, government and transport.

Steve says: “This recognition is such a huge honour for us and the whole team is so excited to be featured in the report. In the last five years, we’ve had consistent revenue growth, expanded the team and developed our customer base in the UK and abroad. We have grown from a specialist player to a leading IT advisory company, competing with the industry heavyweights in the £8.2 billion UK management consultancy sector.

“We are in a position to build on our success, and accolades such as this one, strengthen our reputation in the marketplace and allow us to take the business to the next level.”

Steve adds: “Despite the uncertain, disruptive times we are in, I’m proud of the outstanding results our team continues to deliver and their hard work and commitment behind this fantastic achievement. Our success is down to the high calibre of consultants on the team and our shared desire to bring digital transformation and technological innovation to our customers around the world.”

David Schwimmer, CEO, London Stock Exchange Group, says: “Congratulations to all the companies selected for inclusion in the sixth edition of London Stock Exchange Group’s 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain report, which identifies the UK’s most dynamic SMEs. SMEs drive growth, innovation and job creation and are the lifeblood of the British economy. We believe that supporting the growth of these businesses is critical to the UK economy and the creation of a society that works for everyone.”

Earlier this year, Mason Advisory was recognised by the Financial Times as one of the fastest growing companies in Europe, and one of the leading management consultancies in the UK. It was awarded the Queen’s award for Enterprise in the international trade category, and was also recognised by Great Place to Work ® as a centre of Excellence in Wellbeing.

With offices at MediaCityUK, Salford, and London, Mason Advisory provides IT consultancy and advisory services, solving complex business challenges through the intelligent use of IT resources. Its range of advisory services includes IT strategy and transformation, sourcing, architecture, IT delivery, service management, operating model and organisational design.

The London Stock Exchange Group announced the 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain at a prestigious ceremony on 26th June at the Group’s headquarters in Paternoster Square, London.

€2 billion to fast forward the creation of European Innovation Council

Ahead of the 21-22 March European Council discussion on innovation, industry and competitiveness, the Commission takes decisive steps to set up a European Innovation Council.

Global competition is intensifying and Europe needs to deepen its innovation and risk-taking capability to compete on a market increasingly defined by new technologies. That is why the Juncker Commission is introducing a European Innovation Council (EIC) to turn Europe’s scientific discoveries into businesses that can scale up faster. Currently in its pilot phase, the European Innovation Council will become a full-fledged reality from 2021 under the next EU research and innovation programme Horizon Europe.

Carlos Moedas, Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation said: “With the European Innovation Council, we don’t simply put money on the table. We create a whole innovation system to place Europe at the forefront in strategic technologies and innovation that will shape our futures such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology and zero-emission energy. We must focus on the needs of the innovators, who are the ones who will generate jobs, strengthen our global competitiveness and improve our daily lives.”

The Commission launched in 2017 the pilot phase of the European Innovation Council, introducing open competitions and face-to-face interviews to identify and fund Europe’s most innovative start-ups and SMEs.Since then, 1276 highly innovative projects have already benefitted from an overall funding of over €730 million.

Today the Commission announces important steps that will ramp up the remaining two years of the pilot phase of the EIC:

Over €2 billion of funding in 2019-2020: covering the innovation chain: “pathfinder” projects to support advanced technologies from the research base (opens tomorrow); and “accelerator” funding to support startups and SMEs develop and scale up innovations to the stage where they can attract private investment (open in June). Under the “accelerator” funding companies will be able to access blended financing (grants and equity) of up to €15 million.

The Commission will appoint 15 to 20 innovation leaders to an EIC Advisory Board to oversee the EIC pilot, prepare the future EIC, and champion the EIC globally. Innovators from across the ecosystem are invited to come forward by 10 May.

The Commission will recruit a first set of “programme managers” with leading expertise in new technologies to provide full-time, hands-on support for projects. The call for recruitment will be published shortly.

Also today, the Commission announces 68 additional startups and SMEs selected for an overall funding of €120 million under the existing EIC pilot. The companies are for instance developing a blockchain-based online payment technology, new energy efficient screens and a solution to fight traffic noise (breakdown of beneficiaries per country and sector).

Given the growing economic importance of breakthrough and disruptive innovation, and based on the early success of the EIC pilot, the Commission has proposed to dedicate €10 billion to the EIC under Horizon Europe, the EU research and innovation funding programme for 2021-2027.

Background

With only 7% of the world’s population, Europe accounts for 20% of global R&D investment, produces one third of all high-quality scientific publications, and holds a world leading position in industrial sectors such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, mechanical engineering and fashion. But Europe needs to do better at turning that excellence into success, and generating global champions in new markets based on innovation. This is particularly the case for innovations based on radically new technologies (breakthrough) or markets (disruptive).

In June 2018, the Commission proposed the most ambitious Research and Innovation programme yet, Horizon Europe, with a proposed budget of €100 billion for 2021-2027. The proposal builds on the Commission’s contribution to the EU Leaders’ meeting on 16 May in Sofia “A renewed European Agenda for Research and Innovation – Europe’s chance to shape its future”, which highlighted the need to create a European Innovation Council and other steps to ensure Europe’s global competitiveness.

The conclusions of the European Council of 28 June 2018 endorsed the setting up of the EIC under the next long-term budget (2021-2027). EU leaders invited the Commission to launch a new pilot initiative on breakthrough innovation within the remaining period of Horizon 2020, in order to pave the way for a fully-fledged EIC in Horizon Europe.

The European Innovation Council is part of a wider ecosystem that the EU is putting in place to give Europe’s many entrepreneurs every opportunity to become world leading companies. Other initiatives include a Pan-European Venture Capital Funds-of-Funds programme (VentureEU), the Investment Plan for Europe (EFSI), the work of the European Institute for Innovation and Technology, the Capital Markets Union Action Plan to improve access to finance or the proposal for a Directive on business insolvency.

Legal challenges for a growing defence market

The IDEX conference just concluded last week in Abu Dhabi demonstrated the intertwining nature of the threats that the world currently faces in dealing with malevolent actors, as well as the resilient manner in which government and industry have developed countermeasures to deal with this ever-increasing threat spectrum.

The UAE is at the forefront of adopting 4IR technology for the public benefit. Given this adoption, the UAE government has enacted a legal framework to regulate the use of cyber-technology and related forward-looking innovations. However, as is the case with almost all emerging technologies, legislation and regulatory guidance often plays catch up with the technology, and there are gaps that need to be cured as the technology advances.

There are numerous UAE laws and regulations covering various aspects of 4IR technology, including Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 covering cyber-crimes, and the newly enacted Federal Law No. 25 of 2018 dealing with futuristic projects, which seeks to regulate development of AI. However, the latter has yet to be fully implemented through its enabling regulation, leading to some marketplace uncertainty.

Likewise, the various free zone authorities, particularly the DIFC and ADGM, have separate regulatory schemes covering such technology. Thus, stakeholders need to be aware of the legal landscape in which this technology is currently being developed and deployed.

This terrain creates opportunities for both large corporations and SMEs alike to develop and deploy innovative solutions to defend against malevolent actors, including threats posed by terrorism and cyber-criminals, as well as the inevitable byproduct of non-malicious technological failures inherent in all emerging technologies.

For more information about BSA Ahmad Bin Hezeem & Associates LLP, please visit https://bsabh.com/

How to choose the right accounting software for Making Tax Digital

Many businesses faced with complying with Making Tax Digital (MTD) need to take some time to assess their current business needs, how these might change in the near to medium-term future, and figure out what technology they’ll need to comply.

The key driver behind MTD is to move businesses, no matter their size, to some form of digital accounting. MTD is seen as not only a major efficiency win for the enterprises concerned, but it also enables the government to streamline the tax systems that are in place today. In an ideal world, this would mean an online tax account for every business and self-employed person, for fast and efficient tax filing.

However, how businesses use IT can vary significantly, particularly as access to certain technologies is not always possible. Adopting MTD may be a significant challenge for some enterprises, while for others it will require little more than a few tweaks to their existing systems. The vast majority of companies will, however, fall between these two extremes.

It because of this that calls have been issued to delay the rollout of MTD, currently expected to arrive in April, something that the UK government has seemingly rejected.

Tax shouldn’t be taxing

How your business’ digital accounting systems will evolve will, of course, depend on many factors. Your company may already use some form of digital accounting software, so the question may be, does this application need to be upgraded to be compatible with MTD?

With research from Spiceworks revealing 52% of businesses are still using Windows XP, this doesn’t bode well for small enterprises keeping their accounting applications up-to-date.

There is also the matter of training and competence with the applications, especially if these are new to your company. It won’t be possible to instantly use any of the cloud-based applications without a period of training. Factoring this into your transition period is vital.

Small business owners are also concerned that their level of technical knowledge won’t be good enough to avoid what could be costly mistakes when choosing new digital accounting systems.

Peter Ford, public sector industry principal at Pegasystems, says that his company is working with HMRC to develop their front facing services.

“Digital solutions used by SMEs and their agents should offer the customer experience that allows them to complete online filing without any technical knowledge, and only the level of business engagement that one would expect any other major mandatory function within their organisation. Systems that HMRC provide, including APIs, interfaces and online services should be equally easy to use that will allow an SME to complete digital filing as they would any other regular business function, such as paying staff.”

Your business’s current level of technical knowledge will determine how complex supporting MTD will be for your company. Small businesses, in particular, will have to potentially make the most radical changes, as until now they may have simply completed their own self-assessment tax form. In the world of MTD, moving to a hosted accounting service will be unavoidable.

Understanding your objectives

Mark Taylor, a technical manager in the Technical Innovation wing of the Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW), explains to IT Pro that businesses need to assess their requirements before choosing an MTD software provider.

“Choosing an MTD application should be approached in the same manner as selecting business software,” explains Taylor. “An organisation should start with understanding its business objectives, what problem are you attempting to address? In this case MTD.

“Next, technology requirements need to be considered. Should the application be cloud-based? Do you need to support mobile devices or need to integrate with an existing application? Once these requirements have been established, a business can start to research possible solutions.

He explains that some businesses have found success with a scorecard approach, in which each application is marked against a company’s existing systems and requirements, with the totalled scores revealing the best overall package. How a business implements this system isn’t important – what matters is that it helps to “formalise the selection process and provide more assurance that the right application is being selected.”

As with all software moves, pitfalls are almost certainly going to be encountered, yet, given the fierce market competition that is developing ahead of the April deadline, vendors will be trying to make the onboarding process as simple as possible.

“Software vendors often provide trial versions of their applications for free,” explains Taylor. “The key to making successful use of these trials is to use them with realistic data and in a representative manner. Casually playing with an application will not provide sufficient insight as to how well it will integrate into your business.”

Approaching the transition to digital accounting and tax filing needs all the due diligence you would use when choosing any new services for your business. Today, the cloud-based accounting market has continued to expand and evolve. Stalwarts of business accounting such as Sage have been joined by newer services such as FreeAgent and Crunch. What they all attempt to do is simplify the accounting and tax filing processes all business must comply with.

As each application or service is different, one size doesn’t fit all. Take your time to talk to other businesses in your sector. Case studies and information from your business’s trade associations can often shed light on the shortcomings of some applications or services you may not be aware of. Use this knowledge to make sure you purchase the right digital services to comply with MTD.

Business France focused on future, despite stalled negotiations

While the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership hangs in mid-air, Robert Blumel is optimistic about French investments being made in the Southeast U.S. and conversely the potential for Atlanta-based start-ups and small-to-medium sized firms in France and Europe.

Having spent the past three years in Atlanta representing the Business France agency and four years beforehand in New York. Mr. Blumel told Advisory Excellence that he has seen “an increased interest from French companies to expand to the Southeast region and especially Atlanta.”

Business France was founded in 2015 to support the international development of the French economy and is responsible for fostering and supporting growth by French businesses as well as promoting and facilitating international investment in France.

As prime examples, Mr. Blumel cited Groupe PSA, a French multinational manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles, which opened this year its North American headquarters in Atlanta, and Airbus S.A.S.‘s choice of Atlanta for its commercial drone subsidiary.

Granted PSA’s entry into Atlanta is part of a deliberately conservative foray executed with the use of its technology to determine potential markets for its array of products. Nevertheless it’s success in Europe augurs well for its Atlanta-based initiative.

Airbus’ wholly-owned subsidiary Airbus Aerial aims to sell its services to a wide array of industries in their efforts to capture helpful data from above through the use of drones or satellites.

This year Airbus Aerial received a Crystal Peach award from the Atlanta-based French-American Chamber of Commerce for its investment.

The Crystal Peach Awards ceremony is in its 14th year and other recipients for either inbound investment into the Southeast or outbound investment into France included Imerys, a French multinational firm specialised in the producing and processing of industrial materials.

Last fall Imerys USA Inc. celebrated the opening of its global Science & Technology Centre in Suwanee, Ga., one of nine networked centres around the world for the sharing of ideas, equipment and competencies across Imerys.

Mr. Blumel also pointed to the investments in France by Crystal Peach award winners Invest Asset Management SA/France, a branch of Invesco Ltd., an independent investment management company that is headquartered in Atlanta, and Cognira, a start-up specialized in cognitive retail analytics that received this year’s Crystal Peach entrepreneurship award.

He is especially supportive of Cognira’s entry into France which he has been assisting. “They are growing fast,” he said, acknowledging the role played by Business France in its development there.

“I see Atlanta becoming a vibrant start-up scene with very promising companies,” he added. “I have been identifying start-ups with great ideas, services or products and helping them in their business development strategies in France and in Europe.”

Among his activities as the agency’s director for the Southeast, he said that he is responsible for hosting delegations such as the representatives from 11 French paper company suppliers whom he introduced recently to South-eastern paper and board manufacturers.

He also has been selected to participate on juries such as those choosing companies for the Atlanta-Toulouse start-up exchange in 2016 and 2017, the Young Enterprise Initiative in 2016, a start-up competition organized by the French embassy in Washington, and the Crystal Peach Awards committee.

Additionally, he arranged for the CEOs of United Parcel Service Inc., AGCO Corp. and the Coca-Cola Co. to participate in the French International Business Summit held in January that drew to Versailles 140 of the leading executives of the world’s largest firms to learn first hand from French President Emmanuel Macron and the prime minister, Edouard Philippe, France’s desires for international investment.

Whatever delays negotiations over TTIP or tariffs may impose on French-U.S. business relations, Mr. Blumel said that at the local level cross-investment is progressing at a gallop, especially for start-ups and SMEs on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Atlanta-based start-ups are hot,” he said. “And Business France can help them in their business development in Europe and France.”

Mr. Blumel may be reached by email [email protected] or calling 347-567-1140.