How financial appraisals are not necessarily as objective as you might think.

I have been wanting to write about this for some time. There has been increasing awareness that bias exists in business decision making recently. A close relative of mine works in the tech industry, as it happens. They have personal experience of the unpleasant biases of software developers manifesting in the end product that the customer could see. The tech industry is starting to become aware that its algorithms suck. See this picture of Barak Obama below put through de-pixelator if you don’t agree!*

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Depixilator working on Barack Obama — courtesy of Forbes

In this article, I’m going to wonder if things closer to home might suck as well. We will consider financial appraisals are also vulnerable to the beliefs and biases of the techie people involved, and what we can do about it. …

Hello again. I thought it would be good to do a short summary of the year. I’ve enjoyed writing weeknotes and blogs. Its been a very helpful discipline and I have got better with some practice. Writing as a process helps me get clear on what I truly think about a topic. This kind of reflection becomes even more important as of course 2020 has made it much harder to talk in person.

It certainly has been a year of change. I’ll leave some of the 2020 cliches to others better informed than me. But I do think the adage that 2020 has not created change but accelerated existing change has some truth to it. And, as we already know, the future is already here but not evenly distributed (William Gibson, who wrote the amazing and complex Neuromancer thirty years ago). There has been something strange this year. It has been endless change, complexity and drama on the one hand. I still haven’t recovered from US election doomscrolling tbh! And yet at the same time the odd feeling of groundhog day, one day much feeling like another, safely ensconced at home. It has been useful to connect to nature and the heavens, this year like no other. The rhythm of the passing seasons has helped. …

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Roath Park Lake — a lovely little reserve near my home (my photo)

An exploration of surpluses, reserves and risk in a not for profit context.

I have wanted to write about this for some time. The relationship with surpluses, levels of reserves and risk is a common issue. It happens in all sorts of not-for-profit contexts, so it is surprising there isn’t too much written on it.

My definition of not for profits is pretty broad, I should add. I’m including charities, the social housing sector, social enterprises and similar. I suspect it will be of relevance in for-profit organisations too. They need to make similar decisions about dividends and what to leave in a business. …

Revelations and suggestions on how to deal with Bikeshedding

Have you ever been in a meeting where you seem to spend an eternity discussing something relatively trivial, and then microseconds on something significant?

If the answer is yes, the chances are you’ve been Bikeshedding…

Bikeshedding is the common name for Parkinson’s Law of Triviality: … ‘the amount of time a committee will spend discussing an item is inversely proportional to the importance of that issue’.

So, if the issue is huge, complicated and really important, the meeting will spend far less time discussing it than something that is straightforward and less important. The classic example given by Parkinson was along the lines of a decision to build a Nuclear Power Station costing multi-billions being decided in 5 minutes. In comparison the discussion of where to site the employee bike sheds lasts 45 minutes. Bikeshedding. …

As we tidy up our files after the AGM, and the leaves fall from the trees, it feels a bit like the end of term here at Valleys to Coast. I am keen to share our progress on governance in the last year. There has been a lot going on!

We have made great strides in the last twelve months or so. We have new rules approved (2017 model sector rules), as part of the channel shift right across the sector. This has allowed us to move to a truly skills-based and remunerated Board. The benefits of that have been noticeable right from the off. We now have four new Board Members, onboarded this year, who are already making a huge contribution. …

So, I’m back. I have really missed my weeknotes column and this topic has been brewing in my head for most of the week now. I have clearly got the bug! This is a personal reflection — feel free to disagree. And it’s a simple one — how come email stinks and what can we do about it.

The problem

I do hate email — I must confess. I open it with a sigh, at best, and sometimes a bit of dread each morning. And I can’t wait to close it again. I don’t love it at all, but at the same time feel its not really work if I don’t have it open. I confess to having a lot of FOMO. …

Firstly, a wrap of the week. Been a good week this week in summary, some interesting conversations, particularly on leadership (in discussion with our new leadership coaches, who are putting together a leadership development programme, and it was comforting to know we are not the only ones grappling with change) and also on equality and diversity, where we have started to get the ball rolling with the champions, using collaborative tools to do so. Working well so far, but will be interesting to see if all of the colleagues adopt it and are comfortable with it. Also made some progress on my treasury strategy and am in a position to write something up with the Board at the end of the September (rather early for me, so that’s good). …

This week the themes have been very much about wellness, and equality, diversity and inclusion. It kicked off with a productive conversation on equality with the Board. As with all of these things though, its the preparation before the Board meeting which really adds the value, and not just the meeting itself. We have also been giving a lot of thought to wellbeing and how we work smarter this week.

I have also had two weeks annual leave — hence the week notes break of course, which has much recharged my batteries and allowed me bit more perspective and thinking time. I was certainly more zen than normal during a long Board meeting on my first day back! Although it did rather feel that some other Sarah had been involved in the reports I wrote. Alongside equality, I have been working on treasury this week but there has been a definite theme of wellness in all sorts of ways, which I think I have noticed with a fresher eye this week — watching the adjustment between holiday life and work life, and the impact that has on my family too. …

Hello everyone. We have been finalising our 30-year financial plan this week in readiness to go to the Board and then the lenders and regulators. I know some sectors consider 5 years as a long term plan, not 30, (outside sector FD usually react to this with a mixture of mirth and pity) but we are a long term sector, I guess.

It makes me recall a recently retired FD I know who spent just long enough in the sector to last out his first thirty plan. To young me, this would have seemed ridiculous. But it's worth noting I am more than halfway through my first plan now myself. Eek! I don’t work for that organisation of course so can’t comment if it is on track, although I have my suspicions! But it does make me wonder what welsh social housing will look like in 30 year’s time. It's a robust sector which has ridden out many challenges before after all. Despite this, however, I suspect that Covid-19, the ultimate accelerant for change*, which will stretch housing associations like never before. …

This week I have been doing some voluntary work as well as the usual stuff, and a long but successful Board meeting in the day job (although I think we probably reached our natural limit at three hours!)

I am lucky enough to be on the Board of Tai Pawb (@TaiPawb), a charity which promotes equality and social justice in Welsh housing and I am about to start as Trustee with the Institute of Welsh Affairs. I also do some volunteering work in my local community. …


Sarah Prescott

Experienced Chief Finance Officer -track record in Welsh social housing and third sector. Chartered Accountant (FCA BFP). Views my own - my space for blogging.

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