Victorian Leaders

Wage Inspectorate Victoria helps 15,000 people in first year

MORE THAN 15,000 Victorians received help from Wage Inspectorate Victoria during its first 12 months, the regulator’s end of financial year figures reveal.

“We’ve had a successful and balanced first year, educating businesses and workers about the law and taking appropriate compliance action,” Wage Inspectorate Victoria Commissioner Robert Hortle said. “These have been equal focuses for the new statutory authority.

“We’re aiming to have an even bigger impact over the next 12 months through our intelligence-led compliance activities, prosecutions and the release of new educational resources, including e-learning courses and multilingual videos, to make complying with the law even easier.”

Most requests for help came through phone calls from employees and businesses seeking information about long service leave, child employment, wage theft and owner driver laws. Mr Hortle said 295 Victorians claimed they were underpaid long service leave and $309,367 was recouped with the regulator’s help, taking the total recovered over the past four years to more than $1.5 million. 

The Wage Inspectorate also took strong action in the courts, with seven matters before court during the financial year, including its successful action against Coles Supermarkets that led to more than 4000 workers being paid back in excess of $700,000 in long service leave.

The financial year figures show that 7758 permits were issued to employers of children under 15 years and that 329 child employment compliance checks and investigations were conducted. The regulator’s child employment team also conducted almost 100 field visits and sent over 200 letters to businesses suspected of employing children under 15 years to educate them about the law.

In one of the most serious cases taken to court, a travelling circus pleaded guilty to three charges, admitting it breached the law by employing Chinese nationals as acrobats without a mandatory child employment permit. One of the children spent 10 days in hospital after being hit by a trapeze.

The Wage Inspectorate also commenced intelligence-led, criminal wage theft investigations using the powers granted under Victoria’s new wage theft laws, including executing search warrants, issuing compulsory notices, entering premises and seizing evidence.

Hirers of owner drivers were audited too, with the Wage Inspectorate checking compliance with Victoria’s owner driver and forestry contractor laws for 259 individual drivers.

The retail, hospitality, manufacturing and services industries were the most likely to call the Wage Inspectorate. About 3000 calls came from employers seeking to understand their obligations, with employees, parents or people calling on behalf of a worker or business making up the rest.

The entertainment, retail, and hospitality industries accounted for over half of all child employment permits applied for. While Victoria came in and out of COVID-19 restrictions, officers supported applicants with advice about how business openings and closures would affect their permits.

More than 286,000 people accessed the Wage Inspectorate’s online tools, with its long service leave, child employment and wage theft pages the most popular resources.

“It’s our vision to create productive and prosperous Victorian workplaces. That means fairer conditions for workers and a level playing field for businesses, so they’re not undercut by law breakers,” Mr Hortle said.

www.wageinspectorate.vic.gov.au

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Melbourne assists business events with $100k to attract workers back to CBD

MELBOURNE's office workers will be drawn back to the CBD through a series of business events supporting innovation and collaboration. 

The City of Melbourne initiative will see 20 organisations benefit from grants totalling $100,000. 

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said the funding, allocated through the Business Event Sponsorship Program, would support conferences, meetings and other business forums in Melbourne over the next six months.  

“Office workers make up the majority of midweek customers for our traders, who have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” the Lord Mator Capp said. 

“Prior to the pandemic, nearly 14 million delegates visited Victoria each year, armed with knowledge, bold ideas and experiences to share with likeminded colleagues.  

“We know a strong calendar of business events strengthens our city’s knowledge-based industry sectors, which thrive when people come together and share ideas.  

“The events receiving funding from this program will give office workers a great reason to return to the city, as they rediscover the benefits of face-to-face collaboration.”  

Business and Global Opportunities portfolio lead, Councillor Kevin Louey said the supported events will draw thousands of people to the CBD, providing a number of industries with a much-needed boost.  

“Whether a delegate attends a large conference or a specialised workshop, they are supporting local venues, technicians and event hire companies, along with our hospitality and accommodations sectors,” Cr Louey said.  

“Some of the best ideas and deals happen in person, which is why we’re delighted to fund events that stimulate innovation and business growth here in Melbourne.”  

RMIT University received a $10,000 grant for its three-day Future/Inclusive Festival in the CBD.  

RMIT xecutive director of policy, strategy and impact Tom Bentley said the university’s event would explore ideas around sustainability across Melbourne, the region and the world.  

"Inclusion - across many dimensions - is key to reactivating Melbourne mid and post-pandemic, creating a city that is more equitable and vibrant than ever before,” Mr Bentley said.  

“We are thrilled to partner with the City of Melbourne to bring to life public ideas about inclusion, resilience, and what our city needs right now, to make a positive impact for Melbourne’s community, economy and broader society."   

In addition to funding, the City of Melbourne will also offer in-kind marketing and promotional support to recipients.   

Funded events must be delivered by June 30, 2022 and adhere to the Victorian Government’s COVIDSafe settings.  

For a full list of grant recipients under the Business Event Sponsorship Program, visit the City of Melbourne website

 

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NCS Group brings to account true strategic financial advisory services

NCS GROUP Chartered Accountants was founded in 2003 on the belief that good small-and-medium-sized businesses could grow more effectively with the benefit of financial accounting advice that was in the league of the Big Four accounting firms.

Founders Sharryn Carey-Nicholls and Andrew Nicholls also believed that their family business approach – highlighted by as much partner-client personal service as possible – and a dedication to research would be the way to deliver a great service relationship. 

“My wife Sharryn Carey-Nicholls and I founded the practice on July 1, 2003,” NCS Group Chartered Accountants director and CEO Andrew Nicholls said.

“We established the practice with a view that SMEs and professional individuals were missing out on true strategic financial advisory services,” he said. “This was mainly the domain of the Big Four accounting firms and perhaps some of the next level firms.

“Most sub-corporate businesses were simply dealing with their accountants on a form filling exercise – BAS, tax returns and financial statements. From day one, we have been fully involved with our clients in forecasting, risk management and strategic business decision making.

“We consider ourselves ‘boutique’ by design. Our feedback has always been, clients want access to partners and expertise within their accounting suppliers.

“We can’t provide that level of service with a large number of clients. Therefore, we tend to refuse more potential clients than we take on,” Mr Nicholls said.

“That’s not trying to be snobby. We are looking for clients whom we can partner with, respect our experience and advice and, likewise, will take advice from us in the future direction of our client’s business. We look to ourselves as partners with our clients – not merely compliance service providers.”

STRONG PEDIGREE

Prior to founding NCS, Sharryn Carey-Nicholls had previously worked for large and small chartered accounting firms in the tax advisory space. Husband Andrew Nicholls’ background encompassed large chartered accounting firms, trading and investment banks and management consulting firms. 

So both were well briefed in the demands of accounting for various sized business across many industries. Their hunch about the shape of a successful practice was verified in short time as the business grew strongly from its original base in Melbourne. Soon clients with Sydney offices were asking NCS to extend northwards – and that happened in the past year with a new office in Sydney.

NCS is now mid-way through an entry strategy into the Sydney market and, just like the Melbourne growth, results to date have exceeded expectations.

“We changed our branding during this period,” Mr Nicholls said. “This has provided a fresh new look to the practice as well. We are proud of being able to assist our clients in their financial objectives.”

In such a practice, giving staff freedom and leeway to meet client needs has been important – and it has also influenced NCS’s recent move to ‘Cloud’ technology.

“We provide a flexible work environment for our staff – we continue to successfully balance our staff’s private commitments with our firm’s requirements. This differentiates us from other firms which merely talk about flexibility,” Mr Nicholls said.

“A large number of our staff have encompassed return to work parents, which has been a successful strategy for us and worked really well with them.”

One ongoing challenge has been to find experienced staff willing to work in a small firm with a personal approach, rather than join the climb to the top of large firms.

“Finding experienced staff who wish to work in a small firm continues to be a challenge. It’s a frustration, the difficulty in recruiting appropriately experienced staff into a small practice like ours.”

The way NCS does business also places it in an unusual position when it comes to observing the challenges its clients face on a daily basis.

“We have noticed over the past few years, and we are becoming more aware of, the mental health aspects of some of our small business clients from time to time,” he said. “The link between mental health problems and financial difficulties results in business owners under enormous stress resulting from long hours, cash flow issues as well as copious amounts of paperwork.

“The nature of our advisory role means we maintain a very close working relationship with our clients. This means whilst not in a position – and nor do we intend – to diagnose and treat mental illness, we do find ourselves having more sensitive discussions with our clients with an aim to encourage those impacted to seek support or treatment from appropriately qualified mental health professionals.”

NEW WAYS FORWARD

NCS Group is continuing its general program of moving to an increased mix in its fee generation towards advisory services such as cash forecasting, budgeting, business finance for growth, and industry analysis.

In fact, research and development (R&D) opportunities continue to emerge for NCS.

“Whilst we don’t practise in the R&D Incentives space, we have fantastic partners who assist our clients in this area,” Mr Nicholls said of the often complex Federal Government incentive programs for R&D. However, in its own area of R&D, NCS continues to evolve.

“Identifying and managing the various risks involved in running a business has always been a major part of our work,” Mr Nicholls said. “This continues to grow each year.

“We carefully manage the growth in our business each year. As I mentioned earlier, we established our practice with a view to providing partner access to all clients – which is a major complaint from our new clients about their previous accountant. Accordingly, our growth tends to come from providing additional services to existing clients. 

“We have had a specific strategy over the past year in increasing our practice in the Sydney market. With the assistance of the Leaders Network, our expansion into Sydney has been most satisfying. The support of members, experts and advisory board members has been enormous.

“We have been very successful in this respect, and this has led to many referral opportunities from our clients. We are always most grateful for client referrals as it is the ultimate compliment about the work we are doing for them.

“Referrals from existing clients demonstrate to us that we are doing something right.”

Another significant change that has worked immediately to assist in the mobility of NCS Group staff has been the move to the ‘Cloud’ – although the decision only came after exhaustive work on cyber security.

“After much thought and discussion over the past 12 months, we have moved all of our servers into the Cloud,” Mr Nicholls said.

“Given the amount of sensitive information we hold on behalf of clients, the decision making aspect was a very long process in terms of risk management – that is selecting the right provider – as well as ensuring we have an appropriate backup strategy in place.”

That effort was worth it, Mr Nicholls said, because of the real-time accessibility of referring to and working on files in various client locations.

“Cyber security is an increasing risk to all of us. So we continually update our staff with education on identifying and managing potential threats to our systems.”

AGILE APPROACH

NCS Group knows that its real value to clients is not in completing compliance tasks but in researching the business, finance and taxation environment and assisting clients to navigate them effectively.

In doing so, NCS directors and staff can also find themselves navigating mental health issues of small business owners – often recommending their clients seek professional help – and through NCS’s own strict cyber security regime can also help clients to be aware of cyber risk.

One area NCS cannot influence, but can help clients navigate, according to Mr Nicholls is “the current state of Federal and State Governments in terms of passing legislation quickly”.

“Governments keep meddling with existing superannuation and taxation legislation,” Mr Nicholls said. “This means there is a lot of uncertainty as individuals and businesses try to plan for the future.

“Leave super alone,” he said. Instead, Mr Nicholls advised, governments should “reduce the amount of tax legislation and associated compliance issues for all taxpayers. That’s the way to help small and medium business.”

NCS Group will ‘stick to the knitting’ of carefully managed growth over the next 12 months, “ensuring we maintain our promise of access to clients” according to Mr Nicholls.

And NCS Group will stay true to its original mission of providing true financial advisory services to the SME and professional individual sectors around the country.

“Our advice is typically forward looking whilst at the same time ‘painlessly’ looking after historical compliance matters,” Mr Nicholls said.

“Our mantra is ‘Respect for the Past, Focussed on the Future’. Today, our mission remains firm.”

 

About NCS Group Chartered Accountants 

NCS Group Chartered Accountants specialises in providing the type of well informed accounting and financial advice to small and medium businesses that major accounting practices provide, but in a personalised way.. The practice’s best-known brands are NCS and NCS-Nicholls, operating across the Accounting, Taxation and Finance sectors for businesses across a wide spectrum of industries.

NCS Group is led by Director-Principal Sharryn Carey-Nicholls and Director-CEO Andrew Nicholls. The company likes to describe its size and style as ‘boutique’.

www.ncs-group.com.au

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Australian-developed VaultID brings financial inclusion to the world's 'Unbanked'

A NEW financial technology venture developed from Melbourne is providing a global solution for people who struggle with safe digital verification for financial transactions.

Digital verification is a legislated element of all financial transactions as institutions are required to comply with national and international know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money-laundering laws (AML).

Named VaultID, the company is able to solve the most pressing of all financial problems in developing economies, where almost 2 billion people (the Unbanked) have no digital footprint to verify themselves and participate in the digital financial economy, performing such tasks that we take for granted like transferring money to family members.  

Existing companies offering to verify consumers are failing both the consumer and the financial institutions in at least three ways, VaultID CEO Jason Edwards said.

First, these companies have not identified the fastest economically growing sector in APAC - the Unbanked.

Second, the existing banked consumer digital footprint is fading,

“Consumers have lost trust in verification platforms that involve third party data suppliers who hold and disclose outdated personal information without appropriate consent, so they are withholding their details,” Mr Edwards said.

Third, in-country and cross border legislative compliance has increased greatly over the last five years.

Mr Edwards said, “Enabling consumer verification supporting a financial transaction within a framework of personal data sovereignty, security and transparency is the new challenge that VaultID has solved.

"VaultID has been developed by some of Australia’s brightest fintech minds to solve this very real problem and has created myVault.”

VaultID technology includes optical character recognition (OCR) verification and facial recognition biometric verification built into a simple-to-use application called myVault. Built on this core, VaultID has added social and semi-official touch point (for example, post office) verification scoring, all of which adds up to a new non-traditional approach to creating a digital footprint owned by the consumer.

VaultID’s onboarding service for financial institutions is an API that links the institutions with the consumer through myVault and allows the institution access to the consumer verified score, if authorised to do so by the consumer. 

The VaultID institutional API is embedded in the company transactional customer onboarding web page. The consumer simply provides their email or mobile number to the webpage and they are then prompted in myVault for authorisation to pass on their verified score to the institution.

“Think of this part of the process as two factor authorisation similar to recovering a lost password with an SMS code," said Michael Peel VaultID CTO.  “Consumers have total control over whom they authorise access to myVault for verification purposes.”

HOW VAULTID WORKS

VaultID’s myVault application creates a financial digital footprint for the Unbanked driven by inbuilt services enabling a bank account, money cards (debit and credit), micro-loans, lending, online purchases and money transfers.

By applying personal biometric verification, and core financial services through the myVault application, VaultID provides the ability to create a ‘true’ real time and appropriate know-your-customer and anti-money-laundering (KYC/AML) profile.

Mr Edwards said, “Above all we leave the verification process in the hands of the consumer; myVault is about consumer ownership and trust.

“VaultID builds trust with consumers through the myVault account which ensures they, and only they, control the contents of their myVault

“VaultID brings a new level of consumer verification services to any company wanting to onboard new or existing customers and complete legislative compliance to an unprecedented level of accuracy,” Mr Edwards said.

 

THE VAULTID GO-TO-MARKET STRATEGY

The VaultID go to market strategy is simple: distributing its core technology through existing partnerships with unbanked service providers in such countries as Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and East Timor reaching the Unbanked.

 

IPO PLANNED

Mr Edwards said the process is underway for an initial public offering (IPO) in the fourth quarter of 2019.

The milestones set have been for the myVault banking integrated app to launch in May-June, following on from the successful launch of its beta version in December last year. The blockchain-enabled platform is expected in August, 2019, and the IPO through the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in September.

Mr Edwards said, “We have also recently had it confirmed that East Timor has agreed to be a foundation client.

“Revenue in 2018 was $418,000 and the company delivered a net profit of $150,000,” he said.

VaultID is currently raising seed capital of $750,000 on a $3.5 million market valuation, with an estimated IPO/RTO raise of $5m on an $8m-$10m valuation. 

“We believe this Australian fintech innovation will help to solve a real and growing problem in national and international financial markets,” Mr Edwards said.

www.vaultid.com

 

About VaultID

VaultID is a financial technology company being launched to resolve vital issues of digital verification of ownership in financial transactions that exist in most developing economies.

VaultID’s main branded product is the app myVault. The company is planning an IPO on the ASX later this year. Leading Vault ID are CEO Jason Edwards, Chairman Jitto Arulampalam, CTO Michael Peel, and Cloud Infrastructure Manager Stephen Dendtler. VaultID is headquartered in Melbourne.

Ph: 1300 249 070. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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Australian eHat to transform field work

VICTORIA-BASED startup eHatsystems Pty Ltd is leading the way in the new sector of ‘industrial strength wearables’ with its unique eHat product.

The eHat is worn by staff on job sites to communicate through video and sound in a live link with supervisors and expert instructors. 

By using the eHat, staff have their hands free to conduct work while advisors watch the process and provide advice utilising the common vision and sound link.

This real time interactivity offers a common vision of the job at hand and improves safety, according to eHatsystems inventor and founder, Terry Lancaster.

“This improves the quality of the job, speeds up decision-making and avoids unnecessary re-work costs,” Mr Lancaster said.

“With the eHatsystems platform, we want to empower field workers and will change the way they work with the inclusion of augmented and artificial intelligent systems.”

The eHatsystems operational space is part of a new industry being called Industrial Strength Wearables, Mr Lancaster said.

“We have a specific interest in using this class of wearable in the application of knowledge transfer services,” he said.

“The problem we are solving is brought about because of increasing skill shortages.This problem is well documented as an emerging one and is already having an effect on productivity.

“This is particularly true for ‘in-field’ operations. A job cannot be completed due to lack of specialist knowledge; a completed field job does not meet quality expectations; or, a job in the field takes longer to complete than it should,” Mr Lancaster said. 

“The resultant costs are enormous: extended repair and maintenance downtime, dispatch of senior technicians or experts, missed opportunities for junior staff to learn on-the-job, and sometimes, unfortunately, accidents.”

The eHat solution to this problem allows field staff  to communicate with a ‘live’ link, hands-free with supervisors and experts, at the work face. It allows both parties to engage interactively and safely with a common vision of the job at hand.

“This improves the quality of the job, speeds up decision-making and avoids unnecessary re-work costs,” eHatsystems acting general manager Benjamin Jacobs said.

“With the eHatsystems platform, we want to empower field workers and will change the way they work with the inclusion of augmented and artificial intelligent systems.”

Mr Jacobs said the eHat was a certified, lightweight and balanced hard hat with integrated video camera, lights, headphones, microphones, batteries and a control panel, 

The eHat communicates through a dedicated smartphone app and is embedded in a private cloud-based network that enables live streaming of video and audio over thousands of kilometres.

“Knowledge transfer is therefore made easy,” Mr Jacobs said. “We intend to produce another model, which will be developed with all the smartphone facilities built-in.”

As an application developed within the Internet of Things (IoT), Mr Jacobs said the value of the eHatsystems offering was enhanced further by services generated from storing job information, visual analysis and environmental server data.

Examples of such services include video recording and analysis, the transmission of documents, as well as alerts for workers.

In the future, he said, eHat would be used to provide ‘augmented visual assistance (AVA).

“Eventually, we believe an eHat wearer will receive live instructions from an intelligent machine in the cloud through visual analysis and storage data techniques,” Mr Jabobs said.

“We are an Australian startup company in process of commercialisation of its product and with the help of further investment, will have an international product very soon,” he said.

The eHatsystems team is an executive member of the 2018 Victorian Leaders group, part of the International Leaders organisation that is helping to develop Australia’s next generation of leading companies.. 

www.ehatsystems.com.au

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Centec takes security to next level for better business

THE growing sophistication of business security systems has driven the transformation of Victorian company Centec Security Group to both meet current demand and better equip companies for the future.

Centec Security Group managing director Peter Hinton said integrated security systems played a vital role in areas as diverse as energy efficiency and employee safety for progressive modern businesses.

“Many times I have been asked ‘are you the alarm guy?’ In years long gone by the answer to this would have been yes,” Mr Hinton said. 

“Although we still use the three systems we have traditionally used (alarm, access control and CCTV) these days with continual development and integration into third party devices we find ourselves being more of a technology company rather than just an electronic security company,” he said.

One of the biggest changes has been the development of closed circuit television (CCTV) to not only protect premises from external threats, but also as a way of enhancing a business’s workplace health and safety systems.

“Now we all know the primary purpose of CCTV is to capture and record images, but for business owners there are now added benefits to these systems,” Mr Hinton said. 

“Occupational health and safety (OH&S) has become a major part of business practice over the last decade. CCTV systems can help business owners not only manage their staff, but have footage should an incident occur, limiting their liability.

“Cameras are now helping many sectors of society,” Mr Hinton said. “CCTV images are helping police in their investigations and councils are implementing street schemes using wireless mesh networks to help keep our streets safe.”

Another fascinating use of CCTV is in tracking and managing customer flows and behaviour, obtaining data about customer buying patterns which has never been available before.

“Retail stores are using people counting to see how many people come into their store and heat mapping to see where they spend their time while in store,” Mr Hinton said. “All of this helps the marketing departments in terms of store set up and product placement.

“Thermal cameras are being used for anything from wide area perimeter protection, fire detection, plant management, employee management to horse care in stables.”

Although the primary function of business security systems remains, there are increasing variations on how access and alarm technologies can be applied to benefit businesses in other ways – even to help save money.

“These systems are now integrated and can be used as a very powerful platform to manage and secure business premises,” Mr Hinton said. “Utility costs keep going up and up.

“If your alarm system is on, that means there is nobody in your building. So why would you leave your lighting, air conditioning and non-essential power on or leave it up to your employees to switch them off?

“With third party integration we can simply turn off all these system when the alarm is turned on. In the event of an alarm we can switch on lighting to further deter intruders.”

Mr Hinton said access control could also be used to track employees and restrict their movements.

“And we can also download this information into payroll systems,” Mr Hinton said.

“Science fiction movies used to show finger print and retinal scanners opening doors … and people would sit there and imagine the day that these would become science fact. That day is today.

“As you can see technology is quickly advancing and helping business owners manage theirs.”

www.centec.com.au

 

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