Governance, Risk and Complianceartner, Chartered Accountants Moore Stephens S.A.
INTERVIEW TO NIKITAS PAPPAS
We see that Moore Greece -and you in particular- are quite active in ESG, participating in many discussions as well as working with many organizations in the industry. We also read that you are working with the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping to provide ESG Reporting Guidelines for its members. What can you tell us? Is ESG Reporting a ‘must’ in maritime?
ESG is one of the most topical discussions in the maritime sector, at the moment. Listed companies are already in their second or third year of publishing an ESG report, in compliance with regulations and capital markets guidelines in the jurisdictions of their listing. The pressure is now starting to build up on the private shipping sector, but this pressure does not come from regulations at this stage, but from financiers, charterers, insurers and other stakeholders, who need to fulfill their regulatory requirements.
As auditors, we have seen in the last couple of years incentives being offered by European banks, by means of margin discounts available to those who achieved targets set by the lender banks. In the last year, many banks asked for more sustainability – related information through questionnaires that shipping companies had to fill in. But, given the difficulty of processing of the individual questionnaires and the fact that ESG reporting is now more mature (more experience in the application of sustainability standards and frameworks tailored for maritime transport) it is unsurprising that some banks are now asking for ESG Reports.
For those of us who have been in the accountancy profession long enough, the gradual standardization of ESG Reporting resembles the transition to the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). Financial information had to present the financial performance and position of a company fairly and be comparable among shipping companies, so that banks could incorporate it in their credit assessment processes. Hence, companies applied the IFRS to prepare their financial statements and have been doing so for many years, making them understandable and comparable for their users. Similarly, and for the same reasons, sustainability-related information now needs to present fairly the ESG position and performance of a company and be comparable to those of others. This transition will be a smoother and a faster one compared to the transition to the IFRS: Much of the information that is required by established ESG Frameworks and Standards, is prepared and monitored by shipping companies, anyway, to meet existing environmental and health and safety requirements imposed by the IMO and other regulators.
In addition, institutional players of the sector, such as the Hellenic Chamber of Shipping have taken important initiatives to help their members towards a smooth transition to more standardized ESG reporting. In collaboration with Moore Greece, as well as the support of our ESG Advisory Board, the Chamber is releasing concise and helpful Guidelines to ESG Reporting. We believe this is a huge step forward for the sector and – of course – we are thrilled to be part of the effort.
Furthermore, as auditors, we see an opportunity to further raise the credibility of sustainability-related information by providing assurance on shipping companies ESG reports, which is by analogy similar to auditing their financial statements. Our profession is regulated, which means that there is a strong and long-established international framework of requirements under which we provide assurance services that covers all areas of our service delivery, as well as quality control and ethics.
It seems that sustainability opened up a whole new field of work for the accountancy profession. How did the profession cope with this change?
Indeed, sustainability assurance has been a tectonic change for the accountancy profession.
The subject matter is no longer purely financial but spans over more areas than before. Investors, financiers and other stakeholders are interested in the overall footprint and impact of a company: how much financial, environmental and social capital it utilizes and how much it yields.
We incorporate the work of experts in our work, being subject matter specialists in various fields of science, but nevertheless, today’s accountants, whether in reporting or in auditing, need many skills to face this change, which – of course – is both a challenge and an opportunity.
But change is a constant to professions as old as accountancy, with roots back to the Middle Ages, since the need to have reliable records of entrepreneurial activities spans for centuries.
Through this time accountants developed rules on how to record transactions and present financial results, for all sectors. We also used technology: from spreadsheets, to accounting software and ERP, to blockchain and AI. To stay abreast of new topics, we have always emphasized on training and development throughout our careers, and we are good at sharing accumulated knowledge and experience, in a formal and structured way. Last but not least, we developed mechanisms to hold accountancy professionals accountable for their responsibilities in safeguarding business integrity.
So, our profession is a mature system that comprises of international quality and ethical standards, professional bodies and regulators.
This system is geared to respond to change very effectively:
It allows for change to be anticipated, planned and implemented through significant investment, in a structured and consistent way. The aim is not to just expand our service offering, but to do it in such a way that professionals in our field provide quality services ethically, for our profession to remains relevant, useful and valued.
Even more importantly, as professionals we learn to work in a fast – changing environment through maintaining an inquisitive attitude which we call professional skepticism and it is integral to all aspects of our work, including responding to change.
Moore Greece has been associated with Greek shipping for decades as accountants and auditors. Aside ESG, what other areas does Moore Greece currently focus on?
We aim to effectively respond to the needs of the shipping industry in terms of professional services, in our fields of expertise and provide the full range of traditional services. We are accountants and auditors to the core, with a headcount of 130 professionals, most of whom are fully qualified accountants and auditors. We are very proud to be entrusted with the audits of the financial statements of over 1,000 ship-owning companies, in groups of various sizes. We also provide local and international tax services, business advisory, transaction advisory and accounting & payroll outsourcing.
Over the past few years, we have invested heavily in the development of new services, either alone or in partnerships. Aside from the ESG reporting and assurance services, which I went through in detail, we have developed:
– a solution for shipping accounting and financial reporting – the Maritime Accounting Software (MAS), built on EPICOR ERP, along with our partners Athens Technology Center (ATC), and
– a platform for e-learning courses focused on specific challenging topics of shipping accounting – the Financial Reporting Masterclass along with our partners SQLearn.
We have further enhanced our platform of Moore Maritime Index – MMI to accept more queries and provide even more insightful analyses. MMI combines a clever search engine along with a vast database of vessels TCE rates, running costs and DD/SS data.
How important are people to the success of Moore Greece? What are the main elements of the Moore culture? In your experience, how important is it to build strong relationships at the workplace and how can this be achieved?
The commitment and quality of our people drives our success. We are a very diverse group of professionals, and we embrace the special interests and talents that each of us has. This is why, after the first few years in the firm, each of us eventually finds their ‘calling’, which is great for specialized knowledge development, innovation and motivation.
Our culture is one of empowerment and inclusiveness. To sustain it we strongly reinforce the practice of respect for each other’s boundaries and reasons to come to the office every day. Having interacted with a vast number of people in my so far career – of twenty years, two countries, five employers, countless clients and colleagues, as well as from my personal experiences as a partner and a parent – I have come to believe that respect is the basis of every relationship, professional or personal, and a precondition of trust.
A leader respects team members, by being a coach and mentor and not a patron, by explaining the mistakes they make and not judging them for the mistakes, by providing them with the safety and support to reach further, because the leader has their back. A parent respects the children, by providing space for them to grow to be their own adults, by being a real person and not an idealistic role model, by showing them that hard work and failure can co-exist and that this is OK – they are worthy no matter what. A partner respects the other partner, by being present and collaborative, by honoring the partnership with honesty and by actively pursuing mutual growth. Most importantly, we respect ourselves by living wholeheartedly and in harmony with our values.
In all of these instances, by being respectful and by anticipating respect, we engage in healthy relationships and pursue growth together. This is fundamental for building trust which is the cornerstone for strong relationships.
What are your thoughts for 2024?
As we welcome 2024, we have exciting work in progress, the audit busy season is starting and we also have Poseidonia 2024 exhibition, where we will be once again participating and looking forward to welcoming colleagues, clients, and friends to our stand.
The maritime sector is yet again faced with challenges. Among other factors, unanticipated disruptive forces are shaping the current geopolitical landscape, and it is difficult to anticipate what the next few months will present.
However, we have come to embrace uncertainty as a fact of life and business and that – amidst uncertainty – we look for opportunity for growth.