Timely Financial Reporting/Financial Statements preparation

Timely Financial Reporting/Financial Statements preparation

Financial statements are intended to meet the needs of decision-makers as well as providing useful information to shareholders.  As a result, the timely preparation of these reports is essential. Financial statements must be available in time to inform decision-making. Therefore, it is important that financial reports/financial statements should be published as soon as possible after the end of the reporting period.


However, we should note here that timely financial reporting should not be reduced to a well-managed “busy financial statement drafting season. Rather, ”it requires careful, yearlong planning and monitoring.  Of course, the need for timeliness has to be balanced against the need for reliability, which in addition to timeliness is also an essential characteristic of financial statements.


Requirement of the Companies Act: 

In terms of the Companies Act, Section 30, Companies are required to produce annual financial statements within 6 months of their financial year-end or within any shorter period as may be appropriate to provide the required notice of an annual general meeting in terms of section 61(7). For example, if one’s year-end of Feb 2018, they should have a set of financial statements by end of August 2018.


Recommendations: 

I would like to make the following recommendations about ways to improve the timeliness and reliability of financial reports. These recommendations are based on my personal experiences and cannot be viewed as an exhaustive list.


Do not leave it until the last time: 

It is never a good idea to start the preparation of your financial statements late on in the year. As mentioned in my introduction, the process requires careful yearlong planning and monitoring. Start with clients whose books are updated and are in order on a monthly basis. For me, these are the client I have monthly management meeting with and at each management meeting, we ensure that the accounts for that month are in order. Once we close off the accounts, we do not come back to these to make any changes. You will find that by the year-end, there is little left to do to produce the financial statements because all books are in order. For me, I find that this process ensures the ongoing completeness and accuracy of financial data.


Team collaborations: 

Reid Hoffman once said, “No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” I cannot stress enough the importance of working as a team and ensuring that the communications among the team are good and maintained. In my firm, as an example, we have three teams that work closely together to produce financial statements; the tax team, the financial statements drafting team and the financial management team. The financial management team is responsible for day-to-day accounting and the production of the Trial balance. The tax team helps with all complex tax matters. The drafting team takes the Trial balances and produces the financial statements.  What makes the teamwork together well is communication, each member communicating whatever changes or processes that take place at any stage of the process. The biggest advantage of all this is that the reliability of the financial statements is greatly improved. The application of tax and financial reporting laws is also improved.


Systems and processes:

I also find that it helps to have proper systems and processes in place for the production of financial statements. Companies should have a financial system that they use to draft financial statements. These should be able to produce financial statements acceptable for submission with SARS and the CIPC. Also, there should be a well-defined process for the production of financial statements. It could be a well-defined checklist, which has all elements that must be checked before a trial balance is imported into the financial statements software. The presence of such a process will also go a long way in producing a reliable set of financial statements.


Closing and financial statement preparation processing: 

The annual closing process. To avoid delays, aim to have your annual close within a month from the end of the financial period. Communicate these deadlines to all people involved in the process so that everyone is aware of the deadlines and the deliverables that each should meet.


Unforeseen circumstances. The financial report preparation process may identify items that could affect the amounts reported in the financial statements, such as legal disputes, contractual obligations e.t.c. In most cases, a reasonable amount of time may be needed to resolve such items. To avoid delays, it may be better to proceed with the issuance of the financial statements based upon reasonable estimates, rather than to delay their issuance.


Planning: 

There is that old saying that says if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. It is important to carefully when for when the production of financial statements should start, and by whom the financial statements should be prepared. As mentioned earlier, do not leave the drafting to the busy drafting periods. After the year ends, aim to have at least one set of financial statements done per week. Start with those where not too much cleaning is required going to those where late adjustments and more cleaning is done. Also, you may want to aim to submit these financial statements by the time the tax season opens in July. So, plan in a way that will make this possible.


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Are you ready to exit from your business?

Are you ready to exit from your business?

Some people go into business with the aim of building a good business then sell it. Others spend years building their businesses so that they may leave something for their children. Whatever the intention, it is clear that at some point one will exit their business.


Even though the idea of you exiting your business sounds inconceivable, you must remember that you will not run your business forever. As an example, the people that started Coca Cola are not the same people running it today. Therefore, you and your business must be exit and investor-ready at every stage of your business. You must have an exit plan. The exit will happen in a different form, whether you are prepared for it or not.


Your exit from your business may happen in any of the following ways:

  • Retirement
  • The passing of your business to your children
  • Selling
  • Health issues limiting the ability to run the business
  • Death
  • Lack of interest in the business and a desire to start a new venture
  • Exit an unprofitable business

Every business must have an exit plan:

  1. Unplanned exits may be disastrous. Imagine trying to sell a business whose tax affairs or books are not in order. Also, investors are looking for a well-run company. They want to know that their money will not go down the drain.
  2. A good plan will ensure that you exit at the right time. Remember, just because you are ready to exit does not mean your business is ready. Life has its own dictates on when or how you will exit our businesses. When life circumstances dictate an unprepared exit, it rarely goes smoothly.

Do you know how much your business is worth? 

Any exit plan should start with a professional valuation. A professional valuation is critical to ascertain the accurate value of your business. If you are to approach a buyer and you do not know how much your business is worth, where are you going to start the negotiations for a price?


Proper due diligence will also be needed. This will help you to review your business from the perspective of a potential buyer. It will help you identify any gaps in the key drivers of your business and identifying ways of closing these gaps in order to have a proper exit and investor-ready business.


Good due diligence will also enable business owners to determine the key value drivers of the business and identify the areas that will impact its sale value. Once you have a proper plan, a value for your business and well-executed due diligence for your business, it will be easier to identify and approach potential buyers.

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Some of the actions that are important in developing an exit strategy: 

  • Do not allow the business to heavily rely on you and your skills set. When you get sick or die, the business takes sick leave or dies with you.

  • Therefore, develop key employees who can run the business on a day-to-day basis without your involvement.

  • Develop an operating manual of how you do what you do. Define each key process and quality control checks. This is important because business goes on even when you or your key employees are not around.

  • In addition to the operating manual, have a library or knowledge base. This will ensure that important information/knowledge is shared among everyone in your business. Also, you will most likely find yourself in a unique situation from time to time. Adding your experiences of the case and how you dealt with it will ensure that you do not waste time dealing with a similar issue in the future.

  • Have a dashboard that shows you the key performance indicators and what the trends of those indicators are.

  • Have a compensation system in place that rewards managers who help improve key performance indicators of your company and who come up with innovative ideas to improve your business and customer experience.

  • Have a data room for your business. A data room is a place where you store all important documents and information about your business. Your data room may include but not limited to:
    • Latest financial signed financial statements
    • Share certificates and share register
    • Memorandum of incorporation (MOI)
    • Company registration documents
    • Your latest up to date Tax clearance (what is now known as Tax Compliance certificate)
    • Operating Manual and knowledge base
    • Shareholder Agreements
    • Board members and advisors
    • Licences and permits and other Intellectual properties
    • Strategy and KPI targets
    • Pressroom
    • Internal controls
    • Risk profiles and risk management
    • Organisational structure
    • CVs of key management
    • Summaries of key employment agreements and benefit plans
    • Copy of IDs for senior management
    • Material contracts

Be aware of the tax consequences

If you will be selling beware of the tax consequences. Whether you sell the operating assets in the business or the business as a whole, the transaction will attract Capital Gains Tax (CGT). Therefore, a well-thought tax plan is an important part of the overall exit plan. If you do not have a dedicated tax team within your business, get the services of a professional Tax Advisor/Practitioner.

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Succession after death or retirement: 

Strategic planning for a business needs to include a proper succession plan. Succession planning may not be high on your agenda but retirement and death are certain. In a small/family business succession planning is even more important to effectively conclude the transfer of ownership or management from one party to another:


  • The first step is to draw up a shareholders agreement. The agreement should specify the rights and privileges of a shareholder if they wish to sell/exit. It should be agreed if the existing shareholders have the first preference to buy. The agreement should specify the terms and conditions of the sale and purchase by existing shareholders if existing shareholders are to takeover.

  • The second step is to take a policy to cover for the key shareholders. This should step in when the key shareholders die or get disabled/or are permanently incapacitated. To avoid complication in these situations a business may consider key-man insurance against these shareholders. This provides a pay-out to the business in the event of death or permanent incapacity of the insured individual which can be used to headhunt a new manager or to provide funding to the shareholders if they decide to dissolve the business. The reason this coverage is important is that the death of a key person in a small company often causes the immediate death of that company too.

How key-man insurance works:

  • A company buys a life insurance policy on the key personnel, pays the premiums and is the beneficiary of the policy.
  • If that person unexpectedly dies or is permanently incapacitated, the company receives the insurance payoff.
  • The company can then use the insurance pay-out for expenses until it can find a replacement person, or, if necessary, pay off debts etc.

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Is SARS always right? What if I do not agree with their assessments?

Is SARS always right? What if I do not agree with their assessments?

Many of us see SARS as that horrible master who just wants to take our money at every opportunity possible, and it’s money they didn’t even work for. Sometimes you look at an assessment and you even wonder what they are trying to do. Maybe they even issue an assessment and go on to recover monies owed by you by issuing an instruction to your bank to deduct whatever they feel is due to them. If this happens, what are your options?


Once the Revenue Authority issues an assessment on your tax return and they have issued a notification for the tax payable or refundable under your tax return, you can:

  • Choose to accept the assessment
  • Ask for reasons as to how SARS arrived at the issued assessment. This must be done within 30 days from the date of the assessment
  • You can choose to lodge an objection within 30 business days from the date the assessment is issued or within 30 business days after receiving the reasons on how SARS arrived at its assessment

SARS has a detailed guide on how you may file a notice of objection. However, I would advise that you consult a professional tax practitioner to assist you:

  • Ascertain if SARS’ assessment is correct
  • Determine if the relevant tax laws were applied correctly
  • Correctly lodge a Notice of objection on your behalf

 


Tips to get your objection right: 
  1. Ensure that you have all the supporting documents for the amounts you are objection to justify your reasons for objecting to the assessment. (For example, if you believe SARS missed your Medical Aid contributions, then you must have the supporting medical aid certificate when you lodge your objections)
  2. Ensure that you indicate the tax type(s) and tax years that you which to proceed and object
  3. Ensure that you select the items to dispute against by selecting the relevant tick boxes
  4. Ensure you have selected the correct source codes/ transaction code of the disputed item is displayed. It is important that you get the correct source codes as SARS may reject the Objection based on the fact that you put an incorrect code even though the objection is on valid grounds.
  5. Watch that you distinguish between dispute amount and requested amount. Again, SARS may turn back your objection if the distinction between these two is not shown. The disputed amount is the amount that has been charged for interest or penalties for late payment are displayed. The requested amount indicate what you believe the amount should be. This is important because if this amount and the amount above are the same, SARS will reject the NOO on that technicality.

An objection that does not comply with the rules of objections and the Tax Administration Act may be disallowed. In terms of the rules, you may submit a revised objection within 20 days of receipt of the notice of invalidity by SARS


If the objection is disallowed, you may elect to accept the outcome or appeal against the decision. If you elect to appeal the outcome, then you may elect to take the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) route or the litigation route (via the tax board if less than R1 million or the tax court in all other cases).


You can initiate ADR by indicating that you wish to make use of the ADR process in your notice of appeal. Within 30 business days of your notice of appeal, SARS will inform you whether the matter is suitable for an ADR process. The ADR process must be concluded within 90 days.


If the dispute is resolved between you and SARS, it must be recorded and signed by you and a SARS representative. A settlement agreement must be approved by a senior SARS official. SARS will issue, where necessary, a revised assessment to give effect to the agreement reached by ADR. If the dispute is not resolved by ADR you may continue to appeal to the Tax Board, if the tax in dispute is below R1000 000, or the Tax Court.


Again, I want to stress out the need to consult a professional Tax Practitioner to assist you with this process. if you have gone through all these processes and have now won your case against SARS (where SARS issued unnecessary assessment without proper foundation), may you recover wasted costs incurred (consultations with lawyers and tax practitioners or accountants fees) through the unnecessary conduct of SARS officials?


The decision to use the services of professionals rests on the taxpayer. However, it goes without saying that the complexity of tax laws and regulations renders it necessary for one to consult with tax lawyers, accountants and tax practitioners. Currently, there is no formal authority covering whether taxpayers can recover their costs from SARS. But, practices in other tax jurisdictions allows taxpayers to recover damages in cases where they have suffered financial losses due to the conduct of the revenue authorities. In South Africa damages may be awarded by a competent court if the taxpayer can prove that he/she suffered financial loss as a result of the conduct of SARS.

Why do Small businesses fail?

Why do Small businesses fail?

According to statics, 50% of small businesses fail within 24 months of launch. According to research and report by the UWC, between 70% and 80% of small businesses fail with 5 years. This is a significant number of small business that fails. The consequences of this to the economy and unemployment are significant.  But what exactly closes doors for small businesses?

 


Lack of planning: 

Most businesses are brought into existence for survival. The business owners simply register a company and hope everything will just be fine. There is no detailed plan on how the business is going to be run. There are no well defined short-term and long-term goals. As a result, there is no understanding of costs, responsibilities, markets, funding needs and other requirements of the business. Before long, the owners of the business run out of steam and find themselves back to the drawing board. Therefore, it is critical for business owners to have a clearly defined plan for their business. Also, a business data room that contains all critical information about the business is essential. This will come in handy when talking to investors or when seeking funding.

 


One-person show: 

In small businesses, often the owner is the go-to person. They are the main source of contact for everything to do with the business. They deal with customers, suppliers, employees, production, admin, dealing shareholders and putting out fires in general. This leaves them with little time to run the important aspects of the business. They have no time allocated for growing the business and attending to strategic issues relating to the business. This is why it is important for business owners to identify, early on in the business, aspects of their businesses that they can hand over or delegate to their assistants or other people in the business. This will, in turn, free up their time to focus on what matters.


According to the UWC report, personal initiative and goal setting are consistently related to business success. In other words, a business owner who is always reacting instead of proactively dealing with issues is more likely to fail than one who proactively deals with issues.

 


Failure to separate personal and business accounts: 

You often hear people say, “This is my business. This is my money. Why can’t I get the money out?” We have dealt with one such business before. The owner had a gambling problem. As a result, he spent over a million rands over two years in gambling. None of the winnings would come back to the business and no taxes would be paid over to the authorities for the business. While this business is still there, it consistently had cash flow problems and may not be around for a very long time.


Using a company account as a personal account will no doubt cause a lot of confusion. Business owners will struggle to keep track of their costs and will find it difficult to measure their profitability. Secondly, they will create significant loans accounts in the business, which will be difficult to clear.


As a general rule, business owners should decide on how much they need to survive on a monthly basis and pay themselves a salary from the business, obviously taking into account the cash flow and tax implications of doing so. Secondly, one should not owe the business unless they have a solid plan of paying or reducing this loan in the future.


Lack of proper records and financial systems: 

Many small businesses lack proper financial records and systems and technology. This could be related to the fear of the cost or fear of the unknown when it comes to technology.  But, many businesses that have adopted cloud accounting and other technologies have achieved efficiencies in a number of areas of their business. This is so because they no longer spend a lot of time on manual processes. Having data in real-time has also improved the way and quality of decision making in many small businesses. For many small businesses, technology should not be seen as a threat but as an ally. Small business should, therefore, be proactively looking for technology solutions before the lack of it throws them out of business.

 


Late payments by larger businesses: 

According to Moneyweb, Kenya is considering making late payment of suppliers a criminal offence.  This shows you how big this problem is. In South Africa, many government departments are known for paying way too late. In the Western Cape, the City of Cape Town is in a legal battle with a water supplier they asked to build a desalination plant in the Water Front. The company built the plant with over R37 million of their money, but to date, only about R4 million has been paid.


For any business, cash flow is anything. Small businesses also need to pay their suppliers who may in themselves also be small businesses. So, a call on large companies to pay their suppliers in time should become even louder than it is currently. Government departments should also look at how they can process supplier payments quicker. We also hope the new dawn that is sweeping through the country will also deal with officials who ask for kicks backs from these small businesses.

 


Passion is not expertise: 

Passion is not a substitute for experience. In fact, experience is a bad teacher. Often one only learns from it after a mistake is already made. So, it is important for small business owners to stay ahead of their game by attending managerial, business management, finance and tax training. Do not wait until it is too late for you to learn. Have an interest in your numbers and finances as much as you do in your money and bank balance.

 


Poor management: 

Ever heard people say, “People do not leave jobs, they leave managers?” When hiring managers, one needs to get someone who has a passion for developing and listening to people. When this is not the case, staff turnover becomes too high, so do the costs of hiring and training new staff members.


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