Employee theft and the role of accounting, legal expertise and fidelity insurance

Every now and then a new news story is published of an employee who steals a great sum of money from the company they work for. Most businesses aren’t at risk of losing millions through employee theft, but theft of smaller amounts is more common than would be evident from reading the daily headlines. Protecting your business against such cases could be the difference between success and failure.

Most comprehensive business insurance policies will include both theft insurance (protection against the risk of losses due to external theft) as well as fidelity insurance. Some businesses who find that an employee has stolen money or assets from the business, may try to claim a payment from their theft insurance, and fail, because theft insurance does not cover theft from internal sources.

Fidelity insurance, however, covers businesses from theft or fraud committed by employees, directors, partners, etc. within the company. This form of risk protection is especially necessary in industries where employees are expected to make payments from and have access to company accounts.

And since internal theft is often committed by employees who are trusted, it may take months for business owners to realise that there is a discrepancy in the accounts, at which point it may be increasingly difficult to trace back. There are some precautions that business owners can take, however, that will help protect them from these unwanted events.

Minimising your risk

The first of these precautions is to ensure that you do a thorough check on potential employees before appointing them. Checking for past criminal records, contacting references from previous employers, verifying the authenticity of qualifications, or conducting a credit score check can go a long way towards screening for potential internal threats to your business.

You will also want to monitor your financial situation on a regular basis – this means that you need to be able to scrutinise your monthly reports and have an accurate accounting system in place. If you are able to trace all your business expenses, taking action becomes much easier.

In the similar sense, implementing surveillance systems, whether physical (such as CCTV or an alarm system) or digital (such as enabling 2-factor authentication on transactions), serve as much more than just a safeguard against external threats. These systems can also help identify internal theft or fraud as they happen or, at the very least, help to compile evidence should an employee steal from you.

One of the main ways to limit potential internal threats, however, is simply to minimise access to physical locations as well as financial accounts. Implementations such as requiring two signatures on purchases, shifting from physical keys to access cards, and requiring authorisation for access to accounts, among others, can greatly reduce your risk. By minimising your risk, you also stand to receive a better premium on fidelity insurance.

This does not mean one should be unduly suspicious of all your employees; on the contrary, implementing safeguards such as these listed above can go a long way towards giving you piece of mind in the long run.

Can an employee be dismissed summarily due to theft?

One might think that theft is adequate justification for immediate dismissal of an employee, but in most cases, immediate dismissal will not be upheld by the CCMA, especially if they have a knowledgeable attorney to call upon.

Even in cases where there is clear evidence that an employee has stolen from you, there are legal procedures applicable, and the necessary steps need to be followed. Many companies have summarily dismissed employees for menial theft and, after a lengthy legal process, have suffered losses due to compensation for unfair dismissal and the reinstatement of employees.

Instead, one should have clear disciplinary processes in place in which the perpetrating employee has a fair disciplinary hearing. In these instances, you will benefit from having an expert legal advisor who is experienced in labour law and CCMA representation.

The final verdict

Employee theft is a real threat to business. While you hope each person that you appoint can be trusted, in reality you may be disappointed. To protect yourself from this unwanted event, you should perhaps consider taking out a fidelity insurance policy. In combination with your accounting system/team, and your labour law advisor, you will be able to not only reduce your risk but be able to act swiftly should the need arise.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Why the POPI Act matters

The right to privacy is enshrined in Section 14 of South Africa’s Constitution and we understand it to be a vital human right. It states:

“Everyone has the right to privacy, which includes the right not to have –

(a) their person or home searched;

(b) their property searched;

(c) their possessions seized;

(d) the privacy of their communications infringed.”

It’s the last part of the abovementioned list that is becoming a growing concern. All around the world more and more focus is being placed on protecting private information as countries and governments are setting new laws to ensure the safety of their citizen’s information online.

In an age where information is growing at an exponential rate, no digital exchange of information can be left unprotected. For this reason, the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act comes into full effect from the 1st of July 2021.

Non-compliance could carry hefty fines, but as with most regulatory pieces of legislation, compliance is more than just a box to tick. Let’s consider why personal information should be protected:

  1. It builds confidentiality

Protection of data is very much a protection of the information that people hold as important. By capturing, storing, and processing personal information, you are essentially guaranteeing the confidentiality of your transactions with the other party.

Confidentiality is built upon when you can guarantee that none other than you yourself are able to access and process the information you store. Having a secure database stored with good encryption on your servers is a good way to keep to the promise of security you give to your customers/clients.

  1. It ensures the integrity of information

In a similar vein, data protection ensures that data remains accurate and integrous. Your customers/clients need to be sure that all their data is current and accurate, and that no manipulation of the data can take place.

Furthermore, to ensure the integrity of information, the data needs to be frequently backed up while remaining synchronous (i.e. whenever a change is made that change must reflect in the backup in as little time as possible).

Safeguards can also be put in place to ensure that no data is duplicated or stolen.

  1. It leads to trust

With regard to information storage and access, trust is built when your data subjects know that their data will always be available when and where they need it. Readily available data and the ability to request changes to the data with little to no delay are ways to build trust and assure data subjects that you are handling their data ethically.

At the end of the day, how you handle information is a question of ethics. What the POPI Act brings is a sense of relief in a modern age that there will be repercussions for the mismanagement of data and that there is greater regulation of data management.

Soon the everyday consumer will have a lot more protection against unwanted marketing and unethical data practices — practices that have been allowed to go on for too long. For those who are still lagging behind, the time is ticking and failure to become fully POPI Act compliant could hold serious consequences. Make sure to get your matters in order before 1 July 2021.

References

  • The Constitution of South Africa

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Healthy minds, healthier remote workers

It’s a strange new world that we’re living in, one in which the digitalisation of the traditional office is happening at a rapid rate. Many businesses are reaping the benefits of remote work in a society where going into the office no longer seems necessary (not to mention that it could present an array of health dangers).

It’s not all moonshine and roses, though. Some of the biggest challenges for businesses who have opted to experiment with remote work (or even implement it permanently) include managing productivity and cultivating corporate culture from a distance. There are, fortunately, a wide range of strategies that you can adopt to improve remote productivity while maintaining and growing a corporate culture.

Establish the basic productivity/communication tools

Using only email as a channel of communication in today’s corporate/commercial climate won’t cut it anymore. Encouraging better remote work relies on alternatives to the channels that make office-based work easy.

This means that you will need to make use of the following:

Project management tools – This provides an alternative to the standard to-do-list and constant check-ins about project progress. Not only are many of these tools great for online work, but we also find it difficult to believe that in-office work won’t benefit from such tools. If you can track the work being done by your employees, you can also be ready to jump in and help them if something seems amiss.

Instant messaging tools – You will need an alternative to turning your chair around and chatting to your colleagues, which makes instant messaging so attractive. Need to ask a quick-fire question to your used-to-be office neighbour? Just ping them a message.

Video calling applications – Out of the office you no longer possess the ease of access to a boardroom, which means that your meetings must be held virtually (no, not all meetings could have been an email). We are social creatures after all, so take advantage of the video functionality to ensure your employees don’t become faceless—that’s a big no-no for creating a strong company culture while working remotely.

Make sure to prioritise employee wellbeing

One thing that a worldwide pandemic has taught us is that remote work can be lonesome work. While many everyday workers have found their time away from an office-setting a lonely affair, it is hardly an unavoidable situation. There are a few ways in which you can improve your employees’ relationships towards one another—yes, we’re talking real interpersonal connection—and yourself even within a remote work setting:

Make check-ins a thing

One sure-fire way to protect against the onset of remote work isolationism is to check up on your employees without making it about work. Find out how they’re doing, what they’re reading, eating, listening to, enjoying, and what they feel anxious about. It is tempting to just let your employees continue their day-to-day activities with minimal contact, but there are better alternatives. Check-ins make your relationships personal and indicate that you care.

Go team-building

Once the pandemic subsides (and granted your remote workforce isn’t scattered across the globe) you might want to go run an obstacle course to encourage teamwork, but until then, it remains possible to do teamwork exercises and create a tangible company culture by digital means. Try your hands at a virtual escape room, play digital boardgames, host a trivia night. The possibilities are numerous and help your team become more comfortable with each other, reminding them that the people they work with are also worth getting to know.

Encourage productive spaces and productive mindsets

Take a moment right now to sit/stand up straight. Done? Puff up your chest ever so slightly. put your hands on your waist and put on a smile (even if you have to force it). Did you feel anything? A boost of confidence perhaps? Did your fake smile perhaps turn into a real one? There are a lot of psychological ‘life-hacks’ that can help you maintain a positive attitude. The same can be done to make remote work more welcoming for a productive mindset.

Encourage dedicated workspaces

Have you ever tried to commit to a whole day of working out of the bed? Was it a struggle to stay productive? Your environment has a massive effect on your levels of productivity. Make sure to encourage your staff to set aside a space specifically for work in their homes. If they can dedicate an entire room to work, there may even be tax-benefits for them if you encourage this practice. Speak to your tax adviser to see how it can be done and how you can help your staff out.

Dress for the job

It can be easy to get stuck in your pyjamas for the entire day if no-one is watching, but once again it does not have a positive psychological impact on your levels of productivity. Encourage your staff to dress appropriately for work and encourage good hygiene. These basic tasks can have a long-lasting impact on the mindset of your employees.

If you are able to implement all these tips and give your employees a feeling of satisfaction in their remote work while encouraging productivity, you stand in good stead to cultivate better people doing better work.

References

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Prospects for new businesses amid COVID-19 trends

With many businesses becoming casualties of the Coronavirus pandemic in the last few months, there are gaps opening up in the market for goods and services that were found in abundance before the pandemic started. Discovering these sweet spots in the market and capitalising on new business opportunities are not that easy, though.

You might be considering starting a new business or investing in commercial property to take advantage of new businesses popping up as the economy starts growing again post-pandemic. What, then, is the outlook like for starting a new business that can perform in the new gaps opening in the market? And what would the outlook be like for commercial property once the pandemic finally ends?

To answer these questions, there are essentially two things to consider:

  1. The trends that we see emerging from the pandemic.
  2. The projected trends for the commercial property market as the pandemic eventually dissipates.

What are some of the trends predicted post-pandemic?

While South Africa waits with bated breath to see how long COVID-19 infections will continue to increase, many people have been turning to alternative forms of services than they would normally use. For traditional retail stores and entertainment venues, the future may look somewhat hazy as it seems like the world is quickly trending towards relying on online alternatives.

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Nowhere is this clearer than when we consider how technological advances have been made during the pandemic. While in some instances, post-COVID-19 trends will revert back to ‘normal’, others have accelerated away from traditional trends, while some new trends are developing as well.

Retail

Naturally, when the lockdown started, all retail stores (apart from those selling essential goods) had to close for some time. Until the pandemic ends, most retail stores will not be operating at optimal levels, while e-commerce sites draw more and more traffic. As is, a large part of the retail industry can operate at ‘normal’ capacity (barring their duty to safety), but is hindered by the weakened economy.

For South Africa, the market trend, especially with a large portion of the population low-income earners, won’t shift considerably towards e-commerce for some time. Regardless, international trends seem to indicate that the retail market should start to stabilise and grow again from its losses during the pandemic, although e-commerce will grow significantly in affluent countries. As with most commercial industries, future success depends heavily on economic recovery.

Hospitality

The hospitality industry was one of the hardest hit sectors of the economy, which is clear from the many businesses, such as restaurants and hotels, that have gone under because of COVID-19. Even when at Stage 3 of the lockdown, when many of the establishments started opening up, many restaurants were still struggling because of the ban on alcohol that made up a large portion of their revenue. Places of accommodation were similarly restricted, as only business travel was allowed for a few months. Restrictions remain stringent on other forms of hospitality like casinos, cinemas, and entertainment complexes.

While things do not look very positive for the industry right now, the easing of restrictions and new opportunities in the form of market gaps may soon make new businesses a plausible, and possibly profitable, venture. This is largely due to the growth in local travel, since many South Africans are still wary of the limitations and hassles of international travel as long as COVID-19 remains a real threat.

Personal Care services

Similar to the state of affairs in the hospitality industry, those in personal care services (such as hairdressers/barbers, beauticians, and masseuses) were heavily restricted by the lockdowns that shackled the economy in the first few months of the pandemic. Apart from the sale of products, which contributed minimally to the losses of these organisations, revenue in this industry was non-existent for a couple of months and has forced the closure of some small businesses.

While these services have taken a big knock as a result of COVID-19 safety concerns and restrictions, the industry should make a full recovery once COVID-19 takes a bow. Those who will continue to stay at home to use their own hair clippers will be few and far between.

With many commercial businesses having closed down during the ongoing pandemic, it means that there are new opportunities for businesses to take their place to fill gaps in the market.

The bad news first

For those considering purchasing commercial property in order to capitalise on the influx of new business opportunities once the lockdown ends, forecasts indicate that the commercial property market is facing a three-year negative capital growth rate of -15% that will last until 2022. This means that moving immediately to procure properties that have been forfeited as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic may be a very risky move, with growth plausible only after around 5 years (even if inflation is ignored).

For many people, such an investment may be inconceivable; although, it does open up avenues for acquiring prime property from places of business that have not made it (or will not make it) out of the pandemic. Yet, it may take a long time before you start seeing any real returns on your investment in commercial property.

Another threat to commercial property values and purchases is the increasing advancement in technology. The movement towards online work and e-commerce is increasing. This means a smaller demand for office space and retail space (at least for non-essential goods) in the long run.

On to the good news

Conversely, for those who are considering investing in commercial property for their own benefit and use, the interest rates available on bonds right now make purchasing commercial property much more affordable. Naturally, as the market value of property decreases, property prices become cheaper. With commercial property taking a more significant knock than residential property as a result of the weakened economy, it could spell opportunity for those thinking of starting a new business.

If property has been an issue in your dream to start a new business, right now seems as good a time as any to enter your chosen market (at least when it comes to bond repayments). By purchasing commercial property before the economy starts growing again could also mean that you get a head start on your competitors that may emerge later.

COVID-19 also presents unique opportunities for new business owners as there is more room for starting smaller and upscaling your business as the economy starts growing. This means fewer overhead costs during the initial stages of your business’s trade and also that diminished national economic activity in the short run serves as a boon rather than an omen.

Ready to take the plunge?

If you have assessed the risks and feel like you are ready to start your own business to capitalise on a gap that is starting to form in the market, purchasing commercial property may be something you should consider. The first consideration to make, however, is that commercial property purchases are often much more restricted in terms of use and rights than residential property. Consulting your property attorney becomes a necessity to ensure that you are fully aware of the additional fees, levies and limitations that may apply to the property you are considering purchasing.

Capitalise on lower property prices and lower bond payments, and start that business you’ve always wanted to show to the world!

References:

Industry Insights by SAP: The Global Impact of COVID-19 on the Professional Services Industry, 20 May 2020.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your adviser for specific and detailed advice.  Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

When will it be time to scale again?

2020 was an immensely difficult year. Because of the economic downturn in the country, it left a lot of businesses with insurmountable odds to make things work and so, many businesses have had to shut up shop. While this has been unfortunate for many business owners, it does present those who have been able to continue their business successfully with new opportunities and new questions to ask themselves.

Not least of these is knowing whether your business is scalable (even after a torrid economic year). In fact, scalability is often made possible because of economic downturn. Despite the disaster of 2020, it does look as though the economy will grow by quite a margin in 2021 (as is normal after a recession). There is no doubt that business will pick up and that businesses that have fallen away as a result of the pandemic have opened up space in the market, leaving clients ready to be picked up.

Here are some things to think about as you consider growing your business in 2021:

  1. You should only scale once you are ready.
    Scaling a business is an endeavour that should never be taken lightly, but should come as a result of good deliberation and forethought. That is to say that scaling for scaling’s sake is a risk that endangers all stakeholders in the business. Make sure that it is something you want to do and are ready for before taking the plunge.
  2. Having to reject business opportunities for lack of capacity is a good sign for scaling.
    The more opportunities you have to turn down shows that there is room for expanding your business in some way or another. You will have to evaluate what kind of opportunities it is that you are turning down – even if these are outside of the regular scope of your business. Is it perhaps an opportunity to bring in someone with greater superiority and experience in a related business activity? Is it time to increase the workforce with just one or two people to fill the gap? Are the opportunities you are turning down due to seasonal demand?

    Note that there are many reasons why you might need to turn down an opportunity, but getting down to the root of the cause is the only way to determine what your next step should be (dissecting your finances is one way to assess your situation before you decide to proceed or not).

  3. Good cashflow and budgeting can help you release funds to grow.
    If you’re finding that your cashflow is strong but you are perhaps are unsure what to do next to take your business to the next level, a strategic financial review may do wonders to show you where you are over- and underspending. As soon as you are aware of the areas of your business where you can reasonably focus more attention (whether that is in infrastructure, staffing, product/service development, or somewhere else), you will be able give your energy to those aspects that lead to business growth. In order to make the most of this step, it is will be of great value to speak to your financial advisor.
  4. Do some market research to search out lost/returning customers.
    One important consideration in and after a recession is that while there may be businesses that have closed, their customers will need to go somewhere to have their needs/wants met. This means that there is great value in rounding up the customers and clients who are looking for someone else to fill a gap that was created. Take time to find out who your target market is and how to reach them. Also, don’t be afraid to broaden your horizons: if the COVID-19 pandemic has proved anything, it is that new trends can form very quickly as people reprioritise their lives. The faster you move to engage with the lost consumers and clients, the more opportunity beckons your business’s growth.
  5. Infrastructure is everything.
    If you do not have the necessary infrastructure in place (or if you cannot reasonably expand your infrastructure to increase your capacity), scaling can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. If you have assessed your available assets and resources and deem it to be a good foundation on which to expand your business, you may just have what it takes to increase your revenue by accessing a larger part of the market share in your industry.

Are you ready to assess your business and take the necessary steps to grow and take advantage of the gaps created due to the COVID-19 pandemic? If you do, the world may just be your oyster.

References:

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).

1 2 3 4