Dear All,

Even just looking at day 117 in print makes life seem all the more surreal and it belies belief that during this time we mostly all have multiple facemasks at our disposal, have become sanitiser aficionados and all quote infection rates off the top of our head. Just over 6 months ago we all welcomed in 2020 and set our plans and goals for the year, little could any of us guess the curveball mother nature had waiting in the wings for us. Whilst it seems like a few days ago I sent out a COVID update, scarily it was almost 2 months ago. I know that much time has been spent re-engineering the practice but will touch on what we have been up to there a bit later.

We have also, understandably, been stepping up to assist some of our clients who have been badly affected by Lockdown, and we have been witnessing the effect of the devastation which has been inflicted on some businesses. Some of these tasks are gargantuan, as results are needed immediately with time being a luxury ill afforded. Anyway, as always, I am steering away from rumour, opinion and fake news and rather trying to bring you a bit of information to help or reassure. Mainly, I have been trying to find some good news, as that appears to be few and far between at the moment, especially as human nature dwells on the bad. I also apologise in advance if this is a bit disjointed but a lot has happened in the past few months.

Temporary Employee Relief Scheme (Ters)

Just as Taryn and her team thought that they could finally start enjoying the fun of Pineapple Brewing and Rooibos tea smoking our Government had a surprise for them. As of a few hours ago it was astonishingly announced that the fund would be available until mid-August and not closed, as previously announced.

I know that this is a very welcome development as many businesses, whilst allowed to reopen, have done so at drastically reduced capacity. Spare a thought for our entertainment and tourism industry and the hundreds of thousands employees around the country stranded with no income or no employment. As they are only limping through June still we cannot comment as to when July and August will pay out but let us accept the concessions gratefully.

I know Taryn and the payroll team are excited to be doing another few batches of submissions and are looking forward to receiving info from you in order to beat some more loot out of the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

Other relief

I am going to try and not jump up and down on my soapbox here, especially as Shireen normally censors my rantings on the basis that she doesn’t want us sued for defamation or libel. Let me just say we applied for many schemes on your behalf, and gave much commentary on various relief packages in the early days of lockdown. Cumulatively I like to think they are like the Dodo, or the Quagga, we know that they existed but no-one has actually seen one. We were promised R200 Billion in bailouts, to be managed by the banks on preferent terms. We have many clients who have been jumping through hoops for a month or more now trying to extract a tiny portion of this from the bank’s cold and lifeless fingers, with little to no success. As a client said to me last week, it’s almost as if they (the banks) are trying to find whatever reason they can not to lend the money.

The banks appear to be taking their usual approach of trying to find equity far in excess of funds requested which makes a mockery of the term ‘bailout’, and is kind of dumb, as if you had the equity you wouldn’t be seeking emergency relief in the first place.
Instead of whining, it is what it is, we have employee relief which is a big help, and as for the rest, it’s up to us to forge forward. As SME businessmen and women, we have been called on to step up many times in the past, which we have, and we will do it again by utilising tried and tested business methods. If debt can be avoided, your recovery will be quicker and more effective in the long run.

Looking to the future, what are we up to?

Firstly, in the past few weeks we have seen the pandemic finally hit home with statistics become reality. We have had a few infections flare up at clients, as well as within our MRM family. From our perspective we have been managing quarantines and staff interaction strictly so have not had any spread to deal with. We have also not had any tragic outcomes and touch wood that it stays that way. In our Upper Highway schools a number have been forced to shut down in entirety due to various COVID outbreaks. Whether or not you buy into all of this is irrelevant and the facts are that for the foreseeable future we need our businesses to become more flexible and more adaptable. As much as we long for the days of yore it’s not going to transpire anytime soon so if we want our businesses to survive and flourish again we are left with no choice but to adapt.

We realised this fairly early in lockdown and we tested technologies, and we read. Then we read some more. We are still reading…and still testing but are slowly fine tuning our systems to cater for an unpredictable future which allows us the luxury of remote working at levels of efficiency which we never believed possible. I am not going into any specific detail here, as the concept of a virtual workspace is limitless suffice to say that it creates an approach around the cornerstones of improving efficiency whilst reducing costs. It also means that we will be able to fully operate regardless of lockdown levels or anything else the world will throw at us.

We have also had the full buy in of our staff as they are seeing lifestyle benefits to changed working conditions and will be enjoying more disposable income as certain savings filter through to their pockets.
Granted we are a service company so pulling from the playbooks of Silicon Valley tech giants is simpler for us than for many of your businesses which rely on ‘feet on the ground’ but there is no reason why a hybrid cannot be created. Run through your business, examine current technologies, carve out sections of your business process which are not location dependent and implement. Put your own disaster plans in place on the off chance we get shunted back into full lockdown. We are seeing many countries being hit by second waves at the moment so the concept of going backwards is not as foreign as you may think. As South Africans we are world leaders at sticking our heads in the ground, and to be honest, it’s worked for us on occasion. I do not believe this to be one of those occasions unfortunately and if you are not proactive you will be doing a disservice to yourself and your staff not to mention the businesses which have taken your sweat and toil over the years.

Anyone who wants to explore what I am referring to in more detail is most welcome to chat to myself or Shireen. Arnold Makore is proving invaluable insofar as the implementation of technologies and is putting his lofty qualifications to good use. I know this is all a bit waffly and obtuse but if you take anything from the hyperbole, the word ‘change’ must be it.

Some random end bits
Nikita at reception had been with us the total of two weeks before we went into hard lockdown, so this has all been a bit of a trial by fire for her. She is back in the office manning the largely empty Fort. She is MRM’s COVID Safety Officer. Whilst we are trying to keep face to face meetings down to a minimum for the moment, we have taken the following steps to keep our office free from germs.

1.The usual sanitising, register and temperature checks. She has been instructed that this be done on everyone who enters the office so please respect this. If I have to do it, so do you.
2.We are running with 4 to 5 staff in the office at any one time with a maximum of 8 in total, including visitors.
3.All goods coming into the office are sanitised, including keys and phones.
4.The boardroom is sanitized after each appointment.
5.The boardroom table has had perspex screens put on it and is limited to 4 people to comply with social distancing.
6.The offices are fully cleaned once per week and other common work areas are fully sanitized on a continuous basis.

Should we therefore need to meet you can rest assured that we have taken all possible precautions to ensure that we get together in a safe space.

Aside from that Minesh and Derane are going great guns at mowing through work whilst Devasha and Caroline sit quietly watching the tidal wave of tax returns due to land on their beach on 01 September due to the 3 month delay on issuance. For the record they have not yet extended the submission dates, just the issuing dates so some fun times are waiting for the tax department. Who needs a December break, at this rate we can’t go away anyway.

I have mentioned before that I am a big fan of the Big Mac Index. I read yesterday that on that index we are the most undervalued currency out of the 90 or so countries making up the indice. The Big Mac Index values us at R5.47 to the dollar. Makes you think a bit when we have doomsayers saying it’s a matter of time until we breach R20 to the dollar permanently.

As always our economy takes unpredictability to new levels, and just like us, doesn’t ever do what is expected of it. Negative energy is available by the bucket load at the moment whilst positive energy has become rare. Sometimes we just need to look around a bit to find the positive gems but believe me, they are out there.

Pheww, ok, that’s it from me. As always Shireen and I, as well as our amazing team, are always available to assist and just a phone call/Skype/WhatsApp/GChat/Zoom/Teams or Google Meet away.

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and be COVID free,
Chris and Shireen