According to my News 24 app, at the time of writing we are in lockdown day 347, a mere handful of days away from a full year since we all went down this strange and often scary road together. Whilst I will obviously touch on COVID in this brief, I will not dwell on it, as it’s become a mind numbingly boring topic, right up there with Megan Markel and the soon to be defrocked Prince Harry.

It’s been some time since I have managed to put some time aside to touch base with everyone as my work commitments have been all consuming along with a much needed 3 week break in the Eastern Cape, sitting on a deserted beach with my family revitalising my soul.

Anyway, this newsletter is going to be a bit disjointed as there are a few things I want to touch on to bring everyone up to speed on a few changes at MRM as well as anything else which I can think of to cure your insomnia.

Firstly, most of you will have seen how our remote working has gone from strength to strength over the past year as we have worked tirelessly at our policies and procedures. The most apparent of these is our reduced requirement for centralised offices which has resulted in a firm of Attorneys, Brookes Incorporated, headed by our good friend Jonathan Brookes, to take over about 60% of our space. Many of you would have met Jonathan or his staff over the years and being in the same workspace as him is a good fit for us as there are increasing synergies between our professions. As businesses change and our country’s legislation becomes more challenging to navigate so it becomes more pressing to ensure we have our T’s crossed and I’s dotted from both a financial and legal perspective.

From your perspective as a client you will not notice much difference when you visit. Aside from some stern looking lawyer types milling around, we share our various meeting rooms with Jonathan and you are still welcomed by Nikita’s friendly face, our tasty coffee and Covid friendly biscuits (individually wrapped). We all need to save costs somewhere…..

Our changes come in our engine room. We have adopted a hot desk policy whereby we have 5 work areas for staff needing to work from the office for various reasons and in addition Shireen and I now share a work area which has been fitted out to double up as an informal coffee style meeting area.

On the technology front we continue our long history of pioneering, for better or for worse. We have a state of the art VOIP telephony system being installed and it appears we may be Guinea Pigs for it. This is against my better judgement as long serving clients will remember our foray into VOIP about a decade ago which, aside from costing a small fortune, caused us to be incommunicado for about 6 months. We do hope this will be a better experience but do ask for patience in the transition.

On a more positive front we have made great headway with the Xero Accounting software. This has been spearheaded by Derane who has become an expert in Xero and its add ons over the past 12 months. It is a deceptively powerful piece of software which takes full advantage of modern technology to create a workspace which not only improves time and efficiency by 200 to 300% but actually changes the workflow and methodology of working itself. We have done multiple successful implementations over the past year and are quite excited to be working with it more comprehensively over the course of this year. If anyone wants to have a chat about it we would be more than happy to meet with you on it.

We are not abandoning Eureka as this still has its place and will continue to be supported by us and Arnold through MRM IT.

What we have abandoned is Dropbox, Skype and Microsoft Office. We have found the Google environment more suitable for remote access, and to be frank, more powerful than what anyone else can offer. As most of you are aware, we have operated through Gmail for close to 10 years now and it’s been an absolute pleasure to use. We have transitioned from Dropbox to Google Drive, use Google Chats for our internal communication as opposed to Skype and now use Google Apps in place of Microsoft Excel and Word. In addition to the many positive touchpoints these products have, the cost saving is staggering.

The last game changing application which I guess we need to thank COVID for finding, is Adobe Acrobat, which is probably, in my opinion, one of the most underrated products on the market. Most of you will have experienced digitally signing documents sent by ourselves to you over the past year. Whilst initially social distancing rules made it imperative for us to go this route to keep things moving along, it proved an incredibly efficient route for us as aside from reducing the firm’s carbon footprint, allowed us to track document progress and creates a powerful collaboration tool for ourselves internally. I must however stress that this is not supposed to replace our client contact and regardless of how we sign Annual Financial Statements and the like we would still like to see you, once a year at the very least, as our business ethos depends upon us being up to speed with your businesses and other financial affairs. If we haven’t seen you for a while you may well get Tanya nagging you for an appointment, so be warned.

As you can see the winds of change are blowing strongly at MRM and no change would be complete without some staff adjustments. As I am sure you are aware, we are a firm of Professional Accountants who work under the umbrella of The South African Institute of Professional Accountants. As our workflows change, and our clients’ businesses change, we are finding we are being called upon to perform work of an increasingly technical nature and as such Shireen and I are expanding the firm’s professional footprint. To both assist with this as well as to recognise some invaluable support we got through the dark days of hard lockdown Minesh Banawo and Derane Pillay, both qualified Professional
Accountants, have each accepted the appointment of Associate Accountant within the firm and as such, their names will be added to the MRM letterhead over the course of the month. Whilst this is not a partnership position it is acknowledgement of their strong technical skills and to give you the peace of mind that your affairs are being dealt with by individuals validated by the firm’s partners as highly proficient. Document signing and representations by the firm are still solely in the wheelhouse of Shireen and I, so not very much will change from your perspective.

This is in no way meant to detract from superb specialist work done by Devasha and Taryn in Tax and Payroll respectively.

As specialists they unfortunately cannot be named as we can only admit SAIPA members to our letterhead but they continue to be valued cornerstones to the firm, running their departments with the single minded determination we all appreciate.

If you have waded through my rambling this far, good job, apologies if it’s all a bit dry but am trying to cover all the bases without turning a newsletter into a book. I am going to try and get these out a bit more regularly this year just to try and keep all MRM clients in the loop with issues which are pertinent to SME business.

In conclusion I will touch on our firm’s outreach arm.

Many of you will have encountered our Non Profit Company, The Esiza Izandla NPC, over the last few years. It has both funded some material bursaries to youngsters as well as participated in significant outreach initiatives in areas which we believe will benefit from our assistance. We generally do this quietly and to teach our staff that a social conscience is an integral bedfellow to red blooded capitalism. More importantly, for Shireen and I, we want MRM to be in equilibrium between giving and taking and try and instill this into our firm ethos. This year we find ourselves moving our focus to both the aged and the indigent as COVID has taken a brutal toll from these members of society. Whilst this is a by-product to the organisations main thrust of rewarding young achievers with the opportunity to advance themselves
through higher education, I am making you aware of it, not only because we are proud of what it is achieving, but also because I may shake a few of you down this year as the plight affecting the groups mentioned above may need more significant assistance than we can offer by ourselves. The good news is Esize is registered under S18(A) of the Income Tax Act which means any donations made are tax deductible, is a registered Public Benefit Organisation and is level 4 BBBEE compliant.

In conclusion I would just like to say that Shireen and I are proud of how our clients weathered the last year and how the benefits of your diligence are showing in your results. We have had the opportunity over the past 2 months to see most of your trading figures and are genuinely surprised as to the relatively healthy results most people are producing.

Whilst I think the race is only half run it is comforting to see the bulk of business is in a good position to emerge relatively unscathed from all of this and in most cases it is testament to good management decisions coupled with the indomitable South African spirit.

Continue to be vigilant, there are more trials to come still. Take what the last year has taught you about your business and fine tune it. Continue to watch your spend and be innovative as nothing spurs innovation more than hardship.

Keep Safe,
Chris and Shireen