ACCOUNTING

Rolling out the figures into Africa

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Why it’s time for South African businesses to step out of their comfort zone.

With the SACCI business confidence index reaching its lowest level in 14 years in July, the South African Institute of Professional Accountants (SAIPA) recommends that South African businesses look beyond our borders for opportunities that could provide a sustainable boost to the local economy. But, those that hope for success would do well to do thorough research first and consult with accountancy professionals who are able to provide some much-needed expertise.

“With sub-Saharan African economies outstripping the local and many global economies in terms of growth, the result is that many promising opportunities are opening up for doing business in sub-Saharan Africa in a variety of sectors,” says Dr Thomas Höppli, Economic Research Analyst for SAIPA. “All we need to do is look beyond our backyard.”

According to Höppli’s report, entitled Doing Business in sub-Saharan Africa, there are challenges to doing business in sub-Saharan African countries, but the opportunities are also abundant and well worth investigating by companies wishing to grow on the continent.
Höppli’s report mentions that many of the challenges to doing business—like bureaucratic red tape, corruption and infrastructure issues such as poor roads and unstable power supplies—are far more apparent to those physically establishing businesses in-country.

“However, another way of tapping into the growth markets in sub-Saharan Africa—instead of physically establishing a business in-country—is through trade.

The high growth in many of these countries, spurred by export activities and related investment, suggests that demand for imported products as well as purchasing power is increasing rapidly and that they could thus be interesting export markets and foreign direct investment destinations.

“Exporting to begin with may be the wisest entry option for SMEs as setting up a branch in any other country may be beyond their reach,” Höppli adds. However, he takes care to emphasise the fact that trading across borders in sub-Saharan Africa is not as easy as in other parts of the world. In the ‘Trading Across Borders’ sub-index of the Ease of Doing Business Index, only five sub-Saharan countries feature in the top 100 of the 189 economies analysed by the World Bank/IFC (2014). South Africa is ranked 106th.

He also cautions that, without a physical presence in a market, marketing becomes even more important in order to make potential clients outside aware of the offerings of the SME. “To this end, social media may be very useful as well as other digital marketing opportunities, which tend to be comparatively cheaper. Also, collaboration with a marketing agency in the identified export markets may help to create demand,” says Höppli.

For SMEs that wish to establish a physical presence in-country, Höppli says it’s vital to study the market thoroughly before venturing into it. “Businesses should take care to identify the best markets, considering factors like market potential, competitor activities and feasibility of doing business.”

To this end, he recommends referring to the World Bank/IFC’s Doing Business reports, which rank almost 200 economies on their ease of doing business and highlight specific challenges in the individual countries. Of the 47 sub-Saharan countries included in the 2014 index, just eight are ranked among the top 100, while the remaining 39 countries are ranked between 121 and 189.

With these challenges in mind, Höppli says it’s wise for SMEs to consult with accountancy professionals who know their business and are able to help them navigate the challenges of internationalising.

According to an article on the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) website, ifac.org, perhaps the greatest challenge SMEs face is the lack of human capital, including managerial expertise and financial resources to take advantage of opportunities. “With a wealth of financial and business knowledge, accounting professionals such as SAIPA members are in an excellent position to help fill the resource gap,” he says.

According to Höppli, accounting professionals with knowledge of and experience in working internationally are able to provide assistance in identifying the most attractive, fast-growing markets. “They can also help businesses access appropriate sources of funding and use their relationships with banks and other key financiers of international investment and trade to facilitate introductions between these funding sources and SME clients.”

Höppli says they are also able to assist with value-adding advice in areas such as managing foreign exchange risks and forecasting currency needs. “We advise SMEs to increasingly become integrated into the global business community. But, in order for them to maximise the opportunities of doing business in other countries, they need good advice. Accounting professionals are well placed to provide this assistance as they know the SME and its strengths and weaknesses,” he concludes

Cathlen Fourie

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