2020 will go down in history as the year of the Covid pandemic. Sadly, there is little comfort to draw from this. We would like to assume the government acted in the best interests of the country, but the evidence suggests it made fatal mistakes based on poor data and over-reacted with apparently little understanding of the dire consequences.
The severity of the lockdowns – including bans on exercise, alcohol and tobacco – now seem utterly irrational. There is no evidence any of these assisted in curtailing the spread of the virus.
In the first three months of lockdown, GDP contracted by more than 16% giving an annualised decline of -51%. In the second quarter of 2020 alone, SA shed 2.2 million jobs, according to according to Statistics SA. All this was done in the name of saving South Africans from a virus which the World Health Organisation (WHO) calculates has had a global infection fatality rate of less than 0.2%.
Our lives and the way we work has changed utterly. Accountants have had to move from record-keepers and compliance officers to trusted business advisors. Never before have business owners relied so heavily on the counsel of their accountants.
In the midst of the chaos, there were some outstanding triumphs for the accounting profession and for Saiba, whose membership continues to grow.
There is a dawning realisation that membership of a professional body carries the heft of external recognition and the technical and ethical guidance of a professional body.
Saiba has become a force within the economic life of the country. It made recommendations to government on revisions to the Companies Act that will accelerate job creation and assist business to grow – and to strengthen the business rescue process.
At Accounting Weekly, we kept accountants up to speed on developments with UIF and government-assisted loan disbursements, while Saiba members created regional groups communicating via Whatsapp to help each other solve the often tortuous processes involved in applying for these programmes of assistance. The rate of communication flow was brisk, immediate, and desperately needed. Saiba proved itself capable of adapting to the challenges of lockdown with characteristic speed.
We profiled dozens of our members and told their often heart-warming stories that provided a window into some of the most imaginative and trailblazing accountants in the country. If anything, these stories show that Saiba is one of the most progressive and supportive professional bodies in SA.
The Practice Management Conference at the start of the lockdown introduced members to an incredibly wide range of skills and tools designed to assist them navigate their way through very uncertain times.
We kept an eye on the ever evolving tax and legislative environment and what this meant for the accounting profession.
Vast resources were spent on building the Saiba Academy to expand the technical and business knowledge of its members. As CEO Nicolaas van Wyk emphasised at the start of 2020, the focus for the year was to create wealth for its members. We profiled numerous stories of Saiba members flourishing despite the lockdown. Many members were shaken out of their comfort zones by the lockdown and found new ways of reaching clients, and adding new skills to their tool kits – such as the professional licences in business rescue, immigration and tax practitioner (to name a few).
It’s time now to turn to 2021, which no doubt will bring a whole new set of challenges. The economic forecasts are for a return to some sort of “normality” in the second half of next year. Accountants will have to play a vital role in this economic recovery. That means continuing to build their skill sets, and providing the kind of high level analytics that companies and client need to survive. The economic trials are far from over, but the good news is that the worst is probably behind us.