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Nobody likes to be pigeonholed, categorised, and over-simplified, not even accountants. We are all familiar with the ‘accountant’ generalisation: grey men in grey suits crunching numbers. Sadly, the practice of accounting has not always been given its fair due, but fortunately, thanks to a few disruptors in this industry, things are shaking up.

Neill Hobbs of Hobbs Sinclair, a Cape Town-based audit and accounting firm, gives insight into the changing face of his firm.

“Our business was built on the thriving safe-haven of audit revenue. Prior to 2011, company audits were compulsory and a small audit and accounting practise, such as Hobbs Sinclair, enjoyed success in a consulting relationship with its clients. But the New Companies Act, introduced in 2011, forbade any form of consulting relationships or dispensation of advice between auditor and client. The role of the auditor changed from being a trusted advisor to that of a truly independent and antagonistic, objective auditor.

“Following the ENRON debacle and in line with international trends, the IRBA set out to sever relationships, prohibiting clients from seeking business advice from their auditor. This left old-school business people, who believed in solid relationships with clients, in a serious quandary: how do we still offer traditional service without breaking the (much needed) new code of ethics? Our immediate survival plan, until we adjusted to the new regulations, was to maintain an audit focus by developing a somewhat surgical audit team that only provided services to larger clients on an arm’s-length basis.

The drawing board is always a good place to re-start. We set out on a recruitment drive to enable us to adjust as needed. We searched for qualified CAs and more importantly, CIMA trainees, who came with a certain skill set that we were unable to find outside of the CIMA. The focus of the CIMA qualification is on the extraction of information that is useful, informative an accurate, rather than on the recording and reporting of numbers. CIMA graduates are taught to make well-informed decisions concerning the day-to-day direction of a business. CIMA trainees approach a business problem from a new and different perspective, an approach suiting our business well as we began to actively seek opportunities to engage with and influence small business owners in their strategic decisions.

“The byproduct of our audit department being coerced to separate from our familiar and more traditional way of doing business was the movement forward into alternate accounting and business solution services. The innovation of the New Companies Act has ushered new opportunities our way; we began offering business advice to SMEs and found ourselves emerging as an authority in the domain of business rescue, and more recently, via Section 12J of the Income Tax Act, in the form of our groundbreaking Venture Capital Company Anuva Investments. Listening carefully to our clients’ needs is the driving force in our willingness to traverse new territories. One such need has led us to venture into a Trust Management Business with partners MKD Accountants, as the anticipated tax laws should see trustees considering a pragmatic restructuring of funding of family trusts.

A ten year journey has led this bunch of bean-counters into new and exciting ventures. What was once a fairly standard accounting practice has evolved into a financial house offering a multitude of solutions from business funding to estate planning, via a single conduit, in an environment of transparency and trust.

Breaking the mould; disrupting the stereotype. That’s how we like it.

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