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Lack Of Awareness Around Legislation Putting Businesses In South Africa At Risk Of Data Breaches

Report by leading information security company Shred-it reveals that South African businesses are struggling with information and data security.

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More than three-fifths of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) surveyed and a third of larger organisations in South Africa surveyed believe the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI) does not apply to their business raising concerns that there is a gap in basic information security knowledge across the country, a leading information security company said today as it launched the first South Africa State of the Industry – Information Security report.

The survey, conducted by research body Ipsos on behalf of Shred-it, highlighted a lack of awareness among SMEs and C-Suite organisations about the legal requirements around storing and disposing of confidential data outlined in the POPI Act partially enacted on 11 April 2014.

Related: Cyber Security a Growing Issue for Small Business

According to the findings, C-Suite Executives (70%) are more likely than SMEs (37%) to understand the implications the POPI Act has on their business. Although the POPI Act is yet to be fully implemented, once it comes into force businesses are given a grace period of just one year to comply. If the Act is not adopted after this time, organisations could face financial penalties of up to R10 million or a prison sentence of up to 10 years could be imposed.

Nearly half (46%) of C-Suite Executives and one-third (32%) of SMEs say the POPI Act will put pressure on their organisation to change their policies related to information security. Despite this, one-third (32%) of SMEs say they currently have no protocol for storing and disposing of confidential data. By contrast, C-Suites Executives are more likely to have policies in place with over half (57%) saying they have a protocol that is strictly adhered to by all employees. However, a further third (37%) with a policy in place admit that not all employees are aware of these protocols. This highlights a worrying gap in knowledge for employees resulting in personal information potentially being compromised as they are unaware of how to correctly protect, process and securely dispose of data.

Businesses can increase security by implementing a Clean Desk policy, which means all information must be secured, for example in a locked drawer, when an employee is away from their desk, and a Shred-it All policy, which means that all office paperwork is destroyed before being recycled so that employees do not need to make a decision as to what is or is not confidential. Some companies have already responded to these security risks, with 80% of C-suites and 64% of SMEs stating that they have a Clean Desk policy in the workplace.

Related: Is Your Business Being Pickpocketed Online? 5 Vital Answers about Cyber Crimes

Commenting on the findings, Tom Bell, Regional Manager, Shred-it South Africa, said, “Understanding the legislative environment is crucial for businesses in South Africa to ensure they are implementing best practices to safeguard the confidential information of their customers, employees and partners. However, our Security Tracker results show that organisations are not prioritising this, nor are they putting policies in place to help employees understand how to securely store and dispose of sensitive data. By neglecting to put policies in place, businesses are at serious risk of a data breach, which causes significant legal, financial and reputational harm.”

The Security Tracker results also indicate a need for Government to take action and help South African businesses to understand their information security priorities. Both C-Suite (47%) and SMEs (55%) say the South African Government’s commitment to information security needs improvement.

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Other Key Findings from the Security Tracker:

  • Almost all C-Suites Executives (89%) and almost three-quarters of SMEs (73%) questioned say they have employees using flexible/off-site working models. Despite this, only 53% of C-Suite Executives have a policy in place for disposing of and storing confidential information both off-site and at home, while this is lower for SMEs (32%), therefore highlighting a policy gap and potential data breach risk for businesses.
  • Just half of C-Suite Executives (55%) and SMEs (51%) say client/customer information would threaten the stability of their organisation in the event it was stolen, which is concerning as this information is often confidential and the loss of this data could cause significant legal, financial and reputational damage. Likewise, only 37% of C-Suite Executives and 22% of SMEs note that the theft of HR/Employee information would be damaging, despite the fact that this often contains highly sensitive personal information about individuals, highlighting a lack of knowledge from South African businesses around what information could put them at risk.

Related: 10 Steps that Could Save your Business from a Cyberattack

These results clearly show that many businesses in South Africa are struggling with information security putting confidential information at risk. Organisations, in particular SMEs, need to recognise that they may need to turn to experts for counsel, whether that’s Government bodies responsible for information security or an information destruction service provider.

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3 Stealthy Tax Hikes Payroll Managers And Employees Need To Take Note Of

By Rob Cooper, tax expert at Sage, and chairman of the Payroll Authors Group of South Africa

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“Dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.” 

The adage summarises the difficult decisions government and the Finance Minister faced when balancing the country’s books, rescuing state-owned enterprises, and reviving the growth of our economy. Given the economic pressure that most taxpayers are facing, government ideally needed to achieve all of that without direct increases to personal income tax in the most recent Budget Speech.

Personal income tax has comprised at least a third of South Africa’s total tax revenue in recent tax years, despite growing unemployment. The 2019 Budget, presented in February, forecasts that personal income tax will account for nearly 39% of tax collected during the upcoming (2019/20) tax year. Given that we are in an election year and that the tax base is fragile, it’s not surprising that the Finance Minister and the National Treasury avoided direct increases to the statutory tax tables used to calculate PAYE for employees in the budget.

Nonetheless, government has made inflation work in its favour to impose some tax increases by stealth. Here are three ways government is raising more revenue without direct tax increases:

1. Bracket creep

The statutory tax tables used by payrolls and employers have not been changed for 2019/20, nor have the brackets been adjusted for inflation. This effectively amounts to an indirect tax increase that will yield a revenue saving of approximately R12.8 billion for government’s coffers.

It is not unusual for government to use ‘bracket creep’ to effectively raise more revenue. But unlike previous tax years, even low- and middle-income earners are not getting much relief. Rebates and the tax threshold are being increased by small amounts to allow some relief, but many people this year will feel the pain as inflationary salary increases push them into a higher tax bracket.

2. Medical aid credit not adjusted for inflation 

As proposed in the 2018 Budget, the Finance Minister did not apply an inflationary increase to the Medical Tax Credit, which allowed him to raise an extra R1 billion in revenue for the year. Surprisingly, these funds will be allocated to general tax revenue rather than ring-fenced for healthcare. In previous tax years, revenue generated from below-inflation increases on medical scheme credits was used to fund National Health Insurance (NHI) pilot projects.

There is still no clarity on how the NHI is going to be funded except for a general statement that the funding model is a problem for the National Treasury to solve, and that the principles of cross-subsidisation will apply. One wonders if any real progress will be made soon, given the fiscal constraints government faces.

3. Business travel deduction left untouched

The Budget leaves the per-kilometre cost rates used to determine tax deductions for business travel untouched. By not increasing travel rates to account for inflation, government effectively increases income tax collection at the cost of the taxpayer. This will be a blow for people who need to claim from their employers for business travel in their personal vehicles. This change has slipped through largely unnoticed and the budget does not provide numbers for the expected increase in tax revenue.

Closing words

Amid political turmoil and uncertainty, the Finance Minister presented a balanced budget for 2019/20 that offers hope for the future along with some tough love. With government taking steps to accelerate economic growth and improve revenue collection, we should hopefully see a steady improvement in government finances, which will translate into less pressure on the taxpayer in future years.

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SMEs: Staying On The Right Side Of The Taxman

Remaining SARS compliant can be a constant challenge for small- to medium-enterprises (SMEs), especially when they are trying to focus on growing their businesses and streamlining their operations.

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EasyBiz Managing Director, Gary Epstein, says submitting taxes can be a seamless process that does not have to take up more time than is necessary. “If business owners understand what is required of them and they put a few processes into place to deal with their tax submissions properly, their lives will be so much easier.”

What are the top three considerations for SMEs when submitting tax returns?

“Firstly,” says Epstein, “SARS returns must be accurate and submitted in terms of the relevant Act. Secondly, returns should be submitted and paid on time to avoid unnecessary penalties and interest, and thirdly, business owners must follow up on queries issued by SARS. “Do not ignore these queries, act on them as soon as possible”.

What are the major SARS submission deadlines for SMEs?

Epstein points out that small business owners need to adhere to various tax deadlines, each with their own particular dates for submission. “It is important that business owners diarise the dates (and set advance reminders for themselves) and/or enlist the services of an accountant or financial adviser to help them keep abreast of requirements.”

Value-added tax (VAT)

VAT payments need to be submitted in the VAT period allocated to the business, according to various categories and ending on the last day of a calendar month. This may mean making payments once a month, once every two months, once every six months or annually, depending on the category.

Provisional taxes

Provisional tax should be submitted at the end of August (first provisional) and at the end of February (second provisional) – for February year-end companies.

Employee taxes

In addition to submitting an annual reconciliation (EMP501) for the period 1 March to end of February for Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE), Skills Development Levy (SDL) and Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF), employee tax, in the form of an EMP201 return, needs to be submitted by the seventh of every month.

When can SMEs get extensions and is it worth it?

Epstein says SMEs can apply for various extensions, but these are subject to the Income Tax Act and Tax Administration Act.

“It is best for SMEs to consult their tax professionals to get advice regarding extensions for their businesses.”

What is SARS not flexible about?

SARS is not flexible when it comes to late returns and late payments.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is for SME owners to ensure their tax returns are submitted on time. In this way, they will avoid the inconvenience and expense of additional fines and interest,” notes Epstein.

What skills do SMEs need in their organisations to be able to submit to SARS efficiently?

Business owners often don’t have the time or expertise to deal with tax submissions throughout the year. If the business cannot afford to employ a full-time accountant or financial services expert, it would do well to outsource its tax requirements to a registered tax practitioner.

“I would recommend that even if they are not submitting the tax returns themselves, business owners should have a broad understanding of the tax regulations and what is expected of them. There is a lot of helpful information on the various Acts and tax requirements on SARS’ website,” says Epstein.

How does the right software help SMEs remain SARS compliant?

SME’s (and their accountants’) jobs can be made easier by using reliable accounting software to calculate accurate VAT reports. These reports are only as accurate as the data entered into them, which means care needs to be taken when inputting data into the accounting programme. Epstein says a good accounting software package must be reliable, easy to use and functional.

“SMEs need to check that the software has thorough reporting capabilities and can interface with other software solutions. Of course, it is also important to find out whether the software is locally supported by the vendor or not.”

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4 Dangers Of Business Under-insurance

A common short-term insurance peril that many SMEs face when submitting a claim following an insured event is the risk of being underinsured.

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Malesela Maupa, Head of Products and Insurer Relationships at FNB Insurance Brokers says, many small business owners mistakenly believe that by merely having a short-term insurance policy in place they are adequately protected against unforeseen events.

“This is technically correct provided that the business is covered for the full replacement value of the items insured. However, in circumstances where the sum insured does not cover the full replacement value or material loss of the item insured, the business is underinsured,” explains Maupa, as he unpacks the dangers of business underinsurance:

1. Financial loss

The most common risk is financial loss on the part of the business. If the business is underinsured or the indemnity period understated, the short-term insurance policy will only pay out the sum insured for the stated indemnity period as stated in the schedule, with the business owner having to provide for the shortfall. This often leads to cash flow challenges, impacting profit margins or rendering it difficult for the business to recover following the financial loss.

2. Reputational damage

Should an underinsured business not have sufficient funds to replace a key business activity or critical component following a loss, this may impact its ability to fulfil its contractual obligations, leading to a loss of business or market share, and irreparable reputational damage in the worst-case scenario.

3. Legal action

A small business also faces the risk of customers or clients taking legal action against it, should it fail to deliver on goods and services following a loss or be unable to honour its financial commitments that they committed to prior to the loss.

4. Survival of the business

A catastrophic event such as fire, which could result in the loss of stock or company equipment and documentation, could threaten the survival of a small business that is not yet fully established, if the business assets are not adequately insured.

Working with an experienced short-term insurance broker or insurer is essential when taking up short-term insurance to ensure that business contents are covered for their full replacement value.

Furthermore, depending on the nature of the business or item insured, the policy should be reviewed on a regular basis to avoid underinsurance as the value of items often change overtime due to fluctuations in economic activity. Where it’s necessary, evaluation certificates need to be kept up to date.

“Lastly, SMEs should ensure that the sum insured does not exceed the replacement value, which would lead to over insurance. Should a business submit a claim following a loss, the insurer would only pay out the replacement value, regardless of the higher sum insured,” concludes Maupa.

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