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How to get VAT-ready

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On the first of April 2018, VAT will increase for the first time in 25 years. Many SMEs have never dealt with a tax increase before, but VIRESH HARDUTH, VP: New Customer Acquisition at Sage Africa & Middle East, offers some tips to get VAT-ready.

On 1 April 2018, Value-Added Tax (VAT) will increase for the first time in 25 years, from 14% to 15%.

If you’re a small business owner, it’s likely that you’ve never had to deal with a change in the VAT rate before and don’t know where to start to get your systems and processes VAT-ready, without impacting your cash flow and operations.

Here are a few tips to get your small business VAT-ready, come 1 April.

·         Test. If you are a small business that still uses manual processes like spreadsheets to calculate and record VAT, consider creating dummy sheets and invoices to ensure you are processing the additional VAT correctly and that you can process transactions at 14% on 31 March and 15% on 1 April. Also consider that, if a customer returns a product on 1 April that they bought on 31 March, it will need to be refunded at the old VAT rate.

NOTE: From 1 April, all receipts, invoices, quotes, adverts, credit and debit notes must reflect the new rate, so test your systems beforehand to make sure there aren’t any errors.

·         Understand time of supply. The transaction date, or time of supply, is probably the biggest consideration for businesses when applying VAT to sales. The VAT Act stipulates that the time of supply will be either when an invoice is issued or when payment is received – whichever happens first. For example, if you invoice for a sale on 31 March but are only paid on 2 April, the VAT rate of 14% will apply. If you receive payment on 1 April but have not yet invoiced for the sale, then VAT should be charged at 15%.

NOTE: Consult the VAT Act for rate-specific rules applicable to contracts and supplies starting before and ending on or after 1 April.

·         Automate where possible. Cloud-based, automated accounting solutions, like Sage One, will be VAT ready, come 1 April. Businesses using these solutions don’t have to worry about staying on top of the different VAT rates because the system will automatically generate the correct VAT invoice, quote and debit or credit note.

NOTE: All transactions are stored and readily accessible in the cloud, from anywhere, ensuring businesses are compliant with SARS and VAT laws.

·         Educate your colleagues. It’s crucial that your team members know how to raise invoices and credit notes that are processed before and after 1 April, and how to process refunds for sales that occurred before this date, as these will attract different VAT rates.

·         Adjust your pricing. The VAT Act states that displayed pricing and adverts must include VAT (unless the product is zero-rated). Some small businesses might want to close shop for the day to adjust their shelf and online pricing to reflect the new rate in time for the new business week on Monday. However, those that are unable to do this can display a notice at the till point, stating that prices do not include VAT at the new rate and will be adjusted at the tills.

NOTE: This grace period is only in place until 31 May, after which all pricing must include the new rate.

·         Check your own quotes and invoices. Any quote or invoice you receive for stock purchased after 1 April should reflect the new VAT rate. You’ll need to submit this documentation when claiming input tax. If your supplier does not calculate VAT correctly, you will be liable for the shortfall, which could impact your cash flow.

NOTE: You will also incur penalties if you under- or over-declare VAT on your VAT201 return – another reason why automating the accounting process is a good idea.

·         Get reporting ready. The next VAT201 return you submit to SARS will be more complicated because you will need to calculate input and output tax at different rates, not to mention the apportionment rate that will need to be calculated for contracts and services taking place before and after 1 April.

NOTE: Again, automated solutions can take care of this for you but, if you’re using manual processes, you might need to consult an accountant to make sure you’re not over or under reporting VAT on your reconciliations.

Complying with the new VAT rate is a massive administrative task for businesses of all sizes – and they don’t have much time to prepare. To find out how Sage can help your business with compliance, click here.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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