JOHANNESBURG — More South African business owners are eyeing the opportunities that the UK presents, according to Sable International’s Director of Accounting, Scott Brown. Despite Brexit, the UK continues to offer a solid base for businesses to operate from and even expand to the rest of Europe. The financial centre of London, in particular, continues to hold sway in today’s global market. Brown explains to BizNews what the process involves when relocating or even starting a business in the UK. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering this move. – Gareth van Zyl
This podcast is brought to you by Sable International. I’m speaking to Scott Brown, who is Sable International’s Director of Accounting in the company’s London office.
Scott, thanks for chatting to us today. Can you tell me more about Sable International’s business relocation service? You help South Africans and other nationalities to relocate, expand or start a business in the UK.
Hi Gareth, yes that’s right. Our business model is to look at companies that want to come into the UK and that haven’t got any base or headquarters within the UK.
With the opportunities that are available within the UK these days, we find that more and more businesses based in other countries want to move over here and set up. Sable International helps them from the initial move and incorporation of the company, right up to the completion and filing of the business accounts and tax returns.
We can be as flexible as the client wants by doing as little or as much as they need.
Sable International also specialises in helping people who wish to remain living in South Africa, whilst keeping a business running in the UK. Can you tell us more about how that works exactly?
We have a visa arm to Sable International and they specialise in immigration into the UK. We make sure that the client talks to the people they need to talk to and see what criteria they have to meet to be able to live in the UK. We leave this to our visa experts to work out. When someone’s coming into the UK, there are a number of avenues, and visas, they can look at and that’s especially the case if they have their own business within the UK as well.
Through your service, you can also get a UK bank account. If one didn’t go through the likes of Sable International, would this traditionally be quite a difficult process to follow?
Yes, UK bank accounts are notoriously difficult to set up. Basically, if a company is looking to set up a company bank account, the compliance teams at the bank go through a number of questions. The way Sable International can help is we can deal with the banks directly. We have a very good relationship with one of the banks, namely Royal Bank of Scotland, and we can work with the client and the bank to get that company bank account set up.
If the client was looking at doing it by themselves, generally they would need to be in the UK. The bank would demand an interview and obviously, if someone’s just looking to set up their business, they don’t necessarily want to move to the UK at the same time. In this situation, we can step in and be the middleman to help the person set up their accounts before they get to the UK.
What are the costs involved with this process?
It depends on how much work the client wants us to do, but a full package will generally start at £2000 plus VAT.
With this package, we do everything for the client, from setting up and incorporating their company, to working with them to get their bank account set up, to discussing the operations of the business – whatever requirements they want.
We also like to make ourselves the registered office. By doing that, all the correspondence from all the government departments comes to our office so we can deal with it and, as is often the case, a Sable International secretary can be made the company secretary. By doing this, it allows someone like myself to contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), or Companies House, or the other government departments on behalf of the client while they’re not in the UK.
You’ve mentioned some of the services that Sable International offers once you’ve successfully set up a business in the UK. Can you go through some of the other services that you offer, such as tax advice, for example?
Every company in the UK obviously needs to file their set of accounts, including their Corporation Tax returns. Directors of UK companies also need to look at filing personal tax returns, but that happens after the first year. Our accounting team will look after the books, do all the bookkeeping work, and make sure that the VAT returns are filed. We try and act as the company’s local financial arm, mainly because the individual is often not in the UK.
We will look after all the accounting needs, we’ll make sure that everything is filed in time at HMRC and we’ll deal with any requests from Companies House etc. We can also help with negotiations of contracts and leases to help the business get set up here.
What are the key attractions around starting a business in the UK? What is it about the UK that differentiates it from many other attractive countries out there, such as Singapore, the UAE, or even the US?
Well, I think the UK is still a good stepping stone into Europe. Even with regard to what’s going on with Brexit, it’s still a good trading platform to get to a larger market.
Depending on what sectors the business focuses on — for example the Fintech area is very big in the UK at the moment — there are many government grants that can be looked at to help businesses get going in the UK.
So, one, it’s a good platform here to start with, two, it’s a good platform to venture farther, especially into Europe, and I think the UK has always had a good trading relationship with other countries of the world too.
It’s also relatively easy to set up here, compared to a lot of those other countries that you mentioned, and the laws are pretty much similar to other parts of the English-speaking world as well.
The South African Rand has been in quite uncertain territory of late. It’s been trading strong throughout most of the year, but now it’s starting to weaken again. Is it a good time for South Africans to consider the option of starting a business in the UK?
Based solely on the currency, I would say yes. None of us really know what the future’s going to be like and we’ve spoken to a number of South Africans who looked to the UK for a bit of stability.
Even though the Brexit negotiations are going on at the moment, we still believe that the UK is a stable platform to get onto and trade through, as it also allows one to trade internationally. The UK is still recognised around the world as a good business partner. So; yes, I think it is a good time to be looking to move to the UK.
What is the demand for the service from South Africans? Obviously, it’s been quite a testing time in South Africa. Are you finding that the demand is growing?
We’re definitely finding that. I’ve just arrived this morning to find two further queries from South Africa in my inbox. I think the FinTech side seems to be very in demand at the moment. But we have had queries from a number of industries who like what the UK has to offer.
I think it also helps that the UK is English-speaking. As I say, the laws are similar to what’s going on in South Africa and, with Sable International, we’re dealing with like-minded people, we know the businesses, we have an understanding of South Africa and you know, we’re here to help and we want to.
You said that you’ve had quite a few requests from the likes of FinTechs, so are there many FinTech South African businesses that are now looking to the UK specifically?
We definitely are finding that’s one of the larger areas that people are coming from. Again, I think it’s because of the money that the UK government’s been putting into technology and also there are a number of grants that can help businesses set up, depending on where they want to go, especially if they’re looking to be outside of London.
Apart from South Africans, which other nationalities are increasingly looking to Sable International to start a business in the UK?
Recently we’ve had New Zealanders, Australians, Americans, a number of queries from the UAE, Canadians and, interestingly enough, we’ve had a few requests from Europe as well, so it’s becoming worldwide.
Obviously, the UK is in high demand all over the world.
That’s what we’re finding, yes.
What advice would you give to anybody who’s looking to start a business in the UK?
I think, don’t try and go it alone. While certain aspects are relatively easy, there is a lot of paperwork to get through and there are many areas that you can trip up over without some local knowledge. The process can take a lot longer than what you would like it to.
Finally, know what you want to do, know why you’re doing it and then speak to someone with the local knowledge to make sure that you get it right. Anything you get wrong in the UK takes a long time to fix.
Scott Brown, it’s been an interesting discussion today. Thanks a lot for taking the time to chat to me.
Great, thank you very much.
Great, thank you. This podcast was brought to you by Sable International.