The age of the consumer at hand in SA?

2008-10-12 00:00

Take a Break

Is the time of the consumer finally arriving?

South Africa doesn’t boast a particularly impressive record as far as customer care and a consumerist culture are concerned. But perhaps things are changing, as two pieces of legislation are being passed through Parliament, and a private sector initiative is gaining ground.

Both the Companies Bill and the Consumer Protection Bill are intended to improve the environment for business by preventing corruption and underpinning consumer rights.

This includes the right to information that makes labelling of genetically modified food mandatory, strict liability for food producers, importers, distributors and retailers and a commission to probe consumer complaints.

The Companies Bill, in the pipeline since 2004, aims to address several gaps in the business regulatory environment, including the extinction of the cc, the close corporation. The fate of the existing 1,6 million close corporations remains unaffected, for now.

Other objectives of the bill relate to promoting the use of electronic documentation to stop companies taking insurance cover for directors for breach of their duties, forcing companies to report directors’ remuneration in annual statements, and allowing trade unions to see financial statements of firms whose members work under prescribed circumstances.

The bill also favours the notion of a business rescue scheme, rather than a summary liquidation, and has lowered the percentage of shareholders needed to call an extraordinary general meeting from 25% to 10%.

The proponents say that no only will it be easier for shareholders to call meetings, the bill will also enhance the protection of minority shareholders.

In the private sector, meanwhile, Altius Investment Holdings acquired a stake in the business getclosure!, the online complaints management and consumer affairs portal.

The investment will be used to promote the service and to fund enhancements to the getclosure! portal, including mobile access.

The portal allows consumers to submit their complaints online. From there, it delivers the complaint to the appropriate person in the supplier organisation and manages the complaint process until it is closed in a quick, easy and cost-effective way.

Growth in maturity

It’s comforting to hear from insurance professionals that we have developed some global village savvy over the years, and are not doing the knee-jerk thing in reaction to international money jitters.

Steve Ikin of finplanning.com says there’s no panic to rush offshore, or a desperate cashing of investments as one may have seen in the past.

Colleague Craig Elstob says the unpopular Credit Act was our saving grace or, in his words, “imagine what it would be like now if the legislation had not been enacted”.

Independent financial planner Albe Haasbroek says that financial planning is a long-term process and that the challenge is to plan with a degree of flexibility to allow for different circumstances at different times.

His advice to people who want to invest a lump sum, as in a pension pay-out? Leave it in the money market.

Ikin says that it is time in the market, and not timing, that counts in financial planning.

derekalberts@mweb.co.za

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