Getting to grips with new audit client Solomon & Company’s activities was a major challenge for Grant Thornton audit manager Leanne Fisher and her colleague, Rhea Ingram.
With around 200 employees, the business might not be all that big when compared with some of the multinational clients the Sheffield office deals with, but it does have around 25 subsidiaries, running everything from farms to public transport, corner shops to fuel supplies, international trade to insurance and auto repairs to IT support.
It also runs a couple of shops 580 miles away on Ascension Island, which the Grant Thornton duo audited on the way back.
Although no one uses credit cards and there is, as yet, no mobile phone network on St Helena, payment systems range from manual records to DIY stores and supermarkets with electronic tills.
“It is very different and challenging and my hope was it would give Leanne and Rhea the opportunity to learn about business in a new way,” says Grant Thornton partner Paul Houghton.
“You have to understand different segments, how the businesses work and how the stock movements work.”
Although they weren’t due to leave for St Helena until the middle of the year, Leanne and Rhea started work on the business at the start of the year.
“It was a question of getting to understand the client, ringing them up regularly to see what they do and how they do it and what they expected of us,” says Leanne.
The duo also had to understand the ethos of the company, in which a lot of the islanders have a stake, while St Helena’s government is the major shareholder.
“They are trying to improve results, but not to the detriment of the islanders. They have upped wages more significantly than any other company on the island, but they haven’t upped prices,” says Leanne.
“They are there for the benefit of the island and the islanders – a cooperative would be a good comparison.”
Paul Houghton says Solomon’s was keen to get an external perspective on the issues it faces and to see how it could improve its systems.
“They have been so grateful for what we have done for them,” says Leanne. “Other ‘away’ jobs just don’t compare.’’