An interview with Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall has a passion for innovation, both inside and out of the payroll arena. He recently restructured his successful payroll company, Employer Services Limited (ESL), in two, selling the software arm to Intuit and the payroll bureau to RSM (formerly Baker Tilly). Stuart now works with payroll professionals in a consulting and advisory nature. We sat down with him to glean some of the knowledge he had acquired in building a successful payroll bureau business:

If you were to build another payroll bureau where would you start?

I’ve always been an advocate for technology and agility, which was how we managed and delivered payroll for our clients at ESL. Success came by building the business around the processes required to efficiently run a payroll bureau. In short, I would build it around sensible, practical technology - a workflow solution like Payflow and technology to deliver electronic payslips – and a team that embraced change and increasing efficiency.

Could you elaborate on why you believe this is the most sensible approach?

I was involved in the Payflow product right from the beginning. Having survived by creating daily spreadsheets, it was a chance meeting with Sean, NewOrbit’s CEO, where we discussed the pain points in the current method. We analysed the best way forward for managing the numerous tasks a payroll bureau has in its normal delivery, as well as the need to eliminate or reduce errors and time. Delivering payroll is a quick succession of transactions with immense pressure from short time-frames and critical deadline dates. In this environment there is a high probability of something going wrong, whether it be a minor issue or something more serious. However, due to the pressures of the environment, a minor issue that isn’t stopped in its tracks and put right immediately can quickly become an escalated issue.

Today, payroll still requires manual input so there needs to be sufficient checks and measures to minimise the risk this brings. With increasing pressures from all sides - clients, HMRC, the industry and competitors - it’s not just whether you can scale any more, its whether you can survive in an ever-changing environment. The smaller bureaux only have one option and advantage to the larger boys – the ability to more easily adopt technology, i.e. agility. Software can be taken and dropped for something new, providing you put the structures in place internally. This is scary for the software industry but a win for the payroll industry – you just need to be willing to embrace change and have the tenacity to see it through.

In this fictitious new payroll bureau, what would be your offering?

Every payroll bureau I speak to talks about being “bespoke” and “going above and beyond” for the clients. This is, of course, admirable but unfortunately not commercially astute as an embedded practice. Be friendly, be kind, but be realistic. Adding complexity into the mix is costly and impacts not just the client’s payroll but the delivery of all payrolls. Complexity, of course, is unavoidable; there are plenty of what I would call ‘standard offerings’: monthly, weekly, 2-weekly, etc. delivering high turnover, low margin work day-in day-out. This would of course be priced well below the norm as I know that with the help of technology like Payflow, we could deliver a standard service like this, with ease.

Price per payslip is the reality of our industry and it’s not likely to change quickly, or ever. In my fictitious bureau, I would be inventive to stay ahead. Having experienced the implementation of Payflow first-hand and the efficiency savings both for bureau and the clients who embrace the introduction of technology, I would use it again.

To talk to us further about how you might follow in Stuart’s footsteps, feel free to get in touch.

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