Ian Hurst: Providing cloud-based payroll processing in Africa Ian Hurst: Providing cloud-based payroll processing in Africa

Ian Hurst: Providing cloud-based payroll processing in Africa
31 Oct 2014

Ian Hurst’s career has spanned the depths of diamond mines and traversed South Africa’s years of political turmoil. He climbed the corporate stairway at De Beers, Mobil and retail chain Berger, finding his niche in payroll and setting up Paymaster in 1999.

The company now process payrolls for over 200 worldwide clients, issues over 20,000 monthly payslips and offers cloud-based distribution. Dawn Gay meets the man with big plans for Africa’s payroll.

You started a sparkling career in the diamond mines, how did this translate to a career in payroll?

I got my bachelors of commerce degree at the University of Stellenbosch then went to work at the diamond mines in Kimberley and did a two year internship at De Beers consolidated mines which was part of Anglo American. I was working underground as a part of my training.

I then did an 18 month human resource internship. I specialised in human resource administration and recruitment because of my training and because I had accounting and human resources major, I naturally got given the payroll to supervise. At that stage it was still a manual payroll. We did everything by hand and clicked on big calculators.

When I finished there I joined a Dutch company called Van Leer as their human resource manager where I ran human resources and payroll. I then joined Mobil in Cape Town and ended up as industrial relations manager at the Mobil refinery.

I was there for four to five years. At that stage South Africa was in a real turmoil as it was just before the early 1990’s – not an easy time to be in human resources and industrial relations. I then resigned and came back and worked for the large retail chain, Berger and ran the human resources and payroll department.

Did you see many changes in the payroll process during this time?

Interestingly by this time, payroll had come a long way and they were running payroll on large file servers. We worked on documents creating punch cards that would run through the computers and create long reams of paper. Then, in about 1996-7 (while I was still at Berger), we migrated into one of the first PC based payroll programmes. There was great excitement about that.

So how did Paymaster as we know it today come about?

In 1999, Berger was sold and I did not fit into their corporate culture at all. On the first Sunday night the new owners invited us and our partners to supper. They made the management team sit at one table and the partners at another and we had a management meeting on a Sunday night.

At the end the owner said: “By the way guys, please book out every Sunday night because this is what you’ll be doing for the rest of the year.” As part of my Christian principles, I said ‘no’. From then on we had a complete clash of cultures. Everything I did he didn’t like; everything he did I didn’t like.

I decided that there was an opportunity in the payroll outsourcing market and in 1999, I stepped off the corporate ladder and started Paymaster.

It took me five and a half months to start the company and get my first client. If it had taken me six months I would have gone bankrupt! It was a completely new concept – to go to a customer and run their payroll.

My premise was to make 100 per cent sure that the payrolls were as accurate as we could get them. I c
ould run payrolls quicker and cheaper than the bureaus were running on a PC.

We started with one client and as we got more and more clients the business grew. At Paymaster today, we have 170 clients and print about 15,000 payslips a month. Our largest client employs 1,600 people and our smallest client has two.

We generally grow an average of about two clients a month. I work from home but we have an office at Retreat in Cape Town and I employ 12 people. I have an office manager in Retreat and she runs the day to day office.

What challenges do you face running payrolls in the world’s second largest continent

The first thing that you have to understand is that you are totally reliant on the software that you are using. If the software is set up and created in such a way that you are guided by the software, things like the corporate social responsibility and the health insurance are in the payroll.

There are three real challenges. The first is that you are always looking out for changes that happen in Africa and these are not always very well communicated. They can change the way you need to report, the tax table or add a different earning or a deduction that you need to report to the government. We have a network of people that keep us informed so that we can reprogramme our payroll system to make sure that we are up to date.

The second challenge that always happens when you are working in Africa is filing your legal documents - tax returns and these types of things. We have now come to the point in Africa where a lot of this is electronically filed and so we can now file documents across Africa from our office in Retreat.

Our third challenge is moving money around. We now have a solution in place to allow us to move money around anywhere in Africa to anyone’s account. So when we are running a payroll, say from London to Botswana or Senegal, we can put it into the correct account.

And what is the climate like for companies setting up payrolls in Africa?

I think that companies coming to Africa face a number of challenges. The first is knowledge and information, because if you are setting up a company in a different country you need local knowledge and information to make sure what you are doing is correct. In Africa if you are not compliant they will fine you - and they will fine you big numbers.

The second challenge is generally language if you are coming in from overseas and looking to speak English that could be a challenge.

You have seen some big changes in South Africa in your long career, where does this leave payroll?

I don’t think I’d be able to do what I’m doing now if South Africa hadn’t been through the changes it has. I honestly believe that opportunities have really opened up for us since South Africa joined the international community, which wouldn’t have happened in the old apartheid era.

The frustration is that the education and service levels can be a real challenge. At Paymaster we train people after school and within two years they are running excel programme and payrolls and understand how to do the set ups. We add value to people where we can.

Why do you believe that cloud-based distribution is the future?

I have a view that in the next five or six years there are going to be two or three international payroll programmes that will run payroll for the whole world. In Africa, we could run on one payroll programme, with one software programme, one login and one access point for all 36 African countries. If you can do it for Africa, it’s not going to be very long before someone has a payroll system for the whole world.

I don’t think we can be doing the things we do without cloud-based technology.
We run a system called Paymaster Online, a bespoke online cloud based system.

What is your vision?

To be the leading provider of cloud-based software in South Africa and the leading payroll provider for NGOs in Africa. We want to specialise with NGOs and that is a market we are building on.

I also want Purely Payroll Africa to become the thought leader for African payroll information. Paymaster is going to take a little back seat and Purely Payroll South Africa is going to become the drive to make Purely Payroll Africa the thought leader.

It’s exciting times with the launch of Purely South Africa magazine. What plans do you have for the future?

I think that Purely Payroll South Africa is an amazing opportunity because we don’t have anything like it at the moment. Purely Payroll as a “Our largest client employs 1,600 people and our smallest client has two” uniting body that helps us disseminate objective payroll information without the branding, which doesn’t come from Paymaster, a pastel, VIP payroll programme or any other payroll programme.

I want to be one hundred per cent sure that it grows and have fun. Once the magazine is established we’ll grow the recruitment and training. The magazine looks brilliant and we’ve had a really good response and the articles for the next magazine are going to be even better.

 

Ian Hurst’s career has spanned the depths of diamond mines and traversed South Africa’s years of political turmoil. He climbed the corporate stairway at De Beers, Mobil and retail chain Berger, finding his niche in payroll and setting up Paymaster in 1999.

The company now process payrolls for over 200 worldwide clients, issues over 20,000 monthly payslips and offers cloud-based distribution. Dawn Gay meets the man with big plans for Africa’s payroll.

You started a sparkling career in the diamond mines, how did this translate to a career in payroll?

I got my bachelors of commerce degree at the University of Stellenbosch then went to work at the diamond mines in Kimberley and did a two year internship at De Beers consolidated mines which was part of Anglo American. I was working underground as a part of my training.

I then did an 18 month human resource internship. I specialised in human resource administration and recruitment because of my training and because I had accounting and human resources major, I naturally got given the payroll to supervise. At that stage it was still a manual payroll. We did everything by hand and clicked on big calculators.

When I finished there I joined a Dutch company called Van Leer as their human resource manager where I ran human resources and payroll. I then joined Mobil in Cape Town and ended up as industrial relations manager at the Mobil refinery.

I was there for four to five years. At that stage South Africa was in a real turmoil as it was just before the early 1990’s – not an easy time to be in human resources and industrial relations. I then resigned and came back and worked for the large retail chain, Berger and ran the human resources and payroll department.

Did you see many changes in the payroll process during this time?

Interestingly by this time, payroll had come a long way and they were running payroll on large file servers. We worked on documents creating punch cards that would run through the computers and create long reams of paper. Then, in about 1996-7 (while I was still at Berger), we migrated into one of the first PC based payroll programmes. There was great excitement about that.

So how did Paymaster as we know it today come about?

In 1999, Berger was sold and I did not fit into their corporate culture at all. On the first Sunday night the new owners invited us and our partners to supper. They made the management team sit at one table and the partners at another and we had a management meeting on a Sunday night.

At the end the owner said: “By the way guys, please book out every Sunday night because this is what you’ll be doing for the rest of the year.” As part of my Christian principles, I said ‘no’. From then on we had a complete clash of cultures. Everything I did he didn’t like; everything he did I didn’t like.

I decided that there was an opportunity in the payroll outsourcing market and in 1999, I stepped off the corporate ladder and started Paymaster.

It took me five and a half months to start the company and get my first client. If it had taken me six months I would have gone bankrupt! It was a completely new concept – to go to a customer and run their payroll.

My premise was to make 100 per cent sure that the payrolls were as accurate as we could get them. I c
ould run payrolls quicker and cheaper than the bureaus were running on a PC.

We started with one client and as we got more and more clients the business grew. At Paymaster today, we have 170 clients and print about 15,000 payslips a month. Our largest client employs 1,600 people and our smallest client has two.

We generally grow an average of about two clients a month. I work from home but we have an office at Retreat in Cape Town and I employ 12 people. I have an office manager in Retreat and she runs the day to day office.

What challenges do you face running payrolls in the world’s second largest continent

The first thing that you have to understand is that you are totally reliant on the software that you are using. If the software is set up and created in such a way that you are guided by the software, things like the corporate social responsibility and the health insurance are in the payroll.

There are three real challenges. The first is that you are always looking out for changes that happen in Africa and these are not always very well communicated. They can change the way you need to report, the tax table or add a different earning or a deduction that you need to report to the government. We have a network of people that keep us informed so that we can reprogramme our payroll system to make sure that we are up to date.

The second challenge that always happens when you are working in Africa is filing your legal documents - tax returns and these types of things. We have now come to the point in Africa where a lot of this is electronically filed and so we can now file documents across Africa from our office in Retreat.

Our third challenge is moving money around. We now have a solution in place to allow us to move money around anywhere in Africa to anyone’s account. So when we are running a payroll, say from London to Botswana or Senegal, we can put it into the correct account.

And what is the climate like for companies setting up payrolls in Africa?

I think that companies coming to Africa face a number of challenges. The first is knowledge and information, because if you are setting up a company in a different country you need local knowledge and information to make sure what you are doing is correct. In Africa if you are not compliant they will fine you - and they will fine you big numbers.

The second challenge is generally language if you are coming in from overseas and looking to speak English that could be a challenge.

You have seen some big changes in South Africa in your long career, where does this leave payroll?

I don’t think I’d be able to do what I’m doing now if South Africa hadn’t been through the changes it has. I honestly believe that opportunities have really opened up for us since South Africa joined the international community, which wouldn’t have happened in the old apartheid era.

The frustration is that the education and service levels can be a real challenge. At Paymaster we train people after school and within two years they are running excel programme and payrolls and understand how to do the set ups. We add value to people where we can.

Why do you believe that cloud-based distribution is the future?

I have a view that in the next five or six years there are going to be two or three international payroll programmes that will run payroll for the whole world. In Africa, we could run on one payroll programme, with one software programme, one login and one access point for all 36 African countries. If you can do it for Africa, it’s not going to be very long before someone has a payroll system for the whole world.

I don’t think we can be doing the things we do without cloud-based technology.
We run a system called Paymaster Online, a bespoke online cloud based system.

What is your vision?

To be the leading provider of cloud-based software in South Africa and the leading payroll provider for NGOs in Africa. We want to specialise with NGOs and that is a market we are building on.

I also want Purely Payroll Africa to become the thought leader for African payroll information. Paymaster is going to take a little back seat and Purely Payroll South Africa is going to become the drive to make Purely Payroll Africa the thought leader.

It’s exciting times with the launch of Purely South Africa magazine. What plans do you have for the future?

I think that Purely Payroll South Africa is an amazing opportunity because we don’t have anything like it at the moment. Purely Payroll as a “Our largest client employs 1,600 people and our smallest client has two” uniting body that helps us disseminate objective payroll information without the branding, which doesn’t come from Paymaster, a pastel, VIP payroll programme or any other payroll programme.

I want to be one hundred per cent sure that it grows and have fun. Once the magazine is established we’ll grow the recruitment and training. The magazine looks brilliant and we’ve had a really good response and the articles for the next magazine are going to be even better.