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30th August, 2019

Seasonal payroll advisory for agribusiness clients

Whether your practice supports a few agribusiness clients or many, you’ll need an intimate understanding of how seasonal business influences payroll to best support them.

From retail to manufacturing, there aren’t many industry sectors that aren’t impacted in some way by seasonal trends.

And there are few sectors more affected by seasonality than agriculture.

Whether your clients are in dairy, sheep and beef or even agricultural services, chances are they’ll have some serious peaks and troughs in productivity at the same time each year.

Payroll advisor for Shand Thomson, Rachel Verheul is well versed in the ins and outs of seasonal rural businesses.

“Those peaks are often associated with sudden increases in workforce for those businesses,” said Verheul.

“Our clients will go through periods of employing additional staff numbers in order to handle peak production times.”

For this reason, the team at Shand Thomson not only need to have thorough insight into the specifics of their clients’ businesses, they need to be experts in seasonal staffing needs as well.


Key concerns for seasonal staffing


In some ways, highly seasonal businesses operate in much the same way as any other, but there are some devils in the detail.

“Seasonal businesses like our farmers might have specific considerations for cash flow in terms of putting aside money for seasonal hiring ahead of when they actually expect to bring in revenue from production, but that’s much the same as any other business, really,” Verheul said.

“But that doesn’t mean our clients are experts in HR or payroll legislation.”

In particular, agribusiness clients tend to rely heavily on non-permanent hires to service their seasonal requirements.

“They’ll also have casual employees during the season as well,” said Verheul.

As a result, agribusiness clients who consider managing all payroll requirements themselves will often run afoul of complex workplace legislation – specifically, the notoriously hard to interpret Holidays Act, which can have serious consequences for employers who don’t properly attribute leave and holiday pay, among other things.

“Some of our smaller clients might be tempted to try and do some of this type of work themselves, but an increasing number of clients just don’t want to have to deal with the admin stuff.

“They find it quite stressful, and I don’t blame them.”

That’s because Inland Revenue have been quite clear that it is increasing the number of labour inspectors on the ground, and so the risk of non-compliant employers getting caught out is higher than ever before.

“Many of our clients have staff that aren’t on standard hours.

“They may have fluctuating hours or a rotating roster – they’re not working Monday to Friday – and that’s when things start getting quite mucky.

“We get called in to assist them calculating public holidays, leave owing, time off and all those things. It’s actually quite confusing for any inexperienced operator to try and wade through.”

And with the arrival of Payday Filing, the urgency around getting this right is perceived to be even higher than before.


How to prepare your practice for seasonal payroll advisory


Getting seasonal payroll advisory right relies on the same principles of any advisory-based activity: you need to have the expertise, and you need to have the ability to deliver it.

As accounting practices have begun to embrace automation which in turn has resulted in more streamlined workflows, the burden of transactional processing and compliance work has reduced.

This trend has freed accountants up to offer more in the way of payroll advisory services than ever before.

“Developing the resource in your practice to be able to offer payroll advisory is definitely an achievable goal.

“The trick is to make sure your clients are coming to discuss these matters with you before they get themselves in trouble.”

Using communications triggers like Payday Filing or the Holidays Act in emails or letters may encourage some recalcitrant clients to start the conversation, but many of them are probably proactively seeking assistance already.

“A lot of our clients are already trying to update their processes,” said Verheul, “they’re seeking training or answers to concerns as they arise.

“It’s those inbound queries that we use as an opportunity to demonstrate our payroll expertise and capabilities.

“Making sure all our payroll staff are confident in discussing any payroll query, specific to each type of client, such as seasonality, is integral to our success in this space.”

With spring basically here and summer on the way, agribusinesses are scaling up for a successful production season.

Now is the time for advisors with agribusiness clients to think about how they can best support them throughout.

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