Payroll is one of the biggest expenses in any small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), yet it is also one of the areas of the business most likely to be neglected when it comes to risk management. As a result, incidences of payroll fraud are growing at an alarming rate among SMEs in South Africa.
Payroll Fraud Is On The Rise
According to research conducted by Alexander Forbes in 2011, payroll fraud costs South African business more than cash-in-transit heists. The growing number of clients asking Sage VIP for help with forensic investigations after falling prey to payroll fraud suggests that the crime is on the rise, says Yolande Schoültz, Risk & Fraud Management Division Manager at Sage VIP Payroll & HR.
“Payroll fraud happens most to businesses with less than 100 employees, and it can seriously hurt their ongoing sustainability. It usually takes 18 months to detect payroll fraud, and it is usually uncovered by accident. By that time, a business could have lost a vast amount of money,” she says. “Yet we don’t have accurate statistics because so few businesses prosecute employees for this crime.”
Payroll fraud is committed in numerous ways. One example is a corrupt payroll manager paying him or herself through a ghost employee. Another common scam sees the fraudster adjust overtime or leave for other employees in exchange for a kickback. More recently, there have been cases of employees selling payslips to criminals for use in identify theft.
Opportunity and Motivation
Motivation, opportunity and rationalisation – the three components of the classic fraud triangle – come together in the SME’s payroll to create enormous risks for smaller businesses, says Schoültz.
Motivation is the reason an employee might have to try to defraud his or her employer – for example, he or she might need money to feed a gambling or drug habit, or could be short of cash for school fees or medical expenses.
Even when an organisation carefully screens employees to avoid hiring those with poor credit histories or criminal records, it cannot be certain that its employees will not have a motive for theft. And once people have been tempted to commit payroll fraud, they can usually rationalise their behaviour to themselves, for example by telling themselves that they’re underpaid or that they’ll pay the money back when they can.
For these reasons, SMEs should assume that anyone working with money in the business needs oversight. People’s motivations and rationalisations for payroll fraud cannot be eliminated, but you can significantly reduce their opportunities to act on the temptation to commit the crime.
Small businesses often do not have the controls in place to reduce the opportunities for employees to commit payroll fraud, she adds. Risk management is often low on a SME’s list of priorities because it is so busy with sales, product development, and customer service. Yet safeguarding the business from payroll fraud is relatively simple and needn’t cost much money.
One Simple Step
The most important thing to do, she argues, is to enforce segregation of duties in the payroll department. For example, a clerk could capture payroll data, while the payroll manager could manage access to the system as well as add and remove employees from the payroll. Then, a financial person could be tasked with checking that the numbers add up.
Even a small business should be able to assign different people to the responsibilities of processing the payroll and signing it off. Payroll software can also help to reduce the risk of fraud by giving managers better visibility into transactions, providing an audit trail, and providing a set of controls and checks.
Schoültz calls upon SMEs who are victims of payroll fraud to prosecute the offenders, even though it is expensive, time-consuming and difficult to do so. The Bribery and Anti-corruption Act compels organisations to report incidents of fraud of over R100,000 to the authorities, she notes.
However, companies often feel it will hurt their credibility to be in the news because an employee has committed fraud. What’s more, it can take R100,000 or more and four years to successfully prosecute someone for payroll fraud. Most SMEs feel they simply cannot afford the time and money.
The result is that payroll fraudsters are often free to move onto a new company and carry on with their behaviour when they’ve been caught and fired by one of their employers.
The following signs may indicate that a business is at risk of becoming a victim of payroll fraud:
- There is only one person with access to the payroll system and the ability to use it.
- The person responsible for the payroll never seems to want to take leave—that may indicate that he or she has something to hide.
- He or she is at work earlier and leaves later than anyone else in the business—perhaps to do the fraudulent business when there’s no one else in the office.
- He or she is eager to work from home, out of sight.
“Payroll fraud is one of the most common white-collar crimes in the business world. For that reason, every managing and financial director must put in place sound policies and processes to address this growing risk,” says Anton van Heerden, managing director for Sage VIP and Sage Pastel Payroll & HR.
“Automated payroll software can help. A good solution will offer automated ID number and bank account validations, employee credit checks and the delivery of secure salary EFT payments—all of which can prevent paying ghost employees or putting money in the wrong bank account.”
Charity Begins At Home This Festive Season
3 Ways to invest in your own employees.
We often only think of corporate social investment (CSI) as an organisation’s actions in the surrounding communities (philanthropy and volunteering), but CSI is also inward facing. By promoting employee well-being, your business can be a vehicle for change, not only in the society around it, but also directly in the lives of those working there.
Here are some ways you can invest in your own employees during the festive season:
1. Involve your employees in a higher purpose
This might sound like a bit of circular reasoning, but studies have shown that involving employees in CSI activities has several benefits. People involved in meaningful activities tend to be more motivated and willing to go that extra mile because of the higher good associated with the work. CSI programmes also:
- Increase co-operative behaviour and employee relationships
- Enhance the sense of company identity
- Improve employee retention and commitment
- Create an attractive company culture.
2. Provide the space for physical and mental breaks
The end-of-year and festive period is often a very stressful period. Balancing festive and family duties with increased pressure at work due to colleagues taking leave, looming year-end targets and planning for the next year can take a toll.
You, as the employer, can ease this stress by ensuring that there are systems in place that define holiday working policies. Promote time and productivity management to plan workflows and keep the momentum going in these last weeks of the year. Also make sure you have effective communication strategies in place for plans that are in the pipeline for the new year, so that employees can get their heads around upcoming changes. This will allow employees to plan ahead and build in time to switch off, knowing that all of the boxes have been ticked.
3. Constructive feedback/motivation
Also, take the time to acknowledge and show appreciation for the hard work that your staff has put in throughout the year. As the saying goes “valued employees are valuable employees.”
How Medical Savings Accounts Are Changing – For The Better
By Jeremy Yatt, Principal Officer of Fedhealth
The concept of medical savings accounts (MSA) emerged in the industry in the early 1990s, reputedly when Discovery founder Adrian Gore was working at Liberty. At that time medical scheme benefits for different kinds of day-to-day healthcare were specified, so for example, you’d get a certain amount of Rands to spend on your over-the-counter medicine, or for optometry services. But this was problematic, as people’s daily medical needs are all so different. So, you’d have medical aid members calling their medical schemes saying, “I haven’t used my spectacle limit this year, so can I transfer it to use on medication instead?”.
The idea for MSAs was to pool these separate benefits into a total Rand amount, that you could then spend how you wanted, and more importantly, retain if you didn’t use them all. Initially, medical schemes were reluctant to follow this idea, as they thought it would lead to under-servicing: medical aid members might be unwilling to spend their savings, and so might not get the proper day-to-day medical attention until it became a crisis and they were hospitalised. However this was not the case, and MSAs proved very popular.
At first, there was no real limit on how much of your contributions as a member could go into your MSA, so most schemes allocated around 40-50%. Many schemes also pushed major medical procedures like MRI scans into savings, which was effectively a way of forcing members to self-fund these costly medical expenses. As a result, the Medical Schemes Act was amended in 1998 to impose a 25% limit on the benefits that could be put into MSAs, which largely forced the schemes to be responsible for these major costs.
Under the previous structure there was no disincentive not to use your benefits, particularly as they didn’t roll over from year to year like Medical Savings do. It was therefore not uncommon for a call centre to get queries from members asking how much was available in their different benefit areas, so that they could make sure they used them all up.
MSAs solved these sorts of problems by giving medical aid members increased convenience and autonomy, which is why schemes have been using them for the past 20+ years.
The concept of an MSA isn’t far removed from a loan. Like a loan, an MSA lets you use a sum of money when you want to, but you still have to pay for it regardless of whether you use it or not. It forms part of the registered gross contribution to the medical scheme. Take the example of a member who has R12 000 they can access in their MSA each year. Effectively they are paying for this “loan”, contributing R1000 a month, starting in January. However an MSA means they can use all of that R12 000 upfront, such as if they need expensive dental treatment (crowns etc.) at the start of February that costs R12 000.
In this situation, the member has only paid for R1000 worth of that R12 000 “loan” (with their January contribution), so they effectively “owe” the medical scheme R11 000, which they then pay off over the remainder of the year. If the member left the scheme straight after their dental work, the scheme would then contact the member to repay the R11 000, as they still owe that amount.
The concept of giving members access to medical financing led us to develop our new MediVault offering for day-to-day medical expenses. Describing it as a loan holds negative connotations for some, but it’s not that different from the concept of an MSA: in fact, we see the MediVault as a natural evolution. All it means is that you won’t need to pay for day-to-day savings upfront. Instead, you’ll be allocated money for these everyday medical expenses in your personal MediVault and, once you’ve taken the money out, you only have to pay it back over a period of 12 months – completely interest-free. This is a far better option than taking out an expensive loan from a traditional loan company, or getting it from an unscrupulous loan shark.
Our MediVault offering is not at all about loaning funds to people irresponsibly. We’re not creating a monster that’s going to indebt you – we’re just changing the way you can access funds for your healthcare. After all, health is everyone’s most worthwhile investment, and we want to give people the flexibility to make it their top priority.
Year-End Reviews Are Not Always A Positive Experience
This is largely due to parties entering into it without proper preparations, thinking that it can be done in one meeting.
Performance reviews are similar to entering a race. It’s all about race day, but what you put in before the event (the discipline to wake up and train, the commitment to push yourself and stick to your training plan) is what makes race day either a great positive journey or a terrible experience. The same principle applies to performance reviews. It should not be a once-a-year meeting. It should be part of the monthly job description for both the manager and employee to be able to compare, adjust and review on an ongoing basis. Then, once a year, all the insights gathered during the year should be reviewed to plan for the next year.
Performance excellence reviews contribute to the culture of a company
We always say that attitude determines outputs or achievements. Personal attitudes, and the character of the business, is the culture. A great culture will lead to great achievements.
Performance excellence reviews are the tool we use to compare, adjust and shape what we want to achieve and then benchmark to know if it has been achieved.
Employee performance reveals a lot about the business’ achievements. A business is great when it is profitable, cares about and looks after their people, and contributes towards the wellbeing of society and/or the planet. It is all about performance. What you put in is what you get out. And this is what we need to understand.
Related: How to Set Up Employee Assessments
Performance excellence reviews can be a positive experience
Know the individual and their needs. There are really no one size fits all generic option.
There are however a few general good practices :
- Managers should firstly understand the value that performance excellence reviews contribute towards overall achievements.
- When the manager is positive about the reviews and the value it adds, automatically the employees follow.
- On a monthly basis, review the employee’s feedback relating to the progress of the functions / tasks.
- Be understanding as a manager – not all functions might haven been able to be completed due to job changes or the complexity of a growing job function.
- As employee, understand that a manager is employed to manage the performance of the team, the department and the business. This entails understanding the employees’ performance.
- New employees need to be reviewed more frequently eg. Bi weekly. When the employee has found their feet, review monthly or bi monthly.
- Do not review performance once a year only. Review frequently, and once a year have a focused meeting around performance to discuss what was achieved during the last 12 months.
- Managers should be responsible, and held accountable, to get all staff to complete their reviews (monthly, quarterly etc). It is the managers responsibility and it should be one of their functions.
- Employees should know that performance reviews are simply there to understand the job, and help to align the job and the person’s talents to get the best outputs. It’s about continuously striving towards efficiency and effectiveness.
- As a manager: Communicate progress feedback and offer assistance.
- Be consistent. Review frequently.
- Celebrate achievements.
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