Autumn is a time to take stock. For companies, it is often the time of year when audits take place – the purpose of which is to assess statements and see if they are a fair and true representation of the company’s financial affairs. It is also potentially a time for new ideas and processes to be implemented.
Contractors moving to Switzerland to start an exciting job role, may initially find themselves either looking for an employment services payroll provider once their job is confirmed, or being “recommended” an employment services company by their recruitment agent partner or client company.
Either way, entering into an employment agreement with an “umbrella company”, at the recommendation or insistence of others, may seem like a huge leap of faith to take. And hindsight may show that not knowing if you can really trust the partner company, or ensure they give you an optimal retention rate, or indeed, offer comprehensive ongoing support, can lead to dissatisfaction and even in the worse case – financial ramifications further down the line.
Like companies which conduct an audit in Autumn to ensure their ship is steady and as a result, propose possibly new processes and procedures for financial and operational improvement in the coming year – so the Autumn could be a time of reflection and realignment for contractors. Ensuring the right employment support is in place and trusting your partners’ competences are key. But what other steps are important? And more importantly, how do contractors best conduct an audit given the unknowns.
The first criterion to look for when drawing up a short list of providers is to see how long the employment services company has been in business and if they are licensed by SECO (www.seco.admin.ch) as a provider of labour leasing services for Switzerland. This information should be available on the provider’s website. Feel free to also ask about whether they have been audited by SECO and what the results were.
The second point to investigate as part of the audit, is to check the website of the provider. It is a good idea to look for hard facts rather than claims. Does the provider actually perform as stated on their website?
- Some payroller websites make lots of claims and promises: do they have any data to back these up?
- Bear in mind – a good ability in online marketing, does not necessarily reflect stability or ability to provide the payroll service you need.
- Look for serious, well-established companies – they are still in business after many years, because they have a strong, compliant and viable offering.
3. What is included in the offer?
Any provider advertising their offer focusing on a low headline price should be handled with caution. Be especially aware of any parts of the service not included in the quotation. Some payroll companies charge extra for paying the contractor’s payroll promptly after the month end. Or even require a deposit by the contractor as a “guarantee”. Paying the salary on time is a legal requirement, so the contractor should not pay extra for this. Others charge items such as a “permit fee” or a “support line fee” both of which can incur significant additional charges for the contractor.
4. Retention rates
When selecting a new payroll partner, the contractor must consider the overall financial return, and not just the headline service charge. This means:
- Swiss payroll charges are not standard across the nation: there are 26 cantons in Switzerland all with different financial costs and rules.
- Unlike other countries such as the UK, Swiss payroll requires an employer to contract private insurance companies for pension, sickness and accident cover.
- The premiums of the above can vary significantly by provider and the length of time each company has established a claims record.
- The contractor should consider lower than average headline commission quotes with precaution and ask – is the company clawing back money elsewhere, for example in hidden provisions?
- Conducting an audit, the only way to be really certain is to insist on a full breakdown of the payroll costs, where the contractor can clearly see all charges and the overall retention rate. (i.e. how much you actually get in relation to what the client is billed).
- When these quotations are compared, it is a good idea to be very careful. For instance:
- are the monthly hours actually billed in the quotations the same?
- is holiday included?
The golden rule for the contractor if there is a difference that they cannot understand, is ask until a satisfactory answer has been given.
5. Does the provider actually have their own physical presence in Switzerland?
There are plenty of global providers now offering a “100% digital solution”. Given we live in a digital age, that might sound good at first, but the real question to ask here is: does the provider actually have their own physical presence and office with their own staff in Switzerland or are they “running their operation” in Switzerland using an an address of a partner with a SECO license?
Having local payroll experts on the ground is a key criterion to look for when looking for a payroll provider in Switzerland. There are known cases where contractors have been refused a permit to work because the employer the contractor has signed for support with, is not the same company as is registered on the SECO license.
Payroll always requires an approachable and responsive service from helpful staff, supported but not replaced by the convenience of a digital portal. In addition to the example, some providers in Switzerland even charge extra for answering emails. So be sure to establish if the service is right for you to avoid serious problems, unpleasant surprises or additional hidden costs!
6. Trust, and is the provider believable?
Sometimes when the offer given sounds too good to be true – it well might be.
- Contractors promised special allowances and/or tax breaks?
- Paying part of the income offshore or deferring payment until after the contractor leaves Switzerland (under some kind of loan scheme, for example) is strictly forbidden.
The Swiss tax office are fully aware of and on the lookout for such schemes, which are dealt with by retrospective charges and fines even if the contractor is no longer resident in Switzerland by that time. The “Expatriate Allowance” has been discontinued for many years so be wary if this is promised . The contractor can however claim expenses for working away from their primary Swiss workplace, for example on a business or training trip. Take a look at our FAQs for more details.
7. Finally – Ask around!
Above all, the contractor should not be afraid to ask questions of the prospective payroll partner. If the payroll provider are willing to answer questions and provide the means to check the information provided is correct that is a good sign. Contractors should always look for transparency!
- SECO accreditation with a good record
- No hidden costs
- Retention rates with clear explanations
- Possible references
The bottom line when working with a payroll provider – the contractor should think of them as their employer – because technically that is what they are. The questions to be asked: Do I trust them? Are they giving me the best deal possible? Could I get a better deal elsewhere?
“Accurity was established over 20 years ago by contractors searching for a personalised and trustworthy payroll service provider. Since that time the Swiss market has witnessed several waves by various companies looking to gain market share quickly using disruptive tactics only for these to fail.
Today not that many Swiss payroll service companies still exist that entered the market even 10 years ago. This strengthens the case for a personalised and trustworthy service – making these criteria even more important to my work in Accurity”
Accurity – we make Switzerland easy!