Industry Trends

Why payroll has not changed in the last 50 years and how to use it in your favour to go ahead of your competitors?

Mark Smartt
General Manager UK & USA

Let’s start with the simple answer to the first part. 

Payroll hasn’t changed because the payroll companies haven’t changed.

And the reason why they haven’t changed is ...

that they didn’t have to!  


Maybe, but let’s have a quick look at the last 50 years or so and see what innovations have happened in the world of payroll. 

Want more content like this?

50 years of payroll

50 years ago, you and your employees would have been paid weekly and in cash with a handwritten payslip, all tucked into the familiar brown “wages” envelope also handwritten. Cash was king! The big innovation was giving you a breakdown of how many £50/20/10/5’s you’d need along with the coins! Progress. It actually was though, funnily enough. 

Fast forward like 20 years and we moved from cash to a CHEQUE! Wow! Payroll hadn’t changed by the way. Still, large computers crunching numbers but still hugely dependent on people power. They just charged more. 

The issue of getting a cheque and now a computer printout for your earnings statement, was at the time so controversial, that contracts of employment were changed to allow people 30 mins to go to the bank on payday to cash the cheque! Yep, cash was still king. Of course, some people just refused to take the cheque and still had to be paid in cash. Can you imagine that today?  

The last big change was the move to the now all familiar payment terms of “monthly by direct debit”.  Magic money in your bank account. Computers have gotten a little better, look nicer and can do more “stuff”, but let’s be honest here payroll is still a nightmare for most companies.

The only thing people in payroll hate more than their payroll provider is the thought of having to change them! 

Think about that for a moment. Why is that? They are not exactly cheap! Let's see...

What does payroll look like today?

The world of payments has moved on. Rapidly in fact. We live in an on-demand world and the current form and methods of payroll for the most part are not fit for purpose. 

Yes, yes, yes, I know, people still get paid, the big companies do a good job, it’s safe and the taxes are paid. That’s what they do! It’s like “their job”. They have little incentive to change. They get to charge you a fortune for tech that’s 100 years old and people put up with it.


How many of you have said?

“They are all the same.”“it’s not great but it’s better than the last one.”or my favourite...” I don’t have the strength to change payroll providers again.”

While reading this, some of you are smiling, others laughing and yet some others I’ve no doubt are happy with your providers. You are in the minority; I can assure you of that. 

The problems with payroll are both simple and complex. What is payroll? It’s nothing more than a collection of data points, earnings, we know what they are, and deductions. Simple right? Oh, and we have the big computer you just push a button on and hey presto, payroll is done. That’s what most non-payroll people think, and also believe payrollers who dare get the payroll wrong should be severely dealt with! A little drastic really. 

I like to call these “data points” the Golden Source of Truth.

Here is the source of everything. If this “truth” is not the truth, then, with all the computers and all the king’s men, you are never going to make it right. 95% of payroll companies are using very old legacy systems held together with chewing gum and lots of prayers. Some of the stories are scary, and I’m sure some of you have some great ones too. It’s on the roadmap! 

Old legacy systems do one thing well. That’s it! However, ask it to do something else and it’s a massive failure, unfortunately. Payroll is one of the only industries that hasn’t been disrupted. Why is that? 

It’s hard, it’s hyper-local, and supercritical to every company. And those are the principal reasons why payroll hasn't really changed. 

Payroll is hard

Let’s be honest. Calculating payroll might sound easy for people who are not into the topic. And if you have ever had even the tiniest contact with payroll issues knows how hard it is to get clear and error-free data, ready for payroll each month. It’s even more of a nightmare if you are in a company that allows for weekly payments for the employees…

Payroll is hyper-local

Payroll is driven by local laws and regulations. The rules that apply to and work in one country are not applicable in other countries. For firms that hire internationally the tax calculation is overwhelming and very expensive, as all processes need to be handled manually, using Excel spreadsheets.

Payroll is supercritical

The decision-makers at the companies are scared to rethink the way they do payroll (maybe it's your case as well). They are afraid of changing the provider, because what if the next one will be even worse and would cause even more friction to this already complicated topic?

So how to turn those 3 pain points that surely most enterprises encounter (your competitors included!) into an opportunity for your company? 

Look for the solutions that allow you to automate as many payroll processes as possible. Thanks to this you can:

At Symmetrical we’ve sought to reinvent the world of payroll. Our goal is to make Symmetrical, the payroll you won't hate! We’ve done this by simply employing the best and the brightest and built several tools for data aggregation that deliver a single source of truth. From our onboarding tool, which simply replaces all the outdated, non-compatible systems companies use today, allowing you to easily onboard all new hires, giving you for the first time a real single source of truth that’s not only functional but beautiful. People actually want to use our software! 

Our payroll operations are fully managed, offering levels of service simply unmatched in the market today, at prices also unmatched in the market, because we believe people deserve better. People have been ripped off long enough, with poor service (I know, I’m being kind here), outrageous prices, getting charged for everything & more, with invoices you’d need an advanced degree in mathematics to understand. 

Do you deserve better? We think you do deserve the payroll solution you won't hate!

Why not give us a call today, tell us about your payroll and onboarding problems and see how we can help you to make your payroll life easier?

Set a friendly chat with our payroll expert

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Mark Smartt
General Manager UK & USA

Stay up to date and subscribe to monthly 5-Minutes HR round-up

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.