“Not only have we saved approximately $25,000 in fees with Avanti, but we’ve also saved around $60,000 payroll dollars annually.”
Eresha Fernando, Chief Financial Officer
Canadian Hospitality Client
With an impressive 40 years in the hospitality sector and many different real estate holdings, land developments, retail service businesses, and hotels across Alberta, Canada, the Sawridge Group of Companies needed a way to make payroll and people management as easy and painless as possible.
To find more about why their business turned to Avanti and how it helps them in their day-to-day operations, we sat down with Eresha Fernando, CFO at Sawridge Group of Companies.
Here’s what she had to say about her experience.
The Payroll Management Challenge
Tell us about you and your role at Sawridge Group of Companies, Eresha. What does success look like for you?
Well, I’m the CFO of the Sawridge Group of Companies. My dream was always to become a CFO, and I couldn’t be happier to have achieved personal success.
From a company perspective, we work closely with our people, so if the people I’m working with are successful, then I believe we’re successful as a company.
We operate out of four locations in Alberta, and we’re responsible for hundreds of employees which is a big task. We also need to ensure that we provide enough funds for the [Sawridge] First Nation to manage their own programs and their own business.
Did you seek out Avanti because you were responsible for managing so many people?
So, before we went to Avanti, we were using a different payroll system. Before that, we did everything at the property level. We had five hotels, we were growing fast, and we needed an efficient way to manage a 600–700 person payroll. We needed to centralise our payroll, so we found a payroll system that felt like a good fit at the time.
Unfortunately, while working with that other company, I quickly realised that they couldn’t customise their system to us.
We had to fit their structure and, if something didn’t fit, we needed to change our process. That’s difficult when you’re managing a payroll as large as ours.
Their system wasn’t very user-friendly?
No. We used three different systems, and none of them were integrated. We had one system that captured employee hours, we had another system to process payroll, and we needed a third system to house all of our employee information.
For example, if we hired somebody new or if somebody left, we’d enter it in one system and then we’d have to wait for all the systems to update, which wasted a lot of time. Sometimes it took over a day, making it really hard for us.
It doesn’t sound like your solution was actually making life any easier.
It was frustrating, to say the least.
Did it at least have all the functionality you needed?
Not really. Generating accurate reports was impossible. Lack of integration meant that you couldn’t calculate simple reports, like your labour costs for the week. Hours were kept in one system, and calculation was done in another system.
And the other thing was because we are a First Nations owned company, we have businesses in the First Nation, and the tax treatment for First Nations employees working on reserves is different—they need special T4’s.
In all the years we worked with this company, they never could get our T4’s correct. We had to do them all manually, and every year we struggled with that.
Did you try contacting their customer support to get help with their product?
They had the same problem as a lot of other big corporations: treating customers like just another number—one among thousands of clients. We’d call service reps, only to be told that they were busy helping other customers.
When they did help, nothing ever happened in real time. If we needed to change something in the payroll system, we’d have to wait for a full payroll cycle before we saw any changes. That was frustrating too.
That sounds frustrating. Were those the reasons behind your switch to Avanti?
We did a few upgrades with our previous provider first, but that still didn’t help us.
The Avanti Canadian Cloud Solution
Why did you finally choose Avanti?
The switch to Avanti was something of a coincidence. We were looking, but it wasn’t until I met Perry, a member of Avanti’s sales team, at a CPA conference that I started seriously looking at their product.
Once we started talking, I knew that I wanted to try his product. Most salespeople are aggressive, but Perry wasn’t.
So that conversation convinced you to switch payroll systems?
Avanti came and made a product demonstration. We all crammed into one room—their reps, myself, and all of our property controllers.
The main appeal for us was that everything was integrated. Real-time updating meant that we could stay on top of turnover, which is important in the hospitality industry.
And switching payroll systems wasn’t going to disrupt any day-to-day operations at the property level—sorry, I think I’m outside the scope of your question now.
No, that’s great, you’re pre-empting some of our questions. Please, continue.
Once we saw the product, it was an easy decision.
Cost-wise Avanti was less expensive than our previous solution, and the system’s integration meant our entire payroll process would become a lot more efficient. We only have to enter information once, and then it automatically calculates things like employee hours and updates them in real time.
Did you find Avanti difficult to use or adjust to?
Our old system was complicated. We had a person from Montreal explaining the system and another one from Toronto doing the programming. Just coordinating everything was hard.
Avanti, by comparison, was simple. We walked through all the system configuration together; they carefully explained all the processes, and, even after setting up, we had weekly check-in meetings. My payroll manager loves them.
She’s the one who uses Avanti on a day-to-day basis?
That’s right. And it’s made life so much easier, both for her and our managers at the property level. Avanti eliminated the Sawridge Group of Companies’ need for three separate systems and cut down on redundancies in payroll reporting.
The Super Results
What were the biggest differences between Avanti and your old system?
The flexibility difference between Avanti and our old system is obvious. Avanti created a custom solution that tied all of our important systems together.
For example, we used to need to calculate weekly reports for everyone manually. Now, we have a lot more people using the system, and it’s easy for managers to log in and see exactly how much they’ve spent on payroll, or how much they can spend in the next week based on current revenue. It’s been a great source of financial information.
So you’ve gained a lot more control over your payroll system?
Avanti’s given us a new level of control and freedom when it comes to effective people management. We finally feel like we’re managing our payroll, whereas our old payroll system felt like it was managing us.
Have those changes translated to an increase in efficiency or a cost benefit?
Absolutely. The ability to get real-time information converts into dollars for us. We’ve saved on payroll costs by eliminating redundant positions, and we’ve saved on other business costs thanks to their timely information and financial reports.
For example, when you have three systems that don’t talk to each other, you need to hire people to make sure that all the data you transfer is correct. We’ve been able to eliminate those positions.
So not only have we saved approximately $25,000 in fees with Avanti, but we’ve also saved around $60,000 payroll dollars annually.
Every year? Wow.
It’s pretty significant.
Have you contacted their customer support? Have they been able to help you?
Yes. If I called Avanti right now, I would definitely get somebody to help me solve my problems. They’re always there for us. We always get a prompt response.
What about the T4 issue you mentioned? Was that resolved?
I still can’t understand why that was an issue in the first place. There are lots of First Nations people around Canada working on reserve. A Canadian payroll system should be able to handle that.
We’ve never had a T4 issue with Avanti.
Are there any areas where you think we could improve?
Actually, I don’t think so. Every time we need something or have a question, we mention it, and we’re taken care of. I can’t think of anything else.
Thank you very much! That’s high praise.
It’s the best feeling. Using Avanti to run our payroll means we are in complete control of what we do.
Would you be willing to recommend Avanti to a friend or a colleague?
Yes. At the end of the day, I can’t talk enough about their customer service.
They really care about their customers. You feel that when you see how they’ve built their system just for you.