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Long-distance relationship: New Zealand unit keeps FD awake

IN 2011/12 WE WERE UNDER PRESSURE to come up with a solution to meet the increasing demand for a 24/7 telephone answering service from our growing client base, particularly large legal clients operating internationally.

Fearing that working overnight would not only have a detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of our staff, but also on the quality of the service, and with only four people from a workforce then of 250 willing to do night shifts, we were not prepared to take the risk of keeping our UK base in Wrexham open 24 hours a day.

So we took what might be seen as a bold decision to send small groups of our UK receptionists to the other side of the world, to answer night time calls for UK businesses during the daytime in Auckland, New Zealand. So at 8pm UK time, all incoming calls would transfer to wide-awake Moneypenny receptionists until the UK takes over again at 8am.

Detailed dealings

It seemed such an obvious solution, but for me as FD it as all about the detail.

The time difference and bank holidays are probably the biggest issues. Our ‘today’ in the UK is ‘tomorrow’ in NZ, so with all our payments processed by BACS from the UK, timing is all important. Throw in Waitangi Day, Anzac Day, Labour Day and the Queen’s Birthday and planning ahead is everything.

Initially we engaged the services of a local person to help with the set-up. She found an office and a house to rent for our staff in a suburb of Auckland called Takapuna (chosen for its connectivity and fast internet link). Crucially she also introduced us to a good solicitor and helped with the basics, such as finding insurance and utility providers.

We hired a consultant to advise us on applying for visas via Immigration New Zealand in London. It is an involved process of application forms, declarations, job descriptions and letters of support, which we have to do eight weeks prior to each new member of staff flying out. We also needed advice on employment law, with statutory allowances differing from ours and thereby impacting on payments. More than 18 months on though, this is all relatively straightforward to us now.

We didn’t have to register for VAT, as NZ is not a revenue centre for us but we employ local NZ staff alongside our UK team so obviously had to set up as an employer. We applied for an IR number to operate a separate payroll system for our NZ staff. The terminology they use is different to ours so we had to learn fast, for example there are no P45s in NZ, rather Tax Code Declarations. We researched payroll providers and found NZ-based online iPayroll, which suited us perfectly, managing all IR returns, issuing e-payslips, linking to NZ pension scheme Kiwi Saver and enabling us to make payments from anywhere – from an iPad on a beach if necessary…

Pay process

I manage the payment of NZ suppliers from the UK using our own regular payments system. All key costs are set up as DDs or standing orders in a dedicated NZ account that we oversee from here to avoid any charges where we to pay from the UK. With our costs now fairly static, we make a single monthly transfer into this account so all expenses are covered. Our manager in NZ has a debit card for small day-to-day office consumables and emails images of all receipts to the finance team here in Wrexham.

Any new supplier is set up in NZ Dollars (NZD) so while the process is the same, a purchase order is raised in the correct currency. Our weekly reports flag these as international payments and unlike our automated UK payments, we log in to pay these individually in NZD. I have had many a midnight telephone call from home speaking to banks (in my pyjamas) to set up standing orders, talking to suppliers, whatever is needed. I may try at 9pm (9am their time) but with callbacks, follow ups etc. I do lots at home to fit in with their business schedule, although less so now we are more established.

The time difference can be a frustration, particularly in the delay in receiving email replies, and I have to remember that their working week starts on our Sunday and we effectively lose our Friday as by the time we start work, the weekend has well and truly started in NZ. A Wednesday 2pm NZ deadline becomes a Tuesday 5pm deadline for us so we feel like we are always counting backwards and never taking our eyes off our calendars.

We didn’t take the decision lightly to work this way. There was a lot of preparation, planning and research needed, but overall the process has been far less painful than we may have expected. Staff work out there for six months at a time, working four days on four days off to be able to make the most of the experience. Our next team heads out at the end of June – to the NZ winter.

Mark Williams is FD of telephone answering business Moneypenny

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