Think back to the last time you called your insurance company. What did you hear when the line picked up? If you’re like many people, an automated voice likely provided a series of options to choose from, followed by some grainy, dated elevator music.
The experience at Guardsman Insurance Services is different. When clients call Guardsman, the first thing they hear is a live human voice and the words, “How can we help you?” It’s the first of many ways the Kingston, Ontario-based insurance brokerage sets itself apart from the competition.
Guardsman is a third-generation, family-owned and -operated insurance brokerage. The company has been providing personal and commercial insurance to clients in the Kingston and Ottawa area for more than 65 years. While Guardsman has evolved over its long lifespan, its core values have remained steady: honesty, integrity, and dependability are at the core of its business approach.
“We always say to clients, ‘You won’t necessarily like the answers that we're going to give you, but they're going to be the honest answers.’ And when we say we're going to do something, we’ll do it,” says Owner Thomas Watson Jr.
The company’s tight-knit team of 16 are service brokers, salespeople, and support staff. Some have been with the company for upwards of 30 years. That longevity is a testament to the company’s focus on taking care of its employees and creating a healthy work environment. And the company’s commitment to employees allows its workforce to provide excellent, personalized customer service that sets it apart in a highly competitive environment.
“We're all client-facing and it can be high stress sometimes,” says Watson. “But we have a firm rule that the second your day starts to become a bad day, it’s time to take a break and go home. I actually firmly believe I don't pay anybody enough money to have a bad day at work.”
Like many small businesses, Guardsman initially processed its payroll manually. The bookkeeper would tabulate hours and pay, generate cheques, and calculate remittances, all relying on paper. It was time-consuming, and it usually took 16 to 20 hours per month to process payroll. Human error could also, at times, cause delays and compliance issues.
In the early 2000s, the company decided to test out Ceridian’s small business payroll platform, Powerpay. If it saved the company time and effort, Guardsman would continue with the partnership. If it wasn’t the right fit, they would go back to internal processing. Powerpay proved to be what the company was looking for, and Guardsman never looked back.
Watson was in his teens at that time, and just starting to work in the family business. He says he doesn’t remember a time before Ceridian.
Moving to Powerpay saved the company time and reduced payroll errors. In addition, support from the Ceridian CPA-trained customer service team improved Guardsman’s business operations. When a Ceridian payroll expert noticed that paying employees hourly was inefficient both in terms of time and cost, they suggested Guardsman shift to a salary model, which greatly simplified their payroll processes.
Watson also appreciates the comprehensive service Powerpay provides. “The system deducts the taxes, does the remittances and all the reporting for the government. It also generates the reports, including the journal entry that I have to enter into my bookkeeping system. The only thing I have to do is double-check if I owe anybody a bonus or a commission payment,” he says.
The company takes the time it is saving and puts it back into business development and client service.
“Payroll is a cost to a business. Every minute I'm doing payroll is a minute I'm not generating revenue,” says Watson. “It used to take 12 to 18 hours a month to do payroll manually. Now, I can honestly say that it takes me less than 30 minutes a month. Powerpay has effectively given me an extra 18 hours – almost an extra half-week – every month to focus on other areas of the business.”
While Guardsman boasts high retention rates, expanding to a fourth city last year and turnover on the sales team, meant recruiting and onboarding new team members. Watson was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to add a new employee in Powerpay and get them up and running with streamlined onboarding.
Guardsman staff also love the system’s self-service functionality, which makes it easy to access their information when they need it, and ultimately empowers them.
“My assistant was able to get a car loan without leaving the dealership,” recounts Watson. “She was able to log into Powerpay on her phone and bring up her pay stubs, and the dealership took screenshots. They didn't have to ask for an employment letter because the record is there.”
Every small business owner knows that some days just don’t turn out the way you think they will. When life and work throw Watson unexpected curveballs, he knows he can depend on Powerpay and Ceridian to ensure his employees are taken care of.
“A couple weeks ago, I forgot to do payroll until the day before payday. I processed pay on the Saturday, and payday was Monday. I was expecting pay to be late, and to be on the hook for non-sufficient fund (NSF) fees. But I was able to pay a rush fee to Ceridian, and within eight hours the pay was out of my account and into my employees’ accounts,” he says with a hint of relief.
When you’re a small business owner juggling competing priorities, the last thing you want to worry about are compliance issues. Powerpay gives Guardsman the peace of mind it needs.
A shining example of this occurred in 2019, when Guardsman got the call that every company dreads. Canada Revenue Agency was sending an auditor to review the company’s records. The auditor told Watson to expect the process to take two or three days, so he set them up in an office, provided all the required paperwork, and braced himself for questions. Twenty minutes later, the auditor was done. “She said, ‘I looked through your records. They're clear and easy to read. You're using Ceridian. Have a nice day,’" remembers Watson.
Year-end can be a busy and stressful time for small companies, as managing T4s and other reporting obligations can be challenging. But Watson says Powerpay makes it easy: “At the end of the year, for my last pay run, I just select the button that says, ‘This is the final run, generate T4s.’ It's that simple,” says Watson. Ceridian has also provided important support during the pandemic, helping the company navigate employer health tax exemption increase and other questions.
One of the most significant benefits Powerpay provides is direct access to the Ceridian help desk – unlimited support by award-winning, CPA trained customer service team. Whenever Watson or a member of his team has a question, they know they can call the help desk and speak to a friendly and knowledgeable payroll expert. For a company that prides itself on providing excellent customer service and that human touch to its clients, knowing it can expect the same from its payroll provider is invaluable.
“I'm not a payroll guy. I'm an insurance guy. I'm a risk manager. That's what I do. I don't do payroll other than making sure pay happens,” says Watson. “With Ceridian, when I have a question, I don't have to bother looking for answers online. I just phone someone who knows what I need to do.”
Guardsman plans to grow by 15% to 20% in the coming years, while staying laser-focused on providing excellent customer service and a healthy working environment for employees. Watson takes comfort in knowing that Ceridian is constantly adding new functionality to better serve customers, and that its attention to continuous improvement means Powerpay will grow with Guardsman.
“It's nice to know that if I need an HR piece, I don't have to go find an HR company. I can just phone Ceridian,” he says. “Ceridian brings value to our business.”