My first real paying job involved donning an ill-fitting black jacket, white shirt and bandleader-type bow tie to serve as an usher in a cavernous one-screen movie house. Those were the days before multiplexes, when ushers actually had to show people to their seats while asking "balcony or loge?"
For $1.85 per hour I got to watch Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" a total of 62 times before they thankfully changed the movie to "The Candidate" -- a still-terrific political satire, by the way, starring Robert Redford -- to coincide with the 1972 presidential election.
In those days, my weekly check was hand-written by Irma, a heavyset woman with angular bi-focals who would come into the theater's small office on Fridays to do payroll for a modest staff of 14. She would call out your name in her best Brooklyn-ese, usually adding the suffix "darling" to your name, which inevitably would come out, "Bill, come get yaw check, dar-link."
Since the most I remember ever taking home was something on the order of $62, I was never particularly concerned about, or if, the appropriate taxes were taken out. Come tax time, I would simply fill out the short form and impatiently wait for the refund.
Flash forward three decades to my current job, where my bi-weekly pay stub has 19 categories and sub-categories of deductions, which translates into a 1040 novella on or before April 15.
I often think back to how Irma would have tackled the payroll chores at a company with several hundred employees and myriad health and 401(k) plans. My guess is it wouldn't be with her bulky paper-fed adding machine and a 19-cent Bic pen.
Over the past two months I was asked to moderate vendor panels on payroll services at the state CPA shows in California and New York. The nation's larger payroll providers were there, of course, and as each went through their respective presentations and why CPAs should avail themselves of their services, I was sort of aghast at the detailed and painstaking process that is payroll.
For me, balancing my checkbook entails the better part of a weekend, so therefore, compiling a client's payroll is several hundred light years beyond the limits of my ability or, for that matter, understanding.
At one of the presentations someone asked me if payroll was making a comeback among niche services for clients. The best answer that I could offer was to cite statistics from our annual survey of the Top 100 firms, which in 2005 said that about one-fifth of the practices on that elite roster indicated that payroll services was a growing client area for them.
In a separate study conducted by our publication, about 45 percent of 450 practitioners indicated that payroll services was a thriving practice area for their firms.
To provide or not to provide is probably a question best dictated by client demand and studied by the firms.
You don't have to be a futurist to surmise that payroll services and, of course, movie venues, have evolved significantly over the years. I need only look at my check to be reminded of that.
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