Editor’s Note: Faizal Baksh is a global payroll solutions lead at WPP, one of the big four marketing and advertising intelligence firms, headquartered in the U.K. with more than 100,000 employees globally. His formative professional life in audit and accounting has positioned him to become a successful and innovative leader in global payroll. He leveraged his critical thinking, precision with numbers, and global risk-management and compliance background to enhance the transactional-based payroll processing function. Baksh’s understanding of global working, culture, languages, and geographic challenges can be traced from having been raised in South America and coming from Asian and Persian roots and his affinity for leveraging evolving technology and AI. Currently, he is involved in an HCM implementation.
What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll?
I use resources from the American Payroll Association (APA), the GPMI, Bloomberg BNA, EY’s Global Payroll Survey, and The Hackett Group’s Global Payroll Report.
How can a payroll department provide support on a strategic level to corporate finance, HR, and other departments?
This can occur by harnessing the plethora of valuable data to extract trends and plot forecasts. Payroll has access to key data indicators of employee behavior that may lead to savings on banking fees, benefits premiums, and headcount movement. Additionally, risks such as insider trading or stock dumping ahead of a looming corporate announcement, and succession planning risks related to big shifts in equity and 401(k) plans, or other vested plans.
What strategic advice would you give to a company moving from a domestic to a global payroll?
I think of this in seven distinct areas:
- Plan robustly and well in advance
- Understand the nuances of the global environment over domestic
- Leverage proven global payroll SMEs both internally and externally (payroll vendors, system integrators, and consultants)
- Perform detailed diligence on all areas of operations
- Have a robust business continuity plan (BCP)
- Allow for adequate time to roll out new processes and technology
- Embed adoption (change management, communications, training, process documentation) from the very beginning and progressively throughout
What is the difference in responding to urgencies in global payroll versus U.S. domestic payroll?
This is one area of commonality. Employees need to be remunerated on time, accurately, and compliantly, every time—all the time. This is true, whether a company operates domestically or globally. Payroll urgencies such as late, non, or incorrect payments must be responded to with the same level or urgency and care in all geographies. Performance metrics, however, vary by region as people’s expectations are different. For example, in Japan, only 100% will be accepted for timeliness and accuracy, while in other more relaxed, laid-back places, while not accepted, less fall out is likely if 99% is achieved. In countries where work councils monitor employee treatment and welfare, more caution is required.
What is the value of effective communications in global payroll?
Communication is key, especially in the payroll realm where timing and dollars matter greatly. Failure to communicate effectively may directly impact employees’ net pay, benefits coverage, and the firm’s bottom line. Payroll professionals must communicate succinctly, timely, and directly.
What are some things you would like to see payroll vendors address in the next three years?
I would like to see the following:
- Offering a true full suite of services (gross to net, time and absence, money movement, employee service center with case management and telephony, ESS/MSS portal, and single platform global coverage from a single vendor)
- Embedding robotics as standard for all manual repetitive tasks in their solutions
- Gross to net computations on their own proprietary software over leveraging independent third-party in-country providers
- Geographic coverage in every region and all major GDP countries
- Standardized medium fee structure
What is the value and limits to emerging technology, robotics, and AI in managing a global payroll?
There must be scale and a strong use case for AI to be adopted. Not all AI tools can be leveraged in the same manner for different types of business with unique challenges. There must be proven ROI, either from other studies or from pilot/proof of concepts, done internally to justify the adoption of AI. On the positive side, we have already seen the beneficial impact of robotics in recruiting, which eliminates bias to screen thousands of résumés in minutes by using key word filters; the onboarding process works simultaneously with multiple forms and systems to input new hires; and employee query responses in HR and payroll. The blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT)—a system of interrelated computing devices—is the promise of great synchronization, integration, harmonization, and connectivity in the hire to retire process. One-touch technology will become the norm in the next decade where an employee’s data and experience is synchronized and managed on the IoT seamlessly and with little or no human touch, hence reducing errors, delays, and costs.
What are some essential practices and strategic choices to manage risk and compliance?
Design, develop, socialize, and execute quarterly internal RCSAs (risk control self-assessments) and TDRAs (top-down risk assessments) or similar evaluation tools to continually assess the health and compliance of all global payroll processes and systems, including internal controls. Other practices include the following:
- Execute annual vendor utility assessments
- Perform regular penetration and other similar data integrity tests
- Engage internal and external stakeholders and regulators and obtain all required and recommended certifications (such as SSAE, SOX, etc.)
What are some of the considerations a company should ask to determine if there is good fit with a prospective vendor?
Companies must consider several factors when selecting the right vendor. These factors include a vendor’s geographic footprint and coverage; the suite of services on offer; its use of proprietary software as a gross to net engine versus third-party vendor subcontracting; its strength and quality of interface capabilities to all the major HCM solutions; whether they have fully integrated modules to support HCM, compensation, benefits, time/absence, and payroll within a single platform; and their capability for data certifications and location and data management of service centers.
How did you get started in your career?
Quite by chance! I was asked to fill in temporarily for a payroll associate in a retail firm, and the rest is history. I loved the number crunching and they loved me for my analytical angle that I brought, not just processing speed or skill.
What are some of pieces of wisdom from your on-the-job experience, that you can share regarding being effective and efficient?
Always understand the big picture as well as the immediate need. Follow a structured method of operation rather than a haphazard one. Understand how to evaluate priorities and execute accordingly.
What kinds of skills, training, and education would be most useful for someone moving into a managerial role in payroll?
I would include the following: Conflict resolution, data privacy, and integrity regulations globally. Understanding how to assess and analyze people, processes, and technology and determine the risks for remediation.
What career and life advice do you give to a new employee in payroll?
What you do is impactful to others as it relates to their income, benefits, taxes, and banking, etc. Do it timely, accurately, and securely. Also, payroll is a never-ending ongoing crunch. Be ready to adopt to its demands.
What’s the emotional experience of being in your position?
Every keystroke could impact the firm from a compliance perspective. However, every delinquency or inaccuracy could cause hardship for employees. These things weigh heavily on payroll. The appetite for errors or failures is minimal to none. The demand is great. The timing is tight. However, the feeling of achievement is greater.
What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?
Leading by example is one of those qualities. A good leader should also strive toward supporting, mentoring, coaching, and uplifting the team, always. Provide opportunities for open communication. Be honest, candid, objective, and always provide timely feedback—both positive and otherwise.
How has your approach to change management helped you in your position?
Making it a comprehensive program known as adoption, which involves communications, training, and change management. Enable adoption at the beginning of the initiative and maintaining throughout.
Describe the communication challenges of a global payroll leader.
Global audiences react differently to various styles of communications. For example, in the United States, the preference is direct and bottom-line up front. In Asia and South America, you must be a bit more cordial and warmer in the opening approach, then build your case. Written communication versus in person also matters. You must know your audience and understand which style or method works best to gain their trust.
How do you personally manage to balance work and pleasure?
It is a perpetual challenge. It is a give and take. There is no set formula. I try to maximize my time and efforts during business hours but despite this, you must remain open to supporting teams and stakeholders outside of normal working hours. With the global time zones to manage, being flexible to working earlier or later periodically is key. Put in the time and effort when needed and take some time when you can. Effective delegation is also helpful.