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Industry Experts Share Insights Into a Post-Pandemic Global Payroll Landscape

By Frank J. Mendelson

The worldwide pandemic has had a paradoxical effect on the global payroll profession. The resulting disruption over the last year and a half has caused an acceleration in payroll technologies, which should allow the international business environment to develop a “new normal” following so many months of uncertainty.

Global payroll professionals hold the unique position of having to carry out seamless operations, while preparing for the future of a post-COVID-19 payroll workspace. During the recent Payroll Solutions Showcase (PSS), the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) assembled 16 world-class global payroll industry experts in four panels who provided strategic insight on the future of global payroll.

A Post-COVID-19 Payroll Landscape Future

The action taken by payroll professionals worldwide may appear seamless to some organizations’ employees. Payroll professionals, who often were working from home while enabling emerging technology for a newly mobile workforce, maintained the timely, accurate, and uninterrupted issuance of paychecks, all within legal compliance. Through the pandemic, APA and GPMI have been a resource for global payroll thought leaders. Global payroll teams and vendors have weathered the storm and continue to do so.

During the Payroll Solutions Showcase this past July, 16 global payroll experts gathered into four panels to discuss the impact and consequences of the pandemic and what the future holds in a post-COVID-19 payroll landscape. Thought leaders who participated in the discussions included representatives from global firms such as ADP, Ceridian, CloudPay, DailyPay, Equifax, Immedis, IRIS FMP, Money Network, Netspend, Ramco, rapid!, Rizing, Tapcheck, uConfirm and UKG.

Panel Notes Workplace Changes, Gig Economy Growth

The first panel, “Reshaping the Employee Experience,” featured panelists Christine Keily, Chief Tax and Payroll Officer at Immedis; Cecile Leroux, Vice President of Product and Innovation at UKG; and Mark Putman, General Manager of Payments at ADP. The panel was moderated by subject matter expert Pete Tiliakos, HR Technology and Services Research Director at NelsonHall.

The panel agreed that the workplace will never look again as it did prior to the pandemic. The strategic response is to continue to leverage exponential growth, encouraging companies and leaders alike to embrace change. Keily said companies could do this by understanding the value of their employees through active listening and exchanging ideas. Keily added that this practice could help companies maintain their competitive edge.

“There’s huge value to listening to employees when it comes to matters like this,” Keily said, adding that trust between employer and employee has to exist. “If you can’t trust people—­‑be that full-time or freelancer—then there’s a bigger organizational issue that needs to be addressed.”

This mindset requires a level of mutual trust between employees and employers, according to UKG’s Leroux. The employer is the most trusted institution, and it is up to them not to squander that trust. The panel recommended that employers do this by building autonomy and more support-based relationships with their employees.

“Managers and leaders don’t necessarily add a ton of value as supervisors, especially in this new remote world where you’re not really supervising,” Leroux said. “They have to think about coaching, and really inspiring their employees instead.”

Another topic discussed during the panel is the management of digital resources. As digitization grows, employees have started feeling vulnerable about how their data is being used and stored by employers. Trust is established by employers that address their employees’ legitimate concerns about their personal data. By doing this, they reduce fears about the company’s data security.

Digitization has helped in that regard and has created a highly mobile workforce—83% of which want to continue working from home in some capacity. This enables the option for self-serve capabilities—such as the ability to update their banking profile—and the growing popularity of on-demand pay. Once tools like this are available, they become commonplace and expected by employees. The pandemic resulted in the requirement for payroll modifications and has had a huge impact for those trying to make those changes. It has also elevated the payroll area and shown that global payroll leaders are central to facilitation.

Technology Driving Strategic Change

The moderator for the panel “The Big Picture: Payroll and HR Information Systems” was Jay Conforti, Director of Human Capital Advisory at KPMG. He was joined by Jay Mahenke, Senior Director Product Management at ADP; Rohit Mathur, CEP at Ramco; and David Munn, International Director of Managed Services at IRIS FMP.

Conforti said he anticipates greater transparency within the workplace for the employee and end-user. Of course, with millennials making up the largest generation in the workforce, it is not surprising to see trends becoming increasingly important. It is up to payroll providers to meet employee expectations to help deliver positive business outcomes.

The panel, which echoed the impact of technology on the global landscape, focused on multiple ways to leverage data and technology as payroll takes on the role of strategic partner with corporate executives at their companies. The panel emphasized that technology is a vital tool that can make life easier for everyone involved.

“Technology is an enabler,” Munn said. “People are not buying technology, but rather they are buying HR and payroll compliance. Technology is the enabler that can certainly make life easier for everyone involved…”

This includes technology being used to analyze data to drive strategic change. Mathur discussed the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to drive meaningful interpretations that generate real-time payroll analytical insight. This means that the cloud architecture must be scalable. No longer will there be a single system on a single cloud. Organizations must be prepared to share data with other partners in the HR team. By doing this, they will make it feasible to work together across diverse applications. The shift to becoming a strategic business partner means payroll professionals will need to reskill and upskill themselves on data analytics and business intelligence. This will provide insight for business leaders, which has become increasingly important as companies continue global growth.

One of the observations made on compliance is that the United States tends to be tax-centric and Europe is focused on social insurance. This is not lost on vendors. Due to COVID-19 and the constant change to compliance, they are taking a lead role in providing solutions to meet emerging compliance issues.

How to Work Smarter, Not Harder

The third panel, “Redefining the Day to Day: Working Smarter, Not Harder,” picked up a common theme expressed throughout the PSS—embracing data and technology. The panel moderator was Sheri Sullivan, a partner and the Global and Americas Payroll Operate Leader at Ernst and Young LLP. She was joined by panelists Christine Miller, Vice President of Offerings & Incubation at Rizing; Jason Fry, AVP Employer Services at Equifax; Elizabeth May, SVP of Product and Solutions at uConfirm; and Marlene Felisberto, Global Director of Consulting Solutions at CloudPay.

The panelists spoke about advantages gained by using analytics to provide autonomy to employees and by improving communication.

“It’s not just numbers, it’s not just payroll data, it’s not just financial data, it’s the story where all those points come together and really explains the trends that are happening, how it affects the people in the business, and how it’s going to affect payroll analytics in the long run,” Miller said. “It’s not necessarily that no one was ever looking at payroll analytics, it’s really the forefront of that data and how it’s analyzed across your analytics story.”

An example was shifting communication forward such as alerting employees when their pay may vary prior to processing due to hour changes. The use of data and technology is not just numbers, payroll data, or financial data. It involves identifying new trends and its effect on people, businesses, and payroll analytics.

“Payroll  is chock full of untapped opportunities and data insights that payroll teams can leverage to have a strategic business impact across the organizations,” O’Sullivan said. “The direct interactions will be a great way to demonstrate this.”

All panelists discussed removing manual transactions and automating processes to allow payroll to focus on more strategic objectives. Global payroll professionals can elevate their role in the organization by understanding the story the data is telling and how that story impacts every other part of the organization.

Earned Wage Access Has Been Fast Tracked

The final panel, “Pay at Their Fingertips,” looked at the evolution of payments of wages and leveraging new technology for those payments. The conversation touched on potential misconceptions and myths that often surround earned wage access (EWA; or on-demand pay).

The moderator of the panel was Stephanie Salavejus, CPP, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Pensoft. She was joined by a team of panelists: Michael Baer, CPP, Special Advisor at DailyPay; Kayling Gaver, Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer at Tapcheck; Brian Slowick, Senior Vice President of Wage and Corporate Disbursements at rapid!; Adam Kujawa, Vice President of Business Development at NetSpend, and Anne Evers, Vice President of Prepaid and Disbursements at Money Network.

EWA has become a hot topic driven by a millennial and Gen Z workforce. If you’re wondering if EWA will last, the answer is yes, but a lot hinges on the continued growth of gig workers and the change in demographics. Just as we’ve become used to overnight delivery from Amazon, employees, too, have become accustomed to getting paid immediately.

Kujawa challenged the fear that an employee would abuse an EWA program by trying to take more than what they are entitled.

“Let me tell you right now that these are the most financially savvy people in the world,” Kujawa said. “These are folks who know how to stretch a dollar far better than most. These are the last people who are going to abuse a solution like this. They are going to use a solution to their benefit, so that they can meet their financial obligations in a timely way.”

EWA is on a fast trajectory to a mainstream adoption now. Payroll can be on the forefront of bringing it into the organization and helping employees get access to wages they’ve earned but can’t receive or access. This is a great benefit to employees, and payroll can be on the forefront of those organizational goals. So, what’s to come in the industry? The panel agreed, they are excited not only for the next 5-10 years, but for the next 12 months.

All four panel discussions from the Payroll Solutions Showcase are available for free, on demand through December 31, 2021.

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Frank J. Mendelson is Acquisitions Editor for the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) and the American Payroll Association (APA).