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.
How has the role of the payroll professional changed over the last few years?
In the past decade, the role of payroll professionals has shifted from purely transactional and operational to more strategic, risk- and compliance-focused, and positioned as a partner to the business. For example, the perception of payroll people is no longer, “Just push the button at the month’s end and magically everyone gets paid.” Now, payroll professionals are the key to ensuring a higher level of efficiency and quality of customer service delivery to both internal stakeholders and external stakeholders.
The payroll professional facilitates this balance. Additionally, payroll professionals are increasingly being invited to sit at the decision table to discuss the ever increasing and tightening regulatory noose regarding timely, accurate, and transparent payments to all categories of employees—more especially those classified as “blue collar” globally or “non-exempt” in the United States.
Payroll professionals and payroll leaders and owners are consulted well in advance and are part of the diligence and governance teams set up to study, recommend, and execute on mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures. We now get to participate in analysis that helps drive the decisions as to whether the firm proceeds with, walks away from, or staggers all mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity, including technology transformation decisions. No doubt, these shifts are all logical and prudent, cascaded from the C-suite.
What emerging trends in global payroll are demanding your attention? How will they exert impact?
The first trend is the consolidated governance and service delivery models globally, all of which include single platform, hybrid processing, shared services, COEs, and full bi-directional integrations, with core HR, benefits, compensation, finance, and equity. Second is enhanced data privacy surrounding personally identifiable information (PII)—not only in the EU but beyond. Third are on-demand payments influencing a shift from traditional monthly and semimonthly paydays to weekly paydays for some industries. For others, like Uber or Lyft, there is a change to daily and/or on-demand payments. The fourth trend involves the use of robotics for employee query responses, and the fifth trend I see are blockchain-based global payments and reconciliations. Of course, the emergence of the gig economy continues as a trend where contract and temporary workers are economically viable for firms, as well as workers who are not tied to any one employer. However, other risks emerge such as triggering permanent establishment (PE), requirements to provide benefits, etc. Early adapters of these will benefit in several ways: Enhanced data integrity, lower vendor and employee costs, greater compliance, tremendously enhanced scalability to support business growth globally, whether organically or via M&A, and a more satisfied workforce that benefits from 24/7 support through artificial intelligence (AI)/robotics and immediate pay for work done.
What are the biggest challenges for payroll teams, and how are they addressing these challenges?
The biggest challenge relates to global ways of working, or the global intercultural challenge, and understanding how learning and adapting to these subtleties can be the difference between success and failure. For example, in Asian cultures, the hierarchical structure is key to operations, decisions, and success. Saving face should not be taken lightly. In Europe, being cognizant of the emphasis and importance placed on quality of life and the need to disconnect for vacations in July and August enables one to plan better for changes impacting payroll vendors, solutions, processes, and people.
Globalization has brought many benefits, including an attempt to standardize and harmonize processes and platforms globally to some degree of success. However, this has also amplified the acute issue of availability of quality multi-dimensional global payroll subject matter experts (SMEs), as large global multinational firms have mostly set up shared services centers in similar locations, and the churn has been greater. Payroll can benefit from increased interactions via travel, technology, and cross-functional initiatives, when it comes to understanding how people behave and operate globally. Taking intercultural training and vendor or payroll institution-backed courses related to payroll operations, and compliance country by country can help, and has benefited leading practice firms.
What are the chronic challenges for companies moving into global expansion?
One is making the colossal mistake of thinking that payroll operations and compliance in the United States is equivalent to international payroll compliance and operations and mistaking knowledge of payroll operations in the United States with a more strategic expertise needed globally. Another challenge is the lack of true internal subject matter expertise in global payroll.
I’ve seen an overreliance on third-party payroll vendors who over promise and under deliver, usually via embellished sales pitches. Some companies delay analysis for consolidation until the “long tail” is upon them as a result of an approach of using a local vendor in each country. Some organizations lack understanding of the more robust regulatory environment, in relation to payroll, taxes, labor laws, data privacy, and benefits/pensions—which in the United States are mostly discretionary and good market practice, but mandatory overseas.
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 have been your experiences on successfully navigating cultural and other differences on a world-wide stage?
Be open minded and have a mindset that is willing to learn and understand the different perspectives overseas, versus what you may know as prevalent in the United States.
People value when you make the effort to see things from their perspective and are more likely to support your initiatives. This follows from treating everyone with the same level of dignity and respect, professionalism, and courtesy. A leader is empathetic to how history and nature has treated different peoples globally, for which you may never have experienced. In many instances, tragedies such as genocide, war, economic instability, and major natural disasters may shape their daily behavior and influence their level of trust toward outsiders. With this approach, you will earn the trust of your peers and associates.
What emerging trends do you see in meeting the payroll needs and compliance in payroll management for mobile employees?
Some emerging trends, particularly in data security, include taking advantage of vendor mobile applications for ESS query and processing such information as personal data, payment elections, tax data, etc.; enabling security features in mobile platforms and applications for geo-fencing, multi-factor authentication, single sign-on, and facial and fingerprint recognition; and implementing managers’ use of MSS to approve time, rate increase, payroll submissions, and funding, etc.
How can companies better leverage payroll data for strategic decision-making? How will payroll data emerge as a critical analytic business tool?
Due to the sheer magnitude and the type of data payroll holds, management can leverage this to forecast costs more accurately, pluck trends related to employee benefits and retirement plans to obtain better pricing models, etc.
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 were some of your early career lessons?
You cannot take on the world all at once. You can succeed in major transformations only with the right team supporting you who are bought in and vested in the successful outcome.
What have been the professional and personal challenges you have faced as you moved into global payroll from domestic payroll?
There are more regulatory requirements internationally that govern pay, taxes, benefits, and data than in the United States. Time zones and languages could initially be a challenge until you adjust to the varying needs in each region. Cultures vary greatly, so take the time to understand them well before attempting to implement change. Changes take longer to get effectuated. Plan for this in your timeline.
What is one of the most difficult payroll situations you have been in?
Notifying a smaller in-country vendor of our intent to terminate their service with the company, only to learn that the vendor was forced out of business, due to losing our firm as a client. The vendor reacted negatively and refused to collaborate in this transition. We were missing data and documentation that they maintained for us, and we had no contingency plan. It was chaotic. We needed to run payroll manually in-house for a while until we migrated to a new vendor.
Tell me about your management and leadership approach today?
I follow the “player-coach” style. Very team-oriented and collaborative.
How do you hire?
Clearly articulate the skills needed for the role. Recruit fairly and openly to find the most qualified candidate. Interview the chosen candidates thoroughly and objectively. Involve the key stakeholders at different levels in the selection process and solicit input to obtain a majority consensus to hire the most suitable candidate. Create the swiftest and most welcoming onboarding experience for the candidate.
Please share some stress management techniques you have found useful.
Spending time with my kids. When possible, take short walks or stretch.
In Part 2 of this Professional Spotlight in an upcoming Global Payroll issue, learn about Baksh’s insights on, and more.
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Frank J. Mendelson is Acquisitions Editor for the Global Payroll Management Institute (GPMI) and the American Payroll Association (APA).