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Professional Spotlight

Meet Olga Kourilenkov, Global Payroll Manager at AxiomSL


By Frank J. Mendelson

Editor’s Note: Olga Kourilenkova is the Global Payroll Manager at AxiomSL, a leading global provider of regulatory reporting, risk, and data management solutions for financial institutions. Kourilenkova has more than 10 years of experience in the payroll industry with six years specializing in global payroll. Her expertise is in centralizing global payroll operations and standardizing processes and reporting. Kourilenkova is a big proponent of automation and enjoys implementation projects. Currently, she is involved in compensation management and works on several international payroll implementations and various human resource information system (HRIS) and reporting-related projects.


What strategic advice would you give to a company moving from a domestic to a global payroll?

Be open-minded. In terms of global ratings in business complexity, the United States is one of the easiest countries in which to operate because of its simple registration processes, clear tax laws, and stable environment. When you expand globally, you will see a lot of differences. You will need to be prepared to be flexible and be patient. Global payroll could also be a significant add-on to the wage bill. It is necessary to complete all due diligence upfront. And at the early stage, I recommend using the help of professional advisors.


What are some of the considerations a company should have to determine if there is a good fit with a prospective vendor?

Organizations often have different priorities. You need to know what is important to you and be very clear in your communication. If you are looking to implement payroll in various locations, it’s imperative that you understand the vendor’s geography. If you have a set budget, it will be most important to compare price quotes. I always pay attention to how vendors communicate, how they respond to questions, how fast they get back to me via email, if they use any meeting technology, or how well the demo presentation runs. You can also get a good idea of the company starting from the sales process.


What are the things you would like to see payroll vendors address in the next three years?

I would like to see digital file exchange applications becoming a norm, even for the smaller vendors, in response to data security concerns. In general, I’d like to see more tools that help to create visibility and transparency into the payroll workflow.


What do you see currently as the changing role of the payroll professional?

Global payroll is an evolving market and requirements for global payroll managers can change with time or from one organization to another. There is an ongoing debate of whether payroll should report to HR or finance, but regardless of where payroll sits, it must collaborate with both areas. Experience in finance helps to navigate reporting requirements and to streamline information exchange. Payroll data can provide valuable insights to the company leaders. There is an increased demand for consolidated reporting and analytical tools. Working within the HR department provides visibility into employee matters concerning pay and gives the ability to provide feedback before decisions are final. Deeper collaboration with HR enables payroll to participate at the strategic level and strengthen risk control and compliance. There is an overall change in how the payroll professional is no longer viewed as a data entry processor, but as a subject matter expert and partner.


What emerging trends in global payroll are demanding your attention?

There is an increase in employee mobility. This is not just in global mobility, because we see it on the domestic market as well, and it’s a direct result of the pandemic. The shift to a remote workforce presents new challenges for payroll. In response to this shift, digitalization efforts are continuing at all levels. COVID-19 pushed this digitization trend forward, but it is still an area for observation. It would be good to see more standardization, and it will be interesting to see the growing requirements at the international level.


What are some of the insights you can share around your preparing for, and staying in compliance with, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)?

GDPR implementation was an opportunity for payroll to demonstrate collaboration skills. For me, internally, it was a cross-department partnership of working with the legal department on defining requirements and with HR on setting internal processes. Externally, there was an increase in communication with vendors, regular updates, and check-ins. I think GDPR positively impacted data security globally, not just in the European Union (EU), as it set a new “gold standard.”


What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll?

Having a good partnership with vendors helps as they can add value by sharing important updates. I like to also attend webinars where there are a lot of good current topics being discussed. When it comes to a particular issue, I prefer to go to the source and, most often, will do my research on government websites.


How did you get started in your career?

I started my career in the corporate domestic multistate payroll department. My journey started with a high volume, and a high emphasis on customer payroll according to the best compliance practices. I also spent some time in the professional employer organization (PEO) industry. This helped to polish my communication, organization, and efficiency skills. I was very intrigued by global payroll after one of my colleagues moved to this area. I soon had an opportunity to join a mid-size company as part of global finance and to lead the global payroll function. I learned a lot while on the job and improved, not just in global payroll, but also in related financial processes. I believe I was able to transition successfully into a global role because I had a strong core knowledge of domestic payroll, a positive attitude, and a desire to learn.


What have been the challenges you have faced as you moved into global payroll from domestic payroll?

The great thing about working for a mid-size organization is that you don’t exclude domestic payroll from global operations. I always had both. This helped me to stay current on local changes and regulations, while also experiencing the ever-changing world of global payroll.


What were some of your early career lessons?

I learned very quickly that vendors must be actively managed. And only through building a relationship and enforcing discipline, do you create a successful partnership.


How do you incorporate professional development into the lifestyle of a full-time job?

Hands-on experience is the best when it comes to payroll. Do not be afraid to take on new challenges. Make sure you participate in internal initiatives, collaborate, and learn from professionals around you. A lot of companies have employee development initiatives. If there is no formal program, you can always speak to your manager about available specialized courses that will help the team advance or solve a particular issue.


What are some of the pieces of learned wisdom you had from your on-the-job experience?

First, I would say always have a “clean balance sheet” and be ready for the unexpected. When your payrolls are in a good position overall, you can put time where you need it the most, whether cleaning up inefficient processes, doing research, or having additional discussions. Second, make sure you prioritize. Things need to go according to the schedule. Finally, know your process limits, don’t over-promise, and don’t be afraid to say no.


What are some stress management techniques you have found useful?

Despite payroll being considered a stressful occupation, I noticed my stress levels decreased significantly as my experience level increased. Now I see it as one of my professional goals to make payroll stress-free. I achieve this through a simple, unified, easy-to-follow process where all participants feel comfortable and have sufficient time to complete their tasks. It is always a combination of scheduling, setting up clear requirements, having explicit communication with vendors, and enforcing internal discipline.


How do you personally manage your work-life schedule?

To balance, I do things opposite to the time spent in front of the screen. I’m very active on weekends; I enjoy nature, like to go on long hikes where I can spot birds and animals, and I walk, bike, and swim. I always try to get the best out of every season.


How has your approach to change management helped to make a successful organization?

I always advocate for better systems. I’ve had the opportunity to implement global payrolls, as well as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and HRIS. It is rewarding to see the positive impact of technology. It enlightens teams with creativity, promotes teamwork, boosts morale, and increases productivity by removing attention from routine tasks. I take the same position with processes. There is always something that could be revised and improved, and it is essential to have an open discussion about it.


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