By Frank J. Mendelson
Editor’s Note: Rohit Mathur is CEO of the HR/Payroll Business Unit for Ramco Systems in Gurgaon, India. He is responsible for managing the end-to-end business operations from product research and development (R&D), pre-sales, marketing, and implementation, to support. Mathur’s educational background includes an MBA from the Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad, in Ghaziabad, India, and a Bachelor of Technology in Electronics from Savitribai Phule Pune University, in Pune, India. Mathur began his career in 1996 with Schenk Process in New Delhi, where he served as the Assistant Manager of Business Development—a role he held until 2000. Since then, he’s been with various companies such as Capgemini, Mahindra System, Deloitte, and Honeywell where he held roles in sales, business consulting, and program management.
How can a payroll department provide support on a strategic level to corporate finance, human resources, and other departments?
The payroll insights and data provided by the payroll department can be used by business leaders to make well-informed decisions on optimizing their resources in addition to planning employee-centric strategies. There are limitless possibilities with the payroll data. For instance, the HR department may find a consistent rise in overtime costs as an area of concern, and they might choose to decide on hiring additional resources instead of paying overtime. Similarly, they might observe a correlation between overtime hours and employee burnout rates for a specific function or team and may deploy custom or personalized strategies to improve the well-being of employees in that function. The payroll department can also help HR develop and maintain competitive pay and benefits.
The finance department, too, can derive strategic insights from the payroll data. Payroll data can help get a long-term trend of profits versus compensation across geographies of operations. This can help plan global staffing deployment over the long term and help decide expansion of operations in one location over another based on costs for compensation, statutory or tax liabilities, labour laws, etc.
What do you see as the changing role of the payroll professional?
The advent of technologies, such as robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML), in modern payroll solutions has brought in the much needed intelligent automations of repetitive operational tasks involved in payroll processing. Apart from error free and quicker payroll processing, AI and RPA has also empowered payroll professionals with real-time availability of the latest compliance updates to help them stay updated with new laws and regulations.
Payroll professionals are sitting on a huge pile of rich data. This is data can provide them with valuable insights, which can be used for the overall benefit of the employees’ well-being and organizational growth. It’d be rather more apt to say that AI and ML technology has helped invert the payroll pyramid where payroll professionals can free up their bandwidth by using such technologies for transactional and repetitive work (read more about the inverted payroll pyramid in this issue). They can now spend more of their time in strategic tasks. These may include analysing payroll data for any patterns that can help predict employee burnout rates, which could help with retention and the financial well-being of those employees, understanding potential impacts of any upcoming regulation and steps to minimize financial impact, and much more.
I see payroll professionals acting more as advisors if they can shift their focus from being involved in highly transactional processes to a more analytical and decision-support focus. I expect to see payroll professionals making more valuable contributions to the successes of their organizations.
What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll?
We have a multi-pronged approach to ensure we keep abreast with changes in legislation.
We have a dedicated unit referred to as the “payroll bureau,” which is comprised of tax consultants, business analysts, and financial analysts. Their role is to diligently monitor the regulatory changes that may have an impact on our client engagements in any way for multi-country compliance.
We also use a compliance monitoring tool provided by one of the big 4 consulting firms to monitor updates and track compliance. The member firms across the countries push statutory updates on the tool in real-time, which we then work upon and track to closure. This tool helps us proactively update compliance rather than addressing issues reactively.
We have an AI-based compliance tool, too, which tracks compliance updates almost in real-time by crawling across the web for such updates. The tool is embedded with a mini-natural language processing (NLP) engine and translation engine, enabling it to read and process the webpages or documents by matching relevant data dictionaries.
My company also has a dedicated network of independent tax consultants who provide regulatory in-country support across geographies. The statutory updates for respective countries are uploaded in our global compliance portal, and subscribers also receive an email notification with latest updates.
What are the biggest challenges for payroll teams, and what is emerging to address these challenges?
Staying compliant is still one of the biggest challenges for payroll teams across the globe. The rise in uncertainty in the global economy, and the ever-changing laws and regulations have placed more responsibilities on the shoulders of payroll professionals. It is essential to stay updated with changes in labor laws and regulations.
Another big challenge is the lack of flexibility of existing legacy payroll platforms, and their inability to integrate smoothly with HCM platforms and time and attendance products. This results in a lot of manual operations in order to ensure error-free, accurate payroll processing.
Our stringent process around tracking changes in legislation makes it easier for payroll professionals across the globe to stay updated. Anyone can subscribe to our global compliance portal and receive free, automated email alerts on new statutory changes.
What emerging trends in global payroll are demanding your attention? How will they exert impact?
The disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about has caused the need for payroll vendors to not only help organizations optimize their payroll processing, but also focus on offering an enhanced employee experience through financial wellness programs, banking options, reward and recognition (R&R) programs, automated help desks, etc. An increasingly globalized and remote workforce has organizations looking for cloud-based payroll software to enable payroll processing from any location. Interestingly, Everest Group reports that approximately 58% of enterprises are looking to improve speed and accuracy through digitization, and 31% plan to centralize and standardize payroll operations.
To meet the needs of such organizations, we have been focusing on leveraging RPA and ML technologies to increase the efficiency of payroll processing. Continuous improvements in the performance of our anomaly detection and reasoning engine as well as the RPA technology is offering our customers a technological edge in seamless payroll processing.
What kinds of skills, training, and education would be most useful for someone moving into a managerial role in payroll?
The use of one’s analytical skills are a must have. A managerial role often requires strategic decision making and for that, managers must know how to make sense of data. They must know how to analyze the data to discover hidden patterns and develop strategic insights—essential for making business decisions.
It is also essential to have an understanding about the right use of technology so that repetitive and mundane tasks are automated and payroll professionals can spend more time on strategic tasks that would help them move up the value chain.
What career and life advice do you give to a new employee in payroll?
Payroll is not for the faint hearted, and there’ll be trying times; however, there is not a dull moment—ever. It’s a rewarding career, full of learning opportunities to grow and prosper. I wish all budding payroll professionals the best for their careers.
What are the most important qualities of effective leadership?
I believe leadership is all about mentorship and empowerment. A good leader will always guide the team, and then let them flourish.
What books are on your recommended reading list?
“Emotional Agility,” by Susan David, PhD, is a good read. She talks about how anyone can become more emotionally agile and thrive in an uncertain world.
What are some stress management techniques you have found useful?
I am a firm believer of meditation. It not only helps you manage stress, but also to focus energy in the right direction and expand your thinking power.
Read this author’s article “Expanding Geographies Through an Inverted Payroll Pyramid” in this issue.