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American Payroll Association Congress 2022 - event recap

Published May 20, 2022
By Pete Tiliakos, Global Payroll Product Strategy Leader

This past week Alight sponsored and attended the 40th annual American Payroll Association Payroll Congress event at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas Nevada.

Widely regarded as the “Super Bowl of Payroll”, Congress made its return as an in-person event for the first time since 2019 and was well attended, hosting over 1800 practitioners, leaders, providers, and influencers for a week of learning and networking. The energy and enthusiasm at the event were infectious, with attendees thrilled to be back together and focused on learning about the latest innovations and modern practices shaping the future of payroll.

Throughout the event, I and the rest of team Alight were fortunate to meet and connect with many attendees, engaging in great conversations on their unique payroll challenges, evolving requirements, and transformational journeys.  Across my conversations at Congress, three key themes were apparent. Below I recap each and provide my POV on how firms should be thinking about them.

The payroll community is largely divided on the topic of earned wage access (EWA) and on demand pay.

While many firms have adopted and realized the positive impacts from modern digital pay methods and financial wellness solutions, the reality is that many more are still holding out – viewing these innovations as simple fads that will eventually go away. I believe this is rooted in two core perception issues.

First, most practitioners feel that adopting on demand pay solutions translates to, yet another tool payroll must test, deploy, and support in their long list of critical responsibilities. Further, many employers believe their payroll operating costs will go up as a result. 

My research and analysis of many of the leading on demand pay solutions shows that these solutions offer an incredibly low impact activation process, meaning payroll must do very little to launch and operate them.  Further, the cost models for on demand pay is very low and often the ROI realized offsets any cost of adoption. Interestingly, the ROI realized generally has little impact on payroll itself (although it inherently drives up electronic payments), rather it is a “benefit” that commonly leads to measurable improvements in employee engagement, retention, referrals, and candidate interest.

Second, the marketing of on demand pay solutions has centered almost squarely on the use case for supporting employees living paycheck to paycheck and gaps in accessing funds for life events.  While these solutions address those use cases and elevate financial acumen, the reality is digital payment solutions offer many more advantages than bridging access to wages ahead of payday.  For example, firms are using it to enable same day payments for terminations or leveraging it to quickly move money to employees as a contingency (think COVID lockdown or recent ice storms in Texas).

Not to mention, digital payments are becoming standard in our personal lives and employees expect employers to provide the flexibility to shape their work life experience, which includes a choice for the modality in which they are paid (amongst many flexibility drivers).   

The perception that “global payroll” is still not possible.

Many firms are still operating with multiple disparate, often outdated solutions, lacking a single control point and experience for operating payroll globally, yet desperately need to modernize. But there is still a significant lack of understanding for what is possible when it comes to transforming payroll globally, with many believing they will still need multiple solutions to solve for their unique requirements.

The reality is that advancements in modern technology, particularly cloud platforms, dynamic API’s and integrations, cognitive automation, and analytic insights, have provided buyers with the ability to truly harmonize payroll to a single provider solution and governance model globally. 

Further, technology enabled managed payroll services provide a turnkey option for achieving a modern, harmonized, technology driven payroll operating model globally, thus accelerating the transformation timeline and outcomes vs. navigating it alone. 

With plenty of payroll innovation available, are firms able to digest it fast enough?

There is so much focus, innovation and investments being dedicated toward elevating payroll – it is truly an exciting time for the critical process and profession!

However, despite the rapid pace of innovation and continued advancements it seems as though many firms are still largely unable or unwilling to move forward. Many still haven’t moved core HR to the cloud and instead operate on legacy on premise platforms that will eventually go out of support. Further, Alight research shows ~50% of firms are not operating payroll on a modern cloud platform either. 

Many firms remain paralyzed in their decision making, often because they lack the skills or knowledge to facilitate transformational change. The reality is that payroll and HR transformation are never the same journey from one organization to another with a near infinite number of variables at play.  No firm starts in the same place, or takes the same path, it’s all dependent on the unique requirements, challenges and decisions they make. Thus, they need flexible solutions and partners that can align to their unique requirements and appetite for change. 

Modern technology enabled managed services can help here as well.  Providing an experienced partner to help guide your organization through the complex process of global payroll transformation.

Look for a partner that can support a consult to operate engagement – helping you at each step of the process to make a case, strategize, deploy, maintain, and operate your payroll operations globally.  Further, look for highly flexible offerings that allow for incremental adoption, at your pace.  There is no longer a need to be forced into a box or adopting services you don’t need. Rather modern managed services should offer the point or packaged solutions to enable a modular approach.  This provides your firm the flexibility to adopt innovation at your desired pace, retain and extend existing investments, and compliment and elevate your payroll operations talent and in house skills.

Pete Tiliakos
Pete Tiliakos
By Pete Tiliakos

As Global Payroll Product Strategy Leader at Alight, Pete guides the overall vision, roadmap, go to market and growth strategy for Alight’s global payroll solution. Pete is widely regarded for his extensive knowledge, coverage and advisory for the global payroll services market, and is a regular contributor to industry podcasts, publications and events for industry leading publications. Pete has been named a HR Superstar in the Advisors/Analysts category by HRO Today Magazine multiple times.

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