Historically, payroll's participation in a corporate FinTech innovation boom has largely been about ensuring employees are paid accurately and on time as businesses acknowledge the need to nix paper and manual data entry.
More recently, innovators have begun to shift their attention to more value-added functionality within payroll solutions, positioning the payroll function as a tool that supports employee attraction, retention and satisfaction. While organizations of all sizes and industries may understand this value proposition, payroll is rarely at the top of the priority list when it comes to investment in new technology for the back office.
The global pandemic, and a subsequent surge in government relief efforts, may have shifted that perspective thanks to the critical role payroll data plays in connecting firms to government aid, according to Simon Bourgeois, CEO of Canada-based payroll and HR technology firm Humi.
"It was an eye-opener for a lot of companies who were using less modern [payroll] solutions in terms of the pain they went through to access the capital they needed to get through these touch times," he told PYMNTS in an interview.
Legacy Tools' Usability Hurdle
Payroll technology disruption has accelerated, but for many organizations, well-known behemoths in the industry remain the staple. Bourgeois noted that while the sector's biggest players address employers' needs, they fall short of offering the value-added tools businesses are beginning to demand.
"When you look at the payroll landscape, broadly speaking, it's still dominated by major players who have built solutions that are highly capable, but not easily usable," he noted.
FinTech newcomers largely started with improving upon the user experience, but today, Bourgeois highlighted that payroll disruption has entered into a new phase where the focus is on workflow functionality "developed on top of ease-of-use."
Today, the biggest challenges for organizations that continue to rely on legacy service providers is the issue of wasting valuable time actually running payroll. But much like the corporate accounting arena, in which accountants are now urged to migrate away from number-crunching and toward advisory services, professionals that run payroll — whether they be outsourced service providers, accountants, HR professionals or otherwise — are similarly facing a market in which they must add value to the organization.
And when these professionals are forced to manage data manually, they cannot live up to those expectations, said Bourgeois.
A Seat at the Innovation Table
As FinTechs nudge businesses away from legacy tools, their value-added offerings have largely focused on speed and employee satisfaction. Increasingly, this means integrating capabilities of early access to wages and real-time payments to professionals, functions that are also seeing growing demand as the makeup of the workforce itself evolves with gig workers and contractors.
Yet to a point, Bourgeois said payroll FinTechs' functionality aspirations are limited to what the government and payments landscape overall has supported.
"I think in many ways, payroll companies are held back by financial institution infrastructure," he said. "In Europe, APIs [application programming interfaces] have become far more prevalent, and it has allowed for innovators to be more flexible. But in Canada and the U.S., the standard method for moving money is still the limiting factor in enabling these types of solutions."
Government development of faster payment initiatives and ISO 20022 adoption in both Canada and the U.S. are important to supporting the FinTech landscape overall to accelerate innovation. Payroll, specifically, is uniquely positioned to not only benefit from these efforts, but to drive the financial success of the workforce — and therefore, the economy overall.
With value-added tools like early access to wages and same-day payouts, organizations can not only ensure that payroll is optimized and employees are happy, but they can also wield the payroll function as another way to support economic recovery moving forward. For that reason, Bourgeois said, payroll innovators like Humi must find their voice in the broader payments innovation landscape.
"When you look at payments, broadly speaking, they're designed to support the economy,” he said. “Payments are made to infuse capital within the economy, and the people that support the economy are the most important part of the equation. There could be, and should be, and I believe there is going to be, a large movement to bring more technology innovators to the table."