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Why is payroll your secret weapon_ Q&A with payroll expert Samantha Mann

Why is payroll your secret weapon? Q&A with payroll expert Samantha Mann

In this interview we spoke to Samantha Mann, Payroll Training Consultant for Armstrong Watson and former Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) Senior Policy & Research Technical Lead. Samantha is a regular panelist of our Payroll Question Time webinar sessions– where a panel of experts gather together every month to discuss the latest legislation and policy news in payroll and HR, as well as answering the audience's burning questions. 

    How did you come into the world of payroll?

    Samantha: Like so many, I fell into payroll. My first job leaving school was working at a local branch of Forbuoys newsagents, as a Branch Trainee Manager. This role was multifaceted and included customer service, stock control, ordering, cashing up and banking, and payroll, specifically the weekly wages of the branch staff. This included, at the that time, the manual calculation of income tax, NICs and Statutory Sick Pay.

    My manager let me loose with wages but oddly enough not the weekly accounting sheets (until I had completed training at head office). When PAYE was first introduced in 1944, Inland Revenue carried out its biggest employer PR exercise ever, the key message being Pay As You Earn (PAYE) was easy – which I believe contributes to why people still think payroll is easy – the belief is ingrained in our society.

    As a result of that job, I had payroll on my CV. When I later moved into accountancy and bookkeeping, colleagues knew I could do payroll and naturally started giving me more payroll tasks. This led to me leading on a project to launch and deliver payroll services to Registered Charities and voluntary organisations in the East Midlands. Delivering payroll services to a large number of employers, particularly when you are the only payroll specialist in your organisation, ensures that you build a wide range of skills and knowledge.

    Since then Payroll has been my chosen career path. I joined CIPP as a student member in 1997, later becoming a Tutor and I have been in the Policy team (on and off) since 2004, and in 2012 I became Senior Policy and Research Officer, before becoming Policy Lead in 2020 just as the pandemic began.

      Your role now is Senior Policy & Research Technical Lead at CIPP, please can you explain a little about what you do?

      Samantha: The role of policy is complex and multifaceted (there seems to be theme to my employment choices) but in essence I am privileged to represent CIPP members, and by virtue of our Chartered Status, the wider payroll profession. My job is to give payroll a voice when working alongside other stakeholders to discuss and debate new and existing government policies and legislation.

      In order to do this, after all there is no ‘one size fits all in payroll’, I gather views from the wider profession through the use surveys and discussion through the policy think tank roundtables. This enables payroll professionals, across all sectors and service lines, to share with us their experiences and views on a range of subjects with us.  

      Whilst in consultation with government departments and agencies, we discuss new and existing payroll policies and I present the opinions and ideas from a range of different practitioners and voices. The think tanks, I mentioned before, bring government officials together with our members to enable collaboration with government and other stakeholders.

      The government don’t always agree with our ideas – but that’s where being an experienced payroll professional comes in, together with the research findings, to support and strengthen our voice.

        Why are institutions like CIPP so important for payroll?

        Samantha: The CIPP aims to lead the profession through education, membership and recognition. CIPP speaks for the payroll professional whether they hold membership or not. Payroll should have the high recognition that colleagues in accountancy, tax and HR enjoy. With all practitioners holding the right level of education and qualifications to support their jobs and career goals.

        There has been much discussion in government this year about raising standards, and this continues. By supporting the profession to aspire for a career in payroll we will achieve higher standards as more qualified individuals enter the payroll profession. As a profession we’re still relatively young, despite the fact there have been records of payroll for thousands of years, so the path isn’t as established as many other Professional Bodies, but we are working to change that and get people excited about becoming a payroll professional.

          What has been the most visible change to the payroll and HR industry in the last year?

          Samantha: The pandemic! There has been a significant impact on the working of payroll, HR and even finance in the last few months. There has been so many iterations of guidance for CJRS we fear this will have a long-term impact on employer compliance and HMRC enforcement in the coming months and years. Because the number of different iterations of guidance has been so immense, there is a great chance that employers will have made mistakes in their claims. In addition, HMRC helplines are excessively busy at the moment and people can’t easily engage with them, the knock-on impact will be felt for some time to come.

          The speed needed to respond to change i.e. working from home and then dealing with furlough and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been the biggest challenge. We are fortunate in that we, in the payroll profession, are well versed in adapting to change, but this year the pace and type of change needed has been phenomenal.

          How well this has been handled has varied depending on size, scale and foresight that organisations had. Is it because some people were better equipped to deal with this situation? Were some organisations more prepared? Some organisations were already prepared for a pandemic. Talking to members, many people struggled to get equipment to work from home and there have been many lessons learned in investing in the right technology, but also practices, and processes.

            The pandemic has made people appreciate payroll the people behind it. Do you think that Covid-19 will change the way payroll is seen forever?

            Samantha: This has given us an opportunity. CIPP and organisations like us are important in making sure people don’t forget the work that went in to ‘keeping the UK paid’ and undervalue payroll again. By working collaboratively, we can spread the word to support the profession and build on the good reputations earned throughout this last few months, and continuing in to 2021.

            Think how much payroll has changed in the last 20 years – we have gone from largely paper and manual processes to digital and total reliance on technology. Real-time information was a challenge when it first came in but as a result, we now have near to real-time processing which supports the benefits system, and we have the apprenticeship levy, the government have access to data much more quickly than they ever had, and they are using it across other departments.

            It’s human nature that we are quick to forget pain. But lessons have been learned and we need to find a way to ensure these are built in and not forgotten. Organisations that have the opportunity to asses that impact on their people and invest in their development will see real benefits in the future.

              Why is a payroll-centric HR solution better than, say an HR or Talent-first solution, based on your own experiences?

              Samantha: Payroll produces the greatest expense in the entire organisation, and it is responsible for the accuracy of how this is recorded – tax, gross pay, holiday entitlement, compliance with a wide range of legislation – if this is wrong there are severe implications from HMRC such as penalties and interest. In the worst-case scenario employers could find themselves facing prison sentences if they fail to comply – as we saw recently with workplace pension savings!

              Payroll is the money end and the risk of getting this wrong is high. The rules are complex – more so than people many appreciate – education and continued learning is vital to ensure you will get it right.

                If a business is looking to increase the resilience of their payroll, what would you suggest?

                Samantha: Invest in your payroll. Whether that be technology and training for a specific payroll product, or wider skills and technical training. No one works in isolation with one product these days. But how many of us utilise all these products in everyday capability?

                Invest in the education and personal development of your payroll staff. Improving procedures and policies and ensure that they are documented. So many businesses have no record of how their pay is processed and ‘there is no one size’!

                Invest in more efficient ways in processing your payroll and have greater protection – working from home has created a lot of challenges for the managers – invest in more people training.

                Invest in talent – every payroll team has been short staffed during the pandemic. Make the payroll team more attractive as an offering.

                Prioritise audit processes – what has been done, when and who did it. Compliance visits from HMRC could be down the line. If no one has maintained accurate records following all the guidance changes, you could be caught out. The need for accurate record keeping has been very clear in the covid-19 advice – keep visibility of records and audit trails. 

                  How do you think payroll will have changed in 10 years’ time?

                  Samantha: More of the same challenges, but technology is going to have a huge part to play. AI and technological advances will free up people’s time to be more involved in the strategic planning so an organisation can be more prepared and adapt to policy changes to make sure they are compliant. This is a whole area that could (and indeed needs to be) strengthened in payroll.

                  There is no one size fits all with payroll. In the region of 85% of employers are SMEs – larger organisations can have the real specialist in their team. Yet small businesses typically do everything, and they are unlikely to be investing in payroll.

                  I think payroll will have become more complex – the government keep boosting the profile of payroll with more policies and that will continue. 10 years ago, we didn’t have auto enrolment and we didn’t have real-time information, we didn’t have the apprenticeship levy, or OPRA, Payrolling and SPBP, this list is not exhaustive, and it will increase.

                  I hope that in the future we’ll have a higher profile, more organisations are now representing payroll which is a huge positive. But we must work together and collaborate to maintain the continued work to raise payroll as a profession.

                    Thanks for taking the time to speak to us today. Where can we find you?

                    Samantha: Thank you. I am on Linkedin and Twitter. Or you can catch me on the next Payroll Question Time webinar.

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