Future of payroll managers at risk from AI

Advances in technology will open up wider opportunities for payroll professionals, as artificial intelligence (AI) replaces wage packets and biometrics take over the clocking-in routine, argues Anthony Macey, director of Portfolio Payroll

What exactly is the role of the payroll processor in 2019? With cloud-based software becoming the norm for all the major accountancy software providers, and an ever-increasing reliance on smartphone technology to assist with payroll processing, will there even be a need for the payroll specialist in the future?

There is little disptue that the percentage of businesses who rely on manual inputting and timesheets is decreasing year on year. These time-consuming processes are often being replaced by cloud-based rotas and even sophisticated clocking in and out systems, where a simple swipe of a smartphone whisks an employee’s hours directly into payroll software.

There are even a handful of forward-thinking businesses who use biometrics (such as fingerprint recognition or retina scans) to identify their staff as well as register their working hours.

Advances in technology in payroll are saving companies valuable time, not just with inputting hours themselves, but the extra hours involved in correcting the inevitable mistakes caused by human error.

These systems are increasing compliance in all payroll areas, such as with national minimum wage requirements.

Wage packets to AI

The role of the payroll professional has had to adapt over the last few decades, from wage packets made up of notes and coins to paying by cheque and then BACS, right up to the introduction of real time information (RTI) reporting to HMRC.

The payroll profession has always changed and embraced newer and more sophisticated ways of ensuring the UK’s workforce is paid correctly and on time, every time. Payrollers will continue to evolve as artificial intelligence (AI) develops, from inputter to controller, and then to a facilitator of employees’ pay data.

There will be a need for someone to be behind the reins of these AI systems to ensure General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is being complied with. There will still need to be intervention to ensure that that the correct balance between an employer’s right to check on their staff and an employee’s right to a private life is maintained.

AI can track, identify, record and store to an incredible level of accuracy, but could it ever truly grasp the complexity of a term time salary readjustment? Could it understand the mechanics of an overpayment of salary with different rates involved over several tax years?

Pay is and always will be an emotive subject; could future technology ever replace the person who has to explain to a member of staff why there has been a reduction in a member of staff’s pay, or why their tax code has changed so dramatically?

As AI continues to improve, this also gives the payroll professional valuable opportunities to upskill and expand themselves. With an ever-increasing focus on data protection and GDPR compliance, the astute and accuracy driven payroller will already be a prime candidate for the role of the data protection and compliance officer within their business.

With less time doing input, this could lead to payrollers branching out and learning about the number-crunching side (accountancy and finance) or the people-management side of payroll (employment law and human resources). When it comes to their development, there are many different routes available for the payroll professional to branch out to; two doors will open for every one door closed due to advances in technology.

What will the tracking of employees’ hours look like in 2030? Perhaps clocking in and out will become obsolete and be replaced by biometric facial recognition or body scanning. Whatever is to come, the vital and adaptable role of the payroll specialist will always be in the future of payroll and will never become obsolete in the way manual timesheet inputting eventually will be.

About the author

Anthony Macey is director at Portfolio Payroll

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