“I wish we could just push a button and have payroll process without a hitch, like everyone thinks we do,” joked Robyn Torgius, guest on this episode of #HRTechChat. Instead of just falling into the work, as most have in the past, people are increasingly choosing payroll as a career path. This is a good thing. As global head of payroll at IFS and member of 3Sixty Insights’ Global Executive Advisory Council, Robyn shared her considerable insight into how payroll can be elevated into a profession — and why it should be.
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Brent Skinner 00:00
Well, welcome everybody to this the latest episode of the #HRTechChat video podcast. And I am very happy to have with us today a very special guest, Robyn Torgius, who is Global Head of Payroll at IFS, based across the pond, as we say, here in New England and in England, and elsewhere close by. And she’s also a member of our global Executive Advisory Council here at 3Sixty Insights. Welcome, Robyn.
Robyn Torgius 00:35
Brent. Lovely to see you again. And thanks for having me today.
Brent Skinner 00:39
Oh, yeah, absolutely, really excited about today’s topic, we’re going to be talking about payroll, and how payroll professionals can indeed think of themselves as a profession as opposed to a practice or, you know, as tacticians and I’d love to just, maybe if you could share with our audience, just a little bit about, you know, what brought you to your role that you’re in today, your background? What, what sort of qualifies you because you are obviously qualified to speak on this topic, but just so give them a little bit of a background on you if that would be possible?
Robyn Torgius 01:16
Yeah, absolutely. And I think like most people, I sort of fell into payroll rather than choosing payroll as a career, I had started my career in HR, as an HR assistant, sort of moved my way up within the HR environment. And it was one of the HR managers at the time who processed our current payroll at the company, she was off sick, and it was like, oh, Robyn filling in for her helping her out. And I was like, of course, you know, and it sort of started like that. And I got involved that way. And focused primarily on HR for a long time, even while I was doing the HR, the payroll role. And it was only when we emigrated to Ireland seven years ago, obviously, I wouldn’t have had Irish payroll, and sorry, Irish HR experience. So I stuck more with payroll. And, and that was really just carried on from there. I’ve been fortunate in the roles that I have. And currently with IFS, I’m now the Global Head of payroll, we look after about 33 payrolls and 22 countries. So quite broad and interesting.
Brent Skinner 02:41
That’s a lot of countries. And we, we might get into a little bit of Global Payroll, as we talk today. But that’s really interesting. Do you think a lot of people sort of sort of fall into payroll? Do you think that’s what happens with a lot of folks?
Robyn Torgius 03:01
I think, as the older generation certainly do, I think pay will have recent has only really been acknowledged as a profession and as a career. And very interestingly, I was attending a seminar last week, and there must have been about 30 of us in the room. And the question was asked, How many of you fell into payroll? And all of us, barring one person had put our hands up? And the speaker at the time said to the lady that hadn’t put her hand up? Did you actively choose payroll? And she was, yes. So literally, out of this whole room, we had all fallen into payroll, I think nowadays, it’s, you know, we’re no longer just a back room function, people have realized the importance of payroll, that, you know, the value that we actually have as a function and as a department, within, within an industry and within the business. I think COVID highlighted that a lot for us. You know, suddenly, we it was this invisible room with this person that just pressed a button that transferred your salary into your, you know, into your accounts each month, there was now this real need to know who payroll were, how did they function? How did they operate? What was needed from them in order to pay salaries, you know, while we were suddenly all stuck at home, and, and what was their best way of, of working and how did we cope? And I think that’s where it highlighted that, you know, there was more to just pressing a button and money suddenly appearing in your accounts at the end of the month.
Brent Skinner 04:42
That’s interesting. That’s really interesting. And, you know, a lot of folks, as I tell people on the podcast, most of the guests, we have conversations before the actual podcast where we talk about what we want to talk about and we also scheduled greenroom time. During for the podcast meeting, because just like any important late night talk show, we have greenroom time for our guests as well. But in any event, I recall from one of our past conversations, this idea that, you know, it’s is a dichotomy, or that’s not the word, there’s a dissonance, that maybe we’re finally leaving behind. But a time where, I mean, let’s face it, payroll, that’s probably, you know, with the, there’s some comp, there’s some industries where the, the availability of raw material is just as important, if not more, but for the most part, most industries payroll is the most important thing. We’re a company, you know, it’s you have to be able to pay your people if you don’t, yeah, you make mistake just once. And forget it, all bets are off, a lot of people are going to look for a new job and all sorts of things. And so it’s really odd, that for the longest time, it was not so much an afterthought. But it’s it was something that people it was almost like a hot potato, you’d have to do payroll now. Or, or, okay, I’ll do payroll or whatever, why? Yeah, and now we’re in this new, thank goodness, we’re in this new sort of paradigm where people are understanding that you need to be intentional about payroll and mindset.
Robyn Torgius 06:27
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s quite interesting, because I think the education around payroll and the understanding of what payroll entails has certainly changed. You know, I think it used to be just a case of the only time payroll was ever in focus was when something went wrong, you know, Oh, I haven’t been paid. And suddenly, there’s the uproar. And, you know, and then suddenly, your name is known to an employee to a manager or something, because now they’ve had to get hold of you. It’s that old sort of saying that you were not seen until there was a problem. And I’m sure I’ve mentioned this to you previously, you know, payroll is always sort of, in my mind, it’s an I can’t think of his name, Alfred, Tibet, man, you know, he’s in the background there. But he’s the one who’s, you know, making sure that everything functions and one of the things for me around the education piece of payroll that has recently sort of highlighted for me, where the lack of understanding has come in, is sort of payroll essentially is a back would function, you know, you people go on the middle of the month, oh, we just need to add this overtime, or somebody’s bonus was missed. And you sort of say, well, sorry, we can’t do it, they go, the pay day, still two weeks time, you know, and, and it’s not pay day is your is your starting point. And you have to work backwards from that. So many days before payday, you have to have a bank file. And so many days before that, that’s your reports and your approvals. And then so many days before that as your inputs. And I think that’s been highlighted quite a bit now that recently has come to light that it’s an actual function. It’s not something that just happens.
Brent Skinner 08:27
Yeah. That’s, that’s interesting. And you’re right, it’s almost, it’s, it is kind of seen as something for the longest time oh, it just happens. It’s just supposed to happen. And, and there’s, so what the analogy I like to use is the power company, your electricity, nobody, nobody goes flips on the light switch or, or makes themselves a cup of coffee with their Keurig in the morning and says, Hey, call us up. The power company said, Hey, thanks for sending us electricity this morning. It all went great.
Robyn Torgius 09:00
Brent Skinner 09:02
But the difference is, and when something goes wrong when you lose the electricity, and as you recall, we had to reschedule this a couple of times because we lost electricity over where I lived. And then Internet, and all that stuff. Same thing with internet, I guess, you could look at it this way. As you know, everybody’s calling up right away, hey, my internet is down like my or my hands down. In the same thing happens with payroll. The difference is, though, with a utility company, that is the product so they are laser focused, and on making sure that the product is delivered without keeping it running. Yeah. Whereas it? Yeah, payroll is not the product that is directly relating in revenue resulting in revenue for the for the employer, if there’s like an indirect correlation there.
Robyn Torgius 09:56
Absolutely. And you know, the other thing that people sort of tend to do Forget about it is that payroll itself within, within whatever business you’re involved in payroll is essentially to that business, a service provider. You know, so it seems a bit weird to say that, but essentially, we are providing a service to those employees, you know, end result being the paycheck. And, you know, when that goes wrong, it’s not just, Oh, my pay is not in my account, it links to so many other things. And you know, and payroll itself is an emotive topic, in the sense that somebody’s not being paid, you know, which leads to even more, why needs to be highlighted the importance of payroll, you’ve got to get those inputs correct, because what you’re putting in, is what you’re going to get out at the end of the day. And, and if you’re producing a bad payroll, it’s because you’ve been, you know, your inputs into payroll are not good.
Brent Skinner 11:02
Yeah, yeah. You mentioned that you’re providing a service to employees. And I think that is a really, really important. That’s such a great point. I’m glad you made it. And it occurred to me and I wrote this down in the background, because I’m always looking for headline ideas from these podcasts. And you gave me a really good one in this, you know, employees or customers with a twist.
Robyn Torgius 11:27
Brent Skinner 11:30
100% is kind of like owning a Ferrari when you win. Not exactly, because you have to be uber rich to own a Ferrari. I love my Ferrari. I love mine, too. It’s my Hot Wheels collection, but anyway, stuck on the side. But what I’ve heard about Ferrari ownership is that is that you have sort of a commitment as a Ferrari owner that you know, you can’t do certain things with your Ferrari, you have to take it to certain places to get it fixed up. You’re not allowed to sell it necessarily without Ferraris, permission, and all these sorts of things. And so you have some commitments, there are some things you promise to do. When you promise to Ferrari that you will do, yeah, don’t you get in trouble and maybe lose your Ferrari. And so it’s not exact, but I was trying to think of something that’s similar with the same sort of principle
Robyn Torgius 12:24
Absolutely, you know, because there’s certain code that you as a payroll professional, that you need to maintain, I mean, obviously, the basics are honesty, and, and being ethical, and have integrity and the rest of it, which just goes without saying that, that’s what you should be doing in that environment. But I think it’s more than that, I think you, you know, you need to have a little bit of forward thinking, you need to have a bit of anticipation, one of the things that I’ve noticed within payroll that’s changed immensely, is just the way we process payroll, you know, it used to be very much a manual function, you almost take it back to the old accounting, you know, the big old journal that you would have that manually, things were written down, and we progress them to an Excel spreadsheet, you know, and it was gone are the days of your little brown envelope that your salary came and you know, it was then a direct, moved over to checks and then from checks, it’s gone into your deposits. And, you know, I mean, now, your pay stub used to be this paper thing that you’ve received for your sign for something, I mean, employees are now able to log into a portal and retrieve their own payslips. You know, there’s that automation that’s come into payroll now, that that wasn’t there before. Previously, you were manually uploading into a payroll platform itself, now you’re rapid loading into platforms, you know, so really has progressed and changed and, and along with those changes, like you saying, there’s certain responsibilities that certainly remain with that, because that function itself, you that service that you’re providing needs to be of a certain standard and certain, you know, qualities needs to be maintained. For sure.
Brent Skinner 14:18
And you can take the pay away from an employee that you know, does not keep up their end of the bargain as an employee with you know, certain, you know, with proper, you know, cadence of whatever auditable trail and all that. Yeah. But as long as that employee is keeping up with their side of the bargain, you are in you know, just as Ferrari has to sell has to give them the Ferrari that they put you have to give them their payroll that they’ve earned that they’ve earned you know, something you said there around the manual aspect of it. That’s kind of falling away. It’s not, it’s not entirely solved for but you know, the state of the art today is so much Islam lightyears ahead of say, 20 years ago, absolutely 10, maybe even five years ago, and it occurred to me that that might be, you know, we’re entering a new age of payroll, where, where, you know, we don’t need those same sort of administrative skills or proficiencies. In humans, and now we’re moving into, into an age where sort of a professionalism or a career, a career minded, you know, approach is, is an order for, for payroll. Yeah, in payroll actually, is a great place for that career mindset now, where maybe no wasn’t necessarily in the past
Robyn Torgius 15:50
30, and, you know, sort of going back to, you know, the old school way, the fact that you were sort of doing a calculation of some sort, or you use a program to do something, you know, it was one person who sort of had control over the whole process, and they were involved start to finish, you know, and now that you’ve certainly got this growth of, it’s not only having to understand, payroll has changed so much, in the respect of, you know, employees, rats have changed. So, the legislation around various payrolls, I mean, currently, where I’m based, like I said, we’ve got 22 payrolls, in 30, odd countries, that’s a lot of legislation to be on top of, you know, so your professional in each country, or who looks after each country has to be on top of that. So it’s not only just how do I use this computer system? But am I staying on top of what I need to know, to process this payroll? You know, just in the States alone, the taxes within the various, you know, what do you call it? areas within the states? That’s a huge, you know, there’s just, there’s so, so much more that needs to be applied to payroll, rather than going, right, Brent earns X amount of money a month, he has a car allowance, and a telephone allowance. And that’s him sorted, you know, are their taxes applicable to the car and so the text is applicable to the to the phone allowance, you know, all these types of things are important and certainly needs to be more of a profession versus just a job now, it really has changed.
Brent Skinner 17:39
Yeah, what are what are some of the maybe non technical or compliance related things that people can do with payroll? Now? I know, there’s a lot of stuff that you can you know, that for organizations that have a well sorted payroll system that you know, they have they have access to data that is very valuable? What are some of the things that that a payroll department can do today that maybe they wouldn’t have been able to do? You know, pragmatically or practically?
Robyn Torgius 18:14
I think, you know, things like organizations that are now available for payroll, and I know, there’s sort of like, each country will have its own island, for example, have iPass, who anybody with an island and within the payroll profession could tap into to ask for, for information. There’s the Global Payroll Association, that again, there’s training available for professionals, people can literally pop an email or pick up a telephone and say, Hey, I’m processing the US. I’m not sure of whatever the question is, we didn’t have that availability to us previously, because it was literally just one person in a room processing a payroll for accounting for a company. And technology has certainly improved, what we can access now. And, and it’s instantaneous, if I’m not sure of something, I can literally Google, what are the taxes wherever or its benefit and kind applied to something or, you know, and that wasn’t available previously. And I think associations and I think things like this podcast are amazing, because it’s just getting out a little bit more information on a subject that people wouldn’t have necessarily heard of previously.
Brent Skinner 19:35
Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. But there’s, there’s certainly a glossary of terms of art or, or jargon, if you will, specific to payroll that give probably fill many pages, benefits in kind for instance, that’s, that’s, that’s one term that I heard you using. And that data that that’s readily available now that’s, that’s available, sort of Real Time live very current data on that’s really that’s a potentially strategic value to executive leadership at the organization. Right?
Robyn Torgius 20:12
Absolutely, definitely. And I think, you know, even taking it down a couple of levels, employees are now more aware of what their payroll should look like and what the pay slip should look like. I mean, there’s certainly very many people still that get a pay slip and it’s emailed stuck into their folder or, you know, they don’t open it, they don’t read it. But a lot more people now, because of the availability of information around payroll, they’re able to able to understand the payslip more they’re able to understand No, hang on, there’s a tax that’s been applied or, you know, so it’s definitely beneficial for a lot more people now, you know, the employee, SS payroll professionals, the business as a whole, because I think they can understand what payroll is bringing towards the table for them, as you know, as part of their, their setup and their structure. The data is, is certainly a positive thing for us now.
Brent Skinner 21:18
Yeah, yeah. What, what do you think? Is it in terms of looking at payroll as a profession, and sort of elevating it, in the macro, like everybody sort of lifting all boats? Right? What would be some key steps to take, you know, as, as a group, like the payroll, payroll people, like if they were to sort of band together and say, Hey, we want to elevate this, we want to sort of, you know, elevate it to the level of a profession sort of officially,
Robyn Torgius 21:56
this Yeah, that acknowledgement,
Brent Skinner 21:58
yeah, and exactly an acknowledgement, what will be some of the steps to take to think, think,
Robyn Torgius 22:06
to me, the fundamentals would be the understanding of what payroll does, I think when you can understand what a payroll does, or what a payroll professional does on a daily basis, I think when we can do due education around payroll, I think that would certainly elevate it a bit more. It’s almost that a situation with those who No, no, and those who don’t, and, and, you know, you want to sort of break that mold a little bit, because there’s only certain areas that people generally know about payroll. It’s amazing, you know, when you’re after the social function, and someone says, Oh, what do you do? And you go around global head of payroll? Wow, that’s amazing. Like, what do you do? You know, and I think I think sometimes our titles are a little exaggerated. But that in itself is just amazing. I mean, to have 30 countries that you are now looking after, whereas previously, you know, we wouldn’t have had that, because technology has certainly allowed us to do that. I can sit in Ireland, I’m having a conversation with you about a global system that I work with. Yeah, I mean, it’s incredible. So yeah, for me, I think one of the biggest things that we can do as professionals and to get more professionals in and to make us more professional, is to continue to have the, you know, the education around it. I think the various associations that are now starting to form also help a lot more that people can join and band together. And, you know, and just brainstorm almost like the conversation we’re having now, how do you improve? What, what steps can we take? I think that’s really important. One of the biggest things that I see now that’s coming out a lot around pay roll is the transformation of payroll. And I think that means a lot of things to different people. But for me, at the moment, how I’m seeing payroll transform is I’m seeing an automation of payroll. And by that I don’t necessarily mean that there will no longer be anybody involved in it, or there won’t be the human aspect behind it, but it’s certainly just making life easier. You know, like I was saying earlier, the direct pay slip. There’s no more paper pay slips, that type of thing, your app loading rather than inputting. Yeah, I think for me, that’s, that’s it. Really.
Brent Skinner 24:49
Yeah. You know, you mentioned automation. Couple of things first, automation. You know, I’ve heard about some sort of, you know, some newfangled concepts like autonomous payroll. And I’ve spoken with people who, like you and others who know, who frankly know more about payroll than I do sort of the grid at the granular level, you know what it will happen. And because I’ve never processed a payroll, that that is a bucket list item. But in any event, I’ve heard about autonomous payroll, AI and machine learning. You know, and it’s, it’s, it’s what I like to call the distant future of work, it’s coming. But it’s not going to be right away, we’re talking about maybe 1015, maybe 20 years,
Robyn Torgius 25:38
well, it hurts when I’m done with. The idea is amazing, because, you know, the reality is that, hey, well, sort of has the two points of your mind that are just stressful, it’s your inputs time, and it’s your pay day time, because inputs is when you’ve got this cut off, and there’s this deadline, and people are still trying to give you information or you’ve received running information, somebody sent you the wrong file and are forgotten over time. And, you know, it’s just that the chaos that goes around, and anybody in payroll will know what I’m talking about, and then comes to the pay date, time, and oh, my pays wrong. And then suddenly, you’re back? Well, let’s go why, you know, you didn’t receive a bonus, or I didn’t get that input from you, or, you know, so there’s, there’s, there’s two sections. And the reality of the, you know, been the autonomous payroll is those two are human sections of payroll, those cannot be changed. The ideal payroll is that you have an HR system that has all your employee data, and so on, you literally press the button, and that sends over a file into your payroll system, payroll is processed, send your pay slips out and central payments out. And this still at the very start going to have to be some form of human into, you know, intervention, because that has to be collated somehow. So you as a new joiner within a company still have to provide me somehow, with, you know, various documents, I’m sure majority of them could be put directly into the hrs system. But they’ll always be that human initiative at the start that has to function. And that human at the end, that’s going to have to explain to somebody, you know, the end of the video, and would be amazing if we did just press the button like everybody thinks we do.
Brent Skinner 27:42
Yeah, exactly. Right. Like, I love that, like everybody thinks we do. That might that might be the quote. You know, you’re right, you know, there’s this term garbage in garbage out, right? In computing, you No, and even if we get to autonomous payroll, I don’t know, the all the, you know, the subtleties of it, but I’ve been hearing a little bit more about it, but still seems to me, if you have the wrong information going in or, or suboptimal, somehow erroneous, then you’re going to have, you’re going to, like you said, you’ll need someone at the input stage and someone at the output stage, actual people and I, and I doubt I doubt AI chat bots will be will suffice for most
Robyn Torgius 28:30
not for an unhappy employee, certainly, you know, and, you know, I’ve lost my train of thought these three, I do I just, and I would be amazing, and having that, you know, function that ran smoothly, but it is a totally is whatever you’re putting in is what you’re going to produce.
Brent Skinner 28:52
Yeah, yeah. By the way, if I had a penny for every time I’ve lost my train of thought. Yeah, I’d have $10, which is a lot of anything, you know, just super quick, we’re kind of running close to out of time, but just a little bit, you mentioned it, you know, your title, again, Global Head of payroll, and, and you are at ifs, you’re, you’re in charge of Global Payroll, and what if any kind of sort of idiosyncrasies to Global Payroll that might be the understatement of the year? I don’t know. Anything you’d like to share with the audience around you being a payroll professional and how it applies to sort of Global Payroll?
Robyn Torgius 29:40
Yeah, I think the name in itself can be misleading. And it gives that sort of impression that, you know, whoever it is not necessarily, you know, only me. Nobody can know all the payrolls in the world. You know, and there’s that perception that you should. And automatically somebody would be able to come to you and ask you a question. And you know, you would have to go back to them and say, well, actually, I’m not very clued up on the US payroll, let me ask somebody, and there’s almost like, what have you not know, that type of type of reaction? So I think that for me around global can be a little bit sort of, you know, confusing at times. I think it needs to, you know, especially in in my case, it’s just that we have payrolls, globally. It’s certainly not me knowing all of the payrolls around the globe, which would be amazing.
Brent Skinner 30:45
That’s a great, sorry to interrupt. But you made a great point, you know, Global Payroll kind of connotes or, or gives off the impression that we’re talking about one payroll that happens to be global. And that’s not the case. It’s just not the case that will bunch of payrolls across the globe, maybe it should be head of payrolls across the globe, or something like that.
Robyn Torgius 31:07
Something along those Yeah, a little bit more sort of direct and in relation to what you do. But yeah, it’s Sydney, it’s individual payrolls with an app with an AI face that’s that manage that all around the world, I suppose is the best way to describe it.
Brent Skinner 31:25
Yeah, Global Payroll is incredibly complex. And maybe we could have you back as a guest to talk about Global Payroll sometime.
Robyn Torgius 31:32
That’d be amazing.
Brent Skinner 31:33
Yeah, I think we’d be remiss not to introduce the other guest. Your furry friend behind you
Robyn Torgius 31:49
He’s not interested in payroll
Brent Skinner 31:53
What’s the matter with him? Well, you know what, Robyn, it’s been so wonderful to have you as a guest today on the podcast. Thank you so much for joining us,
Robyn Torgius 32:05
Brent. Thank you. I’ve really enjoyed myself.
Brent Skinner 32:08
Absolutely. Thank you very much. Take care!
Robyn Torgius 32:12