01 June 2024

In the face of artificial intelligence’s (AI’s) rapid advancement, the payroll profession stands on the brink of transformation. Mark Bremner, chief executive, MBKB, tells us that far from being a threat, AI offers a groundbreaking opportunity to reimagine and enhance the payroll qualifications on offer

Embracing AI doesn’t mean succumbing to job displacement. Rather, it welcomes a new era of innovation and growth. This is a pivotal moment which calls for adaptation. We must explore how these emerging possibilities will shape the future of our work. The wave of change brought about by AI is inevitable. It will undoubtedly have a considerable impact. Instead of resisting, the industry must welcome AI, exploiting its capabilities to enhance efficiency, accuracy and strategic planning.

Incorporating AI will enable payroll professionals to move beyond traditional roles, focussing instead on areas where strategic thinking is vital.


The main impacts of AI on the payroll profession

AI will fundamentally alter our traditional practices. It excels at repetitive and time-consuming tasks. By introducing a range of efficiencies and improvements to payroll processing, such as data entry, calculations and the generation of payslips, payroll professionals can focus on areas which require human insight.

The accuracy of payroll operations is essential. The automation of tasks won’t only accelerate the payroll process, but it will also minimise the risk of human error. AI algorithms regularly enhance the ability to process data, reducing the incidence of errors in critical areas like tax deductions, benefit calculations and salary payments. This benefits organisations by mitigating discrepancies and disputes while conserving valuable time and resources.

AI can also enhance data security by detecting anomalies which could indicate a data breach, unauthorised access or fraudulent activity. Payroll data is sensitive, and its protection is paramount. This valuable function can help prevent potential security incidents.

Critically, AI will be crucial in ensuring compliance with tax laws and regulations. Legislation is ever-changing, and payroll professionals must ensure compliance to avoid legal penalties. Using AI to quickly adapt to government updates and policy changes in real-time ensures the legality of payroll practices, subsequently safeguarding the organisation and employees’ interests.

AI can also drive the integration of payroll with broader human resource (HR) and financial systems. This can negate the need for manual data entry, ensuring a seamless data flow. Such integration will improve efficiency and provide a more comprehensive view of an organisation’s financial and HR status.


The truly indispensable human element

Despite AI’s unprecedented capabilities, the human element in payroll will remain irreplaceable, at least for the foreseeable future.

AI is advantageous for completing tasks based on pre-defined rules. However, it lacks the ability to understand context in the way we can as humans. Human input is essential for interpreting nuanced situations which fall outside standard procedures. Moreover, AI systems have the potential to inadvertently perpetuate biases present in their data training. Humans are necessary to identify and correct these biases. Other ethical considerations such as privacy concerns and the use of privacy data also require human judgement to navigate effectively.

Payroll isn’t about numbers; it’s also about people. Humans are required to maintain employee relations. A personal touch from HR professionals is beneficial when employees have questions or concerns about their pay, benefits or taxes.

Not to mention, AI lacks emotional intelligence. It’s incapable of providing reassurance and empathy in the way we can as humans. Human interaction goes a long way in maintaining trust and satisfaction among employees.

Equally, humans are essential when encountering unusual circumstances. In times of crisis, organisations must move quickly. AI lacks the agility and creativity that real payroll professionals possess. Humans are, and will be, required to devise solutions which simultaneously consider the organisation’s goals and the well-being of employees.


AI’s role in enhancing payroll apprenticeship training

One of the most significant contributions of AI to the payroll profession is in the form of augmenting education and training. For precisely this reason, here at MBKB, we’ve made an unprecedented commitment to invest £250,000 into AI and to incorporate it into our payroll training provision.

Tracking rapid curriculum changes is a prime example. With AI systems monitoring legislative and regulatory changes in real-time, tutors can maintain up to date teaching materials. This is crucial in equipping apprentices with the contemporary knowledge and skills they need to succeed in this industry.

Customised learning experiences further illustrate AI’s potential in the classroom. By tailoring educational content to match individual learning styles and preferences, AI can be an asset. This facilitates a more effective and engaging learning process, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Additionally, payroll apprenticeship tutors can employ AI as a teaching tool itself. AI has the potential to generate simulations and interactive tutorials. Not only will this offer apprentices a hands-on experience with complex payroll scenarios, but it will do so in a risk-free environment.

With its automation features, AI can go beyond just creating interactive tutorials. A library of teaching and training materials can be created in an instant. From generating FAQs to video tutorials, tutors will be free to focus on delivering high-value, interactive learning experiences. This ultimately pays dividends in apprentices’ learning journey, as tutors can spend more time on coaching and facilitating discussions, therefore enhancing the learners’ understanding.

Predictive analytic tools can also be advantageous to tutors. AI can analyse the performance of students and predict where they may struggle. Highlighting which apprentices are at risk of falling behind will allow early intervention by educators, ensuring all learners reach their full potential.


Embracing the AI revolution

The integration of AI into payroll isn’t a looming threat but rather an imminent reality which holds the promise of significant benefits. Much like the advent of the first mobile phone, desktop computer or the internet, AI represents the latest wave in the rising tide of technological progress. Resistance to it
is futile, but also unnecessary. It’s something to be beckoned. Payroll professionals must proactively adopt AI and harness its potential to revolutionise payroll processes. The focus should shift from apprehension about job insecurity
to excitement about the opportunities AI presents.

In education and training, AI offers the tools to rapidly adapt to legal changes, customise learning experiences and support continuous professional development, ensuring the workforce is prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the digital age. The co-ordinated integration of AI and human expertise in payroll isn’t just desirable; it’s essential for the profession’s continued relevance and success.

The payroll profession’s future lies in embracing AI, not fearing it. By combining AI’s computational power and data-driven insights with human empathy, judgement and strategic thinking, professions can achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency, accuracy and employee satisfaction. 



This article feautured in the June 2024 issue of Professional.