No one puts payroll in the corner

01 September 2019

This article was featured in the September 2019 issue of the magazine. 

Anju Puri, senior manager/head of payroll, employer solutions/tax at Grant Thornton UK LLP, reveals why and how payroll is transformative 

So, did you want to become a payroll manager when you grew up? Like many of you, I ‘fell’ into payroll over 25 years ago. When I started out it was just a job but, over the years, it has developed into a very successful career path, providing incredible learning and development opportunities along the way.

Before I joined Grant Thornton in 1999, I was a jack-of-all-trades working on in-house payroll, value added tax, purchase ledger and credit control. It was great being known by everyone in the company and I enjoyed being a part of an enabling function within the business, earning the respect of my colleagues. I used to prepare a weekly payroll for 500 employees, and it was always funny when I was stopped on a stairwell, in the canteen or even in the high street, by factory workers telling me that they had worked overtime or been on holiday that week.

I chose to specialise in payroll because every day was different and the responsibility to ensure employees were paid accurately and on time motivated me. I was always good with numbers and enjoyed how the application of the layers of company payroll rules and legislation meant I would always be challenged. An additional challenge was that in an in-house environment payroll seemed to be overshadowed by the finance and human resources (HR) teams and internally people thought that all we did was press a button… Moving to an outsourced payroll environment, I quickly realised that payroll was also the underdog in practice where tax and audit were the big hitters. 

...regular communication with clients, ultimately building strong relationships

So, how have I managed to change people’s perception of payroll within Grant Thornton? The main stages included first sending out a strong message internally and to clients that I was a qualified payroll professional doing payroll. Then, I wanted to reduce risk internally by moving the payroll work away from the accountants and tax advisors. Once I had a service line in my own right it was all about building a team with a passion for payroll. In the early years our work was solely focussed on managed outsourced payroll; however, over time I realised that it was a great door opener for other service lines because it can quickly win the trust of a new client because it must be delivered accurately and on time. Payroll needs regular communication with clients, ultimately building strong relationships. This provides a valuable benefit to both the client and Grant Thornton because as and when our clients need any other services, they know that we understand their business, we understand their requirements and we are ready to assist. This gives my clients access to a multitude of services and solutions under one roof that are bespoke to their needs. 

A period of rapid growth had begun. I had a growing, reliable and passionate team behind me, and internally across my networks the word was spreading, leading to referrals of new outsourced payroll work. But the story doesn’t end there because the catalyst to take payroll to the next stage of visibility was three-fold. Real time information, pension auto-enrolment and the General Data Protection Regulation have all played their part in showcasing how adaptable payroll teams can be to major changes in legislation, risk management and automating processes. They have also resulted in new types of payroll related work being needed such as payroll fraud investigations, payroll health checks, payroll transition project management and ‘IR35’ payrolls.

The journey has been slow but successful. Initially, outsourced payroll used to be a ‘freebie’ or low-fee service offered by Grant Thornton when bidding for new audit, tax and accounting work. Payrolls were historically prepared by the accounting or tax teams and was a reactive low-fee generator aimed at keeping client loyalty. Not anymore! Outsourced payroll is a profitable service line and the best hook to cross-sell other services to clients. 

With regulation and data protection at the forefront in today’s business world, isn’t it funny how suddenly everyone appreciates the purpose of payroll and what an integral role it plays within every business? And in my opinion, the days of payroll teams being uncredited and unrecognised within businesses are over. 

I’ve loved every moment, risen to every challenge and enjoyed every success in my journey. Unfortunately, no Patrick Swayze to owe it all to, but without doubt I’ve had the time of my life.