Executive Spotlight: Marlene Felisberto, VP of Operations, Americas

Jul 6, 2017  | Topic: Implementation

With more than eight years of experience at CloudPay, Marlene Felisberto can rightfully claim expertise in global payroll operations. Fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish, she has implemented and operated payrolls across more than 30 countries and now manages an operations team that oversees payrolls throughout all of North and South America. In her time as business analyst, project manager and program manager, and in her current role as the Vice President of Operations, Americas, Marlene has gained invaluable insights and experience, which she uses to help customers meet the day-to-day challenges and needs of global payroll processing. Here, she shares some of her vast knowledge with us.


CloudPay: What are some of the most challenging countries in the Americas in which multinational organizations process payroll?

Marlene Felisberto: Across North and South America, the countries that pose the greatest payroll challenges for multinational organizations are Brazil, Argentina and the United States. In Brazil and Argentina, much of the challenge comes from the frequency of regulatory changes that require special exceptions and process tweaks. Both of those countries also have a lot of union payrolls, and we have to understand when union agreements supersede the country laws and regulations.

U.S. laws also change rather frequently, which creates complexity. The challenges are compounded by differing state requirements, especially when a payroll involves multiple states with different regulations. Sometimes there is reciprocity between states, sometimes benefits are affected— it’s critical to know how to handle that taxation, and its my team’s task to make sure we’re helping our customer calmly navigate all of these challenges.

CP: Can you give an example of the kinds of added challenges customers face when big, wide-reaching changes are made to existing payroll laws?

MF: One example is eSocial, which has been a hot topic in Brazil for at least the last four years. The issue a lot of companies are struggling with is that it’s actually a two-part change in regulations, and it doesn’t just affect payroll. The aim of eSocial is to streamline and standardize the management of all employer and employee data. That includes payroll, tax and social security, as well as labor obligation fulfillment, demographic data and much more. So a lot of the reporting that has to be done as part of eSocial involves data that is not technically housed in payroll— things like spousal or parental information or even doctor visits. However, it all has to flow together, so we’re helping customers sync their payroll data and processes with what is really an HR system requirement.

In US payroll, one of the biggest causes of complexity at the moment is multi-state taxation. It has always been an issue, but recently there’s really been a crackdown on employee travel. When employees work across various states, one of the biggest challenges is tracking their travel to ensure they are being taxed in the correct state. In general, if you work in another state for a day or two, you’re fine; however, as soon as you work more than 10 days there, you technically should be taxed in that state. To further complicate things, states may have different, sometimes conflicting requirements and tax laws. It’s critical for payroll to have accurate information so taxation can be done properly.

CP: In which countries do you expect to see the most changes this year?

MF: Beyond the US and Brazil, there have been a lot of changes in Mexico this past year that have caused important process changes. The changes have stopped now, and I don’t see others coming, but some companies may still be adjusting to the recent changes.

CP: In your experience, what has been a key indicator of success for organizations launching or expanding their global payroll?

MF: The organizations that have been successful are really the ones that have embraced the global mentality. By that I mean we have plenty of customers who struggle to wrap their heads around the realities of different countries, cultures, and requirements. For example, they’ll say, “This is how we do it in the US…” But the companies that have been successful have been able to broaden their payroll mentality to the global scale and have allowed us to guide them through the process. They’ve allowed us to educate them and have embraced the process that we’ve put in place. We see both sides: The customers who want to stick firmly to their understandings and processes tend to have problems and require changes down the line. Then we also have customers who defer to our expertise and appreciate our guidance. Even if they don’t agree 100% with a recommendation, we can usually find a middle ground that’s going to work for them and us going forward.

So it’s about global thinking versus regional or country thinking, which means making the switch to global payroll is more than a vendor change: it’s an opportunity for process transformation. At the end of the day, payroll is payroll. The way I would handle an adjustment for the US is probably the same way I would handle it for Costa Rica. But the steps below that involve understanding the different requirements for those countries, which can guide the way I process something or the result I expect to get. At the end of the day, it’s all numbers, but the expectation and the result is what a lot of people seem to struggle with.

A perfect example of this is one of our US-based customers, who kept saying, “In the US, I would expect at the end of the year when the employee does their tax filing, that’s when they would either get money back or owe tax.” But take a country like Argentina where people kind of have to do an equalization from month to month, and that mentality has to be different. The client has to be receptive enough to understand that process and what the impact really is. That’s what I mean by global thinking.

CP: What KPIs do you look at when you’re trying to understand the performance of a company’s payroll?

MF: I’m looking at the information received and the quality of that information. Getting data on time is very, very important—but not if it’s bad data. For me, it’s really all about the quality of the information coming in and also looking at what’s going back out from that data. It’s important that we understand why certain calculations are being done or not done in our payrolls, because that will go a long way to reducing some errors. So in addition to the quality of the data, I’m looking to see if my team understood enough about a particular payroll to be able to catch a specific error. And if not, how do we get to that point so the error doesn’t repeat.

CP: Which KPIs do you think are most important for customers to include in their regular reviews?

MF: For customers, I recommend looking at ad-hoc payments, number of errors in a month, number of changes each month, and the number of days it takes to deliver a given payroll. The length of the pay period is something a lot of organizations don’t consider and can have a significant impact on performance. For example, if a customer wants to deliver their data at payday -10, but the information is always incorrect or needing a lot of changes, it could be helpful to switch delivery to payday -7. Maybe that would give them the extra time needed to complete and verify their information, and get a better end result. Often organizations stick with their legacy deadlines and schedules, whether because it’s just what they’re used to or perhaps they used to run their own payroll and aren’t familiar with the flexibility our outsourcing model allows. That’s one of the biggest struggles we see, is customers thinking they have to keep the same deadlines they had prior to making the switch to CloudPay.

CP: To evaluate those performance indicators, would customers benefit from using tools like Analytics and Calendar?

MF: Our customers have full access to the same tools and information we use, and we review the Analytics reports with them on a monthly basis. To be honest, I think customers could take better advantage of the tools, because they can bring important things to light. Particularly when a client has had some turnover or if the employees involved in implementation are different than the ones using CloudPay on a daily basis, the company can really benefit from monitoring performance and workloads.

We recently had one example with a client in Brazil who was continuously requesting off-cycles because of incomplete or changing data. I looked at the Analytics report and could see the repeated off-cycles were having a big impact on the client. When I brought it to their attention, they could easily identify the issue— which just came down to better educating their team about the process— and put together a plan to address it. Now, I went into the reports looking for a reason why my team was putting so much extra work into this payroll. If the client had been using Analytics, they probably would have identified the issue much earlier and saved themselves the costs of unnecessary off-cycle runs.

It really is about performance at the end of the day, and about using the tools available to optimize your performance. We have some very tight deadlines to get payrolls out the door. For certain countries, we literally have four days to turn things around. If you keep going back and forth on errors and incorrect data, that time is quickly eaten up, and you could end up without enough time to do your necessary due diligence. If customers use these tools internally, they can examine their process, help educate their employees, better identify risks and work to minimize errors to help save themselves time and costs.

CP: How does your team manage and delegate the tasks needed to navigate all the complexities, regulatory changes and differing requirements involved in global payroll?

MF: Everything really starts with understanding the data that we get from the client. You can’t just get information, run reports and not review them. That’s the biggest thing for the Americas, especially when it comes to US payroll. We’re really looking specifically at the local payroll information to see what changes are happening. We’re able to track both where the employee is sitting and where they are working, so then we’re able to set up the system in the right way. Sometimes a client will send us information that doesn’t necessarily apply to a specific individual. By understanding that data and knowing the rules and regulations, we can go back to the client and help them understand so we don’t see the same issues recurring.

CP: It seems like your team must spend a fair amount of time helping customers understand and adapt to changing regulations. When a new law necessitates changes upstream, how do they communicate this to customers and non-payroll departments?

MF: A broad program change like eSocial in Brazil can be especially challenging because it involves multiple departments and requires some fundamental process changes. Even though the program is due to be released next year, the requirements for it are still changing. So we're staying on top of that and communicating the changes to the customers. We’re starting to request from our customers some of the additional information that will be required for eSocial, so we’re already incorporating it into the current process. The goal is to work through the adjustments and process changes now so that when eSocial becomes law, our customers with operations in Brazil are prepared. We also have to help our payroll customers understand how to communicate to their HR and Finance teams to ensure they’re able to articulate the need for upstream changes in their organization. That’s a joint change management process between our service delivery team and our customers.

CP: How do you manage and monitor your team’s performance and ensure they’re delivering to expectations?

MF: We use our own tools—CloudPay Analytics and CloudPay Calendar. We get Analytics reports on operations and performance, and I review them on a pretty regular basis, as do our team leads and operations manager. From that, we can see what’s being reported, where errors are happening, where the team is struggling, and where they may need some additional help.

Just recently we used the Analytics reports to help one of our employees who was having some errors in her payroll. We sat down with the details and figured out that she just needed some more training. So we put together a plan for the next few months to help her get where she needs to be. We rely on the tools and regular meetings with the team— especially people who have more complicated payrolls or need extra help. We look at the reports, examine our processes, and see if everything is as good as it can be. If not, we look for ways to improve it. The best part about CloudPay Analytics is that it is in real time and accessible to our team, so they can monitor their own payroll and understand if adjustments need to be made within any in-process payrolls. That kind of visibility has really improved the feedback loop between our technology and our team.

Where the Analytics and Calendar tools really help is with assigning additional work. We can see, for example, that someone may only have one payroll at the moment, but if I assign them this other one, then all the work will fall on the same days. Understanding these details is really key to our management, which the team recognizes.

CP: Last question: why do you enjoy working in global payroll?

MF: I actually love being in global payroll because of pretty much everything we’ve talked about. I love learning about the different laws and requirements in different countries, trying to understand the complexities, trying to figure out how to take those complexities and make it work for us and our customers. I enjoy being able to come to the table and, rather than saying “Yeah, global payroll is complex so we’re just going to have a hard time,” I can say we understand that global payroll is complex, but here are some things we’ve learned over the years that will help streamline things. As challenging as it is, it can be very rewarding when you’re able to put a specific process in place or come up with a different idea to help a client. It’s embracing the difficulties and turning them into positives, and coming up with a good product and a really good result at the end of the day.