My thoughts on the Canadian Payroll Association conference

Payroll is much more complex than many people realize

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

Like my colleague Todd Humber, I also recently attended a conference and tradeshow, but rather than travelling to Florida, I stayed here in Toronto to attend the Canadian Payroll Association annual conference on June 18-20. It was my first payroll conference and I learned quite a bit from it.

Because payroll is now part of my portfolio, as a product development manager, I wanted to be there for the tradeshow to support our products and learn from our customers. I was also able to attend several interesting and informative sessions as part of the conference.

Overall, I really got the impression payroll professionals know how to enjoy themselves, and the Canadian Payroll Association (CPA) puts on a great conference for its members. The highlight for me was the gala awards dinner on the Thursday night, complete with a four-course meal and impressive live entertainment.

We also got treated to a free concert by the Barenaked Ladies at Massey Hall in honour of the CPA’s 35th anniversary. Even though my taste in music is generally a little heavier, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and would definitely go and see them again (it probably helped that the band played a Led Zeppelin song as an encore).

But the conference was so much more than just a good time, with a lively and engaging tradeshow and really interesting speakers.

Well-organized tradeshow

I really like the way the CPA handles its tradeshow. Rather than having short blocks of time throughout the conference when delegates can visit the tradeshow, the CPA dedicates the entire first day to the tradeshow.

That was great from an exhibitor’s perspective because it meant we weren’t standing around most of the time with little or no traffic during the sessions. It also meant I could attend the sessions without feeling guilty about not helping out at the booth.

While there was no question many of the delegates were interested in the swag given away by the exhibitors, the traffic at our booth was impressive and we were able to have some great conversations with our customers and prospects.

At the Thomson Reuters booth, we gave away our signature bags with a copy of the Canadian Payroll Reporter and Canadian HR Reporter, and we also had a prize wheel delegates could spin to win a prize. Some of our prizes included copies of our new Payroll FAQs book, pens, luggage tags, car chargers and portable phone chargers. Delegates also had a chance to answer payroll questions moderated by our team of payroll experts from Carswell’s Payroll Hotline.

Comprehensive array of sessions

As far as the sessions were concerned, I was impressed by the comprehensive offering of topics and speakers. While many of the topics were to be expected, there was quite a bit of overlap with HR, albeit from a slightly different perspective.

Some of the sessions were quite involved and even somewhat strategic in nature. For example, I attended sessions on HR/payroll metrics and benchmarking, managing relationships with vendors and conflict resolution.

Payroll becoming more strategic

Some of those sound a lot like the types of sessions offered at HR conferences, and I believe there is a good reason for that. Like HR, payroll is definitely changing and becoming more strategic in nature.

My mother was a payroll supervisor for years. At the time, it always seemed like a bit of a thankless job with lots of manual calculations to perform, long hours and quite a bit of stress.

But with technological advancement, automation, globalization, payroll outsourcing and increasingly complex total rewards packages and compliance requirements, payroll today looks much different than it did 20 years ago.

I sit close to our payroll consultants who staff our hotline and I overhear quite a bit of what they tell our payroll clients over the phone. I am always amazed at their knowledge and expertise and the level of complexity of some of the calls they receive.

Anyone who thinks payroll is a highly administrative role in this day and age would be mistaken. I personally believe it’s time we HR professionals began to better appreciate our colleagues in payroll and gain a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities.

After all, we often work very closely with payroll, and there is quite a bit of overlap in the body of knowledge for both professions.

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