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The Payroll Opportunity
Founder and Partner, Tidemark
The average small business spends hours on payroll-related tasks each pay period. The work around payroll involves transferring and reconciling data from one system to another, munging spreadsheets, and sometimes even manually correcting time cards. It gets more complex when there are industry-specific rules, tips, and payment schemes. Often the person toiling over payroll is the small business owner, but it’s not uncommon for a restaurant to have two full-time employees just to calculate payroll.
Much of the needed data can reside in Vertical SaaS Vendors (VSVs), and by offering payroll you can enable the business owners you serve to run payroll in minutes instead of hours. Payroll experiences integrated into Vertical SaaS businesses can innovate with industry-specific solutions like tips, commissions, and bonuses across both employee and contractor workers. In industries with complex labor practices and payment schemes (which includes almost any type of hourly work), the integrated payroll offering is even more compelling. With a payroll solution connected to the rest of the software your merchants already use to manage their business, you’ll be positioned to give them full visibility into labor costs and provide them with clear insight into their overall business economics.
Embedded Payroll Opportunity for Vertical SaaS
Payroll represents an opportunity for a VSV to create a new revenue stream, increase stickiness for the overall platform, reduce the cost of acquiring new customers, and add value for its customers by solving for universal pain points. It’s also a great control point because embedded payroll removes the need for customers to export employee hours, bank info, or similar data to third party payroll processors — who will often try to provide competing financial services to both the merchant employer and employee. Instead, by embedding payroll, a VSV can offer additional value-add services including:
- Instant payroll: By funding a company’s payroll using the balance they have on your platform, you can remove the need for a 2+ day ACH settlement cycle and pay employees instantly.
- Paycards: Some employees do not want to use direct deposit, instead opting to receive their pay pushed to a card, enabling you to capture additional interchange revenue.
- Earned wage access: Nearly three out of every four U.S. employees (72%) want access to their wages before their pay day, according to The UKG Workforce Institute.
- Benefits: Health insurance, workers' compensation, etc.
The Financial Opportunity
The financial opportunity presented by embedded payroll is driven by several key metrics:
- Attach rate: Toast’s acquisition of restaurant payroll provider StratEx to build out a payroll offering is a prime case study in the potential attach rate of payroll. In their S-1, they noted: “In the second quarter of 2021, over half of newly opened restaurant customers also bundled our Payroll & Team Management solutions when selecting Toast as their integrated POS and payments platform, highlighting the value proposition of our end-to-end ecosystem.”
- Price: Standard pricing for payroll is $35-70 per customer per month, $6-10 per employee per month. We have found that Payroll can uplift ARPU by 40-50%.
- Retention: Publicly-traded, legacy payroll businesses like Paycom and Paylocity see annual gross churn of 7% and 8%, respectively. This is effectively the same as the average business destruction rate of 8.5% (US Census), meaning payroll has very low voluntary customer churn. Adding a payroll offering not only adds payroll revenue to customer lifetime value, but also improves the lifetime value of a customer’s existing spend.
- Additional cross sell: Employer-centric benefits and financial products offer incremental upsell. For example, health insurance alone can increase payroll revenue by 50% or more. Workers’ compensation insurance, 401(k), and similar benefits provide additional monetization and customer experience opportunities. Paycards and Earned Wage Access services layered on top of payroll also provide opportunity to capture interchange revenue on employee spend.
To get a sense of the impact offering embedded payroll may have on your business, we created a Payroll Opportunity Calculator.
Payroll is uniquely complex in that it is both local (tax rates down to the school district level) and intersectional (needs to be good at both tax calculation and money movement).
At its core, every payroll product must be able to do three very complex — and different — tasks accurately and efficiently:
1. Calculate taxes
- Conduct accurate tax calculation across 6,000+ taxes in the US
- Continually monitor and update changing rates and requirements
2. Move money to employees
- Regulated individually in 42 states
- Involves AML & KYC compliance obligations
3. File tax forms and remit tax funds
- Generate forms for all federal, state, and local entities (600+ forms)
- Support remittance methods including ACH, manual website upload, paper check, etc.
Until the recent emergence of payroll-as-a-service providers, building payroll has historically only been accessible to platforms willing and able to invest $50mm+ and 3+ years.
Paths to Payroll Today
The traditional options for entering into payroll have been to build, buy, or partner:
- Build: This takes a large engineering team working closely with seasoned compliance, payroll operations, and product teams. You’ll need large compliance and tax operations teams that are knowledgeable about payroll at the federal, state, and local level. It also requires a very heavy development lift in terms of both time and money. Square is one of the few companies to have successfully pursued this path, launching its effort in 2015.
- Buy: Acquiring a national payroll company involves a large outlay of upfront cash, substantial technical debt, and integration. Toast is one of the few companies to successfully pursue this strategy.
- Partner: Traditional payroll partnerships function as simple referral models. While lightweight and an easy financial win, it does not provide any long-term customer experience improvement or underlying economic advantage.
There is a fourth offering that our co-author Check provides (as well as Gusto). It’s called Embedded Partnership. Think of it as Stripe for payroll.
First, payroll infrastructure providers can operate as the payroll company on your behalf, providing a full modern payroll stack (this is known as the Reporting Agent in IRS parlance). They can help you shoulder the heavy compliance and tax regulations. Additionally, the payroll infrastructure provider abstracts away challenges, including dealing with tax calculations across thousands of jurisdictions, money movement, and tax form filing and generation.
This reduces the build time for a new payroll product from years to months, with the option to fully customize and white-label the eventual product. Given that every payroll product has a baseline set of features, white-labeled components for building payroll can further reduce the time to market.
While partnership economics are subject to negotiation, you should consider an embedded partner to take about ⅓ of the direct revenues, leaving ⅔ for the VSV (as described in the calculator above).
Share your thoughts
At Tidemark, we believe that embedded payroll will prove to be an expansion opportunity on the same order of magnitude as payments. It provides merchants compelling time savings and lower error rates, and it provides VSVs a significant ARPU expansion, similar or greater to that of embedded payment. Embedded payroll also offers both the merchant and the VSV a first step and conduit to offering more value (earned wage access, insurance) to employees over time.
We look forward to diving deeper into embedded payroll. Sign-up below to keep up with our coverage, including benchmarks of attach rates, payroll, and employee offerings. If you have thoughts or comments or want to get involved, reach out to us at email@example.com.
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