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Aon Hewitt Exits Payroll in Asia Pacific to Strengthen Its Workday Offering

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by Julie Fernandez

With so much happening at the end of the year, the December news announcing Aon Hewitt’s sale of its Asia Pacific payroll operations to private equity group Everstone Capital may have gone unnoticed. At first blush, to shed a growing business in fast-moving Asia Pacific may seem like a step backwards for a U.S.-based leader in human resource (HR) outsourcing. A closer look promises some exciting changes for the payroll outsourcing provider landscape in this region.

Aon Hewitt has long been a top-ranking payroll provider in India, serving the market with software known by many as “HewittPay,” which was custom-written as a single platform for use with its many Indian clients. Aon Hewitt expanded the HewittPay system through the years to add self-service and reporting to meet India’s complex regulatory needs and to give users capability to store employee master data or to receive it from a client’s HR system. As opportunities arose in the region, they added other countries, with China having the next largest number of employees paid.

Upon sale of the Asia Pacific payroll business to Everstone Capital, estimates show that India and China held nearly 250 of the approximately 400 payroll clients served in the region. Aon Hewitt had added other countries to its book of payroll business in Asia Pacific, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines – the latter two being serviced on a separate system. What was estimated to be just more than 570,000 paid employees in 2012 grew to nearly 900,000 paid employees. The purchase, which was reported by The Economic Times to be for $60 million, will become part of Everstone’s investment portfolio in India and Southeast Asia.

Aon Hewitt’s attention and investment dollars have been focused on developing a strong offering for payroll administration on Workday, available only in the U.S. and Canada, but expanding to the U.K. and France. Despite having grown its Asia business to a significant and well-established footprint, concentrated investment in the tail countries – those with smaller headcount – was a lesser priority. Recent enhancements to the system for Asia Pacific included certified Workday integrations for India and China, as well as some basic functionality for aggregation of data across countries within the tool itself.

What will become of Aon Hewitt’s many U.S.- and U.K.-based clients with payroll on the divested Asia Pacific platform is still an open question. Everstone Capital has indicated that it intends to make further investments toward becoming a much stronger provider of payroll outsourcing in the region. As HR organizations around the world deploy global Human Capital Management (HCM) systems, consolidating payroll providers and interfaces becomes important to enterprises sourcing payroll in multiple countries.

Everstone Capital’s acquisition provides its payroll processing business with an opportunity to focus investment that will enhance the platform and drive expansion more broadly into missing countries such as Australia, Korea, Vietnam and others. Everstone will serve Aon Hewitt clients in Asia Pacific and will have the opportunity to expand in those countries. Many of Aon Hewitt’s largest clients have additional presence in countries that are not currently available to complete a full payroll offering in the region.

Timing of the acquisition, which comes just two weeks after Everstone’s acquisition of Servion, a Chennai-based provider of customer interaction management solutions, may be providential. Current Asia Pacific payroll clients interact primarily through email or an online ticket system. If the purchase of Servion is part of a larger plan to build out a regional payroll offering that includes a broader contact center, then the region may see a formidable new player positioned to compete with the likes of ADP, NGA HR and Talent2.

How does shedding its Asia Pacific payroll business impact Aon Hewitt and its ability to cover HR and payroll administration across the globe? For the time being, Aon Hewitt will continue to focus on following Workday in its upcoming releases of payroll for the U.K. and France. And for those with existing payroll ERP systems in place, Aon Hewitt will continue to deliver payroll on client platforms as it has done in the past, assuming Oracle and SAP also begin to drive HR clients to demand services on their new SaaS platforms as well. In the meantime, operations are being optimized for Workday payroll processing, leaving the rest of global payroll to fit in through Workday connectors or third parties.

Watch Asia Pacific for growth and opportunity brought about by this divestiture; a new force may be entering the space with investment backing and vision.

About the author

With more than 25 years of industry and consulting experience, Julie is an invaluable advisor for enterprises needing to evaluate and assess alternatives for multi-process HR service delivery, including workforce administration, payroll, benefits, compensation, recruiting, technology, learning, and talent management. Julie leads complex global HR assessments and transactions around the world. Prior to joining ISG, Julie worked for nearly a decade as an independent consultant, providing market research, vendor assessments, systems testing and implementation consulting to a broad community of benefits administration vendors and human resources departments. Julie started her career in human resources outsourcing, establishing shared service centers for a national benefits consulting and administration firm. She is a well-published thought leader in her field.