Paychex (PAYX) Q3 2019 Earnings Conference Call Transcript

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Paychex (NASDAQ:PAYX) Q3 2019 Earnings Conference CallMarch 27, 2019 9:30 a.m. ET

Prepared Remarks Questions and Answers Call Participants
Prepared Remarks:


Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by, and welcome to the Paychex, Inc. reports third-quarter fiscal 2019 results conference call. [Operator instructions]. It is now my pleasure to turn the floor over to Martin Mucci, president and chief executive officer to begin.

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Great, thank you, Lori. Thank you for joining us for the discussion of the Paychex third-quarter fiscal 2019 earnings release. Joining me today is Efrain Rivera, our chief financial officer. This morning, before the market opened, we released our financial results for the third quarter ended February 28, 2019.

You can access our earnings release on our Investor Relations web page, and our Form 10-Q will be filed with the SEC within the next few days. This teleconference is being broadcast over the Internet and will be archived and available on our website for approximately one month. On today’s call, I will review business highlights for the third quarter, Efrain will review the third-quarter financial results and discuss our guidance for fiscal 2019, and then we’ll open it up for your questions. Financial results for the third quarter of fiscal 2019 reflected solid progress against our objectives and growth across our major product lines.

Our total revenue growth was 14% for the third quarter. Management solutions revenue grew 4%, and PEO and insurance services revenues grew a strong 65%, of course, reflecting the inclusion of the Oasis Outsourcing Group acquisition. On December 20, 2018, we acquired Oasis, the largest privately held PEO in the U.S. and an industry leader in providing HR outsourcing services, for approximately $1.2 billion.

We financed this acquisition with $800 million of new long-term debt along with cash on hand. Oasis is a great fit for our PEO growth strategy, adding to our scale, expanding relationships with new insurance partners, creating up-sell opportunities into the existing Oasis customer base and augmenting our talent with an addition of an experienced leadership team. Integration of Oasis is in process with the combination of the Paychex and Oasis PEO leadership teams already complete. We’re excited with the experience and talent that comprises new team, and we’re confident in their ability to continue to expand our leadership position in the HR outsourcing industry.

In fact, Paychex and Oasis now will, combined, serve more than 1.4 million worksite employees through our various HR outsourcing services. Execution and operations has been strong as reflected in our client satisfaction scores and client retention. We continue to be pleased with current retention results that are on track to end the fiscal year with retention in line with our historic all-time high. Our excellence in customer service was recently recognized as we earned a Stevie Award for customer service department of the year for the third straight year.

One of the reasons for this recognition was our use of technology to evolve and improve the clients’ and their employees’ service experience. Our strength and focus on technology, included self-service options for our clients, allows us to proactively respond to the changing preferences of our clients’ needs, and thank you to the thousands of Paychex service givers, who remain committed to responsiveness, reliability and serving as a trusted business partner to our clients. We made significant investments in our sales force this year, particularly, in our inside sales and midmarket sales teams and in lead or demand generation. We completed our selling season with improved performance led by our SurePayroll, HR Solutions, PEO and our inside payroll and insurance sales teams.

Our internal sales teams continue to gain ground, reflecting improved sales execution and productivity. Our Paychex IHS Markit Small Business Employment Watch has recently showed that small business jobs growth remains pretty flat in this low unemployment economy, and hiring and retaining employees is a major challenge of businesses in this current environment. These factors, along with growth in wages, are evident certainly of a tight labor market. Paychex’ position to help small and midsize businesses recruit, hire and retain talent, with a broad portfolio of service offerings that allows clients to provide an attractive compensation and benefits package, along with opportunities for growth and development of their employees.

We continue to enhance Paychex Flex, making significant investments, designed to simplify the complexity of HR administration. The latest enhancements bring more performance management workflow approvals, real-time analytics, and a configurable events calendar functionality to the platform. These features are all backed by self-service capabilities that empower employees and administrators to complete task from any location on any device. These significant technology product enhancements support our clients in recruiting, onboarding, training and developing their employees in a market where I mentioned that gets increasingly difficult to find and retain employees.

In addition to our HR center offering, our broad product set allows our clients to provide competitive benefits, including retirement and insurance options. Finally, our clients are supported by a team of over 500 Paychex’ HR specialists around the country, who serve their growing HR needs as states have increasingly made it more challenging to run and grow their businesses without this expertise. We continue to enhance our technology for efficiency through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The Flex Assistant, our AI chatbot, conducts conversations with our clients and their employees and responds to a number of service inquiries.

We have seen an increasing adoption of our chatbot because of the immediate response and quick and easy-to-understand solutions to customer inquiries, as well as their employees’ inquiries. This allows for efficiencies for us in internal processes by reallocating resources to more complex tasks. Our Paychex Flex Assistant can cover topics across the human capital management suite and guides users on how to self-serve if they prefer. The best AI chatbots’ function through natural language processing to interpret users’ language to understand and meet their needs.

Combining NLP with machine learning enables a bot to quickly learn and adapt. And with the millions of monthly flex users, our chatbot is uniquely positioned to mature rapidly. Earlier this year, we launched client self-onboarding e-commerce functionality within our SurePayroll product. We are the first of public competitors to utilize a true e-commerce technology.

Paychex AccountantHQ, our latest technology and service offering designed exclusively for accountants was recognized as a winner in the 2019 Big Innovation Awards, presented by the Business Intelligence Group. AccountantHQ provides a unique combination of technology and service, allowing accountants the full access to their authorized client data, extensive reporting capabilities, real-time data integration, key account contacts and an account and resource library, all backed by our industry-leading service model. AccountantHQ’s dashboard and robust reporting capabilities allow for efficiencies but also data insights to help accountants deliver greater value as a trusted business partner. We are especially proud to have been recently recognized for the 11th time by Ethisphere Institute as one of the 2019 World’s Most Ethical Companies.

This honor recognizes a fundamental value of Paychex, which is to have the very highest ethical business practices for our clients, employees, shareholders and our communities. Thank you to all of our employees for consistently living this Paychex value and earning this recognition. We were also named one of the top 125 training organizations by Training magazine for the 18th consecutive year, this year, climbing up two spots to No. 12.

Paychex is dedicated to world-class employee learning and development and takes great pride in our training programs. Our training and development team empowers our employees to embrace a career-long approach to learning and development. I’ll conclude by emphasizing that our state-of-the-art technology, full suite of integrated HCM product offerings and personalized service is a powerful combination that positions us for sustainable growth within our markets. Our employees make this combination successful with their hard work and commitment to our clients each and every day.

I will now turn the call over to Efrain Rivera to review our financial results for the third quarter. Efrain?

Efrain Rivera — Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Martin, and good morning. I’d like to remind everyone that today’s conference call will contain forward-looking statements that refer to future events. [Audio gap] involve risk. Please refer to our earnings release that provides disclosure on forward-looking statements and related risk factors.

In addition, I’ll periodically refer to some non-GAAP measures, such as adjusted operating income, adjusted net income and adjusted diluted earnings per share. These measures include certain discrete tax items and one-time charges. Please refer to our press release and the investor presentation for a discussion of these measures and a reconciliation for the third quarter to their related GAAP measures. I will start by providing some of the key highlights for the quarter, then follow with some greater detail in certain areas.

I’ll touch briefly on year-to-date results and wrap with a review of our fiscal 2019 outlook and ’20 framework. So look also at the investor presentation, we’ve got more detail there. Total revenue and total service revenue both grew 14% for the third quarter to $1.1 billion and $1 billion, respectively, our first $1 billion quarter and hopefully, the first of many to come. The acquisition of Oasis in December 2018 accounted for approximately one half of the growth in service revenue.

Expenses increased 13% for the third quarter to $641 million. The acquisition of Oasis contributed approximately 12% to this growth. Total expenses for the prior year three months ended February 28, 2018 included, as you’ll recall, a one-time bonus paid to non-management employees and a one-time charge following the termination of certain licensing agreements. Total expenses, excluding Oasis and these one-time costs in their respective prior-year period, increased approximately 9% compared to last year.

This 9% growth was primarily driven by increased headcount due to investments and sales force technology resources and operations to support the growth in the business. In addition, an increase in PEO insurance pass-through cost impacted the quarter. Operating income increased 16% to $429 million. Operating margin was 40.1% for the third quarter comparing to 39.4% for the same period last year.

Adjusted operating income, which excludes the previously mentioned one-time charge in the prior-year quarter, increased 7%. And I just keep referring you back to both the presentations we posted on the investor presentation we posted on the website. It goes through an extensive detail, all of the callouts. Our effective income tax rate was 23.7% for the third quarter, compared to 1.1% for the same period last year.

The enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act or tax reform in December 2017 resulted in a significant decline in the federal corporate statutory tax rate. In the third quarter last year, we recognized a net discrete tax benefit of $79 million from the revaluation of our net deferred tax liabilities at this lower rate or at the new lower rate. In addition, during the third quarter last year, we recognized the fiscal year-to-date catch-up for the lower-blended effective tax rate applicable for the fiscal year. These two items resulted in the low 1.1% effective rate for the prior-year quarter.

We anticipate that the effective tax rate before any discrete tax items will be approximately 24% for the full year of fiscal 2019. Again, I refer back to the investor presentation. Net income decreased 12% to 325% for the third quarter, primarily due to the significant tax impacts I just discussed, partially offset by the one-time charge following termination of certain licensing agreements also recognized in the last year’s third quarter. Adjusted net income increased 3%.

Adjusted net income as a non-GAAP measure that excludes the one-time charge related to termination of the licensing agreements, tax benefit, the revaluation of deferred tax liabilities and excess tax benefits related to employees’ stock-based comp, which we call out. However, this measure still incorporates the impact of the year-to-date catch-up for the lower-blended federal corporate statutory rate recognized in the third quarter last year, which is moderating the growth for the current period. Diluted earnings per share decreased 11% to $0.90 for the third quarter, but adjusted diluted earnings per share increased 3%. These growth trends reflect the same factors as discussed for net income.

And again, I refer you back to the investor presentation, which details it. I will now provide some additional color in selected areas. Management solutions revenue, which includes payroll service revenue, together with our HCM products, included in many of our product bundles, increased 4% to $802 million for the third quarter. Lessor contributed less than 1% to the growth.

The remaining increase was driven primarily by growth in client bases across our HCM services and growth in revenue per check, which improved as a result of price increases, net of discounts. PEO and insurance. It increased 65% to $246 million for the third quarter. Excluding Oasis, PEO and insurance service revenue would have increased 17% for the third quarter.

This growth was primarily driven by the continued strong demand for our combined PEO services, which, along with WSE growth, the worksite employee growth and our existing client bases, resulted in solid growth and in client worksite employees served. Our insurance service revenue benefited from growth and the number of health and benefits applicants. The rate of growth for insurance services was moderated by softness in the workers’ comp market. As state insurance funds declined, we expect this trend and workers’ comp revenue to persist, and we expect it to persist in the next year, more to follow on that.

It will have a modest impact. Interest on funds held for clients. It increased 27% for the third quarter, $23 million, primarily as a result of higher average interest rates earned. Average balances for interest on funds held for clients were down for the third quarter, primarily driven by the impacts of lower client employees’ tax withholdings resulting from tax reform and client base mix, partially offset by wage inflation.

Investments and income. Our goal, as you know, is to protect principal and optimize liquidity. We continue to invest in high credit quality securities. The long-term portfolio currently has an average yield of 2.1% and an average duration of 3.1 years.

Our combined portfolios have earned an average rate of return of 2% for the third quarter, up from 1.5% last year. Year-to-date results, let me briefly summarize where we’ve been for this nine-month period. Management solutions revenue is up 4%, PEO and insurance revenue increased 40%, 23% without Oasis and 17% organic. Interest on funds held for clients increased 28%, driven by interest rate increases, partially offset by the impact of a 2% decline in average invested balances.

Total revenue, this includes obviously, Oasis, up 10%. Operating margins were 37.8%, tempered by accelerated investments in the business and growth in PEO direct insurance costs. Net income increased 4%, and adjusted net income increased 12%. Diluted earnings per share increased 3%, but adjusted diluted earnings per share increased 12%.

Let’s go through the highlights of our financial position. It remains strong with cash, restricted cash and total corporate investments of $886 million as of February 28, 2019. We had a strong cash flow quarter, even though we utilized part of our cash to pay for the Oasis acquisition. Funds held for clients as of February 28, 2019 were $5.4 billion, compared to $4.7 billion as of May 31, 2018.

Funds held for clients. As you know, very widely in a day-to-day basis, averaging $4.4 billion for the third quarter and $3.9 billion for the nine months. Total available for sale investments, including corporate investments and funds held for clients reflected net unrealized losses of $10 million, compared with $38 million as of May 31, 2018. Total stockholders’ equity was $2.6 billion as of February 28, 2019, reflecting $604 million in dividends paid and $33 million of shares repurchased during the first nine months of fiscal 2019.

Our return on equity for the past 12 months was up formidable 42%. Cash flows from operations were $1 billion for the nine months, an increase of 3% from the same period last year. The increase was driven by higher net income and noncash adjustments, partially offset by working capital fluctuations, working capital fluctuations related to timing around collections and related tax payments for the combined PEO business, it decrease in accrued liability balances in connection with the termination of certain licensing agreements in fiscal 2018. Now turning to 2019 guidance, I will discuss the guidance for full-year fiscal 2019.

I’d remind you that our outlook is based upon our current view of economic conditions. Continue with no significant changes, we maintained our guidance as provided last quarter, including the overlay on Oasis, which I’ll talk about in a second. I will reiterate these guidance ranges and provide some color where applicable. And then just finally to remind everyone, I’ll give the guidance first excluding any anticipated impact from the Oasis acquisition, then follow it with the anticipated impact of Oasis on our results.

And I would say this, some of you have updated your models for the inclusion of Oasis, some have not, and so we thought that it made more sense and was better to be very clear to say, here’s what our base guidance is and then the overlay of Oasis, so just remember that as I walk through this. So excluding Oasis, management solutions, expected to grow approximately 4%; PEO and insurance, anticipated to grow in the range of 18% to 20%; interest on funds held for clients, anticipated to grow 20% to 25%; total revenue, anticipated to grow in the range of 6% to 7%; operating income as a percent of total revenue, anticipated to be approximately 37%; interest income, net, anticipated to be in the range of $10 million to $15 million; the effective income tax rate for fiscal 2019, expected to be approximately 24%; net income and diluted earnings per share anticipated to grow approximately 4%; adjusted net income and adjusted diluted earnings per share, both expected to increase in the range of 11% to 12%. We give the guidance this way so there can be no confusion as the fact that we’re tracking exactly to the plan that we set at the beginning of the year, and don’t blend or confuse the info on Oasis. So now let’s talk about it when we include Oasis.

It’s anticipated, as we said previously, they have an incremental impact on total revenue in the range of $155 million to $175 million in fiscal 2019. As we’ve refined these numbers, we think that that number is going to be on the lower end of that range, in the low 160s. Excluding one-time cost related to the acquisition, Oasis is anticipated to have minimal impact on earnings per share. Now when we include one-time acquisition and integration costs, we anticipate the impact on diluted earnings per share to be approximately $0.03 per share for fiscal 2019.

And that’s consistent with what we’ve said previously, a little more color on where we fall within that $155 million to $175 million, and that really has everything to do with the way we are looking at pass-through costs in that business. I’ll provide you with a little additional color for the last quarter of the year. Consistent with how we guided on last quarter’s call, we anticipate that management solutions revenue growth in Q4 will be below the full-year rate due to the anniversary, primarily, among other things, of the Lessor acquisition, we still think that management solutions will fall between 3% and 4%. Last quarter, we indicated that for Q3, we anticipated PEO and insurance services revenue increase in the range of 15% to 17% and for Q4 to be in the range of 10% to 13%.

Growth in Q3 came in at the high end of the guidance range we provided last quarter, and we now expect growth for Q4 to be approximately 9%, so below that range. There’s two reasons for that, there was some timing of revenue that shifted between quarters on the insurance side. And despite this, we anticipate achieving our full-year guidance range. We’ll talk a little bit more about what we’re seeing as we talk about the ’20 guidance, but there’s also a little bit of softness on the workers comp portion of our insurance revenue that pulls that revenue down a bit.

Now let me talk about the 2020, and I would just caveat everything I’m saying by saying that we haven’t completed our planning process, but we thought, given the Oasis acquisition and the fact that you’ll need to update models, we thought we’d give you some preview of what we’re looking at for the year including Oasis. We’ll provide detailed guidance during our fiscal 2019 fourth-quarter call as we always do. But let me give you some high-level commentary based on a preliminary look into next fiscal year. Management solutions revenue growth, we anticipate it to be comparable to the growth in 2019.

PEO and insurance revenue, excluding Oasis, anticipated to reflect low double-digit growth, so that means about in the range of around 10%. Including Oasis, PEO and insurance services revenue growth will be in the range of 30% to 35% with growth higher in the first half of the year until the anniversary of the Oasis acquisition. Operating margins at this stage we think will be in the range of 37% to 38%. We’ll see where we end this year, but that anticipates some improvement, some leverage on the base business.

We anticipate Oasis will contribute revenue in the range of $355 million to $375 million next year, and it’s going to be largely neutral to earnings per share. With the significance of the interest expense and the amortization expense associated with the Oasis acquisition, we introduced a discussion of EBITDA margins. Please refer to the investor presentation on our IR web page for the calculation of EBITDA for the first nine months of of fiscal 2019. We anticipate EBITDA for the full-year fiscal 2019 will be approximately 41%, and we expect EBITDA as a percent of total revenue for fiscal 2020 to be consistent with fiscal 2019.

And if you look at the way we calculate EBITDA, it’s pretty simple and should be pretty easy to follow. I reiterate that these comments are very preliminary and subject to revision as we finalize our plans for next year. I will refer you to our investor slides on our website for more information. By the way, I just wanted to clarify one thing that 37% to 38%, it’s clear on the web page, that operating margin I cited would exclude Oasis.

So look at the slide, it I think lays it out pretty clearly. So with that, I’ll end my comments and turn it back to Marty.

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

OK. Thank you, Efrain. And operator, now we’ll open the call to questions, please. 

Questions and Answers:


[Operator Instructions] Our first question comes from the line of Ramsey El-Assal of Barclays.

Damian Wille — Barclays Investment Bank — Analyst

This is Damian on for Ramsey. Hoping you guys can talk a little bit about your long-term growth expectations for the PEO and insurance revenue, obviously, you’d provided that preliminary framework for 2020, which I really appreciate at the low double digits. But I think we were thinking about that more in like a mid-teens type of a rate. Can you maybe dissect what’s going on in there? And why the declaration year over year?

Efrain Rivera — Chief Financial Officer

So the answer to that is, I gave you PEO and insurance. So our PEO business, our base PEO business is growing in the teens, insurance pulls that growth rate down a little bit. I would just say that insurance revenue can vary from year to year. It could very well be by the back half of next year, growth in insurance revenue picks up again.

So it oscillates. Our PEO growth, we expect it to be in the teens. So that’s one thing. And then the second thing is, we’ll have to see when we anniversary Oasis, what our growth rate coming out of that will be because the numbers are larger.

So I think that’s the answer to the question.

Damian Wille — Barclays Investment Bank — Analyst

OK. And on the operating margin then for 2020. It’s nice to see some of the leverage in the model there. Maybe if you could talk about some places that you guys are looking to invest next year or maybe in Q4 here and then into next year.

Like what are the places that you guys are going to invest in? And how that kind of plays into your operating margin expectations?

Efrain Rivera — Chief Financial Officer

I would say that as we get into next year, we identified areas where we would invest this year as part of tax reform. And so there will be a continuation of those three broad buckets of investment. Not at the same level that we invested this year, certainly, on a net basis, meaning, we’re getting some benefits from it, well, you won’t see the same level of net spend that you saw this year. But we will continue to invest in marketing and sales, I think a little bit less in sales.

And on the marketing side, continue to invest in operational efficiencies and then continue to work on IP and product. So Martin, you can go.

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. One of the other things, as Efrain mentioned, those are the same things you’ll see continuation of that and a little bit lower, but the product acceleration would be the other one that — to the ones that Efrain mentioned. So lead generation, demand generation has been a big focus for us. A lot more leads coming in over the web.

And I really think we’re hitting our stride through some of the programs we put in place at the beginning of this fiscal year to drive more demand and then nurture those leads, because so many more are coming in that way and then handling them as well through internal sales. So we’ve really continued to invest there. Product acceleration, these were things that we were going to do. We accelerated, particularly, into this quarter, a lot of product around HR, what we call, our HR center and enhancing that with data analytics, learning management system to provide training for our employees and their clients and performance management among other things.

So product acceleration, lead generation and operating efficiencies as well, using some of the work we’ve done and now chatbots and chat and other self-service capabilities that our clients we’re looking for.


Your next question comes from the line of Jason Kupferberg of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Amit Singh — Bank of America Merrill Lynch — Analyst

This is actually Amit Singh for Jason. You guys just went through the key selling season. So what were the key takeaways from there? Anything that stood out as being different this year versus, let’s say, past couple of years in terms of competition, pricing, etc.?

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I think the competitive environment is about the same. We didn’t see a big change there. We feel year to date, we’re really seeing the best-selling seasons selling, frankly, in par growth that we’ve had in a few years.

So that continued. I think it was moderated a little bit in January — in the December, January kind of time frame, between the government shutdown, the market kind of dropping and then rebounding and etc. So we saw a little moderation there, but really when you look at the selling season overall for a par growth, we don’t really give the number, but it’s the best we’ve seen in three years, and certainly, year to date it’s the same thing. So we’re feeling great momentum, particularly, on the HR Solutions and PEO side of the business, insurances, health insurance and our inside sales piece as well.

Amit Singh — Bank of America Merrill Lynch — Analyst

OK. And then just expanding on that competitive dynamics into your PEO market, and especially, as we look at your fiscal ’20 guidance versus ’19, there has been some strong growth for a while there, but is it now getting noticeably more crowded?

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, actually I think, we’re building even more strength with adding Oasis and now serving through the various, not just PEO, but our other HR outsourcing solutions of 1.4 million worksite employees. We’ve built a real strength, and we expect to capitalize on that with carrier relations, the insurance carrier relations expanding into other states and selling our products into the Oasis base as well. So as Efrain said, I think, if you look at the whole PEO and insurance segment, it’s moderated a bit, but a lot of that coming from the insurance side of it and particularly, workers’ comp, which, I think, you know, cycles, working in a down-rate environment, which has actually picked up pretty quickly. And so once those state funds lower their insurance rates and the impact on the overall workers’ comp rates have come down, that’s really accelerated in the last couple of months.

And that’s going to put some moderation on the PEO and insurance line. But the PEO itself, we expect still to be very strong and particularly with the recent acquisition with Oasis, of course, and HROI as well. We feel very good about the leadership teams. They are the integration that’s already under way.


Your next question comes from the line of James Schneider of Goldman Sachs.

James Schneider — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

I was wondering if you could maybe go a little bit further on the selling season commentary you had a minute ago, Marty. Just given what you’ve seen from Oasis thus far, what’s been the reaction from clients with respect to the addition of that to your broad portfolio? And I guess, more broadly speaking, heading into fiscal ’20, do you feel kind of incrementally better or worse about the growth in the kind of the core payroll franchise, revenue growth, heading into next year?

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I think, starting with the PEO, I think we’ve gotten good positive feedback from clients. I think Oasis already had a strong feeling from their clients and the leadership, Mark Perlberg, who has been running Oasis and is leading our PEO as we combine it. We’re really designing a great balance of selling into new clients and selling into the base as well.

Of course, we have a top 20 insurance agency that now Oasis can use the strength of that. So where insurance is not a good fit on the PEO model, you can now add Oasis clients as — in new sales, like we’ve done, can now go to the insurance agency to be able to get insurance. So we’re adding some strength there. Of course, they had different carriers, relationship levels than we did, and so we’re expanding into new states.

So I think the reaction has been good. The opportunity is great. And I think the integration is going very well from that standpoint. On the core payroll side, I think that competition has continued to be about the same.

It’s competitive. The pricing though hasn’t changed a lot. I think we still have some pricing power there. Would always like to see that growth a little stronger, but that’s also the way we’re leading our sales now.

We’re leading much more with HR overall. So we’re selling more bundles, we’re selling more into the PEO and HR outsourcing. And you’re not getting quite as much of the demand for payroll only and that’s exactly how we expected it. So I think you’re seeing price and level of competition the same there.

It’s OK. It’s not as strong as we’d like, but I think it’s moving exactly the way we thought toward more HR. Now on the SurePayroll side, for example, I mentioned that we just introduced an e-commerce option, we’re seeing that that is helping not only accept more leads but gain more clients that way. It’s early in the process.

But what you’re finding is, if a client comes in and can complete the entire transaction on their own or get help from our internal sales teams if they need it and kind of complete the whole thing in an e-commerce platform, that’s pretty strong as far as capturing the client when they’re looking, instead of getting a lead and then trying to reach the client, who may have decided to go to someone else because they couldn’t talk to someone or complete the transaction. So I’m thinking we’re seeing some positive growth there, and they’re doing, and we are seeing some strong growth on the low end because of that.

James Schneider — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

That’s helpful. And then maybe relative to the margin outlook you’re providing for fiscal ’20. It looks like on an apples-to-apples basis, you’re calling for margin expansion of a little bit over 50 bps, if I’m not mistaken. So I guess, could you maybe just kind of clarify relative to the reinvestments you’ve been making, do you feel like you have all the investment you need on the product side at this point to the extent that you’re going to get incremental leverage off of that investment from here on out? And then maybe, Efrain, you can just clarify what the expected operating margin drag from Oasis will be for fiscal ’20, roughly speaking.

Efrain Rivera — Chief Financial Officer

OK, so Jim, those are all interrelated. So you carefully pars what we said as usual. We said that this year’s guidance, excluding Oasis, operating margins would be approximately 37%. And then the preliminary framework we’re saying is between 37% to 38%, that would imply exactly what you would say.

I would caveat one thing, Jim, that obviously, we could end up a little bit stronger than 37%, in which case the leverage will be a little bit less. But the premise to your question is valid. So what’s happening is that, when we invested in year one, you don’t see the benefits or the results of that investment in year one, you get into year two, you’re continuing to invest, and you start to now get benefits from investments made in year one. That’s why I carefully said, the net spend that we have relative to the investments we made after tax reform goes down, so you’re seeing that in the margin.

And the second thing before I turn it over to Marty, talk a little bit more about that, is to say that, when we think about what that spending has done and will do for us, it becomes a down payment for roadmap to the future where additional opportunities for leverage exist. Marty mentioned the investments we’ve made in things like that chatbots using AI NLP, machine learning, and not to be overlooked are things like the e-commerce developments we put into SurePayroll. And again, we are the first publicly traded company that has created that platform. So all of those now become things that we can leverage in the business to drive further efficiencies and in some cases, also in additional sales.

So we’re getting benefits. It’s opening up other pathways that we hadn’t considered. And that will be a benefit to us in the future.

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. so I think Efrain’s pretty much covered. The investments we made kind of from the tax reform that we talked about, starting really last year, was that that would do that from a product standpoint, we accelerated the product. In fact, a lot of that rolled out in the first two quarters and then in this quarter.

From an HR center perspective, we’re very happy with that that we were able to accelerate that. And then on the efficiencies, a lot of it has also been done to create those operating efficiencies. And the chatbot, for example, someone who wants to chat or have a quick answer to a question, 45%, now I think this last month, are already been answered only by the chatbot. So it doesn’t have to go to a live person to handle through chat or live talk.

And that is creating some nice efficiencies, and we’re able to increase the productivity of our payroll specialist and across the board actually. So where actually the chatbot stuff and the work that’s automated response is going much faster. And I said, given the millions of clients and employees — client employees that we have using this, the machine learning is really creating things very quickly. Last month, we had a month and a half ago, we had about 45 answered by the chatbot, different questions that it would expect.

Now it’s over 100 because of the machine learning piece of that. So —

Efrain Rivera — Chief Financial Officer

And if I can build on that, part of it’s a productivity player, but another part is serving the client better. And so at the end of the day, when you combine that technology with our world-class service capability, you got a pretty powerful service differentiator. So we’re pretty excited about where we’re at.

James Schneider — Goldman Sachs — Analyst

Great. And can you just quickly clarify the drag from Oasis expansion in fiscal ’20 roughly?

Efrain Rivera — Chief Financial Officer

Yes, Jim. So if you look at the page where I put the — or what we put on the IR presentation there, you can do the calculations to get there. You’ll see what the impact is. I would say this, the drag year over year is, from an EBITDA perspective is modest.

And I would say, also from an operating margin perspective, when you go through the calculations, you can call me later on that to make sure you got it, it’s not dramatic.


Your next question comes from the line of James Berkley of Wolfe Research.

James Berkley — Wolfe Research — Analyst

I guess, just to start, if you could just help us understand the $20 million range. Just what’s keeping you from having a little more visibility, I guess, into the contribution from Oasis in the fourth quarter? And then some thoughts on cost and revenue synergies over time? And any signs you may be able to accelerate the upselling part of your payroll base, just given the acquisition of Oasis? And how much will you reinvest and whatnot into the sales force?

Efrain Rivera — Chief Financial Officer

So if you look at it, you have line of sight to what to was in Q3. I’ve given you a number that’s pretty clear. I think it can get through where we think we’re going to land. So I’m reticent to keep changing guidance because we’re falling within the range.

And I think at this point, I called out what I thought the contribution for the back half of the year is going to be. If you look in the presentation, we’ve detailed what Oasis was for the quarter, about $70 million. I’ve detailed what it is for Q4. I think we’ve given a pretty clear road map in terms of what we think it will be for the balance of the year.

James Berkley — Wolfe Research — Analyst

Perfect. Yes, I understood that you just didn’t want to change it there. Just commenting on the cost and revenue synergies over time, if you don’t mind?

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. I think from a cost standpoint, I think, a lot of it we’ve actually already started. There was some synergies of duplication of people. Some of that’s already been done.

And I think we’re pretty much far down on the road on that one. We also are looking at, obviously, from a cost standpoint, what can we do with the carriers to get better cost and plans is in place. And we’ll be working those through. It’s a little bit early on that one, but we’re working through that right now.

Organization is in place, and the product strategy is working through right now. I don’t see a lot of needs of technology investment that needs to be done there right now. So that should be pretty solid. Sales team is pretty clear on who’s got what already, that’s in place.

And I think, so the cost synergies will, again, be people but pretty much done; insurance carriers and rates there to lower our cost; efficiency and, frankly, handling; and I guess, I’d say, on the revenue side, selling more obviously and being able to capture some retirement products in there and more insurance. To the degree we couldn’t underwrite them, we drive them to our insurance agency like we do for our PEO. That’s something that Oasis did not have before either and now will be able to use. So we haven’t laid out all the quantification, I think, in the guidance you see kind of overall where we think it’s going to be.

And frankly, the short-term impact is pretty moderate to the EPS. So we feel pretty good about the margins and everything there.

James Berkley — Wolfe Research — Analyst

OK. And then just more generally, real quick, I mean, I know your focus is obviously shifting toward PEO, and it’s becoming increasingly important given the ACA and the 50-employee insurance mandate, etc. Just could you give any numbers or just an idea just on how much white space you see out there? And what percent of the addressable market is unpenetrated right now? And just kind of talk to your longer-term strategy in the space going forward, whether it’s around M&A or organic growth, etc.?

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, yes, I think it’s going to be both. I mean, primarily organic growth, but we’ll continue to look for opportunities like Oasis and other PEOs. And it really it looks like more of an HR outsourcing opportunity because what’s changed is, a few years ago, the average client size that needed HR, needed retirement and those things was, I would say, 25, 30 employees plus. That has come down pretty dramatically.

As you’ve seen the states increased their regulations, Fed may have come down a bit, but the states have really increased the enforcement and the regulations that they have on things like immigration and whether your workers are legit or not, the need for retirement plans, all that has been pushed up and a lot of requirements, and the enforcement has picked up, where they’re looking for revenue from these and enforcements. So the need for HR has really grown. So I think, look, there’s a lot of white space there. There’s a lot of opportunity.

And it’s growing as well. And so you have to be someone, who through your technology and your service, can give that kind of complete set. So not only are you helping on a tough — on a low unemployment market, the first thing you hear constantly in our surveys is I need help recruiting and retaining employees because it’s so tough out there to get them. So you have to offer benefits of a large company, but you’re a small or mid.

You have to offer benefits. You have to offer mobility options, so people can do things. 70% of our clients’ employees expect that they should be able to do everything on their phone, they don’t want to talk anyone in HR, they don’t want to go online, they want every to read — certainly, not on paper, they want to do everything mobile. And that’s all the products that we’ve been introducing and linking together for a total HR experience.

So that helps you bring in employees, and it helps you retain and develop your employees, so that they stay. And that’s exactly what we’re responding to. Like retirement, signing up retirement used to be a heavy paper-intensive process for your employees who want a retirement plan, you push it out there, it’s all paper, it’s tough to do. You now can have an employee set up their retirement in four clicks on our mobile app.

So you’re making the small and midsized business more competitive and helping them continue to retain those employees as well.

Efrain Rivera — Chief Financial Officer

The other thing, James, I’d say is, and maybe I’ll publish you some data on this, but if you look at the 20 and above space and the amount of worksite employees, which is probably the best way to dimension the opportunity, you’re in the multiple tens of million of worksite employees. If you take the top four PEOs, you barely get to two million worksite employees. Now there are more worksite employees serviced by smaller PEOs. But when you compare that to the amount of worksite employees that exist in 20 and above, which is we’re in now, and may in the future be 10 and above, we’re at the sweet spot of PEO because you have a significant amount of white space.

And the penetration rate is in the low single — is in the single digits, mid to low single digits.


Your next question comes from the line of Jeff Silber of BMO Capital Markets.

Jeff Silber — BMO Capital Markets — Analyst

I just wanted to continue the discussion on the PEO space. Are you going to market differently with your Oasis product versus your legacy Paychex product?

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

I would say, in the short term, probably a little bit differently just because of the brand and so forth, and we’re working through that now. But the packages, what you would say is, Oasis has gone more into, obviously, brand-new clients that have not been on a PEO or any other service. With our base, we’re working through the client base as well. So we have a team that sells into the client base, who has that need and can graduate, I guess, I’d say, to a PEO.

And Oasis and the rest of the team is selling brand-new clients to the PEO or HR concepts. So a little bit different there. We’ll be fixing the brand as we work through what’s the best way to approach that. But generally, they’re both selling, “Hey, this is an HR support package that is there.

Whether you take the insurance through us or whether we underwrite it through the agency, you have full retirement and payroll and HR administration packages.” And so, I would say, at a high level, it’s certainly is being marketed the same way because that’s the need of the client that we see out there.

Jeff Silber — BMO Capital Markets — Analyst

OK. I know during the last recession, this was a relatively small piece of the business. I’m not even sure if Oasis was even around then. But can you give us your expectations of what you think might happen to this business, if God forbid, we go into any type of downturn in the U.S.?

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Well, I think, from an HR standpoint, sometimes in a recession, you need HR support more than ever. Certainly, on the small business side, that’s only payroll. For example, you have small businesses, more of them go out of business, and few of them start up. So you always have some hits there.

But I think by expanding and really becoming much more of an HR company and having retirement offerings, insurance offerings and a much more complete package, that makes us much more resistant to a downturn in the economy. And that’s the way we looked at it for the last few years as we’ve positioned the company to be much more of an HR outsourcing company than just payroll. That’s because that is actually more in need in those difficult times. Now you need much more HR decisions to say, “Hey, what do I do with pay increases? What do I do with insurance offerings? How do I cut costs but keep my people?” That’s when you need the personalized HR support that we give with over 500 HR generalists.

At the same time, the technology, frankly, will make you more efficient as our clients are. Our clients are becoming much more efficient because of our mobile app that they use now, that if a client employee now needs to change their address in the system, in the old days, they’d go to their HR person or their business owner, they’d have to call us, they would talk to us they would change it. They don’t do anything now. Now they say to the employee, you can change it yourself.

You can go on your mobile app and do everything basically. So all those things, the technology changes, the HR focus, the total package, that makes us really more resistant and stronger in a recession-type era.

Efrain Rivera — Chief Financial Officer

So just to build on what Marty said, if you look at from a product standpoint, obviously, that’s sticky. From a client size standpoint, you have more resilience because clients typically are larger in a PEO. So in our payroll, if you’re payroll only, you tend to be smaller PEO clients or in a higher-sized bucket, which gives them a little bit more ability to withstand a downturn in the economy.


Your next question comes from the line of Lisa Ellis of MoffettNathanson.

Lisa Ellis — MoffettNathanson, LLC — Analyst

My first question is related to the e-commerce capability describing for SurePayroll. Can you just talk a little bit more broadly is there a big like digital marketing push accompanying this? So the concept being to get the small business owner over the weekend or whatever sort of Google searching and end up finding Paychex and SurePayroll and being able to onboard entirely independently. Can you just give a little bit more color around like where this is headed? Yes.

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, it is. It’s actually a continuation of — what we saw was, with lead generation, we’re doing a much stronger job with getting the leads in and typically, it’s more of a form fill out, right? And then we get back to them, where the client contact is somehow through the lead and says, get back to me. Well, the hardest thing to do is get back to a client today, get anyone to answer the phone. So what we found with e-commerce is not only is it responsive to a client the way they want to set themselves up, when they want to do it, weekend, nights or whatever, but also that you’ve captured that lead because now you don’t have to get back and the client will start themselves.

They’ll compare, they’ll see the price, they’ll see the product, they decide to buy, they’re in the mix. And even if they get halfway into it and need help, that’s fine. We have someone ready at all times to be able to just go to someone either through a chat or a direct line and talk to them to help them through the process. But you’ve captured them now as opposed to trying to reach back to them.

And that has been one of the strongest findings through the e-commerce is, lead generation is great, but closing that lead at the time that the prospect wants to close it is huge. So that’s been the biggest benefit of this thing.

Efrain Rivera — Chief Financial Officer

And I’d say that it’s not in the future. We launched in Q2, and it’s up and running.

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, yes.

Lisa Ellis — MoffettNathanson, LLC — Analyst

OK. And then on a related note around the investments around technology that you’ve been talking about, when they evolve, given initiatives under way that are leveraging your underlying database of employment-related data, I mean, so you can feed back things like benchmarks or give guidance and advice? Yes? OK.

Martin Mucci — President and Chief Executive Officer

Yes. They have already been released. So — and given the size of our client base and employees of our clients, that can give great data. So we give data, for example, on turnover.

And there obviously, it’s at a gross basis kind of pulled together. But it can do it by size as well, size of clients or size of your business and so forth. So yes, we’re giving data analytics. Something that’s been very important to our clients, to get data analytics.

And most small to midsize businesses could never get at that data or ever pay for that data in the market that we can give them very quickly using our very large client base.

Lisa Ellis — MoffettNathanson, LLC — Analyst

OK, great. And then just last one, Marty. Can you just summarize — you always give really good color around the macroeconomic indicators you see in your business that give you a sense for the overall health of

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