Payroll is the essential but often overlooked ‘back room’ cog that underpins the organisation. The shift to cloud and the underpayments crisis has turned many executive eyes towards payroll both as a source of risk and of increased productivity through tech-driven automation and data insights.
“Increasingly, boards are viewing payroll as a high risk area, to be continuously managed, supported and monitored, in a similar way to Workplace Health and Safety risks. They are requiring their leadership teams to take proactive steps to ensure that payroll is adequately supported and that the risk in payroll is managed.” Rohan Geddes, PwC Australia National Leader – Payroll Consulting Practice (Feb 2020)
Value in payroll specialisation
Like financial auditors, payroll specialists have a feeling for payroll that can allow them to identify exceptions and clear out non-compliance before it has a chance to metastasise into a chronic underpayment.
Australia’s ongoing underpayments crisis (see the link to our whitepaper below) is a wake-up call for organisations to increase expenditure and oversight of payroll systems and training. Should payroll managers – the payroll lead, at least – be required to have a nationally recognised certification and professional oversight?
However, despite the pressing need for accurate, compliant payroll, a payroll specialisation has often not been seen as a career stream or as subsidiary of finance.
To push back against this inertia, there are number of steps payroll professionals can take to make sure both they and their employer are getting the full value out of their investment in payroll personnel and platforms.
Ascending the payroll pyramid
The 2019 Robert Half salary guide reports a $55,000 to $130,000 salary range (not including super and other payments) across Australia for all payroll employees: Payroll Administrator, Payroll Clerk or Officer, Senior Payroll Officer, and Payroll Manager. In Australia payroll is number three of the top five in-demand finance and accounting contract roles.
What can payroll specialists do to advance themselves toward the top of the career ladder and become a group payroll manager or consultant? The answer is in a combination of formal training and engagement with managers, peers and the wider industry.
Most payroll managers in Australia learn how to operate a payroll system on an ad-hoc basis with their colleagues and suppliers, rather than formal training in payroll as a discipline.
According to the Australian Payroll Association’s 2019 Payroll Benchmarking Study, the number of payroll professionals with a competency based payroll qualification (either Certificate IV in Payroll Administration, Diploma of Payroll Management or the newer Diploma of Payroll Services) increased to 10.1 percent in 2019 from 6.2 percent in 2017 and 8.9 percent in 2018.
Those nationally recognised qualifications are delivered through TAFEs or accredited training organisations and professional services providers. Consider the range of in-person and online short courses in payroll and the most common small-business software, but also in business administration, accountancy and human resources – it all adds to your transferrable business skills.
Skills shift to the cloud
Payroll teams, especially in companies with short pay cycles, need better, automated payroll solutions to help them manage their workload, increase accuracy and avoid costly mistakes.
These systems are often delivered online and are hosted in the cloud. The 7th Australian HR Technology Survey by Navigo (released 2019) found 55 percent of organisations have adopted cloud-hosted systems compared to 33 percent in 2018, while 74 percent of respondents stated that they prefer a ‘cloud first’ strategy.
Some payroll workers specialise in a mainstream payroll platform, especially those designed for SMEs, and the solution partner will provide training with the initial purchase and renewal. Another potential source of software training through your employer is in the ERP systems that integrate with your payroll system.
Data Analysis: A key benefit of modern payroll solutions is the ability to collect and present data for analysis to increase efficiency and detect issues; consider learning to use data visualisation tools for the non-professional. On this topic, don’t neglect to stay up to date and fluent in Microsoft Excel, it’s daggy but everywhere and will give you lots of practise with statistics.
Experience: There’s nothing like runs on the board and solving problems in the real world to give you payroll skills. Put yourself forward for any projects you think you can handle, or even something from left field you wish to champion.
Mentoring: Most organisations don’t tend to have dedicated payroll staff until they pass the 100-employee mark, so finding a more senior payroll specialist you can watch and learn from could be a challenge if you work for a SME, hopefully you can find someone who knows you and supports you. See below for details of payroll industry associations.
Networking: Sign up for conferences, expos, events, awards nights, in-person training, LinkedIn groups and payroll, HR and accounting associations – get involved, pick up industry trends and meet your peers.
Aurion users: Log into the Aurion training calendar to see the different topics being covered and book your place – the first class is on 27 February.
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About the Author
Nick researches and writes quality content that educates our community about current and emerging Payroll & HR trends. This requires building solid relationships with internal and external stakeholders to understand issues, products, and the wider Payroll & HR landscape.