01 June 2024

Stephen Abbotts, director of payroll services, Azets UK, reflects on the exciting and diverse opportunities and job roles that the constantly changing nature of payroll opens up to those with an interest in the industry

Over the years, payroll has transformed and there’s been a significant change in how we manage and deliver our payroll services, subsequently influencing the career opportunities available. At one time, payroll was seen as having a very narrow career path and, though some may still believe that to be the case, I think we should be shouting from the rooftops about the diverse roles which now exist. We have also seen payroll move from being an experience-based profession to a career which can be supported with varied and rewarding academic qualifications.


Payroll data

Payroll people often talk about where they belong in an organisation’s structure, whether this is in human resources (HR) or finance or even somewhere else. This quandary enhances the power payroll can possess – with it serving the needs of several areas within a business. Ultimately, payrollers are the people who truly understand and interpret payroll input and pay-related terms and conditions.

Very few things in the business world touch every working person. However, payroll is one that does. As such, the data in payroll systems is becoming more powerful than ever in supporting business decision making. This in turn creates a broader scope of opportunities for experienced payrollers who deviate from the stereotypical structure of payroll administrator, payroll senior, payroll team leader and payroll manager.

There are specialisms within the payroll services area which, particularly in larger organisations, now require roles with specific payroll experience, such as but not limited to:

  • data / management information payroll reporting
  • payroll compliance
  • payroll controls
  • payroll system management
  • Bacs processing
  • client services management
  • dedicated payroll training staff.

While specific payroll qualifications are available and are certainly hugely valuable, on-the-job experience plays a crucial part in the development of staff.

Payroll makes up a substantial portion of a business’s financial outlay, meaning the work carried out by payrollers and the data they collate helps to inform budgets and influence critical decisions. Most finance, accounts and HR teams within an increasing number of businesses will use payroll data as an aid to make key decisions, including budget setting and general ledger costs, which interface from the payroll system to the accounts system. We also have a need for specific information technology (IT) support for payroll system infrastructure. All of this has led to an expanding wealth of opportunities for experienced payroll people.


Managing compliance

From a legal perspective, payroll people also have a duty to ensure:

  • compliance with complex legislation
  • employees are paid correctly
  • employers are operating within government requirements.

Once again, experience gained in understanding and then implementing legislation is vital and is acquired through training, education and self-learning.

Sophisticated and modern payroll systems may have removed the burden of manual calculations and pay tables, but no payroll system can replace truly understanding the complexities of statutory legislation in addition to an employer’s own rules surrounding things such as sickness, maternity and benefits. Over the years, successive governments have added additional requirements to payroll’s remit. Real time information (RTI) is a great example of this, as is the future payrolling of all benefits due to be implemented in 2026. Knowledge of this can be gained via education. However, this tends to be based on a ‘perfect world’ learning scenario which is no substitute for on-the-job realism, particularly when things go wrong!


The career opportunities

The diversity of payroll also means opportunities to gain a wealth of knowledge which can be used to move between public and private sectors, bureau services, internal payroll, external payroll providing services to a client, global payroll and umbrella companies. All these areas, along with the varied types of roles now available, provide an exciting and varied career path for those who want to use their payroll knowledge and experience to stray from more traditional payroll roles.

The crucial factor in support of dedicated education is that it gives payroll people formal recognition of their level of learning and skill which exists within other professions, plus there’s a mechanism for continued support and development. Today, we also have access to specialised training for specific topics such as year end, statutory payments and holiday pay, which can supplement self-learning. Although in the past, promotion was largely based on knowledge and experience, we can now support our payroll recruitment and retention with specific qualifications and certificates to complement the skills needed to fill specific positions. Various certificates and degrees on offer, for example, give payrollers a structured path of educational progression while also showing prospective employers that these individuals are dedicated and committed to learning.

We have moved from a purely desk-based learning approach to include learning via education, giving those that complete formal training courses a tangible qualification. We have increased opportunities for payroll-related roles which can give those with payroll knowledge an opportunity to launch into other areas of a business with the expertise and knowledge they have gained. Payroll doesn’t need to be a narrow career path for those who want to broaden their horizons. In 2024, in a profession that never stands still, there are opportunities aplenty.

Whatever changes there may be in the payroll world, one thing is for certain – as payrollers, we will continue to take it in our stride and pay our people! 








This article feautured in the June 2024 issue of Professional.