01 June 2024

Paul Unwin, payroll integrations manager, Caxton, discusses how advancements in payroll technology and the diversification of careers in the industry can attract new people to the payroll profession

Me? Oh, I fell into payroll.”

Does that sound familiar to you? Now, pause and ponder. Did you truly fall, or was it, perhaps, a leap? It’s a pertinent question for us as an industry. How do we shift the paradigm to one where people actively seek out payroll as their chosen profession, rather than having payroll find them? My own narrative is a tale of falling and then deliberately jumping. My academic journey was rooted in finance, a field where payroll was one of many components which got brushed upon.

However, it’s one thing to study payroll in theory and entirely another to become completely immersed in its practical applications. It was only when I landed my first ‘true’ payroll job that the real lessons in payroll began.


A completely different industry

Processing payroll isn’t just about crunching numbers; it’s about navigating a complex interplay of regulations, technology and human need. Being taught on the old manual sheets from HM Revenue and Customs with tax and National Insurance tables gave me a true understanding of payroll. Using this ‘analogue tech’ wasn’t merely a task; it was a masterclass in the foundational principles of payroll.

As years have turned into… even more years, opportunities in payroll have been both broad and deep. From those early days grappling with manual calculations, I’ve transitioned into roles where technology plays the lead.

Payroll today is unrecognisable from the days of wage clerks and manual payslip distribution. It’s now a sophisticated, technology-driven field, which intersects as an essential cog with other business systems. Human resource (HR) and attendance data flows into payroll systems, meaning pensions and payments emerge without a hitch on the other side, thanks to these advances in technology.

At Caxton, where I now help clients plug their own payroll systems into payment technology, the advancement is evident. Faster payments and application programming interface technology have revolutionised how we process payments, offering alternatives to traditional methods like Bacs, which enhance efficiency and accuracy – and are more accessible to different businesses. Our work with bureaux exemplifies a seamless integration of HR systems with payroll software, facilitating precise payroll calculations and timely payments. And let’s not forget that’s why we’re all here – to get paid, on time.


Identifying those entry points

The entry points into the payroll profession are diversifying. Where direct payroll roles once dominated, there’s now a burgeoning demand for tech-savvy professionals.

Developers, analysts and technology specialists find their skills in high demand as payroll systems become increasingly complex and integrated. The Covid-19 pandemic underscored this need, as companies scrambled to update their payroll systems to comply with ever-changing regulations.

But what about those looking to enter the field? The pathways are varied:

  • A-Levels and university studies offer a theoretical grounding
  • apprenticeships provide that real practical, hands-on experience
  • direct entry through payroll positions, and learning on the job, remains a viable route.

Each pathway has its merits, and understanding which aligns with your aspirations is crucial.


Raising the profile of this amazing profession

For too long, payroll is forgotten until something goes wrong. The payroll industry stands at a crossroads. To attract the next generation of talent, we must elevate our visibility, demonstrating the critical role payroll plays within every business, and showing that we’re a digital, tech-oriented industry. Engaging with educational institutions, participating in career events and highlighting the diverse career opportunities within payroll are steps towards reshaping perceptions.

Each of us plays a crucial part in guiding the next wave of talent by engaging in events, networking and imparting knowledge on inner workings, from deciphering payslips to comprehending the essentials of wages and salaries. This educational outreach is as potent as any marketing effort. As the understanding of payroll’s intricacies and subtleties grows, so too will respect for the profession and its practitioners.

As we move forward, the narrative is changing. No longer are payroll professionals seen as having ‘fallen into’ their roles. Instead, they’re recognised for actively choosing a dynamic, challenging and rewarding career path. Here’s to continuing that trend, ensuring the journey into payroll is one of intention and ambition, which ensures the right people get paid, the right amount – on time. 




This article feautured in the June 2024 issue of Professional.