Payroll Perspectives — Episode 2, Bettina Wong

Bettina Wong is no stranger to the world of payroll, with an impressive resume boasting roles across Australia and New Zealand — but it’s her current role, a career move to tech company Sinch MessageMedia where she manages an outsourced payroll for FTE 300 employees in Australia, New Zealand, United States and the United Kingdom, that has provided her the opportunity to truly grow and evolve. Bettina sat down with Shawny Smith to discuss her journey.

Tell us about yourself and where you work

I’m Bettina Wong, originally from Auckland, New Zealand. I made the move to Melbourne seven years ago, where I currently work for Sinch MessageMedia, a mobile messaging solution that helps businesses of all sizes better connect with customers. I’ve been with Sinch MessageMedia for about three and a half years now.

Bettina, walk us through your role at Sinch MessageMedia and what it’s like to process an outsourced payroll

I oversee end-to-end payrolls across Australia, New Zealand, United States and the United Kingdom. 
My ‘end-to-end’ is from new joiners to leavers, payroll journals to annual payroll tax and workers’ compensation reconciliations to WGEA reporting.

Yes! Our payrolls are managed externally, and that was my first challenge when I first joined the business. It took about three months to shift my mindset from a Processor, one who had access to a payroll system, to a Reviewer. There was no more instant ‘play back’ previewed results on my screen anymore. I had to learn to be more patient for the reports; to precisely communicate the payroll changes, necessary corrections, and requirements etc.

I think managing an outsourced payroll comes with its complexities. Building strong relationships with payroll providers is the key, and the complexities can depend on various factors. For example, the provider’s local presence vs reliance on an ICP (In-Country Provider). It may require you to be extra flexible with your working hours if you’re working with a provider in a different time zone and deadlines are tight. A deep understanding of tax treatments and payroll regulations is also crucial for accurate reviews too – because there can be mistakes. It is definitely not hands off especially when there are off-cycle runs that involve a lot of coordination.
While outsourcing may seem easier, I believe the true advantage lies in freeing up capacity for other tasks. We value customer (employee) satisfaction a lot and there’s just more capacity for this with the actual processing managed externally. One thing I love about my role at Sinch MessageMedia is being involved in business partnering and working on projects.

What is the best system you have worked with? What made it the best?

Oh, I wish I’ve used more systems before I’m asked this. But I have to go with PayGlobal. It can handle complex Awards/EBAs and I love how the employee fields so customisable and easy to export onto spreadsheets.

How did you get into Payroll?

Payroll is a bit of an interesting one.  I would say a very few planned to work in the Payroll space, and I’m one of them. I have a Commence Degree majoring in Accounting and Management, and during my younger days I wanted to pursue my career as an Accountant or Auditor. The pathway to New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants (NZICA) demanded work experience in an approved training organisation. It was competitive, and challenging to secure at that time.  So, I found myself on a different path and secured a role at Medcall, a temping recruitment agency specialising in aged care in Auckland, as an Accounts and Payroll Administration. What began as a stepping stone evolved into a fulfilling career journey that I’ve now been on for 11 years – a ‘wow’ moment I couldn’t believe myself after doing the maths!

What do you wish people outside of payroll knew? (your direct boss, HR, Business/Unit Managers)

It’s a myth. That magical “big red button” that effortlessly handles everything – it does not exist! Running a high-functioning Payroll department entails far more than just numerical proficiency. Payroll Officers or Managers require a diverse skill set encompassing good judgment, adept prioritisation abilities, effective communication for customer service, and a high degree of adaptability. This adaptability is especially crucial given the ever-changing landscape of legislation and Company benefits, which demand constant adjustment and attention.

It’s really quite unfortunate to see that many people tend to overlook the complexity of Payroll work, often reducing it to just data entry. It’s tough when any mistakes are automatically pinned on the Payroll team without considering the broader context. That being said, things are different here at Sinch MessageMedia. Most of us take great responsibility, and Payroll had always worked super close with HR to ensure pays are correct, which is truly awesome!

What is your advice to senior payroll professionals looking to step up into leadership?

I would say establishing your brand is one of the most important aspects in stepping into leadership.  Setting high standards for yourself and your team, and prioritise building trust with both internal and external stakeholders. Consistently deliver quality work and demonstrate reliability and integrity in all your interactions.
Embracing opportunities as they come. Don’t shy away from them, especially for growth and advancement. Be proactive in seeking out new challenges and responsibilities that will stretch your skills and expand your leadership capabilities.
And one more that coincides with the embracing the opportunities is to embrace the discomfort that comes along with new opportunities.

Recognise that growth often comes from stepping outside your comfort zone. Embrace the discomfort that comes with taking on new roles or responsibilities, and view it as an opportunity for personal and professional development.  Remember, pushing ourselves to grow is essential for achieving our full potential as leaders; we are our own parent and no one will push us – the ultimate choice is within you.

What top 3 skills make a great payroll officer?

  1. Analytical Thinking: Possesses the ability to understand the consequences of their actions and decisions within the payroll process.  Can demonstrate strong analytical skills, enabling them to anticipate potential outcomes and assess the impact of various payroll-related scenarios.
  2. Proactive Problem-Solving: Taking initiatives to improve processes. Actively seeking out opportunities to enhance efficiency and effectiveness within the payroll function.  Ability to proactively identify and address potential challenges or inefficiencies, and contribute to continuous improvement and optimisation of payroll processes.
  3. Adherence to Best Practices: Commit to adhering to well-established processes and procedures.  Understand the importance of consistency and accuracy in payroll operations, and consistently follow established guidelines to ensure compliance and minimise errors.  Have dedication to upholding best practices that will contribute to the reliability and integrity of the payroll function.

What has been the biggest change in payroll in the last two-years?

In my own experience… the most significant changes in payroll over the last couple of years is keeping up with the post-Covid effect.  This includes usual legislation and Company policy changes as hybrid and remote work is more common, retaining talent through introducing various Company benefits that ties with Payroll.  More payroll tax levies introduced, such as mental health levies in VIC and QLD.

The rollout of STP2 had been a significant change as it required a lot of implementation and testing, though it’s not something I was heavily involved in as our Payroll is managed externally.
A noticeable change is also the technological shift.  Many payroll functions have shifted towards automation and digitalisation to streamline processes, enhance accuracy, and improve efficiency. This includes adopting cloud-based payroll systems, self-service portals, and AI-driven analytics to optimise payroll operations. 

When I was at the TAPS Conference, I was surprised to see such smart innovations in action, and how it demonstrated how technology is revolutionising the payroll space.  I think the biggest changes are yet to come!