Us accountants have known about the ATO’s single touch payroll regime for what feels like an eternity. However, with the mandatory deadlines for compulsory registration hitting in 2019, this has been a big change to our industry.
Any new update (especially from the ATO) always causes a mild panic with clients, and organisation and communication is the key to surviving in one piece.
While software companies say STP is ‘just the click of a button’, there is so much more to it from a practical point of view. Often, we need to upgrade a client’s software or set up completely new software. Some of my clients had to migrate from handwritten payslips to electronic software for the first time. Plus, we had to update engagement letters, advise clients of the changes and the impact, get annual authorisations signed, and then, of course, monitor the entire process before, during and after implementation.
We knew our communication would be a vital step in giving our clients peace of mind. We sent out notifications and emails to clients back in February 2019 and it was a ‘drip-feed’ process. Provide some information, follow up with some options for them to consider, then a further follow up with our suggested action plan and service requirements based on their business.
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Slapping clients with one email and expecting them to understand and take action was just going to cause way more unnecessary stress. So we staged our communication process over two months to plant the seed about STP and get the conversation going. This also allowed us to schedule the workflow to our team easily and not have any backlog.
Thankfully, many of our clients agreed to opt in to STP well before July 1, 2019. And I tell you what, it was such a streamlined and stress-free process for our cients (and us). To be honest, I am not sure most of our clients noticed any difference. But for us it meant the ATO phone lines were not clogged up with stressed-out callers, we had time to truly understand the implications in each accounting software that we use, and we were not dealing with the craziness of EOFY at the same time.
I must admit, however, I registered my own business well before we registered any clients and we used our own pay runs as a guide to train our staff. I mean, you would never just launch into something for a client without truly understanding it, so we used our own accounting data file as the guinea pig. That made explaining the changes, the updates, and the requirements to clients so much easier. Winging it, when it comes to ATO requirements, will never get you the best outcome.
In the accounting and bookkeeping world, however, many firms left it until July 1 to start implementing STP, or decided they would get through EOFY and take advantage of the September 30 extended deadline. While I understand that in theory, what this meant was their clients were left in the dark.
Clients are so savvy these days. You don’t want them to hear Chinese whispers about a major ATO change and realise you haven’t explained it to them because you just weren’t ready or were not organised enough.
What we started to see was business owners (who were not our existing clients) coming to us and forwarding us emails from their accountant or bookkeeper about STP asking us to explain what it all meant. All they had received was a forwarded notification from the ATO — no explanation, no guidance, no support, no hand-holding, no nothing.
Single touch payroll is the perfect opportunity for BAS agents and accountants to provide even more skill, guidance and qualified services to those business owners in need. Australian payroll is already such a massively complex area and the consequences of getting it wrong are just dire.
Single touch payroll is here to stay, and it is not intended to be a stressful and horrible experience (for finance professionals or business owners). As an accounting and bookkeeping firm, we know business owners often need a helping hand when implementing change. And that is exactly what we are all are here for.