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12 Important Questions to Ask When Outsourcing Payroll Functions

Like most services, there is no one-size-fits-all outsourced payroll provider. By doing your research and asking these important payroll questions, you can make sure you are choosing the right external payroll provider for your business!
Published 10 Sep 2020
Updated 19 Aug 2022
6 min read
12 Critical Questions to Ask Your Payroll Provider

The decision to outsource payroll is a huge step for most businesses. Switching to outsourced payroll can be a hugely beneficial strategy, but that doesn’t take away from the large commitment that comes with choosing a payroll provider

It’s one of the most intimate tasks where the wrong choice compromises your staff and wasted investment of time and money.

Like most services, there is no one-size-fits-all outsourced payroll provider. Payroll companies have different technology, support and expertise that make some a better fit than others.

By doing your research and asking these important payroll questions, you can make sure you are choosing the right external payroll provider for your business!

What does outsourcing payroll mean?

Outsourced payroll or payroll outsourcing refers to the process of hiring an external company to professionally manage all payroll functions from end to end.

This reduces cost and risk by ensuring compliance in record keeping and updates of PAYE legislation, ensures access to the best technology and expertise, and saves time for business operators.

Questions to ask your outsourced payroll provider

This blog will help you with what to look for in a payroll service, questions to ask when implementing a new payroll system as well as questions to ask payroll providers.

1. Can we meet our dedicated outsourced payroll professional?

This is perhaps the most critical and often overlooked question. Meet with the professional who will be your outsourced payroll officer at least once or twice so that you can pick their brain and assess how knowledgeable they are. Pay attention to cultural fit.

It’s important that your outsourced payroll provider knows and understands your business and industry so they can handle any challenges that may arise. You also want to make sure it will be easy to work with your payroll provider meaning you’ll want to ensure your organisations share similar values and work in the same ways.

Generally, larger providers don’t offer you direct access to a payroll specialist. Instead, your account is managed by a system specialist who helps you with technical and operational issues and often redirects your payroll questions to a third party

This style of working might be perfect for your business or not. This is why it’s important to ask this question!

2. Are you using the most advanced and up-to-date payroll platform?

What technology will your outsourced payroll provider use? When was this technology developed? What can it offer? Many external payroll providers use software developed decades ago. This can make it difficult to customise, costly to implement and limit its ability to integrate with other platforms.

Take the time to evaluate an external payroll provider’s technology. Does their chosen system demonstrate functionality? Is it a stand-alone system or scalable? Does it have functionality that enables you to use it in your internal payroll system?

The most advanced payroll platforms are cloud-based and offer an Application Programming Interface (API) which means they interface with other systems such as KeyPay, Xero, MYOB, and QuickBooks Online.

3. What support can my business expect from my outsourced payroll provider?

Some low-cost outsourced payroll services only help to calculate the wages, superannuation and pay-as-you-go (PAYG) tax and then provide you with a bank file.

Others collect timesheets, apply pay rule conditions, calculate wages, taxes (including PAYG, Fringe Benefits Tax and State Payroll Tax) and superannuation and then distribute all payments to the relevant agencies, authorities and clearing houses.

Other payroll providers just offer you their online payroll system disguised as an outsourced service.

Ensure you ask exactly where your external payroll provider’s services start and stop.

4. Is your payroll system STP compliant?

Single Touch Payroll (STP) is one of the ATO’s latest payroll requirements, and it changes the way employers report PAYG and super information to the ATO. It’s a critical time to make your business STP ready.

STP requires employers to report payments such as salaries and wages, PAYG withholding and super information at the same time you pay your employees.

Businesses with 20 employees or more should have been reporting through STP since the start of this financial year on July 1, 2018 (unless the business was granted exemption or deferral from ATO). Businesses with less than 20 employees have until 2019 to prepare.

It’s therefore critical to ask how your payroll provider will ensure STP compliance. In most cases, this will boil down to the online payroll software your considered provider uses.

Most up-to-date payroll management systems are already STP-ready. This means that external payroll providers that use this platform can ensure STP compliance.

5. Can you manage payroll compliance by interpreting Awards and pay rule information?

It’s more important than ever for all businesses to use payroll software that automatically interprets modern awards. We’ve seen businesses big and small get caught out making major payroll errors. The solution to compliance issues is a smart technology that helps ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

One of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of payroll is applying a set of complex pay conditions from relevant awards or enterprise agreements.

Ask whether your outsourced payroll provider uses software that automatically interprets awards and has other procedures in place to help you remain compliant and simplify the payroll process.

6. How do you manage time and attendance?

Collecting time and attendance data is a critical component of payroll, however, not all external payroll providers have a time and attendance system. Ask your payroll provider if they collect time and attendance data and if they do, ask how it’s done.

Nowadays your payroll provider should be able to provide you with a fully integrated online rostering and time and attendance system.

Making it easier for everyone to access one set of verified data to conduct an accurate payroll.

7. Does your payroll system include General Ledger (GL) integration with accounting software?

Unless your payroll system is already integrated with your accounting system you’ll either need to pay for integration, manipulate CSV files or manually enter your payroll data for your accounts.

8. What add-on services do you include?

Some payroll providers can integrate with a wide range of add-on services such as accounts, time and attendance and HR. If you look around you can find a single platform that provides a full HR, safety, performance and payroll solution.

Your payroll provider should also provide your employees with a complete Employee Self Service (ESS) module and employee benefits.

The best-outsourced payroll service providers also include a broad range of in-house employment management services including employment law, migration, human resources, recruitment and workplace health and safety experts.

9. Do you offer transparent pricing?

Don’t get caught out by hidden costs. Many payroll services appear to be cost-effective but contain a pile of additional costs for regularly occurring payroll activities. These hidden costs can significantly increase the cost of managed payroll.

Ask questions about all potential costs before you sign on with any outsourced payroll provider.

10. What are your service levels?

Your outsourced payroll provider should provide a clearly defined service level agreement, with turnaround times and implementation strategy. It should be flexible enough to adapt to your changing needs.

A good payroll provider will offer various choices and be able to provide support every working day.

Assess how quickly they respond to calls and how long it will take to correct an error. Also, be careful about locking yourself into a long-term payroll service contract. Anything over 12 months is unnecessary.

Your preference should be for month-to-month agreements that keep your payroll provider on their toes.

11. What experiences and results have you achieved?

Ensure your payroll provider can provide you with a range of referees who are willing to promote their services just as much as they are.

Many external payroll providers include success stories on their websites, this can be a good place to start.

12. Do you have an exit strategy?

Before signing on with an outsourced payroll provider, you need to have a proper understanding of your exit strategy. We’ve all seen cases in the news where a business or person has had a hard time getting out of an unfair agreement.

There could come a time when you decide to take payroll back in-house or change providers. In this instance, it’s worth ensuring that your service provider has an exit strategy where they can hand the keys over to your payroll officer so you can continue processing.

Alternatively, they should be able to offer you your data in a database or CSV. This should occur at no extra cost.

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