Working life stories: Steve Abbotts, a life in payroll

Steve Abbotts speaks to about a career spent working in payroll and how his current role at Azets has given him a new lease of life.

Steve Abbotts, Azets


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At 64, Steve Abbotts has had a new lease of his professional life since Covid. Now working as Director of Payroll Services at accountants and business advisory group Azets, his ambition is just as strong as it was when he was younger, and he has decades of experience plus an employer who understands the benefits of hiring older workers.

Steve left school at 16, has worked in payroll ever since for numerous companies and has never been out of work.

He left school on a Friday and started work on the Monday at the National Coal Board. He stayed there until 1993, working his way up through the payroll department. He took redundancy in 1993 and joined the NHS. There he worked at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust which had a small payroll at the time. Through outsourcing their services, first to a small hospital in Sandwell, Steve managed to grow the business from 5.5K people when he joined to 120K when he left in 2007, taking on contracts in Oxford, Birmingham, East Anglia, and London, mainly through word of mouth and reputation.

When he did presentations, Steve could draw on references from every single client he had worked with. “People wanted to come to us when they saw the service we were giving,” he says. He put in long hours, but he says he was fortunate to work with really supportive people and some tremendous managers.

In 2007, however, Steve was lured away, after being offered to join the private sector working for a US firm. However, he says that decision was the biggest regret of his life. “I did not fully realise the value of a public sector job and pension,” he says, adding that he didn’t feel there was a good culture fit and that he didn’t share the company’s vision. He resigned two years later. It was a brave decision as he had no job to go to, but very quickly he got a role at Capita.

From Capita to Azets

When he joined Capita in 2010 it was on an upward trajectory, but recent problems have put a brake on growth and created insecurity about what the future might hold, he says. An approach by Azets in mid-2020 was like a ‘bolt out of the blue’. The approach came as a result of former colleagues at Capita recommending him. Steve says what sold the role for him was the scale of Azets’ ambition and their trust in him.

“It was a big thing for me to be offered a role that I could make my own and they have been true to their word, supporting me and giving me the freedom, I needed,” he says. He adds that joining Azets was “probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life”. “Azets offered me a road map for where I was going and opportunities to develop and that has re-energised me,” says Steve.

Before that, he was on the road to retirement. Now he is thinking of deferring his pension as he doesn’t want to retire any time soon. “I love it so much,” he says. “Sometimes when you interview for a company, the vision and the reality don’t match up. But Azets is 100% what they said it was,” he adds.

Azets is growing and Steve is keen to win more business and expand the payroll business by recruiting more team members and clients.

Another bonus is the company’s flexible culture. Steve has always travelled for work. His wife is a stay-at-home mum to their three children and the family have remained in Stoke on Trent while Steve has commuted around the country. He has, however, been able to work flexibly at Azets. After months spent working from home during the pandemic, he now works one or two days from home and the rest of the week is spent on site, travelling around the country.

He says another benefit of working for Azets is that they recognise and appreciate his experience and don’t need him to have a degree to prove his worth.

The changing face of payroll

Steve has really enjoyed his career in payroll and has seen many changes in the industry over the years. “Payroll is one of the few roles that touches every single employee. There is real gratitude and a sense of self satisfaction in the work we do,” he states. Changes in what payroll deals with, have raised the profile of the role over the years. And now, in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis, pay has become a very emotive issue with demand for pay advances becoming the norm, says Steve. Financial wellbeing is becoming a big issue which brings payroll and HR closer together.

Another big change is a result of computers and automation. When he started, Steve had to pay people manually in paper pay packets. That meant working 24-hour shifts at xmas to ensure people were paid in time for the festivities.

Now things are more automated, and people are usually paid directly into their bank accounts. Steve notes that there were fears automation would lead to unemployment, but in fact the job evolved, and new roles emerged. Steve has learnt to roll with the changes over the decades and his years of experience have given him a sense of perspective. At the same time, he has tried to be at the forefront of trends in the profession.

It is clear from the way he speaks that he loves his job. He says: “If I didn’t enjoy it I couldn’t talk about it like I do. I have worked hard, but I consider that I have been very lucky because I have worked with some very good people and have had the freedom to spread my wings – even more so at Azets.”

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