With Single Touch Payroll (STP) set to speed up the move to digital systems, the way small businesses across the country operate is being transformed. Here at Xero, we thought it was high time we shone a light on the people behind the process at the ATO. Without further ado, meet John Shepherd, the Assistant Commissioner for the Single Touch Payroll program – aka the STP guru. As part of our Humans of the ATO series, we’ll be talking to John about his work, passions, and what makes him tick. And, while we’re at it, we’ll be clearing up any confusion and bringing you up to speed on all things STP.
What gets you excited about working with small businesses?
It’s the incredible diversity of small businesses. The variety of business sizes, backstories and motivations is really inspiring, and I appreciate the opportunity to engage much more with small business owners. And with this next phase of Single Touch Payroll applying to those with 1 to 19 employees, there’s a wide range of digitisation, maturity of business processes and knowledge across that group. The one thing they all share is a feeling of drive, passion and inspiration.
What does an average day (if there is such a thing) look like for you?
Firstly, it’s a walk with the dog. Then, it’s making sure the kids get off to school and my wife and I make it out the door. After that, there’s lots of racing between phone calls, meetings and events (and catching up on emails in between). I try to get out of the office as much as I can, at the moment that means plenty of conversations with stakeholders, tax agents and small businesses, and of course time with my wonderful team. I love attending industry events for the opportunity they bring to connect with a whole lot of different people, talk about what we’re working on and answer any questions. We also run a lot of consultation forums, along with reporting and governance on our program, so my average day could be jumping between any or all of those things.
Finally, I like to find some time to engage with my social media accounts, share information and keep up to date. I might even share a GIF or two!
What would you say to small businesses who are concerned about the transition to digital payroll reporting?
Planning ahead is key. So the first thing I’d say is have a good think about what your Single Touch Payroll solution might be – we always talk about your BAS agent/bookkeeper or tax agent as being great sources of advice. It’s critical to engage early with whoever your trusted advisor is, and take advantage of the time that’s left to get yourself comfortable and ready. Of course, if you have any concerns whatsoever, please reach out to us at the ATO with questions. We’re here to help and have plenty of handy material up on the ATO website.
If you could give small businesses one piece of nerve-calming advice about STP, what would it be?
The ATO doesn’t put out Commissioner’s Statements very often. We released one when the legislation passed for STP, explaining that we understand the move to real-time digital reporting will be a big change for many employers, especially small businesses. As a result, the ATO is taking a supportive, flexible and tailored approach to help them undertake this change.
My one final piece of advice is, if you don’t know what to do, please come and ask us for some help. And if you make a mistake, particularly during this transition year, you won’t be penalised as long as you’re making best endeavours.
Tell us something about your life outside work…
Thursday night tennis is my ‘me time’. I’m very busy during the week, and on weekends I spend a lot of time with my kids’ sport and catching up on jobs at home, so this is my one chance to get away from work, get out of the house, and do something that’s just for me. Everyone who I work with knows that I don’t like to stay away from Canberra on my Thursday nights! Naturally, we also have drinks and a bite to eat afterwards… but of course it’s all about the tennis. That might help people understand why I’m sometimes a bit ‘tired’ on Friday mornings!
Looking to learn more about Single Touch Payroll? Xero lets you file your pay runs with the ATO in a matter of clicks, whatever size your business. And getting set up is a lot easier than you think. Check out our STP resources to learn more.