Innovation and the role of technology in tax

Technology has revolutionised many sectors, and tax is no stranger to its disruption. What are the most innovative tax accountants doing to take advantage of technology?

The advance of technology – from new software programs to the use of the web for business – has changed the way clients perform tax-related activities and, in turn, has shifted the way tax accountants do business. Here are three trends to watch.
 
1. Cloud accounting
 
Cloud computing is where data is stored off-site and accessed via the internet. Cloud accounting enables end users to transact and share information while mobile. Not only can clients undertake accounting activities while out of office, it also gives them access to real-time financial-status reports.
 
What this means: Cloud accounting means mobility, so clients will soon expect tax professionals to be more widely available to help them. To offer extended hours and more flexibility, progressive organisations currently structure their employees’ time in two or more shifts to cover 16-hour days, and some even offer weekend assistance.
 
2. DIY accounting
 
Accounting software is getting easier to use and more accessible to clients. Most platforms connect to government portals, bank accounts and other sources of income, including e-commerce websites, helping clients log, sort and automate transactions. Although this looks like less low-value data entry work for tax accountants, it also spells the end of many ‘bread and butter’ tax-preparation services.
 
What this means: Clients with less-complex needs may turn to DIY and simply require an accountant to oversee compulsory submissions. However, of those who remain, expect better-prepared clients who are looking for more sophisticated tax advice; engaging a tax accountant will be for service rather than compliance reasons. Innovative organisations are already packaging their talent to appeal to this emerging market, for example through specialisation or a focus on advisory services.
 
3. Data analytics
 
The increasing use of cloud accounting and software will allow real-time data to be compiled and will help individuals and businesses to understand their financial position and support their decision making. Tools and techniques for collecting and analysing data are constantly being refined, and it won’t be long before analytics becomes a standard part of any tax consultation.
 
What this means: Tax accountants can use data analytics in two ways: to attain a better picture of a client’s financial status to provide better advice, and to understand their own businesses better in order to leverage opportunities including where to focus. Agencies that have conducted analysis on themselves have a direction to steer their business for lucrative and/or specialist areas of tax.
 
In short, get ready for a hybrid future, one where you’ll be expected to understand and support digital tools with good old-fashioned service. You’ll be valued for your expertise rather than your number-crunching ability, so keep your eyes open for opportunities to specialise in an area you love.
  
 
The Tax InstituteThe Tax Institute is Australia’s leading professional association in tax. Its 13,000 members include tax agents, accountants and lawyers as well as tax practitioners in corporations, government and academia.

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