How the tax profession can stay relevant
by Steve Healey CTA (Life) *
Some members of the tax profession have argued that the Australian Taxation Office – by introducing automation, standard business reporting and other efficiencies – has stepped ‘over the line’ and is ‘taking’ processing and compliance work away from accountants and tax advisers.
I suggest that the ATO isn’t reducing the traditional work of accountants. Technology and technological change is. It’s essential for practitioners to accept this fact and move forward.
The profession’s reaction is, of course, similar to that of other professions and industries that are seeing their traditional models disrupted by technological change. Examples include the taxi, transport and accommodation sectors, to name but three.
With change comes uncertainty and, the greater the rate of change, the greater the concern from those operating under traditional business models. That said, it can be equally held that change brings opportunity and provides a platform (often said to be a ‘burning platform’) for the creation of new offerings, together with renewed approaches to the traditional way of doing things.
The decline of the ‘knowledge guardian’
It’s critical that we adopt such a mindset, as guardians of a body of knowledge that’s no longer exclusive to us as tax professionals.
The concepts of ‘knowledge guardians’ and trusted practitioners are not exclusive to accountants, lawyers and tax practitioners, but span all professions (e.g. the medical and education professions). With the expansion of technology solutions, the unfettered access to knowledge via the internet, and the ever-increasing capability of machines (and therefore increasing consumer empowerment), traditional models for delivering professional services and engaging practitioners will continue to disintegrate.
These changes are also creating new platforms and paradigms for professional services practitioners and don’t mean there will no longer be a role for practitioners. Rather, practitioners will play an even more important role in distilling a plethora of information, data and knowledge to deliver forward-looking insights, using tools and connections across a far wider spectrum than traditionally possible.
The rise of the ‘trusted concierge’
When we think of a concierge, we think of someone who may work in a hotel or, perhaps, a personal concierge performing errands for their affluent employer. That said, the word ‘concierge’ evokes thoughts of connectivity, resourcefulness, cooperation, problem-solving, advising, empathy and effective communication.
The concierge also seeks to ask questions to more accurately target customer needs. It is a word that carries trust although, given the importance of trust in any profession (including our own), it’s worth reinforcing that.
The term ‘trusted concierge’ represents a model in which the professional occupies a privileged position with the client (a position of absolute trust), is able to facilitate solutions to a wide range of complex problems and, while not necessarily having all the answers, has the ability to source and deliver those answers.
Recognising client empowerment
It’s critical that we recognise our clients are now far more empowered and armed with much greater knowledge. They are also increasingly demanding and determined to pay far less than they once did for what might be described as the provision of traditional services. With the ever-increasing amount of information available, it’s essential to change both the services we deliver to clients and the way we deliver these services.
We will need to ask more questions and seek information faster and more efficiently, using a combination of technology and human connectivity. We will need to shift our mindset from the ‘expert who has all the answers’ to the ‘trusted concierge who listens and works with clients and other sources to provide the answers’.
For many, this is a fundamental but critical shift in thinking and in the way we approach our relationships with our clients, our people and the broader connected community.
* Steve Healey CTA is a Partner and National Head of Tax and Private Advisory Services for Grant Thornton. He is also a Chartered Tax Adviser and life member of The Tax Institute, and was The Tax Institute’s President in 2015. This article is excerpted from Steve’s white paper, ‘The future tax professional, which you can download here.
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