How artificial intelligence is shaking things up

The Tax Institute lecturer Tom O’Sullivan shares his insights on how artificial intelligence (AI) is creating phenomenal value, but is also troubling tax professionals about their career prospects.

In this changing environment, problem solving skills as well as the ability to nurture client relationships will be just as important as maintaining expert knowledge in the tax adviser’s areas of specialty. Tom O’Sullivan, former Deputy Head of Content at Wolters Kluwer and lecturer on the tax foundations subject at The Tax Institute, reveals how amidst all the change the tax professional role will still be important.

Tom has extensive experience working in the tax profession as a lawyer and lecturer, mainly dealing with income tax issues. He says the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into tax advisory work will change how tax work is done. AI can be used to scan thousands of pages of tax information (e.g. legislation, cases, rulings, etc) and generate solutions for tax problems.

In 2017, an Adelaide practitioner designed and launched a law firm staffed solely by AI called the Artificially Intelligent Legal Information Research Assistant (Ailira), providing tax and estates law services. AI, like Ailira, breaks down the cost barriers to accessing legal and tax services and companies are adopting it because it removes the ‘fees’ of having humans sift through documents. 

“This will change how tax work is done because the software will be able to write routine letters, as well as complex advice, to clients,” Tom explains.

“The tax professional will still need to be on call to provide oversight and to exercise judgment over the solutions that AI generates, particularly in more nuanced areas.”

With reports estimating 40 per cent of Australian jobs to be automated by 2025, McKinsey predicts that approximately 22% of the tax professionals job will be replaced and approximately 35% of those in an assistant role.

“Advisers will need specialised tax knowledge so that they can continue to add value and remain relevant to their clients,” Tom says. 

“Continual professional education and lifelong learning is a must, including keeping abreast of emerging technological solutions.”

Practical learning

Tom says CTA1 Foundations helps advisers structure their tax knowledge base from the outset, which can then be built on in the more advanced subjects and in their day-to-day work.

“The program is highly practical so candidates develop the skills necessary to solve common problems that clients present,” he says.

“This enables candidates to apply what they’ve learned in their day-to-day work. There are examples and case studies throughout the subject that consider real-world scenarios and assist candidates in improving their applied tax knowledge. 

“The subject will help candidates ascertain their clients’ tax liabilities and advise them about relevant tax issues.

“The education program also equips candidates with some skills to prepare tax returns and activity statements,” adds Tom.

Perseverance is critical
Tom’s advice to new practitioners is to keep learning and be patient doing so.

“I would advise new practitioners to continuously update their knowledge and skills so they remain relevant to clients,” he says.

“The Tax Institute’s education programs and professional development conferences are an excellent opportunity to do this as well as to expand your network.

Tax practitioners of the future require deep technical knowledge complemented with broader technology and business skills, such as leadership and problem solving, which cannot be automated yet.

“It is important to be patient in your learning of the tax system as there is so much to learn.

“But don’t give up: perseverance is critical as you work to deepen your understanding of the tax system,” he adds.

It’s not too late to hit your career goals in 2018. Find out more about building your foundations of tax with the Institute’s CTA1 Foundations subject. Enrolments close soon.


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