The UK tax system is set to experience the most significant change since the introduction of the self-assessment system in 1997. How the industry will look once these changes are fully integrated is still undecided, and a matter of intense speculation. We’ll be speaking with tax professionals nationwide to find out how they are preparing for the future.
We caught up with Jennie Brown, Director of Tax for Haines Watts Northampton, to find out what she thinks the challenges are for the tax profession today and into the future.
1. What are the main challenges facing tax professionals today?
“Over the past couple of years our profession has changed a lot, but this change was needed and it needs to continue. It has created a big shift in focus across many new areas that we now need to consider and prepare for, on top of the day job of delivering work to our clients and looking after our teams. “
Change is one of the biggest challenges for a tax professional. At times the number of different elements that we need to keep on top off can be overwhelming. Not only do we have ever-changing legislation, more importantly we have valuable client relationships to build and maintain. We are more than just “number crunchers”, we are holistic advisors to clients and this requires a big time investment to achieve.
One of the most significant changes for a tax professional today is the skillset required. As well as being technically brilliant, you need softer skills too – particularly communication skills – to be a successful trusted advisor. Because of this, the candidates we select for interview today are very different than those a few years ago.”
2. What do you think the future tax advisory team will look like?
“As tax transitions, I think there will naturally be those who want to lean towards compliance – this is likely to be those who have been in their positions for some time and feel less confident about change.
Efficiency and good systems will be key and should be encouraged.
On the whole I think teams will and should consist of a good mix of people. People with good interpersonal skills, who can hold conversations and those who can be difficult, ask lots of questions and probe and challenge. Of course we need technical expertise and qualifications are vital to back up and give credibility to the conversations we have, but I feel the people skills will become a more prominent quality we need. These skills will help us open up more conversations, get to know our clients better and build even stronger relationships.
Given the change in the tax landscape I think we are also going to see tax specialists in certain advisory areas, and a specialist person or team that a firm will utilise across regions as becoming common practice. I see three key areas (1) the specialist teams mentioned (2) people who can open up advisory opportunities and (3) technical teams to support the tricky and complex areas. ”
3. What soft skills do you look for when you are recruiting tax trainees/advisors?
“Enthusiasm, a can-do attitude, the ability to hold eye contact and have a good conversation. We want someone who wants to contribute, come up with ideas and someone who realises the importance of self-development.
In interviews I am always very honest that this is a time of change and with that comes reward and challenge. Trainees need to be prepared and understand the importance of their role from the start. However, I also think it is down to the person interviewing to make candidates aware of the opportunity that is available and how the tax profession can be an extremely interesting journey for someone to take. I also think it is important to explain that working in tax will benefit them in their personal and financial life’s and put into context a lot of what they hear on the news, radio and see in the paper, a lot earlier on in life than in many other professions.”
4. What excites you about the future of tax advisory?
“The opportunity for everyone who wants it is there. I don’t think I have ever seen a more challenging yet potentially rewarding time in my career as I see right now. Not only for myself but for my team members and the business as a whole. If we work together and focus on what the future needs to look like and how we are going to achieve it – it is all there.
Not only is this exciting for us as professionals but our clients will feel the benefit too. The all-round more holistic offering clients will get, will have a big impact on how they view the role of accountants in the future. We will become more integral than ever within our clients finances and/or businesses as their trusted advisor.”
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