By Mark Morris
It’s a vexing question for those planning a career in tax.
In my 30 plus years in the profession I have never seen it face so many challenges simultaneously.
The most obvious change is of course digital disruption.
In part this is because the automatic exchange of data is about to balloon as information is transferred in real time as computers talk to each other in a common language using standard business reporting.
But it is also because of the investment being made around the world by Governments and business to effectively leverage their use of big data to make more informed decisions. This is even extending to the development of cognitive computing systems such as IBM’s ‘Watson’ system which can be applied to analyse unstructured data to provide answers to specific questions.
As a corollary much of the traditional tax compliance and process work will gradually diminish as data is collected, exchanged and analysed differently.
However, there are an array of other impending changes including, amongst others, a more informed and savvy public; greater cross border transactions as part of a more integrated world economy; increased offshoring especially of compliance work; more complex tax laws to prop up increasingly competitive tax regimes; a growing reliance on consumption taxes worldwide to provide a more stable revenue base; and an evolving international digital economy where labour, finance, and knowhow are mobile to an unprecedented degree.
Given this mix no-one can predict with absolute certainty where the tax jobs are going to be in 2020.
Nonetheless I believe there are some clear pointers as to how you can best plan a career in tax.
Firstly, the importance of being able to analyse big data in a meaningful way is becoming rapidly crucial to both revenue authorities and professional firms of all sizes.
From the ATO’s perspective it is their growth area as witnessed by the recent creation of their Smarterdata business unit which is not only focussed on analysing data but challenging paradigms as to how the ATO conducts its operations.
Increased globalisation has also heightened the need for businesses of all sizes to be transfer pricing compliant and develop defensible positions based on finding the most comparable data.
Accordingly, tax professionals wishing to augment their tax technical skills by developing business analytics expertise could well consider enrolling in a course such as the Master of Business Analytics and Graduate Diploma in Business Analytics run by La Trobe University’s Business School as the combination of such skills will be in high demand in coming years.
Secondly, if compliance work goes down rest assured the taxation laws will not become any easier.
Whilst many talk about deregulation the tax rules have only become more complex especially for governments worldwide struggling to plug a revenue shortfall.
One only has to witness the complexity of our general anti-avoidance provisions to realise how inordinately complex our tax system has become particularly the recent amendments which will supposedly crack down on international profit shifting.
Going forward what clients will require of their advisers is the ability to work with them in disseminating such complexity and providing viable commercial solutions.
Accordingly, the way in which tax is taught at both an undergraduate and postgraduate level must radically change so that students not only absorb the complexity of the tax law but develop the interpersonal skills to service clients and build referral networks in a more global economy.
This is one of the key reasons why blended learning is being introduced by the Business School as it is encouraging students to not only develop better analytical capacities but also to work in teams to collaboratively resolve issues just like they will be required to do in the workplace.
Finally, whilst the future is daunting in some respects it is critical to remember that accountants repeatedly top the list of most trusted adviser to clients. If you are overwhelmed with change so are your clients and if you need to adapt to changing circumstances so will many of them.
Keeping your clients close will be more important than ever before as will the need to provide timely, accurate and value added services and the willingness to be adaptive and agile.
Mark Morris is a Professor of Practice in Taxation at La Trobe University’s Business School where he teaches both undergraduate and postgraduate taxation and actively contributes to broader industry engagement initiatives between the Business School and the tax profession and other key stakeholders.
Mark also Co-Chaired the ATO’s ‘Future of the Tax Profession 2016’ working group with Colin which comprises senior representatives from the ATO, professional bodies, software developers and practitioners concerning the implementation of the ATO’s standard business reporting initiative.
He has over 30 years experience in senior tax roles in chartered accounting, industry and professional bodies including his former long-term role as Senior Tax Counsel with CPA Australia.