The changing face of the tax advisor

Over the last decade the role of the tax advisor has changed, there is an increasing demand for tax advisors to have a non-technical skill set to complement their tax knowledge. Historically, these soft skills were typically only required to be used by the more senior advisors of the profession, but having non-technical skills is now needed by tax professionals at all levels, from assistants through to partners.

In my latest article, following on from our event held in conjunction with LinkedIn and Mark Body (Tax Transformation Director at KPMG), I will discuss the soft skills that are becoming increasingly in demand and more acquainted with today's tax advisor. From speaking to clients, it is clear that having this skill set will assist in progressing their career to the highest level.

What is the reason for the increase in demand for this skill set? Are clients more demanding? Are professional services firms trying to develop a new breed of tax advisors? Or are we seeing a flow of new generation of tax advisors - ones that have been brought up with technology as an extension of their being and in a world were personal development at work is paramount? Whatever the reason, we can’t ignore the fact that those who have these skills in addition to their technical knowledge are likely to progress to the top their career.

Technical skills can be taught and everyone can learn them. Soft skills require more than reading an article like this one and some people find them far more natural to possess than others. For those of you that need further insight, highlighted below some of the soft skills that I believe tax advisors should possess (or at least be aware of) if they want to reach the top of their profession.
Personal Branding

Being honest, I never understood the requirement or effectiveness of personal branding until one of my Partners within the Big 4 discussed this with me. Your biggest selling tool – whether it be in your personal or professional life is your brand. What do you stand for, what do you want to achieve and how can you do this? Everything you do from your communication skills, social networking, and your personal appearance create a personal brand. Personal branding requires personal development, listening to your peers, working with different people to understand different styles and from this formulating your own personal brand.

More emphasis is being placed in the professional world on understanding an individual and what they stand for, so take the time to consider yours and refine on a consistent basis.

Effective networking

I'll start with networking in person. Anyone can network, it's a simple as just saying "hi" to the person next to you but being effective requires a little more effort. We've all been at networking events when the small talk is painful and you would much rather check your emails or facebook, but it doesn’t need to be like that. Being an effective networker requires you to not just listen but understand what you are being told, asking intelligent questions and thinking of ways of how your new contact can assist you personally or your business and vice versa.

Online networking is just as important as networking in person. LinkedIn is the dominant social media networking channel for working professionals so having an up-to-date profile and showcasing your skills is paramount. Also, being able to join relevant groups, write articles or blogs in areas you are passionate about and participating in group discussions will all improve your personal branding and enhance your reputation.

Having a commercial mind-set

You will hear the term ‘commerciality’ or ‘commercial mind-set’ but what does this actually mean? Typically, being ‘commercial’ was bestowed upon the Partners or Heads of Tax of this world, but not anymore. For those of you who have had discussions with me most recently, you will know that the landscape of the tax advisor has changed and it is far more than being technically sound.

Today, more professional services firms are expecting their tax advisors to have business acumen and thinking about more than the issue at hand. One of the most obvious ways is to cross sell and see what other areas your client requires assistance with. Whilst tax advisors would usually stick to their discipline (whether that be personal tax, corporate tax or indirect tax), the savvy professionals will think about how they can cross sell their businesses services to clients. This will create a good impression to both the client and senior management.

Having a holistic approach to giving tax advice

Gone are the days when a tax advisor provides a simple answers a clients need. The tax professional who advances their career sooner understands how their advice will impact the client. Taking the time to discover you client’s business strategy and targets will enable you to provide better quality tax advice.

Tying in from having a commercial mind-set, by understanding your clients business and their long term strategy (which will be achieved by asking questions!) will allow you to tailor your advice and potentially future-proof your clients tax requirements.

Digitisation will change the role of the tax advisor

There have been many articles discussing HMRC's plan to digitise tax (Brewer Morris compiled a report which can be requested here). However, whilst it may not be the latest news it's still important to understand that digitisation will happen. Whether that is from 2020 as HMRC plan or at a later date, it's enviable. When it does happen the role of the tax advisor will have to evolve to be more consultative and relationship driven.

Tax professionals merging with legal or accountants to provide and end-to-end service

One final thought to mention is that with the constant need for evolution of the advisor, it is interesting to note that legal services within some of the Big 4 are working far more closely with tax advisory teams. This suggests that clients require end to end services, opposed to receiving one piece of a puzzle. It would appear to me that those with the ability to be agile in their thinking, and have a general awareness of matters outside their area of expertise are the ones that will add the most value to both their clients and their employer.

In summary, the profession is constantly evolving and with the changes in digitisation as well as the increasing importance of developing your personal brand, the role of the tax advisor will essentially be more focused on being a rounded business person with both tax advice and commercially at the forefront.