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Boots walking | AccountingWEB | Staying one step ahead in tax
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Staying one step ahead in tax

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Chris Smith of the award-winning tax team at BKL has spoken to AccountingWEB about the need to develop and grow in an industry moving at pace.

29th Apr 2024
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The tax team at BKL is forever finding ways to stay one step ahead. Advances in technology mean the firm can’t and therefore won’t sit still, director Chris Smith has told AccountingWEB, adding that the next generation of advisers are doing their learning in a “very different industry” to what it was 25 years ago.

Smith noted that the team is always keeping an eye on tech. “If there’s a product or offering that enhances the way we do things, our efficiencies or client services, then we explore it. That could just be a small tweak of internal procedures that the client won’t even see but it benefits us.”

He looks back to lockdown, with BKL already having Teams primed and ready to go. “The next day, everybody was working at home,” he said. “You come across firms that have been sitting with the same software offering for donkey’s years and haven’t changed one bit. That’s something we haven’t done because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We’re always looking.”

Different space

However, Smith believes technology also has its disadvantages, as the Accounting Excellence Tax Team of the Year 2023 looks to grow.

“I’ve been within the tax industry for 25-plus years now and it’s such a different space from where it was. It used to have a lot more emphasis on technical ability and a lot more technical expertise. The downside of having IT is that it can make processes very simple and you can lose an element of thought.”

He noted that getting people through exams is great but they’ve “got to apply that technical knowledge”.

“So development of current staff is a difficult one but then equally you’ve got the challenge of bringing in new staff.

“It’s not just tax – it’s the accounting world as well. It’s a huge issue, recruitment of good staff.

“We don’t have as big a challenge as other firms but that’s partly because of what we’ve done, whether it be a quality office refurbishment, having IT systems in place, expertise or quality clients. We’re pushing on all of those levels.

“I think for those firms that aren’t pushing on every level, it’s going to be a challenge.”

Smith believes the work being done by the tax team – including the “huge efforts” made in both environmental, social and governance (ESG) and becoming a B Corp – is paying off.

“When we’re interviewing and make an offer, we like to think most of the time they accept it. There’s always going to be reasons why somebody might not choose you – like if they want to work for a Big Four or in a different area – but we back ourselves to get that individual in because of the offering from a number of different areas.”

Trying to do more

However, he added that there’s always room for improvement.

“We’re a big tax team in our office, so we continue to grow and develop naturally. We’re always looking at stronger recruits and pushing for bigger client work, so with that comes different challenges and natural progression anyway.

“There’s always that – trying to do more and harder.”

Keeping pace

He also spoke about the cost of keeping pace. “Our expenditure will no doubt be a lot higher – from an IT perspective – than other firms, and that could scare a lot of practices,” he said. “It’s a natural area where you can say: ‘Why do we need to explore?’

“It’s that need not to be stale. It’s not all profit-driven for today – it’s thinking about where you are tomorrow.

“There’s a bigger picture to it as well. If you’ve got systems in place that are very archaic and make new recruits’ lives difficult, it’s just another notch to say: ‘I’m not going to come to that firm’.”

So far as growing the practice goes, Smith put the focus on client service “because we recognise that’s the biggest referrer of work”.

“You need to look after the current client base and make sure you’ve got that rounded offering and you’re the trusted adviser – that’s where your next job is likely to come from.

“There’s always that drive to look after them and not treat the client you’ve had for 10–15 years as just average – you’ve got to make sure you’re doing everything you can.”

Element of quality

Smith ended by defining excellence in tax. “I think there has to be an element of quality. There has to be an element of strength and reassurance on the advice. A lot of people can give tax advice but interestingly, it can be quite a grey area, right? And opinionated.

“So it’s whose opinion do you listen to within the tax world when it becomes grey?

“I think it’s being a trusted adviser where somebody says: ‘I’m comfortable with that answer’.”

The Tax Team of the Year award – sponsored by Wolters Kluwer – honours those that have mastered self assessment season or have navigated clients through the increasingly complex tax landscape. It is not practice-specific and is open to any specialist tax teams or to tax departments with teams of two or more people. If that sounds like you, enter today.

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