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A photo from the Accounting Excellence Awards | AccountingWEB | How to win tax team of the year
Accounting Excellence

Tax teams face automation and HMRC challenges

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Tax teams face constant challenges from HMRC regulations and automation. We asked Accounting Excellence judge Jeremy Coker what it takes to win Tax Team of the Year.

21st May 2024
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From dealing with HMRC to the rise of automation and the spectre of Making Tax Digital for Income Tax, tax teams and professionals have been beset by constant challenges. 

Last year, the tax team at BKL lifted the trophy for Tax Team of the Year at the Accounting Excellence Awards for navigating the aforementioned challenges due to their focus on staff development and automation. But who will pick up the prize this year? 

A photo of Jeremy CokerThe best person to ask is one of the Tax Team of the Year judges. So we caught up with Jeremy Coker (pictured left), the past president of the Association of Taxation Technician and a partner at Oury Clark, to find out the challenges this year’s crop of entrants have to contend with, and what they need to do to separate themselves from the other contenders.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.  

What have been some of the biggest challenges facing tax professionals and teams over the past 12 months?

I think a lot of what's going on in the tax world is triggered by the political situation. Policies seem to be made for political as opposed to tax reasons. And essentially, we as tax advisers and firms have to adapt to accommodate these changes. 

Poor HMRC service levels have only added to the challenges. In my personal view, the Revenue is under-resourced. Every day I see complaints coming through that have arisen because you haven't been able to get a response from HMRC on time. 

The amount of time it takes to resolve issues can now be so disproportionate to the actual benefit you or the client gets. It's very often now a question of, whether you can recover the time spent to resolve the problem.

How has the increase in automation changed client expectations?

There is an increasing reliance on software to do the heavy lifting. That increasing reliance on software seems to have made some not apply the same amount of caution in the review processes that you'd normally have.

The speed of technology has also changed expectations in other areas. In this day and age, you'll receive an email from a client and they want a response in under 15 minutes because they know you've received it. The email will also include a comment saying, “Well, I put it into ChatGPT and this is what it said". You now have to answer both the query and convince them that their automated response might not be correct, in the same amount of time 

Increased automation has to be accommodated by firms. But more and more we are being asked to do things, by clients who think it can all be done by the click of a button. 

What does excellence look like for tax teams and professionals? 

First and foremost, in the ever-changing world of tax, excellence is about having the willingness to accommodate change and be flexible.  

Secondly, talent retention and recruitment across the profession is really hard, so firms need to have the kind of culture that makes people want to come and work for you - and stay. They also need to have enough talent in-house to retain the quality of their service. Middle management is often where the skill set and experience is. If you lose that client knowledge, then you are exposing yourself because it doesn't free senior management to drive the firm forward.  

Connected to this, there is the need for robust training in firms. As a result of the increase in remote working, new trainees don’t have the training that their tax colleagues had in the past. This goes beyond tax compliance and covers soft skills and managing client expectations. Trainees will instinctively want to respond to emails straight away.

This need is driven by their day-to-day life where they’ll instantly reply to a WhatsApp message, but this creates challenges in a professional environment. By all means draft a response but please share it with a senior colleague first.

And as always, excellence comes from client satisfaction. You can do surveys but your clients will often tell you if you’re doing a good job; and consequently, your bottom line will speak for itself. You want the client to be happy knowing they're paying the right amount of tax.

And finally, excellence is about knowing your limits. Every firm needs to know what they can do and what they can't. We are in a profession, and the basic guidelines say, if you can't do it, don't. If you know someone who can, by all means recommend them or work with them. Know your limits, but within your limits, be able to excel.

What tips would you give entrants looking to enter the Tax Team of the Year award? 

You need to be able to say how you stand out from other firms. You might simply be different because you do a tax return better than anybody else. But that is still your unique selling point. You need to then emphasise it. This is not the time for self deprecation. 

And if you spend your time writing in a technical manner to your colleagues, forget that when you do your entry. Write your entry in a manner that is easy for the judges to assimilate.

What does it mean to win an Accounting Excellence award? 

You're being judged by experts in the profession who have the skill and experience to assess what you have put forward. So if you were to win an award, you need to know that it's not luck! It's because you are worth it!

Winning the award gives you a whole year of saying that you are the best tax team of the year, or whatever category you enter. So make a lot of noise about it. 

Not everybody can actually win an award. Many are called few are chosen, but in all honesty, even just to be nominated is impressive. So if you're nominated, turn up because you are one of the best.

Enter this year’s Accounting Excellence Awards and you could be taking home the Tax Team of the Year Award, sponsored by Wolters Kluwer. 

Replies (4)

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By FactChecker
21st May 2024 17:36

Rather a lot of soundbites ... "excellence is about having the willingness to accommodate change and be flexible" + "excellence comes from client satisfaction" + "excellence is knowing your limits" ... but I guess that's expected nowadays, and it's all sound stuff.

But I'm puzzled by one of the opening quotes: "Policies seem to just be made for political reasons, as opposed to tax reasons."
Is Jeremy not aware that tax reasons are *meant* to be driven by policies that are set by the party in power (or strictly speaking by Parliament if the ruling party can't muster a majority)?
I can understand not approving of a party's policies but that's the job of the political system.

However I would heartily concur with the unspoken (but possibly intended) criticism that the CS (inc HMRC) no longer seems to possess people with the right combination of practical experience and intelligence to ensure that those policies are turned into practical legislation and processes - which could then be operated effectively either by HMRC or by the taxpayer (both would be nice)!

Thanks (3)
Replying to FactChecker:
Richard Hattersley
By Richard Hattersley
21st May 2024 18:13

I don't want to talk for Jeremy, but I suspect he was referring to tax only becoming more complicated. Don't we all want tax to be a little bit simpler? As we know, decisions on either side of the political spectrum are made to win the hearts and minds of the voter, without thinking of the tax adviser who has to make sense of it.

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Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By FactChecker
21st May 2024 18:24

In which case we're all saying the same thing really - even if I'm a bit blunter!

The problem for the tax adviser starts well before they have to 'try making sense' of unnecessary complications - it's origins lie in the ineptitude of those tasked with turning policy into draft procedures, and in particular in turning the latter into a set of regulations and processes that can both be understood and operated back in the real world ('implemented' if you will).

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
22nd May 2024 10:19

Some decent commonsense comments in there. (Says I , now a few years distant from practice and likely well out of touch)

My favourite, the one that resonates, the one these days often ignored by some posters on here, is:

"And finally, excellence is about knowing your limits. Every firm needs to know what they can do and what they can't. "

This has always been the way but I do seem to detect less knowing your limitations these days (maybe that is my grumpy old man stage showing itself), the posts that say, well if I never do x how do I learn it which patently ignore they are using their clients as guinea pigs and charging them for the privilege.

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