Wanted: strategic business advisor, diplomat, analyst and savvy technologist to work in … tax?
While it may come as a surprise, this kind of job spec will become increasingly familiar in the world of tax. Once the skill set of a senior tax executive was centered predominantly on extensive knowledge of how to apply complex rules. But now, disruptive forces, including globalization and digitalization, mean that the skills necessary to be a successful tax professional are undergoing a remarkable evolution.
Every year at our Young Tax Professional of the Year competition, we challenge budding tax talent from around the globe to tell us how they see the tax function of the future. Pioneering university tax programs are now striving to ensure that future tax professionals are equipped to deal with the challenges posed by real-time tax reporting advancements and new transparency requirements, driven by global initiatives such as the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project.
The war for tax talent has never been fiercer. While a strong technical orientation will remain important, the tax professional of the future will need to have a more rounded skill set, including the following four key competencies:
1. An understanding of how to apply robotics, AI and automation
Tax function roles typically involve standard processes. Companies that invest in robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and process automation will be able to automate much resource-heavy, repetitive tax work. This will allow companies to quickly dispense with the more mundane tasks that are carried out thousands of times a day. In turn, more challenging work for tax professionals should be the outcome.
Tax professionals will therefore need to develop new skills and an understanding of how to apply new cutting-edge technologies. And recruiters will be seeking to headhunt individuals from non-traditional backgrounds. Indeed, an increasing number of the next generation of tax professionals will come from science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.
2. The capacity to analyze data in real-time
Until recently, tax advisers were relied upon to understand the rules and to advise the business on the tax consequences in the jurisdictions where business was conducted. As the world has become more digital, and as tax collection is automated, introducing almost “real-time” assessment, companies are investing in technology to digitize their reporting processes.
These changes create real-time data, which businesses need to extract, analyze and validate to ensure the appropriate tax rules are applied to the information it generates. The emergence of the “tax technologist” — who understands data analytics as well as the tax rules — can support the development of real-time tax dashboards and visualization techniques, to offer game-changing opportunities for tax professionals to add value in new ways. This is driving a wholesale shift in the competencies required by tax functions the world over. And, ultimately, it will reshape the talent dynamic across the whole profession.