5 minute read 28 Mar 2018
selection tax candidates shown touchscreen

Four key skills for tomorrow’s tax professional


Jay Nibbe

EY Global Vice Chair – Markets

Innovative and forward-thinking go-to-market leader helping EY clients worldwide achieve their goals. Technology enthusiast and part-time wine producer.

5 minute read 28 Mar 2018

To satisfy increased C-suite demand for tax insights, future tax professionals will need a far broader skill set.

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.

Candidates for a future tax job lined up in waiting room

3. The ability to be a C-suite influencer

Tax directors are increasingly becoming key players at the front-end of business strategy. With the international tax structure undergoing a fundamental overhaul in response to BEPS and other global tax initiatives, the tax department is being further drawn into a broader strategic business role.

Successful tax executives are developing closer relationships beyond finance, partnering more closely with operating business units while broadening their engagement across the C-suite. Increasingly, tax professionals must therefore collaborate with CEOs and CFOs in working through complex business decisions and risk management matrices. As disruptive trends continue to thrust tax professionals into key decision-making positions, they need to be strategic communicators and leaders who are capable of motivating a diverse team in order to meet their organization’s wider business goals.

4. Adaptability as part of a more purposeful, contingent workforce

Companies are increasingly being challenged to leverage a more mobile, “on-demand” global workforce to deal with labor shifts and shortages. Sophisticated recruitment platforms now make it possible for organizations to employ “gig” workers on a temporary basis, so they are agile enough to scale resources to demand, and to cater to a new generation of workers looking for greater flexibility. At the same time, these workers are seeking a higher sense of meaning and purpose in the work they do, and are willing to move to different companies more rapidly to broaden their experiences.

Tax functions will need not only to adapt to emerging gig workforce trends, but also to optimize recruitment processes to train, manage and nurture a workforce with a new set of employee expectations. Companies will also need to make provision for the new set of motivators required for, and the new risks and challenges presented by, short-term employees in an increasingly contingent talent pool.

Business-shapers of the future

With so many forces at play — from globalization to the arrival of BEPS — the tax function will continue to evolve toward a more automated business function led by a new generation of tech-savvy professionals. Many of the talent strategies that worked yesterday will no longer work tomorrow, and the demand for a more flexible approach to talent management is far greater than before.

As a new breed of tax professional emerges in this digital world, the tax function will continue to evolve, while its strategic decision-making position will remain as important as ever to an organization’s success.


Tax leaders must make sure their function is prepared to recruit, manage and nurture the very different tax professionals of tomorrow.

About this article


Jay Nibbe

EY Global Vice Chair – Markets

Innovative and forward-thinking go-to-market leader helping EY clients worldwide achieve their goals. Technology enthusiast and part-time wine producer.