The role of the tax advisor, and even the perception of one, has changed quite dramatically over the years and there is an increasing demand for tax advisors to bring more to the table than their technical skills. There is a real need for soft skills to be used in the industry to compliment an advisor’s technical skill set. Traditionally, these soft skills concerned only the ‘senior advisors’ in the profession, but this is no longer the case, and advisors should recognise this at the earliest opportunity within their careers to evolve with the profession.
I wondered what the reason for the increase in demand for this skill set was, and whether we are seeing an influx of ‘nextgen’ tax advisors – ones that have been brought up with technology as an extension of their personal and professional development? Or maybe clients want to speak with professionals who can communicate opposed to bamboozle? Whatever the reason, a mixed skill set is extremely valuable, and certainly assists professionals in progressing within their tax careers.
Technical skills can be taught and everyone can learn them. Soft skills require more awareness and understanding in both professional and social settings, and some people find them far more natural to possess than others. For those of you that need further insight, highlighted below are some of the soft skills that I believe tax advisors should possess (or at least be aware of) in order to evolve with the profession.
Adopting a commercial mind-set and business acumen
You are likely to have heard the terms ‘commerciality’ or ‘business acumen’ within the workplace, but what do these actually mean? 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 which requires you to think about much more than just the [tax] issue at hand. This requires confidence to ask questions of your clients, delve a bit deeper into the rationale and see if there is anything else that they need 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 services to clients. This will create a good impression on both the client and your senior management.
Be Holistic in your approach
As alluded to above, being a tax advisor is not just about providing an answer to the question asked by a client. The tax professional who advances their career sooner understands how their advice will impact the client. Therefore, it is so important that you take the time to understand your client’s business strategy and potential targets, as this will enable you to provide better quality tax advice. This also rings true for advisors who are in house – be more curious as to how what you are doing affects the business! Not only will it show more engagement, it’s likely to enable more enjoyment too.
Understanding your client’s 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.
When I first started out in the Big 4, there was no emphasis placed on personal branding whatsoever, or if it was, it was for the Partners to work on. However, these days, it is vital for every advisor to be aware of their personal brand. Your biggest selling tool as an individual in both professional and personal life is your brand. It’s worth asking yourself questions such as; How do I want to be perceived? What am I wanting to achieve? What direction do I want my career path to take? Everything you do from your communication skills, social networking, and your personal appearance (both online and in person) creates your 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 your brand, and refine and reflect as you develop in your career.
2020 has made networking much more difficult than in previous times, but there are still ways in which you can network within your communities. 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. In 2020, however, it is also advisable to look to join relevant groups, participate in online events and get involved in group discussions; all of this will improve your personal branding and enhance your reputation.
When we resume seeing people face to face, it’s important to recognise that networking in person is not as daunting as people believe it to be. A simple ‘hello’ is a great conversation starter as chances are, they are feeling the same as you. However, do try to apply a little more effort – make the time effective! Being an effective networker requires you to not just listen, but understand what you are being told, and to ask intelligent and thought-provoking questions. And finally, when you do make a new contact, don’t just put their business card in your drawer – ask yourself how they can assist you personally/professionally, and vice versa.
You may have seen my previous article on the enhancements of technology within the profession, and it’s quite obvious that technology cannot be ignored by professionals seeking to advance in their careers. HMRC’s plan to digitise tax has not been completed this year. It’s a work in progress, however, and you should take the time to become more aware of the changes and the uses new technology will bring! When technology is more dominant, the role of the tax advisor will (in some cases) most likely evolve to be more consultative and relationship driven.
The relationship between the legal and tax profession
As the profession is evolving and there are new teams being set up to focus on evolving areas such as technology, one area that is also evolving and integrating within the tax profession (particularly within the Big 4) is legal services. This proves that clients are requiring end to end services, as opposed to receiving one piece of a puzzle. Whilst a tax advisor is not expected to provide legal advice, having the awareness, and understanding of when this is required is paramount. Therefore, it would appear that advisors who have 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.
The tax profession is constantly evolving, and the role of the tax advisor is likely to become more focused on being a rounded business person with both tax advice and commerciality at the forefront of what you do. If you’d like to discuss this further, please comment below, or get in touch with us here at AVTR!