Why Tax Agents Need To Advocate More For Their Profession

In all the recent media coverage of the fall-out from the ABC’s Four Corners report on the ATO’s handling of debt-recovery, the voice of tax professionals has been notably quiet. The report itself only showed the views the Australian Tax Office and the taxpayers who have allegedly been poorly-treated. No tax agent’s opinion was presented.

While we don’t know the ABC’s reason for that – perhaps some agent’s opinions were sought but edited out of the final cut – the fact remains that tax agents weren’t seen as vital to that discussion.

Was it due to a lack of public perception about what tax agents do? If so, what can we do about it?

The role of the tax agent

Let’s look at the role of the tax agent/accountant in its simplest form.

A tax agent has responsibility for preparing, managing, and submitting tax returns and statements to the Australian Taxation Office on behalf of individual clients and businesses. Tax agents also analyse and provide advice on financial and taxation matters, so they must have a detailed knowledge of the current regulations, acts, and laws related to this process.

Sometimes, tax laws and regulations can be viewed as something akin to a different language for many people, so tax agents effectively provide a translation or ‘go-between’ service and present the information to their clients in a manner that resonates with them. Then, in addition to explaining what the regulations are all about, agents are also in a unique position to offer advice that could benefit their client.

There is some public perception that accountancy as a profession will disappear with the increase in online financial platforms and artificial intelligence. While there is no denying there will be fewer jobs, those that remain will still form a substantial and vital part of the financial industry.

A matter of trust

No matter how many new online financial platforms emerge and how quickly they can generate automated reports and approve loans, people will always prefer to seek advice from a human being they can trust. A person who can hear their story and who cares about what happens to them.

Even though taxpayers have had the option to submit their own tax returns online for years, as our tax laws become increasingly more complex, many still prefer to get a tax agent to review their facts and figures and submit returns and other forms on their behalf to help ensure they get it right.

Another factor that can sometimes come into play is that, as a society, we are less trusting of our governments and ‘the system’ than we used to be. There’s no denying that governments around the world continue to do things that make us shake our heads in sorrow and dismay. They keep doing things to break our trust on key issues, so we tend not to trust them about anything, even those areas of government that are doing a lot of good and are making our lives easier. Although this is a global issue, it does have ramifications for Australian governments, regardless of who’s in power.

As intermediaries between the public and the government, agents can do a lot to reassure people that the ATO is giving them a fair deal and to help them find tax rulings that work in their favour.

Raising the profile of your profession

Are you comfortable with telling people your profession? Are you proud of the work you do? If so, are you doing your bit to promote general understanding of the positive nature of your role?

Of course, you probably do this already in your day to day conversations with clients, family, and friends. But you can help to increase awareness and respect for your role in the wider community, too. If you are not sure how, here are some ideas to consider:

  • Put pressure on industry bodies, such as CPA Australia, to ensure they continue to actively promote the role of tax agents to the public.
  • Promote awareness yourself. Get on social media and comment on related articles to give your personal perspective as a tax agent.
  • Start your own blog. If you regularly find that you’ve got questions, insights or opinions you’d like to share about financial topics, why not try writing your own weekly or monthly blog? You never know where this avenue may take you.

Finally, you are always welcome to send your feedback and ideas for future episodes to the From The Trenches team on Twitter and Facebook. We’d love to hear from you.

 

Call to action

Many of the themes in this article came from Episode 54 ATO’s Debt Process presented by Paul Meissner and David Boyer. Paul & David are passionate CA's who care deeply about the accounting industry.

Paul quit his accounting day job seven years ago and now owns and runs the Melbourne-based firm, 5ways Group Chartered Accountants, and his online Freedom Accounting System firm which allows him to travel and work from anywhere.

For the last 4 years, David has worked as a Virtual CFO. At the start of 2016 he co-founded the Virtual CFO Association and in December 2016 his company, Sequel VCFO began franchising to mobilise the experienced work force of accountants in industry and bring their expertise to SMEs.

Together with their impressive list of guest presenters, Paul and David are the brave souls needed to fight through the noise and give accountants in practice the support and information they deserve.

 

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ATO Debt Process