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Tax technology: Outpacing the pace of change

Jan 15 blog postThe world is changing, but you already know that. As CPAs, we understand the quickening pace of technological, legislative and demographic changes because we see them influencing each step of our professional lives.

To be our best, we must out-maneuver and outsmart the changes that lie ahead before they ever happen. That means finding new ways to use technology to enhance what we do and how we do it.

The AICPA Tax Section recently released a Tax Technology Resource Center to help you do just that. Here are some of the highlights of how you can embrace technology trends and make the most of the exciting progression of our tax profession.

Propelling tax technology into the future

Robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and business intelligence tools allow CPAs in corporate tax to do more strategic thinking and planning and less data processing while placing an emphasis on tax information and operations management, using systems and tools that automate processes and decrease risks and errors.

From a public accounting perspective, technologies such as tax software, practice management workflow tools, virtual meeting software and document management tools are all evolving to meet our needs. The good news is that we can use this technology to access more data and insights to serve our clients better.

The bad news is that competitors are using this technology with their clients, too. For example, H&R Block partnered with IBM Watson — a cognitive computing tool that quizzes clients about their taxes, looking for significant events that may trigger tax savings. As a CPA, I wouldn’t worry too much. We’re the hub for clients’ tax strategy and should continue to focus on what we do best, which is far more than asking robotic questions of our clients and filling out forms.

Attaining superior insights with big data

Accountants have been analyzing tax data to provide insight as long as tax has existed. The idea of “big data” and data analytics isn’t a new concept. What is new is the amount of data now available to us.

As the quantity of data grows and becomes more complex, we’re finding ourselves in information overload. If there’s too much unstructured data, stakeholders can’t make well-informed decisions. Tax professionals can fall into the trap of focusing most, if not all, of their time on getting the forms filed and tax payments made rather than focusing on long-term strategies. That’s where we need better tools to do our jobs.

Firms can use robotic process automation and AI to become more streamlined, accurate and efficient. Sophisticated business intelligence tools are used to connect multiple data points and display excellent real-time visuals to help decision makers across the profession. Aiding clients with their business intelligence could become a new service offering for your firm.

Embracing the value of the human being

Maya Angelou said: “People may not remember what you did or what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.” No technology will be able to rival your human connection. Although technology tools are crucial to the long-term success of our profession, people are still an essential element of what we do.

Changes to communications technologies help CPAs and their clients keep the conversations going beyond in-office appointments. Virtual meetings can save on the travel costs for many businesses and allow CPAs to serve their clients all over the world, eliminating geographical boundaries. (This resource can help explain these changes.)

Many of us find ourselves getting lost in the spreadsheets and day-to-day compliance work. We must step back and think of the real value we can add to our clients and businesses. Then we can take a hard look at the technologies affecting how we do business and see what we can do to move our firms into the future. Don’t be scared of new technologies. Embrace them and see where they lead you.

Susan Allen, CPA/CITP, CGMA, Senior Manager - Tax Practice and Ethics, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

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