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How to lead a tax practice to manage digital transformations

Emily VanVleet and Denise Hintzke from Deloitte speak to ITR about how they manage their tax practices and client relationships amid constantly changing reporting requirements and technological advancements.

Tax policies are changing at a faster rate today than a decade ago, particularly when it comes to reporting requirements. This is matched by the speed of change in technology.

Emily VanVleet, tax partner and leader of Deloitte’s US operations transformation for tax team, said the developments mean her department must continually work with clients who are reimagining the work of tax and creating the future.

“Each experience leads to further innovation and transformation in the next instance, and we are continuously learning and applying new tools and techniques,” VanVleet told ITR. “The most important success factor for staying ahead is an open mind and a nimble approach.”

Having the skills to be flexible and adapt to developments quickly are crucial for both tax advisors and taxpayers because technology is advancing as such as a fast rate.

“We should all expect that in five years’ time that we’ll be working with technologies that haven’t yet been invented, and that means that we need to stay nimble, continue to monitor developments in the tax, finance and technology environments, and be ready to experiment and adopt new approaches,” said VanVleet.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many people are working. For VanVleet, it has changed how she manages herself and leads others.

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“I’ve had to accept the fact that I cannot work continuously without breaks, and, of course, no one can. Managing our energy and well-being has to be an individual priority for each of us,” she told ITR.

“From an operational standing, shorter, more frequent touchpoints in my group have become key to sustaining communication and keeping work on track, as well as continuing to build personal connections as individuals,” added VanVleet.

Meanwhile, Denise Hintzke, managing director in the US financial services tax practice and leader of Deloitte’s global information reporting practice, began her tax career 35 years ago, when the tax sector was very different. Reflecting on her experience, she said that although there is not much she would change about her career, she does wish she had spent some time earlier in her career focusing a bit more on becoming data and technology savvy.

“Having begun my career 35 years ago, at times, I experienced situations where I was not taken as seriously or offered some of the same opportunities as my male colleagues,” said Hintzke.

“Those experiences have probably led to my deliberate effort to consider what my colleagues with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives were bringing to the table,” she said.

Discussing the importance of diversity, Hintzke believes that taking the time to educate herself on unconscious biases made her aware that she could do more to build a stronger and more diverse team.

“I quickly learned that the more diverse and inclusive my team was, the better we performed,” said Hintzke. “As a leader at Deloitte, I am committed to fostering an inclusive culture and creating an environment where all team members feel supported and can contribute their unique perspectives.”

For junior lawyers joining the tax profession, Hintzke said that while both specialist and generalist skills are valuable, “the art of choosing the right field is considering an area that is both complex and growing”.

“People with global information reporting experience and expertise are in high demand across the financial services and fintech industries as well as with accounting and law firms,” Hintzke noted.

However, she concluded that tax professionals should also be comfortable with data and have a strong grasp of leading technologies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend towards tax digitalisation, digital transformation and the need for strong data management as global reporting requirements increase. As taxpayers and revenue authorities race to improve efficiency and compliance with technology, tax professionals have an opportunity to learn skills and adapt for a more dynamic future in tax.

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