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Tax is Changing – Elaine Kinsella

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

As part of our tax is changing series, we had the pleasure of speaking with Elaine Kinsella, Director and Head of Tax at Old Mill Group. Elaine is unique in the tax world, as she has a very clear mission to exploit the tools and technologies currently available and under development to support their tax advisory service to clients, whilst at the same time maximising their wealth of expertise.

Read on to find out where this vision came from and what is important for Elaine and Old Mill Group in the future of tax.

What prompted you to think about the role of technology in your tax advisory service at Old Mill Group?

“The reason we chose to look to technology was quite simple really.  We realised that when we looked across every other part of the business, we had systems in place to support our advisors in the client conversation and in developing the right solutions. So why was tax different? Tax is a service, why should it be treated differently?”

What made you so sure you could achieve a refreshed tax advisory approach?

“I took my confidence from a specific part of our business; Financial Planning, which is a huge part of our business, and which has undergone significant change, including the introduction of a lot of regulation. There was some doubt that systemising parts of the FP process couldn’t work.  But it does and really well!  If it was possible with financial planning, then surely it is possible to do in tax.

For Old Mill Group, FP is completely integrated with the rest of the business and we all work closely so that we have the ability to build on what we had learned from this part of our business.

I think it’s worth noting that no firms I have worked in have had a systemised approach to delivering tax advisory work. It simply is not the norm and we are certainly leading the way.”

How does this approach impact your tax people?

We have a great team here made up of people who are really motivated to pursue tax as a career but I could sense some frustration that we needed systems, processes and training in the business to help us to work consistently and to get it  right every time.

Our young tax recruits have had a very different experience to me, growing up with technology and they have a very different expectation of what technology can deliver and they expect there to be no limits.  They are switched on to the possibilities and we have embraced this as a firm.

What can the next generation of Tax Advisors learn from you as a tax leader?

“The important thing to stress is that there are no shortcuts. You can have expert technology skills and a perfect sales pitch, but there is no substitute to being excellent at tax. You need to be an expert. It is important for young people to understand the role today vs, what it used to be. Historically, being a tax advisor was all about knowledge, you were paid for your wealth of knowledge. However today, everybody can access knowledge, it’s so freely available.  So it’s important to understand that our value-add is derived from interpreting the knowledge and delivering robust advice. These are important skills that not everyone will naturally have.

What is one of the main challenges for tax professionals?

“Tax people always like to be right and to demonstrate their knowledge. But there is a particular skill in knowing what type of service your client wants:  a quick answer or a detailed piece of advice.  Knowing how to diagnose this requires experience.   Technology presents a massive opportunity to shape the role you want to have. If we get really creative, we can think what would be my ideal job be? What technology would I need? What tools do I need? Chances are they are probably already available, or nearly available.”

Are the tax roles at Old Mill Group changing?

“We always look to recruit the very best candidates but unfortunately tax is not something young people consider readily.  They often don’t get that being a tax advisor is different to the role of an accountant and that a tax-shaped hole is very different to an accountancy-shaped hole.

We need to do more to drive tax as a career option for young people and we are taking school-leavers into the firm now as well as graduates. This has worked brilliantly and been a great success. We have even recruited people as young as 16, maybe not in the tax team just yet, but why not?

What do you think the future of tax advisory is?

We need to be agile and continue to adapt.  That’s never going to change and I can also see that tax is now more global than ever before.

But most importantly, we have a really clear business model and know where we want to position ourselves in terms of service offering.  Some firms may decide to offer bargain basement, low margin services; whereas others will stick to high end, bespoke advisory. No matter where you are on the spectrum, firms who want a long future need to identify what their service offering is and what their business is going to look like.”

What advice would you give a young person looking to start a career in tax?

You will never ever be bored and that it is a great career for a person who constantly wants a new challenge. Get as much varied experience as possible and try to make sure you learn everything thoroughly. It’s not a space for superficial thinkers.  It is the most fabulous career, with really interesting work but you need to always evolve and adapt.

Be a team player.  Even if you are a lone practitioner, you will be working with other professionals inside or outside of your business. This is where the fun is and it is both exciting and rewarding!

I love tax, it’s a blast. If you get the right people it’s a really rewarding career and I’d encourage any young person to give it a try.

I also am really proud to work at Old Mill Group. Tax is supported by the whole business to keep ahead of the curve in modern business practice. You need the whole business to be on the same journey.

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