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A New Generation Teaches the Old Guard About the Future of Tax

July 22, 2022, 8:45 AM

At least four different generations comprise the workforce of today, with the two oldest holding most of the leadership positions in tax, finance, and other traditional business units. The next generation representing the future of tax is defined by such attributes as agility, diversity, inclusiveness, and mobility, with one more standing out as a make-or-break criterion for employee engagement: purpose.

The new generation of tech-savvy tax professionals is telling us loud and clear about their broader priorities. As a profession, we must listen and help make that connection. This lesson to tax leaders became crystal clear this year when top leaders from EY, several global corporate clients, and Clodagh Power from the OECD’s Centre for Tax Policy Administration gathered recently as 10 young finalists competed for the title of EY Young Tax Professional of the Year.

Accounting faces the same tall task of attracting, inspiring, and retaining talent that plague many professional services today. We heard from some of the finest young minds in tax that they were not particularly aware of the opportunities for tax to make a difference in the world. That’s a problem.

Whereas the purpose of the tax function for the baby boom generation was to get the numbers right, the purpose for the up-and-coming professional is much more inspired by seeing the impact on the world at large. Young people want to know that what they’re doing has meaning beyond the numbers and that tax policies and practitioners can make a difference.

The most effective initiatives to connect tax with talent recognize the value of young minds and young perspectives, respond to their priorities, and show the next generation not only what is being done to support a purpose but also how they can have their own impact on the future. Over 11 years of conducting the global Young Tax Professional of the Year competition, we have added opportunities for deeper interaction with tax leaders by way of listening, coaching, training, mentoring, and networking throughout the competition. This year, a challenge to address sustainability showed how tax relies more on societal priorities and perspectives than on tax forms and reports.

Throughout this year’s program, regional leaders coached, trained, mentored, and networked with 43 competing semifinalists from around the world. And we listened, which helped us to create a customized curriculum for the top 10 finalists who joined the global leaders in Dubai.

As much as we shared our knowledge and experience, what we heard was certainly as enlightening. We heard about the need for us all—young and “experienced” alike—to take our knowledge of general issues to a deeper understanding of the causes and influencers on those issues before we explore solutions. We heard that a commitment to tax grows when we are exposed to potential solutions with a broader purpose.

Together, we found ways to rethink the connection of tax to critical aspects of sustainability, balancing environmental or social with economic impacts, and compared the corporate agenda of long-term value to government mandates. Our collaborative engagement inspired new thinking for us all—and I believe will also help to build sustainability in, and empowerment of, tax talent.

In this photo illustration, wind turbines are seen through a lightbulb at the Braes of Doune windfarm Feb. 14, 2007, in Stirling, Scotland.
Photographer: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Urja Maloo of India, the winner for 2022, came to the contest with a commitment to the environment and a boatload of knowledge. She had contributed her own time to beach clean-ups and more, so the topic of sustainability gave her an opportunity to connect her career with her priorities. Key strengths of her participation—extensive research and a deep intellectual understanding of the topic—formed the foundation of sound ideas and thoughtful discourse. Connecting environmental, social, and governance elements, Maloo examined the effect of the carbon border adjustment mechanism on developing countries by charging a fee for imports from high-carbon countries.

Matteo Lamaro of Italy won second place with practical approaches to tax policies that balance government finances with incentives. He focused on creating a balanced approach to carrots and sticks, using tax as the perfect instrument to address global warming. Applying technical knowledge from specific examples, such as the green building incentives in Italy, he was able to consider possible efficacy and extensions of some local initiatives to the collaborative international processes used by the OECD.

Gustav Sanchez, the third-place winner, who is based in the Philippines, explored the impact corporate tax can have on company’s sustainability strategies and the consequences raised by transparency on ESG report beyond the profit and less statement. His polished enthusiasm and presentation skills won interest and influence among leaders. These skills also showcased his clear interest in sustainable tax policies to use beyond the competition.

The winners were not the only impressive young professionals, as each could have been a strong candidate for a job in policy and corporate compliance areas. They knew the tools of tax, and the societal implications of tools like carbon taxes, to turn policy into behavior.

By combining knowledge of policy, technology, and purpose, this new generation of tax professionals and students is teaching us how tax can reinforce behaviors that improve the world for all of us. They don’t just understand the concept; they want to activate the potential for tax to underpin green initiatives. As they develop their careers, we can anticipate they will also explore ways to reinforce diversity, equity, and inclusiveness; strengthen business transparency; and provide the basis for global coordination and cooperation among countries. They also want to make sure that business decision-makers understand what motivates them, that money isn’t everything, and that mobility is about experience—not just climbing the corporate ladder.

I share a belief with those I spoke to among this next generation of leaders: that value-led sustainability is the innovation opportunity of a lifetime. Enterprises and people are inspired now more than ever to do the right thing, to collaborate, to innovate, and to accelerate to a more sustainable future. That’s true of sustainable talent as much as it is about green initiatives. Collectively, we can create financial, consumer, human, and societal long-term value for all stakeholders. When business works sustainably, the world works better—for business, people, and the planet. Whether at COP26, on the steps of the White House, or campuses around the world, that’s what this generation of tax professionals is saying.

The voices of youth are proposing more for our profession than ever before: deliver on purpose and make tax work. Use tax to help build a more sustainable world through reinforcing green initiatives, promoting diversity and equality, and strengthening business transparency.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., the publisher of Bloomberg Law and Bloomberg Tax, or its owners.

Author Information

Kate Barton is EY Global Vice Chair—Tax.

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