What did you want to grow up to be when you were little?
That last one probably wasn’t on the list. But it might be in the future. Increasingly, companies and firms are creating positions that might not have existed a few years—or even months—ago.
There’s always a tax angle
Consider the response to the war in Ukraine. In a conversation with Bloomberg Tax this week, Kate Barton, global vice chair of EY, noted that clients are seeking out advice not only on how to leave Russia, but also how to deal with ongoing business relationships in that area of the world. Companies are increasingly looking for individuals who can take over newly created roles—like a “sanctions czar"—and those are often tax-related. That makes sense as so much of the unwinding is tied to financial data, as well as tax rules and treaties that are generally the purview of tax departments.
The same applies to the OECD Inclusive Framework on BEPS, or base erosion and profit shifting. In October 2021, nearly 140 countries agreed to pursue a global tax agreement. However, reaching consent on the particulars of that agreement is proving to be complicated, with companies increasingly seeking to understand how those negotiations might impact their bottom line. And not all companies are prepared to deal with additional reporting demands—it will likely require stepping up modernization efforts, says Barton. And the responsibility of making that happen could fall to those likely to need it the most—the tax and accounting departments.
It’s not just international issues that are demanding a second look. Tax departments played a critical role in many US-focused companies during the pandemic. Companies of all sizes leaned on tax and accounting professionals to provide detailed information about pandemic-driven relief efforts like the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, and the employee retention tax credit, or ERC. That’s in addition to coordinating payroll and cross-border tax issues raised by increasing numbers of remote workers—an issue that isn’t going away any time soon.
And what about the supply chain? Empty shelves and long waits for essentials are frustrating consumers. That requires a different approach by companies, especially those that used to rely on a single hub location or a single manufacturing line. During our conversation, Barton noted that companies are finding regional approaches to be more workable so that if one region goes down, you can cover it from another area. That’s a different tack from what most of us learned in ECON101—that a single supply chain was most efficient.
It’s clear that companies are looking for timely and targeted advice. So will a supply chain guru be the next significant role to fill? A remote work master? A reporting authority?
And is this pivot a bit overmuch?
Barton doesn’t think so. “Forward-looking heads of tax should embrace this,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t think there’s a move that you can make in the business without having it have the tax consequence.”
That’s good news for tax professionals: We’re in demand. But it also means that increasingly, it makes good career sense to choose a specialty. And specialties can vary by practice areas, industry, or geography. So how do we make the jump?
One of the easiest ways to dive into a specialty is to get a degree. Some Masters of Law (LLM) in Tax programs also offer certificates in areas like wealth management, international tax, and employee benefits. And when schools aren’t offering programs, accounting and law firms are helping develop programs. For example, EY, in association with Hult International Business School in the UK, offers a Masters in Sustainability—and, Barton says, the company is working with schools in the US to provide more sustainability undergrad classes.
If a new degree isn’t in the cards, there’s still room to learn and develop new skills. Many accounting and local firms offer in-house opportunities for training. If yours doesn’t—or if your potential area of interest is a little off the beaten path—consider signing up for a continuing education course. Those are often taught by local professionals working in the field and offer real-world experience and an occasional war story—those are the most fun. Recently, popular course titles have focused on up-and-coming areas of tax like cryptocurrency, NFTs, and automation.
If you see a hole in a practice area, why not step up? It’s a great opportunity to prove your worth—even if it requires a bit of learning on the job. And if circumstances require companies to tackle new initiatives or develop new strategies, being involved from the beginning can be a real plus. Barton says being tied in while the company is in the planning phase makes sense because “you can influence that outcome and make it the best.”
Are we asking too much?
Even as firms and companies are scrambling to acquire talent, many in the tax and legal professions are concerned about burnout. It’s important to try and balance well-being with taking on new responsibilities and challenges—but how?
Flexibility and creativity will be crucial. While some firms and companies are going completely virtual, many are adopting a hybrid approach that only requires spending a few days per week at the office. Others are thinking out of the box: Barton says she recently heard of “work from anywhere August,” with companies allowing employees to work from various locations.
Reimagining The Future
The next challenge may well be to reimagine what the workforce might look like. Barton was pleased that EY was able to meet clients’ expectations during the pandemic, proving that they could offer flexibility to employees and be outcome-based. That’s a trend that I think we’ll see in many workplaces—so long as the work gets done and the clients are happy, the specifics of getting there may not be as important.
As for the job? It’s constantly evolving—one of the best things about working in tax. No two days, no two clients, no two matters are ever exactly the same. The key is to make sure you’re ready and willing to change, too.
This is a regular column from Kelly Phillips Erb, the Taxgirl. Erb offers commentary on the latest in tax news, tax law, and tax policy. Look for Erb’s column every week from Bloomberg Tax and follow her on Twitter at @taxgirl.