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The power of automation and visualisation and how it empowers you – the tax practitioner!

Charl Geldenhuys explains why technology can simplify life for tax practitioners—and make you more effective into the bargain.

The onward march of technology can be a challenge all of us. Technology can open up a previously settled market to newcomers and disrupt established practices where, in extreme cases, previously profitable companies could find themselves irrelevant.

At an individual level, professionals can also feel threatened as increasingly sophisticated technologies—think artificial intelligence and machine learning—appear to be encroaching on their competencies.

Whilst they are real – these threats are also significantly hyped up by a media that thrives on sensational headlines. In reality, technology offers tax professionals a powerful tool that will improve their services to clients while significantly enhancing the efficiency of their own working practices.  This is achieved by reducing the need for manual, time-consuming and tedious processes and freeing up time for more value added offerings.

One example is the growing sophistication of cloud-based solutions to help you manage your client base much more easily and effectively. Harnessing the power of automation and visualisation streamlines the difficult and time-consuming administrative task of managing a large number of tax returns from inception through to submission to SARS.

It seems deceptively simple, but it’s always been something of a nightmare for tax practitioners: how do you keep track of where each one of your clients’ tax returns is in the process, year after year?

There’s a lot riding on this, as tax authorities are very ready to impose penalties, and clients’ trust you to handle their entire affairs. You need a way not only to see where each return is in the process, but also to obtain a bird’s eye view of all the returns allowing problem areas to be flagged and omissions identified before they become material.

The dreaded spreadsheet

Until fairly recently, the best option was the spreadsheet, which over the years has been forced into a number of roles for which it was never designed. In this instance, it has to be admitted that spreadsheets are not ideal tracking tools. Firstly, a great deal of manual input is required and subsequent maintenance of changes to data has to be meticulously and manually logged. This is also a very time-consuming process, manual data capturing and maintenance, combined with inevitable user error are notoriously risky processes and almost guarantee the introduction of mistakes into data sets.

Another huge disadvantage of a spreadsheet is that it remains tabular, and thus a less-than-ideal way to get a handle on the elusive “big picture”.

So what’s the answer?

Modern, cloud-based technology! It enables you to see all clients with the status of their return shown graphically, through an interactive dashboard. CaseWare’s CloudTax product is an example of an application that allows tax practitioners to view: all active taxpayers; client status; returns due, as well as missing information.  What is even better is the fact that this application then allows you to drill down into each of the categories to see the detail and take the appropriate remedial action. These visualisations – and there many different kinds you could use - are very useful in allowing a tax practitioner to toggle between a comprehensive big-picture view and the detail of a particular client’s tax file.

But the cherry on the cake is to link this visualisation capability with automation. In our example, this means linking the tax management application into the SARS e-filing system. This will show: all the submissions not yet sent to SARS; queries and requests already submitted to SARS; returns that have been successfully filed; all the correspondence with SARS, and more. The integration is controlled by a sync function that assimilates the details of the tax practitioner’s clients with SARS e-filing.

Automation and visualisation—a winning combination that will enable you to manage multiple client returns more effectively while freeing up time to provide a more strategic advisory and planning function to clients on their respective tax affairs.  

Now you have to agree that’s progress!

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