What is Practice Management in Practice?
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When we think of Making Tax Digital (MTD) for Income Tax, the obvious association is tax and regulation. However, the reality is that MTD in any form is less about either of the above and more about how practices need to evolve as organisations, and how they might encourage their clients to begin to operate in a digital way.
When it comes to preparing their clients for MTD for Income Tax and to make as smooth a transition as possible, there may be a certain amount of expectation setting and education to make MTD for Income Tax a streamlined process rather than the burdensome task many practices fear. There is a real opportunity to transform customer interactions across the entire journey into a seamless, client-focused end-to-end digital experience.
Evolving as digital organisations
A shift in mindset to encompass digital working is needed among both practices and their clients as we edge towards the deadline for implementing MTD for Income Tax in April 2023. In their preparations, many practices have begun to explore technology solutions, and it’s often left to the tax department to assess these and lead the way.
However, the reality is that most of the job of MTD for Income Tax will not involve the tax department, and rather, will fall on the department already doing the bookkeeping or VAT. The fundamental principle in MTD for Income Tax is that the record keeping needs to be digital and recorded as close to real time as possible, but understandably, ‘Making Bookkeeping Digital’ probably doesn’t have quite the same impact!
In recognising the true nature of the requirements, what practices will no doubt soon realise is that MTD for Income Tax is less about regulation and tax, and more about preparing clients to work digitally as soon as possible. In fact, it’s also less about specific technology, and more about being comfortable with digital workflows and new ways of working, particularly when preparing clients to make the transition from annual bookkeeping, to quarterly bookkeeping. Once clients are comfortable with having bridged the digital gap, there are all manner of digital tools that can be introduced to streamline the process – but it’s the digital mindset shift that needs to happen first.
Most practices have wanted their clients to use digital bookkeeping products for some time now and MTD for Income Tax and its quarterly reporting requirement may just be the catalyst they need.
The upside is that these practices will then be able to have sight of the client data they need, and to keep tabs on it throughout the year without the rigmarole of sending backups via email and ensuring clients don’t work on it at the same time.
However, the complexity is that these increased checkpoints have the potential to change relationships with clients around areas of responsibility and expectation. Just because an adviser has 24x7 access to a digital bookkeeping solution and a client’s data, doesn’t mean that there is a constant human audit service ready to flag when figures aren’t correct.
It’s important to prepare clients for this change in the relationship and set expectations by working with them more digitally now. This may help to address the fear than many practices have, which is that they will be experiencing a large extra burden that they are unable to charge for. By putting the technology and practices in place well before April 2023, and deciding what filing entails for clients, advisers may be able to reach an understanding with clients and implement processes that work smoothly long before the required regulation deadline.
Making it personal
As practices make the digital mindset shift, there’s often a fear that these new digital processes, including automation applied to what may have traditionally been manual, will affect adviser’s ability to provide a personal service to their clients. When advisers hear technology practitioners and vendors talk to them constantly about running a more digital practice and having software take on more of what may have previously done on the phone, or in a letter, it’s understandable to admit a fear of what may happen without the human touch.
However, if implemented correctly and appropriately, technology should inspire innovation and help practices to build stronger relationships. Sharing information digitally and having more transparency can often introduce more touchpoints, and the move to digital absolutely does not need to replace personal relationships.
Digital should actually enable practices and their clients to have more meaningful relationships, as the rather mundane necessity of constantly requesting information to be sent back and forth can be removed. Just having that data on tap will allow advisers to work more closely with their clients, and move beyond the administrative, operational tasks to dig down into what value add services they may be able to offer.
These are just a few of the mindset changes we’ll begin to see practices make with their clients as we begin the two-year countdown to MTD for Income Tax. While it may seem a daunting process, remember that it’s not the first regulatory hurdle that practices have had to overcome in the past, five, ten or even twenty years. Like all regulation, it’s a chance to adapt and to work smarter, and with the right approach to digital, practices may just find MTD for Income Tax is a new opportunity to have better, more meaningful and more profitable relationships with clients.
Evan Jones, lead technology product manager at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting UK