Julie Van der Velde is the winner of The Tax Institute's 2017 SME Tax Adviser of the Year award.
We asked Julie about her career and life.
Julie Van der Velde, CTA
What initially led you to a career in tax?
I came to Australia from England with two small children in 1993. After working as a lecturer at the University of South Australia, I went into public accounting practice in 1997.
I wasn’t passionate about the nuts and bolts of accounting but, from the start, I found tax law interesting and enjoyed the challenge of its continual evolution. I worked in a range of accounting firms — culminating in 2007 as an associate director in a “big four” firm, working on the development of internal training programs, Treasury submissions and publications, all in the small to medium enterprise (SME) area.
Subsequently, I moved into legal practice, continuing to specialise in tax law and working with SMEs.
What do you enjoy most about your work as a tax professional?
Tax law is intellectually satisfying, involving an endless array of complex, ever-changing issues on which to focus. It’s also personally satisfying to make a positive difference to a person’s business.
Also, I enjoy working in collegial relationships with other lawyers and accountants. Tax is an integral part of the answer to many issues that I am fortunate to work on with other professionals. Helping people to deal commercially with tax issues can make a real difference to business owners’ and managers’ ability to cope.
What’s your biggest challenge as a tax professional?
It can be frustrating when the eventual answer to a client’s tax problem seems unreasonable, but it’s still the only answer available. This may be because of what the law says, or because of the way the regulator interprets a law. A small business often can’t afford to argue with the regulator’s interpretation.
In other situations, there may be no such thing as a definitive answer, in which case, my job is to help a business owner understand and manage the levels of risk.
You recently established your own legal practice. What led to that decision?
I set up my practice at the beginning of this financial year. For some time, the idea of independent practice had been in my mind. After working in several firms, I developed definite ideas on operating a legal practice. I wanted to provide high-level technical advice and commercial solutions to smaller businesses and to work with a wider range of other professionals.
I enjoyed working for a well-known, experienced Adelaide tax lawyer, but felt increasingly certain that my future was not in a large firm. I decided that, if ever I was to set up my own firm, it should be now.
Almost all my clients came with me, with the old firm’s knowledge and consent of course. It’s gone well so far. I’m growing the practice and training a new employee.
What did winning the SME Tax Adviser of the Year award mean to you?
The award is a wonderful affirmation, as a sole practitioner, that I still have a place in the wider world of tax. It’s the most important award I could have received.
When I went to The Tax Institute’s National Convention, the other finalists were so impressive and from such well-known national organisations that I had no expectation of winning.
It was such a surprise on the presentation night. The loveliest thing was that my elder son, who is an accountant and also a Chartered Tax Adviser, was at the dinner with me.
Do you have advice for someone just beginning their career in tax?
My advice would be that you have to enjoy tax to succeed in the profession. If you don’t find tax interesting and stimulating, it won’t work for you — because it’s difficult, and keeps changing. But if you put in the effort and have the interest, it can be fascinating and rewarding.
I find tax law compelling. Every new issue is interesting to work through.
What are your personal interests (outside law and tax)?
When I was younger, back in England, I did a lot of amateur theatre. And I still go to see theatre, concerts and opera. Adelaide is a great place for this. I spend time at the Adelaide Fringe, the Festival and many professional and amateur theatre productions.
I also have two wonderful sons, and I’m very proud of them. As I said, my elder son is a CTA. The other is at university, studying information technology. Apart from anything else, my office wouldn’t have furniture if I hadn’t had a couple of strong blokes to help with the move.
This profile was originally published in the May 2017 issue of The Tax Institute's member-only journal, Taxation in Australia.