3 traits that make a great tax professional

Tax expert Andy Milidoni, CTA, reveals 3 traits that define a successful tax professional. He also shares his tips on how to keep growing as a tax expert.

Any tax practitioner knows that working in tax can be likened to professional problem-solving. On a day-to-day basis, you are working with clients and sifting through legislation to produce the best possible advice you can.

But what distinguishes the average tax practitioner from the rest?

Andy Milidoni, CTA, Partner at Johnson, Winter & Slattery, and lecturer at The Tax Institute sheds some light on the 3 traits that make a great tax professional and what it takes to write top quality advice.

“I have a broad tax practice, so I do both direct and indirect, and international, and while that can be very challenging, it's also very rewarding,” he says.

“Being a tax practitioner requires a lot of hard work, not only in keeping up to date with a lot of the changes in tax law across a very broad range of tax areas.

“It also requires a focus, and a commitment to a process that I try to stick to, which gets me through working on a very broad range of different issues and tax problems.

“It's that very process that I've worked on, and that I try to communicate in the CTA3 Advisory classes that I teach,” he explains.

“And that very much goes to the advice writing section that we look at, so, the last 20 years of my career has been developing a set of skills that equip me to work in what is a large practice.”

“It’s a great achievement for any tax practitioner, indeed lawyer, if we can keep our clients out of court and achieve really mutually acceptable outcomes.

Some of Andy’s greatest career achievements include the private ruling application outcomes, APA advance pricing agreements, and results with the ATO prior to anything going to litigation. All of this has occurred, in his view, because of the skills that he has honed during a 20-year career.

That’s pretty impressive.

So here it is from a tax star himself; 3 traits that make a great tax professional:

1. Be inquisitive: Andy says asking a lot of questions and being interested in the subject matter of your client is essential to be a great tax professional. Regardless of which sector your client is coming from, whether they're in services, if they're emerging and growing, or whether they're established, the quality of tax advice really is dependent on how much you understand transactions and the general business operations of the clients.

“We have to be inquisitive, because we're not going to know everything in tax; the tax law's too big, it's always changing, and on top of that, before we can even get to tax advice, we have to understand what the clients do, and how they do it,” he explains.

“So, if you're not inquisitive, and you're not wanting to dig, and dig deeper, then I can't see how you can succeed in tax.

“A good tax lawyer wants to know how things work.

“It's like a Rubik's cube, you pull it apart first, and then you put the pieces back together.”

Andy says legislation doesn't always solve everything, it doesn't always provide a clean answer.

“That's why we have a job, because we have to put these things together, and make it work,” he adds.

“I think tax lawyers are very hard-working, inquisitive and we're not scared of difficult problems.”

2. Keep sharpening your tools: It goes without saying that tax education is a very critical component of any tax lawyer's career. Andy says it's not something that starts and ends at university. It’s continuous.

“The range of education that you can obtain in the marketplace means that, whichever level you're at, you should always be tapping into education that will build your skills, and keep you going further,” he says.

“Whether it's attending formal education courses, like programs available at The Tax Institute , or attending their conferences and events .

“Our passion comes from problem-solving in the context of legislation and abiding by the rules. The advice we provide needs to work for the Australian Tax Office and for the client.”

Andy says tax lawyers need to be open to learning because the environment we work in is dynamic and constantly evolving.

 “I don't think anyone really ever gets on top of tax law, but what we have in tandem is our increasing knowledge of the actual tax law, but also the refinement of our skills,” he says.

“Tax education represents the box of tools we bring to our profession.

“We have to keep making sure that we keep sharpening our tools, we keep replacing our tools, or updating them.

“Don't be afraid of learning, don't be afraid of not knowing something.” 

Andy admits that even the most seasoned professional will look at a problem and not be one hundred per cent certain about the answer.

“Rarely do we know the answer within the first half an hour of looking at something,” he adds.
“It's something that will evolve.”

3. Clear thinking: Andy says clear and concise thinking is a way of looking at and absorbing information, a way that acknowledges there are a number of balls in the air.

“There's getting on top of the facts, knowing what the areas of law are, what the application might be, and actually managing all those balls in the air.

“It’s stepping back from a client issue, and not having preconceived ideas about the solution,” he points out.

Tax professionals should be asking themselves:
  • Does this all stack up?
  • Do I need to know more?
  • What are the tax risks?
  • Is there something else I should be asking?
Andy says tax professionals essentially need to look at logic and marry it with application. And this is what students can expect from his CTA3 Advisory classes. His approach is to provide examples and help students connect the dots and solve case studies at hand.

“What I want students to walk away knowing is to be able to read a problem from different perspectives. And you will only get better at it through practice, with guidance within your own workplaces, and through continuous education,” he says.

So, what makes a tax star? You’ve heard it straight from a tax expert: being inquisitive, sharpening your tools through tax education, and clear-thinking skills.


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