The evolution of the European tax and accounting landscape

The evolution of the European tax and accounting landscape

Henri Van Engelen, managing director of tax and accounting, Europe, for Wolters Kluwer, shares his thoughts on some of the trends shaping the sector

Henri Van Engelen has been managing director of tax and accounting, Europe of Wolters Kluwer since September 2010, at a time of great change in the accounting sector. Formerly he held leadership roles at IBM and ATOS Origin. Mr. Van Engelen has a degree in Civil Engineering in Construction from the University of Brussels.

Accountancy Age asked Henri to discuss his thoughts on the evolution of the tax and accounting profession across Europe.

Q: What trends are you seeing in the tax and accounting world currently?

A: Each market has its own unique landscape and there are many outside influences that impact the way that the tax and accounting world is evolving. Regulatory change, digitisation, the move from compliance to advisory, new entrants to the market – these are all factors at play.

The role of the tax advisor is changing. Historically, tax advisors didn’t have to fight to secure new clients. They didn’t experience significant volumes of churn, would often have clients for life, and would successfully hit their targets. The new breed of tax advisor is looking to build his or her business and is actively seeking out new clients.

As the companion to European tax advisor professionals, it’s imperative that Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting is mindful of geographical nuances. In Italy for example, there are around 80,000 tax advisors with an average of three employees versus the scale of tax advisors in the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the UK which is much greater. We understand and respond appropriately to these market variables and have a responsibility not only to our tax advisor customers but also the clients that they serve.

Q: How has the tax and accounting profession changed over recent months and years?

A: There have been great advances in the way that tax advisors communicate. Historically it was offline and unwieldy. Now, it’s almost instantaneous and data can be consumed in real time.

Also, a couple of years ago it was unthinkable for tax advisors to put their data in the cloud. Now, mindsets have changed, there’s a greater interest in collaborative technologies and there is increased trust in software providers to take care of a tax advisor’s data and that of his or her clients. It’s a big responsibility and one that we take very seriously.

Finally, we know that there will be a significant shift for the profession in terms of attracting and retaining talent, particularly for the larger tax advisors. The focus will move from hiring talent that focuses on the transactional and traditional, to seek out those who can provide advisory services. By building a base of advisory experts who will give proactive advice to clients, tax advisors will not only deliver the best possible service but will also ensure their own business is future-proofed.

Q: What are you hearing from tax advisor customers in the tax and accounting space?

We put our customers at the heart of everything that we do. And for me, before you can talk about what you’re hearing, you have to ensure that you’re putting the mechanisms in place to listen in the first place. We create every opportunity for tax advisors to share their honest feedback and we listen not only on a day-to-day level but we also invite our customers to play an active role in the way our products and services are evolving. It’s the right way to demonstrate how seriously we take our partnership and to gain their insight on our strategy and roadmap.

We know that tax advisors are facing a number of challenges. We have seen increasing levels of regulation across the spectrum, meaning it is more important than ever for tax advisors to run their practices in a complaint way and supporting their clients with legislative and regulatory changes.

Another important point is that tax advisors will have to move from transactional activities to focus more on value-added services. Also, there’s greater competition – in the Netherlands for example, it’s a very competitive landscape when compared to other countries where smaller tax advisors prefer to buy locally.

Q: To what extent are you seeing new innovative technologies coming to the fore?

A: Innovation is all around us – it’s what our tax advisor customers expect, and they are right to do so. We must practice what we preach. We’re using Artificial Intelligence in a number of markets to improve our invoicing processes. We’re using chatbots in Spain to support our customers by enabling them to ‘self-serve’ where possible to ensure they get the information they need in a matter of moments.

Technology influences our way of doing business in the same way it influences the tax advisor of the future. Whether it’s chat bot technology, AI, robotic accounting, portal technology or digital data collection applications, we’re focused on designing solutions that are easy for our customers to use and that enable them to improve their productivity and future-proof their businesses. Put simply, we’re helping professionals to deliver deep impact when it matters most.

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