Technological change is moving at an incredibly fast pace through all areas of business.

As huge amounts of computing power become more easily accessible there are new possibilities opening up for innovation and real disruption across many industries. It would be hard to argue against AI and machine learning being one of these massively disruptive shifts.

When thinking about these technologies ‘tax’ probably isn’t the first association that comes to mind - however it is an industry within which AI has enormous potential. It’s an industry that traditionally deals with complex data intertwined with various regulatory bodies and frameworks, and this data provides substantial foundations for the application of machine learning and AI, which is why it is ripe for disruption.

Using AI and machine learning will help to create opportunities for companies who take advantage of this technology. For example, by reducing the number of touchpoints tax advisors might need to have with a particular client or issue; so that they can focus their time on truly adding value. Rather than sifting through and sorting huge amounts of data advisors can be provided with complete reports for their decisions - knowing that the system will have consolidated all the relevant information and checked it against whatever rules and regulations might apply. AI creates compliance security, helping tax and finance functions to integrate into the overall business processes.

As the data sets increase in size more information can be extracted from them. Machine learning algorithms can detect unknown and highly complex patterns in large databases and establish semantic connections between them. The algorithms improve over time, based on the information given and the decisions then taken by advisors - enabling constantly improving systems which increase in efficiency and quality.

In 2017 tax consultancy firm WTS partnered with the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), last year working on a joint study - looking at the potential of digitisation and artificial intelligence in the field of taxation. This year they undertook a global study on the digital maturity of the tax function. The idea is to have comprehensive insight into both the challenges and opportunities of successful digitization in tax across the world - establishing a common understanding of this foundation helps to determine how AI can be used to aid and automate both basic services and more sophisticated tax activities. The aim is to also develop a systematic evaluation methodology for assessment - in the form of a maturity model for the tax function.

One frequently asked question is - do tax advisors need to worry about their jobs if so much is going to be automated? The simple answer is no. The elaborate answer is that this type of machine learning and analysis works incredibly well for certain types of data and the more menial tasks that would traditionally have to be undertaken by a tax advisor. In the future however, it certainly will not be unusual for tax departments to be on the hunt of AI experts, or to have the expectation that those within their organisation go through training to learn new technologies.

Vanessa Just, Managing Director wtsAI, says the automation of processes will greatly improve efficiencies for tax advisors: “Particularly in tax areas where large amounts of data are highly repetitive (e. g. payroll tax, VAT, transfer pricing or customs) tax processes can be automated by intelligent systems. This enables companies to achieve quality advantages and reduce costs and significantly higher tax compliance.”

The wide spectrum of activities undertaken by a tax consultant is incredibly complex, and will probably never be completely replaced by AI. However experts who can sit in the centre of the two disciplines - of AI and taxation - will be in great demand, and help to moderate the communication between these two traditionally disparate fields, to find the best possible use of the technology. wtsAI is offering training in this area through its international Tax Leadership Program in Fontainebleau, giving people the range of skills that will be required of them as this form of automation becomes more important in the industry.

It is therefore vital that companies are in a position to leverage the benefits of AI technology. This kind of shift in focus has to be embedded in the culture of a business. People have to be willing to adapt. As the use of AI becomes more commonplace tax authorities will also begin to implement it as standard practice, and it is not difficult to envisage a future where cooperation between tax functions and the authorities becomes more digitally focused, improved, and automated.

WTS firmly believes that using AI in taxation will help to revolutionise the industry. Ultimately it is not about replacing people - but rather it should enable tax advisors to be freed up to focus on more complex tasks that require their knowledge and expertise - and enable businesses to use this to further grow and improve compliance. wtsAI is looking towards the ‘tax workplace of the future’, and believes that by using its expertise across a wide range of fields - tax law, business intelligence, data analytics and artificial intelligence - the company is best placed to define what this workplace will be, and to help businesses to “Step ahead in Tax & Finance”.

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