How to hire, retain and develop tax technologists

Vertex Inc

Forget startup companies with billion-dollar valuations – tax technologists are the true “unicorns” of 2024.  

I’m exaggerating, of course, but not by much. And I’m doing so to make an important point regarding the current state of tax talent management: tax technologists are more valuable than ever and increasingly difficult to find, hire and retain.  

While I’ve made this point before, you don’t have to take my word for it. Instead, look at the transcript from a recent roundtable of chief tax officers conducted by the Tax Executive Institute. “It is a little bit of a unicorn role,” notes Cheria Coram, senior manager, tax data enablement, at Starbucks. “We’re wanting people to understand lots of things with tax and finance and accounting and tech.” Coram lists some of the qualities that the tax technologist role requires, including: curiosity; innovative thinking; a growth mindset; keeping pace with tax technology solutions and the systems they integrate with; and “tying that to capabilities”. By that, Coram means that she wants tax professionals to understand not only what tax automation produces but also what those outputs mean to the tax group and the business as a whole. 

I find these insights, and the discussion as a whole, to be illuminating. I’d like to personally thank the Tax Executive Senior Editor Michael Levin-Epstein for moderating an engaging discussion on a timely topic. 

Besides identifying what companies seek in hiring tax technologists, roundtable participants also share practical steps to helping traditional tax pros develop tax-technologist skills, including: 

  • Assigning a tax professional to learn about self-service technologies (or a similarly focused aspect of advanced technology); 
  • Facilitating collaborations between the tax team and IT (or even an analytics group) via smaller, more manageable projects; 
  • Leveraging technology vendors, especially those offering software-as-a-service solutions, as a source of tax-tech insights; and 
  • Fostering a culture of innovation and curiosity within the tax group.  

Yes, that final step is more of a strategy than a tactic, but it certainly warrants consideration. Without fostering a culture that prioritises technological curiosity, tax groups risk espousing a compliance-only mentality.  

“And that means innovation takes a second seat,” explains Vikesh Patel, director of the tax innovation and technology team at Home Depot. “…[T]hat mindset needs to shift, because now … technology is leading the way, and the compliance comes second. So, by fostering [a] culture that kind of rewards curiosity and learning and that data literacy, I think tax departments can facilitate more cross-functionality…To be a successful tax department is appreciating the technology and innovation that’s available to you.” 

I encourage you to read, and bookmark, the article. It will help you assess the state of your own tax group’s technologist proficiencies and then develop a roadmap for improvement.

Blog Author

Michael J. Bernard, Chief Tax Officer – Transaction Tax at Vertex Inc. Vertex's Chief Tax Office (CTO) provides insight regarding the impact of tax regulations, policy, enforcement, and emerging technology trends on global tax department operations.

Michael J. Bernard

Chief Tax Officer, Transaction Tax

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Michael Bernard is the Chief Tax Officer of Transaction Tax. In his role, he provides insight and thought leadership around tax department operations, U.S. indirect tax, tax risk management, and tax policy, as well as emerging tax trends. He is an executive-level tax attorney with a diverse portfolio of experience in corporate tax, administration, and finance, including a substantive knowledge of U.S. and international tax laws.

Prior to joining Vertex, Michael was in various tax leadership roles at Microsoft Corporation for 28 years, the most recent being Senior Director – Tax Counsel. Michael led teams in the following functional areas: direct and indirect tax controversy, sales and use, business license, property, tax IT, SOX, and telecommunications. He also co-led a corporate taxpayer advocacy group with the Washington Department of Revenue and was a Director on the Board of the Washington Research Council. Michael has also testified before administrative and lawmakers at both the federal and state level.

Michael earned both a J.D. and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Creighton University. He is a part-time lecturer of Law in the LLM program at the University of Washington School of Law. Michael also served on the board of directors, executive committee, and chaired committees for The Tax Executives Institute (TEI) for nearly 25 years.

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