Writing great client tax advice: where to start


Dr Julianne Jacques accepts the Tax Adviser of the Year Award, 2020

There is no denying that providing exceptional client advice requires equally exceptional commitment of thought, time and energy. It is a vital skill for any tax practitioner, when clients are relying on you for certainty amid legislative and economic changes, especially in our current environment.

But if you aren’t clear on the fundamentals of writing great tax advice, you may be hard-pressed to attract new customers and keep your existing ones happy.

The Tax Institute expert lecturer and Partner at Johnson Winter & Slattery, Andy Milidoni, has broken it down to get you started. Andy teaches tax professionals in the popular CTA3 Advisory subject.

“What I'm finding is that in practice students aren't always being shown the start to finish of writing advice,” Andy points out.

“A lot of the comments I get from students is, ‘I wish someone had shown me that earlier. I know that's what I have to produce, but I don't always get shown that.”

“In the CTA3 Advisory subject, there's a lot of emphasis placed on the process of providing client advice,” he adds.

Understand the key issues of any business

The core of any tax practice is being able to advise many different types of businesses and clients in a relevant, practical way.

“At the end of the day clients want to keep on the right side of the tax office…. They come to tax professionals because they need that advice,” Andy says.

Andy explains that in his CTA3 Advisory sessions, candidates look at some of the core areas relevant across multiple clients. That includes, for example, looking at the taxation regime that applies to trusts in Division 6 of the 1936 Act and how it interacts with other areas of the tax law.

“We then look at how the CGT regime interacts with the taxation of trust provisions,” Andy explains.

“Historically, this has always created a number of challenges in the legislative regime, and it really requires practitioners, and students learning the content, to be confident with the starting principles, and then seeing how they apply to particular situations.”

Regardless of whether you are a tax professional in the big corporate or a small to medium-sized enterprise (SME), understanding the law relevant to your client issues is essential, according to Andy.

“I think a lot of these subjects pretty much form the backbone of any practice,” he says.

“Whether you're working for the higher end of town or the SME market, these areas would be covered by each of those sectors.”

The process of putting advice together

When putting client advice together, Andy suggests to start by taking a look at the facts. Only once you have the initial facts straight can you start to apply tax law to the situation and begin to formulate useful advice.

“What I find in putting advice together, and what I try to relay to students, is that the first part is looking at the fact scenario, and casing out all the issues, before we even start looking at what the legal outcomes will be,” Andy explains.

“We then work out what the issues are, and what the law is applying to those issues. Then we apply the law to the issues to get to an outcome.”

And this is not just a classroom exercise - this process can be applied by candidates in practice as they work with clients on real-life tax questions.

“At this part of CTA3 Advisory, we go through the journey in three hours and students are actually shown how to write the advice.”

At the end of the day, being able to write client advice in a clear, practical manner is one of the main factors in what makes a great tax practitioner.

“Our role is to be at the cutting edge of tax, be right on top of the material but also be able to communicate tax obligations in a way that business can understand and can implement,” Andy says.

The difference between good tax advice and great tax advice can be lifechanging for your clients. A CTA designation can help you gain the confidence and skills to provide the best possible advice.