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My Journey - Part 3 From Bookkeeper to Tax Agent by Debra Anderson

Australian Bookkeepers Network hears from member and author Debra Anderson. This is the third installment in a four part series as Debra shares her journey in the industry.

I love being an MYOB Consultant for many reasons –

Firstly, I do love getting in and identifying problems and then fixing them – it gives me such a thrill and I love it when clients are so appreciative and relieved I could solve their problem.

Secondly, I appreciate and enjoy the opportunities that MYOB have given me over the years.  Way back in 2009, Rick Van Dyk who was working for MYOB back then, put out an email asking for expressions of interest to be part of a Partner Advisory Group (PAG) who would meet monthly via teleconference where MYOB could bounce ideas off us about the partner program and also the products. I jumped at the opportunity. The thought of having a voice where I could help make a positive difference was exciting.

Thirdly, the community. There is something extraordinarily special about the MYOB certified consultant community. They are very collaborative and supportive of each other.  When I first became a CC I was blown about just how supportive they are – they had an email group where all day they would email questions to each other and help each other with client issues – it was amazing and I feel extremely fortunate to have been a CC during those ‘good old days’ because I learnt so much about MYOB just by reading everyone’s questions and solutions.

In fact it was through this CC community that a fellow ABN member, Sue first ‘challenged’ me about doing more than bookkeeping and consulting and expanding my skills to tax.

As many of you know most tax agents have no idea about bookkeeping and their skills on client software are basic. The EOFY journal given to bookkeepers means nothing to the poor business owner whose accounts are often significantly changed by a massive consolidated journal that offers no descriptions or explanations as to why or what the adjustments are for.  As bookkeepers we actually know our clients a lot better and more intimately than their tax agent ever will and we are also the ones that do most of the reconciliations etc.  Sue was working with a tax agent doing all the reconciliations and preparation of tax returns and he would just check, sign off and lodge the returns.

Initially I completely and utterly rejected the whole idea. The thought of doing any tax work was not something that interested me in the slightest and even though I knew intellectually that what we do as bookkeepers was the ‘guts’ of the tax return, I just wasn’t interested in going down that path – it almost felt as though I’d be going to the dark side.

A few months later I was speaking with Sue about her business and she was telling me about how she was doing really well and making good money from this tax work she was doing. She was talking about how it was really helping her clients too because they were getting more of a holistic service which was mutually beneficial for them and her. She was enjoying learning more about the complete process and how she felt it had made her a much better bookkeeper too.  Something she said triggered something in my brain that day….she was making more money yes BUT the benefits were there for both her and the client.  A few days later I met with her tax agent and I started doing some tax work too.

Surprisingly, the leap between bookkeeping and tax wasn’t anywhere near as big as I thought. I guess that was partly because I’d always been a keen learner so I attended lots of conferences and seminars but also I guess I also had some fairly solid foundations from my Associate Diploma in Accounting (where tax and law are compulsory subjects) and also my Masters in Business degree.  Even more surprising though was that I actually enjoyed it. I enjoyed doing the full circle – from being involved processing source documents, through to BAS, through to the tax return – AND I was learning. I was learning more about tax, more about GST and I enjoyed learning new software too.

It was now 2010 and although I was still doing bookkeeping, consulting and now tax the world had changed somewhat again. A year earlier the new Tax Agent Services Act had been introduced and we all had to become BAS agents if we still wanted to be able to prepare BASs.  When the new legislation came in I immediately registered to be a BAS agent. I decided not to go through the transitional regulations and just bit the bullet and registered as a full BAS agent straight away so I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. I was pretty thrilled that I was accepted – I was now a registered BAS agent.

One random day I heard a knock on the front door and went and opened it and it was Liz. (Liz the Quickbooks consultant who had helped me a few years ago when I first started Legally BAS)….She’d come over to talk to me about the transitional provisions around registration with the Tax Practitioners Board.  Liz had been doing very similar work to me and she was wanting to talk to me about my application to be a tax agent under the transitional arrangements. She was very surprised when I said I didn’t do it – instead, I registered as a BAS agent. You see it hadn’t occurred to me that I could apply to be a registered tax agent under the new laws. Liz suggested I seriously consider it and I’d better hurry as applications were closing in a couple of days.

I reviewed the transitional requirements – both academic and experience – and I was eligible to apply… so I did.  Under the transitional arrangements I had 12 months to make a full application that would mean I was a fully registered tax agent in my own right. During that 12 months I made sure I did whatever I had to do to fulfil the TPB requirements and become a registered tax agent. At this stage I wasn’t intending on actually working in tax full-time but at least it gave me options – and options are always good!

But during that 12 month period I took on tax clients in my own right, purchased software and because I was trying to achieve the tax agent registration requirements my business inadvertently had changed to being quite tax focussed. I was still doing bookkeeping but now I was servicing almost all my clients from the beginning of the process right through to the tax returns.  I had now hired a couple of part-time staff members, and also got myself a PA to help me manage the kids, the clients, and me!  I worked out of my home office for a while but eventually with staff and the change to doing tax I had to get an office. Tax was different in that clients are used to coming to see their tax agent and although I mainly did bookkeeping through to tax for clients I was also getting other clients that just needed tax and had no need for bookkeeping or BAS. I was loving it.  I also signed up to do Tax Institute’s tax courses and also an Advanced Diploma of Tax part-time so I could broaden my tax knowledge.

Doing tax courses was great in that I realised just how much I already knew from my previous studies and experience but more importantly it made me realise how much I didn’t know and/or didn’t know enough about.  It helped me identify where my weaknesses were so that I knew where I should and shouldn’t be focussing my tax business.  Another thing I realised was that theory is all good and well but actually doing is another thing.  I had never been taught how to fill in a tax return form.  It was all just on the job learning as I went along so I decided to sign up to a H&R Block tax course which was designed to teach you how to prepare tax returns so you could get a job with them.  It sounded very practical and practical is what I wanted – plus it gave me more options because if I ever needed more work I could always then work for H&R Block.

I spent the next 13 weeks going for ½ a day per week learning how to fill in tax returns and working on very practical examples. Lots of homework and quite intense; but very thorough. Although I never needed to go work for H&R Block it was a great practical learning experience and cheap too – it was one of the better courses I think I’ve done in that I finished the course with not just theory but also the tools to actually ‘do’. Well worth doing even if you just want to understand a little bit more about the basics.

Later in 2011 I was attending a bookkeeping seminar in Sydney where the ATO were presenting; talking about BAS, portals, etc. As usual I was sitting in the very front row, right in the middle in front of the lectern making notes and soaking up every word. As the ATO’s Assistant Commissioner finished his talk and left the room I got up and followed him out. The poor guy was just trying to get out as he had another engagement to go to but I asked him how could I get involved in helping the ATO improve the experience for BAS agents.  He had mentioned BASAAG during his talk (BAS Agent Advisory Group) and I asked him how do I apply to get onto this group.  It was so funny because he just looked at me and said “Why?”

Although there were no open positions on the BASAAG I kept in contact with this Assistant Commissioner (not in a stalking kind of way) but just enough to make sure I wasn’t forgotten. One day in 2012, out of the blue the ATO called me and invited me as a guest to a BASAAG meeting. OMG I was so excited!

07 Mar 2017
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