Organisation: Australian Taxation Office
Job Title: EL1 Client Engagement Officer/Tax Specialist/Team Leader
Client Engagement Officer/ Client Engagement Officer and Tax Specialist
Describe the most challenging and complex work that you have delivered in a leadership role, which required you to apply your knowledge of tax legislation, accounting and auditing standards, and any other relevant financial policies and systems.
As a compliance officer within the Cash Economy unit of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), I regularly undertake complex financial audits of cash based businesses, to identify any potential omission of income. In doing so, I take an objective approach in gathering evidence which may entail assessing the linkages across multiple trusts, companies, partnerships and so on. When assessing cash income businesses, I need to consider a range of factors and apply ATO policies and procedures, including compliance guidelines, small business benchmarking, practice standards of record keeping and more.
In regards to a particular case I handled, the taxpayer was head director for a number of entities. There were extensive transactions between the entities and in auditing them, I determined the appropriate assessment methodology and tax treatment of each entity, identifying which transactions were legitimate or otherwise. This included consideration of associated trusts, the Director’s lifestyle, whether the business earnings were sufficient to support that lifestyle, and if there were any dependants. I found several transactions between the main company and a second entity related to labour that were in excess of $2 Million, yet the annual turnover of the main company was only $5 Million. On gathering all the relevant evidence, this raised a risk of potential omission of income that should be declared. To resolve this, I then liaised with the taxpayer to determine what caused the considerable labour expenses. In discussion I found the Director was paying consultancy fees and wages to the second entity, and the second entity was subsequently paying staff. On taking this into account, and assisting the taxpayer to ensure future compliance, I determined that no further action was necessary.
In another example, the business was purely based on a cash economy, with all the financial records kept in a foreign language. This meant I had to reconstruct the accounts anew, to determine their income. In doing so, I applied income legislation, ATO guidelines and procedures and retail minimum wages, to determine their expected income and associated staffing costs. My analysis indicated significant shortfalls in income, and I determined that a range of penalties could be imposed, based on previous rulings. As the penalties were above 50%, the matter had to be referred through to the prosecution team. To facilitate this, I prepared an evidence brief and recommendations and held a workshop with my supervisor, the prosecution team and other technical representatives in relation to the proposed action. My recommendations were approved and penalties were imposed for failure to declare payments and meet minimum record keeping standards. In addition to this, the prosecution team used my evidence brief as an example of best practice for linking penalties to transactions.
Client Engagement Officer/ Client Engagement Officer and Tax Specialist/Tax Specialist
Describe an example where you used your technical expertise to lead and influence team members to provide quality advice to either internal and or external stakeholders.
I was responsible for a range of activities as a key officer for the Haymarket Strategy Project. The aim of this project was to conduct site visits in order to accurately assess omitted income and increase awareness and education on ATO obligations within a restaurant, café and takeaway district within the Sydney CBD. In coordinating this, I organised the publication and dissemination of information pamphlets in Chinese and Korean to field officers and also developed clear process and procedure documentation for the field officers to use in conducting audits. One such procedure involved the partnering of an audit and employee obligations officer for every site visit, to ensure appropriate questions and advice could be provided to the owners of each establishment.
This project required close consultation with other areas of the ATO and external stakeholders such as Sydney City Council. Implementing a communications strategy, I actively liaised with these groups, outlining the purpose of the field audits, providing key messaging to assist them should any enquiries be made, and keeping them up to date on the progress of the project right through to completion. As primary contact for escalation of queries by field officers, and I responded to ad hoc requests the provision of advice, or providing direction where appropriate. I also undertook all post audit briefings of field officers, ensuring they had followed proper process, and collating their information to categorise those business posing potential risks and requiring further assessment, and those that did not need further action.
The field audit was a success, with nearly 30% of premises activities being escalated for detailed consideration due to audit risks identified as part of the visits. Further, the processes and procedures I prepared as part of this project were later applied in similar activities carried out in Brisbane and Adelaide.
Client Engagement Officer and Tax Specialist/Tax Specialist
Provide an overview of your specialist knowledge of Australian taxation law.
With a degree in Business and Commerce (accounting), I will shortly become a Certified Practicing Accountant, having just completed my final assessments. Possessing 10 years of experience in financial accounting, both private and public sector based, I have had extensive opportunity to apply my specialist knowledge to a breadth of taxation matters.
My experience extends from provision of accountancy services for private firms right through to dealing with audits of employer obligations and cash based businesses working for the ATO. I have undertaken complex audits, cash economy audits, and participated in the High Touch Agent Program.
Client Engagement Officer and Tax Specialist/Tax Specialist
Provide an example of where, as a leader, you had to apply your knowledge of Australian taxation law to a practical issue within a specific industry or market sector.
Undertaking the complex audit of a restaurant business, I identified complex expense transactions channelled through interposed entities, including company and discretionary trading trusts. I compiled evidence of all financial records associated with these elements, as part of the audit. Additional complexities arose, with the tax agent and taxpayer taking an aggressive approach to any consultations and enquiries based on their concerns surrounding the potential implications of the audit.
Tracking the transactions across the various restaurants, and between the discretionary trading trusts, I also assessed income from the business against their personal expenditure. By taking an objective approach in evidence gathering, applying the ATO policies, guidelines and income tax legislation and liaising with colleagues, I was able to establish a range of strategies that met ATO compliance obligations, and also allow the taxpayer to resolve the matter. I then approached the tax agent and taxpayer, working through the various options with them, and allowing them to advise which option best suited their circumstances. They selected the strategy that would best suit them, and we were able to arrive at an amicable resolution. As a result, I raised revenue of $500 000 (originally anticipated to be $40,000), and was also able to negotiate payment of the debt.
On a separate matter concerning a retail business, I had to apply a range of ATO rulings and income tax requirements in order to reconstruct the accounts of the business to ascertain the expected earnings and expenditure of the business (for example, to meet staffing costs). This was due to their failure to meet minimum record keeping standards. I applied minimum award wages for the retail industry to establish the staffing costs for five employees of the business, and had to determine reasonable staffing hours based on existing business operations in order to do so. The audit identified a significant shortfall in declared income and based on a range of risk indicators, I decided on a number of recommendations that involved the imposition of over 50% in penalties.
Our internal policies require such matters to be referred to the prosecutions team within the ATO, and I met with them, with my recommendations being approved. My report was subsequently used nationally by that team, as a ‘best practice’ example on how to link record keeping practices to penalties. I also received an email from the prosecutions manager, commending me on the quality of my report.
Describe your success in leading technical staff members to make sound decisions and your ability to develop the technical excellence and future capacity of the team.
I enjoy taking part in team activities that provide for the capability development and mentoring of more junior staff. This includes coordinating the induction of all new graduates and staff entering the team – welcoming them, and ensuring they have the requisite tools and knowledge to carry out their tasks. Where appropriate, I also facilitated workshops, going through cases to coach graduates on understanding how different cases can be dealt with.
When given the opportunity to act in higher roles, I have supervised staff, providing them with technical support, guidance and feedback and identifying their existing strengths and capabilities, as well as areas to extend their knowledge and experience to meet both their performance targets and career objectives. As part of delegating work across the team, I consulted with the team, also relying on my understanding of each team members existing workloads, priorities for our business area and based on consultation with my supervisor. Where appropriate, I redistributed workloads to remove the risk of burn out or stress. Acting in the APS6 role, I was also involved in the development of annual plans for the business, tracking performance of the team against quarterly targets, and balancing workloads to meet prioritised business outcomes.
As profiling champion, I am charged with up-skilling other staff (three teams of 45 staff across the site), on how to correctly and consistently conduct profiling to ensure that all risks have been identified at the onset of an investigation. It is important this occur prior to any discussions with tax agents, or taxpayers. I also conduct regular formal reviews, providing constructive feedback to the team member, in how to continuously strive to improve their profiling skills. I have had great success with this and am regularly approached by staff for advice and input into their case profiles, particularly when they are unsure of how to proceed. Feedback to date from management has been that these actions have led to a noticeable improvement in identification of risks through profiling, across the team.
Additionally, I have provided one on one coaching and mentoring for an underperforming staff member. This was quite challenging, as they were not a direct report. However, by working closely with their supervisor, understanding their work style and preferences including those capabilities that they needed to improve on, I was able to design a formal coaching plan spanning a 12 month period. This was determined to be a reasonable time to allow the staff member to build their capabilities and meet performance expectations. Prepared in consultation with their supervisor, the coaching plan included regular coaching sessions in relation to their work, where I tailored my communication style to suit their needs. Within eight months, the staff member was operating at the requisite level of performance and to the satisfaction of the supervisor and my manager. I was nominated for a line award, and received specific recognition from the Executive manager of my business area for this.
Provide an example of when you have managed a difficult situation to achieve team plan, discuss the challenges you encountered.
The approach I take in dealing with difficult situations is dependant on the nature of the situation or conflict. As an example, on occasion, I have to deal with very aggressive tax agents or others, either over the phone, or in person during meetings. By acting in a calm, respectful and professional manner, and taking the time to understand the cause of the behaviour, I am often able to amicably resolve the matter. One instance involved a tax agent yelling at me over the phone. Being conscious of the need to maintain working relationships with our clients, I responded calmly and used active listening skills to determine what they needed in order for us to settle the matter. It became clear the tax agent had negative experiences in dealing with the previous case manger, mainly as they were unable to obtain information from them. To address this, I provided a letter outlining the nature of the information we were seeking and in response, the tax agent was happy to meet and we were able to work together to resolve the matter – reintroducing a positive relationship between them, their client and the ATO.
Of an entirely different nature, another situation related to providing tailored coaching to a staff member who was underperforming. The staff member would often get overwrought and emotional whenever they were asked to explain how they had arrived at a particular decision. By adjusting my approach to suit their capabilities and their preferred work style, I was able to provide feedback in an open, respectful way that reflected an understanding of their sensitivities, and reduced the likelihood of an emotional outburst. From this, the staff member was able to meet their performance targets within less time than originally anticipated by management.