The future client experience Small business, 25-26 August 2015

The small business client experience workshop brought together small business owners, our partners in the system, senior leaders from the ATO and representatives from other government agencies. Together we designed the four year plan that will make our future vision a reality for small business.

This is an opportunity for us to be bold and look over the horizon - Deputy Commisioner Steve Vesperman.

As the experience owner for small business, Deputy Commissioner Steve Vesperman highlighted the importance of the workshop as a starting point for the next phase of work for the ATO. "We'll be working through what our journey and roadmap is for the next four years, and what we will be doing differently."

Small business is the new black - Judy O'Connell

Judy O'Connell is the experience lead for small business and she provided an overview to the group of where we are now, and some of the concerns held by small businesses. "They want certainty and to do the right thing; transparency; and the ATO to be upfront and overt in its actions."

Visualising small business demographics

While small businesses are good at what they do, levels of 'small business literacy' can be low. Many have significant concerns about managing their cashflow and the 'fear factor' is very real. Judy highlighted the need for the ATO to be there for businesses to help them grow, supporting and assisting them, not just auditing and correcting them.

Listening to small business

A highlight of the workshop was hearing directly from some small business owners and operators.

The participants had a wide range of backgrounds including an architect, software developer, tax practitioner, and telecommunications consultant. They provided an insight into what worries them; their record keeping practices; the support they look for from ATO staff; the complexity associated with growing a business; and their thoughts on what managing tax and super might look like in the future.

What keeps you up at night?

"Worrying about cashflow when making BAS payments. My clients don't always pay their bills on time".
"Super is complex and it is hard to comply"

What do you use for record keeping?

The panel of participants used different software applications, ranging from spreadsheets to MYOB and subscription-based cloud software.

The subscription model for accounting software means that "compliance has a very tangible cost now".

What are your expectations of ATO staff?

"I'm looking for advice or an answer, not just information or directions to legislation. The ATO officers don't seem to want to take a risk".
"I need to arrange a call back from the ATO during business hours. A call back outside of business hours impacts on my personal time".

Has the complexity of the tax and super system impacted your decision to grow your business?

All the participants agreed that complexity had impacted their business growth. The rules around employees and contractors are complex and vary across government and insurance providers. The timing around working out BAS and Super was also seen as challenging.

"It's a no-mans land between a one man business and being big enough to fund an accountant"

What does the future look like?

No more paper receipts or invoices; having a person to talk to; more time for developers to build greater value into software for clients; expanded pre-fill and everything in one place; and ATO services delivered through software.
Clients want to pay for expertise, not administrative tasks.

Getting down to business

After listening to the panel we worked on identifying the pieces of work that we will be needed to deliver the future experience for small business.

Future experience review

Our panel of small business representatives reflects on the future experience for small business

What are the key things that will have the most impact on small business?

  • Speaking with the same person across interactions will help to build confidence and trust.
  • The possibility of the ATO working with the banks to pre-fill a BAS.
  • Having a compliance rating could be a good thing and it could be something that is valued by small business, for example if they are seeking finance.
  • The concepts discussed so far sound good at a high level but ultimately people have to use them. The ATO doesn’t have other competitors to learn from. Don’t be afraid to walk away from ideas or initiatives that aren’t working.

What have you heard about in this workshop that you didn't know about?

"Heaps!!! I know now, but who will tell the other 2.7m businesses?"
'Show me how and what' (products and services are available to support me) came through as a strong theme through the workshop

What messages are you going to take away from this workshop?

"I'm excited about 2020"

The participants were impressed with the hard work that is currently going on within the ATO to deliver great services, and saw many things that could be leveraged across government. They were excited about 2020, and looked forward to getting back some of their time spent on tax that they could then use to focus on running their business. They also noted that it is important for the ATO to continue to speak to businesses more widely and in a variety of different ways.

The top focus areas for change

The Commissioner, Chris Jordan, has highlighted that his priorities are online services (so that our clients have choices in how they interact) and voice authentication. Building on these, the pieces of work that we need to deliver for small business will include a focus on:

  • Understanding our clients and integrating with their natural systems;
  • Changing our approach so that small businesses don't fear the ATO and we are able to work together on the journey forward;
  • The security of information and letting people see the information we hold about them;
  • Working with and empowering our partners to provide services for our clients;
  • Marketing and education with a focus on early education in schools;
  • The organisational structure and operating model of the ATO, including the skills and capabilities of our staff.
"What we will do from today will be to start to map out the 4 year program of change that we will deliver - you have permission to hold us accountable for that" - Steve Vesperman
We need to be looking through the eyes of the taxpayer as we set the journey forward.

In closing the workshop Steve Vesperman emphasised that we can’t just rely on systems, engagement is also critical – engagement is the difference between an organisation that delivers and a high performing organisation. While the experience owner will have the right of way call, they can’t do it all by themselves. We need to think in a multi-dimensional way and if we can turn this thinking into reality then we can stand tall and we will be well on our way to delivering the future experience for our clients.

What happens next?

Now the team will get together to collate and analyse all of the workshop ideas. These ideas will form pieces of work that will be integrated with those that have come out of other Future Experience workshops being run for each community segment and with our partners. Together they will be used to build a consolidated picture of the work we need to do over the next four years to deliver our future vision.

Thank you for your hard work, insights, and contribution to the workshop!
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Australian Taxation Office

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