In November, the International Business School of Cologne was happy to welcome tax advisors Beate Kreuter and Linda Menke of the tax department of Deutsche Telekom in Bonn. For an hour, both talked about current challenges tax departments face, gave insight into the strenuous but rewarding path to become a tax advisor and shared their personal passion of working in taxes.
After about thirty minutes, the first student was confident enough to address the elephant in the room: “How much money does a tax advisor make?” Linda Menke had just presented what it takes to become a certified tax advisor in Germany: academic background, at least two years of experience on the job – and, most importantly, passing the tax advisory exam. Linda Menke advised students to prepare one and a half years in advance. That meant eighteen months of studying while still working full-time, potentially costly weekend classes, and countless mock exams topped by three six-hour-exams on three consecutive days and oral presentation. The failure rate is at about 50 %. By own accounts, Menke wrote roughly 60 mock exams. It paid off – since this year she is allowed to call herself certified tax advisor. Once you have passed the exam, the speaker said, tax advisors can expect an annual salary of about 80,000 EUR.
Working as a tax advisor stands for financial stability. Once a tax advisor, you never lose your certificate, allowing yourself to always work independently. Currently however, Linda Menke works in the tax department of Deutsche Telekom, as do her colleague Beate Kreuter and about 40 other people of the over 60,000 that work for the tele communication company in Germany alone. To give an estimate of the responsibility tax advisors have, the speakers shared company figures from 2018: Deutsche Telekom, which both often intuitively only refer to as DT, made a net profit of 2.2 billion EUR – but also had to pay roughly half a billion in taxes.
While one might be easily misled, that it is the money that gets people into taxes, the experts painted a refreshingly more relatable picture. Linda Menke’s way to Deutsche Telekom was rather unconventional. Part of a team that developed a software for prompt corporate tax returns, she wanted to understand the topic matter on a deeper level and prove to herself and everyone that she had the grit to work in taxes, too. Beate Kreuter, who entered the field about thirty years ago, added that — despite common belief — taxes are never boring. “Tax law changes every year. Working as a tax expert for a big company means that you constantly look for solutions. The key is being quicker at finding new solutions than new changes in the tax law become effective.” To this day, Beate Kreuter enjoys the intricate tinkering of working on often project-specific tax solutions.
Apart from these day-to-day obstacles, tax departments on an operational level are facing the same challenges as the business world in general, namely globalization and digitalization. The first has been traditionally tricky, when it comes to taxes. Taxes are always routed on a domestic level. When companies merge or one buys the other, international tax departments have the important responsibility to agree on fiscal commitments smartly and correctly. At the same time, tax regulations are dynamic and even in a static state so complex that one seldom knows more than his or her domestic background. Digitalization can potentially help here. The vision is to use artificial intelligence to make the job more efficient – like the software that Linda Menke presented – a software designed to lowering the average duration of corporate tax returns’ filing to their final assessment from over five to one year.
Behind all this development, the never-ending conflict between simple taxes or just taxes prevail. “A simple tax system can never be just”, says Beate Kreuter. “It would be too rigid. What about single parents, independent business men, people that commute?” The way she tells it, however, taxes do not need to be simple. That would take all the fun out of it anyway.