Tax practitioners are on the frontline of change, and because of that, we’re constantly evolving our businesses. It’s a big ask, and we’re doing a great job keeping up. However, the changes continue to come, and not everything is matching our pace.
The AICPA’s Statements on Standards for Tax Services (SSTSs) were last updated almost ten years ago, and in that time, our profession has transformed dramatically. As a result, the current SSTSs don’t reflect today’s practice environment. What do we do when the standards we rely on to do our jobs no longer suit our needs?
We change the standards. Together.
Whether they realize it or not, your clients rely on you to follow the SSTSs when providing superior tax services. Whether you realize it or not, all AICPA members practicing tax are bound by these standards.
The AICPA is reviewing the existing standards and their interpretations. They will be updating them to echo the changes in the profession, and we’re looking to you for help. Review the topics covered in the SSTSs below, then take some time to reflect on your practice. Maybe you’ll have some insight or ideas to share.
What are the SSTSs?
It doesn’t matter what jurisdiction you practice in or what type of tax services you provide. If you’re an AICPA member who touches tax, you must abide by the SSTSs. The standards and their interpretations cover seven areas:
Recommending tax return positions or preparing or signing tax returns
Signing tax returns if any questions on the return are not answered
Examining or verifying supporting data when preparing a tax return
Using estimates in the preparation of a tax return
Departing from a tax return position previously concluded in an administrative proceeding or court decision
Applying standards for members who become aware of an error in a previously filed tax return or a failure to file a required tax return
Determining the form and content of tax advice provided to taxpayers
As an AICPA member, you’re already subject to the AICPA’s Code of Professional Conduct. As a tax practitioner, you must also comply with federal regulations like the Internal Revenue Code and Circular 230. In addition, as a CPA, you’re bound by your relevant state boards of accountancy rules. The SSTSs are enforceable tax practice standards that are meant to augment all of those regulations. If you don’t abide by them, you could face professional consequences.
Why are the standards being changed now?
Part of why we love our jobs is that each day is different. The laws, processes, technologies and environments are continually developing, and for better or for worse, there’s always something new to learn.
The SSTSs were meant to evolve with the times. It may not seem like a single decade is that long in the scheme of things, but these years have brought dramatic changes to the tax profession and the world.
Smartphones are everywhere, data has moved to the cloud, and the first major tax reform legislation since 1986 was just recently enacted. The types of clients we serve, the ways we communicate and even the primary tools we use to run our practices are different.
The current SSTSs don’t address issues such as mobile client communications or new and emerging technologies like client portals and other digital infrastructures. As we move and progress forward in a profession that’s always growing, the SSTSs must keep up with us, too. Check out the AICPA's technology resource hub to gain insight about technologies affecting the profession. Review this information as you consider how you see your own practice changing.
What’s the next step?
One of my proudest career achievements was obtaining my CPA license. I became a member of the AICPA in 2004, and it’s been instrumental in helping me build my career. I’ve developed trusted relationships with clients over my many years providing tax services because I adhere to the SSTSs. My clients have confidence in me, just like your clients do in you.
With that in mind, I’m asking you to reflect on the changes happening all around you, and let us know where you see the profession heading. The AICPA recently formed a task force aimed at reviewing, updating and adding the standards needed to address our evolving work environment. We’re examining the existing standards and using them as a starting point to build on.
The task force is exploring issues around data security, taxpayer privacy, tax consulting and controversy work, conflicts of interest, transaction implementation and more. We’re looking for comments on how to update the SSTSs from those who have firsthand perspectives on the challenges facing today’s tax practitioners.
Please send your input to Henry J. Grzes, CPA, Lead Manager on the AICPA Tax Practice & Ethics team, by July 31, 2019. These comments will be shared with the task force.