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Robyn Jacobson is taking the mystery out of tax

CPA Australia

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For Fellow of CPA Australia Robyn Jacobson accounting isn’t just a profession, it’s a passion and a vocation that cuts across various aspects of life and work. Jacobson, who chairs the Victorian division of CPA Australia’s Public Practice Committee, has spent the last 22 years as a tax trainer, demystifying the complex world of Australian tax for organisations, businesses and individuals.

She was just a teenager when she stumbled upon her future path.

“I was 15 and chose accounting as one of my Year 11 subjects – the first class I walked into my teacher wrote on the blackboard the letters A=L+E – which means assets equals liabilities plus equity and something just clicked,” Jacobson says. “Accounting was a great combination of Maths and English and even as a teenager it made sense to me.”

Early in her career, Jacobson worked in areas such as audit, business services and superannuation for large and mid-sized firms. In the mid-nineties, the firm she was working for, Boyd Partners in Melbourne, was readying itself for the introduction of GST in Australia. In February 1998, Jacobson was asked to chair a GST taskforce. Unsurprisingly, it also became a turning point in Jacobson’s trajectory – and a defining moment of her career to date.

“It was the first time I’d presented in front of anyone – I did a lot of preparation and although I was nervous, it went well, and then I presented a second and a third [time],” she says.

“We were then engaged to present fifty-five GST seminars around the country to CEOs – I did that for eighteen months and got a taste for it. I realised that I love presenting and communicating very technical information in an engaging, practical way.”

Jacobson’s growing expertise – coupled with her passion for making the often-complex world of taxation more equitable and understandable - saw her head-hunted by Webb Martin, which she joined in 2000. Another turning point came in 2005 when Jacobson left Webb Martin to start Cyntax, her own tax training business. Although Jacobson’s business grew to operate in four states and engage seven staff members, the following six years were rife with logistical and intellectual challenges, but she rose to the occasion. She says that the self-knowledge and professional resilience she built during those years was formative.

“It was the first day of July in 2005 and I’d finished up at Webb Martin the day before – I sat at my desk and all I had was a laptop, a mobile phone and a car,” says Jacobson, who ranks running her own business among her proudest achievements to date. She continues:

“Within three weeks I had my first client. Within a matter of months, I was able to establish a small client base in Newcastle where I was living at the time. In the early years of the business, I was writing, training, doing all my own bookkeeping, marketing and running the office.

I moved back to Melbourne [from Newcastle] in 2007 and the business incorporated and grew significantly after that. As the sole director of Cyntax Pty Ltd, my accounting background meant that I had a good knowledge of how to run a business – but it’s never the same when you do it for yourself.”

Jacobson sold the Cyntax training business to TaxBanter, a successor of Webb Martin, in 2011 – a moment that saw her career come full circle. At TaxBanter, Jacobson is a senior tax trainer and registered tax agent, devoting herself to tax training and advocacy.

Jacobson recognises that taxation permeates everything we do as a society with implications that range from the economic to the social. “I’ve had enormous exposure to all sorts of businesses, dealings and arrangements over the years because so much of what businesses and individuals do is affected by the tax system,” she says.

Taxation in Australia is becoming increasingly complicated and is subject to constant legislative change. “Every year we have hundreds of amendments and dozens of tax bills and it becomes more complex every time the law changes,” she says. “Policy shifts over four decades of successive governments have added to the layers of complexity, coupled with continual court decisions and ATO guidance.”

Jacobson works tirelessly to champion a range of issues that matter to CPA Australia’s public practitioners – by advocating for a tax system that is fairer and simpler, as well as identifying administrative issues that arise between practitioners and the ATO.

For the last 11 years, Jacobson has presented at CPA Australia’s Victorian Public Practice Conference and champions the organisation’s efforts in her role as Chair of the Victorian Public Practice Committee.

“I have regular discussions with the CPA Australia policy and advocacy team and talk about what work needs to be done and how issues can best be communicated to CPA members,” Jacobson said.

As the host of TaxBanter’s popular podcast, Tax Yak, and editor of the Banter Blog, Jacobson explores tax issues such as the implications of the instant asset write-off for small businesses, the implementation of Single Touch Payroll and the impact of the government’s recent personal tax cuts.

Jacobson also seeks to increase awareness on tax issues through her regular LinkedIn posts. Her efforts on behalf of the profession have been recognised in her recent selection as the Winner of the Thought Leader of the Year category at the Women in Finance Awards 2019 in Sydney.

Jacobson enjoys mentoring young accountants and says that self-belief is one of her greatest assets. The other is her conviction that clearly communicating knowledge and information about taxation can make a valuable difference to accountants – along with the public that relies on them.

“I sit in a unique position because I'm never advocating for a particular outcome for a taxpayer but can move impartially between the professional bodies, the government, the ATO, and the practitioners, striving for a better tax system where everyone is better informed,” she says.

“To young accountants starting out in the field, I’d say that if you’re worried about how to advance your career, believe in yourself and always maintain your integrity and credibility. If in some small way my work can improve tax policy, assist the ATO in administering the law, and increase practitioners’ understanding of our complex tax laws, I think that's a valuable contribution to the profession.”

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