On Thursday, January 29th, Intuit Tax and Financial Center was an underwriter for the “Fight Against Fraud” Tax Symposium. The Atlantic took a closer look at how stolen identity fraud and improper EITC payments cost the country more than $5 billion a year–and examined data-based solutions to fighting fraud in the American tax system.
Intuit President and CEO, Brad Smith, opened the event with the following speech.
Good morning. Thank you for that kind introduction.
I am honored to also share the platform with Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the new Co-Chairman of the US Senate Working Group on Individual Tax Reform.
I want to recognize his leadership, particularly in the vital task of driving tax simplification reform for the average American taxpayer.
I share the view that such reform will be essential in the fight to combat what we are here today to help tackle – the issue of tax fraud.
Taxes play a critical role in the financial foundation of this country’s people and the economy, and fraud is a major threat to this foundation.
While I’m not here to suggest that tax time is a joyful time that people look forward to, the reality is that it is the one time when most Americans take the closest look at their finances and do their financial planning.
It is the time when they figure out how they can put money away for their kids’ tuition…or care for an elderly parent…or finally have the confidence to start their own business.
For many families, their refund is the biggest paycheck of the year.
The more we can do to help them get the full refund they’re owed – and the more we can do for those deserving families who rely on important refund credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit as a lifeline to financial survival – the more we do for our economy.
Unfortunately fraud has become a serious issue facing the tax system.
Most people work hard, pay their taxes, and do their best to be in compliance.
Yet it is estimated that $5 billion is lost each year due to fraud and improper payments. And this is but a sub-set of the looming threat of cyber-fraud at large.
This issue can be solved, but solving it will require a consumer-back approach, coupled with a public-private partnership between industry and government agencies.
But it must first begin with understanding who the real victim of this issue is – and it is the American taxpayer.
This is who we need to keep front and center as we identify ways to confront this challenging issue.
At Intuit, we are uniquely positioned to understand both sides of the taxpayer experience.
For those who may not know this fact, more than one third of all of tax returns in the United States are prepared with the help of Intuit software.
And perhaps what is even less known, is that we have a significant interest in both the do-it-yourself software category and the assisted tax experience where a professional does your taxes for you.
Through TurboTax, we file 29 million tax returns each year.
And through the accounting and tax professionals who use our software, we process another 24 million.
So while we are often thought of as the “do-it-yourself” software champion, I can assure you that we are focused on a system-wide solution for addressing fraud.
From this unique vantage point with roughly half of our tax returns being DIY, and the other half being “Assisted,” I can tell you that what we see is not always pretty.
Americans spend 6 billion hours each year preparing and filing their tax returns.
One of our CPA customers, Karen Collum in Dallas works 80-plus hour weeks during tax season. Her number one goal is to be of greater service to her clients, and yet she has less and less time to do so.
On the do-it-yourself side, Rocio, a single mom in Mountain View, California where we are headquartered, works part time at Macy’s and is counting on the EITC to help her buy a used car so she can get to work and take her son to school.
It is our collective obligation to make the tax system easier and not harder for all Americans, whether they choose to do it themselves, or seek the assistance of a professional.
Back door, front door – it doesn’t matter. All the doors need to be safe and secure.
Indeed, we believe that tax simplification reform must be one of the highest priorities of the U.S. Government.
Tax fairness is essential, and there is nothing more unfair than a tax system that is incomprehensible to the average person.
And that’s not the only reason simplification reform is essential.
Excessive complexity and burden creates a breeding ground for error, abuse and fraud in the tax system.
It is, therefore, critical in the fight against fraud that we make meaningful progress on tax simplification reform.
To achieve success in the fight against fraud, we must view this challenge as a team effort.
We have solved major challenges before, and we can do it again.
Look at what we accomplished with E-File. The IRS took on the challenge of transforming a paper-based process decades ago in partnership with private industry.
And here we stand today with almost all taxes done electronically and E-filed.
We must take the same spirit of private-public partnership in writing the next chapter together.
In doing so, my hope is that we keep three key principles front and center:
Fairness: the burden of compliance should be evenly distributed. We can’t put the burden of stopping tax fraud on low-income taxpayers.
Safety: personal tax information must be secure so you can trust your tax preparer or tax software are equally safe options.
Accuracy: and in doing so, you have the confidence your return is correct and you can count on your refund.
To achieve this, we must rise above general labels of “competitors” or “government and private sector,” and view ourselves as partners with a higher purpose in mind – in service to the taxpayer.
As members of private industry, no company should seek an advantage by building a business model that increases tax complexity for one method, hoping to tilt the scales toward another.
Likewise, government needs to step further into the technology era, rising above the decades-old muscle memory that often requires more paper and compliance burden as the solution to combat the fraud threat.
I challenge all of us to come together to collaborate on solutions and a principles-based code of best practices, which industry and Government can each adopt and put into action.
It won’t be easy, but just think what we can accomplish.
If we simply cut 1/6 of the tax burden currently being shouldered by the American taxpayer, that one billion hours gives them more time to spend with their families, or growing their small business.
When we take that $5 billion back out of the hands of tax fraud criminals, and put it back to work for American families, imagine the possibilities.
Today’s event is an opportunity to begin that discussion in a meaningful way.
We certainly don’t know all the answers at Intuit, but we look forward to openly sharing any insights our work has given us.
We’re committed and ready to go – and I look forward to hearing the thoughts and fresh ideas of every one else here today.
To see a video of the “Fight Against Fraud” Tax Symposium, visit The Atlantic.