Overcoming language barriers in the tax preparation industry

Overcoming language barriers in the tax preparation industry

Carlos Lopez

CERCA May 22, 2019

Thank you, Tim and Vickie, for inviting us to CERCA’s 25th anniversary conference.

What an honor it was to have all of you on the panel and in attendance to give attention to this very important topic. Did you know that there are over 54 million immigrants living in the U.S.?  That means 1 out of every six people living in the U.S. is an immigrant. When someone enters this country, their tendency is to look for other people with languages, religions, cultures, and occupations like their own. The USA is often described as a Melting Pot of cultures, languages, ethnicities, and religions. People the fear of the unknown, and they see others speaking different languages, it’s easy to worry about what they’re saying because you simply can’t know.

Immigrants who come to this country fear the unknown as well, so imagine how frustrating it is to have to learn a whole new culture and tax system and then have to do it all without being able to read or speak English. How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language or who comes from a different culture? How do you deal with the frustration of not understanding? Americans are introduced to the tax system and federal deductions by their parents or when they start working, but imagine that you’re an immigrant who never had that introduction and now has SS and Medicare deducted from your paycheck. How are you going to recuperate those taxes?

Immigrant clients, as a demographic, need skilled, professional tax preparers more than ever, but those tax preparers need to be able to overcome these three barriers before they are going to be able to help them.

Barrier #1: Taxation policies from other countries are vastly different than ours.

We have a CPA member whose practice is in Central California; he was introduced to a Pakistani taxi driver who was under examination from the IRS. The taxi driver was shocked that he was subject to income tax let alone self-employment tax. After the examination ended, the taxi driver brought his taxi driving friends to the CPA, and he decided to hire a Pakistani speaking assistant to help him with tax preparation. 

The Solution: If you’re going to reach out to a niche market, be prepared to train your clients, hold workshops in your office, and prepare bilingual tax tips for your staff to hand out.

Barrier #2: Looks can be deceiving.

Back when I was a sole practitioner, a prospective client walked into the office and specifically asked for me. I went to greet him, and he looked like he had just walked out of the fields. There was still mud on his boots and pant cuffs and a chili stain on his shirt that was probably from the tacos he had for lunch, and he wanted to speak in Spanish. My first reaction was to schedule an appointment and hope he wouldn’t return, but thankfully I didn’t do that. It turned out he was a very successful farmer who needed a lot of bookkeeping, payroll, and income tax issues solved. He ended up being one of my best clients.

The Solution: Identify your fears and biases, even for those within your own culture, and combat them. Don’t let them keep you from getting new clients and moving your career forward.

Barrier #3: A false sense of security that our tax preparation software will get it right for us.  

We hear advertising slogans from some in our industry that say things like, “If you can read, you can prepare taxes.” We are all aware of the problems these so-called tax preparers have caused, and this is one of the reasons we’re here today.

The Solution: Train your staff to prepare tax returns and develop employees who wish to enter the industry and become professionals who attract new clients. If you have a market you wish to attract, train and hire individuals from that market to work for you.

In conclusion

Breaking down barriers will not be an overnight miracle; it takes change, and people fear change, but overcoming the language barrier requires knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and the tax industry is the best place to start. Everyone who works needs their tax return prepared, so don’t let the language barrier keep it from being you.