As promised, here is one of the conversations I had with clients while in Cannes at our Fall Symposium.
The client was from a tax authority in one of the Scandinavian countries, and told me about an idea they are playing with. They are planning to develop a virtual tax city; where taxpayers – both corporate and individuals – can find all information and services related to tax filing and payment. Part of the conversation was about how to use web 2.0 functionalities to make this more enticing to people.
However, very soon the conversation moved to whether the whole idea of a tax city was a good one. For how enticing it might look like, especially for individuals – who have very seldom contacts with tax authorities – establishing a special place in cyberspace to go to for everything concerning taxes may not be the best solution. How about creating tax squares in those virtual cities they spend most time in? This means to create a tax square on Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and other sites that people use for social networking and connect to very frequently. Of course these may also be online banking sites, auction sites or whatever else constitutes a frequent destination when surfing the Internet.
Another interesting metaphor is a tax bus. While going to the tax square still requires a conscious decision (e.g. following a link or looking for a friend on a social networking site), a tax bus would come at your door when you need it: when the filing deadline is approaching and you haven’t filed yet, or when you’ve been paid your credit, or when a new regulation that would affect your specific taxable income is issued and you should take action to minimize (or maximize) its impact. Of course whether the tax bus should be branded and driven by the relevant revenue agency as opposed to an intermediary remains to be seen.
A tax bus looks like a better idea than both a tax square and certainly a tax city. Some have already been working on the basics of such a model by using SMS notifications on mobile phones, but usually only to send reminders or confirmations. More can be done by understanding more deeply how people does and will use social networking mechanisms such as feeds or social bookmarks.
Then, why are so many revenue agencies still working on their cities?