A team of five accounting students from the David Eccles School of Business won the regional round of the FanTAXtic tax case competition run by the Deloitte Foundation, earning a January trip to Texas to vie against eight other schools from across the country in the finals.
The team from the U will be competing in Texas against the likes of Michigan State University, the University of Missouri, St. John Fisher College, the University of South Florida, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas and the College of William & Mary.
The regional round in November featured 74 student teams from 51 schools competing head-to-head in 16 Deloitte offices around the country. The University of Utah had two teams vying in the company’s Salt Lake City branch, and the U’s “Team A”—Christopher Lancaster, Kit Battle, Eliza Rasmussen, Greg Thornton and Alex Barrett—won the day and will head to Deloitte University outside of Dallas on January 18 to compete for a grand prize of $10,000 for the school and $2,000 for each of the students. The U’s “Team B” nearly advanced as well; it was made up of students Connor Howard, Katey Jones, Christopher Winsley, Daniel Curtis and Eric Troff.
“The tax challenge provides our students with an incredible opportunity to study and work with other students at all stages of their educational careers, and with our top-notch faculty members,” said Dr. Martha Eining, chair of the School of Accounting at the David Eccles School of Business. “Researching and presenting their insights to the tax professionals at Deloitte is a real-world experience that is both challenging and rewarding. And earning the spot as the top team in our region, and being one of only nine teams going to the national competition, is an amazing achievement that speaks to the students’ knowledge and dedication.”
According to Professor La Var Harline, who worked as one of the U teams’ faculty advisors alongside Professor Scott Pickett, the students were given about three weeks to study a “very advanced and complicated” business and tax case sent to the teams from the Deloitte Foundation. The case had several questions regarding business and tax-planning issues of a medium-sized, closely held corporation, and the students were required to come up with solutions and summarize them in a short power-point presentation that was judged by two Deloitte tax partners. Each team was made up of five students: two sophomores, two juniors or seniors, and one graduate student.
Sophomore Eliza Rasmussen was on Team A, and she estimated that the group spent nearly 20 hours together working on the assigned case, in addition to time they worked on their own on different aspects of the assignment. She said the experience made her improve her public speaking since most of what she's done in the past was to friendly faces in a classroom rather than strangers in a business setting.
"It made me extremely nervous and more mindful of every word I spoke while presenting," Rasmussen said of the experience. "This real-life experience of presenting to people that I do not know will help me in the future with job interviews and other presentations I will have to give when I am in the workplace." The tax competition might even help Rasmussen decide on how to focus the rest of her academic career, she added. "I am considering majoring in Accounting, and the two main fields of work for accountants are tax and audit. Participating in this competition gave me exposure to the tax side well before I normally would. And it was very interesting to work with a team in a real-life situation."
Professor Harline said taking part in the competition improves the students’ classroom education in myriad ways. “The competition allows students to experience a real-world business and tax case that enhances their business problem-solving, teamwork, communication and presentation skills,” he said.
Fellow advisor Pickett concurred with Harline on the value of the competition for students.
“One of the challenges accounting and tax students face as they go from class to class is what will the ‘real world’ be like,” Pickett said. “The challenge does a great job in creating that real world experience for these studies. They are provided a case that simulates very closely the types of issues a young public accountant would face in the real world. Over time, the facts of the case change. They have the opportunity to share their well-developed thoughts with the CEO and CFO of the fictitious company involved, and shortly before presenting their findings, they learn more about the dynamics between the CEO and CFO, including the biases and personal desires of each. That type of experience can’t be duplicated in the classroom.”
The goal from Deloitte’s perspective is to give students a first-hand look at applying tax codes and regulations, introducing them to experiences they can expect to navigate when they start careers in today’s business environment.
“We have offered a tax case competition for years, and the current approach of the Deloitte FanTAXtic competition enables us to better bring together the academic and real-life professional experiences necessary for students to be successful outside of the classroom,” said Shaun Budnik, president of the Deloitte Foundation.
(Pictured above is Team A, with faculty advisors. From left to right: Professor La Var Harline, Christopher Lancaster, Kit Battle, Eliza Rasmussen, Greg Thornton, Alex Barrett, Professor Scott Pickett)