A smart inheritance tax app called "Smart Souzoku" together with Epson Connect lets ordinary middle-class families easily draw up complex gift contracts
- Shinoda Tax Accounting Office releases a smart inheritance tax app called "Smart Souzoku" that utilizes the Epson Connect API
- Printouts are even more useful for family contracts, for legibility, permanence, and eventfulness
- The Epson Connect API dialogue-free printing UX
The Osamu Shinoda Tax Accounting Office released a smart inheritance tax app called "Smart Souzoku" in November 2021. The app, available on the LINE social network platform, allows everyone to easily draw up a gift contract for free without any specialized knowledge. Users of the smart app can create gift contracts by simply answering yes-or-no questions on a smartphone. The app links to a printing and mailing service through the Epson Connect API.
We interviewed Osamu Shinoda of the Osamu Shinoda Tax Accounting Office and the inventor of Smart Souzoku, along with Shou Ichikawa of Grandream Inc., the developer of the app, to learn the backstory of how the service was born.
Representative and CPA/Licensed Tax Accountant, Osamu Shinoda Tax Accounting Office
Software Engineer, Grandream Inc.
■Interviewer: Sayaka Morimoto
P Strategic Planning Department, Seiko Epson Corporation
*Honorifics omitted in article
"Smart Souzoku" LINE app to easily draw up gift contracts without detailed knowledge
Morimoto: Start by telling me about the Smart Souzoku service LINE app.
Shinoda: At my tax accounting office, our mission is to make it simple for ordinary middle-class families to manage inheritance and gifts. With that in mind, the service we are offering is based on a new concept. It stands at the intersection of insight into what the baby boom generation needs and LINE as a platform widely used by them.
The Smart Souzoku service brings inheritance and gift-giving know-how and convenient functions to Japan's first baby boom generation (those born between 1947 and 1949) and the second (between 1971 and 1974) through their smartphones. Users need only answer yes-or-no questions on the app to draw up gift contracts. Two other functions, "recommended gift type analysis" and "for-fee contact printing," have also been released in the first version of the service.
*For more about "Smart Souzoku" LINE app, please refer to https://smartsouzoku.com/lp/ (Japanese only)
Morimoto: What inspired the Smart Souzoku concept?
Shinoda: When my father passed away in 2016, we couldn't get much inheritance-related information that fit our case. Moreover, the licensed tax accountant I hired was also not accustomed to our situation, so the whole inheritance procedure was very stressful for us.
I had a 20-year career as an accountant, which included working as the CFO of a tech venture business. Even so, I spent a year learning about taxes and procedures related to inheritances and gifts, and then in 2018 I became registered as a licensed tax accountant. Over the years, I accumulated business experience, IT know-how, and tax knowledge, and wondered if I could offer some new value by joining these together. That led to the prototype of the current Smart Souzoku concept.
Ordinary middle-class families need inheritance literacy
Morimoto: So the idea was the product of your own experience. On the Smart Souzoku site, you use a typical ordinary middle-class family, "the Smarts," as an example to guide salaried workers and their families. The site explains the whole process from the event that triggered the inheritance (a death in the family) to payment of the inheritance tax. It's all very easy to understand. Why did you decide to make ordinary middle-class families as your target?
Shinoda: Because in most cases, the inheritance procedure is rather simple for ordinary middle-class families. If they can increase their inheritance literacy, they can carry out a "smart" inheritance process by themselves. The inheritance tax system relies on self-assessed tax payments. Following the same reasoning as final returns on income tax, the person must decide for themselves whether they need to report. Tax offices and local government offices don't tell you that you need to report, but they also won't accept the excuse that you didn't realize you had to report. In our lives, we unconsciously factor in income tax, for example, when women think about the ¥1.03 million cap on wages to be considered a dependent, or when deciding whether to get life insurance or a home loan. I hope these outcomes have the same effect when it comes to inheritance tax. If we incorporate inheritance tax logic into our lives, it makes it easier for the surviving spouse to make decisions, such as how to use their assets, whether to give gifts to their grandchildren, whether to take an expensive trip, or whether to choose a nursing home with more room. This logic gives you the knowledge that a typical ordinary middle-class family would need to be prepared and avoid losses.
Morimoto: Thank you. Now, I'd like to ask about the services you get with the Smart Souzoku app.
The services offered now are recommended gift type analysis, gift contract preparation, and the for-fee printing service. Tell us about the printing service.
Shinoda: For a fee, the office will print and mail documents for the customer. With the LINE app, you can generate a PDF of a gift contract and then print it from a smartphone, but we offer services for people who don't know how to print from their smartphones and want a printed contract mailed to the address they specify.
Printouts are even more useful for family contracts, for legibility, permanence, and eventfulness
Morimoto: Nowadays, many companies are digitizing their documents, even contracts. Why do you offer a printing service?
Shinoda: Because I think printing on paper has some big advantages in the home. The key points are legibility, permanence, and eventfulness.
Let's start with legibility. Many times, heirs and family members have age-related farsightedness. When you are looking over a contract, it's much easier to view it on paper. Paper also makes it easier for the family to gather around and run through the contract together. It's hard for multiple people in a living room to all look at one screen.
The next point is permanence. Paper is convenient for long-term keeping of a contract in the home. For tax purposes, a gift contract must be kept for at least seven years after the person's death. When you think about long-term storage, paper is easier to find than a digital file.
The last point is eventfulness. With a gift contract or other contract within a family, paper has secondary advantages over digital because when it is printed, family members can sign and affix a seal to it. Children and grandchildren can better appreciate the value of a contract signed and sealed by their own hand.
Morimoto: It seems that if relatives are going to work together to make a contract, they will get more sense of accomplishment if they sign and seal something tangible.
I understand you outsourced the development of the Smart Souzoku app itself. Tell me how you met your developer.
Shinoda: I investigated a number of web systems trying to find the best way to offer a convenient service relating to inheritance and gifts. I decided to use LINE as a platform, because it's already used by users of all ages. My service's target users are the first and second baby boom generations. LINE is already used by a high percentage of both these groups. As a social networking service connecting different generations, it has a prominent share.
When I first started developing the concept in 2019, not many businesses were releasing apps for the LINE platform, but a certain blog post caught my eye. Based on that, I reached out to Grandream and hired them to develop the app. I was impressed that Grandream had lots of development know-how not only with the LINE platform but also AWS.
The Epson Connect API dialogue-free printing UX
Morimoto: Now I'd like to ask some questions of Mr. Ichikawa of Grandream, the app developer. You decided to use the Epson Connect API as the print service for Smart Souzoku. Were you already considering the ability to print from the app when you started planning?
Ichikawa: When you try to batch-print multiple files from a web application, there will be a dialogue for each file if you are using standard printing functions. From the UX point of view, I wanted to avoid that. You could merge files, but I also wanted to avoid having to download a bloated file, so we researched and considered other ways to avoid those situations. That's when we found the Epson Connect API, which had exactly the functions we were looking for. By using the Epson Connect API, we eliminated the need to click the print button again and again during batch-printing and we achieved a function that lets you check print status in real time.
Morimoto: I'm glad to hear the API provided the functions you were looking for! I understand you were able to implement the app without support from Epson, but how is the usability?
Ichikawa: The Epson Connect API developers' site has plenty of documentation. We just had to read the specifications to understand how it works. The Epson Connect API lets you print and scan through a network. I began to see the various possibilities created by remote printing and the like. In the Epson Connect API system, the user issues a print command and gets a response that the request has been received on the server side. So, there's no need to go anywhere to get the execution status and the information is reflected in real time. It's all very convenient.
Morimoto: Was there anything that was hard to understand at the development stage, or any improvements you'd like to see?
Ichikawa: The documentation did not indicate that the Webhook printing status would be sent in camel case, so we did not realize this untill we actually operated the system. Also, the specifications are in PDF format and have a lot of pages, so it was sometimes slow to exchange information with the API.
Morimoto: Thank you for that very valuable feedback. Our hope is to improve the API so it's easier to understand and use.
*For more about Grandream Inc., please refer to https://www.grandream.jp/(Japanese Only)
*For more about Epson Connect, please refer to http://www.epsonconnect.com/
*For more about Epson Connect API, please refer to https://openinnovation.epson.com/en/developer/
Updates to educational resources and convenient tools for an era with rising interest in inheritance and gifting
Morimoto: Finally, is there anything you would like to say about new functions you are presently studying, or your outlook for the app?
Shinoda: I predict that interest in inheritance and gifts is going to grow even more because of the so-called 2025 problem. That's the year when the entire first baby boom generation will be latter-stage elderly (ages 75 and up). This is not very far away. Along with that, the trend toward longer life expectancy shows no sign of stopping. As more and more people live to 100 or more, they are increasingly worried about having enough funds in their old age.
New functions we plan to add going forward would expand beyond inheritance and gifts to include adjacent fields. We plan to offer information and convenient functions suited to the needs of the times. Recently, we released Calculation of Required Funds after Retirement called "Rougo Shikin no Shisan" for people who are considering making a gift but are also worried about having funds for their own old age. It estimates whether the person has adequate funds for gift-giving.
Morimoto: What expectations do you have for Epson going forward?
Shinoda: Although businesses are increasingly digitizing their documents, I think that in the home, the need for printing on paper will continue because of its advantages there.
I hope Epson will continue to pursue digital technology backed up by its technical strengths like the Epson Connect API, as well as technologies like EcoTank that are budget-friendly for home users. I hope Epson will continue to meet home printing needs.
Morimoto: Thank you! Certainly, it would be a good thing for more ordinary middle-class families to increase their inheritance literacy and save on their inheritance taxes. Hopefully we can be a society where families can feel appreciation and a sense of prosperity while the parents and grandparents are still alive. I look forward to seeing how Smart Souzoku evolves and expands in future.
Interview: February 2022
Written interview content and names of organization, affiliations, and titles, etc. are as of the time of the interview.