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What makes for a successful career in tax?


Michael Steed 

Co-Chair of the Association of Taxation Technicians’ (ATT) Technical Steering Group

Tax professionals need to think laterally. They are more commonly coming from accountancy professions and less so from the legal world; in addition, it is no longer a totally graduate profession.

The tax profession attracts and needs the best. It is a highly-skilled environment in which professionals can develop and thrive.

Traditionally, tax professionals come from the ranks of the accountancy profession and less so from the legal world. That demand is reflected by accountancy firms employing many more tax professionals than legal firms.

Another tradition is that tax professionals train post-degree, either as accountants or lawyers and then specialise in tax. However, tax degrees are now becoming more common, so it is no longer totally a graduate profession.

Huge opportunities exist for school leavers, through apprenticeships and direct entry into accountancy firms, to train for valuable tax qualifications such as the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT).

The skills you need for a successful career in tax

Key skills include good academic qualifications as an indicator of exam success and the ability to think through an issue. Tax professionals need good peripheral vision, with the ability to think laterally across a problem. I am often asked about tax problems and rarely do the answers involve just one tax – good tax professionals are able to look across the piste and recognise other tax touch points that will be in play. 

For example, the recent Coca Cola tax case (2017) was about the benefit-in-kind treatment of the provision of multi-purpose vehicles for employees – were they cars or vans? But the question has resonance in other areas; will the VAT on the purchase be recoverable and will the vehicle qualify for a 100% tax deduction in the Capital Allowances arena?

Tax, like accountancy increasingly has strong digital strands of DNA. Making Tax Digital (MTD) is the latest entrant into the digital arena, but this follows the digitalisation of tax returns for individuals and companies and the introduction of a real-time reporting system (RTI) for PAYE and NICS for employees.

Making Tax Digital comes on-stream for VAT in April 2019. This will mean quarterly online digital submissions using dedicated software. Other taxes will follow, probably from 2020 onwards.

Skills such as teamwork are necessary, as is the ability to ask searching questions and listen to answers, to understand the client’s perspective.

Specialised tax skills are always in demand and Brexit, for example, will see a steep rise in the need for indirect tax specialists to deal with areas such as customs duties.

So if you are considering a career in tax, come on in – the water’s lovely!         

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