A career in tax might not be not what you think...
When you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, we’re betting tax specialist wasn’t top of the list. Lawyer, doctor, fireman, ballerina, singer all might have featured quite highly, but tax adviser probably didn’t even enter your head. Even now your knowledge of tax might be limited to the VAT you pay on stuff you buy and money they take from your wages if you have a part-time job.
Tax gets an unfair rep for being a bit dull, but it’s a vast area and a career in tax can be extremely interesting and rewarding. Imagine working out the tax Manchester United has to pay this year or doing a return for a Hollywood film star. Suddenly, it’s not quite so dull anymore…
What is tax?
Tax is one of those things that none of us ever gets to escape – we all pay it in some form or another, whether we like it or not. It also plays a vital part in maintaining our society, with the taxes that are collected being used to pay for health and social care, benefits, infrastructure, education and defence among other things.
You pay VAT on goods you buy in the shops; you’ll pay national insurance or employee contributions if you have a job. If you buy a house one day, you’ll have to pay stamp duty. Businesses will pay corporation tax on any profits they make and capital gains tax if they decide to sell. You’ll even pay inheritance tax after you die (or your estate will) if the value of property and possessions you own is over a certain amount.
What does someone who works in tax actually do?
If you decide to work in tax it’ll be your job to advise individuals and businesses on what tax they do or don’t need to pay. You’ll be able to tell anyone, from high street shops to pop stars, how much tax they owe, when they need to pay it and if there are any legitimate ways they can reduce their tax liability.
A tax consultant will advise businesses how to be more tax efficient, guide them through complex transactions and work alongside corporate finance advisors and lawyers.
It doesn’t just involve crunching numbers but can entail research, creating proposals and a lot of meetings with clients.
What’s a typical day like?
A typical day is a mix of planning the work ahead, meeting with senior staff and managers or dealing with client queries. But it’s also hugely social too, according to Oliver, an Apprentice Analyst with Big Four accounting firm Deloitte.
He says: “In the morning, we have our internal team meeting, where we discuss what work we have on, including people asking to take on more work or for help with a specialised client query. It’s a good way to get a feel for what everyone’s doing.”
“I often meet clients face-to-face; having the opportunity to visit client sites and talk to them in a more personal way.”
“I finish at about 5.30pm and went with a few team members to our weekly 5-a-side football match, before commuting home.”
Where can a career in tax lead?
A career in tax can take you on many paths but generally speaking people specialise either in corporation tax (dealing with businesses’ tax affairs) or personal tax (individuals’ tax affairs). If you opt to work in a corporate environment, you’ll spend a lot of your time dealing with companies, helping them to file the correct tax returns and pay the right amount of tax. You’re also likely to be involved in advising on commercial decisions and what the tax implications are.
With personal tax you’ll file returns for individuals, deal with enquiries about their PAYE tax codes, national insurance, inheritance tax, buying and selling property and how to deal with HMRC, the country’s tax and revenue collection service.
Some tax consultants will specialise in a particular area such as stamp duty or VAT, for example, but most will have a basic understanding of all areas.
Once qualified, tax consultants either work for larger accountancy firms such as Deloitte and progress to becoming chartered accountants, or they may eventually set up their own practice. There are also opportunities to work in industry, for a particular company advising them of their tax obligations in-house.
Why should I consider an apprenticeship in tax?
If a career in tax really interests you but taking the degree route doesn’t, an apprenticeship in tax is an ideal alternative. You start work straight away and effectively earn while you learn. You gain real-world work experience at the same time as you are working towards a valid industry qualification, and in many cases this can be a degree level qualification.
Apprentices also get plenty of support from the people they work with, who often have a wealth of experience and advice to offer.
Oliver adds: “The people I’m surrounded with every day have really helped me make the transition from sixth form to work.”
“It is exciting and challenging and provides a brilliant sense of reward through the firm’s recognition of hard work.”
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