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Guidance to an undergraduate considering a career in an accountancy firm

December 19, 2015

It is a factor of my age: my children are now late teens/early 20s, and so are those of many of our friends. As a result, during the last year or so I have had several discussions trying to guide undergraduates and graduates on choosing firms, choosing departments.

Often, I say similar things to each; I do try to tailor to their background, understanding and preferences, but there are common themes. This short series of  blog postings  is an attempt to record several such thoughts. For ease of expression, I will refer to the people I am trying to help as undergraduates.

Thoughts on a career in taxation

I could write a book on my career in taxation; and on what I think a career in taxation might be in future. Instead, for now,  I will write about the things discussed with the most recent undergraduate who came to see me for advice.

My career

Firstly, for me, taxation has been, and continues to be, a brilliant career.

Largely because it has constantly provided me with intellectual stimulation- I have never been bored in 30 years of work- partly because the rules keep changing, with Budgets at least annually, and constant other revisions too; and partly because client problems are constantly different.

Equally largely, to my happiness in tax, is how I have chosen to practise it, and where I have specialised: family companies, families, individuals. As a result, I am lucky enough to have many deep and trusted friendships and relationships. This has been a constant source of personal fulfilment.

But there are many other routes to follow in tax: the one I took just happened to (i) happen to me (there wasn’t much forward planning); (ii) suit me.

Tax avoidance

Some former colleagues got their satisfaction from the intellectual challenge of tax planning and the intellectual complexity of detailed tax rules; with the large firms encouraging specialism and in depth knowledge.

That too can be rewarding in the career sense, and though I consider myself to have a very good knowledge of many aspects of UK taxation, the “deep specialism” “solve the same deep problem for several clients” has never been me. My role has been the reverse: serve the client, provide what they need.

I do think that one career plan which I wouldn’t recommend to undergraduates is concentrating of advising clients on tax schemes, niche products, “aggressive”, “avoidance”- call it what you will. Those days have, in my mind, long since gone.

Complexity

When I left my former firm, I did a clear out. Alas, even now, not quite a year later, I regret one thing that I did. For the last twenty or so years, not quite my full career in taxation, but most, I had sent my annual tax legislation to storage, just in case I ever needed to look at old legislation.

Then came the internet, and information on electronic databases; so, in practise, I suspect I never recalled even one set of legislation more than once or twice in the last decade. And, the books filled many storage boxes, so I told my colleagues they could be recycled.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to take a picture of the increase in size? In my thirty years, the main textbooks increased from two volumes to seven or eight volumes: plus, the paper is thinner, and the print smaller.

For an undergraduate considering a career in taxation, what does it mean? Several things. The difficulty has gone up, which can be both good or bad; the need to specialise has mushroomed (I felt 25 years ago I knew something about most parts of the two books, and a lot about some things; now there are whole swathes I don’t know about); the chance to have a high earning career (if money is your object) by implementing planning has gone down (because much of the seven books are rules making such things difficult); but the ability to have an interesting and fulfilling career is probably unchanged.

 

 

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