• Bio: Sarah has capitalised on her legal training at university with a successful career in Corporate Tax. She outlines the path she took to working in tax consultancy for one of the Big Four.
  • Role: Assistant Manager
  • Location: Belfast
  • Organisation: PwC

Sarah

I studied law with French at university, spending an academic year studying in Belgium as part of the Erasmus programme. I joined PwC in October 2009, starting my chartered accountancy qualification at the same time. After passing my final accountancy exams in November 2012, I applied to sit the Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) exams and I successfully passed these in January 2014, obtaining a distinction in the Taxation of Individuals paper and being awarded The Pat Cullinan Medal for the student who obtained the highest marks in Northern Ireland.

Why did you choose a career in tax?

Though I ended up studying law almost by default, I really enjoyed my degree, especially the elements of criminal and family law. However when I got some practical experience (shadowing a barrister in an attempted murder case and working in a practice of solicitors specialising in family law), I realised that practising law was not the career for me. In my final year of university, I was interested in accountancy as an attractive career option. It could give me the experience I wanted: being able to work in a large organisation that offered an excellent training scheme and plenty of opportunities for the future.

When applying to PwC, I chose tax as the department I wanted to work in because I felt my skill set was best suited to this area. I was comfortable with and interested in working with tax legislation and interpreting case law. Undertaking the accountancy qualification enabled me to gain a good grounding on a wide range of business issues, which helps me understand the wider business issues that affect our clients. Obtaining the CTA qualification has allowed me to build upon the practical knowledge I have gained working in the tax department, and made me a well-rounded tax adviser.

What is a typical day like for you?

I initially started off dealing with corporate tax compliance work. This involves drafting corporation tax computations and returns for submission to HMRC, along with communicating with our clients and HMRC to ensure that each company pays the right amount of tax at the right time. Our office deals with a mixture of both owner-managed businesses and large groups of companies. I have been involved in managing the taxation affairs of a variety of these businesses and each of these brings different issues to consider. Working in the corporate tax compliance team gave me a good grounding as to the basics of corporation tax, which has proved invaluable for the work I am now doing.

I now work as part of our corporate tax consulting team and I maintain relationships with a portfolio of compliance clients, picking up on ad hoc issues or specific projects as they arise. I also currently do a lot of work on restructuring and mergers and acquisitions.

A typical day for me at the moment will begin with a cup of tea while I compile my ‘to-do’ list. Working in tax means there are always deadlines to be met so good prioritisation skills are key.
As I work within a larger team on each project, a typical day consists of several meetings to catch up on the progress of ongoing projects. Much of the rest of my time is spent researching, speaking to specialist tax experts, and preparing reports to analyse the tax impact of the transactions currently being undertaken by our clients.

As I am involved in tax consulting work, a lot of the work I perform requires implementation by legal teams, so I spend a lot of my time dealing with other teams and responding to their queries in order to progress the transaction for our client. If there is an international element to the transaction, we also need to take advice from our colleagues overseas and so I can also spend part of my day catching up with these overseas teams.
Working in tax consulting means there can be weeks which are busier than others, so you need to be flexible and prepared to put in some extra hours when a project is due to be completed.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

While the job can be time pressured and demanding at times, there are many positives about working both in the profession and for PwC.

The work is challenging and you are constantly learning new things, whether through your own research or from being coached by more senior members of the team. I really enjoy working with a variety of highly qualified and motivated people who constantly seek to develop others. I am also involved in training junior members of staff, which I enjoy. It allows me to share my experiences with them and try to ensure they have the knowledge they need both from a technical and practical perspective.

Right from day one, I was involved in client work. In my time with PwC I have been involved in a variety of large projects, covering a wide range of issues. We are encouraged to form relationships with clients. Going to meet our clients and being involved in delivering the results they desire are parts of the job that I really enjoy.

Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry?

I will split my advice into two categories – study advice and practical advice.

In terms of study advice, I found both the accountancy and tax exams the most challenging I have ever undertaken. You really need to be prepared to put the hours in on top of your working week in order to pass, and also devote an appropriate amount of time to studying before the exams. It will be worth it once you have gained the qualification.

As for the practical advice, when you are in the office, don’t expect to be spoon-fed. Try to be inquisitive: ask questions and research areas you have not come across before. This will develop your understanding and demonstrate your willingness to learn. As tax is complex and constantly changing, it is essential to recognise what you do and don’t know, and seek advice where you are unsure. It is no bad thing to admit that you don’t know the answer, as long as you commit to finding it out.

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