I started studying as a business studies student at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. My degree course included a placement year, which I spent working at EY (Ernst & Young as it was then called), Aberdeen. This gave me the chance to find out what my ‘dream job’ as an accountant was all about.
Having enjoyed my placement year at EY, I returned in 1994 following completion of my degree to train as a chartered accountant. This involved a three-year training contract with a mixture of audit, accounting, personal tax and corporate tax, all of which gave me a good grounding which would prove very useful in later years.
On completion of my exams as a chartered accountant, I realised my skill set was aligned to a career in tax. Good client handling and problem solving skills, a thirst for learning and an ability to work through complex legislation and provide explanations to clients are essential. I also found tax was my best subject in my accountancy exams – which prompted my transfer to the tax department in 1997.
Upon joining the tax department, I started studying for my associate exams with The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT). My accountancy training gave me a wide knowledge base on different tax issues but depth of knowledge is vital in order to specialise in tax. I passed my CTA exams first time (phew!) in 1998. At that time, my work focused on corporation tax compliance, where I prepared corporation tax computations and dealt with HM Revenue & Customs correspondence for a variety of clients.
In 1999, I decided to specialise in corporation tax consulting – which involves providing tax advice on a variety of ad hoc issues such as advising on acquisitions, disposals, overseas tax planning and the international aspects of UK tax legislation.
This type of work often requires knowledge of other areas in order to advise clients accurately – for example, the accounting treatment of a transaction can impact on the tax treatment, and understanding the personal tax position of a shareholder is important when advising on a business disposal. The importance of tax planning is never more evident than when a finance director lists tax as one of the areas that keeps him awake at night!
Whilst I was based in the Aberdeen office, the majority of my clients were oil exploration and production companies and oil service companies. As well as being familiar with general UK tax legislation, I also had to be aware of the special tax rules which apply to oil and gas companies. The UK oil and gas industry is an exciting place to be, with different companies entering the market to discover oil in new areas and increase oil production using advanced technology.
Dealing with new entrants to the UK market brings different challenges – dealing with new start up businesses and explaining how the UK tax system works or understanding how the UK tax system interacts with overseas rules where the new entrant is based in another country.
Specialising in the oil and gas industry is also interesting as many of the companies involved operate internationally. This gave me the opportunity to work in London and allowed for some international travel.
A large part of my role in Aberdeen also involved giving clients international tax advice – ranging from advising companies operating in a new country for the first time to more detailed tax planning for established worldwide groups.
In 2004, I took the plunge and decided to sit the inaugural exams for the CIOT Advanced Diploma in International Taxation (ADIT). Studying for exams after a period of five years (since my CTA exams) seemed like a tough challenge but I found the whole experience enjoyable due to the interesting exam syllabus. I sat and passed two of the three papers in May 2004 and received the Heather Self Medal for the highest marks in Paper I. I submitted a thesis for completion of the third and final paper in 2005 and obtained my ADIT qualification.
In April 2007, I transferred to EY in London to specialise in international tax for mid-market clients, covering a wide range of industry sectors. I’m able to draw on the international tax experience I gained in Aberdeen and the technical knowledge from my studies to advise fast growing, entrepreneurial clients on how to structure their overseas operations.
Reflecting on my career, I’ve been fortunate in making the right decisions: for example, deciding to specialise in corporate tax advisory and international tax. Many of my peers have chosen to work in industry, in either finance or in-house tax positions. As a tax adviser in practice, my day to day job involves working in teams with different clients on a wide variety of interesting technical issues. The tax rules around the world are constantly changing – so there’s always something new to learn!