Most of my friends and family find it hard to believe that I enjoy working in tax. I think there are quite a few misconceptions about what we actually do and the stereotype is that we sit at our desks adding up numbers every day. In reality I find my job interesting, challenging, rewarding and a bit stressful at times too. Tax affects everyone yet it surprises me how often people know very little about it.
I work in the Expatriate Tax Team within the Human Capital bubble. I exam qualified in July 2011 and was promoted to Assistant Tax Manager the following April.
I deal with UK expatriate tax issues for UK outbound and foreign inbound individuals. At BDO we do not have a compliance-advisory split so we handle all aspects of the client engagement, from preparing tax returns for assignees, running shadow payrolls, holding arrival/departure briefings, liaising with our overseas offices regarding a cross border move as well as handling all advisory work as requested by the client.
BDO definitely do give you a lot of responsibility and exposure from day one. In my first week at BDO I was emailing/calling clients, attending client meetings and preparing tax returns.
I graduated with a degree in Economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and joined BDO on their graduate scheme in August 2008. A graduate scheme in tax appealed to me for the following reasons:
- It suited my skills – I have always liked working with numbers so I thought a career in an accounting firm would suit me well. Tax especially appealed to me as there is a lot of client interaction and you do need good communication skills whether it’s writing reports or communicating complex tax issues to someone who has no understanding of how the UK tax system works.
- Training – I have always enjoyed studying and liked the idea of receiving structured training which allowed me to acquire specialist skills.
- Languages – I chose expat tax as growing up I was an expat myself and wanted a career where I could use languages. The reality is that I do not get a chance to use any language other than English, but I do get to meet a lot of very interesting clients from all over the world.
- Hours – We do work hard as the 31st January tax filing deadline approaches, but for the rest of the year we work very reasonable hours. We are of course once in a while expected to put in extra hours if there is a big deadline to meet.
- People – I really liked the people I met during the interview process and can vouch that BDO is a very friendly place to work.
Qualification and training
BDO offer an excellent CTA training scheme through their in-house training programme. The training programme also exempts you from ATT. I joined BDO in August 2008, sat the Awareness and Individuals Advisory papers in November 2010 and the OMB Advisory and Case Study papers in May 2011.
On joining, the first four weeks were spent at college where we received an introduction to the UK tax system and started to build an understanding of how income and corporation tax works. After that, one week a month was spent at college to cover the CTA syllabus.
For two years trainees are at college for a week every month, which is a lot of time to be spent outside of the office. It is a testament of BDO’s dedication and investment in training its people.
After every week at college we would be assigned homework and be required to submit these to our tutors by an agreed deadline. There are also progress tests and end of year exams to complete; the more question practice you do the more likely you are to succeed in the CTA exams.
Help and support
Our tutors sit in the London office and I definitely benefitted from being able to see them in person anytime I had questions. I would often sit with them to go through homework or block out time in our diaries if I wanted a one-to-one session.
Another benefit of the internal training scheme is that regardless of which route you decide to specialise in, all trainees will attend the same classes. I took the CTA general route but still had to sit through all the classes (and submit homework) for corporation tax, VAT, trusts etc. This really helps on a day to day basis as you do need to be aware of other tax issues which may arise when advising a client. You are not expected to be an expert on all taxes, but an awareness of other taxes will help you do your job well.
My team were also very supportive as my exams approached. We are given quite a bit of time off to study for our exams and my partner would often tell me to go home and study if I was in the office past 17.30.
The CTA exams were definitely a lot more challenging than I had ever imagined. The papers are hard and in addition to this you will need to develop a study schedule which works for you. I definitely attribute my first time pass to the support which was provided to me by the tutors and my team.
Plans for the future
Since qualifying I find that I am still constantly learning more about expatriate tax. With my CTA exams behind me I have been able to focus my attention on my clients and think about what skills I would like to develop as part of my career progression.
BDO do take on board to what I have to say and give me the necessary exposure to help me develop. I understand it is quite common for newly qualified individuals to change firms, but my plan is to stay put at BDO. Having worked there for four years I couldn’t ask for nicer colleagues or a better working environment.