Shiv Mahalingham is an Economist, Tax Lawyer, Chartered Tax Adviser (Fellow) and Chartered Accountant. He is a founding Partner and the Head of Transfer Pricing at Alvarez & Marsal Taxand UK LLP, a rapidly growing partnership established in October 2007.
Like many, I did not always harbour the desire to work in tax.
However, taxation is an area that attracts a great deal of discussion in the boardroom and it is also an area that is steeped in history.
(Look at the Boston Tea Party protest against taxation without representation; Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience’ in refusing to pay taxation in protest against war; Albert Einstein’s declaration that the hardest thing in the world to understand is taxation, and the imprisonment of Al Capone).
Many of the people who work as tax advisers start in audit, accountancy, in HM Revenue & Customs or in other areas of law and then move into taxation due to the challenges posed by complex structuring and legislation that changes regularly.
International tax planning and transfer pricing offer further challenges in that it is essential to have an understanding of the interaction of taxation with other key business areas to ensure that value benefits can be maximised for clients.
This should be of interest to students who like to see the impact of their advice on business profits.
I commenced my academic career at the London School of Economics and Political Science reading Economics. I worked at Arthur Andersen during the summer and was able to obtain an excellent insight into a career in taxation.
I joined a large accounting firm after graduation (after realising I was not going to make it in the British Basketball League) and completed a three-year training contract to train as a Chartered Accountant.
Most firms offer students the opportunity to work in different areas including audit, accountancy, taxation, transaction support, corporate finance, etc, allowing you the opportunity to choose a field that is best suited to your skills and interests.
Whilst it is important to assess where you will be most effective, many firms will offer you the opportunity for secondments or internal moves post-qualification and there are also many opportunities to travel and assess the interaction of taxes in a number of jurisdictions.
This will ensure that you find the right place for you (which is as much in the interests of your employer as it is in your own).
On completion of my exams as a Chartered Accountant, I qualified as a Chartered Tax Adviser and then wrote a thesis on modernising the UK tax system whilst maintaining the competitiveness of the UK economy – this thesis was accepted by The Chartered Institute of Taxation and I was awarded Fellowship status at the age of 26.
I then went on to achieve my Master’s in Taxation Law. It should be noted that a stream of tax qualifications is not essential to a career in taxation – however, the CTA and ACA qualifications are highly respected internationally and offer the opportunity for students to work and study simultaneously which suits many individuals who could not afford the opportunity for further study on a full-time basis postgraduation.
In 2003, I took the opportunity to work in industry for a few years which significantly improved the quality of my own advice as I was forced to think about business services from the perspective of the client and work with operational departments who had not considered the impact of taxation on business.
My own firm
I then returned to one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms before establishing Alvarez & Marsal Taxand UK in October 2007.
During my career, I have provided international taxation and transfer pricing advice to the largest multinationals across the globe; however, there have also been opportunities to assist growing funds and businesses.
Whether you choose to specialise in particular market segments, industries or specialisms is entirely up to you and this decision may be taken over time as you develop your skills and interests.
Options for future tax professionals
A career in taxation is competitive and challenging; however, there are also many benefits including the ability to design structures from scratch for clients, enter into strategic negotiations with tax authorities, operate as an extension of your client’s tax department, and become involved in the shaping of tax legislation through consultations with tax authorities.
There are many options in terms of where you choose to work: the ‘Big Four’ and other accountancy firms; law firms; the civil service (e.g. HMRC); industry; or you could even establish your own firm with like-minded partners as I did, if you feel that this is the best way to provide clients with the service that they require.
Whatever your choice, I wish you good luck.