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  • Name: Peter Coulthard
  • Job Title: Tax Adviser
  • Location: London
  • University: Cambridge
  • Degree: Economics
  • Type of Qualification: AAT
  • Areas of Specialism: Tax

Working in tax wasn’t what I spent my childhood imagining I would do; but the challenges and opportunities that tax seemed to offer lured me into applying and getting an internship. An amazing six weeks confirmed that working in tax was even better than it looked on paper, and I didn’t have a second thought about taking the offer of a full-time job once I graduated.

Why work in tax?

So what was it about tax that first attracted me and that I have enjoyed so much since?
The chance to use a range of skills
What first attracted me to tax was the variety of skills that it allows you to employ. From reading legislation and tax cases, to crunching numbers, to pulling together client proposals, each challenge pushed me to use different things that I had learnt, or new skills that I was acquiring. Taken together with the fact that tax is something that is everywhere, in our day to day lives, and I was working in a field which had a real life impact on people and businesses.
A broad range of backgrounds
While my economics degree has been put to use at times during my job, it is by no means a requirement. The first thing that I found when I started Ernst & Young (EY) is that those in my year in tax had a range of backgrounds that wouldn’t have been out of place in a university prospectus, with accounting and finance graduates sitting alongside historians and geographers. I’ve met some great mates over the years, and with a big year group there is normally someone around when you fancy a coffee!
Getting out from behind the desk
While it is true that tax advisers spend more time in the office than their audit colleagues, that doesn’t mean that they never encounter clients, far from it. Over the first four years that I’ve worked in tax, my exposure to clients has increased each year. From being taken along to write notes at client meetings in my first year, I am now in the situation where I will regularly talk to my clients both face to face and over the phone, building my relationship with them and understanding how I can help them. One of the great things about tax is that it is practical; understanding the law is only part of the challenge, understanding your clients’ needs and applying the relevant law to your client’s situation is the real test.
Access to excellent professional qualifications
I spent my first three years at EY studying for my chartered accountancy exams. Having completed them, and got both the letters after my name and the recognition of the value of my qualification, I took the plunge to do my chartered tax adviser exams. With an exemption from one paper, I sat and passed the rest, and having already achieved my professional experience through my three years already spent at EY, I became a CTA. I have been lucky that EY have supported me and funded my courses and exams. While the exams were tough and required a lot of work to be put into them, the benefit of the skills and recognition that I have from two widely respected qualifications will serve me well both in the tax profession and more widely in the future.

What is a typical week like for you?

I often get asked this, and I always truthfully answer that the typical week just doesn’t seem to exist for me! One of the great things about tax is that it is constantly evolving; new legislation or tax cases result in an ever shifting landscape. Tax is a consideration in nearly every commercial deal, meaning that clients can ring you on a Monday morning to ask you to do something that wasn’t on your to do list for the week!
As tax evolves, the playing field is levelled
With the tax landscape constantly changing, even the most junior members of a team can be at the same level as those more senior than them. This has presented me with some great opportunities; over the past year I have become one of EY’s leading specialists in a new tax regime being introduced in the UK in relation to patents. This has led to me being involved with meetings with the Treasury, leading meetings with clients, presenting at training conferences and becoming a point of contact for the wider firm, with partners and directors often asking me questions or seeking my opinion. I think that tax is one of the few professions where these opportunities can present themselves so early on in your career.

So what are some of the things I’ve done to date?

Here are just a few of the things that I’ve done to date in my career:

  • Worked on the demerger of a very large publically listed group across three continents.
  • Spent two months working in New York, providing UK tax advice to our US firm and clients.
  • Presented a webinar to clients
  • alongside representatives from the Treasury and HMRC.
  • Helped solve a variety of issues that clients have raised on matters varying from the simple clarifications of points to complex, untested areas of legislation.
  • Taken a client out to lunch along with a more junior member of the team, to discuss how we could help support them
  • in their role.
  • Helped developed the firm’s approach to a new area of legislation.
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