Tax managers are responsible for devising, implementing and overseeing effective tax plans for the businesses they work for.
It’s one of the most sought after positions in the world of accountancy because of the crucial way they operate and the exposure they get to senior stakeholders within organisations.
James Harper invested in nine years worth of qualifications to make the cut and become tax manager at Wilkins Kennedy. In our interview he reflects on the value of persistence and hard work, and why students should refine their people skills, not just their technical knowledge.
What led you to pursue a career as a tax manager?
When I studied my A levels my accountancy teacher, Jan Bell, was a former AAT president. I was a bit unsure about university and she recommended AAT. I found it difficult to get my first job, so I funded my own AAT studies. When I did manage to start my career it was with a smaller firm, working within audits and accounts.
Around the time of the financial crisis, one of the people in the tax department left the firm and the partners asked if I wanted to become seconded within the department. I really liked the tax side of things, more than working in audit and accounts, so when I finished my ACA I decided to do the CTA qualification and rose up the ranks to become a tax manager.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I’ll make a list of what I need to do over the next week and most of the time that list gets thrown out of the window because something else turns up. If there’s a deal or a transaction occurring, you have to jump on that, I tend to work across all the partners’ portfolios. As a corporate and business advisor that includes the shareholders as well, I get a feel for personal taxes. The best thing about my job especially now I’ve moved into advisory is that there’s so much variety. In the morning I could be working on an R&D claim or patent box claim and then in the afternoon I might have to assist on a transaction.
What are the challenges involved in the role? And what’s most rewarding about it?
Really it’s the variety in what I do. You need to have a really good knowledge of a wide breadth of areas. I have a more specific focus on the corporate and business tax side so I don’t try to get involved in trusts or high net worth individuals. What I find rewarding is the amount of contact that I get with clients. The industry I’m in is really about working with people. The most rewarding thing is building those relationships with the clients and being the person that’s trusted to answer those questions.
What traits do you need to be a good tax manager?
Sound technical knowledge is really important, but you don’t need to be the most technical person in the world. You’re not expected to know everything about everything off the top of your head. Unlike with assessments, in the working world you have a variety of references and the ability to really think about something and put a full rounded answer. The key thing to becoming a good tax manager is the interpersonal soft skills. From being able to work with your colleagues to being approachable with your clients. It’s the way that you communicate the work that makes a client decide to buy from you instead of someone else.
What surprised you about the role, and should students be prepared for a similar surprise?
The variety did surprise me in the role, but also how difficult the assessments were. Particularly the ACA, which was very challenging as well as the CTA – it was probably the hardest set of assessments I’ve ever had to do. For about a period of when I was 18 to when I finally got my CTA at the age of 27, I was pretty much doing assessments solidly. The way that AAT works is really good, where you work and learn at the same time. I found what’s really helped me as part of my role now is my background within audit and accounts, doing AAT and the ACA gives you a really good understanding.
Ebony-Storm Halladay is editorial operations assistant at Flibl. She researches and writes about finance, business, sustainability and technology.