Our popular Senior Tax Lecturer, Neil Da Costa, explains why a career in tax could be an exciting and interesting option.
Being locked away in our own homes during the pandemic has given us the opportunity to take stock of our lives (instead of doing the same jigsaw puzzle again) and consider our future career aspirations.
My journey in Tax
As a teenager, I was planning on becoming a doctor, but was attracted to the abundance of opportunity in the finance sector.
Whilst studying for my professional exams, I worked as an auditor but it wasn’t really for me. The best thing I enjoyed about being out on audit was staying in a decent hotel and the three course dinners!
I did enjoy the preparation of accounts (debits and credits) though, and the intricacies of tax particularly fascinated me. It seemed fun. It had strange little quirks (more on this later).
After experiencing fascinating tax assignments such as sales of businesses, inheritance tax on death estates and complex group structures, I decided to specialise. I had watched Tom Cruise in ‘The Firm’ and had visions of travelling to tax havens, in private jets, and dishing out valuable advice.
Whatever your background: actress, lawyer, ski-instructor - you can do well in tax.
I then realised I would enjoy teaching tax even more as I could help make a difference to peoples’ lives. I left practice and became a lecturer on condition that I could stick to tax.
I have not regretted my decision for a nano-second.
My love for the subject is infectious and, over the years, I’ve inspired many of my accountancy students to specialise in tax. I have also written a tax book called ‘Advanced Tax Condensed’.
Believe it or not, Tax is fun
Tax is full of funny little anecdotes and would appeal to those of you that enjoy debating the finer points of an argument. To illustrate this, I have referred to some of my personal favourites - the famous ‘Toilet Roll’ and ‘Jaffa Cake’ cases below.
In the case of CIR v Rutledge (toilet roll tax case), on a business trip to Germany, a taxpayer bought a million rolls of toilet paper which he subsequently sold in a single transaction at a profit.
The judge concluded that he could not have bought them for his personal use (this was before the pandemic and no-one was stockpiling). In addition, the toilet paper was not an investment (in 1929, you could not flog toilet rolls on eBay) so treated it as an ‘adventure in the course of trading’.
This became one of the famous ‘Badges Of Trade’ which helps distinguish between trading income and capital gains to this day.
By choosing a career in tax, you know that you are ‘future-proofing’ your skill set as it always will be relevant.
This was where McVities argued that that their ‘Jaffa Cakes’ were a cake and not a biscuit, so should be zero-rated for VAT purposes.
Jaffa Cakes were made with aerated eggs, flour, and sugar just like a sponge cake. In addition, the soft texture of Jaffa Cakes was in sharp contrast to that of biscuits which could be snapped.
So, despite the chocolate coating and being located in the biscuit aisle, to the tax -man’s disappointment, McVities won their case. As a result, all you Jaffa-Cake lovers can enjoy your treats without paying the 20% VAT!
Where do Tax specialists come from?
When I asked a group of my students what they aspired to do when they were younger, I was stunned by the range of replies I received.
One lady had her heart set on being a police officer while another wanted to be a groundswoman in a large estate as she had studied horticulture.
Another individual worked in academia carrying out research and was drawn to a tax career as the much higher salary enabled him to buy his own flat.
Just one came from a family whose father was a tax advisor so decided to follow her father’s footsteps from a relatively young age.
So, whatever your background: actress, lawyer, ski-instructor - you can do well in tax.
Benefits of a Tax career
By choosing a career in tax, you know that you are ‘future-proofing’ your skill set as it always will be relevant. During the pandemic, the majority of my students find they are even busier while many other sectors have experienced severe job-losses. Regardless of the state of the country’s economy, tax specialists are in high demand.
Tax is always changing and there are new things to learn which keeps you on your toes. This appeals to individuals who want to be challenged instead of falling into a rut.
Every client is different, so it is never boring. Apart from months like January where there are lots of tax returns to submit, it offers a good work-life balance. Tax specialists also love the fact that they have no worries after leaving work and can enjoy time with their families.
Oh yes, and it also offers a reasonably high salary compared to other professions.
What are the different Tax roles available?
There are lots of different areas to choose from and many of my students specialise in one area, such as private individuals. Others deal with business tax, corporation tax or VAT.
Within each tax there are niche areas such as research and development, non-domiciled individuals, trusts or cross-border taxes.
What are some of the gripes about working in Tax?
Months like December and January may be particularly busy due to year ends and tax return deadlines. In addition, some clients can be very unhelpful which can prove frustrating.
What attributes do you need?
Apart from the prerequisite written and computational skills, you do not need any high-level maths skills. I have never had to use a scientific calculator.
However, you do need to have attention to detail so you can analyse the client's circumstances accurately and select the best option to minimise the tax liability while still following the law.
You will also need good communication skills as you will be the intermediary between the client and HMRC.
I hope to have the opportunity to teach you some tax if you choose this exciting career. In writing this article I asked questions to 35 current students working as tax specialists and would like to thank all of them for their responses.
Neil Da Costa is the author of "Advanced Tax condensed" and a Senior Tax Lecturer with Kaplan. He believes in inspiring his students and getting them to believe in themselves. For more information visit our tax courses page.