Following my graduation in 2011, I commenced a training contract with Grant Thornton based in the Expatriate Taxes team. Since joining I have successfully completed my ATT studies and am beginning the CTA in the next few months. My role involves assisting our clients with UK and US taxes.
I started with Grant Thornton following my studies in Law & Politics, during which time I undertook assignments with charities, law firms and the court service. I was encouraged by my experiences to pursue a career where I could apply legal skills but also, more importantly, one that provided opportunities to learn and develop.
I quickly found that pure legal routes did not appeal to me. Although interesting, I found the training structure and work culture were not right for me.
With tax I find I am able to cover much wider areas, which I find more rewarding. Tax also tends to be a much more team based service than law, with all tax associates working together, in partnership with both newer graduates and more experienced managers and directors. This leads to a friendly atmosphere where you are able to pick up knowledge quickly and are comfortable asking questions. I find this allows me to take on more demanding work as there is enough support to make my own decisions, while the review processes ensures the work sent out is of the highest quality.
Why I chose Grant Thornton
After graduating I applied for various firms, however I chose Grant Thornton because of their good reputation and the impression I got from the recruitment process. The selection process involved numerical and verbal reasoning tests, a telephone interview and an assessment centre. It was very important for me to work with a firm with a good culture and I believe that a firm’s recruitment process provides a good insight into both their working culture and their environment. While this process is similar to many other firms, Grant Thornton left a fantastic impression which put their offer above others.
The training programme in the Expat Team at Grant Thornton provides a large amount of variety and my first year involved working with UK and US tax returns and on projects on the application of rules on international taxation, termination payments, National Insurance Contributions and non-cash employee remuneration. It also involved studying for the ATT, which at Grant Thornton is a residential course in National Trust grounds.
I enjoyed my ATT studies, which gave me a good understanding of UK taxation. I found they provided the knowledge required to identify opportunities and potential issues our clients may have and to make me more effective in my role.
The difference between university and professional studies is striking and I had to adapt my study technique to be successful. University study involves tuition through topics at a relatively slow pace. At the professional level you tend to receive a module of tuition in a week. Although this may seem daunting, in reality it makes learning more effective. Unlike university, a great deal of the material you learn can be applied and seen in the workplace. This means that the areas you learn are constantly practised, leading to a stronger and quicker learning experience. It also means that you are learning directly applicable skills for your future career.
Working in expat tax means dealing with compliance deadlines. Usually between October and the end of January the majority of work completed is UK tax returns. Between late March and October I tend to focus on the filing of US tax returns. Completing both UK and US tax returns involves reviewing data provided by the clients and determining what income is assessable by applying rules derived from case law, statutes and codes. Although this requires calculations, and I do spend time using Excel for backup calculations, the returns and calculations are prepared by tax software.
My role has exercised and developed my IT abilities: I now use and understand functions that I had never even heard of before in order to save time and identify issues.
With experience, I have also become more active with client management. As time progresses I hope to become more involved with client meetings. During the training stage an experienced colleague will take the meetings with you to ensure that the correct advice is given as tax is a very precise subject. As well as completing tax returns and training, on a daily basis I have been involved in various other projects, including advisory projects, tax briefings and client proposal work.
The fact that the team provides the opportunity to work with both UK and US tax returns gives me the chance to understand the interaction of the two distinct tax systems and application of international tax treaties and social security agreements, which I find particularly interesting. This is a daily feature of the job and has helped me to expand my tax knowledge to a great extent.
Complications of work
The number of deadlines in expat tax can make time management quite stressful. The deadlines are fixed, so you have to be aware of how much work you can take on and still meet the timeframe set – this is an area that I have found stressful in the past but with experience I have found that my time management skills have improved. However the role gives you enough freedom to manage your time both in busy and quiet periods.
The great thing about working in the department is you can take the initiative when you believe practices can be made more efficient. I have been able to implement a tracking system that in the future should help identify missing information early and identify returns that can be part completed during quiet periods to help the free time during the busy periods.
During the busy tax return periods there will be days which require late working. I enjoy the work, so I don’t find this particularly stressful, but January can be a tiring month. At Grant Thornton however, we are lucky enough to receive time off in lieu following busy periods to recover. As with many jobs, a work/life balance is sometimes difficult to manage, but it’s very important and I would recommend getting to know what is in place to help when choosing a potential employer.