If you want to develop well-rounded advisory and business skills, at the same time as acquiring niche technical expertise that is in increasingly high demand on a global scale, then a career in Indirect Tax could be for you.
What is Indirect Tax?
Indirect Taxes are broadly based on transactions. Failing to account for these taxes correctly can have a huge impact on business costs and cash flows, and therefore expertise is highly sought after. VAT is the main discipline in the UK in which you find Indirect Tax specialists, but in addition there are experts in areas such as Customs & Excise Duty, Insurance Premium Tax and Export Control.
Where are Indirect Tax specialists employed?
The Big Four accountancy firms have sizeable Indirect Tax teams in place in the UK (c. 200-250 specialists nationally). These individuals advise how indirect taxes impact their clients’ supply chain and financial and accounting systems. Their offering is broad-ranging, but includes identifying and addressing areas of risk, providing timely planning solutions and the application of technology-based compliance management solutions. In a Big Four firm, one would tend to specialise in advisory work in a particular sector, for example: banking, insurance, funds, technology, telecommunications, retail, energy, travel & transportation, middle markets and the public sector.
Smaller accountancy and some law firms also have well-established Indirect Tax consultancy teams in place (team sizes can range between 1 – 50 Indirect Tax specialists nationally) and there are as well a number of independent Indirect Tax consultancy practices providing successful alternative advisory services. Individuals working in such organisations tend to have developed really broad-ranging in-depth Indirect Tax expertise.
Most large multinational commercial organisations and financial services institutions have their own internal Indirect Tax specialists in place. At the more senior grades, typical roles include providing strategic advice on indirect tax implications that affect your employer as well as managing compliance, often on a global scale. At the more junior grades, Indirect Tax specialists can fulfil compliance, accounting and process positions, as well as advisory roles.
In addition, HM Revenue & Customs employ Indirect Tax specialists to manage the government’s collection of Indirect Taxes. Typical positions include visiting VAT registered companies to ensure they are paying the correct amount of VAT at the correct time.
Routes into private sector Indirect Tax careers
The Big Four accountancy firms offer graduate training programmes in Indirect Tax. As well as learning the arts of consulting by working on big ticket client accounts, one would also typically study towards a professional qualification, usually the CTA (Chartered Tax Advisor), but some firms also combine this with training towards an accounting qualification. Graduates will need to demonstrate exceptional interpersonal and teamwork skills, the potential for developing strong client relationships, intellectual capability and the ability to apply knowledge in a practical way. Your degree could be in almost any subject, but usually you would need a 2:1 degree or above and good A Level grades.
One can also move into a private sector Indirect Tax career from positions in HM Revenue & Customs if your role there has afforded you experience of Indirect Tax legislation.
More of a rarity would be transferring into an Indirect Tax position at a junior level from a prior accounting or direct tax position.
Where can an Indirect Tax career lead me?
Indirect Tax expertise is a much sought after commodity. Should one wish to carve out a career in an Indirect Tax consultancy environment in an accountancy firm, this can lead to Partnership for those who demonstrate exceptional business development, management and strategic skills on top of technical aptitude.
Alternatively, with a few years’ experience of Indirect Tax, you can move to an in-house role, where you could end up as Global Head of Indirect Tax for a major commercial organisation or financial services institution, provided you demonstrate the requisite commercial aptitude and strategic impact.
UK Indirect Tax specialists are also in increasingly high demand in other countries and the skills are progressively more transportable – once you are qualified, it’s possible to secure secondments or permanent moves to the USA, Australia, Far East, Africa or mainland Europe.
What makes a successful Indirect Tax specialist?
- People skills
- Energy and drive
- Influencing skills
- An ability to deliver exceptional client service
- An analytical approach and attention to detail
- Intelligence – an ability to assimilate, interpret and explain complex concepts in a manner that’s easily understood by non specialists
- A willingness to go the extra mile
- Personality and humour.