Becoming a tax expert without a finance background

I joined the entrepreneurial tax team as a trainee around six weeks ago, after graduating with a degree in History. I thought it might be interesting to give the perspective of someone starting a career in tax without any kind of background in finance.

I was initially nervous coming into this job. I hadn’t done any kind of maths beyond counting change for 5 years, and in my mind I associated tax with an awful lot of maths and spreadsheets. There are indeed quite a few big spreadsheets, but after a crash course in accounts, I at least understand most of the data I have to work with (depreciation and amortisation are still somewhat mysterious concepts).

Since I started in mid-April, most of my time has been spent working on EMI and ERS returns (the details of which are too complicated to go into in this blog). Most of them are very simple to decide what needs to be done: either submitting a nil return, a return, or no return at all. Checking Companies House for any issue of shares is usually enough to see if anything reportable has gone on, but the more challenging decisions are when it’s not so simple.

Following the (sometimes virtual) paper trail to determine who was issued shares, whether they were employment-related, and so on, is very similar to carrying out research for an essay. You usually have an idea of what you’re looking for, and the hope is to find something somewhere to confirm your thesis, whether that’s an option agreement dating back several years, or finding that it’s a family-owned business and so the transfer of shares probably isn’t reportable.

The skills of analysis and reasoning are very important here, and a basic knowledge of the legislation surrounding employment-related securities is obviously required, but a lot of it is common sense, being able to pick out relevant information, and not being afraid to ask more experienced colleagues what they think about a given scenario.

I have also recently started dipping my toes into the murky waters of EIS and SEIS advance assurance, and even entrusted with writing the first draft of an EMI share valuation, where again being able to quickly scan a long business plan or similar document helps save a lot of time.

Outside of the work I’ve been doing, joining the corporate world is a profound but fascinating change from university, and it’s really interesting to see how the various departments of Chiene + Tait mesh together and interact. Events such as a biannual breakfast briefing and staff lunches help build stronger ties with colleagues that you might otherwise not regularly speak to, though exactly what goes on in audit or corporate finance is still something of a mystery to me.

The work is challenging, but rarely overwhelming, and it’s always possible to ask for clarification about something I’m finding confusing (which happens a lot, but is very slowly starting to happen less). Anyone considering a career in tax that might be put off by a preconceived notion of what tax is would probably find entrepreneurial tax to be very different to what they expected, as I have, even though at some point I suspect I will have to figure out to calculate percentage increase and decrease properly.