Insights into a career in tax

Insights into a career in tax

Robert Pullen, director at accountancy firm Blick Rothenberg, shares insights into a career in tax

Matthew Lawford, director of practice recruitment specialists AJ Chambers met up with Robert Pullen, director at leading accounting, tax and advisory practice Blick Rothenberg.

Here they discuss Pullen’s journey into the world of tax, what it requires to keep your career on track, as well as what to expect now and in the future given the ever-evolving world of taxation.

Why did you choose a career in tax and why should young people leaving school or university also consider this?

I made a typical entry into tax – entirely by accident! I graduated in 2009 at the height of the financial crisis and so good jobs were difficult to find. My background was in Civil Engineering and Architecture, so making the jump to tax wasn’t the most obvious. But whilst the initial decision was by luck, I have never looked back.

Tax offers a wonderfully rewarding blend of mental stimulation, numerical analysis, creativity and social skills. Each day brings a new challenge – a problem to solve, some legislation to read and understand, or a persuasive call to make to HMRC. If you like variety, tax could be the career for you!

What route did you take and what would you recommend to those embarking on a career in personal tax?

I joined a Big Four firm initially, and whilst I was there studied first for the ATT and then the CTA, completing both within 3 years of starting. The route I took for both exams was OMB. This gave me a good grounding in my all-round tax knowledge and enabled me to build on the more complex aspects of personal tax. The IHT route would have been just as helpful and many of my colleagues have gone down this route with great success.

In the ever- changing landscape of tax, what skills do you think it takes for a tax adviser to succeed?

As the tax rules and legislation continue to change, two key demands from clients remain; commerciality and empathy.

It is pointless treating each client’s problem as an exam question, as real life just doesn’t lend itself to that approach. A client requires solutions which are technically correct, of course, but not if the solution involves reorganising their life so that it no longer works.

A classic example is the advice of breaking UK tax residence prior to the disposal of a business. Whilst this would save capital gains tax, the client then has to remain outside the UK for 5 years. For some clients, this may not be a problem, but for most the suggestion to leave the UK for such a long period of time would be seen as completely unhelpful.

What makes your role at Blick Rothenberg interesting?

As a director within the private client team, my role is incredibly varied from one day to the next, and even from hour to hour.

I’ve already mentioned the variety which a career in tax gives and a big positive for working at a medium sized practice is the ability to make a real difference, both to the team and to clients.

There is no typical day, but if there was it could include some technical research, meeting potential new clients to pitch for work, meeting existing clients to advise them on a particular transaction or event, or just to catch up, networking with contacts, carrying out PR activities such as speaking with the press, or reviewing tax returns.

Balancing technical expertise and quality, with hands-on client exposure, can be challenging but also provides for an interesting working day. Also, working with a great team of other dynamic tax professionals means that you get to learn so much, and enables you to really develop as a tax adviser.

How do you go about advising clients and have you noticed a change in view recently?

Each client will have their own desires, aims and goals. Before providing advice, it is essential those core drivers are understood so that the advice can be tailored appropriately.

A recent change is the concept of “morality” – a new grey area in the scale of tax planning nestled somewhere between tax evasion, which is illegal, and tax mitigation, which is legal tax planning.

Many of our clients are high profile, so Blick Rothenberg as a firm have never advised on or recommended the more aggressive tax avoidance schemes. But now the goal posts have moved and we frequently have to help our clients manage their profile with the press and HMRC when considering their tax planning.

Any tips on how you go about seeking advice and building a network to facilitate your career?

Each stage of your career brings new challenges – some you will find easier than others. It is important that you do not lose sight of the long term goals, and perspective is everything. Ensuring you have people around you – friends, family and colleagues – to support you is key.

Informal mentoring can also work really well. If you can find a role model, someone to look up to, this allows you to see what you need to do in order to progress, whilst doing so your own way.

What are the most satisfying and enjoyable aspects of your job?

There are probably two most satisfying aspects of my role.

The first is a job well done – a happy client. If I can provide good quality advice which really resonates with a client’s core set of drivers, you can always see the positive impact this has. Whether it is a sale of a business, some property restructuring, or even a completed tax return.

The second is team development. I work with many people at Blick Rothenberg and have responsibility for formally appraising 2 -3 employees within the personal tax team. I also informally mentor and generally act as a sounding board for the wider team. A proud moment is seeing a colleague develop or get promoted, knowing you have helped them along the way, even if you have only played a small part!

How do you think you have developed within the firm?

I have developed at a fast pace since joining Blick Rothenberg just over four years ago and continue to develop now. Each day brings a new challenge and this really helps me to move forward.

From the strong technical skills which are instilled in you, I have also learnt to be confident in the advice I am providing, and this makes a huge difference in the way I am able to advise and work with clients.

Any areas you think will draw your focus in 2018?

Like every other year, 2018 looks to be busy! Last year we saw the sweeping changes to the non-domicile and offshore trust rules legislated, with some final tweaks expected from April. There is likely to be some further work to do here to keep us busy, and we are still waiting on HMRC’s guidance on how the rules should work in practice.

2018 is also likely to test our knowledge in new areas. Towards the end of 2017 we saw a flurry of requests for advice on the taxation of crypto-currencies, and this is likely to continue – to who knows where!

At AJ Chambers my team and I are responsible for preparing tax professionals for interview. We do this in several ways, face to face, telephone calls as well as preparation packs.  Do you have any helpful advice for anyone who is interviewing for a tax role, given you have probably been the interviewer and interviewee?

Blick Rothenberg are always looking for talented individuals to join the team, and I have interviewed candidates countless times for specific roles, so I do have some experience in this area!

The biggest tip I can give is, through all the preparation work and Q&A practice, be yourself. At some point in your career, your personality will become the most important skill you have and it would be a shame to only realise at that point that your employer and you are not compatible!

Otherwise I look for the three H’s. Honest, Humble and Hungry. If a candidate possesses all three attributes, it would be difficult to find a reason not to hire them.


Blick Rothenberg is a market-leading accounting, tax, and advisory practice.

AJ Chambers is the UK’s leading dedicated public practice recruiter.

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