In a recently published article by Business Plus, Kate Flanagan, Partner with Barden’s Accounting & Tax Practice, talks to Emily Styles about the changing landscape and shares some excellent advice and insights for tax professionals navigating their careers.
Ireland’s tax landscape is complicated. So much so that there are over 5,000 Chartered Tax Advisers, who provide tax services and business expertise to thousands of Irish-owned and multinational businesses, as well as to individuals, in Ireland and internationally. Many also hold senior roles in professional service firms, global companies, government, Revenue, and state bodies.
The Irish Tax Institute is the leading representative and educational body for CTAs in Ireland, and is the country’s only professional body exclusively dedicated to tax. Through the pandemic, the Institute moved to an online model of education and examination, and 231 students qualified as CTAs in 2020. “We expect that number to be higher in 2021,” says Karen Frawley, president of the Institute. “Approximately 5,000 exams were completed online this year, and students have been extremely positive about the experience.”
Continuous professional development is an important part of the ITI’s activities, as tax laws and tax rules are always changing. According to Frawley, a lot of rules coming from EU directives have been layered on top of existing provisions, making the system a compliance nightmare.
“Imminent changes in international tax could make elements of our business taxes obsolete,” she adds. “Simplicity is a key characteristic of an effective tax code. It makes it more user-friendly and promotes compliance, and now is the time for a complete overhaul of our business tax code. The Institute believes the new Commission on Taxation and Welfare is well placed to start this process in its recommendations to government.”
Kate Flanagan, a founder of Barden’s tax and accounting recruitment practice in Dublin, notes that the tax landscape is constantly changing. “Digitalisation is making global business more efficient and effective, facilitating cross-border transactions, with little physical presence. Therefore, tax functions need to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of administrators and business in a multi-jurisdictional environment,” Flanagan explains.
To ensure that technical knowledge can translate to business needs, Flanagan’s view is that tax professionals will need a more rounded skillset in the future. The skills she mentions are:
- The ability to articulate complicated tax concepts in a simple manner to internal and external stakeholders.
- A more generalist knowledge of tax i.e. the ability to understand key tax issues for their clients and businesses, outside their own specialist area.
- A knowledge of technology will be very important.
Flanagan adds that there has been a notable increase in tax professionals returning to practice from industry, because of a more structured career path, variety of work and improved benefits within the practice landscape. Accountancy firms are also more interested in tax professionals who have had exposure to tax in-house so that they can provide additional insights to clients.
“There are a few reasons for this trend,” says Flanagan. “A move to industry can often be made without fully understanding what the role is, how the environment is different to practice, and what a move can mean for longer-term career prospects. Many tax professionals prosper in industry and have excellent careers. However, once they’ve experienced industry, some people realise that they would develop better in practice because of their own specific skillset, and their preferences as regards work culture etc.
“There are now more diverse roles in practice, such as tax technology teams, compliance centres, technical roles etc. Along with a more defined career path, this can offer tax professionals a different experience to what they would have experienced as a trainee in a mainstream tax team. It’s important for tax professionals to recognise their own strengths and weaknesses, understand the differences between industry and practice, and then try to figure out which would be a better fit for them.”
Flanagan’s opinion is that career planning is neglected by many young tax professionals. “Most have followed a structured, well-trodden path of leaving school, undertaking a third-level degree that is usually business-related, and then choosing an accountancy practice to train with.
“We find that although the path can be pretty clear, many people don’t take the time to consider their options properly and think of what is best for them individually. Discussing your options doesn’t mean you are making the decision to move jobs. It’s about having the knowledge of the impact of the various career choices, such as Big 4, boutique practice, medium practice, legal or corporate.”
Though job prospects in the tax arena are good at the moment, options vary depending on speciality and seniority. People with a focus on international tax, transfer pricing and tax reporting, along with indirect tax specialists and private client tax advisors, are in demand, according to Flanagan. “Individuals with experience post contract up to manager are sought after too. Senior tax professionals have fewer options, as naturally there are fewer senior positions on a team.”
For any company seeking to recruit a tax professional, the market has been challenging in recent years. After the 2008/09 financial crisis, many firms reduced the number of tax graduates recruited.
“Simply put, there aren’t as many tax professionals out there,” Flanagan explains. “Accountancy firms have addressed this shortage in recent years, with many recruiting larger numbers than ever before. However, there are now more career options to move out of tax and into general accounting or finance roles. Furthermore, accountancy firms and corporates have increased their incentives for people to stay with them after their training contracts.”
It used to be the case that a move to industry almost always resulted in a significant uplift in salary. Accountancy firms have disrupted this trend by improving salaries and benefits to retain talent. “There has been an increased focus on office amenities, flexibility to work from home, and career progression and opportunities,” says Flanagan.
When given a recruitment assignment, Barden finds that employers are very specific in what they are looking for. “Tax is such a specific skillset that the consequences of recruiting the wrong person can be very serious. Coupled with a low supply, that can make it challenging to fill open positions, and many are left open for a considerable period of time.
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