SHANN - THE TAX ADVISOR - Transcript
"They work with the biggest names globally"
Shann is an Associate Director at a big four accountancy and consulting firm. He has over 10 years of experience within the professional services industry.
His key responsibility includes managing and leading a team of 11-15 Managers through complex advisory client issues with, Tax Technology roadmap and operating model. He is also responsible for delivering multi-million pound projects in relation to Compliance & Technology.
Hi, I'm Gillian,
And I'm Pier and you're listening to Breaking Through Careers. The podcast that gets your career questions answered.
Each episode we speak to an ordinary person from a well known or not so well known profession so that we can find out what they do on a day to day basis. And what they did in order to get there.
What do you most like what you actually do? What advice would you give someone? What do you find most challenging about your job? How do you balance your family and....
So today, we are asking what does a tax advisor actually do? I'm joined by my co host, Pier, who is in the land down under. Hi, Pier, how are you?
Good. How are you doing?
Not bad. Thanks.
How is the weather down with you?
Oh my god, we are doing the most British and Australian thing ever and talking about the weather.
Hey! Down here in Melbourne, the seasons come literally four times a day.
What are you most looking forward to learning about?
Well, to be honest with you, I want to see the best way I can save my money by taking all the advice that he can give me. In terms of keeping my receipts....
This is not a personal tax advice session for Pier!
When you get access to these kinds of people, you have got to take your advantages and make sure you walk away with something that's useful. Today we are going to be talking to Shann. Shann is a tax advisor, bracket modern day Robin Hood from the UK.
And today, he is going to be telling us about himself, the great things about being a tax advisor, his thoughts on Excel spreadsheets (which some of you will find out that I also love), and whether or not you need to be good at maths to succeed in tax. Shann, welcome.
How are you?
Very good. How are you?
I'm excited for our first ever podcast. Thank you so much for joining us.
Oh, yes, I'm truly the guinea pig now.
Quick Fire Round
So our first section is a quick fire round. We just try to get to know you a little better. So, we will ask a few random questions and all you need to do is answer them as quickly as possible with the first answer that comes into your mind. Ready?
Of course. Go on. I'm worried.
We will start you off nice and easy. The first one: Netflix or Prime?
Did you attend a private school or government school?
Would you rather be too hot or too cold?
Favourite type of tax?
Are you allowed to say that! Introvert or extrovert?
The one on the laptop.
What is 25,747 multiplied by 32.5 plus four?
I didn't hear that?
Name one thing that you are really bad at.
Doing podcasts probably. Not that I've done many before this.
Green olives or black olives?
I did not know it was judgmental. I thought it was supposed to be about me!
Sorry I will get back in my lane. Nerdy or not nerdy?
This next round is about you. Where are you from? And what city do you live in?
Long story short: I am from London. I am originally from India and I came to the UK to complete my schooling. Then of course university and now I am working here. So I have been living here for about 20 odd years now. I feel myself a true Londoner, as in having lots of international friends and enjoying foreign foods. Also looking at what the city offers in terms of like art and culture and....
Pollution! Not so much actually. People think that, but it is not as bad as some of the other countries, I do enjoy London the way it is.
That's great to hear. Why did you agree to come to our podcast by the way?
Basically, what the topic or the key theme of your podcast is: to encourage people and to inspire others who are listening to it and who want to seek a career in something that they are not too familiar with. I find that topic quite interesting and to inspire young people. I've never thought of myself in role model capacity, but I think it is something that is quite inspiring. If one person listens to your story and they reach out and ask more questions and they feel like "okay, I can relate to this person and I can look up to him", I think that that is a powerful tool in this world. I think that is something that I enjoy.
Well, that is great. From today on, you are going to be a role model. What is your job? And what sort of organisation do you work for?
I work in what they call the 'Big Four' accountancy firms: PwC, Deloitte, Ernst and Young, and KPMG. They are professional accounting, tax, corporate advisory and audit firm. They work with the biggest names in the country or globally rather, in advising them and ensuring their accounting practices are up to scratch, their tax advisors are correct, their audits are in good shape. And advise also specifically on M&A (mergers & acquisitions), maybe some consulting, etc. I've been working in my current organisation for about five years now. But I also started my career about 10 years ago, or 11 years ago, at one of these big firms as part of their management consulting practice. Within that, I specialise in tax advisory.
Yeah I told you Gill.
Beware, Pier may ask some inappropriate questions about his personal finances. Just a heads up!
Offline! I'm going to ask you about my personal tax because I might be in a bit of strife there.
I do not think you can afford the fees, Pier.
Did you know what you wanted to be when you are older back when you were at school?
That is a very loaded question. Yes, when I was in school, I wanted to be a pilot, which is obviously not what I am today. But it is interesting, people think tax advising is boring, but it is not. It is something where you really get under the skin of businesses, you really understand how economy works, how people operate, what technologies are making differences today. I kind of stumbled into it. I would say like most people's careers! I found myself in management consulting about 11 years ago, I started working in finance advisory, then focusing within those. Luckily, I was able to do projects, which involved some kind of tax elements within those projects, because finance and tax are intricately linked. After that, my interest sparked and I focused my career in specific areas of tax advisory. I would say it is more technology oriented, rather than just reading big fat books and then going through the laws and case studies. It is not something that a lot of tax advisors do. Nowadays, I think that's the biggest misconception that people have.
Yeah. What kind of kid were you when you were young?
Oh, I was very talkative.
What a surprise!
Always being told off by teachers in the class. Or my report cards used to say very talkative, very chatty, only if he can apply himself will he go much further than where he is at the moment. Retrospectively, I would say I was inquisitive as a child. I was interested in other people, I was interested in what was going on around me rather than just keeping my head down and carrying on working. I think that it is interesting, because that is the world I operate in today, I talk to a lot of our clients on a day to day basis. And that is what I do, I talk to them. I understand what is really going on in terms of their work, and if you establish that rapport with someone, the clients tend to trust you as well with more information in the future, because it is not given in any shape and form. So it is quite interesting how that talk of nature is reflected in my job today. But I will add to that and say that by no means I was super good in maths or I was super good in sciences. I was a average student overall, I would never be the top of the class, but I was never at the bottom of it. I was very, very average, I would say.
Do not say that about yourself, Shann.
What do you think your unique skills are? And how have they helped you on your journey to become successful?
I would think empathy. So the ability to put yourself in other people's shoes. I have been told by other people that is my best quality. Then, to add on top, the ability to naturally problem solve and say: "Well, here is the problem, let us find a solution." I think, the pragmatic way of looking at things, I think those are the two elements, which I say go hand in hand for me.
Oh, wow, that is amazing. What are the some of the resources that have helped you?
Yes, it is a very good question. My parents were not living with me, or rather I was not living with my parents, when I was doing my A levels or university, I was living away from them. So they were not in my day to day life, to give me guidance. I think I had to rely on mentors or teachers, just to ask questions, or to drive me a little bit further. Of course, my parents were always a telephone call away, where you could ask them questions if you needed to. But I would personally say that has not been the biggest resource that I tapped into. I thought the world around me was quite interesting, and you cannot rely on a single person, right? I think you have to be naturally a bit of grafter, you need to find people that support you a little bit more. That could be the school kids, it could even be your classmate, for example, who is good at maths, or football or whatever, you can rely on him to help you with that. When we were at university or started off working, the internet had picked up really well. The online resources, were just doubling. You can always rely on finding or inspiring yourself by someone else's story who lives in America or South America or wherever, someone that you would not have had access to before. But you certainly can now read someone's story from somewhere else. In terms of studying and focusing on mathematics or sciences, I think it is about getting the right support through school or through institutions, or whatever you have going on, and just applying yourself there. It is not about doing everything 100%, it is about getting the basics right and doing them again, and again and again. I think that is what helps.
We are going to move on to our third section, which is about your current role. It is our longest section so it might get a bit taxing....
On your route from the age of 16 to where you are now, career wise, can you also loop in any qualifications that you might have needed to gain along the way?
Of course, so I got myself certified in tax accounting software, which is called SAP but maybe a bit nerdy. It is one of the most popular softwares which is being used today in many organisations. My company supported me through that. I think that is very useful to have. Also, I finished my tax technicians qualifications, which is the technical side of tax and accountancy as well. So it is almost like a chartered status that you gain so you are able to practice and even create your own business. There are a lot of private schools, or there is the tuitions that are available that can help you. It is a tough exam, I will not lie. But if you get yourself in the right setting, they support you quite a lot with those professional qualifications which are necessary to operate in the industry that you work in. There are different levels of those as well: you do not have to do like the super complex ones, which are master's level in tax where you can do a graduate level of those and they take about two, three years of not continuous studying. You can do them while you are working on the side, giving you enough break during your working hours to go study or go attend college.
So are they nice to have, or are they required for you to practice?
I mean, if you get on to one of the Graduate schemes of the 'Big Four' or the Big 10 organisations, they will usually pay for you and you have to get them, that is the part of your contract. I would almost say they are not just nice to have, they are necessary to have. Because they bring, first of all, credibility to your role. Because that is the kind of clientele you will be speaking with as well. So the exams or the knowledge provide you with information that you are going to use in your day to day job. And secondly, it also gives you that ability to sit down and study and look at a problem from a bigger scale of things. I think that it is a necessary evil of the job I work in, I would say.
Does the same apply for university, necessary evil?
That is an interesting question because you can enrol yourself in any of these big organisations as an apprentice, so you do not have to go to university. You can finish your A Levels and then come out and apply straight for those jobs. They will support you to get these qualifications, which are almost like a graduate level degree as well. So university is not required to get into these types of jobs. But these types of formal qualifications which are the ACA, or the ICWA, there are various accounting degrees that do not require you to have a college degree.
But let us say you are working your way up through the ranking within the accounting firm, will this be issue later down the track? If you want to get a higher position?
That is a very good question actually. And it is not. Interestingly, although most of my seniors are accountants or tax CPAs, as they call it, like the certified tax advisors. We would say, it is not necessarily required going forward. Because there is a lot of elements of technology that are coming into play now, than the traditional old accounting or accountancy world that existed before. So if you are good at certain technologies: if you're a coder, a developer, or if you understand machine learning blockchain. All these good things that you are going to be hearing about in the news, or if you just Google this, they are definitely out there at the moment. There is potential and the world is moving in that direction. So, I think, and this is just my personal opinion, even if you just understand some basics of accountancy or technology, and if you have deep skill sets in software development or machine learning or help develop softwares which bring you more into the accountancy element within those; I think you will be able to make success out of your own role.
How easy or difficult would it be for someone from another field to move into tax advisory?
In my experience, I have never seen someone who has drastically pivoted from, say, catering into the tax advisory world. I think that's too much of a jump. I am not talking in terms of skill sets at all, because you can retrain yourself and if you have the ability. But then it might require just more training to reach that level. So you might have to spend more time getting an extra qualification. Or you might have to spend time reading some books, which are a bit taxing. But I would say, it's possible. I do not want to discourage anyone by saying it is not possible at all. But you might have a longer lead up time to it compared to someone who has done a bit of mathematics or economics at A level. Part of our company, we take graduates or people with A levels from a vast variety of things. People who have geography degrees can work in finance nowadays, right? So, it is possible.
Can you please talk through an average Tuesday for you? So we can understand typical working hours?
Every Tuesday, I make sure someone brings me a coffee to my table. No. Joking, it is not that kind of world. So on an average Tuesday, usually in the spring or summer months, I would cycle into work. I really like that because it opens your mind up in the morning, it keeps you fresh as well and I think it is really nice to spend some time away from the computer or social media. I am at my desk at about 8:30am, then by 9am, I will start going through my emails or start going through my action list, which I am working on. That could be related to one of the projects I am working on or it could be related to some of the internal tasks I am doing. Usually about 9:30am, we will have an internal meeting it could be on the projects that we are working on that we report to our seniors. It's just a 10-15 minute call or a group huddle, where we come together and talk through our day's or week's plan. Then about 10am, I will start cracking on with my project tasks. That could involve maybe calling up a client for some clarifications, or working through some of the notes associated with my current projects. It could be on some of the design documents that I am working on with the technology platform that we are implementing. Or it is looking at a couple of Excels. Yes, we do look at Excels! But it's not - how can I say? - as boring as it sounds. Because it is quite automated.
I love Excel!
Yes, they are a prerequisite right? Then usually about 10:30-11am, you will have a quick catch up with either someone I am mentoring at work or with my group leader, so someone who is mentoring me - we could grab a quick coffee or a chat, which is about 15-20 minutes. Just to see how it is going and how you are feeling. I think that is quite nice, because it is not as mechanical and robotic as it sounds, but it is quite a people business. So you do interact quite a lot with people. And then about 12-12:30pm, I would get lunch and come back to my desk, then maybe read BBC news or the Financial Times. 1pm I start cracking on with the work tasks again, which could involve getting some clarification from people on a bigger project, which usually means helping a big aerospace and defence company to improve their supply chain. Or how the goods come into the country and look at the taxation element around those. Those are the kinds of problems that we will work with. It is not just a one person job, because it is a big task. We would then relate with different directors, partners, people that we would work with day to day, a client, usually in a call. In doing so, we will also bring up juniors with us to make sure they are taking correct notes, they understand the problem, etc. I tend to shoot off about 5pm, 90% of the time, I will not work from home. But once in a while, if you are having calls with the US or something like that, then I would just have to log in from home. Or if not, then I will maybe stay in the office till about 6pm, finish off all the tasks that we have had for the day. Try to answer these big problems for the clients, then evenings are usually free and weekends are free as well. We work the solid hours, the usual 9am-6pm or 8:30am-6pm. But as you can see, they are interspersed with coffees and chats, with some exercise in between as well.
Is it then fair to say that tax advisors do typically work in the offices of their organisations, but it is possible to work from home?
Absolutely, yes. We tend to work one day a week from home anyways, most people do.
Well, I suppose a related question might be, how easy would you say it is to manage your role as a tax advisor and a family?
Personally speaking, I do not have a big family, so I cannot say. But I can imagine, a lot of my colleagues who have got a couple kids or who have a family to support seem to juggle it quite well. And the work is so flexible. For example, if you have some emergency at home, or if your child needs picking up from nursery, as long as you are informing the right people around you, it is totally possible and supported. Because that then creates this positive working environment, where you do not have to feel pressured that if you cannot be somewhere else, you will not be able to solve the problems. They are expecting that you are a grown up, you are a professional, and you will take responsibility of the tasks that have been given to you and then juggle that around your other commitments. That could be personal family commitments, or even your hobbies or supporting someone else as well.
Please tell us the difference between economics, finance and accounting.
Oh, that is a very good question. Let us start with accounting, because that is something that I am comfortable with. Simplistically speaking, accounting is just doing up your numbers for your business. It is about keeping a ledger or book of records of the transactions that your business is operating. It is similar to your own personal finance as well. You are keeping a tab on how much money is coming in and how much money is going out. Finance, is then financing, that includes elements of budgeting around it as well, or it could also include forecasting, it could also impact on how you are making investments, etc. Finance has got a bigger role to play. Accounting is the transactional element of the finance, I would say. And then economics takes the whole macro, which is the wider global trends into picture or micro, which is your basic trends of what's going to happen today and tomorrow. Economics is really how the world functions. With the current pandemic, it is affecting the global economy. Because of the pandemic, there might be a drop in how the goods are moving or are supplied, or the supermarkets need to think about what is going to happen three months down the road. Because of this macro economic trend that is going on, which is your pandemic. So economics is thinking about how the world moves in terms of finance, in terms of accounting, in terms of taking these trends into consideration.
Just back to your specific role, what would you say that you most and least like about your job?
The thing I like most about my job is talking to people. Also, I would say, understanding the real business that they operate in. For example, if I am advising or if I am working with a big supermarket chain, or a big aerospace and defence company, I really enjoy understanding where the goods are coming from. Or how the manufacturing happens in the supermarket stores: where are those goods coming from and where they are going? And the third element, I get to travel to some quite interesting places in the world. So I'm lucky enough to travel the globe for my work and I think that has been really fun as well. And you get to do it on company money, so you are not complaining at all. What I do not enjoy is endless, boring meetings in offices which have no windows, for example. It is quite soul crunching, because after 15 minutes, you have usually lost the will to live. Those are the things that I do not enjoy anymore. But I think in the new digital world - due to the pandemic - the way people have adapted to working remotely, I think we will not have to go through this anymore in the future. I think the traditional role of these soul destroying meetings will probably be coming to an end pretty soon. And I am looking forward to that.
I think quite a few organisations are going to change the way in which they operate.
What is the starting salary, and what are top earners within your industry?
Let us start with the top earners, which I will tell you I am definitely not one of them. The top earners can earn between 500,000, GBP/600,000 USD and that is just the starting salary for the top earners. I think it can go a bit higher than that, it depends. You will not be starting off at that salary, do not be under any illusions, you have to work hard.
What classifies a top earner?
People who are usually at a VP, Vice President, Director, Partner, Managing Director level. You would have to be in that industry for about 20 years. Let us say on the lower side of things, if you are a college apprentice, or if you are a graduate, you would start off with about 25,000 GBP/30,000 USD, I would say. But think about it, you are quite young then: 22, 24. Or even if you are a school leaver, you could be 18 years of age, I think you can start earning that salary and pay towards some of your savings, pension rentals, you can support yourself. In that sense, you might not have a lot of liquid assets left on top, but it is still a decent livable salary that you start off with. Then you rise through the hierarchy and it gets higher and, after say about 10 years, you can go into a six figure salary, and you go on from there. I think there is definitely clear hierarchy within many organisations, but it is achievable for every single person.
What kind of firms will hire tax advisors? Is it just the big accounting firms that you mentioned? Or can you work within industry? And are there specific job titles as you go to the top?
Tax advisors will not just be hired by the 'Big Four' or Big Six companies. You definitely can work in any industry, any company and any advisory firm. They will always require tax accountants, tax advisors, so do not be disheartened. Usually, in industry, the highest role is either a Head of Tax or Vice President of Finance and Tax, or Treasury, so you would get to that level with about 20 years of work experience. Then within a professional firm, it is usually a partner or senior partner who would also get there about 15-20 years of work experience.
Under mythbusting, the section where we are going to try to tackle some of the stereotypes associated with your industry. We will make a statement and you have got to try and answer with either myth or fact.
Okay. Go on.
Working in tax or finance is boring, more of a myth or more of a fact?
People who work in finance are rich and greedy, more myth of more fact?
Oh, that is a myth as well, I think. I think they are rich, but definitely not greedy. I think they are hardworking, conscientious people who really care about the people they work with and for.
I am not biased at all, also working in the industry! Anyway: You have to be really good at maths to work in tax?
Myth. You do not have to be really good. Look at me, as I said before, I was quite an average student. I am still getting there, because you have to have appreciation of numbers, especially percentages, calculations of how structures work. But you do not need to understand how calculus is done, for example, you will never use it in your life. But the basics that you learn at GCSE, or the basic algebra or basic maths that you learn at A levels even, you need to be good at that. You do not have to be super good, or you do not have to take advanced classes and mathematics unless you are really interested in it.
Tax professionals spend all day looking at Excel spreadsheets?
No, not all day. But I would say it is 50% of your time. You look at Excel spreadsheets, but they are not necessarily just numbers. But we use Excel to do a project plan, or to capture action items. So it is just a general tool to do different things just because it is quite easy to use.
Tax professionals benefit from and capitalise on legislative ambiguity to benefit big bad clients as opposed to the wider lovely society, myth or fact?
It is somewhere in between, I would say now. Because I think the ambiguity in tax is there just because it is the nature of the law, right? Lawyers would say that there is ambiguity. Some people could definitely do more to benefit society. But I am not saying that everyone would be in that position, where they are trying to rip off society, I do not think they are doing that. In turn, they are actually contributing economically or financially to society quite a lot, because of the taxes they collect on behalf of other big organisations. There is an element there where you could be a bit savvy about it, but I think you get caught out pretty sharpish around that.
Tax and financial services sectors, more broadly, are more for posh, older, Caucasian males?
That is a myth, now. I think it definitely was a fact, maybe 20-30 years ago, just because there were not many others in that area. But I mean, no offence to anyone, anywhere, but look at us three, really? I mean, we are not exactly from the posh, Caucasian background, and we are slowly and steadily getting there. I think there is a generational change coming in the future. But it definitely will not dislodge the old school kind of way of thinking. Let us do another podcast about that, if you want to.
You are more than welcome back: Shann the taxman take two! It takes forever to qualify as a tax advisor and the job is really hard - myth or fact?
It is a myth. Because it takes about a good three, four years to qualify, but it is not forever. Again, you will get there just by hard work, there is no other secret to it. So I think it is doable, by it is like doing a mini marathon. You are not going to achieve that in one afternoon, but if you apply yourself over a period of time again and again, it is definitely achievable within every boy or girl's limit, I think.
On to our final section, 'Looking Forward'. Essentially, we are just trying to help people who are interested in your industry get to where you are now. I will start off with the first one: What kind of work experience should our listeners try to get before trying to enter your industry?
I used to work in Sainsbury's on tills, so Sainsbury's is a big supermarket in the UK, by the way Pier.
Like Coles or Woolworths here.
Exactly. That helped me, because I would not disregard any kind of work experience. But if you have an ability to or opportunity to work in an office setting, in some kind of professional environment, that will definitely help. And specifically if you want to target working in finance or accounting, you can do school leavers' schemes where you can do a three or four week work experience in big firms. Accountancy, finance firms, I think that helps. So I think a variety of experience could help you.
Do you have any other pieces of advice to people wanting to enter your industry? Firstly, at the entry level, and secondly, transferring in if they are already an established professional.
Definitely, I think the first advice I would give is, do not think that it is not for you, because it is definitely for everyone. Do not have that bias already to say, well tax or accounting is all boring. It is not at all. It is fun. It is with good people and it is definitely a joy to work in. Get good GCSEs, get good A levels, in terms of working hard. From there, it is quite straightforward because you do an interview or two after that, which is quite straightforward. They want to know about you, then you are in. Your second point on being transferable. I think you have to think about what your long term ambition is, because at that point, you are expected to know what you want to do.
Any final words of wisdom?
Just have a positive attitude, apply yourself and work hard. Do not make it just about books and studying. Go out, get some fresh air, be kind to other people, because that definitely comes back to you. I will tell you that. That is all, in terms of work. I do not want to be preachy around that. I think work is just one element of what you do. There is a wider aspect to your life as well, and work is just one. If you apply the basics right, if you think of it as a society as a whole, or if you think about nature and take care of it. I think that definitely translates into your work. And then, just explore and think it is definitely an option for me, you can do a variety of things around those as well.
Well, thank you so much for taking the time to join us, we learned a lot. Pier will be sad he did not get all his tax advice.
I will call you offline.
Let us do it.
Thank you so much.
Thanks very much. I appreciate you coming to us.
Thanks for listening.
us again next episode as we explore yet another profession.
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