A Day in the Life of a Private Client Tax Senior

1-2 minutes

Curious about the day-to-day responsibilities of a Private Client Tax Senior? In our new feature blog, ‘A Day in the Life,’ we look at the different roles of professionals in the accountancy and finance sector and what a typical day is like for each of them.

To start the series, we’re catching up with Joseph Mills ATT to discover his responsibilities as a Private Client Tax Senior and gain insights and advice during tax season.

Since graduating with his BA, Economics and Politics from the University of Leeds in 2019, 

Joseph has worked in various tax roles. From Tax Advisor to the only Tax Senior at a Business Advisory and Accountancy firm in York, Joseph has become an expert in the field.

With over 4 years experience, Joseph has developed his knowledge and expertise and at the start of this year, Joseph was placed at award winning firm Armstrong Watson LLP.

Joseph, tell us about yourself

I started my career straight after I finished university in June 2019 at Optionis Group, an accountancy firm primarily for contractors. It was here that I gained a great deal of understanding about tax due to the sheer volume of tax returns I was completing. I learnt a lot about how to deal with clients and general professionalism.

After a brief spell at a firm in Huddersfield, I moved to Fortus North in York. This was my first real venture into personal tax returns that went beyond the standard salary and dividends tax returns.

Here I completed half of my Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) exams, worked with a great team and as the first ‘only tax’ person in the York office, I was often the go-to person for tax queries. As a reasonably inexperienced individual this meant I was able to go away, research the point and assist with any issues going forwards which was really good for my development. 

At the start of this year, I moved to Armstrong Watson LLP where I branched out into advisory projects, along with the completion of Trust returns. The Inheritance Tax/Trust advisory area is the direction I want my career to go in, so I am very happy to be doing this now.

I still have a lot to learn in this sphere, however I have just finished my first Chartered Tax Adviser exam and I am excited to learn more and gain experience.

Tell us what a typical day looks like for a Private Client Tax Senior

7:00am – I wake up, stretch and check my phone for any messages.

7.15am – I shower, get dressed and get myself ready for the day.

7.45am – Make a quick cup of tea!

8:00am – Weather dependent, I will either walk to work or get a bus. The walk is around 45 minutes and so is the bus.

8.45am – When I arrive at work, I scan through my emails and check if there is anything that should be dealt with immediately. I always endeavour to reply to client emails within 24 hours, so I like to make sure nothing is missed.

9.00am – I will check the general tax inbox and distribute any relevant emails to other members of staff.

9.30am - 12.30pm – I usually try to get at least a couple of Trust Returns done in the morning to ensure that we are on track to be at the magic zero for 1st February. I continue to do this over the next few hours until lunch time.

12.30pm - 1.00pm – Lunch!

1:00pm - 5:00pm – This is when I will deal with general emails from colleagues and any queries that have come in or any tax return reviews that have been done.

5.00pm – Walk home.

6.30pm - 7.30pm – I usually eat around this time, although it is sometimes delayed when my friend guilts me into going to the gym!

7.30pm - 10.00pm – This is when I try to relax and probably do some reading. I’m currently reading ‘Spies’ by Calder Walton.

10.15pm – Sleep! Ready to do it all over again the next day!

What does your job consist of?

My role is currently split fifty-fifty between advisory projects, and trust tax compliance, although with January approaching this will probably drift towards tax compliance completely. This includes liaising with clients for both areas, whether it is information gathering or answering queries they may have.

We work as a team, and it is absolutely a joint effort at Armstrong Watson LLP. Whereby any queries that someone has are resolved as a team to ensure everything is correct before it goes out of the door. It is also great for my development that I’m able to raise queries and have a discussion and an answer, rather than a conclusive yes/no.

In terms of the skills required, I think, beyond an understanding of tax, the most important skills are communication and time management. After I’ve taken a week's annual leave, it usually takes me a couple of days to get back up to date with the over 100 emails waiting for me. 

What would you consider the most important task of the day to be?

At the moment, compliance is of the utmost importance. We are currently in a very good position so I do only need to complete around 2 a day.

The deadlines are also set by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) so it is important that this is completed. Whereas with advisory projects, we set our own expected deadline and therefore can adjust this as appropriate depending on what other urgent work we have on. 

What kind of clients do you work with on a regular basis?

Almost exclusively Trusts (so the trustees) and individuals who want inheritance tax assistance. I do sometimes assist with remuneration planning and other projects involving partnerships.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

I think the most challenging thing can be when it gets to January and you start receiving a sudden influx of tax return queries which you have to juggle with completing tax returns and other work. 

I was slightly exempt from any of this during the last year as I only started in January but based on the volume of returns already completed, I am not expecting it to be as bad as I have experienced before.

How do you keep up to date with changes in the industry?

We do have a generous amount of Continuing Professional Development time to read tax articles, research areas of tax for clients, which allows us to keep completely up to date. I also watch the budget live, so we can advise clients of any imminent changes.

What is the best thing about working as a Private Client Tax Senior in an accounting environment and what do you enjoy most about the role?

The thing I love most about tax is that every client situation is different, therefore the approach is always slightly different. It’s like solving a big puzzle where you know 80% of where the pieces go already. I also really like how the tax system works together, and different reliefs are claimed for different investments etc.

I also like that when I tell people I work in tax, it immediately starts a discussion about tax and if I have any tips. My friends who are Accountants aren’t usually greeted with the same response. This is especially the case for Private Client tax as this affects everyone - everyone gets taxed! 

What have you learned so far in your career?

I suppose the short answer is the depth of tax beyond the tax bands. The thing I have picked up on is how to deal with sticky situations. If I hit a wall with a piece of work, I just put it down and look at it with fresh eyes the next day (as long as the deadline isn’t the end of the day!)

99% of the time it's just a case of taking a step back and then you’ll see the issue immediately. 

What would you say has been your biggest achievement?

I do struggle to recognise my ‘achievements.’ I think it's hard to know what to judge it against. Completing my ATT was a big relief after 18 months of hard work and dedication.

I completed my ATT, even though I initially started with ACCA to gain a broader qualification.

However as I started to enjoy tax more and more it became slightly more pointless.

The 9 ATT/CTA exams were directly relevant to my job so I decided to switch! It was the first time I felt part of the profession, rather than just someone working in tax.

How have things changed or progressed in the industry?

As I have only been working in industry for around 4 and a half years, I haven’t noticed too much change. I think what I can see changing in the immediate future is the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

From a few initial trials, it isn’t quite up to scratch in terms of writing letters etc. but the way it is progressing, I don’t think it will be long until it does take a lot of the administrative burden away.

Who are some of your role models?

My biggest career inspiration - without a doubt - is my Dad. He has absolutely led by example my entire life. Whenever I have an issue, whether it's how to deal with a client query or any sort of office politics, he will sit down and discuss how he would approach it.

He’s someone who strives to be at the top and has an amazing work ethic, both traits I am trying extremely hard to replicate. 

With tax season fast approaching, how do you deal with stress or the pressures of your job?

A lot of dealing with tax season is just accepting it's not going to be as fun as other months.  Sitting in self-pity isn’t going to change how busy you are! I just work hard and make sure I relax when I’ve finished for the day. Having no Teams or Outlook on your phone helps with this as you just need to be able to forget about work when you close your laptop.

A tip to pass on to others is try and book a holiday for immediately after tax season. Having a holiday to look forward to and being able to relax after tax season was definitely an improvement last year from all the previous years.

Finally, utilise your team, if I’m struggling with something, I’ll ask around and see if someone can help. It's better to use five minutes of two people's time than an hour of one person's time!

Do you have any tips or advice for someone new or up and coming in the industry?

A lot of what I have learned about tax is through researching and trying things out. I think there are people who have the tendency to just do the job for you when you ask for help, which means you can’t learn from it.

I’ve always been of the mind to look it up, advise as per what my understanding is and then send it off for review. So just give it a go first!

This doesn’t mean I never ask for help. If you’re struggling, speak up. I haven’t worked with anyone who hasn’t been willing to help in one way or another.

What are your plans for the future? Where do you hope to progress to?

My goal is to be a Tax Partner at a decent sized firm. I do feel like I am on the right path for this, and I am regularly asking in catch-ups how I am progressing and how I go on to the next step.

I am the sort of person who likes to see the path they’re on so I know what it is I need to do to get to the next stage.

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