A major consideration when applying for a role in a professional services firm like Grant Thornton is the choice of professional qualifications. There are various acronyms floating around for professional finance qualifications and some can seem very familiar. At Grant Thornton, we offer ACA, ACCA, AAT and ICAS on the accountancy side and ATT and CTA for tax.
The qualification you’d study towards depends on the type of work you complete during the week. The qualification is determined by the department and will vary around the country. In tax, we offer training contracts via three routes, ACA-CTA, ICAS-CTA and ATT-CTA. In this three part blog, we aim to explain the difference between these and what it means to the trainee.
The ATT-CTA route is generally undertaken by trainees who are focusing on personal and OMB tax issues at work. Typically, Corporate Tax trainees will qualify with an accounting qualification before CTA. As my work in Southampton spans, personal tax, corporate tax and trusts & estates, it makes sense for our trainees to complete the ATT before CTA.
Having studied through the ATT-CTA route, the whole exam process takes around 2.5 years with a total of seven exams and two e-assessments to complete. The only available exemption for these exams via this route is available to those who are LLB qualified, who are exempt from the law e-assessment.
Tax trainees on the ATT-CTA training scheme will complete all of their academic tuition at Bradenham with other tax trainees from around the country. This means that you’ll be able to build strong relationships with various trainees from other offices. For those I have trained with, I have built up some great working and personal relationships. Spending this time with fellow Grant Thornton trainees makes for some great Bradenham memories.
The tuition at Bradenham is supplied by Kaplan and we have two tutors who come to Bradenham to teach us the material. This gives us the opportunity to socialise with the tutor over meals and sometimes at the bar. For me, this helps to build a rapport with our tutors and fellow colleagues.
In terms of results, Grant Thornton scores well and this is largely thanks to the support network available through Bradenham. Our firm consistently beats the national average and it is rare for trainees to fail exams.
The ATT-CTA route sees trainees completing two qualifications. The Chartered Institute of Taxation does not allow students to attempt the CTA qualification without a prerequisite and approved professional qualification. The reason for this is difficulty; simply put, CTA needs a strong grounding.
As an ATT trainee at Grant Thornton you will sit three written papers in Personal Tax, Business Tax & Accounting Principles and either Corporate Tax or Business Compliance. The final two papers are options but generally most students complete Business Compliance, which consists of PAYE, National Insurance and VAT. These exams are three hour written papers (with an additional 15 minutes of reading time) and are sat in one sitting – that makes nearly ten hours of exams in two days!
The e-assessments must be passed before the ATT is attempted. These are one hour computer-based multiple choice tests consisting of 60 questions. One in tax administration & ethical standards and the other in tax law.
Once the ATT is completed, our trainees are ready to move onto the ultimate objective of being CTA qualified. In order to commence training on the CTA course all trainees will sit a “Hurdle Exam”. This exam is a two hour internal test which is designed to ensure that ATT qualified trainees are ready for the leap up to CTA.
And a leap it is! When I first joined the firm people often warned me about the step from ATT to CTA and their comments didn’t disappoint. I found the leap from University degree to ATT to be much less daunting. The relief in the ATT to CTA jump, and this is a massive relief, is the support network that is around every trainee working on completing their exams.
It’s an important point to remember that when studying through the ATT-CTA route, the focus is always on tax. That is, the supportive topics, being ethics, law and accounting, make up a small part of the ATT-CTA qualifications. The benefit of this focus being that trainees always working towards the same objective, and each exam complements the next. This means that exams and tuition is always building on previous tax knowledge as opposed to working through some material for one exam and then not touching it again. The practical work is also very relevant to the professional qualification and therefore the work done in the office is vital to the success in the exams.
The CTA itself is split across four written exams and two e-assessments. For those completing the ATT, exemptions are acquired for the e-assessments and therefore there are only four written papers to worry about. The exams are three hours each (as well as 15 minutes reading time) and are designed to test your technical ability and awareness of almost every tax in the UK system.
For students in our firm, we complete the compulsory modules of Awareness, Owner Managed Business Advisory and Application & Interaction. There is also an option module between Individuals Advisory and Advanced Corporate Tax Advisory.
The Awareness paper is a three module paper which aims to test peoples “awareness” and understanding of non-core taxes. This being VAT, IHT and either individuals tax or corporation tax (depending on the option paper taken). This paper consists of 36 short form questions and for any tax advisor is a time pressured paper (the 15 minutes reading time is not applicable for this paper).
The Advisory papers, for which there are two, are heavily focused on technical ability. These are regarded as the bread and butter of CTA and are arguably the hardest part of the qualification. The exams typically include 6-7 essay style questions which focus on real-life tax issues.
The Application & Interaction paper is effectively a case study paper and is a tricky paper to complete. Whilst not being as technically focused as the other papers, it still requires a different style of exam technique in order to succeed. The exam is one question, usually around five A4 pages long, which covers all taxes (although focusing on owner-managed business aspects) and requires both technical knowledge and awareness of all taxes in the UK tax system.
There is no requirement for trainees to be “time qualified” in CTA as there are in some accountancy qualifications which means on receipt of all exam passes and membership fees paid, the letters CTA can be dropped in at the end of your name.
The CTA qualification is very well respected and prestigious. Only around 500 people per year are admitted to the Chartered Institute of Taxation and with national pass rates in the 40% band, having good support, tuition and practical experience is key to exam success.
If you have any further queries on the above qualifications, please do not hesitate to comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.