Tag Archives: Responsibility

Being an in-charge at Grant Thornton

“The price of greatness is responsibility” – Winston Churchill

Having now been at Grant Thornton for over a year and a half, one of my objectives this year was to in-charge a small audit before Christmas. So a few weeks ago I had my first in-charge job – objective…Tick!

So OK, being an in-charge is not quite on Winston Churchill’s levels of ‘responsibility’… Read this post

Public Sector Audit – It’s not just accounts

When I talk to people and tell them that I am training to become a public sector auditor most people look at me with a blank face, whilst some people run away and hide at the mere mention of the word audit. For those who are still around for me to explain further, the first thing I always mention is financial statements as I imagine this is what most people would associate with audit. It is true that we do spend a good half of the year conducting financial statement audits (of local authorities, NHS Trusts, Ambulance Trusts, Fire and Police authorities to mention a few), however this still leaves half of the year where we are getting up to other things. Read this post

Burning the Midnight Oil…

Work-life balance is one of the key things we all look for when deciding on our chosen career path, but inevitably there are going to be times when you have to miss out on some social pursuits to put in a few extra hours at the office. It is therefore highly appropriate that I write this blog in the office at 9pm, having forgone my usual Thursday ritual of having a beer and watching the darts in order to complete a particularly stubborn section of an audit file.

From the audit side, I’ll give you a realistic perspective of our business cycle. Many of our clients prepare their accounts to a December year-end and require these to be audited before submission to Companies House, usually within 6-9 months of that year-end. With the number of staff in the department broadly remaining the same during the year, do the maths and you can see that the first six months of the year are going to be busy.

With deadlines to meet for clients, ‘busy season’ can mean that the time on the planner for a particular audit (i.e. 9-5.30 time) doesn’t actually reflect the amount of work that needs doing. From experience of a client in a previous year you might know you need to put in some overtime in the evening to get the job done within the allocated time. Or there could be a delay in a client sending you some information, putting you behind and leaving you needing to complete work when you are booked to another client. I’ve particularly found the latter a challenge over the last few weeks and it is a sharp lesson in managing your time well. It is important to prioritise deadlines to ensure you can still deliver to that client when you’re out on-site at another client and need to maximise the time you have.

Of course, as a trainee you also need to set time aside to study during the busy period. Now if you’ve put in over 50 hours at work Monday to Friday you might be wondering where you are going to find the time. Weekends is the obvious answer. There is no getting away from it that when things ramp up you might have to miss out on going to the pub on a Sunday afternoon to fire out some practice exam questions. That’s not to say you can’t make time to catch up with friends and family, again it’s just a case of good forward planning to make sure you can fit everything in. Being able to do this and having more than one focus at once is probably the most important thing I have learnt to do in my 18 months with the firm.

Those in our team who are already qualified often stress to me the importance of preparing thoroughly for your exams and are brilliant when the workload gets too heavy along with college. They’ve been in your shoes and want you to do well, thus the burden of overtime is shared throughout the team to allow you some evenings free to hit the books. It follows that as you take on more responsibility and have passed your exams, you will then do the same for the next group of trainees coming through. This comes back to being able to prioritise to ensure both professional and personal goals are achieved. The camaraderie and sense of everyone pulling together is what gets you through difficult times when it seems you will never get files finished. No footballer wants to score an own goal for their team do they?

The busy season makes you appreciate what a work-life balance actually is, and it isn’t about going home at a certain time every day! We roll our sleeves up when we need to but balance this out in the summer with time away from the laptop, enjoying some good weather and a sense of achievement that we gave it our best effort.

Any comments please post them below or tweet me @GT_Phil

Having a CLEARR mind

No it isn’t a typo, CLEARR is an acronym for Grant Thornton’s core values; Collaboration, Leadership, Excellence, Agility, Respect and Responsibility. I was recently lucky enough to be nominated for our CLEARR quarterly awards, so I thought I would take the opportunity to tell all about CLEARR recognition.

CLEARR is a fantastic reward system we have in place at Grant Thornton, to help us all say ‘thank you’. At Grant Thornton we place great emphasis on the importance of giving and seeking feedback, as it is so important when it comes to fulfilling your potential. As an auditor, you will be asked to fill out a ‘job review form’ at the end of every job, where you and your colleagues have a chance to say what you did well and where you could improve. But sometimes, when you have gone that extra mile, CLEARR gives you the ability to really say thank you.

CLEARR offers a simple way to recognise colleagues for living the firm’s values. The recognition can be in the form of a thank you e-card, or by nominating someone for an award. An award will result in points which can be exchanged for cash vouchers to spend almost anywhere.

As a reminder, the CLEARR values are:

Collaboration – The value of sharing knowledge and opportunities with your colleagues and clients, and cooperating as a team.

Leadership – The ability to take great ownership for your work, exercise initiative to make a positive difference, and challenge yourself and inspire others to be the best they can be.

Excellence – To have passion to exceed expectations, and to always aim to achieve beyond our goals.

Agility – The ability to adapt, anticipate and thrive in change, by reacting positively to changes in direction.

Respect – Treating colleagues as individuals and promoting an environment that values the capabilities and contributions of each person.

Responsibility – Acting with integrity, openness accountability to stay true to our purpose and to behave in a way that is consistent with our values.

Each quarter, those who have been awarded points will be considered to receive the quarterly awards by their local CLEARR representative, HR manager, and Office Managing Partner. It is a fantastic feeling to be so appreciated by others at work, and is a superb system unique to Grant Thornton which really makes you feel good about going the extra mile, and ultimately pushing yourself to be the best you can be.

The Question of Tax Morality

When I started life as a tax advisor (only 3 years ago) I never really questioned the morality of my job. I help people structure their tax affairs efficiently and ensure that they can protect their wealth whilst providing for future generations.

However, since the recession took hold in 2009, there has been a huge shift in public opinion. The general public are disgruntled by the likes of Jimmy Carr and Starbucks and understandably so when times are so difficult for the vast majority.

This makes the job that I do even more interesting. On a daily basis there are news articles announcing the latest ‘tax avoider’ and my friends are even becoming interested (sort of) when I discuss tax at the pub!

However, on the eve of the 2012 Autumn Statement where tax avoidance is likely to dominate the headlines, this shift in public opinion is verging on a profound change in the role of a tax advisor. Nobody is accusing Jimmy Carr or Starbucks of breaking the law and they are simply structuring their affairs so they pay the least tax possible whilst keeping within the remit of the law. Instead they are being accused of, in my view, an equally heinous crime of acting immorally!

By reference, one of the most famous quotes in tax planning comes form Lord Clyde in a decision he gave in 1929:

“No man in the country is under the smallest obligation, moral or other, so to arrange his legal relations to his business or property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest possible shovel in his stores.”

The current state of play goes against this basic principle which has been followed for so long. The argument that sticking within the law is no longer enough concerns me greatly, as who defines morality and ethics? As far as I am aware there is no law, act or statute defining the morally correct ethical taxpayer. It is a long established principle that individuals and companies are well within their rights to structure their affairs efficiently. However, we have reached a stage where doing this is classed as immoral and unethical!

The most simple tax efficient structuring such as making use of pensions, ISAs and transfers between spouses, all perfectly legal, are now being called into question. Are these transactions immoral or simply doing as Lord Clyde told us to all those years ago?

I understand people’s frustrations that some companies may pay more tax than others. However, we also need to consider that these companies contribute a lot more to our economy than corporation tax. They all employ a substantial amount of people, pay their business rates, fuel duty, national insurance etc. and have helped shape our economy into what it is today.

Also, and more importantly, these companies are, from the current facts available, not breaking the law. Surely, the general public should be lobbying the government to change the law in order to curb this perceived immorality, instead of attacking law-abiding individuals and companies. The Government’s proposal is to introduce a General Anti Abuse Rule (GAAR). This will seek to tackle abusive tax arrangements and will aim to set the borderline between what is acceptable and what is not. However to resolve the issue of multinationals’ corporation tax, it is likely that the OECD model of a tax system based proportionately on revenue will need to be adopted.

However my concern remains about what defines a moral ethical taxpayer? Does it need a definition? Who can even contemplate making such a definition? And are the lines between what is legal and what is moral diverging?

I anticipate that the next few years will be instrumental in the future of tax planning. With the current public opinion, the introduction of the GAAR and a shift of focus from legality to morality, the tax planning arena will be shifted into uncharted territories where it appears we will all have to learn what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ all over again.

Nick’s thoughts on aggressive tax schemes

For as long as I can remember, our media has been hunting down and naming and shaming certain figureheads in the country for their financial wrongdoing. Not so long ago it was the politicians’ expenses scandal, then bankers bonuses and now, in what seems to be a bit of a surprise, it’s Jimmy Carr.

I’m sure we can all appreciate that Jimmy Carr is just the tip of the iceberg, and that there are huge numbers of high-net worth individuals who operate aggressive tax saving schemes. However, this leads us to an interesting point as taxpayers and, in particular for me, a tax adviser: when does tax-efficiency become tax-immorality?

What Jimmy Carr and Co. have done is not illegal, but using the tax aggressive scheme has given him a poor public image, something which could well impact his earnings as a comedian.

This raises a new problem for the publicly-lit tax-savvy as there is now a required balance between saving on the tax bill and maintaining a good public image.

The British media and public have proved to have very clear cut views on this. Whilst some tax avoidance planning is acceptable, lowering your tax bill to 1% is front page news and immoral.

The controversial question which sits in the back of my mind is this: is it Jimmy Carr’s fault? If he has a legal outlet by which he can lower his tax bill, can we blame him for not taking it? Or it is the fault of our legislators who have allowed such a loophole to exist? How would we act in his position?

There certainly seems to be a bitter taste amongst the British people in relation to residency also. As an F1 fan, I can tell you that seven of the 12 teams in F1 are based in Britain. However, despite having three British-born F1 drivers, none of them are resident in the UK – all three are in Monaco. Do the British taxpayers not mind tax avoidance provided the individuals don’t benefit from tax revenue?

This leads me to another point which I find particularly interesting about UK tax and my job on the whole. Tax advice isn’t about crunching numbers, it’s not about saving ‘x’ or ‘y’, it?s about finding a solution which works, as well as providing a personal solution which suits out clients.

I see this recent development as another point for the tax advisor to focus on when advising clients, but what isn’t clear to me is how far the tax-efficient should go before they are regarded as tax-immoral. It’s a difficult balancing act and one which will continue to add the human element to what is often regarded as a black and white job.

As always I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the recent press on Jimmy Carr and other aggressive tax avoiders. Are they right to avoid their taxes or is a new wave of morality biting through our cash-strapped Treasury?

Why London?

I grew up near Chester and spent my university years in Bristol. I’d always been intrigued by the idea of living in London but wasn’t sure if I could put up with the fast paced lifestyle and terrible tube journeys. Getting a place on the six-week summer internship at Grant Thornton gave me a chance to try out London living and see if it was for me. I had a fantastic six weeks and it was decided – I was moving to London!

Of the Spilling the Beans team, I am the only one based in London. Although there are disadvantages as well as advantages, I wouldn’t have it any other way. However I think that I, along with many other people, might have some misconceptions about what working life is like in other cities. I was intrigued to find out about life in the regional offices of Grant Thornton, the rest of the team certainly seem happy enough! So I decided to write a blog about London and ask someone else in the team to write a blog about life in the regions. Nick decided to accept the challenge…

Easily the worst part of living in London is the daily commute into work. The stifling, packed tube does not set you up well for the day’s work and if you get the train then the advantage of fresh air and mobile phone signal tends to be coupled with the disadvantage of erratically timed trains which turn up if you’re lucky. It’s a Londoners favourite complaint and many people’s reason for not wanting to live in the capital. Having said that, I don’t know of any other city with such a fantastic transport infrastructure which (when it’s working) makes it really easy to get around.

London is considered by many to be the cultural centre of the UK. With West End theatres on your doorstep, some of the UK’s best museums, fantastic restaurants and bars and plenty of gig venues you are never short of something to do.

Cost of living is obviously much higher in London than in other parts of the UK. In fact my rent is almost double what I was paying in Bristol (although admittedly the house has slightly less of a student feel i.e. no peeling wallpaper and dry rot!). However, salaries in London are inflated to compensate and I find that I can live comfortably as long as I don’t eat out too often!

Grant Thornton is well known as a firm which gives its trainees responsibility early on in their careers. The clients are large enough to be interesting but the firm is small enough that even in the London offices we get responsibility and contact with clients from day one. London is one of the financial centres of the world and working for a financial services firm based here gives you access to some of the most interesting and exciting clients.

As the London offices (there are two, one in Euston and one in Finsbury Square) are the biggest of Grant Thornton’s offices in the UK they take on a large number of trainees each year. This means that you join the firm with a large group of people in a similar situation to you. There is a really good social network amongst the trainees and I found that this made the transition from university to work much easier.

Although I love living and working in London, I’ve heard many good things about Grant Thornton’s regional offices so I’m looking forward to reading Nick’s blog and seeing how life in Southampton compares…

(You can find Nick’s blog at http://traineeblog.grant-thornton.co.uk/2012/02/21/why-i-didnt-choose-london/ and may also wish to look at http://traineeblog.grant-thornton.co.uk/2012/02/23/london-vs-the-regions-the-final-word/, http://traineeblog.grant-thornton.co.uk/2013/09/11/home-or-away-the-big-decision/ and http://traineeblog.grant-thornton.co.uk/2013/05/13/location-location-location/)