One of our professional mentors, Hafsa Daware, is an expert in tax as well as a Chartered Accountant. Earlier this year, she wrote an article on careers in the Tax Profession for the IntegriTAX section of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants’ (SAICA) Accountancy SA magazine. She describes her profession as “lucrative, inspiring, challenging and versatile”, writing that she has “always had a passion for tax, and value[s] the breadth and depth of what I have been able to learn over the years from all the disciplines that I have been privileged to work with”. Such cross-functional collaboration is fundamental as “understanding a business from all angles is critical to effectively advise and guide it from a tax point of view”.
Read more for Hafsa’s thoughts on the skills required of tax professionals, the wider understanding of commercial aspects you can build through working on tax matters, the areas and roles tax professionals can work in, and some lessons from the business and tax authority perspectives.
Hafsa writes that “generally, becoming a tax practitioner or tax professional requires that you have excellent time management skills, communicate well with people, be meticulous with detail, and be able to understand and interpret the tax legislation.”
A lot of specialist knowledge is naturally important. While Hafsa’s original article explored the South African routes to becoming a tax professional, the avenues of degrees (such as Honours, Masters or Higher Diplomas) or other courses, perhaps after obtaining accounting or legal professional qualifications, conceptually apply more broadly and internationally too. Nevertheless, local professional or regulatory requirements are highly relevant.
Hafsa also explains some of the other skills tax professionals can build in addition to tax technical skills, specifically referring to understanding:
The wide exposure to different aspects is why Hafsa argues that tax professionals can also choose to step into careers in other lines of work over time i.e. “it opens the door to possibilities far beyond the specialism”.
Contributions of & roles in the tax profession
Internationally, Hafsa explains, the tax profession is evolving to play an ever increasing and critical role in business, as well as in Revenue Authorities. “In business, the profession makes a contribution on many fronts, from ensuring compliance to tax legislation, tax risk management, tax advisory and tax planning to name some of the significant areas. The profession also makes a significant contribution to governments in the form of tax auditors, administrators, legal and tax policy design to ensure that the country’s tax base is protected.”
The profession offers various styles of work too, including self-employment, or employment by:
Tax professionals in business
Being a tax professional in business or public or private practice offers you a window “to see into every aspect of a business, given that some form of tax may stem from the majority of the transactions that a business would enter into. On the tax advisory side, it is common that tax professionals work very closely with various teams, for instance, corporate finance, legal, actuarial, accounting and operational teams. In a corporate, this is entirely necessary to ensure that the appropriate tax treatment is applied to transactions of the business. This typically allows for the holistic understanding of transactions on an end-to-end basis as well as gaining insight into the business rationale in respect of transactions… Tax is a crucial part of a transaction and must be implemented correctly.”
Taxes can include corporation tax, value-added tax / sales tax, employee taxes, customer taxes (such as policyholder taxes, or reporting information for customers to include in their personal tax returns), transactions taxes (like securities transfer tax) and more. “Tax compliance is a significant part of the profession, as ultimately, everything being done by a business culminates in the submission of a tax return to the relevant Revenue Authority for each type of tax, and taxes payable. This side of the profession is underrated, however [it] is one that is critical to all businesses to enable compliance with laws and regulations. [It] is also critical to Revenue Authorities, as it is any government’s source of income… with funding going towards areas such as education, health services, infrastructure, unemployment support and protection services...” Overall, taxes play a key role in the operation of society.
Hafsa's full original article "Choosing a Career in the Tax Profession" appeared in the August 2021 edition of Accountancy South Africa (Accountancy SA). She is a member of the SAICA National Tax Committee.