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How to become a head of tax

Head of tax jobs are the pinnacle of the tax profession. But what  do you need to do to become a head of tax in the UK?

Read on to find out what the role typically entails and to find out what it takes to land one of these coveted positions.

What does a head of tax do?

In a nutshell, the head of tax manages the tax function and provides taxation services across their business. You will generally have a team of direct reports to help facilitate with this, although the exact number of these will depend on the size of the company.

What are the main responsibilities?

As it's a tax job, it’s highly technical. Some key responsibilities from this perspective are likely to include:

  • Submitting tax returns (i.e. CT600s, VAT, S17/ESD, SX1 etc) to UK authorities
  • Providing UK tax guidance to front office and other functions
  • Providing tax support to senior management as requested

But of course there’s far more to it than just the technical aspect. You’ll also need strong managerial and organisational skills and to act as a key advisor to senior stakeholders.

What knowledge is required?

To secure a head of tax role, you’ll need expert knowledge of UK corporation tax and other UK taxes (VAT, withholding taxes and stamp taxes). You’ll also need a strong understanding of tax accounting for financial reporting purposes, while comprehensive knowledge of tax regimes outside the UK is usually considered important too.

What skills are required?

It’s vital you’re able to communicate highly technical concepts to non-specialists in a clear and comprehensible manner.

A number of fundamentals are key. Among these are a high level of attention to quality and precision in work, the ability to manage multiple pressing demands on time and strong staff management skills. Depending on the employer, you may also be required to work effectively in a contentious environment and ensure consistent adherence with both legal and governance principles.

As with any senior job in the tax profession, it’s vital you’re able to communicate highly technical concepts to non-specialists in a clear and comprehensible manner.

What are the barriers to securing one of these roles?

First and foremost, there are only so many jobs at this level. Another potential issue is that more and more tax professionals are becoming typecast in a specific specialism. Mark Gillett, Director of Finance and Taxation at the Bank of Novia Scotia, explains:

“People who are starting out in the tax profession can get compartmentalised, which can be detrimental for their careers. I’d recommend diversifying your experience as much as possible. You need to be willing to take on challenges if you want to succeed. Put it this way, if you pigeon-hole yourself as a VAT specialist, you’re not going to be able to become a head of tax."

Interested in making it in tax? Former CEO of RSM Tenon, Andy Raynor, gives his advice on succeeding in tax.


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