My Career in Tax
Dawn Register – Head of Tax Dispute Resolution at BDO
How long have you worked in tax or tax investigations for?
Over 20 years. I started in 1998 in Expatriate Tax. So, my first role was Human Capital. Like a lot of people it was an accidental Tax career because I actually thought Human Capital was a Human Resources job! I didn’t realise it was Tax. But actually, that was quite interesting because in the early days, it was UK and US Tax for expatriates. I do know a little now but I didn’t know anything about US Tax, which is very interesting. I started in Tax Investigations when I joined BDO in 2006 – 14 years ago.
Who did you work for before BDO?
So, I worked briefly for RSM, but the majority of my career was at Arthur Andersen.
What do you most enjoy about working in Tax?
I think, for me, it’s the fact that, usually, there isn’t a clear-cut black and white answer. A lot of us who work in Tax talk about grey areas and people don’t really like that. We don’t mean grey hair, we mean the fact that the answer is often debatable, and I really enjoy the debate with other people, clients and HMRC, around what is the right answer and working through that.
What do you most enjoy about Tax Investigations and why?
I think specifically about Tax Investigations and Disputes, it’s the fact that we have to solve a problem. So, it’s being solution-focused. I think people say, what gets you out of bed in the morning? It is finding those solutions for people. So, people come to us, often, with a big problem hanging over them. They’re very worried about these tax problems. For them, it’s probably second only to say a health issue. It’s a serious financial issue, usually, for them. So, for me, being able to solve that and get some closure. To get a problem dealt with, a case resolved, gives me real pleasure. It really does. It gives a real sense of satisfaction.
What advice would you give someone who’s ambitious to fast track their career in Tax?
I guess a few things. Never assume anything. So, I learnt quickly to cross out the word ‘assume’ or ‘assumptions’ in anything I wrote to HMRC. Always check for yourself. Be curious, maybe that’s just because of working in investigations. But having a curiosity is really healthy, I think, for a career in tax. Then the other one which I would say is; keep learning new skills. Most of us are humble, whatever stage you reach in your career, there’s always more to learn. Ironically, my learning objective this year is to improve my technology skills. I didn’t really need a global pandemic to force me to do it, but there you go! I am pleased to say I have done it!
Is there anything you would do differently now if you were just starting out in Tax?
Actually, I probably would go back to that technology point. I think I would embrace technology more in terms of tax. I think a lot of us, particularly in the accountancy profession, say things like, “Oh, I’m a technophobe”. We should embrace it more. It’s not going to put us out of a job. I mean, particularly not in something like Dispute Resolution and Investigations. We should see technology as a tool to help us, as a real positive and not a negative.
I also embrace complexity. So, lots of us moan about the fact that, “Oh, the legislation is so big and there are so many rules …” I think we’re up to about 21,000 pages of UK tax legislation. But actually, of course, this keeps us all busy. We should embrace that rather than moaning about it all the time. That challenge is what most of us enjoy in the job. If it was easy, it would be boring, wouldn’t it?
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing tax professionals over the next decade?
I was thinking about this recently. I think my answer has changed in recent weeks during Lockdown. I think the challenge is going to be managing the tax implications of the recession as a result of COVID-19. If you look at the press in recent times, there’s the Treasury report on their predictions of the borrowings. And already, the Treasury is talking about what pending tax changes they’re going to have to bring in – I mean, it’s common sense that they’re going to need tax revenue from somewhere. That’s going to mean, rewriting, probably, promises and plans that the Chancellor made in the March 2020 budget. So, I think that’s going to be the challenge. Plus the communication with clients when face to face meetings are limited. Continuing the social interaction and human connection that we all need. For me it’s with clients and HMRC. There’s going to be some huge fundamental changes. This will impact private clients, self-employed, small businesses, larger corporates. All of those could see dramatic tax changes.
What do you most enjoy about your current role?
In my current role, I’m privileged to get involved in a number of projects which are all very unique and challenging. And that’s what I really enjoy about my role now: no project is the same, so I don’t ever get bored. They are always difficult disputes to resolve, so we do deal with some of the most challenging tax disputes in the country, I would say – and that may be difficult because of the amount of money, that may be difficult because the individual is stressed, it may be difficult because the case is running for many years and is causing all sorts of problems or HMRC may be using all their powers. So, I think that’s what I enjoy about the current role. I also enjoy the interaction with people. I normally spend my day with people, from meeting to meeting, loads of face-to-face meetings, clients, HMRC, other people at BDO, other people in the profession. I also enjoy talking to the press who are interested in what HMRC are up to. So it’s an enjoyable role.
Why would you advise people to consider a career in Tax at BDO?
Well, I think what I would say about BDO is we aim to give people the best of both worlds. So, for me, having been in a smaller firm and a larger firm, it’s that big firm benefit of lots of resources, lots of training, knowledge sharing. Particularly in London, for example, we have probably 600 tax professionals. So, if you want an expert on stamp duty land tax or capital allowances, you can go and talk to them and you have that wealth of expertise. But, in terms of the best of both worlds, we aim to still have that small firm feel in our teams. We know each other really well, look out for one another, work together closely. As a team, sometimes we handle stressful situations and it’s really a team effort. So I would say the best of both worlds is the aim.
The culture is very driven by our strong values around how we work and how we treat each other. We do take pride in that. Most of us stay an awful long time. One of my colleagues has just celebrated being at BDO for 32 years and he’s still as enthusiastic as ever. It says a lot about the culture, doesn’t it?
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