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How do you develop comprehensive knowledge?

How do you develop accountancy knowledge and for all the taxes so you can be good at your job

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I hope it's OK to post here, I'm not an accountant (at least not yet!).

I recently completed a short work placement at HMRC and I really enjoyed it. Some people recommended I study accountancy at University which I plan to do. I'm not sure I want to work at HMRC but I'm very interested in a career in this area.

I've been researching accountancy and I get the basic premise but I don't understand how you then go on to develop the necessary tax and other knowledge. I was helping out a team that dealt with research development claims which seemed to be one small aspect of corporation taxes however there are of course many taxes. Even for a small company you need to know about income tax, company tax, national insurance, pay as you earn etc. Each one of those being it's own topic in it's own right.

I understand you will study modules on tax but how can you be effective on so many different areas? You need to know accountancy, understand all the taxes, know how to read HMRC guidance, I was told about court/tribunal cases as well. Then you have law that changes all the time as well! I'm not sure I'm smart enough or can retain that much knowledge.

I get that some things just come with experience but if I qualify and get a job I don't understand how I will know enough to be useful.

Thanks for any advice you can provide.

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18th Apr 2019 22:32

Many practitioners are ‘generalists’ and know enough to get by in a range of Accountancy and tax subjects.

Some go on to specialise and become experts in a particular area of tax. A large firm will employ such specialists whereas a small firm might refer work to them.

You will be familiar with how something similar works in healthcare. For example you might go to your GP for most illnesses and ailments, but you would be referred to a cardiac specialist if you had a suspected heart problem.

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to andy.partridge
18th Apr 2019 23:00

Thanks this for this.

This is somewhat reassuring, I may have got the wrong impression but it seemed those in HMRC who deal with tax investigations (and not just looking at claims) had to know everything somehow. I guess I incorrectly assumed an accountant would just be the opposite side of that!

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to marla546
18th Apr 2019 23:54

How to win friends and influence people. Join an accounting forum and proclaim:

marla546 wrote:

[some] in HMRC... know everything.... an accountant would just be the opposite....!

Just teasing. No-one knows it all. There's too much to know. It's definitely worth rubbing shoulders with specialists though at some point in your career.

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to Tax Dragon
19th Apr 2019 09:59

Sorry I didn’t mean they were the opposite in knowledge, I meant the other side of the tax investigation bit, so private sector as opposed to the government/public.

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19th Apr 2019 01:01

When I use the HMRC agent's hotline I seldom get an HMRC employee who knows what they are talking about.

I spent a couple of years at the Inland Revenue which were more or less a complete waste of time.

Working for a firm of Chartered Accountants I was thrown in at the deep end. This is where you really do start to learn your stuff.

And no-one knows it all. But your average accountant and tax specialist usually knows tons more than your average HMRC employee. If you study for tax exams you will learn lots and lots provided you are prepared for the hard graft.

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to penelope pitstop
19th Apr 2019 07:35

I don't believe HMRC has its best operatives manning the phones. Even so, I have had some very good (as well as very bad) experiences when I've called.

I'm not disagreeing with you, PP. I'd be a brave dragon to do that in this forum. I just wonder... is there an element of apples and pears about your thinking? When you say "accountant", you probably mean either "qualified accountant" or "person that runs their own business (and so has motive to put in the effort)". I wonder, if you substituted "average individual working in the accountancy sector", and compared same with "average HMRC employee", whether you would see the same gap.

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By SXGuy
19th Apr 2019 09:03

What makes you think you would qualify without understanding enough to be useful? surely that statement is contradictive.

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to SXGuy
19th Apr 2019 10:06

I guess I couldn’t see how I could have enough knowledge as it’s such a wide field. The GP analogy above helped though. I know I’m not that smart so was worried it might be a wrong career choice if that is what is expected.

If there is a possibility to be somewhat of a generalist or specialist, that makes more sense. My incorrect assumption was you had to be the cream of the crop which I’m not.

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19th Apr 2019 09:42

You can never have comprehensive knowledge.

There's always something you don't know.

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to lionofludesch
19th Apr 2019 10:31

lionofludesch wrote:

You can never have comprehensive knowledge.

There's always something you don't know.

You just need to keep uptodate enough to know what it is that you don’t know. Reading, doing CPD courses, visiting AWeb ...

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to atleastisoundknowledgable...
19th Apr 2019 18:00

Times were when accounting rules were fairly stable and tax rules changed but once a year. Now, accounting rules seem prone to fairly fundamental change, whilst tax rules can change at any moment.

Even knowing what you don't know is getting harder.

Or is that just me?

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19th Apr 2019 11:36

I think you maybe do not understand the process

If you go to University to study accountancy at degree level that does not make you an accountant

You would join a firm at junior level then train and do further studies AAt, ACCA etc
Along side your work experience

After say 5 years of hard graft you may qualify as an accountant where you will have five years practical experience to support your studies

During that time you may find areas you were better at or more interested in and choose to specialise in such as tax audit etc

I trained in small business team and then went onto FD roles industry where I have good all round business skills but not a great tax knowledge so tend to stick to jobs that have fairly basic tax needs which is about 90% of small business really, then I have someone to call in if something is beyond what I can do myself

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to Glennzy
19th Apr 2019 13:58

Thanks, this sounds more like something I'd be capable of. I knew I'd start off at the bottom but thought you'd have to hit the ground running really, or at least super quickly. If it takes most 5 years and I can do it in 7, I'd be happy!

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19th Apr 2019 14:14

marla546 wrote:

Some people recommended I study accountancy at University which I plan to do.

I recommend that you don't study accountancy at university. You end up with £40,000-50,000 worth of debt and a degree that is probably worth very little - certainly in terms of what you learn about accountancy as a job/career.

Get an apprenticeship or similar. You'll get paid (modestly) and learn a considerable amount 'on the job' to complement whatever studies you do.

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to Accountant A
19th Apr 2019 17:20

I was about to say the same. If you are certain it is what you want to do, jump straight in, the professional qualification will put you in good standing for other roles, if you have forsaken the degree experience.
Work experience is always my advice, dip your toe in and if you are any good, chances are you will get a job offer from one of the places you work. Gives you an idea of what it is really like on the accountant side of tax

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By marks
20th Apr 2019 02:01

As said above you can never know everything but you just need to know what you dont know so you dont deal with yourself.

My background (traditional route)

1. Went to univ in Glasgow and did an 4 years honours degree in accounting.

2. Got ICAS traineeship with a 4 practice firm in Glasgow where I worked for 3 years.

3. Then worked in various small/medium sized accounting firms across Central Scotland in various roles for the next 12 years.

4. Worked industry for 6 months but didnt like it.

5. Started working for myself at end of 2012 and now deal with about 200 clients and have 5 staff.

We do very much generalist work. We do the basic tax work but anything more complicated we pass to either of 1 of 2 tax practices we work closely with (one is CIOT qualified and the other is VAT specialist). Anything really specific such as R&D, Capital Allowances claims etc we have a network of UK specialist firms we can call on.

If was starting out now would give the univ route the wide berth unless you really want to go and experience the univ life. The value of a degree isnt really worth anything nowadays with something like one in two people having a degree or something equivalent.

We take trainees on straight from school and train them up ourselves starting with AAT then moving onto either CA/ACCA. Lot of stuff that you learn at univ is total irrelevant to a small accountancy practice.

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to marks
20th Apr 2019 08:41

Agree - if I knew then what I do now (and knew accountancy is what I wanted to do), I’d’ve done the AAT from 6th form, then ACCA, not uni (useless Maths & Philosophy) then ACCA.

@OP - 80% of what your knowledge is from ‘on the job’ ie experience & informal learning from colleagues, rather than academic studies. At least 50% of what I learnt studying my ACCA hasn’t been used since my exams. Even stuff that you get taught on CPD courses, it’s not until you actually do it that you understand it.

Experience, experience, experience is what drives your knowledge. Do your best to try as many different things as you can in the earlier days.

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to atleastisoundknowledgable...
20th Apr 2019 15:39

atleastisoundknowledgable is spot on with their comments

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to atleastisoundknowledgable...
20th Apr 2019 16:39

atleastisoundknowledgable... wrote:

Agree - if I knew then what I do now (and knew accountancy is what I wanted to do), I’d’ve done the AAT from 6th form...

The AAT didn't exist when I was in the sixth form.

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to lionofludesch
20th Apr 2019 18:01

You had a 6th form?

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to lionofludesch
20th Apr 2019 20:38

Random phantom duplicate.

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to marks
22nd Apr 2019 21:06

What an interesting career.

Was that achieved with or without the influence of the single malt amber liquid!

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By MDK45
21st Apr 2019 17:15

An old boss said to me pre qualification that you don't need to know everything but you need to know where to go to look it up!

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to MDK45
22nd Apr 2019 21:08

Now then! That is half the battle. You can waste up to a day or a half just trying to find what you are looking for sometimes.

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By DJKL
21st Apr 2019 19:35

I am going to go slightly out on a limb here, I think a degree (though not of necessity in Accountancy) may in some cases assist.

For example, finance raising tasks can require presenting arguments in a fair degree of detail, with arguments for and against particular paths; the essay/dissertation writing skills gained at university can assist these sorts of presentations which can often run to well over 100 pages when say cross referenced documents are included.

In a similar way say writing outline briefs for JVs may require persuasive argument and clear thinking in producing both the full outline Heads of Terms documents for discussion and the summaries for same may often require a very clear writing approach; the attention to detail required to say precisely what you mean to say can be honed by writing university essays or presenting for tutorials/seminars.

I started with an M A in humanities at Edinburgh, then did a one year quasi crash accounting degree at Aberdeen (required back then if non relevant graduate by ICAS) and then did an ICAS training contract.(unfinished)

I appreciate none of the actual knowledge from my first degree has much relevance (except the Economics and Maths bits) but I do believe the soft skills developed back then have been of use over the intervening thirty six years and certainly, as my working roles have diverged from the strictly financial, an ability to tackle myriad roles beyond my particular areas of training have ,I believe ,relied on critical thinking ,initially developed during my first degree, far more than upon mere debits and credits and technical knowledge.

However everyone learns in different ways and I did not need to borrow money to sit my first degree; maybe the modern world is now very different.

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22nd Apr 2019 21:04

Test card only

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to penelope pitstop
22nd Apr 2019 21:05

Phat finger syndrome

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22nd Apr 2019 21:03

marla546 wrote:

I'm not sure I'm smart enough or can retain that much knowledge.

In which case you may find that a career with McDonalds could earn you tons more. (By the way I am not being facetious here. Merely an observation on some pay packages on offer by some accountants).

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