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Welcome to Small Change, a weekly catch-up with an accountant in practice to find out their daily routine and ask them about the biggest trends in the profession.
Thomas Adcock often spent many meetings arguing with taxpayers and their adviser. When he joined HMRC’s graduate programme back in 2004 he didn’t expect it to be such a combative job. It didn’t start this way. After three years, Adcock climbed the HMRC ranks to corporate tax inspector.
But sitting on the other side of the table during one of these taxpayer/adviser meetings Adcock realised that what he needed was an environment change. Rather than a confrontational relationship, he wanted something more creative and supportive of clients.
Adcock joined Blackstone Franks which subsequently merged with Carter Backer Winter (CBW). What Adcock found wasn’t just a supportive environment for clients but for himself, too.
Adcock had the unique fortune of sitting under the learning tree of tax luminary Robert Maas. “He is a legend in his field and a genuinely lovely guy,” said Adcock. “I don't think I've met anyone more friendly or supportive or helpful than him.”
Despite over 50 years’ experience in tax, Maas shows no sign of swapping it all for a quieter life. Maas still works four days a week and according to Adcock, he continues working all weekend too.
It is through working alongside Maas and Blackstone Franks’ founding partner Lance Blackstone that has informed Adcock’s approach towards CBW’s tax offering from both a consultancy and compliance standpoint – a department that has grown from just a few to 20 people.
It must feel a lifetime ago that Adcock sat on the other side of that HMRC table listening to argumentative taxpayers and their advisers. Now the tables have turned, Adcock has plenty to talk about in this week’s Small Change (not to mention whether he can remember his first calculator).
Hi Tom, thanks for joining us today. Let’s start at the beginning, what's the first thing you do when you start your working day?
My working day starts like most people these days: when I first look at my phone, which is sadly much earlier than I ought to, and see what's changed overnight.
As we do a fair amount of international work in the US and Far East, emails float backwards and forwards outside the normal working hours in the UK. I use that time catching up on the things that happened while I was asleep the previous night.
A lot has been said about the always-on culture. Do you think the 9-5 office hours are achievable?
I'm not sure you have normal office hours anymore. I don’t know when I stopped doing a nine to five, but office hours start much earlier than that, in my mind. I usually start working at 7am and finish when I finish there is a fair amount of client and networking activity that I get involved in.
So when you are able to escape the world of tax and accounts what do you do to unwind?
I love watching motorsport. I'm a big Formula One fan. I've been following Ferrari since I was little. I don't play sport anymore. I feel a bit too old to play most sports. I'm too slow - that's the issue. I turned 30 a few years ago and I was unable to keep up with the 19 and 20-year-olds running about.
What's been the biggest change in the profession since you qualified?
The biggest challenge is helping clients all over the world navigate the UK tax system. It feels like since 2007/08 the pace of change and the amount of new legislation by the UK government is just insane.
Not all of it is well thought out, not all of it is well crafted and its impact can be wide-ranging, far wider than often the original draft conceived.
I also feel these days we are the first line against the defence of evasion. Not just from a legal point of view but from an ethical point of view. We do our best to protect the public purse by giving the right advice to clients.
Most clients are aware that you earn money and you will pay tax. Our job is to tell you how much and when.
How do you see your role changing over the next five-ten years?
I think good advice and good service is never going to go out of fashion. I see from a compliance point of view there will be sweeping changes; MTD if it ever comes in the form HMRC originally announced, will be a good change in the way in which compliance is operated in this country. I think it is a bold move by the UK tax authority and I am supportive of it - it is the right thing to do.
Their rollout leaves a lot to be desired and there are a lot of problems. But I have some sympathy for them. I don't think when they started this process they anticipated Brexit. I know that a lot of people at HMRC were earmarked for doing this work on MTD and other reforms but have been dragged into helping with the Brexit process.
I think MTD five-to-ten years down the line in its full form will be a big change for compliance. But from a consultancy point of view, I think we are going to see even more change with Brexit and that's going to mean that we need to make sure we work more closely with those advisers around the world to service those clients.
You've sat under the learning tree of Robert Maas and many other tax heavyweights - any good advice?
I think the best piece of advice I received when dealing with clients is to take your time; be open, be honest and try and communicate in the way in which a client needs you to communicate with them.
Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and spend time with your clients, understanding what they want to do. You can't hide behind your computer, you've got to get out and spend time with people. It's a relationship business and you need to understand why they're trying to do something, what they're trying to do and how you can help them do it.
The only other piece of advice was when I spoke to Robert Maas once he asked me what I wanted to do and I said: I only want to work in corporation tax. He said: 'That's all very interesting but if you want to work with me, you've got to learn it all'
I think he's right. Too often, people specialise too early and they end up being absolutely the best at one or two things but clients demand a more rounded service.
Inspired by the demise of an AccountingWEB member’s calculator we always finish by reflecting on the interviewee’s first calculator. But we hear you had a calculator that came to an equally heartbreaking end.
I can't remember my first calculator but I had a Casio graphics calculator which I got when I was at secondary school, which I absolutely loved and it took me all the way through my Maths degree at university. But sadly that one died - I spilled a cup of tea on it.