In conversation with Ian Bruce-Smith CTA, KPMG

My name is Ian Bruce-Smith, and I am a tax manager at KPMG.I studied chemical physics in college so you would definitely say that I was not thinking about a career in tax when I was at school or university.

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My name is Ian Bruce-Smith, and I am a tax manager at KPMG.I studied chemical physics in college so you would definitely say that I was not thinking about a career in tax when I was at school or university.

How did you go from a science background and end up in tax?

Honestly, when I finished my masters, the next step was a PhD which I knew I did not want to do at that stage. I started to look for interesting areas to work in that would use the skills I developed during my studies and, when I was talking to a friend about options, they suggested I look for a role in the tax department at KPMG.

Tax is not something I had considered before, but after giving it some thought, it looked like something I would enjoy so I applied for a job, flew home for the interview, and took the role.

Did anything surprise you about tax when you started your role?

Quite a few things did, but the biggest surprise was just how varied my colleagues’ backgrounds were. In fact, the tax partner that interviewed me studied engineering himself and there are people with neuroscience degrees and history degrees on my team. You really do not need a business or accounting background to work in tax, but it does make the path a bit easier.

Did you get mentorship or support to help you make the transition?

I did - everyone gets a mentor when they start. Where I sat in the office, I was surrounded by people of varying levels who were very willing to show me the ropes. While as much of the first year was spent learning the various KPMG systems and how to use the tax return programmes as developing my tax technical knowledge, over time, I became more and more involved in the tax technical work. The CTA exams were invaluable in developing my tax technical knowledge.

What is a typical day like for you as a Tax Manager in KPMG?

No two days the same. The nature of client queries varies - day by day, industry by industry. It is probably one of the most interesting things about the job because you never know what you are going to work on that day.

You could be advising a range of clients on a range of issues. You could be working on some of the largest transactions that are happening in Ireland and across the world or working on personal tax issues for individuals or families, adding highly valued tax insight. It is safe to say, I am often challenged and rarely get bored.

You mentioned how you were looking for a career that would use the skills you developed in college. What skills do you think a Chartered Tax Adviser needs to be successful?

The ability to logically work through problems and think things through, step by step. This was something I learned in college that I use on an almost daily basis to break down complicated transactions into their individual steps.

I would also say the curiosity to keep asking questions and a desire to keep on learning – tax legislation is always changing, at least once a year in Ireland and then all the international developments on top of that. Even if you’re working with a partner who has been practicing for years, you could end up knowing as much, if not more, about a particular topic because everything is moving so quickly – you can become an important asset to your team early on if you are willing to learn.

You are now over 6 years into your tax career path, what opportunities have you had as a CTA?

It is a question I get asked regularly by summer interns who want to know about the international opportunities within our department. While the focus of the CTA programme is on Irish domestic tax legislation, it can be transferred abroad and opens a lot of doors. I know people who are using their CTA qualification in the UK, Canada and Australia.

In 2021, I got a chance to start a two-year secondment with KPMG Canada in their enterprise tax department. As well as getting the opportunity to get a better understanding of Canadian tax, I will get to experience working in a different environment and to develop closer ties with a foreign office.

What advice would you give a college student who is unsure of what they want to do with their degree?

I would encourage you to think about a career in tax, no matter your area of study. You can use a wide range of skills coming from your background and apply it to tax. When advising clients, having a different perspective can often be very valuable. So not studying a finance or accounting is not necessarily a huge disadvantage.

Would you recommend the Chartered Tax Adviser qualification to your family and friends?

I would! The programme gives you confidence that you have the knowledge and skills to deliver in your role. It makes you feel comfortable advising clients on what they should be doing from a tax perspective. The exams really do prepare you for working in practice or in industry and it will go hand-in-hand with your daily job, where everything will start to click into place as you advance through the CTA programme.

I am still in touch with most of the people I trained with. The tax industry is relatively small, so you end up recognising a lot of people when working on transactions and at various ITI and industry events. It is a great network to have which started during the CTA programme.

Hear from qualified Chartered Tax Advisers (CTA) around the world at https://taxinstitute.ie/career-in-tax/about-the-career/cta-profiles/ .

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