Q. You have specialised in the private client field throughout your career, initially as a tax adviser and latterly as a recruiter. What attracts you to working within this market ?
It has always been about the clients. Whether they are self-made entrepreneurs or landed ‘old money’, they always have a fascinating story to tell. Often the story is still unfolding and being able to participate in that journey, helping dynamic HNWIs and their families plan for the future, is very rewarding. Now we place experienced Private Client advisers into positions to enable them to do just that.
Q. Do you restrict the assignments you take on to private client tax and trust work, or does your remit extend into areas like fiduciary, corporate services and private banking, where there is little tax involvement ?
Certainly the core of our business is within the personal tax and trusts fields. We have always specialised in those areas (together with some expatriate tax assignments) and it will always be our primary focus. We believe passionately that detailed market knowledge and a strong technical understanding of the discipline, are key to delivering high quality recruitment services. Candidates appreciate the fact that we understand precisely what they do day to day, having done it ourselves. Clients love the fact that we only ever talk ‘private client’ and are not trying to be a jack of all trades. This has helped us to cement our reputation as the UK’s premier adviser in the Private Client Tax field.
However, our private banking clients do ask us to go ‘off piste’ from time to time! We have a good track record of placing individuals into broader wealth management positions within those institutions. We are also doing more work in the family office field that is not purely tax related. One recent HNW client asked us to find someone with strong ‘speech writing’ skills!
Q. Private client tax consulting is one of the few tax specialisms in the UK where law firms compete head to head with accounting firms and tax boutiques. Do you see much movement between the two professions ?
Undoubtedly the personal tax advisory work undertaken in the law firms and accountancy practices is very similar. For many years we have successfully moved lawyers into the leading accountancy firms and a number of strategic private client Partners in London’s accountancy practices are lawyers by background. However, tax advisers have found moving into the law firms more challenging. CTAs with strong tax investigations experience are certainly of interest, but private client tax specialists still tend to struggle with moving into mainstream Private Client teams in the law firms. Although Law Society rules now allow non-lawyers to take up Partnership, many CTAs still feel like second class citizens in the law firms. There are exceptions, but many legal practices will need to overcome this snobbery if they are going to continue to compete with the accountancy firms for high end private client advisory work. I’m sure we will see far greater integration over the next 5-10 years, but for the law firms, who are still very traditional in their approach, it will take time.
Q. The emphasis on personal and long-term relationships is perhaps much more important in private client work than in the corporate world. Does this also apply to relationships with external consultants like yourself ?
Our client relationships go back over 15 years and form the foundation of the service we provide. Partners have genuinely got to know us over that time and appreciate the fact that we really do know them and their teams. We’ve helped them to grow and develop, with many of the advisers we’ve placed going on to play leadership roles in the teams they’ve joined. A lot of our candidates have become old friends too! We’ve helped them with careers advice (not always involving a move) and often they become clients, asking us to help them grow their own teams. We are in this for the long term and our clients and candidates like that.
Q There has been a trend in recent years for private client tax partners from law firms to set up their own boutique, often because the private client work was not seen as core business for the firm as a whole. Do you expect this fragmentation to continue ?
Thirty years ago most of the large City law firms pulled out of Private Client work as it was perceived as a ‘non-core’ activity. In the last ten years we have seen a reversal of that process with even the largest legal practices beginning to build HNW expertise again. However, it is true to say that Private Client work will never have the same profile as the ‘big ticket’ corporate work that these larger firms prefer. Undoubtedly that frustrates Private Client Partners and lawyers alike. Some are drawn to the accountancy firms, where Tax can make up half of the firm’s business and the Private Client team maintains a significant internal and external profile. Others have established boutiques aimed specifically at advising HNW individuals and families. Obviously there are still some very strong mid-sized Private Client law firms, where lawyers in that field still feel truly valued and gain exposure to top quality work. Ultimately that means that private client solicitors have a broad range of career options available to them, including private bank and family office work. It is likely that they will continue to broaden their horizons and work beyond the conventional legal practice environment.
Q Many people might consider the private client field as old-fashioned, yet new web-based networking groups like Family Bhive have had a major impact on how people interact. Do you think this blending of traditional values and online innovation will continue ?
Entrepreneurial new money is the fastest growing sector in the Personal Tax world. The strong Private Client Tax teams still maintain landed wealth expertise, but the greatest volume of high end, rewarding private client tax work is generated by entrepreneurs. They are dynamic, their circumstances constantly change, they are buying and selling businesses or assets and increasingly they have international aspects to their affairs. It is also true to say that the average age of these HNW clients is falling. They are tech savvy and embrace social media, technology and innovation. It is only right that those providing Private Client services respond to this. The HNW world growing but still relatively small and those that can tap into it via online initiatives, will flourish.
Q What do you predict in terms of activity and developments within the UK private client tax market during 2016/17 ?
Demand from our clients for Private Client expertise remains high. We are seeing increasing interest at Partner level as firms look to grow their offerings. Client ‘followings’ are no longer a pre-requisite, although strong business development skills are important. Talented Directors looking to step up to Partner are also highly valued. Non dom expertise remains the most sought after skill set, although we are seeing significant interest now for individuals with transaction-related private client tax experience.
The overwhelming view is that there is a desperate shortage of good CTAs on the market. From newly-qualified to Senior Manager, we are witnessing very significant demand for personal tax and trusts expertise. Interestingly, firms are not ‘lowering the bar’ in terms of their expectations, preferring to wait for their ideal candidate to come along. Nevertheless, the opportunities for good Private Client Tax advisers across the UK are significant and should remain so for the foreseeable future.
Recent assignments completed by Mike Howells include:
Personal Tax Partner, private equity advisory boutique
Associate Director, Wealth Advisory, Private Bank
Personal Tax Associate Director, Top 10 accountancy firm
Personal Tax Senior Manager, Top 20 accountancy firm
Personal Tax Manager and Assistant Manager, London HNW Boutique
Trust Director – Top 10 accountancy firm
Trust Director, Private Bank
Tax & Trusts Senior Manager, Jersey boutique
Trust Advisor, private family office
CTA Tax Seniors across the Top 10, Top 20 and mid-tier firms.
Mike Howells is Managing Director of Howells Consulting Ltd, Specialists in Private Client Tax Appointments. You can contact Mike on 0 207 408 9474 or at email@example.com. To view all the private client tax jobs he is currently recruiting for, please click here.