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Tasks of a Tax Accountant | What to Expect as a SENIOR Associate (3 to 5 Years Experience)

One of the first promotions you will receive after just starting out at the firm is the jump from a New/Experienced Associate to a Senior Associate. This usually follows after 2 years of experience and you are expected to designate shortly as a CPA. (Read about the tasks of a New Associate here) Here are the general breakdown of the tasks of a Senior Associate based on my personal experience from working at a Big 4 Accounting firm, as well as working with Senior Associates on a daily basis.

Senior Associate

At this point, you have probably worked at the firm for 2+ years and expected to designate shortly as a CPA after passing the CPA exam. You have probably spent the past few years learning and following instructions and guidance of your seniors. Your role as a Senior Associate is now transitioning from simply following to a more leadership role. You will start coaching juniors and learning how to manage files, so by the end of 5 years, you can be ready for your next promotion to a Manager.

Administrative Tasks

Of course, you cannot escape the administrative tasks. I don't think you can ever escape it. Especially, since you have been doing it the past two years as an associate . However, you can start delegating and reviewing the work of your juniors, so hopefully, less of your time is doing admin work.

Tax Compliance

Reviewing Junior's Work

After having a Junior complete the preparation of the tax return, you will also receive a list of questions. It is your role to review the tax return from a more big picture perspective instead of digging into the details. You would spot check whether financial statement numbers tie to the tax return, such whether the GIFI balances, and if there has been any changes compared to the prior year. You might have been told by the client of any changes in the business and would have discussed with the Manager on how it may or may not impact the tax return. You would be focusing more on these changes as well as reviewing for any new accounts to investigate further.

It is expected that the Junior's work would require some tweaking, and for their development as well as efficiency in your time, you would compile a list of Review Notes for the Junior to update. Review Notes can be in an email format or summarized in an excel/word document. It's good practice to give a timeline as to when to expect the changes to be done so that you can review it and make sure all your changes are incorporated. This may require a couple of back and forths, some cases, you may just make the changes yourself given the time constraint. After you are happy with the tax returns, you would pass it onto your Manager for final review.

Starting to Coach

While you may have only been a Coachee as a New Associate, you may now be a Coach with Coachees to mentor. Especially when it comes to your new role as a Senior Associate, one of your new found roles is to guide New Associates and "teach" them if they are doing something incorrectly or have trouble understanding a certain concept so they can learn and improve for other files they are working on.

It is also part of your role to care about the well-being of Juniors and to not just dump a bunch of work on them, but to ask about other files they have and to see if your requests are reasonable.

Learning to Manage files

Before, you may have been told timelines to meet and not have much say in the process. However, as a Senior Associate, you now have a better understanding of client expectations and how long certain files take. Working backwards from an external deadline (ie. tax return deadline or client set deadline), you can set certain internal deadlines for your team to work with so that you have enough time to review as well for the Manager to review and the Partner to sign off on. This definitely requires time management skills!

Updating Manager

One important task is to manage expectations and to communicate clearly. It's not enough to assume that your Junior or Manager knows what's going on or what you plan to do. Let the Juniors know on what date to get back to you with their final product, and to escalate any issues before that. You also need to let the Manager know when you expect to have something ready for their review so they can time manage their own files.

Usually the more Senior you get, you get the file you are working on later down the timeline, closer to the due date. So while it is expected for you to resolve any minor/moderate issues, it is extremely important for you to raise any issues that appear beyond your expertise to the Manager/Senior Manager so they have as much time to handle the situation. It is no good if you sit on the issue, thinking you can figure it out and you end up not figuring it out, and your Seniors find out with little time to resolve it.

Tax Consulting

Now that you have some technical tax skills under your belt, you may be asked to go on more tax consulting projects. This may be in a powerpoint format with diagrams and simplified explanations, or it can be in a written memo format.

Some of the tasks asked of you may be to conduct research, whether that is by looking through the Income Tax Act, research database, rulings, court cases, etc about a specific tax issue. You would then learn how to organize your information and highlight the areas that support or don't support the issue or position. The next layer would be to apply the client facts to the rules to see if it applies to client specific situation. Most often than not, there may be scenarios where the rules appear grey and where you would work with your Manager/Partner in weighing both sides of the issue to build a solid case.

Business Development

You may find yourself in more client facing or client contact roles, where your Manager feel comfortable letting you run the show. You may find yourself feeling more comfortable calling the client or working directly with the client to get the information you need. You may also be equipped to find opportunities within the files you work in or simply talking to the client on potential work the firm can pursue. Obviously, the task of getting more work to increase the firm's revenue is not your primary responsibiliy (as it primarily sits with the Senior Manager/Partner). However, you may be expected to start developing these skills and spotting opportunities as you move up in the firm.


Check out other relevant posts:

Tasks of a Tax Accountant | What to Expect as a NEW Associate (0 to 2 years Experience)

How to Survive at a Big 4 | Tips for New Starts

What Do Tax Accountants Do? Tax Manager's Day in Life of an Accountant | Busy Season

Tax Manager at Big 4 | My Career Path

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