Our 35 Under 35 highlights the best young talent in Accountancy, in partnership with Accountancy Age. We talk to Ele Theochari, Tax Partner at Blick Rothenberg, about her career and insights on the R&D tax sector. Ele discusses changes in R&D and why it means advisers must now be on top of their game. She also provides advice for anyone considering a career in Accountancy and Tax.
Hi Ele, who are you and what do you do?
Hello, my name is Ele Theochari and I joined Blick Rothenberg as an R&D Tax Partner in September 2023. The focus of my role at the firm is to develop the R&D tax function within Blick Rothenberg, with the ultimate goal of helping clients navigate the R&D tax reliefs which are available to them and understand how they might benefit.
What has your career journey been like to date?
During my last year at university, I decided to go into Accountancy and Tax, having completed many graduate scheme interviews. An opportunity came up at Grant Thornton in Bristol to work in their Direct Tax team, working on Corporate Tax compliance and advisory projects, alongside obtaining my ATT qualification. Some time later, I was speaking with colleagues who worked at an R&D tax boutique and thought it would be something I would enjoy, so I took the leap and focused solely on R&D tax reliefs.
Two years later, I was relocating to London and interviewed for a role at PwC. Whereas the boutique I had worked at was mainly covering the SME market, the team I worked in at PwC focused on the FTSE100 and listed businesses, which has given me great exposure to both ends of the spectrum. I learnt many important skills at PwC and had the opportunity to work with some amazing people.
A few years later I was approached about a new R&D start-up which was in its infancy and required someone to build and run the tax technical part of the business from scratch. For three years I had overall management of the entire R&D claim process, alongside all other roles that come with being a company Director, such as Marketing, Strategy, HR and Cash Flow.
The business was later taken in a different direction, and I was at a point in my career where I needed to explore my ambitions. I subsequently took three months out, interviewed with other different businesses, and during this process came across Blick Rothenberg. They had the perfect mix of being an established large business with great clients and a people-first culture. It was a great opportunity for me to join their Corporate Tax team and build out their R&D tax function.
What do you enjoy most about your area of the Accounting industry?
Innovation really interests me, particularly in the UK, and I like to find out what is being developed. You often hear about what’s happening in R&D in Silicon Valley or the Far East, but not always the UK. I’m lucky in that I get to see things on the ground and see what people are developing in this country.
What are the latest trends you are seeing in R&D Tax?
Recently, we have seen the biggest changes in R&D since its inception 20 years ago. The underlying force behind these changes is the UK Government’s desire to tackle fraud and abuse within the scheme. There have been a huge number of new measures put in place, with mixed feedback from both advisors and companies. The latest statistics have shown that R&D claims have continued to rise. However, once the data captures the most recent changes, it will be interesting to see if there is a decline in claimants.
Are there any specific challenges you are facing at the moment?
HMRC’s stance is now so tough that some genuine claimants may be put off making R&D claims. There appears to be a blanket approach being taken to reject claims without due consideration. This makes taxpayers lose trust in HMRC and therefore lose trust in the advisers who are trying to help.
Historically, particularly in the SME market, a lot of the fees are structured on a contingent basis. Although this is a perfectly acceptable way of charging for R&D claim advice in the market, there is always the danger that a no-win, no-fee perpetuates bad behaviours because there is an incentive to inflate claims.
The issue many might find, particularly with extremely low contingent fees, is that some companies are now used to paying extremely low fees for a substantial amount of work and therefore it will no longer be commercially viable.
Who or what inspires you?
Definitely my family; they are all incredibly hard-working and have excelled in their respective careers. We all value putting in effort, working hard, and celebrating success.
What advice would you give others looking to pursue a career in Accountancy?
Speaking very generally, although Accountancy is not traditionally seen as a fast-paced, exciting career, it certainly can be if you put yourself out there. There are so many different opportunities within Accountancy, and such a range of career paths, that there’s something for everyone!
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
I worked for just two months with a lady called Elaine and she had such a lasting impact on me. She explained that in her career she had felt judged for not traditionally climbing the ladder, but that ultimately a career does not have to be linear, and you can do what you like! It opened my eyes to the fact that success does not always mean taking the traditional path, and everyone should instead occupy the space that allows them to follow their own path.
Do you think Accountancy is attractive to school leavers?
As I mentioned before, Accountancy as a career has never been seen as particularly ’sexy’. Usually, when I tell people I work in Tax, their eyes glaze over! Accountancy is a really safe and fulfilling career. But often younger people don’t necessarily see the value in a steady job, particularly with the rise of social media.
Ultimately, as long as there are businesses and people, there will always be a need for accountants and tax advisers. But more could be done to highlight that you don’t need to go to university to be an Accountant.
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- Meet the 35 Under 35 Winners: Ele Theochari, Blick Rothenberg