Business Profile - Sally Thomas, Saffery Champness accountants, Harrogate


Sally Thomas of Harrogate accountants Saffery Champness tells us why private client work adds up to a satisfying career.

When my children did a primary school project about their parents’ jobs they described my role as a private client tax adviser as ‘doing sums all day’. While calculations do come into it, I’m glad to say there’s much more to it than that.

Early on in my career I was asked at interview why I wanted to specialise in the tax affairs of individuals rather than following a corporate tax path that could see me working with the likes of Microsoft. The answer was simple: specialising in individuals’ tax would allow me to advise the person who owns Microsoft.

I have now been providing tax advice to individuals and business owners for more than 25 years, helping them find their way through the UK’s ever more complicated legislation. During that time I have helped people maximise the proceeds from the sale of their business by making sure they benefit from the reliefs available, such as Entrepreneurs Relief, which allows saving up to £1.8 million in capital gains tax – even more if the planning is done at least 12 months in advance.

Working with individuals and their families can involve tackling some very personal issues, such as inheritance and succession, and this means taking time to listen. For entrepreneurs and family businesses it can involve looking beyond the complexities of tax and investment to the intricacies and needs of the family or organisation as a whole.

There is often the expectation in family businesses that future generations will continue to run the firm, leading to assumptions on both sides. An outside advisor can act as a catalyst to kickstart discussions and, in some cases, facilitate and mediate. Sometimes the right decision will be a difficult one. Families may discover, for example, that the best way forward is to sell the business and leave a pot of money under professional management for future generations rather than leaving them to run a business they neither want nor are capable of continuing to operate successfully.

I think of myself as a map reader which, given my sense of direction, I’m sure my family will find amusing. But, in essence, my job is to talk to people and find out where they want to go. Once that has been decided I can work out the best route from a tax viewpoint.

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Yes, my job involves sums, but it’s much more than that. A good private client advisor needs to be able to listen, to empathise and have a good understanding of ever-changing tax legislation. It’s this combination of intellectual challenge and people skills along with the ability to communicate and explain complex technical issues in a straightforward, understandable way that makes my job so rewarding.

Sally Thomas is a private client tax advisor at Saffery Champness, a top 20 firm of chartered accountants specialising in advising owner-managed businesses, wealthy individuals, families and trusts, charities, not-for-profit organisations and landed estates. For further information, call 01423 568012 visit

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