The top 10 tax accountants and advisors of the UK

13 September 2017 6 min. read

The prestigious Spear’s Top Tax Advisors list gives an annual insight into the leaders in one of the most important revenue streams in the advisory world. While the Big Four are all represented this year, they are joined by a number of rival advisory firms, along with having key members poached by rivals as the playing field continues to level amid changing regulations and heightened scrutiny via financial watchdogs. 

According to analysis by Statista, the revenue of tax consultancies in the UK will continue a steady rate of growth until 2019, having already been forecast to rise from £23,986 million in 2015 to £24,823 million by the end of 2017. In 2019, revenues are expected to hit a peak of £26,028 million. The Big Four accounting and consulting firms Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC hold a large share of the UK's tax advisory market. However, their operations have, from an accounting perspective, recently been stung by fines, high-profile probes and new audit rotation regulations, which have seen some of their competitors gain ground. This increasing level of competition in the sector could well see growth maintained against the current forecasts, as rival tax firms bid to find innovative ways to expand the market.

This arena of reinvigorated competition is reflected in part by the latest Spear’s top tax advisors list for the UK, which has seen the Big Four joined by advisors from six of its challengers. After a year in which financial experts attempted to out-think the worst potential scenarios of an uncertain Brexit on behalf of their clients, while a snap election and the government’s U-turn over the Finance Act caused further disarray, there are new names in the prestigious top ten in 2017. 

The top 10 tax accountants

The Big Four each feature in the list, despite another turbulent year that has seen them lose a number of notable contracts, including foods group Tate & Lyle and British broadcast giants, the BBC. PwC’s Elizabeth Henson, a Tax Partner, who has spent ten years at the firm, is a long-standing member of the Spear’s list. Within PwC, she is the London Leader of their Private Business team, but Henson stated that the chief driving force behind the firm’s impressive year was 18% growth fuelled out of Africa and Asia.

Paula Higgleton of Deloitte also continues to impress, meanwhile. A former PwC Senior Manager, Higgleton joined Deloitte in 2001, working her way to become a Partner, before being made a Vice-Chair at the firm in June 2017. According to Higgleton, there has been a notable shift in her clients’ priorities towards succession planning, which has seen Deloitte’s accounting practice benefit. David Kilshaw joined EY from KPMG in 2013, and is currently a Partner at the firm. Kilshaw studied Jurisprudence (philosophy of law) at Oxford University, and according to his experiences over the past year, clients are now keener to be tax compliant in the face of new regulations.

Greg Limb of KPMG, meanwhile, completes the Big Four presence on Spear’s list – although unlike the others, he is a new addition to the ranks. This is despite having recently celebrated his 20thyear with the firm since joining from the one-time Big Five accounting advisory, Arthur Anderson, in 1997. The current Tax and Private Client Advisory Partner takes the place of long-standing list member Dermot Callinan, with KPMG’s former Head of UK Private Clients set for an imminent move to Saffery Champness, another accounting firm named among the prominent list.

Beyond the Big Four

Saffery Champness is represented by James Hender, a former Tax Advisor at PwC who previously also worked as a Senior Executive at EY. Joining Saffery Champness in 2012, Hender, who is now a Partner, works to provide clients with holistic solutions, stating that on many occasions, the best solution is not necessarily confined to tax. 

Outside the Big Four, meanwhile, the largest international consultancy commended by Spear’s shortlist is BDO. The world’s fifth biggest accountancy and business advisory sees two advisors named for their efforts in tax consulting. Having spent 17 years with the firm, Paul Ayres joined BDO from Rawlinson & Hunter, where he spent two years as a Tax Consultant. He is presently a Tax Partner at the firm, while Wendy Walton, a Partner between 2000 and 2006, is presently Head of Global Private Client Services at BDO. With 29 years experience in the industry, all with BDO, the firm’s second listed member specialises in corporate, personal, inheritance and trust tax.

top 10 tax accountants and advisors

In 2016, Mark Davies was named Private Client Accountant of the year, and a year later, the head of Mark Davies & Associates retains his place on Spear’s unordered ranking. Paul Hocking, the Chair of Frank Hirth, is also named. Having spent his career at the firm since 1975, Hocking is widely regarded as a key authority in the tax arena, and advises private and business clients on a variety of UK/US tax issues. Over the coming period, he said that there is some serious competition heading the way of the UK in the shape of the new Italian regime, “They’ve taken the best features of our system and made it fit for purpose,” he said. The Italian consulting industry is growing steadily, and will soon be pushing for pre-recession revenues at current rates. With a reformed tax system, advisory firms there stand to be in good stead to continue expansion.

Finally, returning to the top ten is Simon Jennings of Smith & Williamson. Jennings only arrived at the accounting advisory in May 2017, having spent 32 years with Rawlinson & Hunter, where he was most recently a Partner. The new Senior Consultant at Smith & Williamson has wasted no time settling into his new role though, and has had plenty to say about the current political uncertainty, calling both the EU referendum and Prime Minister Theresa May’s snap election, “completely unnecessary.” His comments will resonate with a number of clients, as recently as many as half of all UK business leaders said they lacked confidence in the government’s strategy, following the botched general election and a tumultuous beginning to negotiations with Brussels over Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.