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James Cowper Kreston’s Alex Nicholson on why businesses need trusted advisors

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What Alex Nicholson, a Partner at James Cowper Kreston (JCK), enjoys most about his tax advisory role is the people element. Teamwork is also important, both at work and out on the water in his free time.

“Working with a lot of different people brings variety to the role and tax is a subject that really stretches you. No two days are ever the same,” he explained.

An engineer by training, he holds a Masters in Ship Science, his eye was drawn to the world of taxation via an accountancy firm job advert. A career as a Chartered Tax Adviser isn’t one he considered prior to finishing full-time education, but he realised it would offer great flexibility, the challenge of problem-solving and the opportunity to meet many interesting people.

Many of his clients are owner-managed businesses and while most of his workload is advisory, he also supports the tax team in delivering tax returns for clients with complex tax affairs.

“If you are a sole owner of a business it can be quite a lonely place, so having a support network of trusted advisers is always going to be important,” said Nicholson, who qualified with a large national firm before moving to join JCK in 2011.

He points out that although tax rules are often viewed as being black and white, a lot of tax legislation is subjective and it is a question of finding the right balance for a client that meets their personal, family or commercial objectives. “We guide clients through the tax maze,” he said. “We aim to give pragmatic advice that explains both the risks and benefits, so they can make better-informed decisions.”

Ultimately, he believes, giving good tax advice is underpinned by the fact that people do business with people. “As a firm, everyone here is approachable and we strive to build long-lasting relationships with clients,” he said. “Most of what we do is on a fixed-fee basis, which encourages clients to pick up the phone and keep in touch with questions and queries.”

Getting it right for clients

He maintains that there is hardly ever a quiet moment. In any week, he advises on a range of matters which might include, transitioning ownership of a family-run business to the next generation, a business acquisition, advising on the set up of a family investment company for long term wealth planning, assisting companies in claiming R&D tax credits, and incentivising key employees via company share options.

He believes passionately in getting things right for clients. “It gives me a great sense of fulfilment if we have happy clients with good outcomes,” he said.

He’s also passionate about his responsibilities as a partner at JCK. “One of the reasons I wanted to be a partner was to help drive the firm forwards. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping colleagues to achieve their career ambitions with us.”

Life on the ocean wave

Away from his desk, Nicholson spends as much time as he can with his family and is usually either on or by the water. Living close to the Solent provides plenty of nautical opportunities. “Paddleboarding, sailing, swimming or just going to the beach is how I love to spend my free time” he said.

He has a part-share of a yacht.

“When you’re sailing there are lots of different things all going on at the time that you have to think about. You also have to be constantly planning ahead to avoid anything going wrong. And you have to work as part of a team.”

In fact, a bit like being a tax partner at JCK.

Advice you’d give to businesses

“There are often many ways to reach the same result and you can avoid bad outcomes by talking to a tax expert before making important business or financial decisions.”

Best advice you’ve received

“Recognise that people are different and be prepared to flex your style to suit them. Don’t be afraid to stray beyond your comfort zone, you never know where it will take you.”

About JCK

James Cowper Kreston provides audit, accounting and tax work along with a range of business advisory services, from offices in Newbury, Oxford, Reading, Southampton and London.