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How to be a tax specialist


Armando Small, certified tax adviser and owner of Capstone Group is a self-proclaimed Jack-of-All-Trades. This typical guy’s guy who was deputy head boy of his high school and excelled at sport and culture, admits that, just like when he was a student at the University of Johannesburg, he still doesn’t really know what he wants to do with his life. What Small knows, however, is that he is not interested in taking employment; he wants to create employment. Capstone Group provides a range of services from bookkeeping, audits and tax services to secretarial and trust services.

How long have you been working as a tax specialist?

I completed my articles in 2010 but worked in the accounting industry for the past 10 years. When the partner of the auditing firm where I completed my articles asked me one day if I would like to own my own accounting firm, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and Capstone Group came into being.

What experience or qualification do you believe helped you most in getting to this position?

Firstly you need to study a B.Com degree, majoring in subjects like Accounting, Financial Management and Tax would be preferable. The next step is to become registered with a professional body such as South African Institute of Professional Accountants to practice. I have had to learn to function well under pressure as my profession is very deadline-orientated.

Like anything else in life, you need to work smart and not hard to succeed. Owning your own business takes a lot of dedication and working when others are not. Some days will feel like you are going five steps back and two forward. Never give up. It takes 10,0000 hours to be good at something. This is so true. Most people give up as soon as things get tough. I love the saying, “when the going gets tough the tough get going”.

How long can someone interested in your career path expect to study?


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To complete a B.com degree takes three years and an additional three years of articles at any professional institution that provides articles for training.

In this line of work legislation and processes are continually changing and a person must be a student for life to keep up with the changes. As accountants, our clients want us to be financial advisers, business consultants bank managers, financial managers, sociologists, attorneys and personal assistants. You need such a wide variety of skills to perform in this industry. Each client is unique and with different needs and requirements, you need to remain compliant while keeping them all happy!

As an example, a client’s run-of-the-mill business needs to comply with 50 statutory forms a year not to contravene any form of acts currently in circulation. Each act requires specific knowledge and understanding and has its own challenges. As that client’s accountant you need to help them navigate all of this.

What school subjects do you need to be a tax specialist?

In my days it was accounting, business management and economics. Today everything is going to the web- and cloud-based services. I would still recommend accounting for any person that wants to open a business one day. Computer science technology is becoming the main factor in our industry. The ability to provide information to clients, faster and better than any of our competitors, is the key to success.

What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your job?

Most challenging: Definitely getting clients that have no business acumen to a level where they understand their own business better and getting them to understand that they have to pay tax in some form or another.

It is very challenging to deal with clients who don’t see the bigger picture. A growing business with a profit means taxes will need to be paid. All clients have the same problem and can be summed up in one word: cash-flow.

Most rewarding aspects are getting something right that others can’t and assisting clients in difficult times and seeing them succeed in their own business. I have clients that we opened the business for them and have gone through all their trials and errors with them; it is a great feeling to be part of their business in a sense.

What advice do you have for a young person thinking of entering this field of business?


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Your candidates need to be able to work with clients and their specific and unique situation, and be deadline-driven. The new tax administration act has put a lot more emphasis on delivering information on a timely and correct form. You better love administration.

Where do you think your industry is heading in terms of compliance, qualification requirements, industry standards?

Every aspect of our industry is going to web- and cloud-based services. Information needs to be processed faster and more accurately than ever before. Emphasis on correctness is critical as it has major consequence for us as practitioners and our clients if information is incorrect.

Find out what Small suggests for decreasing your estate and eventual estate duty liability

Qualifications standards have increased due to the schooling system not being adequate in giving training in the accounting field. The day of the bookkeeper working from home has come and gone. To be successful you need to bring more to the table then just processing of information.

Are you doing now what you thought you would be doing at this stage of your life when you were 20 years old?

Well to a degree I am. I would love to be an owner of a business outside the accounting and tax field. As long as I am doing business in some form I will be happy.

What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received and who gave it to you?


Armando Small, owner of Capstone Group

You need 5,000 hours to be good at something and unfortunately, and it’s very depressing advice, but has shown to be true over the years, is that no good deed goes unpunished.

Another thing is to never sell yourself short. If you have good service offering charge accordingly. Business and money will follow. This remains the daily challenge for all entrepreneurs though.

Did you have a mentor supporting you in your early career? How important do you think this was in you reaching your professional goals?

There were a lot of people in my life who gave me advice and direction; to name one only will be a disservice to the others. I think more important than anything a mentor can ever do for you is to follow your heart even if your brain screams at you. I have had endless arguments with my heart and my head and this can drive a person mad. You end up regretting the chances you did not take more than the ones you did.

Any career move or mistake you wouldn’t make again? What was the impact of it on your career?

I would have wanted to study law first. But luckily for me I can still do that. My intention is to get a law degree in the next few years as it is critical in my practice and will add so much more value for my clients as well as the possibility of expansion.

HomeTimes is excited to add Capstone Group to our panel of experts. Should you have any burning issues or tax concerns and you’d value Small’s advice, please drop us a line here and we will get his input.


Mariette Steynberg is a qualified economist with a post-graduate diploma in financial planning. She has enjoyed working on holistic financial plans for clients in various stages of life, as well as a development economist assessing the socioeconomic impacts of new developments. When she is not working, Mariette enjoys parenting her quirky, delightful toddler girl. Cloth diapering, Eskimo kisses and the importance of reading to your child are all causes close to her heart. Mariette is passionate about financial education and hopes to use the experience she has gained to share knowledge with HomeTimes’ readership. Her goal is to provide information that is implementable by everyone.

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