Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Sir Jon Thompson CPFA, CIMA, Chief Executive Officer of HM Revenue & Customs

From his starting point as a finance trainee at Norfolk County Council to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Financial Reporting Council and HM Revenue & Customs, Sir Jon Thompson’s career spans nearly three decades. He is both CIPFA and CIMA qualified.

In 2019 Jon took up the post of CEO of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) which is responsible for the regulation of auditors, accountants and actuaries in the UK. Prior to this, Jon was the Chief Executive Officer of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), with responsibility for the government’s UK Tax Authority, which collects more than £625 billion per annum in UK taxes, employs more than 65,000 people and is the driving force behind  reform of the UK tax system.

Before joining HMRC, Jon was Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, jointly leading the £36bn organisation with the Chief of the Defence Staff.  Jon’s Civil Service career has also included being Director General Finance at the Ministry of Defence, Director General Corporate Services at the Department for Education and Finance Director of Ofsted.

Leading up to the Civil Service, Jon was Director of Corporate Services at North Somerset Council, worked at Ernst & Young and Eagle Star Insurance and spent his early career at Norfolk County Council.

Why did you choose a CIPFA qualification?

When I finished school with three A Levels in Maths, Physics and Economics, I applied to work at Norfolk County Council because I was attracted by their training packages which I thought were more appealing. I felt that we were to be given a great deal more time, support and funding to achieve formal qualifications in contrast to some of my peers working in other sectors. At the time, Norfolk County Council were offering entry to CIPFA certification.

What do you think are the benefits of a CIPFA qualification?

Firstly, plenty of opportunities. A CIPFA qualification provides you with a gateway to a multitude of roles, career paths and projects. You will not be limited in terms of career development and prospects. 

Secondly, a CIPFA qualification is well respected at home and abroad. If you are prepared to travel, adapt to different circumstances and have the aptitude for taking on a challenge then there are many career opportunities with a CIPFA qualification.

And finally, CIPFA offers training which is wholly relevant to public sector finance and accounting. It is just as well recognised and valued in the private sector too.

What attracted you to a career in public finance?

In the early years of my career, I was given an opportunity to work in the private sector at Ernst & Young as an advisor to the public sector. It was here that my ideas were broadened in terms of what a career in public sector finance and accounting involved and could potentially look like.

I also came to understand the real impact the civil service has, and most especially that it would enable me to make a real and fundamental difference to people’s lives. At local government level decisions effect hundreds of thousands, and at higher levels of civil service the choices we make influence and shape millions of lives.

It was important to me that I try to make a difference to society, so from Ernst & Young I re-entered the public service.

What was a game-changing moment in your career?

It must be the first time I made Finance Director which was at North Somerset Council. Why? Because this role was the trigger that enabled me to secure higher level civil service roles including Director General, Finance at the MoD, and Director General, Corporate Services at the Department for Education and Finance Director of Ofsted.

Which challenge(s) do you consider the most difficult for future CIPFA graduates?

Like many other industries, pace of change and the implementation of technological advances are two of our biggest challenges. With all that is currently on the horizon, I encourage new graduates to be agile, willing to learn, and to exude confidence. In public sector accounting and finance, you will be playing an advisory role and people will turn to you for help and good counsel. It’s therefore imperative to display confidence even if you don’t always feel it.

What is your number one piece of advice to new CIPFA graduates?

A CIPFA qualification will naturally open many doors for you. It’s therefore important to take up the opportunities offered, plus be prepared to stretch and develop yourself along the way. One of the many benefits of working within public finance and accounting is the depth and breadth of roles available to you, so make sure you undertake a diverse range of tasks and jobs. These two combined will add fuel to your public finance career.