COVID-19 has impacted all of us in our personal and professional lives. We decided at CBO Search to launch a series of interviews with the main influencers in Tax Technology and share with our readers how this crisis has affected their work and how they adapted to it. We think professionals will work differently after these events.
We are pleased to welcome Alfredo Espada, Tax Technologist. Alfredo has built an impressive international career over the last 15 years from advisory to now working in the industry for a global pharmaceutical business, leading Tax Technology projects across the UK and Europe.
For those who don’t know you, can you introduce yourself?
I am originally from Madrid where I took my Bachelor’s degree in Law and subsequently a Master’s degree in Commercial Law by Garrigues. Despite my initial specialism, life opportunities led me to focus on Indirect Taxes and ultimately to leave Spain for the UK. Although I live in London, I currently work in Cambridge for Astrazeneca as Associate Director for Indirect Taxes and Tax Technology.
From Spain to London, what a great journey! How did you get into Tax Technology?
Technology has always interested me but, professionally, I became involved at a very early stage in my career at the hands of Jesús Ricart. We were both working at KPMG and Jesús Ricart asked me to join him in designing an Indirect Tax logic for an IT system that a Spanish bank was developing at the time. The work consisted of delivering a set of tax logic, driving business information for reporting purposes. It was then that I got “hooked”.
It is never easy to make the transition from Tax to Tax Technology, so it is good you found a mentor and the right project to get involved. I know of your involvement with the TEI, is that something you can share?
Recently after joining AstraZeneca, I had the opportunity and pleasure to increase my professional involvement with the Tax Executive Institute (TEI). As well as being a member, I currently chair the Tax Technology Committee within the European Indirect Tax Committee led by Srdjan Timotic.
The TEI European Chapter is currently very active in running, among others, Tax Technology initiatives all over Europe with different members jointly coordinating a wide range of initiatives, from very high-end event organization to technical partnership with software providers as Indirect Tax SMEs.
It must be exciting to participate in European initiatives and make a difference. Where do you think the Tax Technology sector is going? Are there any trends you would like to refer to?
These are indeed difficult questions that could have many different responses.
The way I would like to approach them is by focusing on Indirect Taxes and the key importance of business information at a transactional level. Early in December last year I had the opportunity to participate in a conference organised by the EU Directorate-General for Taxation and Customs Union (TAXUD – EU Commission). There I strengthened my belief that VAT is no longer merely a tax but “conceptually” it has now turned into a reporting tool used by Tax Authorities to obtain very complex and detailed business information. Their aim is to use that information beyond VAT and national borders, to really obtain a full picture of businesses and their transactional flows.
For some years now, technology has been widely used by some Tax Authorities. In a very efficient manner, they first obtain and analyse complex information from a given business and then, triangulate it with that obtained from its suppliers and customers to create the “full picture”.
We, businesses, should understand that challenge. After having VAT sensitised our business processes “end to end”, we should then use the appropriate technology to secure that business information is correct at source, documented and reported adequately.
Regarding that technology, I would recommend everyone to not rush into buying a “Ferrari” without first securing roads and gas stations to run it. Know your business first, fix what does not work and then invest in the best product for you.
Indeed I have seen businesses implementing an ERP system or a tax automation solution, then being dissatisfied and implementing a new one! What would be your main advice for someone who wants to work in Tax Technology?
Again, a very difficult question.
Tax Technology is a very wide professional field where many different types of professionals coexist IT experts, Tax professionals, Project Management experts… My main advice would be for someone to first identify their key skill set (IT, Tax, PM, etc.). Subsequently, to carefully consider how to best apply those by adequately using them in a necessarily cross-functional environment. In my opinion, within the Tax Technology world, there is no room for one kind of professional: “one-man-bands”.
Completely agree with you, Tax Technology has become a generic term, it can mean AI, Robotics or relate to ERP systems. Are there some attributes or soft skills which you think are necessary to work in Tax Technology?
As an Indirect Tax professional I would say, Tax knowledge is key for assessing where your business is, identifying where it needs to be and then high-level designing the path to that place within a necessarily cross-functional Tax Technology team environment.
The ability to understand other’s professional perspectives of the same issue is secondly very critical.
Finally, you need to be a “story teller” and not a “scaremonger” to the business. Informing and guiding but never disrupting!
Is there anything you would do differently if you could?
If I could I definitively would have bought Amazon shares back in 2010.
Me too! Working in Tax Technology, do you encounter recurring challenges, and if so, which ones are your top ones?
Certainly. The struggle to get heard on the need to VAT sensitise business processes “end to end”. For this, there is no easy way or short-cut. You must persevere again, playing the “storyteller” role. Ideally, Indirect Tax SMEs should be given full “license to operate” to influence business stakeholders in such a way that business information is right at source. Often, it is a struggle for business stakeholders to accept that fact and allow the “Tax guy” to get a seat at the design table early enough.
Communication and getting projects moving forward is a challenge commonly shared by Tax Technologists working in house unfortunately. What are your key achievements?
Nice one! How has your work changed with the current COVID-19 challenges and restrictions?
Not significantly, honestly. My role necessarily implies daily interaction with business partners that often do not share my location. I see the current situation as a step further on the existing geographical professional diversification. Good IT support is key and for that, we should be thankful for all our IT colleagues that make the process possible.
I agree with you, how do you find working from home? Does it come with challenges? What are the benefits?
For those that do not know me, I am a social animal and hence, I am finding it difficult to be away from my colleagues. On the bright side, the lack of commute allows me to use my time more efficiently.
Good communication skills are often one of the key criteria I am looking for in candidates for Tax Technology roles so I am not surprised that it is a challenge for you to be away from your colleagues. How do you keep in touch with them and ensure that you are all working as a team?
AstraZeneca has timely deployed a remarkable battery of IT solutions that allow us full connectivity and interaction. We mainly use tools like Skype, Zoom or Teams to ensure the magic happens.
We hear how important is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and life balance to strengthen the immune system, is this something you have time for?
I love running and outdoors activities such as sailing which are now obviously limited due to the current circumstances. Thanks to my close friend Beatriz Castillo I have recently discovered Mindfulness and I must admit it has been a game changer for me.
Thank you Alfredo, it has been great to hear about your career in Tax Technology and how you are currently making an impact on the market through your work within the TEI. Under the current circumstances, it looks like thanks to good IT support, you have well adapted to the constraints of confinement while maintaining good communication with your team, which is encouraging to hear.