To raise more awareness on the profession, we decided to launch a series of interviews focusing on women in tax technology. It is with great pleasure we welcome Anh Carter, Anh has 13 years of experience in tax technology. She is a recognised tax technologist and a leader in one of the largest global VAT returns teams, she has had an international career and is the proud mother of two young children.
This inspiring woman shares about her career, diversity in the workplace, balance between work and personal life and provides advice for new starters in tax technology.
For those who do not know you, can you introduce yourself?
Hello, World! My name is Anh. I am based in Brighton and happy to call this my home having previously worked in New York and London.
I started my career in the Tax Management Consulting team at Deloitte in 2007 where I trained as a Chartered Accountant. The team had developed tax tools that were externally licensed to clients and the experience I gained working there helped me build a foundation of knowledge for different aspects of tax and technology.
I went on to work in the implementation services team at Thomson Reuters where I supported the ONESOURCE product formerly known as Abacus VAT. I then joined EY to support the rollout of that tool in their Global Compliance and Reporting (outsourced compliance) function and found a plethora of indirect tax technology projects outside of compliance reporting, including tax engines, ERP implementations, procurement transformations.
I currently work in the Global Returns Services team at Avalara. My team manages tens of thousands of VAT registrations and filings every month and I try to get us to be a better, faster, stronger version of ourselves every month.
I am also the mother of Avy (7) and Michael (1).
From New York to Brighton, you have achieved a lot already career-wise and you have a busy family life. Why did you choose to specialise in Indirect Tax automation?
I chose to specialise in indirect tax automation because 1) the variety of projects keeps me engaged and 2) the lasting relationships and networks I have made along the way.
Of my 13 years working in tax technology, I struggle to remember a quiet period at work. I had been involved in over 30 compliance reporting projects when I started pushing to expand my specialism into other areas of indirect tax technology. Since then, new automation projects relating to indirect tax seem to continually pop up keeping me hooked. I love learning about new opportunities and challenges to solve (e.g. ERP upgrades, new tools, transformation projects, jurisdictions implementing VAT). It has never been dull working in tax technology.
Every team I joined so far has been diverse in different ways from nationality, languages, professional background, and age. It has been a pleasure getting to know people through work and keeping those relationships long after projects are over.
As the projects in tax technology are international, it opens the opportunity to work with professionals from different backgrounds, it looks like you made the most of it. Do you see many women working in Tax Technology? Has it changed since you started?
Early on in my career, there was a clear imbalance of male to female leaders in tax technology. The first time I saw this balance fall in favour of female leaders was when I joined the EY VAT team in the US in 2016. I am fortunate to have had some inspirational female and male leaders support my professional development particularly at EY and Avalara. These folks inspired me to put myself forward as a leader, to be the change and to dispel the expectation that technology should be dominated by men.
I have been following the annual gender gap report by the World Economic Forum every year since 2016. My first time browsing it was a shock, and in subsequent years, it has become a stark reminder of the need to do more for equality over many aspects of society. For reference, the latest WEF gender gap report for 2020 concluded that globally we are just shy of 100 years until gender parity.
Currently, I do often come across women working in tax technology, but I would not say that it is an equal ratio with men. I want to be part of the change to have more women working in technology AND more women leading this industry.
I could not agree more with what you said. The imbalance starts at recruitment stage, there is not as many women as men to put forward for a tax technology job. I think more needs to be done at university stage and when young professionals train to be an accountant, so they have a clearer picture of the full panel of the jobs in the professional environment.
Being the mum of two young children, do you find working in tax technology challenging to balance with family life?
At times, I did find it challenging to get the “right” balance; whether it be to choose work and let mother’s guilt eat away or prioritise personal commitments and feel like I am letting my team down. I have agonised over both feelings in the past.
On reflection, the right choice is always the choice that works for you. I support and encourage the individuals in my team to do what each “feels” right for them when conflicts arise with work and family life. Someone who chooses to prioritise a personal commitment over work should not be made to feel like they care less about work than their colleagues. Equally, someone who chooses to work long hours should not be made to feel like they are neglecting their personal responsibilities.
I must admit that I am quicker to provide positive affirmations to support my colleagues and friends than I am to myself.
Those conflictual choices are a reality for professional women, I think our society still lacks the infrastructure to support working women hence we are 100 years behind for gender parity but that is a larger debate.
Who has inspired or mentored you in your career?
I am privileged that I can think of many people to name but mentioning how each of them inspired/mentored me in my career would make this answer too long.
One of the people who inspired me is Maria Hevia Alvarez, who is leading the EY VAT team in the US. Maria is not afraid to use her voice. She helped get me out of my shell more and made me realise the value my opinion could bring, but only if I voice it. Sometimes as a woman in a room full of more senior men, it takes a certain degree of confidence to assert your opinion. Maria lead by example on being assertive until her message was heard.
One of the people who mentored me is Peter Sand, who is the Head of Tax Planning at Lego. Pete has been a sounding board for me at important decision points in my career and adding another perspective based on his experience working in a Big 4 environment and in industry. Pete is probably the kindest person that I have met through work. For me, he is a reminder that being openly nice and being a leader in a competitive industry are not mutually exclusive.
I really like this question as it shows that at some stage in their career, every professional has had a mentor. The two examples you shared are especially inspiring. In your opinion, what are the main trends in Tax Automation?
Several trends that come to my mind now are reporting closer to real-time, and greater accountability with remittance of taxes back to the Authorities.
I think the next big trend could be the shortening of the remittance cycle for indirect taxes, and payment deadlines move forward gradually until they become real-time as transactions occur. I could be way off here but that would be a great challenge to try to execute against wouldn’t it? All the while trying to strike that perfect balance between tax knowledge, product innovation, and business operations.
It will take more time for authorities with established processes, but we are certainly getting there. What would be your main advice for someone who wants to start working in Tax Technology?
My advice to a newbie in tax technology would be to try to get exposure to a variety of projects and test where your interest lies before specialising. There are many greenfield areas when it comes to tax technology. If you are not certain whether tax or technology or both are considerations in any area of business, keep asking and learning more about that area before you make up your mind. Don’t rely solely on one person’s opinion/experience.
Having a variety of experiences will help you appreciate all the building blocks that should be considered when looking at vision, timing, and execution of large projects.
As encouragement for folks with less experience in tax technology, I have benefited from implementing some great ideas suggested by people with fresh eyes on old problems. I have also witnessed resource drains from teams sticking to a tried and tested approach without tailoring it to the situation in hand. Don’t be afraid to put forward your ideas.
On your latter point, for product roles for instance, I have been asked by clients to head hunt candidates outside of the tax technology industry. The client wanted them to bring fresh ideas and as it turned out, the candidates recruited did exactly that and they have been promoted since being hired!
How do you find working from home? Does it come with challenges? Any benefits?
I had not regularly worked from home for a few years until Covid hit. My daughter was at school when I worked from home before, Mum activities were part of my Outlook calendar and working from home was almost as predictable as working in the office.
The intensity of working from home has increased for me during lockdown; more planned and unplanned breaks from work are needed during the day to look after my kids, even though my husband is the primary carer.
The days seem long at times, but the months flew by when I look back. I am grateful to have had this much continuous time with my kids, the most since maternity leave and I am also glad to be closer to their learning and development.
Looks like you had a busy few months multitasking. Now we are easing the lockdown, how are you and your business approaching it?
At Avalara, we have been staying close to people’s sentiments with returning to the office together with observing the government’s advice and what other companies are doing. All our employees have received bonus payments to support making their home working environment more comfortable. We have opened our office in Brighton to accommodate anyone wanting to return.
We hear how important it is to maintain a healthy lifestyle and life balance to strengthen the immune system, is this something you have time for?
When schedules are busy, eating well and being active often gets dropped first for me. I try to remind myself that I have always felt better after a run compared to before. I love the Couch to 5K app by the BBC to set myself some sort of target regularly.
I think the other aspect of strengthening the immune system is mental health. When working from home, I lose the mini mental breaks of walking from one meeting room to another, grabbing a water, and saying hi to someone en route. The intensity of a workday being on back-to-back calls followed by quite an abrupt stop when I close my laptop is harder to unwind from compared to slowly shifting my mental gears down as I journey home from the office. We have had some great resources at Avalara that I have found helpful during these more stressful times, including Zooms with guest speakers, support networks and employee assistance programs.
Thank you Anh for being so open, sharing your views and on your experience working in tax technology. I particularly liked when you said you want “to be part of the change to have more women working in technology AND more women leading this industry”, something you are clearly doing already. No doubt you will be the source of inspiration for other tax technologists.