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 that we welcome Claire Catlin. Claire is a Taxologist and a Chartered Tax Adviser, she has 20 years’ experience working in tax technology and leads one of the most progressive teams in Professional Services. 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?
I am Claire Catlin and I work at Thomson Reuters, where I am Senior Director of Professional Services, Europe for the Corporates segment. I lead a team of around 50 people who work on implementations of Thomson Reuters’ technology with customers from a wide range of sectors.
Until relatively recently, my team was focused on tax and accounting technology, but over the past 18 months, legal, global trade and regulatory solutions have been added to my remit and I’m really enjoying the experience and challenge of learning more about those areas as well.
I live in London with my husband, Simon, and seven-year-old son, Tom.
Having such a diversified portfolio of services must be interesting, it is also unusual when working in tax technology. Why did you choose to specialise in Tax Technology?
That is going back some years now! Like many others, I would have to confess to finding out about it as a career more or less by accident.
I am a psychology graduate and originally intended to complete clinical training to work as a psychologist. Whilst studying, the modules I particularly enjoyed were organisational psychology, cognitive science, artificial intelligence and statistics. My plans changed tack somewhere along the way and on graduation, I decided to take a course in business information systems, which included a placement at a further education college where I carried out an evaluation of their employee learning program. Following that, my next two jobs were working for a small media training company and then in the public sector, as a researcher focused on initiatives to promote adult learning.
After four years or so, I felt I needed a change and was keen to study for a professional qualification. I was exploring accountancy (safe, established training and career path, parental approval guaranteed) and technology (exciting, fast moving, it was the time of the .com boom). My sister, Heather, had begun working at EY the year before in their VAT practice, so I had some insight into tax roles from her.
By chance I saw a role advertised at Arthur Andersen, in the Tax Computer Services team, which seemed a perfect win/win given my dilemma. I was offered the job and joined soon after. I worked there for a couple of years, qualifying as a Taxation Technician and then at Deloitte in the Tax Management Consulting team, where I also qualified as a Chartered Tax Advisor. When Thomson Reuters acquired the Abacus product business, I moved with that business. I have now been at Thomson Reuters for ten years, which I have to say, have flown by!
In my early days of working in tax technology, I was fortunate to be able to work across a number of areas – customer support, implementation, training, sales, account management, content development and quality assurance. I found that I really enjoyed getting to know a client’s business and processes and then configuring technology to suit each customer’s requirements and to solve problems – hence my leaning towards professional services.
Having the option to work in different areas as a new tax technologist is such an opportunity as it is the surest way to decide what you will like best. What would be your main advice for someone who wants to start working in Tax Technology?
I would say, have a good think about the type of work you want to do, and how your own skills and experience can be applied. If you have relevant experience from a previous role, think about how that can translate into the role you would like to do next and seek out companies and teams that offer a good match. If you have not got much previous experience, then think about the direction you’d like your career to evolve in and talk to people doing that type of role to get an understanding of what’s involved day-to-day.
Be quite honest with yourself about your likes and dislikes and what type of role you want to do – within tax technology there is something for almost everyone. Think about whether getting a further qualification, for example, in tax, in technology or perhaps in something like project management could help.
That is very good advice. I am often asked by professionals working in tax, how they can get into tax technology. I usually suggest they leverage their current skills and to find a role in tax technology where those skills can be transferred. It is also good to be aware of the main trends as the market is constantly evolving and to build skills which are in demand.
Do you see many women working in Tax Technology? Has it changed since you started?
When I first started at Arthur Andersen and then at Deloitte, there were women at all levels in the organisation, but it certainly was not, and isn’t today, a 50/50 split. Gender diversity and awareness of the business benefits of providing opportunities for women to progress have certainly improved over the years, but there is still some way to go until we have parity in practice.
I think tax technology is a great area for women, due to the sheer variety of different roles available in the sector, offering opportunities for people with a wide range of skills and previous experiences. In my team, we have people who have joined straight from education, those who have worked in industry or practice, and those who have an IT technical background.
I like what you said about diversity and the fact we still have a long way to go, no doubt the trend is changing but we need more awareness for those roles in tax technology.
Do you find working in tax technology challenging to balance with family life?
I do not think tax technology is any more or less challenging than many other roles, but sure, balancing work and family life is often a finely tuned juggling act. It is a cliché, but having flexibility is key, as is having trusted childcare options.
As technology enables us to work from anywhere these days, a great deal of the work on tax technology projects can be delivered remotely, without the need to spend extended periods of time at client sites. As there is not a need for a lot of travel to client sites, it is a job that facilitates work/life blend. At the moment, due to the pandemic, my team is delivering all services remotely.
I work full-time hours and in recent years, have found working one day a week at home really helps to achieve balance. It also helps to work for an employer that recognises that we all have a life, and other responsibilities, outside of work, and I’ve felt able to flex my working hours to attend to commitments away from the office. It’s not always easy and requires a certain amount of planning and organisation – I can recall, for example, spending a morning at my son’s school sports day complete with suitcase ready and packed to head straight to the airport to travel to the U.S. for a work event – but it is doable.
As a recruiter, I have often noticed that what retains an employee is not their salary but how valued they are and how flexible their employer can be to enable them to combine work with personal commitments when required.
Who has inspired or mentored you in your career?
I have worked with so many great people – too many to mention everyone here. The managers who have supported and encouraged me, the colleagues who I have worked and socialised with, the clients – even the most demanding ones – who I’ve worked with.
I most appreciate those who have provided trusted counsel and those who have not only mentored me, but also sponsored my development and progression over the years by believing in me, offering me new opportunities and challenges. To name-drop just a few from years gone by, I would have to mention Mike Roberts, who led teams I was a member of at both Deloitte and Thomson Reuters ; Laurence Kiddle, who joined Arthur Andersen around the same time as me, and with whom I worked for many years; Graham Tilbury and Pete Swann, who when I faced a wobble early on in my career, offered me the opportunity to change tack and join their team working on personal tax projects; and finally Jenny Hemsley, whose advice I have gratefully received on numerous topics, both work and non-work, as well as for setting a great example for achieving work/life balance.
One particular mantra which has stayed with me over the years was from Madeleine Abdoh, who advised “in business, there is ALWAYS a solution to a problem – you just have to find it”. That still resonates with me today.
That mantra sounds one which is applicable to life as well. In your opinion, what are the main trends in Tax Automation?
One of the most interesting things about the area is that it is constantly changing. New legislation, evolving technology, new solutions, more challenges to solve for. And the need to do everything faster and more accurately. It is hard to get bored when there is so much change! But looking back over the past few years, the essence of what we’re doing in tax technology at a high level has remained constant – we’re using technology to work smarter and free up time to do more interesting stuff, or the ‘value add’ as we like to say.
One thing I find fascinating are the changes taking place with data – for example, integration of systems and analysis of data that would have been impossible or hugely labour-intensive previously; bringing together previously disparate data sets enabling better analysis and insight.
Obviously, the trend for solutions to be cloud-based offers huge benefits – at the current time more than ever – we are seeing the benefits of being able to work from anywhere.
I am also really enjoying learning more about how automation can be applied in fields outside of tax, for example, in the legal world. I am discovering that there are many similarities to tax and numerous differences, but technology is increasingly making a difference to the way that legal teams are operating, whether in practice or in-house in companies.
How do you find working from home? Does it come with challenges? Any benefits?
I have found it enjoyable and tiring in almost equal measure. As I have been working from home for some of the time for the past few years, I already had a functioning workspace. What we were not prepared for was my husband also working from home, as well as my son doing his schoolwork from home at the same time. So we quickly had to arrange additional workspaces. I have gravitated towards a cosy area in our attic room, where I work from a desk right under a window where I can get plenty of sunshine and fresh air.
The best times about working from home over the past months have been avoiding the commute and being able to eat together as a family far more often. The challenges have included trying to juggle the additional commitments of keeping my son safe, stimulated and engaged with his schoolwork in the absence of our usual support network, childcare provision and regular school.
I have quite enjoyed the opportunity to be closer to my son’s education during this time. My son enjoys Maths, and I have loved encouraging him with that, and my husband helps him with English and his reading. It has not all been about schoolwork though – I’ve learned a few Minecraft commands and my son has learned how to reliably identify if a track on the radio is from the 80’s.
Technology has made it all easier, of course, as has being a largely paperless office. But I have missed the variety of a day in the office, the mix of desk work, in-person meetings, phone calls, chance encounters in the corridor etc. Web meeting after web meeting is a peculiarly exhausting schedule.
Interestingly, some employers were thinking prior lockdown that employees working from home would work less, however it is now proven that often they work more and in some instances, guidelines are needed to avoid burnout.
Now we are easing the lockdown, how are you and your business approaching it?
We have a phased approach to returning to the office, with the emphasis being on personal choice and keeping people as safe as possible. I foresee myself continuing to work from home for at least the next couple of months, whilst others are slowly starting to return for at least some of the time now. I think it is useful to be reminded that everyone’s circumstances are different, and no one size fits all.
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?
It is something I am very aware of, but to be honest, I don’t always manage to prioritise for myself as much as I should.
People who know me well will confirm that cooking is not my strong point (I have a fridge magnet saying “if it fits in the toaster I can cook it”); fortunately my husband has taken care of a lot of meal preparation at home during lockdown and we’ve all become conscious of trying to make small improvements to our diet and lifestyle.
There have been days during lockdown when I didn’t manage to get out of the house as it has been so busy, but we’ve made up for it at the weekends, when we’ve got out and about as much as possible. My family and I are fortunate to live in an area where there are great parks and outdoor spaces within walking distance and we have also made good use of our own garden at home.
Thank you Claire for sharing your journey, the challenges of a working mother and the support of your employer enabling you to fulfil your professional and personal commitments. We are still a way from gender balance in tax technology but as someone said, “there is always a solution to a problem”, we just have to find it.