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 Emmie Nygard. Emmie has 15 years’ experience working in Tax Technology, she works with KPMG and in six years progressed from Manager level to Director level which is rather impressive.
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?
Hi everyone! My name is Emmie Nygard and I am a Director in the Global Compliance and Transformation team at KPMG UK. I have lived in London for over seven years, moving from the West Coast of the United States to take a job with KPMG. Now I am a proud dual citizen (US & UK) having had my UK citizenship ceremony just before lockdown started!
I started my career in tax technology 15 years ago in Portland, Oregon at a start-up called Sabrix (now Thomson Reuters OneSource Indirect Tax Determination). After seven years working in and helping lead the international tax research team at Sabrix, and spending a lot of time travelling all over the world implementing tax technology, I decided to try my luck in Europe – and haven’t looked back since.
It’s incredible that 15 years ago Sabrix was a start-up! Having worked with non-EU candidates, it is not an easy task to find a job in Europe when you have built your experience in the US. Why did you choose to specialise in Tax Technology?
I sort of fell into this career. I am a lawyer by background but was certain I didn’t want to be going to court on a regular basis. Lucky for me Sabrix was hiring people with law degrees to support the build out of their international tax content – I was hired as a temp to begin with and then made a permanent part of the team. When I was given the opportunity to work directly with clients implementing the software that is when I got really excited about this space. I met with tax teams all over the world and heard similar stories (which are still prevalent today) – poor data quality, lots of errors, large amount of time and resource required to do tax returns – and realised how these automation tools had the potential to really help. Every time I was able to help lessen one of these pain points for a client, I knew I was doing something right. I have been fortunate to continue down that path since those early days.
It is noticeable how fast you progressed your career while at KPMG, a very competitive workplace, how did you manage to achieve this?
There are many factors that contributed to my progression – this area was and is growing rapidly so timing was key but moreover, when I joined KPMG I had a very good foundation so I was able to pick up new skills quickly, which was helpful having never worked in a consulting environment before. Coming from a start-up I was highly adaptable and had a lot of grit (which I hope I still demonstrate today) – there was no project I wasn’t willing to take on which gave me a great opportunity to learn and add breadth. But I do fully believe I’m only as successful as the team around me and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really incredible people who have grown their careers along with me and wouldn’t have been able to get to this level without them and KPMG, whilst competitive for sure, has created an environment where this is not only supported but championed.
Do you see many women working in Tax Technology? Has it changed since you started?
An amazing thing about the start of my career was my team at Sabrix was predominantly women but looking around the wider organisation and the whole of tax technology I don’t think there were many of us but I think organisations are really working to change this now. I know in KPMG we have a mentoring program dedicated to encouraging more women to undertake careers in technology and to support them on that journey. I am hopeful that through dedicated programs and more female role models in the industry, young women will see the possibilities.
It is great your firm has such program, I often find that the difficulty in getting more women in tax technology starts at candidate level, there is just not enough women to put forward for a given job.
Do you find working in tax technology challenging to balance with your personal life?
I think finding the right balance can be tricky. I have found that some projects require more from me than others and I am not the best at creating boundaries for myself. However, it is something that I am working on and with COVID it has given me time to re-evaluate the way I have been working. I have learnt to embrace the down time and use the head-space it creates to benefit me personally and professionally.
That is a very positive outcome, someone said by taking time to meditate you can create more time as the outcome will be better clarity of thoughts and therefore a clearer sense of priorities. Who has inspired or mentored you in your career?
I have been lucky to have had so many people inspire me as I have built my career. Some that come to mind are Carl Davis, Jayanta Banerjee and Christian Jensen who all took a lot of time to teach and coach me through the early part of my career at Sabrix.
One of my close friends, Wendy Fischnaller Glassl, who also works in the tax technology space, is a great role model in knowing your value in the market and not being afraid to ask for what you need. When I was first considering the move to London Wendy offered great advice about the current market as well as helpful hints on where to live and how to get a mobile phone!
I am also blessed to have John McCalla-Leacy, a partner in our Deal Advisory practice, as a mentor in KPMG. Not only does he offer great guidance on navigating my career in and out of KPMG, he starts all of our conversations by checking in on how I am doing personally. He gives me great advice on health and wellness, and I aspire to have his commitment to a daily wellness routine!
It looks like you had inspiring mentors throughout your career. In your opinion, what are the main trends in Tax Automation?
I think the biggest thing that comes to mind is around the real time sharing of data with the tax authorities. This has been a big shift and whilst not globally adopted (yet), the number of countries on this list is growing very rapidly.
I am speaking with more and more clients who are very focused on how technology can help them be compliant. I am seeing the software vendors entering into mutually beneficial partnerships with their customers and implementation partners to ensure that the next generation of these existing tools will be even more fit for purpose, or in some cases even seeing new technology finding its way to the marketplace.
The real-time sharing of data is definitely a trend, it will be a challenge for many organisations reliant on Excel and even for the ones with technology to support them, having a clearly defined data strategy has never been so important.
What would be your main advice for someone who wants to start working in Tax Technology?
I may sound a bit corny saying this but it is a fun and challenging space to work in. For anyone who is thinking about a career in tax technology I would say don’t be afraid to ask questions – all kinds of questions! Get involved in as many different opportunities as you can – having broad exposure to different industries, software and clients will benefit you hugely going forward. You can transfer skills between software but having a more holistic view of the real challenges clients face and how technology can and cannot help is what I look for in all candidates I interview.
I hope your future interviewees will read this. Having a holistic view of the business itself is an essential factor when apprehending a tax technology project, as those projects are transversal across organisations.
How do you find working from home? Does it come with challenges? Any benefits?
I love the flexibility that working from home gives me – generally I can determine how I will spend my day and can even do yoga during lunch (which I never would have done when in the office)! I also enjoy the extra time I get to sleep now that I have a 2-minute commute as opposed to 1 hour! The biggest benefit for me at the moment is that I’ve been able to focus on putting my boundaries in place, ensuring I make time to exercise, cook, read (for fun!) and catch up with friends and family (even if it is over Zoom).
However, there are some challenges – at a basic level having never planned to work from home for any extended period of time, my house isn’t really fit for purpose. But more importantly, I am finding that I miss the social aspect of being in an office. I find that some of the best ideas come from general conversations with my colleagues – sometimes with people I don’t work with on a daily basis.
Being able to exchange spontaneously with colleagues is something professionals have often missed during Covid. Now we are easing the lockdown, how are you and your business approaching it?
Like most people and KPMG, I’m approaching changes related to the easing of lockdown cautiously. I’m not super keen on the idea of taking public transport during rush hour again! In terms of the business, I’m speaking with my team regularly to see how they are feeling about the possibility of returning to the office and what flexibility we should be continuing as part of the post-COVID world. Whilst some of our offices have re-opened, for now most of us will remain working from home while our leadership team regularly review new government guidance to determine what the next steps will be. They are definitely putting our health and wellbeing as employees first and I’m trying to follow suit whilst still getting out of my house every so often.
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?
Until COVID hit I was travelling a lot for work and I have to be honest that my health and wellbeing was not an area I was actively focused on. But since lockdown I invested in a Peloton bike and it has changed my life! I have a nice routine in place now that I will keep going – it is made a huge difference not only in my physical health but also my mental health. I have also really improved my cooking skills – I’ve always enjoyed it but really didn’t make time to learn… so for me this has been the silver lining of the lockdown.
Thank you Emmie for sharing your experience, latest trends and the outcomes of Covid in terms of life balance. It seems that the professional landscape has changed to allow more flexibility and, in some cases, better life balance, hopefully that trend will continue while still enabling colleagues to meet to benchmark ideas or simply relax together.