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 Jane Malkin, Jane is a dual qualified tax professional with over 20 years’ experience working in tax technology. 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, I'm Jane Malkin, a Director of Tax Technology at Tax Systems, a software vendor that specialises in tax compliance solutions such as Alphatax. I am responsible for AlphaVAT our Indirect tax compliance SaaS solution. I lead a team of around 20 people working on the full application lifecycle from requirements gathering, through development, testing, documentation, and release.
I live in Twickenham with my husband, daughter, and our daft dog, Rusty. Living near the home of English rugby has its advantages, especially when Ireland are playing.
Why did you choose to specialise in Tax Technology?
I fell into tax technology by chance whilst working as a trainee tax consultant at Deloitte, in Belfast where I was asked to be the local tax technology champion. As part of the training I was seconded to the National Tax Systems (NTS) team in Edinburgh – I loved it! After I qualified, I transferred to NTS and started my career as a tax technology professional. The work involved providing training and support, liaising with software suppliers, verifying software releases, and rolling out updates.
In 1997 I joined Arthur Andersen to work in the Abacus software development group to write the tax logic for their new self-assessment personal tax and trust modules. The rest, as they say, is history. I have spent the last 23 years writing tax software across a range of jurisdictions.
It is so interesting that you took that speciality at a stage where technology related to direct tax was at its inception. Over the last two years we have seen an increased demand to recruit professionals with technology combined with direct tax skills and there are not that many candidates! Do you see many women working in Tax Technology? Has it changed since you started?
Yes, I have always worked in teams where there has been a good representation of women at all levels. I think that the tax element means it has attracted more women than more traditional technology roles. This does vary dependent upon whether it is a product, software engineering or customer implementation/support type role. The profile of my current team, with 25% female, shows we still have work to do before we can say that we have gender parity.
I think that is the case for most organisations, at least now we are all working actively towards it. Do you find working in tax technology challenging to balance with family life?
Yes, at times, especially when we are getting ready to push out a release. I work part-time and have done since my daughter was born. Work does invade non-workdays at times (and evenings and weekends), but this is not unique to my being part-time, it is the way of the working world today especially as you become more senior and have more oversight responsibilities.
There have been times when work has meant that I’ve dropped the “family” ball, for example, the morning I realised I’d missed the email about World Book Day and my daughter was the only one not in a costume – amazing what you can do with an eye pencil (and an affable child). In 2 mins she became Mog the forgetful cat (after all, she had forgotten the rest of her outfit).
This is such an inspiring example of work life balance and it is good to hear you have been able to work part time with different sized businesses. I know some of the Big4 allow their Partners (male and female) to work part time, something which we would have never heard of a generation ago! Who has mentored you in your career?
Many people for different reasons, be it their technical skills, team spirit, professionalism, or energy. I would start with Bronagh Doyle, the mum of three tax partner I worked for in Belfast she showed that you could have both a successful career and a family; Carolyn Lancaster, one of the trail blazers when it came to women working in tax technology, a great team leader who gave me the opportunity to write the first version of Alphatax Ireland; Peter Swan who brings energy and positivity to everything he does; and Sudip Ghosh, who runs the Customer Success team at Tax Systems – he puts the customer first. If our products make Sudip proud then I know my team and I have done a good job. It is the people who walk the walk that have inspired, those who cast a positive shadow, they coach and mentor without trying to do so and they challenge you to grow.
You had such a variety of mentors and inspiring colleagues to work with, male and female. In your opinion, what are the main trends in Tax Automation?
The main trend is definitely towards more automation. Today’s tax professionals, including the tax authorities, now expect tax automation to be embedded as part of the compliance process. This trend is illustrated by the investment that the major accounting firms are currently making in technology. They are training a generation of tax professionals to be highly proficient in tax, data analysis and technology. These professionals expect systems to interact, exchanging and manipulating large volumes of data seamlessly, with inbuilt workflow, artificial intelligence and data analytics highlighting trends and anomalies as part of the tax compliance processes.
In the future, the entire compliance process may be automated, but there will always be legislative areas where the nuances of the law require the intervention of the tax expert.
Many professionals have mentioned the fact that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology. What would be your main advice for someone who wants to start working in Tax Technology?
I would say go for it! Working in tax and technology is never boring. It can be stressful at times, and it is challenging, especially given the current pace of change.
The work requires a blend of tax and IT skills so you must be someone who likes solving problems and who wants to understand the customer pain points and resolve them, where possible, through the application of technology. There is nothing like that feeling when you come up with an elegant solution to a tricky problem.
How do you find working from home? Does it come with challenges? Any benefits?
I like the discipline and separation of home and office, as well as the social and cultural aspects of work that come from being in the office. By having a dedicated workspace at home, I have managed to keep the compartmentalisation that is so important to me.
The challenges have included setting up a working from home space for both my husband and I, we only had one home office space so I’m in the spare room, and sorting out the reliability and strength of the WiFi signal throughout the house. The benefits include morning dog walks before work instead of the commute and being here for my daughter when schools were closed.
For many the frontiers between work and personal lives have never been thinner, having a good discipline and structure is now paramount. How are you and your business approaching the changing guidelines around the lockdown and potential return to office working?
We are monitoring guidance to ascertain when a return to office is viable. We established an inter-departmental Covid-19 response committee which has maintained superb employee liaison throughout with regular leadership video updates and employee surveys. The pandemic has been a catalyst accelerating the transformation of the way we work, our current challenge is finding our new normal and a way back to the office, be it as we were before or on a more flexible basis.
It is great there is so much support, now the structure is in place, it is fair to wonder whether businesses will change the way they work beyond Covid. 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?
Definitely, I think that it is important that you do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to forgive yourself the odd relapse! WFH can lead to you sitting in front of your screen for hours at a time, which is definitely not healthy! To counter this, I have dusted off my trainers and redone the C25K program – the next challenge will be keeping it up as we head into the winter months.
Thank you Jane for sharing your experience, I think we can truly say you are a pioneer in tax technology and what makes you even more exceptional is that you have been able to drive an incredibly successful career while working part time and looking after your family.