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 Jennie Fisk. Jennie has an impressive career, she has been working in tax technology for the last 20 years, both in house and for advisory firms. All her roles have been internationally focused to solve business problems deploying 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 don’t know you, can you introduce yourself?
My name’s Jennie Fisk and I live in the Oxfordshire countryside.
I qualified as a Chartered Accountant with KPMG but have spent most of my career in tax. Over 20 years of that has been in transformation and technology, both as a consultant and in-house – and although mainly based in the UK, it has taken me all over the world. My first true tax technology role was with PW (as it was), working on the development of PowerTax. I then worked at both Deloitte and KPMG on the strategic development and operational delivery of tax processes and systems for their corporate tax compliance businesses before re-joining PwC in the then Tax Function Effectiveness team.
I’m currently Head of Tax Infrastructure at Maersk, where I head up a global team spread across Denmark, India, The Philippines and the UK responsible for ensuring we have the tax infrastructure needed for the digital global tax environment.
I have two daughters, Sophie (26) and Millie (18).
You started working in technology when it was in its inception, why did you choose to specialise in Tax Technology?
Originally quite by chance – I had just returned from a secondment to Prague and was asked by John Whiting if I would be interested in working on a new project to develop PW’s first corporation tax compliance software. When I joined Deloitte in a “normal” tax advisory role, I found myself suggesting improvements to their CT compliance processes and software at my interview and before I knew it was offered a role in the fledgling tax technology team. I have stayed with tax technology and transformation ever since, because it is such a wide ranging and rapidly changing area that there is no chance of getting bored!
It is surely a fast-evolving area! Do you see many women working in Tax Technology? Has it changed since you started?
Throughout my career there have always been women in tax transformation & technology, but over the last few years many of the projects I have worked on have actually had more women than men on the teams. The change I have really noticed is how many women are now in leadership roles. I have always felt that there shouldn’t be anything holding women back in this area and it’s really encouraging for those starting out now to see what they can achieve. On a personal level, I love that I get to work with so many inspiring women (and men too!).
I am always surprised to see the high proportion of women starting in tax and how few of them end up in tax technology and subsequently in a leadership position, slowly this is changing. Do you find working in tax technology challenging to balance with family life?
Not at all! It has really worked well for me. Well before it was the norm, two senior tax partners at Deloitte supported me working part time and from home during my older daughter’s childhood. At the time my husband was a journalist and was away from home a lot, often unpredictably, so being able to work flexibly really helped me to keep my career going and made it easier to pick things up when my children were older.
It is great you had a supportive employer who offered you the flexibility you needed. Who has inspired or mentored you in your career?
I have never really sought a specific mentor as I like learning from everyone. I have been fortunate to work with a lot of fantastic people who have supported, inspired and encouraged me in different ways – giving me opportunities, constructive criticism and helping me believe in myself. To name a few, John Whiting, Kerstine Rencourt and Angus Johnston at PwC, Paul Wallace and Richard Chadwick at Deloitte, and Chris Scott and Rachel Anderson during my time at KPMG.
In your opinion, what are the main trends in Tax Automation?
I would say it is really about data, not automation per se. With the digitisation of tax authorities and the drive towards removing the taxpayer from their traditional role in the compliance process, if you don’t understand and have control over your data at the point of transaction, no amount of automation will make a difference. Organisations are waking up to the reality that tax touches virtually every part of business activity, so we are seeing more focus on fixing things at or near source. We are beginning to see more use cases for AI in tax, but any development is intrinsically linked to data quality.
A lot of tax technologists would agree with you on that, data is the starting point before any transformation project can take place. What would be your main advice for someone who wants to start working in Tax Technology?
Go for it! If you think it might interest you, tell people you work with, look for opportunities and ask to get involved. I don’t think it matters if you come from an IT or a tax background, or whether you start in industry, a consulting firm or tech company, as long as you’re curious and comfortable with change and ambiguity – and crucially that you show your passion. I would also say that technology is an enabler to solving business problems, so it’s just as important, maybe more so, to be really interested in the business and how the technology will help people in their day to day work.
It is still an area without a defined route – which I actually think is a good thing as it leads to much more diverse teams with different perspectives and less “group think”. But having some designated training is definitely needed.
I like what you said about technology being the enabler, at the heart of any transformation projects are people issues and the business. How do you find working from home? Does it come with challenges? Any benefits?
I am pretty used to it as I have been doing it to varying degrees for most of my career in tax transformation. I do miss the office chats, but my team and my colleagues are spread around the world, so even when we are all in the office we are still working virtually. I have gone from a lot of international travel to none, so now I am not commuting and travelling it’s been much easier to fit in pilates, yoga and our horses. That said having slow rural broadband meant a battle to convince my younger daughter that a work call has priority over her Houseparty calls with friends!
As lockdown eases it will be nice to start seeing people face to face again, but I think we have all realised how well we can collaborate in a virtual environment and I’m looking forward to a bit less travel!
Our series of interviews has shown many professionals have shared your feelings on the benefits of working from home whilst still efficiently getting the task done. 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?
Like many, I have always found that I get run down if I have a particularly busy period of time at work and don’t make time to look after myself. Since I stopped working in London in 2014, it has been easier to have time for balance, but I still must make a conscious effort to switch off. As I mentioned earlier, we have horses, and I find this really helps take me away from work and focus on something completely different both mentally and physically. I think it is important we encourage and support each other to take time out for ourselves.
Thank you Jennie for sharing your experience, thoughts on the industry and how the proportion of women in tax technology and in leadership roles has increased. It was good to hear that working remotely during Covid-19 has not impacted the projects you work on while enabling you and others to have a better work-life balance.