COVID-19 has impacted all of us in our personal and professional lives. We decided at CBO Search to launch a series of interviews with the main influencers in Tax Technology and share with our readers how this crisis has affected their work and how they adapted to it.
We welcome today Pierre Arman, who recently joined Ernst & Young London as Associate Partner. Pierre has had an international and diverse career in Tax Technology, through his roles, he has been at the forefront of Tax Technology, helping businesses automatising their processes.
For those who don’t know you, can you introduce yourself?
I’m currently an Associate Partner in the Indirect Tax practice of EY UK & Ireland, based in London, and my role is to create and support the go-to-market efforts of the practice around tax technology. Prior to this very recent role (less than 3 weeks at the time of writing), I’ve been working at Thomson Reuters in London, Melbourne and Dubai for the past 8 years, holding various roles from pre-sales to implementation, through to product management and market development. I’m a French national, born in South West of France (Toulouse) and I’ve been known for wearing three-piece suits far more often than I probably should!
It is always good to have a trademark! Why did you choose to specialise in Indirect Tax automation?
Like many of us, I didn’t wake up one day and say to myself: “I want to talk about Tax engines and VAT reporting platforms all day long!”. I was merely reacting to a market trend at the time in the GCC countries where VAT was about to be introduced and as part of my role, I was in charge of the go-to-market strategy and market development for Thomson Reuters but equally I had to start to create awareness in the market about what VAT actually is (no one ever experienced it at the time), what challenges businesses are going to face and how technology can help them. Thus, without realising it, I started to talk about indirect tax automation in my sleep as it overtook anything else that I was doing. In addition, the transactional nature of VAT and its immense cashflow consequences also make automation such an interesting topic as every client is unique in terms of IT landscape.
It looks like you were working for the right company at the right time, working in the Middle East must have been a great experience? How was it in terms of culture?
When I landed in 2015, the tax technology market did not really exist. Tax was not a focus for most businesses so the market for improving tax processes with technology, by definition, did not have any real reason to develop and grow. It has however changed dramatically since then as you can imagine. Even before talking about tax technology, the level of adoption of some major technology trends is very different. Cloud adoption in the GCC is still at its infancy for instance so a lot of the new tax technology platforms which are pure Software as a Service (SaaS) models, hosted outside the region, have a lot of difficulties to penetrate the market as people are not comfortable about it and certain data hosting regulations forbid hosting data outside one’s country borders. In addition, the return on investment that you would typically get on tax technology platforms can be widely different due to existing systems in place and cost of labour. Both markets are therefore very different at the moment, however, that gap is rapidly disappearing as the GCC countries are evolving at an incredible pace and will skip a lot of steps (and often mistakes) businesses had to go through in Europe.
It is true that the new countries, like Brazil for instance, go a lot faster than Europe when it comes to adopting Tax Technology. I saw you were a founding member of the COO network and a business lecturer while in the Middle East, can you share a bit more of your experience on this?
I’m always keen to give back to the community whenever I can. For the business lecturer position, I used to teach Strategic Change Management to MBAs in a local business school in Abu Dhabi (Cornerstone College). I was approached by the director of programs at the time and jumped straight in. It was a fantastic experience to interact with the Emirati youth.
On the COO Network, I can’t take much of the credit as the initiator of the project (Mandip Dulay) has been the real driving force behind the project. This network came to life when we realised as a COO, there is no peer group to learn from in the region. CEOs and CFOs have one but it did not exist for COOs. Interacting with other founding partners and members of the network has been a great journey, developing the vision for the network, how we recruit members, what sort of value they should get out of it and the type of activities we should run. It also gave me a breath of fresh air during my tenure with Thomson Reuters in the GCC as it was a really demanding role, with extensive traveling, so it was great to be able to focus on a not-for-profit project and something totally different than my day-to-day job.
Indeed, it is always good to give back to the community. What would be your main advice for someone who wants to start working in Tax Technology?
Make the jump if you feel this is right for you. There is no need to know what function you would want to get into at the beginning as it is still a very fluid sector where moving from one area to the other is not uncommon such as sales, pre-sales, implementation, product management etc… I’m a prime example of this concept. The only real choice you must make is whether to work for a software vendor or a firm. Depending on your current seniority and experience, each will have trade-offs on certain aspects: flexibility, responsibility, entrepreneurial mindset, financial and human resources. You do not need to be an ERP expert neither a Chartered Tax Advisor to succeed. The key is to know enough in both IT and Tax to be credible and leverage that knowledge to think outside the box to solve client challenges.
I completely agree with you, too often Tax Technology roles are interpreted as technical or IT roles when in fact the technical aspects are not the main components. Is there anything you would do differently if you could?
No. I’ve been lucky enough in my career to be offered different positions in different countries with different companies. Every one of them had good and bad elements to it but they all contributed in one shape or form to make me the professional that I am today.
How has your work changed under COVID-19?
Unsurprisingly, the major change has been working from home permanently. This means you need to put in extra efforts to get your team and stakeholders engaged in meetings, leverage technology assets as much as you can and keep a healthy daily routine to maintain health both physically and mentally. My main goal has been to keep my daily routine as much as possible. Get up at the same time, doing exercise before my day starts (in the park these days as opposed to the gym) and get dressed as if I would go the office. This works for me obviously, but these little things help me to structure my day regardless of where I am.
That being said, given the unique role firms play in the business landscape nowadays, our interactions with clients has probably gone up if anything because of the help they need around the different stimulus packages proposed by governments around the world, support in improving their cashflows or merely advice on business challenges & disruptions due to the pandemic.
Many people have mentioned about the importance of a daily routine. How do you find working from home? Does it come with challenges? Does it come with benefits?
I’ve never been a big fan of working from home unless I need to get something done that requires sustained focus and silence for a long period of time. Regardless of the technology available today, I don’t think anything replaces yet the human interactions and brainstorming that happens daily in an office. Personally, I think this is the best source of innovation within a company.
Thank you Pierre, it has been great hearing about your varied experience in Tax Technology and how you adapted your work and your routine to carry on delivering for your clients under those exceptional circumstances.