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Zoom on Katie Summerville, the rising star tax technologist

Following the feedbacks from our readers and to raise more awareness on the profession, we decided to launch a series of interviews with women in tax technology. These inspiring women will share details about their careers, what they have learnt and provide advice for new starters in tax technology.

It is with great pleasure that we welcome Katie Summerville, Katie has been a rising star in tax technology and achieved tremendous career progression in a relatively short time frame. She is a great example of how careers can develop in tax technology for those who grasp the opportunities.

Katie Summerville

For those who don’t know you, can you introduce yourself?

Hello readers! My name is Katie Summerville, Indirect Functional Tax Consultant at Innovate Tax. I specialise in tax automation for Oracle R12 and Oracle Cloud ERPs.

My job is to implement tax technology solutions: from data gathering and design, to build, to finally go-live. I work closely with our clients to achieve a fully automated tax solution that meets all of their requirements.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’m also a member of the Product Development Committee for our Tax Compliance products. I also advise and co-present during pre-sales meetings with our Commercial Team, and have recently assumed the role of Company CSR Committee Chairperson. I’m a firm believer that variety is the spice of life!

It’s like doing 4 jobs, impressive, I am sure those roles complement each other well. Why did you choose to specialise in Tax Technology?

It was a ‘happy accident’ as some might say! I joined Innovate Tax when I was 18 as an Apprentice in Business Administration; I had no initial interest in any Tax or Technology related roles, instead I was seeking a local opportunity and I applied for the role on the off chance.

I must have said something right, as I was eventually hired for the role – the company was growing, so I was presented with multiple opportunities to learn about indirect tax and tax automation technology.

It was an eye-opening experience to discover a profession they certainly don’t teach you about at school… I swiftly developed a keen interest in the industry, so when the opportunity arose to step into a Junior Consultant role, I jumped in without a second thought. I was immediately thrown in the deep end and learnt to swim… fast.

And I’ve never looked back since. I’ve found that a career in tax technology is incredibly challenging yet extraordinarily rewarding. It’s so fast paced as things are constantly changing and evolving, you have to always have your finger on the pulse and be in touch with what’s going on in the world.

It is certainly an industry which keeps evolving, at CBO we are keen to promote diversity and unfortunately we do not see enough women candidates, do you see many women working in Tax Technology? Has it changed since you started?

Indeed I have seen a real difference; since joining it’s been great to see a tremendous amount of female colleagues come on board in different technical positions, and we have an amazing number of women applying for our tax technology career vacancies. Outside of the business, I’m fortunate to be able to attend multiple industry events, e.g. Oracle OpenWorld, where there has definitely been a tangible increase in female attendees, and that’s just within the last five years or so.

What’s particularly interesting is that this doesn’t seem to be a localised phenomenon; more than half of the global clients with which I have worked over the last twelve months have teams led by women, indicating that this happening all across the world. This in itself speaks volumes for the changes in the acceptance of women working in these roles.

I think roles in tax, tax technology and IT, need to be promoted more among younger people. If more young women had a greater awareness of these types of roles and how empowering, motivating and exciting they can be, we would see an even greater shift in the women vs men in technology dynamic.

Across the board, I think the tendency is to think of tax technology as boring or laborious – I know because that’s how I used to think of it, which of course like any job it can be! Nothing is always sunshine and rainbows, but equally there are many benefits; you can earn great money, communicate with huge brands, travel regularly around the world and deliver complex projects for multinational organisations!

It’s my belief that, sooner rather than later, the concept of ‘Women in Technology’ will no longer be the talking point it once was; attitudes have and continue to change as different generations come through the ranks.

Katie Summerville with her Innovate Tax colleagues at the Tough Mudder challenge in September 2019

Absolutely and it is all about promoting those roles and raising awareness in the market, several of our clients request that we introduce an equal number of male/female candidates for the role we work on, easier said than done. What is your biggest achievement?

Success can be measured in a variety of ways; I would say my biggest success is how far I have come in the last five years. Going from being an apprentice in a different field to a Junior Consultant, to now a Functional Consultant who leads her own projects, travels to countries all over the world among other roles, in such a short space of time is something I am extremely proud of.

Comparing where I am today with my peers, I feel a great sense of achievement especially as a young woman in Tax Technology. Most people I went to school and college with are still trying to figure out what they want to do in life. Some have gone to university and obtained an expensive degree in a subject they no longer feel passionate about and are now struggling to find meaningful employment. I can say with confidence that I have a lifelong career in which to grow and succeed.

If I had to put it in a nutshell: my biggest, continuous achievement to date is getting to a point so early in my professional life where my knowledge and hard work has earnt the respect of those who have been in the industry far longer than I have. I’m not successful because I am a young woman in IT that exceeded expectations, I’m successful because I exceeded expectations and happen to be a young woman in IT.

Very nicely said Katie and your point illustrates how fast careers can develop in tax technology providing you put the effort into it. In your opinion, what are the main trends in Tax Automation?

Compliance, I would say is one of the main trends in Tax Automation. People and businesses care more about being compliant and their tax, tax reporting and tax tools being completely synched up with the least amount of manual intervention. I think this is due to the changes around the world with the introduction of digital reporting, MTD, SII, SAF-T etc. It is now not just a ‘want’ but a NEED to be totally compliant.

A few years ago, prospective clients were more reluctant to buy a fully automated solution or tax reporting solutions, and always spoke about how they ‘didn’t have the budget’ and were fine with manual processes. A lot of changes quickly in this industry, and this is rapidly becoming a bit of an antiquated mindset. Now that the choice is effectively being taken away – mainly due to tax authorities’ digital requirements – more and more often we’re finding that the people we speak with are actively looking enthusiastic about having minimal or next-to-no-manual-intervention whatsoever. The digital reporting is, and will continue to be, a huge learning curve for a lot of companies that are not prepared.

The tax authorities digital requirements for faster reporting close to real time are putting a lot of pressure on businesses and as you said, compliance solutions are more adopted than in the past. I guess the main competitor of all software firms is still excel but things are changing. What would be your main advice for someone who wants to start working in Tax Technology?

Looking back if I were starting out in Tax Technology again tomorrow, I would have liked to have a basic understanding of the software in the market, such as Oracle and SAP, as I had never even heard of them! It would have been useful as it’s one less thing you have to pick up at pace. I would also advise, people to take the time to obtain some sort of accounting/VAT experience as, again, it is one less thing I would have had to learn on the job. The functional apprentices that Innovate employs now, take an accounting course alongside as we have learnt that this is a key skill to have in this line of work.

I learned very early on that if you want to succeed, developing your communication skills is absolutely crucial. You have to learn very quickly how to hold yourself on a call not just with clients but also internally, and of course for reasons of written email etiquette it’s pretty important! It’s a real skill to be succinct, respectful and assertive within the span of a single sentence.

I have found that being honest – warts and all – and having the courage of your convictions makes so much difference to how you are perceived by others, and we all know that ‘perception is reality’. If you don’t know the answer to something don’t make something up, have confidence to say ‘sorry I’m not 100% but I will find out and get back to you’ –  this curries much more favour than saying the wrong thing and then having to ask someone how to rectify the mistake!

My biggest bit of advice to anyone – whether starting out or you’re currently in the industry – is to take every opportunity given to you. Without taking all the opportunities Innovate Tax has given me, I wouldn’t be where I am today and would never have progressed at the pace at which I have. Even if you are scared or really struggle with anxiety (which I can definitely relate to!), there is no better feeling than taking the leap to find yourself succeeding. Worst case scenario? Even if you don’t succeed you will have learnt something, there is always a positive to take from every negative.

That’s a really nice way to put it and having a positive mindset must also be helpful with the current circumstances. How has your work changed with the current challenges and restrictions?

Personally, I have never been busier! Of course, that’s not the case for everyone, and despite a busy workload there have been impacts to client projects; it’s easy to forget that this is a global pandemic and our clients hail from many different countries, each with their own varying restrictions. So, some timelines have shifted, but we are doing everything possible to go above and beyond and provide that extra level of support.

The main change for me is going from always working in the office, to working from home. Like so many others, my home has become my place of work, and quite often there isn’t a dividing line between the two. I’m a relatively sociable person as well, so I miss being able to see my colleagues, if only to talk through a potential work issue that you’d usually be able to do quickly face-to-face.

Katie Summerville with her partner in Tenerife in September 2019

How do you find working from home? Does it come with benefits? Any challenges?

I have to recognise that I am in a fortunate position being able to work from home. We hear news stories day in, day out, about the impact of coronavirus on employment figures and those who can’t work from home being placed on furlough. So, in the purest sense, working from home is something to be cherished and held with gratitude.

So that’s the bigger picture mentality, in the smaller picture, working from home, isn’t something I can say I enjoy! I love working in the office and being amongst my colleagues; we really support each other and have a lot of laughs. Working from home there’s a lack of ‘release’, especially when it can’t be found outside of work either due to lockdown measures.

The real challenge has been applying a structure to the day. It is easy to continue to work and allow it to bleed over to your homelife and not even realise it’s happening. The benefit of having no distractions is both blessing and curse: increased focus can boost productivity but is hard to break when it’s needed.  

But, I do stay in regular contact with the team, via virtual coffee breaks and chats on Microsoft Teams. I think that it is really important to take that time in the day to have a break and a chat, to normalise the day and have a moment to ‘breathe’.

Now we are easing the lockdown, how are you and your business approaching it? 

This is an important question, and unsurprisingly there’s no straightforward answer for the majority of employers and employees.

At Innovate Tax, we’ve opened up our office – after a very hefty Risk Assessment process and modifications for distancing – for people to return if they choose to do so. However, we’ve also made it super clear that the guidance is that we should continue to work from home where possible – so returning should be for a very clear reason, i.e. it’s untenable to continue to work from home.

For me this has been a really important development; I’ve struggled to enjoy working at home and I know that I’m not alone when I say that it has the potential to affect my mental wellbeing.

Many of us are finding difficult to draw the line between work and homelife, hence businesses have written guidelines for employees so they avoid burning out. 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?

Over the past few years, I have changed my lifestyle to ensure I exercise at least three times per week. For me, it’s a really cathartic experience and helps to clear my mind after a hard day and keep fit (body, soul and mind etc.). Office working can be very sedentary and when I began notice a few extra pounds creeping on, I quickly got motivated to do something about it!

It’s not always easy to keep that motivation up, particularly at this time, but arguably it’s more important than ever before. I have consciously made a real extra effort to get outside, go for a walk or do a workout as it is really crucial for my mental wellbeing. It is a release and allows me to switch off from work and life. I’m so convinced of the benefits, I’ve even begun to run a morning exercise session for my colleagues, just before the start of the working day. It’s really helped all of us mentally and physically, to feel energised and ready to take on the day ahead.

I’m an advocate of the need to be frank and talk openly about mental health issues in the workplace. Mental wellbeing is an essential part of who we are as people inside and outside of work, and I tackle it in the same way that I do with my work – head on and with honesty!  For me, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also an important part of my strategy to control anxiety; I find it really hard to get out of the ‘funk’ once I am in it, but if I eat well and exercise regularly it really eases that anxious feeling.

Now more than ever, anxiety is something many of us face on a daily basis, yet remains such a huge taboo subject. It comes in many shapes and sizes, affects everyone differently and everyone has different coping mechanisms that work for them. Right now it’s more important than ever before to let others know that it’s okay not to be okay, and the best way to maintain a health mind is to stop bottling and share – people are more receptive than you think.

Thank you Katie for sharing your journey, I really appreciate your honesty and hearing about your experience. You have achieved so much and in a short period of time, I am curious to know what the future will hold for you! As you said, you are successful because you “exceeded expectations and happen to be a young woman in IT”.

Are you a Tax Technologist? We would love to hear from you and share your story with our global tax network, for more info, please contact Candice Bordeaux at cbordeaux@cbosearch.com

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