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Zoom on Stephen Tucker, the accidental Tax Technologist

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, how they adapted to it and with the ease of the lockdown what the future will be.

It is with great pleasure that we welcome Stephen Tucker, Stephen is a very successful tax technologist and recognised as such amongst his peers, he is the Head of Professional Services at Arkk Solutions.

Stephen Tucker

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

I’m Stephen Tucker, the accidental tax technologist. My stumble into tax technology happened late one night in Dublin, when my house mate found a role at Thomson Reuters (“TR”); a job that involved “strong knowledge of indirect tax processes and willingness to learn about tax technology”. With a few glasses of wine in my belly, I applied for the job, went to London for the interview and was successful! Before I knew it, I was transposed to London. Ten years later, here I am, with a few more furrows and grey hairs than before I arrived.

That’s a good story, glad your house mate drew this job to your attention. Why did you choose to specialise in Tax Technology?

Before taking my first tax technology role, I worked in a shared service centre for Pfizer Inc. Dublin, delivering VAT compliance. I was initially recruited by Pfizer to do Belgian VAT returns, however, one week following my hire, the plan changed; I was repurposed for Italian VAT compliance, probably one of the hardest VAT jurisdictions in Europe. Oh, how I did learn! I still remember my Italian VAT law reference. “Non imponibili”.

I joined Thomson Reuters as a “Senior Implementer”. Back then, there was a handful of us, based in London. Our small team programmed, designed and tested ONESOURCE Indirect Tax to a small customer base. I loved the variety of the role.

Seven years later, I left TR, overseeing a team of ten, supporting compliance roll-out to an impressive portfolio of logos across the globe delivered by global team of more than one hundred people.

How the landscape has changed since you started your role, do you see as much demand for Direct and Indirect Tax Automation?

I see demand for automation; demand mostly driven by regulatory change rather than tax departments proactively opting to use technology. Take MTD for example, the extension to the mandate means most tax teams will delay in evaluating their MTD software partner rather than look to technology to improve work.

There are progressive corporates, such as virtual banks, that look to have best class in class processes across their departments, valuing problem solving over routine tasks such as manipulating data through spreadsheets.

Tax teams are increasingly proficient with the role of software. While there is increasing demand, I just don’t think we are quite there outside of regulatory changes.

That makes sense, technology is adopted by multinationals when their systems, and often when Excel, can no longer cope with the requirements. Have you seen the market change much in the last 10 years?

Ten years ago, a VAT compliance software solution was a hard sale. Why spend money on software, when Excel could do the same job? I recall how much education was needed to explain the concept of tax automation. “Data file goes in, return comes out”.

Tax teams are more than familiar with the importance of the interconnectivity of applications. Why should tax teams manually prepare load data when APIs can automate the upload of data through to rendering data in customisable dashboards.

I love the fact that these days any software user, whether they work in tax, will appreciate a well-designed software application with user problems in mind, from the menus to ease of navigation. Perhaps, this is driven by increasing familiarity with applications on smart phones. Long may it live and thrive!

True, technology is accessible for tax professionals without requiring a diploma in programming. You would be surprised by how many candidates new to tax technology still think that a tax technology job is some sort of coding job. In your opinion, what are now the main trends in Tax Automation?

The era of the tax return will come to an end in the next ten years. Tax authorities are rapidly becoming sophisticated with data concepts, allowing for extensive analysis. There is a clear trend across Europe towards a more frequent disclosure of tax information; take Italian e-invoicing and Spanish SII for example.

I predict tax authorities informing tax filers of their tax position, requiring the tax filer to prove otherwise. I predict this in the next ten years. That’s my tuppence worth.

Looks like this forecast is shared by others in the tax technology industry, businesses will have to be more proactive. What would be your advice for someone who wants to start working in Tax Technology?

Tax technology makes for a good fit for two types of people.

The first is the person, who like me, may have worked in tax and maybe wants to pivot in their career. For anyone with tax experience, tax technology will make for a rewarding and fulfilling career with much to learn.

For someone without tax experience, do not be deterred! In my experience, customers are more than happy to share their insight into processes. Indirect tax might seem daunting at first, but the principles, once you understand data and think like a business analyst, are not difficult to follow.

Thank you for those advice and it illustrates the fact tax technology jobs can be for professionals either with a tax background (and IT knowledge) or vice versa. What is your biggest achievement?

During my time at TR, I played a significant role in winning a seven-figure license fee for the successful delivery of a pilot to a power management company. During the delivery of said pilot, I worked alongside talented business analysts, project managers and strategic minded tax leaders. The hours were gruelling. The experience life changing. The learning vast.

During the roll-out of this pilot, I first met the direct effects of work performance on my mental health. Long working hours and intense periods of focus took a massive drain on my wellbeing, causing severe depression and anxiety.

I consider this my biggest achievement for two reasons. The first is that the project I managed was an incredible success! The second is that I learned to value my personal wellbeing over my career.

I like that, no one can deliver on an empty tank, hence mindfulness at work has become so popular. How do you find working from home? Does it come with challenges? Any benefits?

Anyone who has met me knows I’m a social creature. I don’t shut up.

I miss daily interactions with colleagues, slinking out for a cheeky coffee and that brownie I will likely regret. I am a chatty person; I find working from home a challenge. On the flip side, I have adapted well. I regularly call friends for lengthy chats. I’m sure to get my daily walk in at lunch time. I might even manage a workout on my kitchen floor. The glamour.

The lockdown has definitely been harder for those who live in towns and lack the space, its great you kept the motivation and your positive mindset. How did you adapt working remotely? Did you establish a routine?

My routine is simple.

I’m not a morning person. I tend to fall out of bed around 09.00 to make our daily stand up. I frantically tidy my hair before switching on my camera.

My daily lockdown routine involves a freshly ground coffee, while checking emails and listening to the tail end of BBC Radio 4’s Today Show. I take a walk at lunch, during which I call my mother.

I will generally work until 18.00 or 19.00. If I have the energy, I will follow an online workout. Or, if I am not up to a workout, I will go for another walk and chat to a friend.

The highlight of my midweek is my trip to the kebab shop around the corner from my home. Most Wednesday mornings, I awake with delight to realise it’s “Kebab Wednesday”. Small pleasures and all that.

Having a routine has been so important for all of us, kebab Wednesday sounds like a nice treat to break the week. Now we are easing the lockdown, how are you and your business approaching it?

My employer ARKK has decided to keep at it remotely until we are safe. Productivity and collaboration have not been impacted since we took to remote working. ARKK embraced Microsoft Team’s functionality, engaging in a fun and daily stand up meeting. We’ve learnt a lot about remote working over the last few months, in particular how remote working has brought two offices, one in London and one in Belfast, closer together.

I have made a personal decision to move home to Ireland for a few months, while social lockdown passes over us. Lockdown in London was tough going. I have decided to move back with my Mam in Athlone, Republic of Ireland. I’m lucky she will have me.

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?

It’s vital to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. As someone who suffers from mental health related issues, I am very aware of the importance of healthy body for healthy mind. I get out for a daily walk; I try and get in around 15,000 steps per day. I’m training to be a Pilates instructor. I will often try get a Pilates workout in a couple of times a week. My flat is tiny so I will likely kick over the ironing board or vacuum while I exercise.

Thank you Stephen for sharing about your career, insights on the industry and being so honest while reminding us about the balance between work and wellbeing something which has never be so important nowadays.

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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