Interview with: Clare Franklin - Partner, EY Tax Performance Advisory 

Clare is a Partner in EY's EMEIA Tax Performance Advisory team, and her home office is Zurich, Switzerland. Clare joined EY in 2012, having relocated to Zurich in 2009 where she initially focused on advising large multinationals on international tax and tax accounting issues. Clare trained in tax with Deloitte in London and qualified as a chartered accountant and chartered tax adviser.

Q. You are a Partner in EY's EMEIA Tax Performance Advisory (TPA) team. Please give us an overview of the scope of services of your team.

We advise the tax functions of our multinational clients on how to improve their performance, specifically in four key areas. These are People, Process, Technology and Data. The EMEIA TPA team advises clients operating across many countries in the EMEIA region. We handle projects on both indirect tax and direct tax, and across all industry sectors. 

Q. Please give us an example of a tax technology project that you have advised on recently.

We have recently worked on the implementation of a bespoke County by Country Reporting tax technology solution for one of our clients. This is for a European HQ group, and we handled the strategic approach, designed the processes for extracting the data from the group ERP which then produced draft Country by Country reports (based on prior year numbers) for over 50 countries. 

Q. What led to your move to specialise in tax technology?

For a number of years I was a tax adviser to large multinationals, and I was based in the international tax team. I found that these companies were all looking at different tax technology solutions and I could see that this would be a big next step development for these clients. It was therefore a natural transition for me to move from a tax technical role to one focused on tax performance advisory. As I have remained advising these clients, they have moved to be ahead of the game on tax technology, which has been fantastic experience for me. 

Q. You are based in EY's Zurich office, with an overview across the EMEIA region. Are there any particular countries / regions that are gearing up on tax process and use of tax technology?

Yes, the 3 countries that we see gearing up the most are UK, Germany and Russia. Obviously CbCR is helping to bring technology onto the tax agenda across the whole of the trigon, and additionally we are seeing growing activity in Middle East countries as a number of them are introducing VAT regimes.

Q. What are the biggest challenges currently faced by a corporate Tax Director / Head of Tax regarding tax process / systems?

Certainly the largest challenge for corporates is to be able to secure budgets for tax transformation projects. It is a difficult process for them to get buy-in from the various stakeholders within the group to be able to get a project underway. Without a tax transformation project, it is very difficult for them to become more efficient and automated for their regular tax compliance.

Q. What trends are you currently seeing from clients in terms of their needs on tax technology / automation?

We are certainly seeing clients employing more automation to reduce the time it takes to access their tax data. We see ongoing tax sensitization of ERP systems, mostly on SAP but also seeing other ERPs systems being used. Tax provisioning software is being implemented in many more MNCs and we are also seeing more use of robotics to replace manual data processes. 

Q. How would you expect the use of tax technology to evolve over the next 5-10 years?

I know that we will see far greater automation and transparency of tax data through use of technology. In some countries, technology is now used to gather live transactional data which can be reviewed by tax authorities to replace the traditional tax return. For example, in Spain, personal transactional data is used by tax authorities to create a personal tax return which is then sent to the tax payer for confirmation. We are therefore seeing a move away from self-assessment, and more towards governments directly assessing the tax status of an individual or company through use of data technology.

Q. When recruiting, what key backgrounds or skill areas do you look for when hiring for your team?

At more junior levels, we look for people that have more of a science background, so looking at graduates with Maths or Engineering degrees with a strong interest in business who could develop into the newer roles of Tax Technologist and Data Scientists. At more experienced levels, we look for practice / Big 4 backgrounds where they may have developed strong client interaction skills. We don't need to look for people that are primarily tax technical, EY has thousands already for providing tax technical input. What we do need are people that understand the IT systems for tax, and it is very limited to find these people in the market. 

Q. What advice would you give to someone looking to specialise in tax technology / automation?

They really need to be passionate about technology, they need to know what's going on in new technology developments, and they need to be creative. 

Q. Outside of your professional work, what's your favourite piece of technology or gadget?

That is definitely my Garmin device on my bike for telling me distance, altitude, speed and all the data for cycling.