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One minute with... Mark Persoff

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What’s in your inbox right now?

The inbox is fuller than ever, and my current workload largely reflects key changes in the financial services landscape. It’s a combination of helping clients navigate the post-Brexit settlement, changes to operating models in the context of covid-19 and pressures arising from international tax developments. A nice mix of general advisory, restructuring and transactional work – with a bit of controversy stuff thrown in for good measure.

What changes would you like to see made to tax?

If there’s one thing we’re not lacking in tax, it’s change; there’s more of it than ever. We’ll need to see where the BEPS 2.0 discussions get to, but in my view those reforms would represent the biggest change to the international tax landscape to date.

I have three ‘asks’ in the meantime. First, policymakers need to get back to basics. What are they looking to achieve from the tax system, and how are they are going to get there? Tax rules are just too complicated to navigate sensibly – the result of continuous ‘sticking plasters’ and short-term fixes. It’s probably never going to happen but a more streamlined simpler tax system would be a jolly good thing – for tax authorities, for taxpayers and (yes) even for advisers.

Secondly, we should abolish inheritance tax. Benjamin Franklin may have been correct that, in this world, nothing is certain, except death and taxes. But at least families shouldn’t have to deal with both simultaneously.

Lastly, it would be great to see the green agenda supported by appropriate tax incentives, and not just through carbon taxes. Italy has been doing some very interesting things in this arena with their superbonus and ecobonus rules.

What advice would you give yourself when starting out?

I’ve just marked 25 years since I started out as a ‘fresh-faced’ trainee at Clifford Chance. It’s been quite a journey – with the financial crisis in 2008 and now covid-19 being the ‘stand out’ events from a professional perspective. Against that backdrop, I would give my ‘younger self’ three bits of advice. First, as Peter Elliott (see below) used to tell me, your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Secondly, always be hungry to learn new things; it makes everything far more interesting and will make you a more valuable adviser. Thirdly, it’s about establishing and maintaining good personal relationships – through doing the right thing, being consistent and giving your best.

Aside from your immediate colleagues, whom in tax have you most admired?

I’d have to give a special shout out to Peter Elliott and Jonathan Elman, my former (now retired) partners and mentors at Clifford Chance. Jonathan has a brilliant tax brain – he just made everything look very easy. Peter was an inspirational role model in terms of how to work with clients and colleagues – a real gentleman.

David Goldberg QC has a unique way of explaining tax, both verbally and on paper, that is clear and absolutely compelling. 

How do you see this year panning out in terms of UK and international tax change?

Covid-19 is likely to provide a big impetus for tax reform, both domestically and internationally, for two reasons. First, covid-19 has acted as an accelerator for many things – digitalisation and new working models in particular. These trends were already on the radar of tax policymakers, but covid-19 has thrown a very sharp spotlight on these changes. Second, the impressive governmental support has led to enormous deficits, and at some point this support will need to be paid for. That said, I very much hope decision makers don’t rush to outcomes that could stifle commercial innovation or prematurely cut off economic recovery and growth as we hopefully come out of the pandemic.

Last week’s Budget statement, signaling a significant hike to the corporation tax rate from 2023, largely answers the question from a UK perspective. Post-Brexit Britain should be sending out an ‘open for business’ message; it will be interesting to see how business responds to this announcement.

On the international stage, all eyes will be on the OECD to see whether the recent US government statements on BEPS 2.0 will be sufficient to help drive through an international agreement. It’s looking more likely now than it was, even a few months ago.

You might not know this about me…

In a parallel universe, I would have been a professional historian. My wife even claims I have modelled my dress sense on Niall Ferguson’s. I deny that vehemently, but rest assured that, at some point, I will look to bring out an opus on some obscure historical topic. 

Issue: 1523
Categories: One minute with