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One minute with... Melissa Geiger

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What’s keeping you busy at work at the moment?

A great deal!

Tax has never been higher on the business and political agenda. What with the OECD proposals on digital taxation, US reform, the EU Mandatory Disclosure rules, BEPS, Brexit, (I could go on), the tax landscape is looking increasingly crowded. With so many significant changes in the recent past and more fundamental reforms coming down the pipeline, busy takes on a whole new meaning. Busy can be good but it is also crucially important to keep looking up and out.

Taxing the digital economy, the work of the OECD in particular, is the area I am both watching carefully and spending most of my ‘thinking time’ on. I keep coming back to the same recurring theme that whatever business you are involved in, if you don’t already think of your organisation as a player in the digital economy you soon will. In fact, I use the phrase ‘digital economy’with reluctance because it suggests a discrete ‘digital’ sector. In reality, we have all gone digital already to some extent.

We should be in no doubt, from these early efforts to tax a digitising economy, to the potential for a full blown BEPS 2.0, we are witnessing radical change involving the creation of a framework to tax new and evolving business models, from block chain to AI. We need to make sure we aren’t ‘too busy’ – too busy to keep up or too busy to have a voice in the shaping of what is to come.

What’s the key tax challenge facing your clients? 

The pace of change and uncertainty. The sheer volume and speed of change in an increasingly fractious global political environment is going to keep tax professionals very busy.

I expect to be helping our clients to:

  • Understand what is behind the headlines and the political context of potential changes that will impact their existing and evolving business models.
  • Be involved in key strategic business decisions. While tax is getting more headlines, it is still a challenge to ensure it has a voice at the boardroom table. But being clear on your message helps.
  • Prepare for an increased and increasing compliance burden – it’s time to engage with those within your business who own the data. Data will be critical in how businesses interact with an increasingly digitalised tax administration. But it will also be pivotal in understanding the impact of digital taxation on your business model and supply chains.
  • Build a tax function for the 21st century. The increasing focus on digitalisation will radically change the way tax departments function. Expect tomorrow’s tax department to have a mix of tax professionals and systems experts.

I see my focus for the next 12 months to be around enabling leaders, policymakers and businesses to make well-informed choices. I need to be their sounding board and critical friend, helping them understand fully the implications for their area, especially during this time of unprecedented change.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

It has always been the people. Tax attracts quick, clever and interesting people who want to get things right technically and ethically. Whether it be clients, HMRC or KPMG professionals, engaging with them every day is both exhilarating and challenging (in a positive way!).

There have been pivotal moments in my career, such as becoming a partner at KPMG and joining the GSK finance leadership team, where I still feel incredibly flattered to have been asked to the party!

What advice would you give to tax policy makers?

Keep it balanced.

The tax environment of a country turns on the three axes of policy, law making and administration. Keeping those balanced and working in concert is foundational in creating a competitive tax system that encourages investment and growth. We are beginning to see the UK slip down the rankings in terms of its tax competitiveness and we can point to specific policies or areas of tax administration that are partially responsible.

At the moment there is too much complex law being rushed through creating uncertainty both as to interpretation and administration. With Brexit on the horizon it is vitally important that these axes of influence work together to provide an environment where enterprise and innovation can flourish. Everyone needs to work hard to make that happen.

Where do you see corporate international tax reform heading?

That is a tough question. Digital is at the crux of it all, but it has two faces; first, how to tax increasingly digitalised economies; and second, how to embrace digital to improve compliance.

In terms of taxing digitalised economies, I think we are at a pivotal point where it could go in two radically different directions. If the OECD work can come to a consensus solution in relatively short order and that solution sees widespread adoption and a concerted effort to avoid real pitfalls such as double taxation, then I think it all looks good. We will be on the cusp of an exciting new phase in international tax. If no consensus can be reached then it may be difficult to avoid some quite damaging unravelling of the international tax system as unilateral measures proliferate.

In terms of compliance, I think we will see tax administrations embracing the opportunities of digital to enhance compliance yields and reduce tax fraud. This will involve increasing transparency, increasing sharing of data between administrations and real time assessment and payment of tax. Critical to fully embracing its power will be trust between the taxpayer and the tax authority, trust that data is secure and that it is used appropriately.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?

The stereotypical image of a tax adviser is someone with their nose stuck in the legislation arguing points of detail within sections and sub-sections. This work is undoubtedly important, but if you raise your eyes and look further afield that is when tax becomes vital. The role that tax plays in enabling an economy and its citizens to flourish is profound. The interplay of tax policy and competition, sovereignty and globalisation, these are the things that make the tax debate so very important. It took a while for my appreciation of these aspects to develop. But once I understood this it brought with it a very real sense of responsibility for what I do.

I’d tell my younger self to join the dots sooner. Tax is about thinking big not thinking small. 

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