Latest from BLT

Career in Indirect Tax vs. Career in Eastenders? by Guy Barrand

We’re not really hot on ‘labels’ here at BLT, but it struck me as I was watching the latest depressing episode in Albert Square, that much as storylines seem to get repeated every five years, so do the stock characters! Could the same be true of the characters one finds in the world of Indirect Tax? If one too readily identifies yourself with any of these character types – then be warned, sooner or later you may come to a sticky end (or get axed when the next cast reshuffle comes around). We’d suggest that the trick to a long and successful career in the soap opera that is Indirect Tax could well be to diversify and consider picking up some of the more palatable personality traits of your fellow cast members. Take the following as examples:

You’re everyone’s best mate, and see yourself as the life and soul of the party. You’re the star of the show….currently at least. But maybe you’re a bit naïve – you seem eternally surprised when bad things happen maybe a little less cheery disposition, a little more self-preservation wouldn’t go amiss, Mick Carter, otherwise we’re a bit worried you might end up back starring in Z list Guy Ritchie type films.

I guess better this though, than being Sharon Mitchell – some very dubious life and career decisions have led you to having multiple responsibilities, none of which you’re performing very well. You need to focus on getting at least one part of your life trouble free – just like your men, the more balls you juggle, the more you’ll drop them.

Or alternatively you could have schemed your way to the top, letting nothing stand in your way. You’re desperate for someone to appreciate you, but more often than not, any kind of contact with you usually means bad things for your collaborator. People will steer clear of you Max Branning in fear that they may also fall off high buildings by association. Maybe try to think a little more of others as you scale the slippery slope.

You put on a good front. You strut around the square, dabbling in whatever takes your fancy at the time. Everyone thinks that you’re a tough cookie, but scrape away that make-up, and you’re vulnerable like no other – it’s just a matter of time before you self destruct again, and who’ll be there to pick up the pieces this time, Kat Slater. What’s missing is that strong base upon which to build your career; we think you need to find that – and quick.

Somehow, despite your natural weaselly tendencies, you’ve been around the longest and inexplicably to many, are now seen as a successful business person. You’re still deeply unlikeable though, and your other half will probably leave you, Ian Beale – they’ve done so several times after all. In all likelihood, it won’t be long before you end up homeless again. You should keep an eye out for your next match in preparation – but you’re doing that anyway no doubt.

Throughout your career, you’ve changed faces and personality so many times, that no-one knows the real you any more. Whilst one admires your chameleon like tendencies, sooner or later you’ll confuse your audience like the latest casting of Ben Mitchell. You run the risk of people clamouring for your previous incarnation if they don’t like the current version.

You’ve done some exciting things in your time, but those heady days are long gone, and people start to wonder why you’re still there. Best get a good storyline quick, or it might be that you’ll be let go earlier than you thought, poor Kathy Beale.

Not known for being a high-flyer, you’re Mr Slow and Steady – and will probably be happy selling your fruit and veg for eternity. You blend into the scenery – and herein lies the problem Martin Fowler – you’ll be eternally put upon, and at the mercy of your more dynamic co-stars. We suspect a career change would do wonders.

The eternal joker, always ready to brighten up an episode with a bit of humour? There’s no doubt the producers like having you around. But, Kim Fox, that’s all you’re good for, and you never get the best storylines. Best get serious, quick.

You’re fearsome, communicate in grunts, and seemingly are perpetually unaware of what goes on under your nose. Oh, Phil Mitchell, you lay yourself open to the machinations of those that will eternally try to take your job/wife/money (delete as applicable) away from you. We’d normally suggest going on a couple of courses, as your listening and communication skills needs some work, but let’s face it, you’re never likely to change.

You’re quiet, dependable and comforting to have around. You’ve been doing the same job for ages. You’re Tracey, the barmaid in the Queen Vic. Always seen as extra, you ‘probably’ don’t get paid very much and when you do have something to say, its never that earth-shattering, and your audience falls over in shock. You’re unlikely to get the sack, but you’ll probably be doing same thing in 20 years’ time, and are unlikely to get considered for other roles.

Which EastEnders character do you identify with? If any of them, that should be a concern, and probably a good idea to switch soaps to diversify and get a new character. Do call BLT for your recast.


ALL ABOUT YOU! The Life and Times of Senior Women in Indirect Tax…

I am delighted to present the seventh in a series of profiles of senior women in Indirect Tax. The aim is to showcase the talents, experience and stories of these amazing women, and provide some insight into their professional and personal lives, what inspires them and what wisdom they can share. My seventh interviewee is Audrey Fearing, Indirect Tax Partner at RSM. 

Audrey Fearing

Audrey is a highly accomplished Indirect Tax Partner, currently working for RSM in London, with over 28 years professional experience. She has an in-depth understanding of both UK and EU VAT law, and was a founder member of the VAT Expert Group that was established by the European Commission to provide support in shaping future EU VAT legislation. Audrey specializes in advising not for profit organisations, charities, social housing providers, members bodies as well as Government and Public Sector (GPS) clients, NHS, local government etc, as well as suppliers to these organisations.

Audrey began her career with HM Revenue & Customs, joining Deloitte in late 1992. In 1997 she was seconded to the USA and focused on advising businesses on the VAT issues associated with international trade, both goods and services. In 2006 she joined EY as a Partner and during her 10 years with the firm, she held a number of different roles: UK Government and Public Sector VAT lead, member of the EY GPS board, London Indirect tax people partner. Audrey joined RSM in 2018.

She regularly speaks at client and industry events.

Audrey Fearing

  1. What gets you up in the morning?
    Usually the alarm clock or my husband David. But if you mean what motivates me to get out of bed then it is simply that time seems to be passing so quickly ( am sure that as I have got older time is speeding up) and I want to be able to spend as much of it with the people that matter to me. 
  2. Can you describe your current role to me in 1 sentence?
    I solve problems, they don’t always relate to VAT.
  3. What led you to your current position?
    Right place at the right time. 
  4. How did you get into Indirect Tax in the first place?
    Mistake – as part of the Civil Service application process you had to select 3 departments. HM Customs and Excise was my 3rd choice – I liked the idea of a uniform with gold braid!
    I managed to cope with the red tape for 11 months and the decision to look outside the Department arose because the Assistant Collector in charge of the office where I was based refused to nominate me for the Civil service fast track stream. His rationale was that he didn’t think that I would get promoted beyond Assistant Collector.  Joined Touche Ross in 1992 and I have never looked back. So grateful to Tony McClenaghan, John Kennedy and the lovely David Blaney for giving me a chance.
  5. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Indirect Tax industry right now?
  6. What advice would you give to young professionals – especially women – starting out on their Indirect Tax careers?
    My initial reaction is don’t do it, train as an accountant.  I say that because it gives you a great grounding in the fundamentals of what makes a business tick.   
    Don’t get me wrong – 75%+ of the time you don’t need this level of detail, but there are times when I have felt that this type of knowledge would have helped me to get a better understanding of the issues my client is facing and perhaps I would have had the confidence to move the relationship up another level. However if indirect tax is for you, then I would say research the VAT issue and approach it a step at a time. If something goes wrong go that extra mile to fix it, and learn from it.
  7. What barriers have you had to overcome during your career to date?
    Mostly those of my own making, self-doubt, imposter syndrome etc.
  8. Have there been times when you considered changing career tack?
    Yes a few occasions, but I have never been brave enough to jump ship. 
  9. And if yes – what made you stay?
    Lack of courage, also I can be a bit belligerent – when I came back to work after having my first child some of the partners I worked with viewed me differently – it was almost as if they felt that my ambition had left the building.  I felt that I had a point to prove.
  10. What has been your ‘career-defining’ moment?
    Whilst on secondment in New York I was asked to attend a meeting with a well-known US Bank. We were discussing a European investment and on the other end of the line was the Head of Indirect Tax in the UK, the client muted the phone line and asked me if I agreed with the advice being given. That was such an ego boost, I was a credible VAT consultant!
  11. What did you want to be when you were growing up?
    Something outdoors, I love being outdoors.  I did a Geology Degree and I had aspirations to work on an oil rig.
  12. What advice would you give to your younger self?
    Learn to trust people – sometimes a problem shared is  a problem solved.
  13. What are your honest thoughts on social media?
    75%+ of what is posted is false.  I truly feel that people are more isolated than ever.  It is a canker eating away at the mental wellbeing of society.
    Although now and again some posts make me smile. 
  14. If you won a big award, who would you thank?
    Chris Hay and Paul Custerson – two incredible friends and very patient VAT consultants who helped me to understand the mechanics of the VAT legislation, and provided me with some great opportunities to develop as a consultant.  They really put their trust in me.  I just didn’t realise it at the time. And of course my husband David, without him I couldn’t do what I do.
  15. What’s the best thing anyone has ever done for you?
    Listening, at important times in my career and some not so important there have been individuals who have taken the time to listen and help me to find a solution to my problem.
  16. What’s the one word you’d want people to describe you with?
  17. Books or kindle?
    Both. I love to own books, and reread favourites, but a kindle is just so practical.
  18. If you could have a Skype chat with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
    My mum – she died last year, and there are so many questions that I wish I had asked her.
  19. What is your best time saving tip?
    Leave your phone at home, it steals time.
  20. What has been the best part of your day today?
    Going downstairs and being greeted by my two dogs Bertie and Bailey.  Their reaction is always the same, leaping about, letting me know how pleased they are to see me.
  21.  Favorite holiday destination?
    Le Guilvinec, Brittany – a place to slow down.
  22. Tell me one thing that people might not know about you……
    I talk to myself, a lot.


How Do You Talk To Yourself? by Liz Watt

This might seem like a really strange question. Your instinctive response will probably be – of course you don’t talk to yourself – doesn’t that conjure up some pretty negative connotations? However, I don’t mean the ‘talking out loud while walking down the street’ scenario, but rather the inner dialogue you have with yourself, that no-one else is a party to.

Most of us, if we are honest, will admit that we have an inner dialogue in our heads, usually unbidden, that provides a running commentary on our actions and behaviours. And it is probably fair to say that this ‘inner chatter’ is usually of the negative variety. It’s as if there is an internal voice on a loop, providing judgement on what you are doing or saying, recalling hurtful things that have happened in the past and catastrophizing about things that haven’t yet come to pass.

If you do suffer from this ‘inner chatter’, you might find some consolation in the fact that you are not alone! For example, high performers are often very adept at being highly critical of themselves.

Whilst a certain amount of internal commentary can be a self-regulating device, a persistent diet of negative speak can have a really detrimental impact. These negative thoughts are often repetitious, and the danger is that they can become self-fulfilling prophesies and limiting beliefs. For example, ‘you’re useless at public speaking – you know you can’t stand up in a roomful of people’ or ‘there are loads of people better qualified than you for that job – why on earth would they pick you?’ or ‘you really are useless at talking to new people – why would anyone want to talk to you at this networking event?’ These are but 3 work based examples; similar conversations will probably be present in your personal life too.

The other impact is that it is exhausting! Dealing with a drip-feed of negativity, even if you are only half aware of it, can really grind you down, and suck the joy out life.

The question that is worth asking is this – would you talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself? I am confident that the answer would be no! So why would we continue to be so unkind to ourselves when we wouldn’t behave that way to other people? And when we realise that this self-talk can impact negatively on our perception of ourselves and our success in life?

It’s unlikely that just telling ourselves to stop with the negative talk will result in an immediate cessation of hostilities. Often these habits are long ingrained and have been with us since childhood. However, there are tools and tricks you can employ to turn this self talk around.

  • Be aware when you are beating yourself up or make some snarky comment to yourself; the very fact of noticing and realizing what you are doing will help you let the thought go and realise that this isn’t ‘real’ or ‘true’ – it is just a thought.
  • Remind yourself – in a non-reproachful way! – that this isn’t helpful; what are you achieving by being rude and dismissive to yourself?
  • Techniques such as meditation, practicing mindfulness, deep breathing can help clear your mind, centre you in the moment and stop your brain flitting from one negative thought to the next
  • Speak it out – talking to a trusted friend or colleague rather than internalizing negative thoughts can help you see these thought for what they are. In the same way, some people find writing their thoughts down has the effect of neutralizing them
  • Keeping active, being busy and purposeful, having distractions, whether this is music, reading, doing a jigsaw, exercising can all help to put anxious thoughts into perspective and lift your mood away from self-destructive tendencies.

As a closing point, I would urge you to remember, when you next find yourself catastrophizing about some unforeseen future event, that things rarely turn out as badly as you might have envisaged. Try and remember the successes and triumphs in your life, no matter how small, to use as a counter attack when that critical inner voice raises its head! With enough focused attention and awareness, and a little more kindness to yourself, maybe the volume of the inner chatter can at least be turned down a notch!

Talk to yourself - BEST ONE

Networking Groups for Women – Emerging Talent

In June last year I wrote an article celebrating the 1st anniversary of the Women in Indirect Tax networking group. Since then, another group has launched successfully and the number of members has grown rapidly. We also now have members who have moved into broader based tax leadership roles from an indirect tax start, and women from other niche areas of tax and the law. This has added a new, richer dimension to the membership profile.

So the next initiative for 2019 is a networking group for women at an earlier stage in their career. This has come about for two primary reasons. Firstly – demand! Several existing members would really like other women in their teams to enjoy the same benefits of belonging to such a group, but with those in their own peer group.

And secondly, a recognition that the issues women face at this earlier stage of their career are different. Of course, there are crossovers, and areas of universal interest. However, there is a realization that ignoring the concerns, challenges and aspirations of this generation is resulting in many of them being unwilling to apply for promotions, or worse still, leaving the technical discipline for which they have trained so hard for pastures new.

Investing in women as they qualify and move up the career ladder is therefore seen as a smart move, and one that forward-thinking businesses are taking seriously.

The benefits of having a strong business network for all demographics are widely acknowledged; belonging to a networking group is a powerful thing. But I am often asked – why a women’s networking group? Research shows that one of the ‘unwritten rules’ of advancement in business is having a strong network, both inside one’s workplace, as well as within the wider business community. And yet it is a fact that most women do not have as strong a network as their male counterparts. A dedicated group therefore provides an opportunity to develop a network amongst your industry peer group and a platform to discuss relevant issues in a safe, supportive and collaborative environment. It is an opportunity to take time away from the office to plan, reflect and learn, gaining confidence through sharing ideas and experiences.

Given these undoubted benefits, it seems a no brainer to provide women taking those early steps towards management and leadership the platform to make and nurture connections, whilst also honing the skills needed, above and beyond the technical, that are vital to career success and advancement.

The format of the group is to meet once a quarter for an afternoon. We have a great guest presenter or workshop focussing on a personal development or ‘soft-skills’ topic, a forum for group discussion and plenty of opportunity for networking during the afternoon and afterwards. It’s non-technical – everyone gets more than enough technical input back at the office!

The programme will include sessions focussing on communication skills, navigating office politics, how to develop business, resilience and stress management, personal presentation and dressing for success, amongst others.

If you work in indirect tax or other areas of tax in practice (Big 4, mid tier or independent consultancy) in-house or the law and would like to join the group or nominate one of your team for membership, please get in touch for more information.


Indirect Tax Women’s Network Logo 1

‘Nice’…so underrated….by Tariq Siraj

Time (and tiredness) often get in the way, but if you’re anything like me then you read as much as you can – newspaper articles, online blogs, magazine pieces or a bit of a novel when you can – and occasionally something really jumps off the page at you and sticks in your head. Recently, ‘The Kindness Quotient’ – an article about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did just that. At a time when everything and everyone seems so polarised, when scaremongering is at an all-time high and the feel-good factor is probably at a low, and when strong-man populist political leaders seem to be the in-thing – reading about a head of state who consciously and unashamedly runs on a platform of kindness hit me like a brick wal…actually no – like a really good hug.

In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack in New Zealand her profile went far more global and she was highly praised for her reaction of compassion and outreach on the human side and channelling her anger at stricter gun laws on the policy side. But interestingly this article – penned by Helen Clark, another former female New Zealand PM – was written before that happened. There seems a legitimacy to this. In September last year she addressed the UN General Assembly calling for ‘kindness and collectivism’ as an alternative to isolationism, protectionism and racism.

‘Nice’ sells…

Mark Cuban is a billionaire-businessman from the States but, much like Mrs Ardern, was someone I knew the name of but not much detail about. Among other things he owns the Dallas Mavericks NBA team and is a mainstay on Shark Tank – the US version of Dragon’s Den. On paper he and Jacinda Ardern are polar opposites; one a principled ‘do-gooding’ female politician and the other a poster-boy for what the ultra-capitalist ruthless ‘shark’ male businessman is supposed to be…but surprisingly, both leaders in their fields share a simple but defining principle; openly extoling the virtue of kindness.

An article I read on Cuban included a revealing quote; “one of the most underrated skills in business right now is being nice. Nice sells.”  He talks about how far-removed he was from that approach when he started out and how “I wouldn’t have wanted to do business with me when I was in in my 20s”. Cuban seems the sort of guy who spouts ‘inspiring’ business-related quotes all the time and is certainly one of those social-media and tv-friendly entrepreneurs who thrive off being followed, quoted and photographed. However, again, that particular quote is not just relevant and timely at the moment, but there seems some legitimacy to it.

…but it’s the doing that matters

Cuban is a billionaire and his current ventures and rise up the ladder clearly did and do require a level of bloody-mindedness and brute force, but he has also clearly taken his own advice on board. He rubbishes that age-old adage of ‘don’t take no for an answer’ as, according to him, “every no gets me closer to a yes”. Communicating with people and understanding the reasons behind each rejection allowed him to evolve and get that all important ‘yes’ next time.  That approach – more mature and measured than the cursing, angry ‘bam, bam, bam’ style of that guy in his 20s – has been hugely successful and is fundamentally rooted in ‘niceness’. The importance of EQ as well as IQ.

The parallels between business and politics may not be quite as neat and perfect as articles like this would like to suggest – but the similarities are interesting.

I genuinely think the vast majority of politicians want to do good and make their local area, country or world a better place. However, while it looks good for every politician to lay out things like climate change, the refugee crisis and reducing child poverty as priorities – it is of course the doing that matters. Just months into her term Jacinda Ardern effectively stopped all oil & gas exploration in domestic waters, she then offered New Zealand as a home to refugees stranded in camps on Papua New Guinea, and one of her first initiatives was a tax package which is forecast to reduce child poverty by around 40% over the next 3 years.

There are a fair few routes to success in both fields but, though for slightly different reasons, both Cuban and Ardern have rooted their approaches in a high-regard for human compassion, kindness and understanding. EQ as well as IQ.

Now, neither are perfect and I’m the first to admit I’m not exactly qualified to write their biographies just yet – but with all that’s going on in the world doesn’t it feel good to know that those in high-places take that view? It’s….um, what’s the name of that feeling?….nice!

Photograph by Jorge Silva / Reuters

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