Philippe Verclytte - Indirect Tax Partner at EY

Given your experience across a variety of sectors including Consultancy, Legal and IT, what was the appeal to you of becoming a partner at EY?

To be honest, I wasn’t heavily looking for a partnership when EY contacted me. I was in a good position working at Lexmark, having joined in mid-2016 as Global VAT Leader, overseeing a large group with 80+ international entities for VAT (advisory and compliance). After 6 months, in December of the same year, I was promoted to Global VAT and Foreign Income Tax Leader – increasing the scope of activity dramatically. It was really speedy learning, as VAT and customs are very different to the direct tax environment which I was now confronted with. Issues included transfer pricing, local & global compliance and working with consultants from Big 4. This opened a lot of doors. EY were looking for a VAT partner in Geneva and previous colleagues from my time in Big 4, who were now at EY, talked to me about this opportunity.

A Partner opportunity like this is too good to refuse! I know a lot of people already within EY and knew it was a good place to work. The headquarters are in Zurich, but on the French side of Switzerland we are very autonomous and today I have a pretty open market to approach. Suisse Romande has around 40+ multinationals in global operations & trades and also the swiss market – including swiss entities and family owned businesses. We are covering all aspects and including more customs practice; we have issues to come in customs, with things like Brexit on the horizon. A hard Brexit would mean building everything from scratch with the companies, providing a lot of challenges.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career and why?

That’s easy. I started working in 1996 in international logistics, then joined Deloitte and onto PwC. In 2007 I left Big 4 and moved into my own business as a Tax Lawyer, establishing my own practice which ran for almost 8 years. I left the comfort of a salaried job to establish myself; it was a target of mine to do this at the age of 40. It was challenging and very much building from scratch, an experience in life which is very worthwhile, as you are doing everything yourself. The administrative part of running a business in France is quite difficult sometimes. I established a new network - not all big companies, but more middle market environment - learning how to react to CEOs, founders and owners of businesses. It’s a close relationship so if the fit doesn’t fit, it doesn’t work. Selling wasn’t the most difficult part but delivering – it can be a difficult time when being asked to do something you don’t want to do and sometimes even having to refuse.

What challenges will your new role provide?

When you’re a partner it’s a less technical, but more business development-focused, role. You go to the market and really work on identifying clients, meeting and serving them. We will be offering high level products, services around VAT, customs and indirect taxes.

Companies are moving more and more towards technology and the dematerialisation of documentation. The EU is looking towards safety – e.g. real time invoicing, order processing. We can expect that paper will have disappeared from these processes 3-4 years from now. We need to focus on this and to present this to clients.

The present teams doing returns will probably not have the technology skills needed for the future, so things will almost certainly change. The tax mission is really to go to the market and to meet people (which I really like to do) and, although we work to targets, at EY it is quite flexible compared to the other Big 4 as you have time to build relationships.

In the multinational businesses we deal with, we are working with people from many different countries and cultures, so I will continue to learn more and more - it’s a real ‘human’ adventure. It’s a challenge of the new role to go to business development, also to build the team and ensure they want to come to work and enjoy it, give them autonomy and ability to deliver. Retaining staff is also a challenge – young consultants know the industry is calling them. Nowadays people have a lot of opportunity and there is an ongoing ‘game’ between Big 4 and industry to attract and retain the employees. My approach is to talk to them about career development and aspirations and plan ahead. I try to be as close as possible to the team.

How, and in what ways, has your experience at Lexmark expanded your skills and knowledge?

The quick progression at Lexmark created an extremely speedy learning opportunity and expanded my knowledge regarding a range of issues – transfer pricing, M&A and accounting for multinationals, including reporting standards such as US GAAP. I also had opportunity to work closely with people and departments I hadn’t worked with before, such as IT. We implemented a brand-new reporting process worldwide and found that trying to explain invoicing requirements in the EU to pure SAP engineers was a challenge – especially in a massive organisation, with hundreds of thousands of lines. This experience was great and I’m very thankful to the person who hired me (VP Finance) – I had exposure to working with various cultural roots/backgrounds, learning how to work well together and different ways of working. I found the human side very interesting and the aspect with the biggest learning curve. I am extremely happy joining EY, but the time at Lexmark was excellent experience.

How do you feel that Indirect Tax has evolved globally in recent years?

This is the best part of the game! It’s moving all the time. 10 years ago, customs was on the front line; EU customs decided to rebuild environments for the customs code and also the technology – this was very interesting. VAT was at that time pretty old fashioned, with paper VAT returns, but now it’s moving to technology. A lot of companies in the EU have moved to e-submission – countries such as Norway, Poland, Spain, Italy, France are ahead on this and are also implementing tools to fight against fraud. Fraud on VAT is the biggest tax fraud in Europe, so they are very creative in inventing tools and proposals to fight it.

We are going to have a new environment. Since 1977 and the 6th Directive, VAT was supposed to be in a transitory period. The European Commission is working on the final VAT position. This is very challenging as we will have a definitive VAT regime, will be facing technology issues, sometimes local languages too, customs & Brexit issues inside the EU and outside the EU (GCC) are still implementing VAT. This is hard to follow; you cannot standardise as it’s country specific. Even in the EU, you have to follow closely with local teams. Global projects are very interesting – you have to give countries rules to implement differently, including Swiss environment.

The interesting thing from my perspective is that VAT/indirect tax is talking real business, real life, cash, people moving from one country to another and a very economical way of behaving; if you don’t deal with it well, you’re losing money. I’m a big fan of VAT! You really have to be hands-on and meet people to do the mapping – go to warehouses, docks and to the companies.

What approach can future clients of yours expect at EY and why does it stand out from your competitors?

The thing I have noticed in my time at EY so far, is that it is so easy to talk to all counterparts at EY – across TP, Tax, all service lines, etc. - to share information and knowledge about clients. It’s very easy to get to know people and a trusting environment at EY, which creates a nice atmosphere. When it’s good internally then it’s good externally – I am having introductions to clients who are happy with the service they’re receiving from EY. I know I still will have to demonstrate our ability and deliver, but I have always done this. EY can provide the environment to implement what I want to, on a global basis.

I see this EY position as very much a long-term plan, to build relationships and build the team for the future.

What is your management style and how do you empower your team to grow the business?

I’m easy going and not into micro-management - it’s a waste of time - so I really trust in people. A manager is in that position because they deserve it, so let people do what they think they can do autonomously. My job is go-to market and to be in the office as little as possible, so it’s a question of trust and personal link – let people do what they want and like to do. If you constrain someone it will never work - I like to empower the team to run effectively whilst I’m away from the office.

I don’t class myself as a ‘boss’ as you’re only an effective partner if you have a good team. I encourage talking openly in meetings where everyone can bring their own knowledge and ideas to help find the right solution. When I had my own practice I really missed the opportunity to share the ‘wins’ with a team.

What are the core competencies that you look for in people who work for you?

Across Big 4 we generally hire the top level of students, but this being said, it’s then really a question of fitting. If you have two people with the same profile, you can feel the difference in how focused they are in interview. The company is looking for dedication and hard work but it’s the curiosity to look outside the box, an entrepreneurial way of thinking, to look beyond VAT rules at the global business, the global flows and complex environments – and this you have to learn. Be proactive, think about new solutions, new steps and make suggestions.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in tax?

No-one really! When I was studying I wasn’t really a good student. I went to business school first of all and then went back to study CPA, after which I did a placement with a CPA firm. I lasted 2 days before thinking I needed to find a job instead! I went to a logistics entity and they had a position in fiscal presentation, customs & VAT – so I’ve really been dealing with VAT since day one. I finished as legal director at this company, then went to Deloitte and decided to become a lawyer. My mentor in VAT was a partner at Deloitte and she was really inspiring – an alien of the time as she trusted people so much and wasn’t micro-managing, covered my back for some mistakes and taught me a lot. She kept also telling me that you need 10 years to be a good VAT advisor because the experience gives you something you can’t find in the books. She will recognise herself!

 

 

 
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