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"I love seeing clients' transformational changes, no matter how big or small."

Simren (Gill) Bains, Tax Technology and Innovation Manager at KPMG in the UK, talks to us about how technology is reshaping the landscape of tax and what clients can do to adapt to this complex and ever-evolving environment.

We met up with Simren at the UK firm's Canary Wharf offices in London. In this interview, she talks about the current state of play in tax transformation, and what leaders can do to leverage the power of technology and unlock additional transformation gains.

Let's talk about how the global tax environment is being reshaped to adapt to new demands and expectations. What are some of the changes you're seeing and how are companies responding?

Simren (Gill) Bains: Globally, the tax landscape is changing at an accelerated pace as technology advances and economies become increasingly digitized. Many companies are looking to incorporate and adopt new technology, so they can process, reconcile and validate their data more effectively. But also to demonstrate that they have the proper tax governance and control frameworks built into their tax functions. They're driven as much by understanding the potential benefits associated with tax transparency and trust, as by the risk of falling behind to more tech-enabled and nimble competitors.

Trust and transparency are dominant themes in tax reporting. How do KPMG firms build trust with clients looking to transform their tax and finance functions?

Simren (Gill) Bains: We take a people-centered approach to transformation, with an emphasis on fostering relationships. At the core of any relationship is trust, and from my experience, it's what can make a transformation journey a truly impactful one. Tax leaders look to KPMG firms as trusted advisers. Yet, I think within that trust is a tacit understanding that more can be achieved working together than by working individually. There is a real sense of co-ownership.

"Within trust is a tacit understanding that more can be achieved working together than by working individually."

Simren (Gill) Bains
Simren (Gill) Bains

You're a certified Scrum Master and an advocate of agile. Is that because it supports a collaborative working environment?

Simren (Gill) Bains: Agile methodologies emphasize the benefits of collaboration and working with cross­ functional teams to encourage cross-pollination of ideas and solutions. More than this, I think agile is well suited to transformation work because the completion of a sub-project or program often unlocks additional opportunities for transformation and value creation. So, teams learn that there isn't a solid or fixed end­ point and that transformation is, in fact, ongoing. The practice of continuous performance improvement is certainly supported by agile, but I'd say it's even more the case that the practice is borne of an agile mindset.

Would you say that continuous improvement involves having an eye on the future as a means of building a competitive edge?

Simren (Gill) Bains: There's an aspect of continuous improvement that involves exploring better ways to deliver to customers and respond to changes in the external environment. Exploration is a vital activity because it is both outward looking, and future focused. Self-learning is something I make time for in my schedule, and I actively promote it within my team. I have a real interest in learning about new and emerging technologies and seeing how they disrupt and change business industries and functions.

Currently, I’m exploring the possibilities associated with ChatGPT1, an Open AI service that has already started transforming businesses. As ChatGPT develops, it could reform the way financial services are delivered and it will be important to understand how this can improve business insights. I think strategic insight is one of the things clients value KPMG firms for, so it’s vital that we take the time to engage with fresh content and have conversations inside and outside our network to go beyond what we know, and to expand our insight reach.

It's clear that KPMG sees you as making a difference to clients. Is that how you see yourself?

Simren (Gill) Bains: I've always wanted to make a difference; in myself, in terms of the growth and development of my skills; within my team, as a relational and supportive leader; and in client engagements, in helping them to unleash the potential through digital transformation. There is truth in the adage: Be the change you want to see. At the start of my career, I knew I wanted to be an Accountant, but there were very few opportunities to learn about the different pathways in the accountancy field, and how to establish an accounting career built on purpose. That's why I started vlogging about my own career journey as a means of sharing knowledge and advice. I wanted to be the person I didn't have when I was first looking to build my career. It comes naturally to me to want to help others. And that's always going to make a difference.

You are also a mental health and wellness lead for your team. What does that involve?

Simren (Gill) Bains: Even if you have the support of friends and family members, no one knows the stressors of your work better than your own colleagues. So, I believe in creating a culture of openness, and that includes talking about mental health and wellbeing openly. It comes back to trust – when you create the conditions for people to feel psychologically safe, we become more open, and more trusting of one another. I try and help people in my team make positive changes that enable them to give their best at work. It may be boundary setting or adding 10,000 steps to your daily routine. Small changes can make a big impact.