The LCN Tax Interview: Paul Barnes

We are delighted to feature an interview with Paul Barnes, Director of Tax at Visa Europe and former Head of Tax, EMEA at Marsh & McLennan.

Why did you get into tax?

In the old days in accountancy practices, you needed to qualify as a chartered accountant in the audit department before you moved into tax. Whenever the tax people came out to the clients, unlike the auditors, they were treated as being a help, rather than a hindrance. Therefore when I had the chance to do a secondment into the tax department, I jumped at it. Plus, being an impressionable young man, the ladies in tax always appeared to be more attractive than in the audit department!

Who has been the most influential role model for your professional life?

There was a Price Waterhouse partner called Peter Dempsey. He was always able to summarise complicated tax concepts and planning into words that clients could understand, rather than writing in tax technical language. Write the advice in words that your mother would understand, he would say, and he was right.

What do you see as the biggest trend affecting the tax world over the next 10 years?

Two points. 1. BEPS and the debate of how globally mobile income will be taxed. The present taxation rules have not kept up with internationally mobile capital, people and income, and they need to be changed, and will be changed. 2. The US (please) changing from their current unwieldy worldwide taxation system, to a territorial system, instead of all this artificial checking the box, etc.

What is your pet hate when dealing with advisers?

Not giving advice, but sitting on the fence. We pay advisors to advise us, not simply to regurgitate the tax law and then issue a fee for doing so.

In a movie of your life story, which actor or actress would you like to play you?

Sir Alec Guinness. Sometimes the problem solving that we need to do and the threading of a needle all the way through the different conflicting rules, regulations and other non tax considerations is on a parallel with the problems that George Smiley needed to solve.

What would be your dream job if you didn’t work in tax?

I did play semi-professional football when I was younger, so I guess it would have been making it as a professional footballer, and then living off the career earnings.

What is your biggest extravagance?

We have a disabled son, and so anything that makes him smile and helps to makes his life easier and happier is where our money goes

What do you do to relax?

With my family, our friends and our church. When you care for a disabled person, it makes you thankful for what you have and brings a balanced perspective to your job.

What is your favourite holiday destination?

The Alps, both in summer and the winter. In the summer, for the fresh air, and ability to slow down for a few weeks, but marvel how you skied down the slopes the winter before, as you do not realise how steep they are when they just covered in snow.

What piece of advice would you give your 16-year-old self?

I would list all the mistakes that I would then make in the years that followed, so that, if I had my time again, they would not have happened, or could have been avoided.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily represent those of the interviewee’s organization.

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