Sonia Howard began working as tax director with BDO in April 2021. She describes this as quite a change for her as she hadn't worked in practice as an accountant for 20 years. "I joined the financial services team where we service clients that manage funds or are looking for advice on fund structures," she says.
“Throughout my career I gained most of my experience primarily in the funds industry within financial services. In this new role I can utilise my broad range of experience to provide the excellent new service line around FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act), CRS (common reporting standard) and the US QI reporting (United States qualified intermediary) to BDO clients.”
Her role sees her advising clients on the most efficient structure for their investments and the tax implications for the fund and the investors. “We also provide compliance tax services,” she adds. “There is a common perception that funds do not pay tax, however there are a number of taxes to consider now for funds – investment undertaking tax and Irish real estate fund tax are just some examples. We are now moving into the FATCA/CRS and US QI reporting space and can advise clients on the regulatory responsibilities that comes with the requirements around these services.”
Prior to joining BDO she worked in industry. “I was with RBC Investor & Treasury Services where I started the custody operations team in Ireland and migrated a book of work from the London and Luxembourg offices. I was responsible for the management and co-ordination of the FATCA/CRS and US QI regulatory reporting for the bank. We also serviced clients enabling them to obtain withholding tax exemptions and refunds on their equity and bond income.”
Before joining RBC, she worked in Deutsche Bank in a similar role in the custody operations department. "Before that I worked in HSBC on their US tax team. I started on the financial reporting team in HSBC and as this role involves collaboration with all teams, valuations, custody, shareholder services and so on, I gained great experience across all aspects of funds."
Her experience in the funds industry dates back to 1996 when she qualified as a certified accountant. "A friend of mine recommended moving to the funds industry. I started working for Bank of Ireland Securities Services and have never looked back. The available structures for funds and the instruments they can invest in is continuously growing and there is always some new product to research or tax regulation to determine the implication for the funds and their investors."
That constant change is the most interesting aspect of the sector for her. “Tax in financial services is never static,” she explains. “Over the last 10 years we have seen major changes in regulatory reporting particularly in the area of automatic exchange of information with the introduction of CRS and more recently the EU DAC6 directive. They were brought in as part of the BEPS (base erosion and profit shifting) plan and ATAD (anti-tax avoidance directive) and contain very detailed and complicated regulations.”
And her advice for others thinking of following her into the industry. “Be ready for a challenge and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. I have done this many times taking on a number of different roles throughout my career. I have gained a very broad knowledge of funds from both the investor tax side to the custody tax side, and it has kept things interesting. I am a firm believer that we need to enjoy what we do and if you don’t like your role then don’t be afraid to change. If you like what you do then you won’t be working to live, you will live to work.”