In our 60 second interview series, Citywealth speaks to Lisa Vanderheide, Tax Director at Stewarts about establishing a new tax investigation arm for the litigation-focused law firm.
Tell me about your role
I recently moved to Stewarts with my colleague Sarah Stenton to establish the tax investigation arm of the existing tax litigation team. We have both worked in the tax dispute arena for many years (me for 33 years) and were keen to bring our joint expertise to an existing team with tax-related specialisms. It has turned out to be a great move and we are already very busy despite being at Stewarts for less than three months.
As a tax dispute resolution specialist, I help clients resolve their HMRC-related issues. The types of issues I deal with on a day-to-day basis include HMRC enquiries (including cases of suspected fraud (“Code of practice 9”)), voluntary disclosures of tax irregularities and settlement of the tax due in relation to failed tax avoidance arrangements. I act for individuals, partnerships, small businesses and large corporates.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Sarah and I are in the process of building the tax investigation practice, so I currently have a heady mix of business development activities and client-related work in my diary. A typical day has at least one external breakfast or lunch, article or seminar preparation and HMRC/client liaison. My days are also often extended by attendance at evening events. All in all, it’s not good for my waistline!
Tell us about interesting client instructions
I am very fortunate as I have been referred clients both internally and externally. Internal referrals often come from our commercial litigation team where high net worth individuals are involved in commercial claims against promoters/sponsors of failed tax avoidance schemes. Many of these existing clients need help settling their tax liability with HMRC, particularly where matters are not straightforward. This might be, for example, where HMRC suspects a tax avoidance scheme strays into fraud and the client is high profile. Or, where a high-profile tax avoidance client has a large tax bill to pay but limited funds to pay it (despite widespread public belief that the individual is very wealthy). Cases like these require a tactical but robust approach with HMRC and careful management of expectations on both sides (client and HMRC).
What challenges do your clients face and how are you helping your clients to overcome them?
HMRC can often appear to be a frightening, faceless entity to clients with tax issues. For individuals and corporate alike, HMRC enquiries can be stressful and at times, overwhelming. My role is to step in and manage both the HMRC enquiry process and relationship so that the client does not have to.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
Making the transition from working for HMRC to the private sector. I spent 16 years as an HMRC tax inspector where I was an investigation specialist and initially moved to PwC in 2002. The transition was not easy, as working in HMRC is very different to the private sector. However, 17 years later and I am still here. I relish the variety of work, the challenges of business development and the satisfaction of helping clients.
What do you consider to be the most important attributes for a leader?
Honesty, integrity and approachability.
Who do you most admire and why?
I really admire Ricky Gervais. He is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I love his irreverence towards the rich and famous (just watch his Golden Globe compere slots) and the fact that he does not suffer fools gladly. He is also a determined advocate against animal cruelty.
Where was the last place you travelled to for work or pleasure?
To a friend’s house in St Lucia.
If you weren’t in the wealth management industry, what else might you be doing?
If I could afford it (on the basis it does not pay well), I would probably work for an animal shelter/sanctuary. It sounds a bit “Miss World” to want to help homeless/abused animals etc., but it is an issue I feel very strongly about.
How do you relax after a long day?
Dinner with my husband and friends or a box-set binge (or both).