PwC’s Stuart Larner discusses driving digital transformation across the company in addition to his role as a senior tax associate.
Stuart Larner is a senior associate in PwC Ireland’s tax department. His work at the company, however, goes well beyond his day job. Larner is also part of the firm’s Think Digital programme, which sees him work with 35 colleagues across different departments as a digital accelerator and change agent, helping to drive digital transformation.
Here, he tells us about a typical day in his role, from tax technology strategy to people engagement, as well as some of the lessons his career has taught him so far.
‘New tech and changes in tax legislation are occurring more rapidly than ever. Having a job that requires an understanding of developments in both means I have to always be agile’
– STUART LARNER
If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?
What I love most about this role is that every day is different and you get to work with a variety of people and not just one team. Within my area of our tax practice, there are 12 different teams and I get to work on projects with each of them.
On a typical day, I probably spend an hour meeting with people to discuss progress in terms of our strategy and whether we’re meeting our goals. I usually spend an hour a day upskilling junior staff by reviewing their work and providing them with feedback and next steps. I also try to keep an hour for people to contact me to discuss any new solutions they would like to develop.
The remainder of my time is spent working on current projects across tax. So it’s a busy, varied day every day for me.
What types of projects do you work on as a digital accelerator?
A great thing about the work I do as a digital accelerator is that it’s very much focused on problem solving using the resources available, so I get to use a lot of different digital tools. This includes automating tax compliance, building interactive dashboards and performing a business analyst role.
The main client-facing work that I do is part of the firm’s tax technology and transformation team. This team assists clients to develop their tax technology strategies and enhance their own tax functions from a digital perspective, including tax function transformation and end-to-end reporting solutions – all in order to help our clients.
What skills do you use on a daily basis?
There are three main categories of skills, I find. Technical skills include programming, digital tools, accounting, tax and finance. Then there’s soft skills such as communication, time management, influencing skills, coaching and listening.
Finally, I do use a lot of research skills including new technological developments and market-industry analysis.
What is the hardest part of your working day?
The most difficult part of my day is prioritising the various projects I’m involved in and trying to allocate my time based on priority. Working with 12 different teams in my group while also collaborating with other digital accelerators can be really challenging in terms of getting time for everything. So juggling is another skill I’ve learned to master.
Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?
One of the best techniques I learnt in PwC was the ‘four Ds of time management’. This involves categorising each task into either Do Now, Delay, Delegate or Drop. This is the last thing I do every evening so that I’m ready for the next day.
When you first started this job, what were you most surprised to learn was important in the role?
I think I was most surprised by the soft skills required when exploring opportunities with teams. I underestimated the importance of relating to the person and taking time to discuss their real pain points.
In the beginning, I would have put a much higher value on developing new skills like programming and all the technical skills. But now I see building good relationships and having open discussions as being the most valuable use of time.
How have your roles changed as this sector has grown and evolved?
Covid-19 has changed everything, including how we work and collaborate with colleagues. Our investment in technology resulted in a seamless transition to remote, smart working and continuing to deliver to the high-quality standard we are known for at PwC. It was impressive to see just how quickly we moved from having seven Irish offices to nearly 3,000 as we all worked from home.
A large part of my role when I first joined was developing a technology-first mindset and being the change agent to show people that technology could have a big impact on how they work. A large part of my role was upskilling our staff to enable them to build technology solutions for themselves.
What do you enjoy most about the job?
The biggest challenge, and also what I enjoy most about this job, is that it is always changing. New technology and changes in tax legislation are occurring more rapidly now than ever. Having a job that requires an understanding of developments in both means that I have to always be agile in how I approach opportunities and be constantly learning new skills.
As well as keeping up with these changes, working with so many different teams means I get the opportunity to build relationships with a wide variety of people. Yes, it’s very challenging – but I really enjoy learning new skills, tackling new challenges and building new relationships where I can share my skills and help develop new solutions.