Accountancy can take you places. EY Tax Senior Manager Rebecca Cahoon rode her longstanding interest in Private Client Services (PCS) to a two-year rotation position at the firm’s U.S. Tax Desk in Zurich, Switzerland.
Having been with EY for nearly 10 years, she says she was drawn to PCS early on in her career, and that it dates back to her time at UVA. When she was a student volunteering with the CASH (Creating Assets, Savings & Hope) program through Madison House, Cahoon found it rewarding to help people make sense of the U.S. tax system and potentially save individuals and families money.
She says that while her EY clients have quite a different profile than those she helped in the CASH program, the concept is the same: “to help them find solutions to complex problems that hopefully result in tax savings the family can use to achieve their goals.”
Timing and Opportunity
Cahoon says she regrets she never explored her options to study abroad while she attended UVA. But after the chance to work in a short-term rotation with EY in Brazil, she had a new perspective on changing her scenery from Charlotte, NC.
“Brazil was an incredibly rewarding experience in many ways, in terms of traveling and discovering new parts of the world, learning a new language, understanding a different culture, but most importantly, establishing connections and friendships that will last a lifetime.”
As her career progressed, she began seeking out other new business experiences with the firm. When the chance to join the U.S. tax desk team in Switzerland became available, she took it.
Cahoon says there have been some surprises and even a bit of culture shock.
“The Swiss are generally more reserved than Americans, so that can make it a bit harder to feel connected and make friends,” she says. “I was also really hoping to learn a new language, but have found that quite difficult, given that Switzerland has four national languages and nearly everyone can speak English. I do love taking public transportation every day, though, and love that the trains here are so efficient. It’s going to be hard to want to buy a car again when I return to Charlotte!”
Challenges Old and New
As Cahoon explains that tax can be challenging because many of the laws dictating its framework are constantly changing, she finds that other personal aspects of her work also keep it intriguing.
“Every client has different values and goals,” she says. “What works for one family may not work for another, but that’s also one of the things that make it a very interesting area of tax. To tailor tax-planning solutions based on such unique family dynamics and goals can be like a puzzle.”
Additionally, international tax planning provides another wrinkle to her job, as many of her clients simultaneously do business and occupy multiple areas across the globe.
“It’s increasingly common to provide planning for a given family across multiple jurisdictions, and the perfect answer from a U.S. tax perspective may not mesh well with the laws or tax rules of other countries involved,” she says. “Tax is already a complicated area, but to intertwine the tax laws of multiple jurisdictions into one project takes it to a whole other level.”
Adding to an already complex role, the pandemic has impacted Cahoon’s work and how she executes it. Though EY had already had a flexible approach to working from home in place before the coronavirus hit, she says her group has seen a steady flow of work.
“Given the passage of the CARES Act, there are new opportunities to help our clients plan and take advantage of any relief provided under the new law. The focus has shifted to dealing with client issues resulting from the new environment we are all living in, in addition to managing the changes to the U.S. tax deadlines due to the pandemic.”
Beyond moving to a virtual workspace, she notes that the lack of travel has put a slight damper on one of the perks of being on an international assignment—both work-related and for vacation time—but as her family (including Cahoon’s fiancé) are in the U.S., being separated for an undefined amount of time has been understandably difficult. As far as her professional life is concerned, however, EY has stepped up to keep everyone together, while individuals maintain the necessary distancing measures.
“It’s hard to replicate the human connection of in-person experiences; however, I think our teams here have done a great job trying to do team activities virtually to build camaraderie and stay connected, particularly when many of us on assignment may be currently separated from our families.”
That type of strong team collaboration that her EY group has kept at top of mind is something Cahoon experienced as an undergraduate at the Commerce School.
“The teaming environment at McIntire is first in class and definitely helped prepare me to work with and interact with different people of different skill sets and cultures in the real world,” she says.
Cahoon says that the connections she made as a student, and later, while working in McIntire’s Graduate Programs office, are what most strongly shaped her educational experience. And while she credits former Graduate Program Director Michelle Wolf, as well as Assistant Dean of Graduate Marketing and Pre-Experience Recruiting Emma Candelier and Director of Graduate Admissions & Financial Aid Cathy Fox, for leading her to EY, she’s equally thankful for the faculty who prepared her for her career.
“One of my biggest mentors while at UVA was Professor Whit Broome. He was one of my first Accounting professors who could break down a complex issue in a simple way that made it easy to understand,” she says.
She also cites the relevancy of Professor David Maloney’s “Tax Research” class and Professor Sue Porter for challenging her.
“I also really enjoyed Andrea Roberts as a professor, but also as a mentor, while I did some grad assistant-level work. I remember she once joked and told me I should be an auditor due to spotting an issue in one of her slide decks,” Cahoon recalls. “While I knew I never wanted to be an auditor, I always took with me how valuable it is to have an auditor’s mindset in the tax world.”
Professor Carrie Heilman also figured in her education, “both in ICE and outside of it,” she says. “I particularly appreciated her perspective in the ‘Women in Business’ course I took as a pre-Comm student and the insights she shared during this session have stayed with me.”
Still a World of Possibility
Though the current environment has changed how we view travel, she still believes that Accounting students who are seeking a career overseas should still remain hopeful that they might still find the opportunity for an overseas assignment. Cahoon adds that the highly rewarding experience comes with an expanded professional network and skill set, which provides invaluable access to learning about new cultures and the ways in which businesses operate in them.
“Working for a global firm definitely helps make these opportunities possible. However, don’t expect it to come right away when you start working for a company; it can take time. If it’s something you are interested in, make your intentions known—particularly if you have a career counselor at your company, explore the different global programs your company may offer, and apply,” she says.
She reminds new accountants not to overlook shorter assignments, which can be fulfilling for those who aren’t ready to commit to a long-term rotation as well as accomplish the needs of the employer.
“You never know what’s out there until you research the possible opportunities. It can be a great way to shake up your career.”