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Debu Banerjea

DNA of a Tax Leader

Debu Banerjea headshotDebu Banerjea is the Managing Director, Tax, of The State Street Trust Company Canada.  In this role, Debu is responsible for State Street’s tax service to its Canadian clients – comprising of over 50 clients and 800 funds.

Debu is an experienced finance professional with over 13 years in senior positions with PriceWaterhouse Coopers globally.  He also has over 15 years of senior role tax experience in the Canadian financial service industry - insurance and mutual funds. Prior to joining State Street, Debu was the Senior Tax Manager at Aviva Insurance PLC. In this role, he lead the Canadian tax team to service 16 legal entities in Canada.

Managing Director, Tax
State Street

Have you always aspired to achieving a senior leadership role in Tax?
Yes, it was always my goal. I have never changed or second guessed my career path towards tax leadership – including requalifying when I came to Canada, even though I was already in a senior role in Calcutta.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path? How did you overcome this?
Moving from India to Canada required me to requalify and completely rebuild my own brand. It was a challenge but by focusing on what I needed to do to reach my goals helped. I took it one step at a time, never losing sight of where I wanted to go.

What technical skills do you think are integral to role?
You need to be able to keep up with and understand any changes in tax law, and be able to research how it will affect your client. Being able to connect and integrate tax with the overall business is crucial.

What attributes/characteristics do believe are integral to the role?
I’m currently in a client-facing role so it’s important to be outgoing and confident. I have to be able to say no to a client. If you’re scared to say no then you’re creating risk for your client and yourself. Communication skills are important because you have to be able to communicate with staff and clients about how to manage risk.

Finally I think integrity and transparency are key. In any role that manages risk people will make mistakes, but if you are transparent about what the risks are, and have the integrity to admit and address your professional mistakes, then you will be much better equipped to manage risk and fix mistakes.

What is your advice to someone who is moving up the ranks in the field and wants to pursue a management/executive career?
Build your core knowledge. This isn’t a field where you can bluff. I think it’s valuable to understand other departments across the business because the tax role is visible across those functions. If you understand the business and you understand the tax environment then you can be proactive about leading the company through changes in legislation and other areas that impact business. Aligning the business needs with the tax environment will make you a business leader, not just a tax leader.

In your opinion, how important is networking?
Networking is very important, both internally and externally. External networking will build your reputation and connections with your peers so you understand the function and have access to other kinds of expertise. Internal networking is about ensuring people in your company understand your role, and trust you to make good decisions for the company. In the long term both types of networking are critical for your career growth.

Compared to 5 or 10 years ago, in your opinion how would you say your role has evolved?
Now I have 80-90 clients with a wide range of requirements, and the market has gotten more complicated so one change for me has been expanding my team to ensure we have the necessary skills and expertise.  When you reach a senior level you won’t have all the expertise yourself, so knowing your own strengths and weaknesses will help you build a team that can meet all your clients’ needs. For example, there have been a lot of changes to the fund industry so I’ve had to bring people onto my team with that expertise.

Is there anything that the next generation should know? What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a Tax leader?
It requires discipline and continual learning so set a long term goal and don’t lose sight of it. If you have that desire and drive then you will do well.
Practice your communication skills. Tax is a team function so you need to be able to work with other experts, communicate and collaborate to resolve issues and manage risk.