“Shining the Spotlight on the Shifting Sites of Tax Expertise”

May 3, 2019

James M Flaherty Research Scholarship Report:

Name:                               Till-Arne Hahn, CPA, CA, LL.M. Fisc.

Home Institution:      Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario

Host & Institution:     Dr Emer Mulligan, NUI Galway

Title of Research:       Shining the Spotlight on the Shifting Sites of Tax Expertise

This statement is written for the Ireland Canada University Foundation to provide a summary of my research visit to Ireland. This visit, which was from January 28, 2019 to March 15, 2019, was generously supported through the James M Flaherty Research Scholarship.

Background and details of the visit are followed by some remarks on the continued collaboration and a general assessment of the overall experience.

Visit Details:
Evaluated on the basis of the original objectives, the seven-week research was largely a success. A fair amount of groundwork had been carried out before the actual visit as originally intended. Although the full application for ethics review was completed prior to my arrival, it was not submitted as early as first planned due to some unforeseen circumstances. Nonetheless, the final ethics approval for the project was received from NUI Galway’s Research Ethics Committee at the end of the third week of my stay.

As the interviews could not commence until receiving the ethics clearance, productive use was made of the interim time. Aside from finalizing the interview guides, further background research was conducted in order to refine the focus of the planned interviews. In this regard, it was very helpful to have regular in-person meetings with Dr. Mulligan in order to brainstorm. Specifically resulting from this process we decided (i) to no longer confine the project to particular industries in each country (i.e. mining in Canada and the high-tech industry in Ireland), and (ii) to also interview several external advisors about their knowledge of and relations with in-house experts. Overall, we agreed that these changes would both deepen our understanding of in-house tax expertise and enhance our ability to make cross-country comparisons.

Till-Arne Hahn & Dr Emer Mulligan, NUI Galway

A little later than planned, we scheduled the first interviews in March shortly after receipt of the ethics clearance. We managed to meet with both an external advisor and an in-house tax expert. It was important for us to conduct at least a couple of interviews together, in order to ensure that we both similarly approach the subsequent interviews that we plan to carry out in our respective countries.

Aside from permitting me to develop a good working rapport with Dr. Mulligan, my research visit to Ireland also allowed me to network more broadly. For instance, I presented one of my other working papers in a seminar at NUI Galway, which provided me with exposure to both local faculty and PhD students. Relying on an existing relation with Dr. Elaine Doyle, I also presented this paper to faculty and students at the University of Limerick. Finally, benefitting from the proximity, I also visited the University of Exeter, where I met up with Professor Lynne Oats, who we plan to involve in the analysis and write-up of our study, as indicated in our original proposal.

Till-Arne Hahn giving a presentation in NUI Galway

Future Continuing Collaboration:
As detailed in the original proposal, the intention of the research visit was to provide an opportunity to start the collection of data for a joint project. We will continue to collaborate as we advance our study. Our plan at this point is for Dr. Emer Mulligan to complete the Irish interviews over the next six months. The findings from these discussions should help inform the Canadian interviews, which I currently aim to schedule starting in September 2019. The overall target remains to speak with 15 individuals in each country, for a total of 30 interviews. It is our objective at this point to complete an initial working paper by early 2020, in order to be able to workshop it and submit it to conferences in spring of that year.

General Assessment of Experience and Conclusion:
Overall, I was very happy with my experience and the support I have received. This closing section offers some general reflections and conclusions about the success of the visit.

As the project is ongoing, it is too early to comment on any specific academic findings at this point, but some preliminary observations are already possible. For instance, based on our initial discussions, we anticipate that our study may reveal that the day-to-day reality for inhouse tax experts, especially for those in private and/or less global enterprises, differs quite substantially from how it is often portrayed. Additionally, focussing on the experience in Ireland and Canada, our project will offer a different perspective on a matter, which is of global significance, but which is more commonly considered from the perspective of larger countries, such as the UK or the US.

More generally, the visit was a clear success in terms of building academic links between Canada and Ireland, at least on an individual level.  As mentioned in the original proposal, the qualitative tax research community is very small globally. Thus, the opportunity to spend seven weeks in Ireland in order to collaborate and advance on a concrete project with a renowned qualitative researcher will be invaluable to my ongoing academic career. Having established a good working rapport with Dr. Emer Mulligan, I anticipate that this relationship will be fruitful beyond the current project. In the long run, this individual connection should also help foster wider relations between our respective countries.