Women in Finance: Interview with Marna Ricker from EY Americas

Marna Ricker is the EY Americas Vice Chair of Tax Services, leading a talented group of more than 18,000 tax professionals. She is responsible for driving growth, managing resources, developing people and ensuring the Tax team provides exceptional service to clients across North, Central and South America and Israel.

Over the course of her 25+ years with EY, Marna has held various leadership and client service roles including assisting multinational companies in global tax transformation efforts, optimising financial structuring as well as tax compliance and reporting.

Marna is passionate about ensuring all EY Tax people reach their full career potential and feel a sense of belonging.

She serves on EY’s Americas Operating Executive, which sets strategy and policy for the EY Americas member firms, and the Global Tax Executive Committee, which sets the strategy for the Global Tax practice. She is also a Junior Achievement USA Board member.

Marna has won numerous awards for her leadership, including a “Woman of the Year” Stevie Award, “Executive of the Year” Best in Biz award, “Female Executive of the Year” Women in Business at the Professions World awards and a Finance Monthly Taxation Award.

Besides winning multiple awards and being recognised nationally for her leadership, Marna says her most significant accomplishments are her two sons, Colton and Cooper, who continue to inspire her every day to lead with empathy. Marna, her husband Erick, their two sons and golden retriever, Bear live in Minnesota. We caught up with her to talk about all things tax in the post-COVID-19 world.

What role will tax play as we slowly prepare to step into a post-COVID-19 world?

Tax has always been the mesh point between the government and the private sector. We saw this expand at the beginning of the pandemic last year with the CARES Act as policymakers used tax policy to drive economic stimulus.

As the global pandemic moves into its second year, taxes will continue to play a vital role in aiding economic recovery at all governmental levels. Further coordinated action will be required to preserve economic capacity and help protect vulnerable businesses and communities in the US.

Tax policy has emerged as an essential vehicle to supercharge the path towards recovery here in the US and globally. For example, the infrastructure bill proposes extending the child tax credits, providing two free years of community college and offering green-energy tax incentives. The House and Senate have both approved the $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which will facilitate passage of a human infrastructure bill on issues like health, climate, caregiving, and education, with an as-yet-to-be-determined amount of corporate, international and individual tax increases and more IRS tax enforcement.

Overall, the Treasury’s Office of Tax Analysis predicts that the American Families Plan could help the IRS raise $700 billion worth of additional tax revenue over the course of the next decade (which in turn can help fund our infrastructure plans).

How is the EY Americas Tax department responding to these trends?

With all the disruption happening in tax – from fast-changing tax policy globally, to new business operating models, to advancing technology –it is now more important than ever to deliver impactful tax advice and first-class client service through digitally enabled solutions that address our clients’ most complex business challenges.

Despite all the changes, there are many things that need to stay the same: the technical expertise and quality of our Americas Tax professionals will always be at the heart of serving our clients. And our people will always be our best assets.

But there are many things that need to change including the way we deliver information. This must evolve if we want to generate the capital to invest in the future and the way we show up to clients’ needs to reflect our digital-forward mindset and capabilities.

As a result, innovation is in everything we do and we’re constantly disrupting ourselves and our services to be better and to be in a continuous improvement mindset. New systems won’t just clean up data for us, they’ll equip our tax professionals to reach their full potential as trusted business advisers and technicians, making it possible to offer real-time collaborations, scenario planning, cost modelling, and risk simulation tools.

At the onset of the pandemic, my team and I quickly realised that clients needed reliable and swift communication. We were agile and developed many new business offerings that enabled clients to survive and rebuild. Some achievements include:

  • We established a bi-weekly “Tax in a Time of COVID” external webcast series to advance awareness of new tax proposals. This garnered over 120K participants YTD. This webcast series not only allowed us to assist our clients in understanding complicated global policies further, but it enabled us to use an alternative medium to communicate to the public about the complexities behind new and proposed tax policies.
  • We developed the Washington Council’s “What to expect in Washington” Alerts, which provide clients with daily recaps on Capitol Hill happenings.
  • We participated in two CNBC Business Interrupted Series to help explain how the government stimulus response to COVID-19 was tied to tax policy. This CNBC series won gold at the ANA B2 Awards.
  • We enhanced the EY Global Tax Platform, an innovative end-to-end platform that supports all tax business solutions. The Global Tax Platform has won five Stevie awards.
  • We leveraged strategic forecasting, modelling and scenario planning from the EY Quantitative Economics and Statistics group, which became an essential tool for clients mid-pandemic. These tools provided clients with a high-level view of their vulnerabilities to the various tax increases proposed. For our clients, we understood that given the unpredictable nature of the business and social discourse, we needed to provide them with a platform to work through various scenarios and conclude their best next plan of action with as much information as possible.

In all, we learned that the right combination of communication and analytical tools can arm companies with the peace of mind needed to regrow or pivot their business models amid uncertainty.

In the most recent round of EY US partner/principal promotions, 40% were women, an increase of 7% from the prior year, which represents the largest female class ever.

Tell us a little bit about EY’s belief that tax will play a key role in building a more sustainable working world.

Reflecting on the growing number of climate events over the past 12 months, I am encouraged to identify all the ways in which tax intersects with sustainability and how it can help incentivise corporations to reduce their footprint in meaningful ways.

I believe Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) reporting and tax strategy will play a growing and pivotal role in sustainability efforts, as more governments and investors ask companies to disclose their strategies for responding to climate change. Increasingly corporate tax departments are being asked to develop tax governance strategies that take into account risk management and ESG considerations—a fast-growing trend.

In the US, sustainability has become an increasing part of the national conversation under US President Joe Biden, with the administration seeking to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In addition to rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, President Biden has worked to restore critical environmental protections and pledged to promote job creation in a clean energy economy, with a goal to eliminate carbon pollution from power plants by 2035. As part of his Build Back Better platform, Biden has proposed significant spending for infrastructure and clean energy, which includes money for energy retrofitting, financing to upgrade appliances, windows and to buy electric vehicles and to expand and extend clean energy tax incentives. President Biden has proposed tax changes to pay for these investments in cleantech infrastructure.

The more we champion and inspire, provide advice and professional guidance, dare to provide honest feedback, and rise to the occasion when life happens, the faster we reach gender parity.

At EY, we’re doing our part to help combat climate change and protect the planet for future generations, by assisting our clients to meet their sustainability goals, as well as committing to our own emissions goals. Of course, one of my favourite ways to contribute is through our dedicated sustainability tax team, which helps clients navigate the increasingly complex world of climate-related tax policies. The team also assists in identifying opportunities like tax exemption programs, incentives, and funding for sustainability-related projects.

In an ongoing effort to build a more sustainable working world, my team launched the “Green Tax Tracker” and the “EY Carbon Modelling Tool” to provide clients with an overview of sustainability incentives, carbon pricing regimes and other environmental taxes.

On a personal level, I’m aiming to be more sustainable to reduce my carbon footprint, by planting a garden, walking, and biking locally vs driving, or using a refillable water bottle each day to stay hydrated. Everyone’s contributions to reducing their carbon footprint, no matter how small, matter!

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues humanity faces today. It’s our collective responsibility to act now and work together to build a low-carbon future and protect our planet, for generations to come.

As a woman in finance, what are you doing to promote diversity and inclusion at EY?

I proudly support and am committed to diversity, inclusiveness, and anti-discriminatory initiatives beyond tax. A diverse executive team should be a priority for any business or organisation. At EY, we understand that diversity and inclusiveness at all levels of the company are required to build a better working world.

Diversity and inclusion are a deep part of our culture and are simply table stakes and non-negotiable. We are also very focused on creating an even stronger culture of belonging. One that harnesses our unique differences and allows every individual to bring those differences to work every day and to be valued for exactly who they are. Those differences ultimately allow teams to bring unique perspectives and create better outcomes in our work.

I am committed to fostering belonging for all women. The more we champion and inspire, provide advice and professional guidance, dare to provide honest feedback, and rise to the occasion when life happens, the faster we reach gender parity.

Successful women leaders must juggle everything, literally everything. They are expected to balance family responsibilities, run a business, demonstrate their credentials as well as walk a fine line of “being tough enough . . . but not too tough.” But what I love about EY is that we are myth-busting those gender stereotypes. For example, we had just as many men apply for our summer leave program in 2020 as women. Another example, we are seeing an increase in men taking advantage of our paternity leave program. This speaks volumes about the EY culture. Shattering old stereotypes that men do not have an equal desire to be deeply involved with their children and family responsibilities, and that doing so is not a sign of weakness (an “outdated stereotype”).

I am so proud to work alongside so many talented female Tax leaders and super moms. I have a front-row seat to see what our female leaders collectively create and it’s incredibly powerful. In the next 12 months, I want to continue to diversify our roster of executive leaders within Americas Tax and among the incoming partner class. I also want to focus on strengthening and protecting our culture of belonging.   

What are the most important lessons the pandemic has taught you and how do you plan to implement them in the future?

You don’t know where people are. Make no assumptions about politics, social issues, health issues, home life. There is no one universal experience. Be caring, make others feel secure, hold down the fort. Find optimism and opportunity. Recognise the role we play. Focus on wellness and taking care of ourselves.

Resilience and agility are two themes that emerged during the pandemic. Our 18,000 Americas Tax professionals never stopped providing first-class exceptional client service. The global pandemic has proven that we are stronger together, and above all, we are resilient in times of uncertainty.

The past year gave me a deeper appreciation for the power of empathy and inclusion, driving a recommitment on inclusiveness and belonging for all—EY people, clients, and the communities we serve—with ongoing programs focused on women’s advancement and leadership around the world. In the most recent round of EY US partner/principal promotions, 40% were women, an increase of 7% from the prior year, which represents the largest female class ever.

In FY21, my team hired over 900 students, with women representing more than half of the campus new hires and nearly half racially and ethnically diverse. Similarly, 75% of the US Tax incoming partner class are either racially and ethnically diverse or women. EY and specifically our Americas Tax practice is helping to accelerate women’s equity and driving change—both in the organisation and in the community. This commitment is unwavering and woven into the fabric of our organisation.

It’s a delicate balance to provide essential communications and analytical tools for clients to allow them to pivot their business while keeping DE&I and ESG-related initiatives at the forefront, something many businesses lost sight of given other pandemic responsibilities.

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