Stephanie Fielding is the Global Tax Director at Bupa, one of the UK's leading healthcare specialists and a globally renowned brand. Stephanie speaks with Jay Sky, Senior Consultant at Pro-Tax about life at Bupa, and its response to Covid-19, advice on managing large teams remotely, and the tips for anyone looking for a career with Bupa.
Bupa is a brand name with little need for introduction. But for anybody who isn’t aware – what is it that Bupa do?
Bupa’s purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives. With no shareholders, we reinvest profits to benefit our current and future customers. We are an international health insurance and provision business. Health insurance accounts for the major part of our business with 18m customers and contributes 74% of revenue. We operate clinics, dental centres and hospitals in some markets, and we run aged care businesses in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Spain. We directly employ around 83,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Chile, Poland, Hong Kong, Turkey, Brazil, the US, Middle East and Ireland. We also have associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.
What does your role at Bupa include, and what do you enjoy about your work?
I am Bupa’s Global Tax Director and lead a team of high calibre people around the world. I am passionate about supporting our organisation to serve our customers. I really enjoy leading people and developing them. I also run Bupa’s Finance Graduate programme which is so fulfilling to see people's development. In addition, I really enjoy the sheer variety of the work we do from ensuring Bupa is compliant, supporting M&A and innovation, managing Tax Authority enquiries and a variety of other transactions and projects. The team is forward-looking, which makes us well placed to deal with the constantly evolving tax environment. We operate with a mindset of continuous improvement so that we remain relevant and, importantly, that we have strong governance in place and that we are always customer focused in everything we do.
How would you describe the culture of the tax team at Bupa?
I would describe the culture as inclusive, diverse, respectful and a real sense of team effort. We work hard but also enjoy the social aspect (well pre-Covid). Globally, we are a really connected team and work together to tackle challenges. We also tend to operate in a “boundary less” way, utilising our skills where needed rather than reporting lines which has served us well over the years. When we recruit, culture is one of the most important factors we consider (i.e. will the individuals fit with the existing culture in a positive way).
You’ve been in a tax leadership position with Bupa since 2007, between Australia and the UK. Thinking back, what made you join initially, and what learning milestones have there been for you along the way?
I originally joined Bupa through an acquired company in Australia. Bupa’s presence in Australia at the time was small, with no tax team, so this acquisition followed by the large insurance acquisition 6 months later, required a dedicated tax function, which I led building the team, process and systems from the ground up. I liked the fact that Bupa was expanding globally and knew that this would lead to interesting opportunities and the ability for myself to develop. It was a big job, but it was an amazing opportunity and it was in this role that I learned the importance of good leadership and relationships and having the right people with the right skills. Bupa is a matrix management organisation so the key to making an impact and getting things done is good stakeholder management across the matrix environment. This was especially true when I moved over to take the role in London. To be successful, you need to always “step into the shoes” of your stakeholders locally. If you understand what is important to them, you will understand how to be a good business partner. In addition, I would say that having worked within a business unit and then at Group, it helps to understand both perspectives when undertaking my role and any course of action.
I would also again highlight the importance of creating a good culture, which fosters individuals to perform at their best and empowering people for success by providing an environment of continuous improvement.
Remaining relevant – constantly looking ahead so we don’t become complacent and can deal with the ever-changing environment. Our mantra is business led not tax led.
What has been the response to Covid-19 at Bupa?
Bupa’s priority has been to focus on the welfare of our customers, our people and society, and play our part in government and public health responses to Covid-19. Our hospitals and clinics supported the national public health response across different countries, treating Covid-19 patients and providing capacity to the public health systems. Our people have played a huge part in the Covid-19 response, working on the front line to support customers and contribute to the national responses. Over half of the people Bupa employs worldwide are clinicians and carers, and many are part of the public health efforts. Our priority is to continue to keep our people safe and well so they, in turn, can care for patients where we have hospitals as well as residents in our care homes and villages.
We have rapidly adapted to the new normal. To do so, we significantly expanded our telehealth and digital healthcare services so customers could continue to access care and advice from our nurses, GPs and consultants by telephone and video link. We have also seen record levels of calls to our helplines and use of online resources, particularly for support on mental health and wellbeing. In every country we operate in, we’re responding to the new and emerging needs of individuals and organisations. We have taken a range of targeted actions including delaying approved premium increases, reviewing excess clauses and providing support for those experiencing financial hardship.
We swiftly enacted remote working capabilities wherever possible and nearly all our people worldwide have been able to continue to work effectively through the pandemic. We have introduced new technologies to enhance collaboration and connectivity. In some countries we are returning to the office but in a safe and measured way, with new processes and procedures to ensure we stay safe and well.
We are also playing our part in the communities in which we operate. We are engaging with local and national community partners through our Bupa Foundations and through volunteering and fundraising to support their work at this difficult time.
I am immensely proud of how Bupa has responded and adapted and have personally found it rewarding to be part of the Covid response team and see first-hand how we have put people and customers first.
How have you and the wider tax team at Bupa adjusted to the remote working model?
In many respects the remote model is “normal” for the wider team as we have tax teams located in many different countries around the world, so we have always worked remotely. However, strangely, working from home has meant we are more connected than ever as we make a concerted effort to catch up regularly as a team and individually, and the introduction of Microsoft teams has led to easier collaboration and is working really well for us. It has improved efficiency and connectivity, so we don’t really notice not being in the office. The only real downside is the social aspect, we all miss that, but under the circumstances I am really proud of how the team has responded and continued to deliver and add value.
You mentioned previously that your role is not so much focused on the ‘tax technical’ as it is on the leadership of a large team. What advice/insight might you offer tax leaders who were less accustomed to managing sizable teams on a remote basis?
Focus on culture, make a concerted effort to catch up regularly from both a work and social perspective. Be available and check in with individuals. Keep the focus on the customer, be clear on priorities and critical activity and be agile to adjust to changing conditions or environment.
What kind of person might you keep an eye out for in the Tax Team?
Commercially focused individuals that have the confidence to deal with people at all levels across the organisation. Business led rather than tax led. Individuals that are customer and outcome focused. Individuals that are keen to develop.
What advice might you offer to anyone considering applying for a role in the tax team at Bupa?
- Have a focus on business rather than just showcasing tax technical skill
- Have a sense of “work hard, play hard”
- Expect the unexpected
- Be agile and forward thinking
- Be keen to develop.