Our Stories: Kate Caldwell

Written by Ruth Keeling. Posted in Our Stories.

IMG 1257For many, the pandemic democratised the possibilities of working transnationally, allowing professionals to work from home - or indeed wherever your heart finds you. Kate Caldwell, international tax and trust law specialist, is keenly aware of the opportunities and also the potential pitfalls of living across countries, both from the professional and the personal side. After a fast-paced stretch in London at a respected City law firm advising high-net-worth individuals and family offices, she and her British partner took the leap to return to New Zealand, where Kate is now Senior Manager in PwC Legal's tax team in Auckland.

Originally from Wellington, Kate first qualified and practised as a private client lawyer in New Zealand, specialising in trust law. On arrival in London, she quickly realised that in order to advise clients on asset structuring and succession planning in a more international market, she needed to develop an in-depth understanding of both the UK tax system and cross-border legal considerations. It was a friendly coffee with a fellow Kiwi that helped her onto the right track. Kate moved first into a domestic private client and tax team of a well-respected London law firm, which gave her a solid foundation in UK tax. Not long after, she shifted to another well-respected City firm, this time taking up a specialist role in their leading international private client and tax team, advising often highly-mobile clients on their intricate multi-jurisdictional financial affairs: “The team I worked with in London, and the client base I had, was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience”, she reflects.

According to Kate, there is really nothing like working abroad to kickstart your career, although you have to stay flexible. When she first arrived in the UK, Brexit uncertainty and hiring freezes taught her the importance of “just getting your foot in the door” to build experience, before moving strategically into what you actually want to be doing. “London’s work hard / play hard mentality means you can make some huge strides in your career quite quickly, and you can get exposure to lots of really interesting work,” she comments. As a Senior Associate at Irwin Mitchell, she worked in a multinational team and was able to develop a number of specialisms - for instance, she developed a particular expertise in advising international family offices and fund managers.

Despite this intensity, Kate became happily “wrapped up in the amazingness that is London”. She had a large cohort of Kiwi friends living around her in Islington and Hackney, and got involved with the New Zealand Business Women’s Network. Working in traditional British law firms and meeting her British partner soon after arrival helped her integrate into the UK. “When you least expect it, you meet your person”, she laughs, but it meant she “had the best of both worlds”, both Kiwi and British.

Although her London experience was hugely rewarding, particularly from a career perspective, the restrictions on travel during the COVID pandemic made Kate realise how much she values being close to her tight-knit family. COVID was the wake-up call that showed her “I love London, I love my job, but I don’t actually see myself living the rest of my life on the other side of the world from my family”. Kate and her partner decided to take their next career steps in New Zealand, instead of settling down more permanently in the UK. It was an unusual moment for this decision: “because it was such an extraordinary time, there wasn’t much planning or even thinking ahead you could do - we had to rip the bandaid off and just think about the basic fundamentals.” She spent Christmas 2021 in MiQ quarantine. In Auckland, Kate found a new, more generalist role at PwC Legal, which involved another steep learning curve, this time getting to grips with NZ tax law. Nonetheless, the fit feels right: “For me, a big thing has always been making sure that the culture of the firm that I work for is really aligned with my values.”

Kate’s team in London asked her to keep working remotely for them for some months, which gave her breathing space while she was looking for the new role in Auckland. “That definitely softened the landing”, she notes. She ceased to be an employee of the UK firm and began working as an external consultant for them and, most importantly, carefully managed her own UK and NZ tax positions during this transition period. “That’s often where people - and companies - get tripped up”, she notes. “Technology and also companies’ mindsets have evolved to allow people to work remotely, but wearing my tax advisor’s hat, that is when people really do need to take advice and understand what the cross-border tax implications are.” Kate sees many Kiwis get themselves in a tax tangle when, for example, they increase their presence in a foreign jurisdiction, acquire foreign assets, and have interests in and/or benefit from foreign structures.

“The world has become far more interconnected with people becoming more agile and globally mobile”, Kate reflects. She really enjoys connecting with other Auckland returnees through the NZBWN network, sharing what it’s like to come back not only professionally but also personally. Returning to the inflated NZ housing market, increased crime rates, and the rising cost of living has taken some adjustment. “People don’t just move overseas for the professional experience, it’s often to earn a house deposit!”, notes Kate. She and her UK partner do greatly appreciate their improved work/life balance in Auckland, however. “On the whole, we just find it easier living here...we can switch off more at the weekends, go for a walk on the beach - it really does wonders for your head!”