Have you ever had that kind of day where deadlines are looming, the boss needs you in his office to go over numbers, and the auditors have just one more question? You start daydreaming, hearing the Southwest Airlines slogan (“Wanna get away…”), and what comes to mind but a secluded island retreat, where you sit on the beach and watch the waves roll by?
Well, for Laura Deerwester, this is no dream. She grew up on an island in Lake Erie, in a small town called Put-in-Bay. “We do have cars and electricity!” was her answer to the question she often got from college classmates who had never visited there. The island was small, with few residents. The size of her high school graduating class: eight. That’s right, just eight!
An Amazing Mom
Raised by a single parent, Deerwester was the youngest of seven children. “My mom always referred to me as her caboose,” Deerwester says. “As the youngest of seven, I had the privilege of being the tiebreaker among three brothers and three sisters. My brothers and sisters were much older than me, so growing up it was often just Mom and me.”
Deerwester learned the value of hard work early in life. Growing up, she often saw her mom bring work home. “She would begin many of her evenings by opening up a large, iconic National [-brand] ledger book,” Deerwester explains. “You know the yellow and green, thirteen-column paper. She would add up numbers by punching them into a vintage Victor adding machine and pull the lever down to either add or subtract. Then she would type a letter on the typewriter, and I was just fascinated by the steady sound of the keys. She worked so hard to get every report done. I knew I wanted to grow up and be just like her. When it came time to go to college, I felt this would be perfect, as every company needs an accountant.”
Deerwester continues, “Looking back, she tried to teach me a lot more. I remember many nights my mom and I were sitting at the dinner table together and all the advice she would try to give me. I am not sure how much was sinking in at the time; however, much later in life I would come across a quote on the internet, and it would remind me of her and things she was trying to say. The quote read, ‘Always have eyes that see the best in people, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses faith.’”
Busy at College
While attending college, Deerwester would work as a bookkeeper in the morning, go to school in the afternoon, and bus tables in the evening. On weekends she would go to the local library and read the annual reports of various companies. “I remember starting with Alcoa and Anheuser-Busch and being amazed at the balance sheet, income statement, and statement of cash flows and wondering what kind of work went in to arrive at these numbers,” she says.
Deerwester went on to obtain a CPA license. “After a few years in accounting, I landed a role in tax compliance for Ernst & Young and immediately enjoyed preparing tax returns. After moving over into [the] tax provision world, I never looked back. I would eventually go on to obtain a master’s of taxation,” she says.
Fast forward to today, where Deerwester is the senior tax manager at Anthem Inc., one of the largest health benefits companies, headquartered in Indianapolis. “Who would have thought, growing up, always carrying the Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield card, that one day I would work for the company? It is a great feeling to work for a company whose mission includes improving lives and communities,” she says. Deerwester, who has been with Anthem for almost thirteen years, works on federal tax reporting, which includes all aspects of tax provision for SEC reporting and internal effective rate forecasting activities.
“I love the federal tax accounting and reporting side of my job because of the different people I get to work with on transactions,” she says. “Whether you are working with the accounting team concerning the new lease regulations or working with the investment team to capture the fair value of equities that are running through the income statement, you get to work with a lot of people throughout the entire finance organization. It is a very fulfilling career when you get to interact with so many different people and come together as a team to properly report business activity.”
Lest we think it’s all fun and games, she notes that recording tax for an insurance company also has its challenges. For example, she says, “You get to dive into a whole new area of the tax code, Subchapter L with code sections such as IRC Sections 831 and 832, Tax on Insurance Companies, and m-1 adjustments such as computing IRC Section 846, Discounted Reserves. In addition, you compute double the quarterly tax provisions normally prepared for a regular corporation. This is because the accounting practices of the insurance industry adhere to statutory accounting principles created by state regulators and overseen by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). This means that once your GAAP provision is completed, you compute taxable income again based on the statutory net income, which includes GAAP net income plus GAAP-tostatutory adjustments. While ASC 740, Accounting for Income Taxes, is still referred to as the basis, [statutory principles] layer on an additional set of regulations and disclosures which you need to adhere to for filings and reports to state insurance regulators.” In areas where the statutory computation of taxable income contradicts the Internal Revenue Code, there is much room for controversy. How does one learn a specialized and complex field such as insurance? Deerwester says, “I work with an awesome tax team at Anthem. Each one of them is so brilliant in their area, and I absorb what I can and try to keep up. The tax team at Anthem is the best at what they do, and I can’t believe I have the great fortune to work alongside them.”
Deerwester has two “adorable” Siberian huskies,who she claims are so spoiled they do not know they are dogs. Most mornings, she gets in a fifteen-minute walk with each before heading to the office. In addition, she has been married to “a wonderful husband” for almost twenty years. “John and I are opposites, and it works out perfectly. Being a construction manager and out in the field, he doesn’t understand how someone could work at a computer all day, whereas I would begin to shake nervously if there was a morning I couldn’t open my Excel spreadsheets. . . . In addition, he can’t help but laugh at me because of the enjoyment I get out of reading the latest edition of Tax Executive magazine on the weekends.” (We’re happy to hear that.) She adds, “However, he is the smart one, and I love him for always being my better half.”
Deerwester has been a member of TEI’s Indiana Chapter for about a decade and is on her first year of rotation through its board, scheduled to serve as the treasurer in 2019–2020. “I’m looking forward to the continued benefits of networking within the tax community and sharing experiences and those pain points we all go through to get another reporting season completed within the tax world,” she says.