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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Een nieuw jaar, een nieuwe start… Software Test Consultant zoekt nieuwe opdracht in 2015!

Al bijna vier jaar probeer ik vanaf deze plaats economische en politieke gebeurtenissen in Nederland, Europa en de rest van de wereld in kaart te brengen en te duiden. Op mijn eigen manier en normaalgesproken in de Engelse taal, teneinde een groter taalgebied te bereiken.

Ik wil mensen graag proberen uit te leggen hoe wij  in ons kleine Nederland of in ons (vooral in de Angelsaksische gebieden) vaak onbegrepen Europa naar dingen kijken. Of hoe het komt dat de Nederlandse economie zo moeilijk uit haar schulp kruipt, na zes jaar economische crisis. En hoe de Nederlandse huizenmarkt toch zo heeft kunnen ontsporen. Omdat dingen zelden zonder reden gebeuren, maar te vaak geduid worden door mensen die de reden niet kennen.

Zonder te willen stellen dat ik die redenen wél ken, probeer ik mijn steentje bij te dragen aan het vergroten van het wederzijds begrip in de wereld. En daarbij een tegengeluid te bieden tegen de ‘communis opinio’ (de algemeen heersende mening). Omdat die nu eenmaal lang niet altijd de juiste mening is.

Maar vanavond wil ik het een keer over mijzelf hebben. Aan het einde van dit jaar ga ik namelijk van baan veranderen.

Na ruim zes jaar voor een werkgever te hebben gewerkt als Software Test Consultant, wil ik met ingang van 2015 datzelfde beroep als freelancer gaan uitoefenen. Omdat ik zelf verantwoordelijk wil zijn voor de keuze van mijn opdrachten en meer verantwoordelijkheid wil dragen voor mijn eigen ontwikkeling en succes. En omdat ik denk dat ik goed in staat zal zijn om nieuwe ontwikkelingen in de markt en in mijn beroep te herkennen en op tijd hierop in te spelen.

Maar in mijn geval betekent het veranderen van baan ook dat ik een nieuwe opdracht als testmanager of als testconsultant moet vinden. Want hoewel de economie en politiek mijn hobby zijn, is ‘Software Test Consultant’ mijn beroep. Een beroep dat ik na 16 jaar en vele opdrachten bij verschillende (soorten) bedrijven nog steeds heel leuk vind. En een beroep waarin op dit moment heel veel dingen veranderen, dankzij nieuwe ontwikkelingen als SCRUM en Agile Testing.

Daarom de titel van dit artikel: Software Test Consultant zoekt nieuwe opdracht!

Ik ben een zeer ervaren tester met langjarige kennis en ervaring in de financiële wereld en in andere bedrijfstakken. Ik heb veel kennis van en ervaring met MKB kredietverlening en betaalsystemen voor het grootbedrijf. Ook weet ik het nodige over hypotheken, creditcards, zorgverzekeringen en (zelfs) telecomsystemen en heb ik gewerkt als tester van werkplaatssystemen voor vrachtwagens.

Maar misschien is mijn beste eigenschap wel dat ik mij snel kan aanpassen aan en kennis kan opbouwen over de business van de klant. En dat ik als tester probeer te werken vanuit een diepgaand begrip van wat de opdrachtgever en de eindgebruiker met hun systemen willen gaan doen.
Omdat kennis en begrip van de business zoveel meer waard zijn dan alleen verstand hebben van testtechnieken en testautomatisering.

Net als vele anderen ben ook ik de laatste jaren bezig geweest met Agile/Scrum, Continuous Delivery en DevOps. De laatste vier maanden ben ik zelfs Scrum Master geweest van een geweldig team mensen.

Ik denk persoonlijk dat Scrum voor veel analisten , ontwikkelaars en operationele mensen een terugkeer van het werkplezier heeft betekend. Omdat het de focus legt op zaken die echt belangrijk zijn, zoals:
Het opleveren van werkende software;
Het recht op het leveren van kwaliteit;
Geen documentatie opleveren omwille van de documentatie zelf;
Het liever opleveren van 8 goedwerkende applicaties, dan van 15 applicaties die nog niet af zijn.

Toch is het van belang te blijven naar de risico’s die aan methodes als Agile/Scrum, DevOps en Continuous Delivery verbonden zijn. Omdat bedrijven in de financiële wereld zich niet meer kunnen veroorloven dat hun systemen niet 24 x 7 operationeel zijn.

In mijn testwerkzaamheden probeer ik de balans, tussen de snelheid en aanpasbaarheid van softwareontwikkeling volgens Agile/Scrum enerzijds en de vereiste stabiliteit en betrouwbaarheid van bedrijfskritische systemen voor financiële instellingen anderzijds, goed in de gaten te houden en hierin goede keuzes te maken. Omdat de interne en externe klanten moeten kunnen rekenen op de bedrijfskritische systemen van de bedrijven waarvoor ik werk.

En nu zoek ik dus naar een nieuwe opdracht als Test Consultant, die ingaat in het nieuwe jaar: vanaf 8 januari 2015.

Ik hoop dat dit artikel een aanleiding voor u is om mijn CV aan te vragen, als u op zoek bent naar een zeer ervaren, gemotiveerde en vooral creatieve testconsultant. 

Dit kan via ealabruyere@tele2.nl of ealabruyere@gmail.com. Ik beloof u dat ik u niet teleur zal stellen!

Met vriendelijke groet,


Ernst Labruyère

Monday, 17 November 2014

It seems that the European Commission means business against tax evasion, fraud and illegal state aid. One of the ‘usual suspects’, when it comes to tax avoidance, The Netherlands, might get spanked over its Starbucks deal.

Last Friday, the French ‘Euro Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs’, Pierre Moscovici, held a speech on behalf of the European Commission, in which he emphasized that he and his team mean business against the ubiquitous tax avoidance (or evasion) by large multinationals. In his speech Moscovici signalled the increasing worldwide hunt against tax evasion and fraud, as the tolerance for tax evaders is currently at a depth, in economic behemoths like the United States and the European Union.

This increasingly hostile stance against tax avoidance and evasion is caused by the continuing global crisis, resulting in anemic economic growth everywhere, and the fact that many (large) governments are seriously strapped for cash, due to a number of years with disappointing tax yields. Besides that, numerous law-obiding inhabitants of these countries are seriously fed up with the multinationals, which bend the rules for tax payments to their advantage, in order to pay very little or no taxes.

Here are the pertinent snippets of Moscovici’s speech (the French parts of this bilingual speech have been translated by Google Translate and have been edited by me):

Tax evasion is increasingly a global phenomenon. Cooperation with the heads of states of the world is essential to provide an effective solution to this problem. In particular, we are working in Brisbane on the development of a program, which deals with the erosion of tax bases and transfers of profits (BEPS English).

We pledge to ensure that work on the BEPS will be finalized in 2015, as planned, in order to establish a more homogeneous and justified global tax environment. Within the OECD, we helped with determination and efficiency to establish a new global standard for the exchange of information, that will ensure an unprecedented level of openness and cooperation between tax authorities worldwide.

In addition, negotiations are well underway with our 5 close European neighbours (Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Switzerland), to ensure that the automatic exchange of information is cemented in our bilateral relationships with them.
Member States have agreed to proposed changes to the Parent-Subsidiary Directive, which will close loopholes and block a common form of tax avoidance.

The Commission is in close cooperation with the authorities of the Member States concerned to proceed in a constructive and cooperative manner in this area.

On a more general note, Commissioner Vestager’s services have asked information to various countries and she will be vigilant to enforce State aid control in a fair and justified manner. Beyond this, it is clear that we need to take a more systematic approach to the problem of corporate tax avoidance. We need to look at the root causes and consider long-lasting remedies.This includes digging into the question of how to ensure more appropriate taxation for the modern, digital economy.

With this in mind, and in line with the mandate given to me by President Juncker, I will give high priority to advancing the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base proposal (CCCTB). The CCCTB could fundamentally change the corporate tax environment in Europe, ensuring a closer link between taxation and economic activity and shutting off major channels of avoidance.

However, it is important to emphasize that the competence primarily lies with the Member States. This has two implications. On one hand, if the Commission can propose any initiative in the fight against tax fraud, only the Member States are entitled to vote and give their consent. Awareness and acceptance on their behalf is required for these countries to act in this direction.

On the other hand, as a consequence of the required unanimous acceptance by the Member States, carrying through this legislation may take more time than we desire. As a matter of fact, it might not even happen at all. To avoid such thing to happen, I intend to work with the European parliament in the coming years to achieve our common objectives in this priority area.

I will use every instrument at my disposal to achieve the concrete results that Europe needs and our citizens expect from us. Existing projects and new ideas, like the automatic exchange of information of tax rulings, will be fostered with strength and conviction.

Apart from the blatant expressions of self-promotion, that these speeches from high public officials always seem to contain and that I tried to remove from these snippets, this was a strong speech by Moscovici. I do believe that the European Commission is indeed involved in a serious battle against undesirable tax avoidance currently and that the Commission does its utmost to minimize fraudulent behaviour, with respect to corporate tax payments within the European Union.

That Chairman of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker has been the highest official of Europe’s most infamous tax haven Luxembourg for 18 years and that he could and should have known about the countless tax-rulings set in his country, makes him very vulnerable for criticism from the press and the government representatives in the European Council. This particular circumstance will undoubtedly lead to him putting his full focus on the battle of the commission against tax evasion.

On the other hand: as Moscovici already explains, tax avoidance and tax-rulings, which are blatantly distorting the competition and the level playing field for business, are first and foremost questions of national competences (see red and bold text) of the member-states within the European Union.

Delegation of national tax competences towards the European Union and the introduction of draconian anti tax avoidance legislation require unanimity among the member states. Especially the countries with the most favorable tax-rulings for large corporations, like Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Ireland are not very likely candidates to give these competences away easily.

Still, the European Commission wanted to show that it’s got teeth last week, with respect to the corporate tax regulation. One of the usual suspects for tax avoidance (and perhaps even evasion), The Netherlands, received a serious salvo from the European Commission for its ‘sponsorship’ of American coffee behemoth Starbucks.

The ways this company could shift its profits and sales numbers within the European Union, thanks to extremely favourable Dutch tax-rulings, gave the Commission and some other member states a serious eyesore.

They were stunned that the American coffee company, with billions of dollars in profits, could end with a tax payment of close-to-nought. These Dutch rulings likely will be treated as illegal state support, by the European Commission.


Brussels has confronted the Netherlands over sweetheart tax deals by alleging the country artificially lowered Starbucks’ tax bill through a complex, irrational and inappropriate corporate structure.

In a 40-page letter outlining preliminary conclusions from a probe into Starbucks’ Dutch tax deal, the European Commission alleged that the US coffee chain paid less tax than it should have done under Dutch law, labelling it a form of favourable treatment that amounts to an illicit state subsidy.

The Netherlands’ tax ruling is one of four in-depth investigations being carried out by the commission, at a time when Jean-Claude Juncker, its new president, is under fire for widespread tax avoidance in Luxembourg during his 18 years as its premier. Other tax rulings, or so-called comfort letters, under scrutiny include Ireland’s arrangements with Apple and Luxembourg’s clearance of structures used by Fiat and Amazon. The commission is empowered to order countries to recoup any illegal aid.

An in-depth state aid investigation into the Starbucks ruling was launched in the summer and the commission’s letter to the Dutch authorities, published on Friday, details its main allegations. The letter is addressed to Frans Timmermans, the former Dutch foreign minister who has since become commission vice-president.

“At this stage, the commission considers that the measure at issue appears to constitute a reduction of charges that should normally be borne by the entities concerned in the course of their business, and should therefore be considered as operating aid,” the letter said. “According to the commission practice, such aid cannot be considered compatible with the internal market.”

The Netherlands and Starbucks will be pulled into the political storm over sweetheart tax deals on Friday as the European Commission confronts Amsterdam for allegedly subsidising the coffee group’s tax bill.

From my point of view, I wish the Commission success in its battle against tax evasion and avoidance, fraud and illegal state aid: in my country, as well as anywhere else in Europe.

In the case of The Netherlands, the advantages of these tax rulings for the country itself are very limited, in my humble opinion. The companies, that profit from these tax rulings, open in most cases so-called letterbox companies in The Netherlands and rarely genuine headoffices, which bring real economic activity and hundreds of real jobs for Dutch people.

The additional jobs in The Netherlands, which are created as a consequence of such tax rulings, probably amount to a few thousand at the most: mostly jobs for legal representatives and tax experts. These are highly qualified and well-remunerated jobs, but they do very little for general unemployment in The Netherlands. 

On top of that, these tax rulings give an enormous blow to the confidence of Dutch citizens and SME entrepreneurs in their government; they wonder why they have to pay the jackpot, when it comes to taxes, while these ‘fat cat’ corporations pay close-to-nought in taxes?! That is a question that I – and probably the European Commission – share with them.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Could the oncoming end of the brick-and-mortar bank shops eventually become the end for the current bank establishment in The Netherlands?

It is just less than 40 years ago, when almost every small town in The Netherlands had one of more bank offices with a cashier’s function.

When you wanted to save money, you took your piggy-bank or your cash wages, as well as your deposit booklet, to the bank and made a physical deposit, which was quoted in that very booklet. And when you wanted to withdraw money for the weekend, you better be at the bank before four o’clock on Friday: otherwise, having no money meant having no groceries for the weekend. Unless you could use the warranted bank cheques that almost everybody used in those days, of course!

Every bank had a cash desk, where you could order foreign currencies, like Deutschmarks, Pounds Sterling or Belgian and French Francs.  And if you wanted a personal loan or a mortgage, you made an appointment with a stringently looking fellow, who assessed you and made an estimate based on his gutfeeling, whether you could pay back the money or not eventually.

Banks were stately organizations in those days, with a somewhat stuffy appearance, and bankers belonged to the notables of their places of residence: people with prestige, who were in high esteem.

However, since those days five developments would dramatically decrease the importance of the physical bank office for the banking industry:
  • The ‘electronification’ of the salary payments in The Netherlands;
  • The introduction of the Automated Teller Machines (i.e. ATM’s) and automated deposit machines;
  • The introduction of the electronic payment terminals in shops;
  • The introduction of the Euro, which annihilated the demand for foreign currencies;
  • The introduction of internet, as the perfect medium for doing almost all banking business. 

These five developments all made – in their own respect – that bank offices changed from indispensable distribution centres of cash money – in all necessary currencies – and customer service points, which offered a job to many bank employees, into increasingly superfluous and unpopular bank shops.

Especially internet offered a relatively cheap and very reliable way to do almost all banking business from one’s home or office. Why bother to go to a bank office, when you can do almost everything that you want from the comfort of your favorite chair.

Many teenagers nowadays do not realize how the electronification of money flows and the internet totally changed the face of banking in little over fifteen years:
  • They would probably laugh out loud when they would see the very slow, unreliable and interference-sensitive teletext and viditel ‘Telebanking’ solutions, that their peers used in the Eighties and Nineties of last century.
  • And they would surely be astounded, when they would visit a branch of the Russian Sberbank, which looks exactly like a Dutch bank office in the seventies. 

Although the large Dutch banks often seem to pretend that they were taken by surprise by the consequences of the success of internet banking, in reality this has become the epitomy of their long-term strategy to strongly reduce the number of expensive, physical contacts and physical operations in bank offices.

Every closed cash-desk, every removed ATM, every closed bank shop and every reduction in customer-service personnel saved the banks a lot of money: money, which subsequently could be used for the development of new and improved internet services, that would beat the competition.

The unstoppable rising of internet, during especially the last decade, changed the modern Dutch banks from massive, but yet extremely cautious users of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) into front-runners of internet development. In the six years that I worked for ‘my’ large, Dutch bank, this company went through an unbelievable paradigm shift, turning it into an modern and very technology-driven company, which builds and deploys new software twenty-four seven and all year long. And so did the other large banks.

The amount of banking services, available through internet, has soared during this last decade and it will continue to do so in the coming decade, until 90+% of all banking services is available online and physical contact will become a rare exception. Inevitably, this unstoppable development of internet banking led to a strongly diminished number of physical bank visits and consequently, to a strongly diminished number of bank shops. The bank shops that remained open, often lead a lingering existence, with yet too many customers to close down, but too little customers to stay open all day. Many of these bank shops will be closed down after all in the coming years.

Although this development seems favourable for the renowned, large Dutch banks (‘less bank offices mean less personnel expenses, which will lead to more profits eventually’), in reality it hosts a disguised, but nevertheless very palpable hazard for their sheer survival.

The bank offices have always been exclusive and very visible expressions of bank presence. People often bonded with their banks during their childhood, through such offices. At many occasions, their relations with their bank lasted longer than the relations with their loved ones did. Banks were trusted advisors and many decisions were only taken by people, after they received the green light from their account manager at their local bank.

In other words: a bank, which presence you saw in your favorite shopping centre, was a bank that you probably trusted more than any other bank. It was there – at a physical place –  where you could visit it, for advice and help; for instance when financial matters didn’t go as you planned them.

Nowadays, however, banks turn more and more into ‘internet labels’ for many people, as their physical presence is strongly diminishing and people increasingly do their bank operations online. But with the disappearance of the physical bank offices of the renowned Dutch banks, the loyalty of their customers will also disappear. In my humble opinion, this is an inevitable consequence of the current developments. Although I can’t prove it, I think that the ‘internet label value’ of the traditional Dutch banks – like Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING – is not per sé much stronger than the label value of new online banks, like Binck Bank, Alex Vermogensbank, Knab or Leaseplan bank, at this very moment.

To put it even stronger: the disappearance of the physical bank shops, operated by the large Dutch banks in the Dutch towns and cities, could make it easier for renowned and ubiquitously visited internet companies with banking ambitions (i.e. Paypal, Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook) to conquer the Dutch banking market.

Every professional and globally operating online company, with a good reputation, an elaborated electronic infrastructure and excess cash, could ask for a Dutch banking license in order to offer plain bread-and-butter, retail banking services, like:
  • Savings & loans;
  • Mortgages
  • Credit cards
  • Small and Medium Enterprise loans
  • Insurances
  • Other simple banking services.

One should not forget that many ICT and online services companies, like Apple, Google, LinkedIn and Facebook sit on a huge stockpile of cash, for which they hardly have a purpose nowadays. And although it is not easy to start a bank in The Netherlands or elsewhere, for these companies it is probably a piece of cake:
  • Many of these globally operating online service companies already offered near-bank, financial services in the past and present and have ample experience with a financial infrastructure;
  • Experienced bankers, operational risk managers and ICT-engineers with specialized banking experience can be taken over from the current banks;
  • The popularity, market penetration and marketing infrastructure of these online services companies are often much better developed than those of the current banks;
  • Such companies don’t carry the burden of the 2008 credit crisis and did not lose their trust and reputation during it;
  • The exploitation of their vast ICT infrastructure and internet hosting services has always been their "specialty-of-the-house", at which they are probably much better than many of the current, large banks.

On top of that, a bank could become a stable source of future income and profits, when the original products and services of these online companies get out of fashion, under influence of future competition. It does not matter how these companies earn their money, as long as they do earn it!

And last but not least, the name and reputation of these companies are improving by the day:

People, who use Google, Apple and Facebook every day on their smartphones, iPads and computers are very likely to trust these brands so much eventually, that they even want to outsource their banking affairs to these companies. 
This could be especially true for the current generation of youngsters, that is used to doing EVERYTHING online and does not have their parents’ emotional attachment to the traditional banks. 

And so it would be the irony of fate, when the development which currently seems to make the traditional banks more resilient and profitable, could eventually become the end for the classic banks as-we-know-them.

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