Career Advice Recruitment tips

A taxing trade: Carol Lam of BDO outlines opportunities in taxation for aspiring young professionals

Changes in international finance and compliance have driven a wholesale reshaping of the tax landscape. This has created new challenges for the profession, and a need for new staff, says Carol Lam, director of tax services at BDO


What major factors have you seen shaping the tax services sector in Hong Kong and Asia over the last few years?

Globalisation and the fast-changing global tax landscape are the major factors. International commitments and efforts to combat cross-border tax evasion, the demand for tax transparency, society’s perception of what are acceptable tax planning structures have also been changing things.

More and more corporates and high-net-worth individuals have become aware of the importance of seeking professional tax advice to cope with all these challenges, driving increased demand for tax advisory services. The tax service sector has been putting in more resources and equipping professional staff in serving this increasing demand.


How are these trends affecting the way tax professionals work, particularly in Hong Kong?

In the past, tax professionals were more focused on providing tax planning advice to clients within the existing local legal framework. We are now training ourselves not just in expertise in local tax but international tax too. We are also more mindful in advising our clients about the importance of considering the sustainability of their tax strategies.


What are the current recruitment challenges for firms like BDO when looking for tax professionals? Has BDO made any recent changes to its recruitment strategy?

BDO is expanding its tax practice. We are looking for talented people with the right skills and experience. While we would not compromise on the quality of people that we are recruiting, we seek to attract talented people joining us by offering them a promising career path and sharing the results of our growth.


What separates a great modern tax professional from a merely good one?

A great modern tax professional should understand the business and the needs of their clients well, should have the vision to provide forward-looking tax advice and solutions, and assist clients in arriving at sustainable tax strategies.


Can you outline the path your career took to get to your current role?

I started my career in one of the reputable international accounting firms where I received very good training and job exposure. There is a very clear career path for tax professionals where you get promoted to the next grade if you can demonstrate your capability. My career path is similar to many tax professionals in international accounting firms, which goes from associate up to partner.


You have a background in accounting – is this a requirement in taxation?

Having a degree in accounting is not a requirement in taxation although there is an advantage in obtaining a professional accounting qualification. In fact, I am not an accounting graduate and majored in social science for my undergraduate degree. Having very good analytical, interpersonal and writing skills are the more important requirements for people developing in this profession.


Are there any formal qualifications you would recommend tax professionals in Hong Kong acquire?

A professional accounting qualification. With regard to other qualifications, I would recommend a law degree (LLB) because as a tax professional, we always need to interpret tax laws, court judgments and the terms of business contracts, so an LLB would be very useful.


Is tax a career for life? Or is it easy to move in or out of the profession?

It is not difficult for junior tax people to move out of the profession. But as one spends more time in this profession, it is more the interest in and passion for taxation that deters people from moving on.


What is the hardest part of your job? And the most rewarding?

Engaging in very time-sensitive projects where the team needs to make itself available around the clock is very challenging and at times stressful. The most rewarding part is the job satisfaction after the completion of the projects and sharing successes with the team.


Is a good work-life balance possible in your line of work? Do you have any tips on how to achieve this?

In general, I would say yes. Everyone has their own perception of what a good work-life balance is. I enjoy and treasure the time I spend with my family and cats. To ensure I have sufficient time to recharge, I start work early in the morning and have a very short lunch time. Of course, work efficiency, prioritising my jobs, and having a great team are all very important too.


This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as A taxing trade.