How to Build a Successful Career as a Tax Specialist in Australia

The Finance Story

Today, I want to introduce - Ramy Singh a Corporate Tax Specialist and Chartered Accountant from Brisbane, Australia.

Ramy was born in Australia on the North Coast of New South Wales and has been living in Brisbane with his family for most of his life.

In this article, Ramy shares with us the exact strategy he used - To have a career in Corporate Taxation in Australia.

Immediately after graduating Ramy joined KPMG, Brisbane in the Corporate Tax Team as a Graduate. After a year at KPMG, he started pursuing Chartered Accountancy from CA ANZ (Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand). He later moved to EY, again in the corporate tax team.

Presently, he is associated with Volvo Group Australia as an in-house tax specialist.

Becoming a Corporate Tax Specialist in Australia

When I graduated from Queensland University of Technology in Bachelor of Business, the primary avenues of graduate employment open to me were - Audit, Taxation or some discipline of finance.

I was well aware of the opportunities and scope of work in Corporate Tax since I had my uncle who was a Corporate Tax Specialist.

I did my research and realized that Corporate Tax was, and continues to be, a highly topical subject matter in the media because of Globalization.

Globalization of economies presents issues such as how the government should tax businesses which are no longer bound by physical borders, particularly those companies with only an online presence.

The development of technology has also increased the speed at which tax laws and policies are changing. But tax laws and policies still lag far behind the evolution of business. That is why there is a great demand for taxation advisors, particularly in the faculties of International Tax and Transfer Pricing.

So I knew that choosing this area to specialize in would ensure that I am solving problems in one of the most topical areas in business.

The other thing I became aware of was that tax is a unique area of expertise which requires an understanding of the Law, Accounting and Finance. And all these three happen to be my strength.

That is how I decided on becoming a Corporate Tax Specialist. 

Do you want a career in Tax?

Anyone wanting to start in taxation should keep the following in mind:

  • Should be good at analyzing: Tax is a very 'grey’ subject matter. What I mean by that is tax legislation is open to interpretation and two different people may give you a different outcome when analyzing the same facts with the same law.
  • Inner Curiosity: Anyone wanting to work in tax needs to have an inner curiosity at understanding issues at a deep level.  This is to ensure they can justify their position and provide substantiated technical advice.
  • Requires a lot of reading: You need to read a lot to ensure that, first you understand the underlying premise which builds the fundamentals of Australian tax laws (or the laws of your country), and then you have to ensure you keep up to date with changes with the tax laws which come thick and fast.

Before you decide which area you want to specialize in, one should try and get a breadth of experience across as many fields of tax as possible as tax is a very broad area which can be broken down into:

  • Corporate tax
  • Small to medium business level tax
  • Personal tax
  • Fringe benefits tax
  • Indirect taxes such as Goods and Services Tax
  • Transfer pricing and a lot more

To Become a Corporate Tax Specialist in Australia I Studied

1. Advance Tax Unit in College

  • I studied a Bachelors of Business at the Queensland University of Technology for my undergraduate.
  • During my studies, I enjoyed tax and decided to take an extra unit of advanced tax to further develop my understanding of the subject.
  • You can do the same to learn more about Tax while still graduating.

2. Courses from The Tax Institute

  • I have done the Chartered Tax Advisory qualification (similar to that of a CA but with specialization in taxation) and Graduate Diploma of Applied Tax Laws from The Tax Institute (Australia).
  • I definitely think that these additional studies have been very relevant in my tax career.
  • The technical training from The Tax Institute helps in developing the tax technical advisory skillset. I think that The Tax Institute provides very strong practical education courses for anyone wanting to work in tax.
  • From this point of view, I also think it is very relevant to pursue postgraduate studies, firstly in the field of accountancy, and then in the field of taxation.

3. Chartered Accountancy from CA Australia and New Zealand (ANZ)

At a personal level though, I had made a conscious decision to become a Chartered Accountant once I completed my Bachelor of Accountancy.

In Australia, you are only eligible to commence the CA course from CA ANZ once you have graduated from university with a Bachelor’s degree and have gained some practical working experience.

I was 21 years old when I started the CA Course.

My CA course started about a year after having started my graduate job at KPMG. This is because we were required to work on the Chartered Tax Advisory qualification before commencing the CA course. This was the KPMGs policy.

My CA was done partially during my time at KPMG, and partially, as a lateral hire, at Ernst and Young.  Both firms offered excellent, but very different, training to assist in completing the CA course.

The reason I decided to pursue CA from CA ANZ as they promoted its course as being one of the most rigorous accountancy qualifications in Australia with an emphasis on technical excellence (after taking the course I realized it was certainly true). This was appealing to me.

CA ANZ or CPA?

The qualifications offered through CPA Australia, IPA, and CA ANZ have strong credentials.

I have been fortunate enough to work with partners and CFOs who are members of these professional bodies.

When it comes to choosing between CA and CPA from a tax career perspective, there shouldn’t be too many differences in the type of content which is taught between the two.

Both assists in teaching fundamental accounting and tax legislation so that professionals can provide appropriate advice to clients.

The main distinction between CPA and CA which comes to my mind though is:

  • If your goal is to become a leader in commerce, for example, a CFO, then maybe CPA is more relevant
  • If you want to be a subject matter expert, then perhaps CA is the better option.

In Australia, CA is considered to be more appropriate for technical advisors whereas CPA is considered to have a stronger orientation on developing a commercial skillset.

But in saying that, skill sets required for a commercial or advisory role can be developed, and generally are to a large extent, through practical experience.

Something worth noting is that, in the CA course, Tax is a compulsory unit.  While in CPA, I understand this is an elective subject.

The CA course itself results in candidates receiving a Post Graduate Diploma of Chartered Accounting which is actually a recognized qualification under the Australian Qualification Framework and falls just shy of a Master’s degree in Australia.  This stood out for me as other professional accounting bodies do not provide the same.

In reality, though, I think both are appropriate, but there is a great benefit in doing a Tax Specialist Postgraduate course following the completion of either of these two.

Tax Professionals Immigrating to Australia

1. Understand the Australian Tax Laws

  • If people are moving to Australia and want to practice tax, I think they will be aware that the tax rules which apply to each jurisdiction are specific to that country. So they have to prepared to understand the Tax Laws of Australia when looking for a job opportunity.
  • I have worked with a number of managers who have come from different countries and have learned the Australia income tax legislation in great detail. This comes with taking up opportunities to advise clients.

2. Enrol for a Tax Technical Course

  • Enrolling into a tax technical course would be a good idea to try and come up to speed with Australian tax fundamentals.
  • Some skillsets in tax are more transferrable than others globally.  For example, someone who practices transfer pricing will be able to apply their specialty in more jurisdictions than someone who is an income tax specialist.

3. Assist clients in Automation of Tax Compliance

  • Another thing which is relevant is that Tax is Changing. With the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation - Tax Specialist is more than just being the most technical person.
  • If you don’t want to have a strong focus on an advisory skillset - Having strong coding, and IT skills can be useful in assisting Australian clients with the automation of tax compliance instead of just -being a technical specialist.
  • With the ability to look at tax problems from a different angle, it now also requires an understanding of business processes from - Source document to accounting financial information to transposing this data into deliverables required to be lodged with the Australian Taxation Office or for strategic decision making.
  • So this offers potentially a less rigid avenue for overseas professionals to practice Australian tax without becoming technical masters.

In Conclusion...

Choose the Right Qualifications

  • The CA studies strengthen your understanding of accountancy which is very relevant in determining the correct tax treatment of transactions and in undertaking tax provision calculations.
  • However, if someone is seeking specialist training in a field of taxation, to the best of my knowledge, professional qualifications such as Chartered Tax Advisory, CPA or CA - Do not provide training in a particular area of tax. Rather, they provide an overview of all areas of tax in their taxation subjects.
  • To become a Tax Specialist you can opt for a Graduate Diploma of Applied Taxation Laws. They have subjects which allow you to focus on corporate taxes if you service large company clients or trusts which are relevant if you have a small to medium sized client base.
  • A Masters in Tax would also allow you to specialize in specific areas of taxation such as Goods and Services Tax or International Tax too.

For someone who is relatively early on in their career, I would suggest

  • Doing a professional accounting qualification
  • Then contemplate pursuing a tax specialist postgraduate qualification too.

Develop a strong commercial understanding of businesses

  • I think one thing people working in tax should be conscious of is that tax is a very specialized skillset which forms a very small picture of the overall commercial outcomes of a business. Albeit, it can give rise to very big bills if not managed appropriately.
  • So because of this, I think people who are in tax should try and develop a strong commercial understanding of businesses so that they can get a big picture view of the connection the tax advice they are providing has with other areas of business. Tax is a small piece of the puzzle. Its also an area not many understand in its most technical form.
  • The way you do this is by requesting secondments or working in a commercial position after getting a fundamental technical grounding in a professional services firm.

Now It's Your Turn...

Are you looking for a career in taxation in Australia?

Do you have any suggestions or comments?

If anyone is considering a career in tax, I would be more than delighted to provide guidance on what type of work different areas of tax will offer.  This will be from an Australian perspective.

You can connect to him on LinkedIn at - Ramy Singh.

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