Tax Career in UAE: Surging Demand for Advisory Experts, Revealed by Baker Tilly Middle East's Tax Head
The Tax ecosystem in the UAE is developing, with Corporate Tax soon to become effective. Tax Head of Baker Tilly Middle East gives us an overview of the opportunities for Tax experts.
- Meet CA Nanjundaswamy (‘Swamy’), who started his career with PwC, but later opted to focus on a wider range of tax responsibilities.
- In 2021, he recognized the developing UAE Tax landscape and decided to make the move.
- He talks about his journey and shares insights into the opportunities one can find in the UAE Tax domain.
Q. How did you start your career in the tax domain in India? You moved from PwC to Baker Tilly in the UAE as a Partner heading their Tax Department. Could you take us through that journey?
I qualified as a CA in 2006.
During my articleship, I touched upon transfer pricing, along with other tax aspects, and immediately became fascinated by it.
That’s why I joined PwC, where I could work in the specialized areas of Transfer Pricing and International Tax.
In between, I did have a stint with Grant Thornton India for almost 4 years, but in 2012 I returned to PwC.
Throughout my time at the Big 4, I gained new skills and knowledge. Moreover, I enjoyed what I was doing.
After a while, I was in a lead client relationship role handling all aspects of tax for Fortune 500 companies. However, I felt it was time to look at the broader tax landscape of working with entrepreneurs rather than specializing within a large firm.
Right around that time, a position opened up in Baker Tilly’s network firm in Bangalore which gave me the opportunity that I was looking for. That is why I joined them as a Partner in February 2021.
Luck was on my side, as the opportunity from the UAE came just 9 months after joining them. Baker Tilly Middle East was looking for a suitable candidate for the Head of Tax position.
It presented an opportunity for me to handle multiple areas of tax and oversee the entire region of UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar.
But relocating to Dubai was not an easy decision, given I am married and have two kids. I had to look at it from not just a professional perspective but a personal one as well.
However, when I saw that the tax landscape in the Middle East was evolving, I knew this was an opportunity not to be missed.
Q. How did you weigh your options given the UAE Tax System is not as advanced compared to India? Why didn’t you choose UK or other countries?
Yes, there were a lot of opportunities in India in the Tax domain, or the UK for that matter, because of Brexit.
Both countries have very advanced and complicated Tax systems. Being in a Big 4 consulting firm, you wouldn’t have looked at the Middle East as a country with significant tax prospects a few years back.
But the UAE was not in the same category.
Not many people would get a chance to go to the UAE and help clients implement their Tax Systems from scratch. In fact, the global tax system is undergoing a change of the Century.
At the same time, building a team for the Firm at a regional level seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
So I took it.
As UAE tax laws were designed with an international best practices framework, it was very easy to understand them.
In terms of Indirect Tax (Value Added Tax - VAT, Customs, Excise Duties) and Direct Tax systems, the basic framework remains the same, as in India, the UK, and globally.
Of course, you have to spend some time learning, as the laws have nuances.
Q. From your perspective what are the opportunities that one can find in the UAE in the tax domain?
The domain of tax can be categorized as Direct Tax and Indirect Tax.
Indirect Tax has been in the UAE for over 5 years and it is much simpler compared to Indian GST or VAT. Similar is the case with the Excise or Customs.
The good part is that all the laws are based on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) framework. Opportunities in the Indirect Tax space will continue to grow considering the developments that are happening.
Not many firms have vacancies for Tax Consulting positions, at the moment, but there has been a lot of hiring in the industry, mostly for experienced roles.
Other than that, many entrepreneurial professionals are setting up their practices, and some of them are Indian.
In the Tax sphere, work can be largely categorized as advisory, compliance, and litigation.
Since Corporate Tax Law has just been introduced in the UAE, many Advisory opportunities exist and will continue to grow. There will be a need for consultants who can interpret Tax Laws and provide solutions to client’s challenges.
However, most of the CVs that I come across consist of Tax Compliance experience rather than Advisory. There’s a lack of focus on Advisory and Litigation skillset demonstration in the CVs.
Additionally, the UAE has entered into Double Tax Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) with over 130 countries, along with increased activity in signing bilateral trade agreements.
This is a reflection of trading relationships with multiple jurisdictions, which naturally presents significant opportunities in the international tax space.
Q. How can one apply for a Tax Advisory role in the UAE, without having that background?
The key skills are critical thinking and application of technical knowledge.
Freshers will stand a good chance as they will not have the baggage of “What experience do you have?” when applying for a job.
There are numerous sources of information available for individuals seeking to specialize in Tax Advisory.
One effective method is to take specialized courses such as Chartered Tax Advisor (CTA) or Advanced Diploma in International Taxation (ADIT). If you lack advisory experience, these courses can serve as a valuable starting point.
Q. Will there be a lot of hiring on the compliance side for Corporate Tax, and when will it start? What specific skill sets do you look for in candidates when hiring?
Corporate tax has one filing annually and no withholding aspect or multiple filings like in some of the other jurisdictions.
At the end of the year, you have tax computation, and filing of returns, so compliance work will be there, but, very limited. Compliances under the UAE Corporate Tax are not expected to increase significantly in the near term.
Regarding what we look for in skill sets,
- Analytical skills are important.
- It's also about how the person fits into the job requirements and the office culture.
- The clients value the helpful solutions that the consultant brings to the table.
- Experience in different sectors, the kind of projects one has handled, and their contribution to those projects are crucial.
- The ability to think and come up with different options in certain situations would also be evaluated.
Q. What special advice would you give to those who want to build a successful career in Tax in the UAE?
The knowledge of Arabic, both written and spoken, (Given Arabic is the official language of the UAE) can open doors of opportunities. And I am not just talking about the industry and consulting but the government sector as well.
Experienced tax professionals with a background in global tax policies are in high demand and are migrating to the UAE.
One who speaks and writes well in Arabic can work alongside these Tax Policy Professionals as research assistants and project managers.
Furthermore, becoming a Tax Agent in the UAE requires passing exams that are conducted in Arabic.
Before relocating to the UAE, you should figure out whether the UAE is the right fit for you or not.
First, you need to research the job market, including the availability of openings and opportunities. Leverage your professional network, recruitment consultants, and job portals to gain insights into the market.
Try to connect with people in the UAE to learn about the living expenses, and their culture and prepare accordingly.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of Swamy and not of any organization the interviewee belongs to or works at.)
The UAE tax industry is relatively new, as the country introduced a value-added tax (VAT) in 2018, and as mentioned earlier the Corporate Tax has just been introduced.
As a result, the tax industry is still evolving, with many businesses and individuals adapting to the new tax regime.
Overall, the UAE tax industry is expected to continue growing as more businesses and individuals become familiar with the tax regulations and requirements.
There are various opportunities available in the UAE tax industry, depending on your qualifications and experience. Some common roles include tax consultant, tax analyst, tax accountant, tax manager, tax auditor, and tax lawyer.
These roles may be available in both public and private sectors, including accounting firms, law firms, consulting firms, multinational corporations, and government agencies.
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