Before graduation, Loren Chan, tax manager, Grant Thornton never considered a career as a tax professional.
On leaving university she joined a firm as an auditor which gave her the opportunity to learn a tremendous amount about Hong Kong taxation.
"Taxation is not an easy subject," Ms Chan admits. However, when Grant Thornton offered Ms Chan a position as a junior tax accountant she seized the opportunity. "After studying in Australia I had to catch up with my Hong Kong counterparts at Grant Thornton who seemed to be much more knowledgeable about local taxation," she recalls. However, continuous support, coaching and sponsorship from her employer with professional development programmes, coupled with Ms Chan's determination soon ensured she was on target and ready for promotion. "Grant Thornton was lenient and patient when I first arrived, giving me plenty of time and opportunities to perfect my skills and adapt to the local environment," she adds.
According to Ms Chan, on-the-job learning is an essential component of the tax profession as the regulatory environment is never static but flexible and subject to constant change and review. Her team must keep abreast of legal developments in Hong Kong and ensure clients are quickly notified of any updates. An awareness of the existing regulations is also fundamentally important to ensuring tax professionals stay ahead of the game. Finally, the coaching Ms Chan receives from senior staff is invaluable when tackling atypical issues.
Concerning the company's mentorship programme, Ms Chan found it particularly beneficial when she took on increased responsibilities following her promotion as a portfolio holder. "Since I held a portfolio of clients for which I was completely accountable, I felt a certain ownership of these clients and in a sense responsible for them," she says. Ms Chan also reveals that Grant Thornton has a keen focus on maintaining high professional standards, which means that the company avoids simply promoting an individual because a vacancy exists. The employee must merit the promotion and demonstrate the necessary competence before being offered the position.
On an everyday basis Ms Chan's duties include monitoring clients' tax deadlines and providing training to subordinates to ensure they have the necessary knowledge to complete tax computations and advice accurately. She also advises clients on specific taxation issues. In addition, she supports the senior management at Grant Thornton in carrying out additional research. "From time to time we do encounter some technical complications," explains Ms Chan. "In such instances, we sit down with our senior management and investigate the specific topic, for example, new technical updates or regulations of certain jurisdictions," she details.
Ms Chan's scope of research often involves overseas assignments because Grant Thornton is a member firm within Grant Thornton International Ltd, one of the world's leading organisations of independently owned and managed accounting and consulting firms providing assurance, tax and specialist advisory services to privately owned businesses and public interest entities.
With clients based all over the world, she sometimes encounters inquiries from member firms in other countries which are incredibly technical and may involve taxation legislation from several jurisdictions. "Hong Kong is a central location and we act as a liaison office in most circumstances, serving as a co-ordination point. Naturally, before we dispatch any advice we must be absolutely certain our facts are correct and I am part of that process," she reveals.
From a personal perspective Ms Chan is delighted with the interactive opportunities she enjoys on a daily basis at Grant Thornton. "I like working with people and enjoy developing strong relationships with everyone. This position permits me to work with clients from many different industries ensuring constant exposure to an array of corporate practices and mindsets," she notes. Her portfolio includes corporations and individuals from all parts of the world who have alternative business requirements and needs. As a result, Ms Chan profits from a deeper insight into cultural differences and accommodates this diversity by tailoring her approach to suit the expectations of each and every client.
"Dedication is a key concept at Grant Thornton which permeates the entire firm," she adds. Workloads do become heavy at times and hours can be long, but the firm insists on nurturing a "sharing culture", encouraging employees to voice their concerns if they feel overloaded. It is this culture that motivates the employees to work to their maximum efficiency and to ensure the utmost professionalism is guaranteed for clients.
For young graduates wishing to enter the field Ms Chan's advice is clear: "Persistence is essential. Tax is something which you need time to grasp conceptually," she explains. "Familiarity with the whole tax regime from a macro perspective is key. Such roundedness rarely occurs if you stay with a firm for just one or two years so patience is fundamental," she concludes.