They may be the only people on the planet who enjoy dealing with tax, but without them companies and individuals would have a lot more to complain about. Specialist tax accountants help ease the burden of fulfilling a variety of tax obligations for different clients, from corporate giants to humble breadwinners. 'In simple terms, we advise both individual and corporate clients on complying with the rules and regulations as well as finding an optimal solution,' says Joseph Fu Chi-kwong, deputy managing partner of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and formerly the president of the Taxation Institute of Hong Kong. The firm usually advises expatriate executives on complex tax issues, such as dual-taxation problems. The firm also serves and advises affluent individuals on estate planning, family wealth arrangement and trust issues. At the corporate level, tax professionals help their clients to keep the effects of taxation to a minimum, on a local and global basis. By identifying and executing the right tax strategies, corporations can enjoy better cash flow management as well as a higher share value. 'Besides the taxation strategies, we assist our clients in special deals like pre-IPO [initial public offering], mergers and acquisitions, international trade arrangement and restructuring issues,' says Mr Fu. 'Our job is to examine the various tax impacts in order to propose and determine the most optimal strategy for our clients.' The profession has grown gradually in recent years. In contrast to the situation a few decades ago, when only the government, accountancy firms and global corporations employed tax professionals, most sizeable corporations now have either a specific tax department or specialist team focusing on tax issues. Despite growing demand for its services, the profession has encountered difficulties in finding the right people for the industry. 'Most young graduates tend to choose becoming a general practitioner [certified practising accountant] to gain a comprehensive knowledge,' Mr Fu says. He says auditing is more clearly defined compared with the rather 'abstract' work of his company. Every year, certified practising accountant (CPA) firms' taxation departments hire new graduates with economics or accounting majors. The Inland Revenue department is also a major employer of taxation accountants. Offering a similar career path to auditing professionals, it takes a taxation trainee 12 to 14 years to achieve partner level at an international CPA firm. In the process, they will gain technical knowledge and expertise as well as essential client and team-leading skills. 'The bright and hardworking professionals are given the chances; meanwhile, you need to adopt a continuous learning attitude.' At the same time, some people leave the CPA firm after a few years. 'They can join the industry or the government to continue advancing their career. Or, they can join financial institutions. 'The banks are in need of taxation expertise to work in their structured finance divisions. In addition, certain financial products require specialist knowledge in taxation issues.' Taxation has always been a fascinating study subject, says Mr Fu. 'It is a subject that requires abstract thinking. There are so many different interpretations on tax implications; this profession needs a highly creative and analytical mind. It is a true mind game that requires us to think out of the box all the time,' he says. In his current job, Mr Fu advises corporate clients on industry tax policy. 'After my two years at the World Bank, where I gained good experience in tax reform policy, I can assist my clients in certain industries to lobby and negotiate a taxation policy mutually beneficial for them and the government.' The opening up of the China market has led to greater demand for taxation services. 'The entire context of professional services will expand, including us. More professionals have already equipped themselves with the China taxation law and regulations in order to practise in the mainland,' Mr Fu says.