An acute shortage of trained tax professionals coupled with a changing and complex tax landscape has led to a sharp rise in the pay packets of such experts with the average salary more than doubling in the past year alone, according to senior executives from tax and legal firms.
While an entry level tax professional today commands not less than Rs 10 lakh per annum in some of the countrys top firms, the salary range for a middle-level professional is between Rs 25 lakh and Rs 35 lakh; while for a partner it ranges upward of Rs 75 lakh.
The partner also gets a share of the profit of the firm. A middle-level professionally would typically have put in at least four years, while a senior would have more than 12 years experience.
Some of the top tax firms and some of the best paying firms in India include Ernst & Young, Khaitan & Co and RSM Astute.
The salary levels have risen sharply and in some firms have almost doubled, said KH Viswanathan, an executive director with RSM Astute Consulting, part of the RSM group which is one of Indias leading firms in tax practice. Movement of well trained tax professionals is also happening as the complexity in the tax regime is increasing due to GST (goods and services tax), the Direct Tax Code and IFRS and as the number of people who possess such skills is limited, he added.
IFRS or the International Financial Reporting Standards is an accounting standard followed mainly in Europe and is likely to be adopted in India from the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2011.
The government is also targeting an April 1, 2010 rollout of the GST, a consumption tax that aims at creating a pan-India market by allowing both manufacturers and service providers to offset state taxes paid on inputs sourced from another state. While this is a modern levy and a departure from the old sales tax and VAT (value added tax), the number of people well versed with its intricacies are few.
Similarly, the Direct Tax Code, which is scheduled to replace the Income Tax Act of 1961, is also very much work in progress that most tax experts are still studying. But for professionals who have spent long years in the tax arena, the ability to comprehend the changes and to apply them to business situations is faster. Hence the robust demand for such people.
There certainly is a finite number of professionals who possess the entire breadth of skills and experience in tax, said Sudhir Kapadia, partner (tax & regulatory services), Ernst & Young. To add to that, very few people have skills such as articulation, communication and converting specialised tax information into practical business applications.
On the demand side, the emergence of new laws and the implications of convergence of tax with IFRS and the spread of Indian companies overseas, means companies require highly specialised people.
Also, with the role of the CFO in a firm now changing to include more of strategy and increased partnership with the CEO, there is the need for more inputs from tax experts to ensure that the company meets all corporate governance norms. So large companies need tax experts to meet with the mandatory quarterly compliance deadlines.
Movement of tax experts from one Big Four firm to another has also become very common, mainly among mid-level executives. One of the most high-profile movements happened when Ernst & Youngs Kapadia moved from KPMG after spending 15 years there.
According to Nishith Desai, international tax lawyer and founder of Nishith Desai Associates, the demand for experts is mainly because of the ambiguities in Indias tax laws.
The desire to comply and pay correct taxes is definitely increasing. But the laws are so badly drafted and there are so many retrospective amendments that it creates an unhealthy situation. So demand to seek proper guidance has been going up.
Placement agencies say indirect tax experts are more in demand than direct tax professionals as advice on income-tax can given by chartered accountants, while there are limited experts in indirect taxes such as customs and excise.