Developing Your Niche in Taxes

IRAS plays a leading role to partner taxpayers in the economic development of Singapore, but it is definitely not all administrative work and systematic crunching of numbers. Two IRAS scholars share about the wealth of career opportunities in store.

By Wendy Ng

Taxation can be said to play an intricate but necessary role in any country’s economy. Without taxes, a country may not have the necessary funding to support government initiatives for social and economic development and to progress at the desired pace.

22-year-old Li Danwei readily understands this need for taxation.
Not one to follow the masses, she chose to pursue a career with the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS). Currently in the fourth year of her studies, Danwei makes the most of the learning opportunities she garners as an IRAS scholar.

What sparked your interest in taxation as a career?

Danwei: It started with a budding enjoyment of economics classes back in my JC days, which subsequently developed into a keen interest in company law and taxation. Having served as President of the Tax Advisory Club (TAC) in school, my understanding of the profession was deepened, affirming my decision to pursue a career in the taxation industry.

Sounds like the IRAS Merit Undergraduate Scholarship was perfect for you.

Danwei: Yes it was! I found out about the scholarship via the BrightSparks portal and proceeded to research more on IRAS’s values. Attending the scholarship tea session also helped me better envisage a career in IRAS.

You have yet to formally start work at IRAS. Share with us a unique opportunity you’ve been given as an IRAS scholar.

Danwei: IRAS sponsors its scholars for approved overseas exchange programmes. Earlier this year, I went on a semester of exchange in China. It was a memorable and enriching experience, not only because I had to cycle through snow on some days just to reach the school campus, but also because the classes allowed me to explore the differences between federal tax systems in different countries.



While Danwei diligently prepares for her fledging career, 32-year-old Quek Su Lynn has been flexing her wings in IRAS for the past eight years. Currently on secondment with the Ministry of Finance (MOF) as Head of both the International Tax and Tax Strategy Units, Su Lynn has built an impressive portfolio over the years, one that younger officers like Danwei hope to emulate.

Give us an overview of your career progression in IRAS.

Su Lynn: I started out as an officer at the Corporate Planning Branch doing both data analysis and policy and planning work. This provided me with the rare opportunity to examine economic issues from an organisational standpoint and to understand the decision-making process.

After a few years, I moved to the Corporate Tax Division to get a taste of operational work, the core business of IRAS, before joining the International Tax Branch to work on matters related to tax treaties and transfer pricing. Under the IRAS Postgraduate Scholarship, I then went on to pursue an MBA before taking up this secondment with MOF.

Looking back on all these various postings, what is the most unforgettable or significant project you’ve worked on?

Su Lynn: There are quite a few projects that I look back on fondly, such as the annual planning workshops for senior management to discuss both immediate and medium-term strategies. Perhaps the most memorable project would be that which helped to change the relationship between IRAS and tax agents.

Traditionally, both parties had always viewed each other as adversaries with conflicting interests, but times have changed. Under this project, we set out the basic tenets of the new harmonious relationship IRAS wants to have with tax intermediaries. This eventually culminated in the Enhanced IRAS-Tax Agent Relationship framework, a full-fledged initiative which includes funding to support the development of tax agents’ capabilities.

Despite their differences in age and qualifications, both Su Lynn and Danwei find themselves well taken care of by IRAS. For both zealous scholars, the organisation has ensured peace of mind and a wealth of career choices as they pursue their respective goals in life.

Handling Singapore’s economic development is a challenging task to take on. How does IRAS prepare its scholars adequately?

Su Lynn: All IRAS scholars serve an internship during their university years, which gives them good insight into the type of work they will be exposed to as well as the culture of the workplace.

Danwei: I had a 10-week attachment with the Individual Income Tax Division during my summer vacation last year. From assessment work to corresponding with taxpayers to conducting market research, it was a well-structured and all-rounded exposure to the work tax professionals engage in. Furthermore, as IRAS was preparing for the Singapore Quality Award (SQA) then, I was able to gain a deeper appreciation for the way different areas of work are interlinked and how they impact one another.

Was it easy integrating into the IRAS family?

Su Lynn: Definitely. IRAS scholars are each assigned a mentor from senior management as well as a work buddy (usually a returned scholar), both of whom will guide you through your studies and first year of work.

Danwei: My mentor, Mr James Khor, Deputy Commissioner of the Individual Group, would take time to regularly check in with me on my performance in school and also during my exchange and internship. My buddy, Linda, was also a great help in orientating me through the internship and sharing her experiences readily. Guided by their wealth of advice and the warm welcome from colleagues, I was able to integrate into the IRAS family very quickly.

So how would you describe the culture in IRAS?

Su Lynn: IRAS is an amazing melting pot of personalities, which makes for a fascinating workplace. As far as work goes, IRAS employees are characterised by their willingness to share their knowledge with and help their fellow colleagues.

Danwei: Even as a scholar, you’re invited to join the larger IRAS family during non-work activities such as Dinner and Dance, Family Day, and the annual Scholars’ Gathering. There is an immaculate balance between work and play – the multitude of fun events we participate in are testament to that! (Laughs)

Any final tips to share with aspiring IRAS scholars?

Danwei: I believe it is important to be genuine during the scholarship interviews and selection process so as to identify an organisation that will best fit your personality and career aspirations. In IRAS, scholars should possess a strong sense of integrity, professionalism, and genuine passion for what they do.

Su Lynn: Voice your opinions and challenge the status quo. Do not accept for certain that longstanding practices are necessarily the right ones in this day and age; however, be humble enough to know when the voice of experience is the voice of reason. More importantly, be open to trying different types of work. All these learning experiences will hone your ability to handle more demanding portfolios in future.


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