At a glance
It was only natural that Shaun Lee FCPA would step into his father’s accountancy practice and take over once he retired.
“For us Malaysian-Chinese, we believe that the continuity in a family business is important,” says Lee, managing director of Lee & Lim Tax Consultants based in Melaka, a city on Malaysia’s west coast, about two hours south of Kuala Lumpur.
The firm was started by Lee’s father in 1980, and Lee joined in 2005, after spending three years working in Kuala Lumpur. He took over the firm in 2017, and says that working for his father had both positives and negatives.
“The good part is that my father selflessly taught me everything under the sun. Anything that he knew, and whatever hurdles he has overcome, he shared all the experience with me,” Lee says.
“But there is also pressure from a father to a son, and he would expect you to excel in all aspects.”
The firm focuses on supporting individuals and small and medium-sized businesses, which in Melaka centre around tourism, small manufacturing and services.
Lee’s role is overseeing the performance of the firm’s accountants and liaising with the Malaysian tax authorities.
“As a licensed tax agent, I say that we are like a bridge between the taxpayer and the government,” he says.
While Lee & Lim Tax Consultants is kept busy with the government’s audits and client investigations, Lee says the firm always tries to go beyond compliance work and to anticipate any potential issues that might arise.
“If the government were to come after my clients and wanted to penalise them, then if we are able to help them to defend themselves and show the government proof and win the case, that is very satisfying,” he says.
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“When you do business, there are so many external factors to deal with. So, when we make an argument to the tax authorities, I think it’s important to understand our clients’ businesses as well as to understand the Income Tax Act.”
For Lee, the biggest challenge in running the practice is finding enough qualified staff.
“Melaka is a very small, historic town, so many young people, when they graduate, tend to work in bigger cities, like Kuala Lumpur,” says Lee, a former Malaysian Divisional Councillor at CPA Australia.
The next challenge is holding on to staff, because they are often headhunted for roles in commerce, which pay a lot better.
“I’m not competing for staff with other accounting firms, but sometimes with commercials. The commercials want our staff as well, because they are very savvy on all these tax and accounting technicalities.”
Lee & Lim Tax Consultants’ older clients can be challenged by change, such as the recent introduction of a transfer pricing regime in Malaysia, and the need to use different methods than those they’ve been using for the past 30 or 40 years.
Younger clients present a different challenge. Many of them are moving their businesses online and adopting new payment methods, and Lee has to keep up with them and ensure they still gather all the required documentation, regardless of how they are paid.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has put the brakes on Lee’s plans for the firm, but, once the crisis has passed, he would like to expand the business to other geographic locations, particularly some of Malaysia’s larger cities.
One piece of advice
“When we are practising, the most important thing is not to be overly focused on the technical part, but to focus on the soft skills as well. Many accountants forget that sometimes, when we want to solve a problem, we have to put on the shoes of a businessman – we have to sometimes think of how they think.”