Acquire pearls of wisdom from the tax man

Tax expert has travelled the world with his job and says that everyone should seek professional financial help.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Ð Sep 30: Dean Rolfe, Tax Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in his office at Emirates Towers in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Personal Finance. Story by Jeffrey Todd
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I'm Australian and grew up in Melbourne. After spending a number of years working there, I decided the world is a pretty big place and sought international experience.

I have always worked in taxation. I was doing a lot of international structuring work at the time, particularly with mining and energy companies. PricewaterhouseCoopers is an organisation with around 160,000 employees around the world, with offices in most countries.

I spent three years working in Moscow doing tax work, and then I was asked to move again within the organisation to Luxembourg. From there, I went to New York for 18 months and in February 2008, I was asked to move to the Middle East and become the tax leader here in the region. My father was a small-business owner and he felt very strongly about education. He was keen for all of his children to go to private schools and get the best education we could. He considered it a cornerstone. So I think what I learnt from my father is a strong work ethnic. He worked very hard to find the money to put us all through private school. I like to enjoy my life, but I'm also aware that you need to save for a rainy day. Your health could fail or any number of issues could come up. Circumstances can change very quickly.

My wife and I often have a discussion about how much money you really need in life. Unfortunately, the more money you earn the more money you can spend. The things you spend it on just become more expensive. You have to be careful and live a lifestyle that's appropriate. There is certainly the temptation to spend money on fancy cars and holidays. But I do try and continue to save and invest, putting money into shares and real estate.

I don't really collect things. I have a nice watch because it's a nice watch. It will last a long time. I don't drive the most expensive car I could afford. I drive a nice car, and so does my wife. We try to go skiing once a year as a family to a different location, such as Colorado. As a tax practitioner I'm always driven by making sure that investment returns are as tax efficient as possible. It's not something people think about naturally. They make investments that aren't very tax efficient, so their returns are taxed. Too often they think about taxation once they have realised the gain, and at that point it's too late.

I have always told people to go speak to an accountant. They understand the numbers and, if you're investing, you really need to make sure it's the right thing to be doing. So if you're going to make a serious investment in real estate or a managed investment, I don't think it's a bad idea to seek professional advice from an accountant to make sure you understand the taxation issues, if nothing else.

In this part of the world, taxation is not on many people's radar screens. Fortunately, there is no personal income tax here. But I think that what UAE consumers are increasingly becoming aware of is that there are still plenty of charges and levies here. For example, with the Real Estate Regulatory Agency in Dubai, you have a registration fee. Some people might call that a tax. So buying real estate and transferring the ownership will trigger some costs, and it's effectively a form of tax. There is also a whole range of fees and levies on services here, such as visa charges on trade licences and residency and work permits.

It all comes back to the point of understanding the environment in which you want to invest. You should always do your due diligence and homework. Don't believe the salesman. Always satisfy yourself that you understand all the implications. This is especially important not just when you're buying, but when you're selling. In my line of work, a lot of people think that all they need to do is understand the issues around when they buy something. But, unfortunately, they don't do any planning about the exit. What happens when I come to sell this asset? That's when they get hit with taxation.

Taxation is a complex subject, but the fundamentals are straightforward. I think it's just overlooked. I don't think it's consciously overlooked, but it's certainly something people don't think about. My audience is the big multinationals. It's the same issues everyday people face, but at a corporate level. If you're buying a business and that business has operations in many different locations, you want to understand tax issues around that business. You want to make sure that you do it in a tax-efficient manner.

We provide advice from that end of the scale right down to, for example, US citizens who have to file US personal income tax returns. Just because you live here doesn't mean you don't pay tax. If you have investments anywhere in the world, you could be paying tax in those other locations, so that's why it's important to understand the tax laws in the jurisdiction in which you're making an investment.

If you don't know, always seek independent advice. While there may be a cost, it will give you piece of mind and improve your investment returns. Never assume that you know.

* As told to Jeffrey Todd