Accounting for the City

A specialist in tax and accounting consulting for foreign companies, Cathy Zhang tells us how things are slowly getting easier for people doing business in Dongguan

Perhaps not up there with politicians, lawyers, and journalists but it is fair to say that accountants get a bit of a bad rap. We think of them as with their heads stuck in ledger books, number crunching deep into the night, and generally being the sort of people you would jump out of the window to avoid at parties, so we got a pleasant surprise when we sat down with Cathy Zhang, one of Dongguan’s leading accountant and tax consultants. Friendly, vivacious, and charming to a fault, Cathy swung by the HERE! offices, to tell us her thoughts on doing business in the city.

Cathy has been living in Dongguan since 2001 and worked for two companies before starting her business, Cathy Accounting in January 2013. Initially she had a team of just two but now she has eight people working for her, mainly helping foreigners in the city, with anything from starting up Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprises, right through to assisting with work visas, or outsourcing company accounts, “I worked for two companies before I started my own firm. One was a Dongguan city firm, where I was in charge of all the foreign invested clients. After eight years working for them, I worked for a Spanish company called Mango,” she says. Adding, “But I left Mango because they had relocated to Shanghai and I needed to be with my family. I was flying back every week. It was too exhausting. And I wanted to balance my professional and personal life.”

Finding herself back in Dongguan, Cathy was unsure what to do next, and figured her experience working with foreigners eager to set up businesses in China, left her well placed to go it alone. She was convinced there was a gap in the market, “In Dongguan there are many accounting providers, but most can’t speak English with foreign investors directly, so it was a good fit for me. And compared to the big firms in Shanghai and Guangzhou my prices are much more reasonable,” she says laughing.

“In the past there were several government issued business certificates. For example, you needed a business license, a code certificate, a tax registration certificate, but from September 2015 it has been consolidated into just one certificate. It is much more convenient.”

Although in some ways doing business in Dongguan has got tougher, with factories moving overseas, salaries rising, and the constant changing of visa rules, many things are getting easier, “In the past it could cost two or three million RMB (of registered capital) to set up a business, but now it is much easier. There is less paperwork, but if you are doing it yourself it can be difficult and people make mistakes,” she says. Adding, “We offer a service where we can really work out what is best for them. For example, to register an entity in Dongcheng costs 500,000 RMB, but in Nancheng it is just 100,000. A lot of people aren’t aware of such differences.”

One things that has put people off in the past, is the amount of bureaucracy new business owners have to deal with, often having to register with several different departments, getting dozens of different certificates, but Cathy claims things are changing. “The government are standardizing many procedures. In the past their attitude was not good to people like me. Now it is a more regular and friendly. They realize I am useful. People make many mistakes when they are applying the first time, an agent makes it smoother,” she says. Adding, “In the past there were several government-issued business certificates. For example, you needed a business license, a code certificate, a tax registration certificate, but from September 2015 it has been consolidated into just one certificate.”

It is rare for accounting firms to focus on any one particular area and Cathy’s works with many different businesses. What with Dongguan being Dongguan, she works with a lot of companies related to the shoe industry, helps restaurants set-up, and has consulted with people who want to set up English schools too. “Some things are more difficult than others. Setting up a school for example is very hard. Lots of people have come to me for consulting advice on this. Often after they do the research they back down; they realize it is not so easy. They need special permits from the education department.”

Dongguan has plenty of pitfalls when it comes to doing business successfully, but with the right planning and attention to detail, the majority of these things can be avoided. And, with people like Cathy around, there will always be someone on hand to make things just that little bit easier.