LACCA Approved: Alex Fischer

Tax Firm: Baraona, Fischer & Spiess (Santiago) Chile

Alex Fischer

Tel: 56 2 928 22 00

Alex Fisher has been consistently ranked as a top-tier lawyer by major international publications, including Who’s Who, Latin Lawyer and LACCA Approved. He advises both local and multinational clients in personal and corporate tax planning, litigation, and M&As. He has also authored several articles in Chile and abroad, acted as expert witness, and advised Chile’s government.

Prior to joining the firm, Fischer was a partner at Carey between 2008 and 2016, as well as serving as an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell (2002-2004) and E&Y (1997-2002). 

Fischer graduated from the Universidad de Chile in 1996. He completed the International Tax Programme at Harvard University (2000) and received an LLM and an Advanced Certificate in Law and Business from NYU (2002). He was admitted to the New York Bar in 2002.

Thought Leaders 2018 - Interview with Alex Fischer

What attracted you to a career in tax law?

Two things attracted me to tax law. Firstly, it was tax law’s connection to mathematics, which was my preferred subject at school, and secondly, the importance of creative thinking when dealing with tax matters. In fact, my alternative career choice was film-making.

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

My proudest achievement is being part of a law-firm which is recognised as a market leader in tax, where I believe I can make a relevant contribution and work with a sense of belonging. In order to achieve this, I left my position as partner and co-head of Carey’s tax practice (Carey is Chile’s largest law-firm). This step took a lot of courage, hard work, and willingness to move outside my comfort-zone. 

I am also proud of having worked as a regular associate at Sullivan and Cromwell LLP in New York and having been a significant participant in the process of building Carey’s tax practice to what it is today. Both things have been key in getting me to where I am today in my career.

How has the landscape of the corporate tax sector changed throughout your career?

The corporate landscape has changed significantly. Particularly over the last 10-years, Chile has evolved from a “form-over-substance” to a “substance-over-form” jurisdiction. In parallel, clients have shifted from an approach that focused solely on achieving tax-savings, to an approach in which reputational implications and risk assessment have become major concerns. These two factors mean that as a tax practitioner, my day-to-day is more about making recommendations than providing strict legal advice.  This is far more difficult because it requires a wholesome understanding of the business and overall goals of each client, as opposed to a narrow focus on just taxes.  As a result, the value of experience and “gut-feelings” have become more relevant as a practioner in this sector. 

What are the biggest challenges currently facing tax lawyers in Chile?

Dealing with uncertainty is clearly the biggest challenge.  The tax-landscape, both from a regulatory and a practical point of view, has become vague, ambiguous and inconsistent.  Recent tax legislation, which in Chile intended to modify much of the tax system, has contributed to this uncertainty.  And, the reality is that the courts of justice have not provided coherent doctrines on which to build positions.

At the same time, over the last couple of years the tax administration has been acting aggressively in audits, often using overbroad legal interpretations and showing little flexibility to modify positions. It is currently very hard to predict what the approach of the IRS will be on an audit, because the result is often driven by the personal view of the individual carrying it out.  Despite this, I know that efforts are being made by the IRS leadership to re-align audit criteria.

Do you expect incoming President Sebastian Piñera to enact any major changes to Chile’s tax regime?

Not really. President Piñera has promised a significant reduction of corporate and personal income taxes. However, in practice, President Piñera does not have enough of a majority in Congress to enact a sweeping reduction of taxes, and the fiscal deficit, which is likely to expand due to commitments to social programmes and an upcoming reform to pensions, make it unlikely that a Trump-like tax reform may be enacted. Most likely, reforms will be limited to simplifications of the tax regime, the modernisation of certain rules, such as international taxation, and to the manner and approach in which the tax administration handles audits. 

In any case, simplification and modernisation would already be an outstanding achievement if they provide greater certainty and predictability for companies already operating or hoping to do business in Chile.

In your opinion, how could Chile’s tax landscape be improved?

It is all about certainty, certainty and certainty. The IRS regulations need updating, there needs to be more clarity, and shorter response times. Tax audits should have greater oversight, and respect basic principles like the arm's-length standard, respect for entrepreneurs free and independent business judgement, avoiding double-taxation, accepting the limitations imposed by law and due process.

How do you ensure that the firm stands out among its competitors?

We aim to stand out by making sure that our clients feel that our services are useful and valuable. This means that we try to provide clear answers, make useful recommendations, and propose solutions. We do not want to merely explain the law and alternatives, without clearly orienting the client with a recommendation.

Also, we stand-out for our tax team. We are six tax partners, mostly young (assuming 45-years is still young) and with very significant experience. In line with our solution-oriented approach, one of our team-member partners is a tax auditor, focused on tax compliance. This means that we get involved in the numbers and preparation of tax filings. Our advice considers compliance implications such as complexity, disclosure and presentation, and we are able to conduct due diligence on the information that our clients provide, assist IRS audits without necessarily involving external accounting firms, and implement solutions beyond the legal documentation. 

What skills make a successful corporate tax practitioner?

Creativity, commitment to clients, hard work and attention to detail.  Above all, however, you must trust yourself and be willing to make difficult judgement calls.  


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