By Simon Crookston, Corporate Tax Partner at Crowe UK
Many tax and finance professionals will have noted a trend in recent years, whereby there is greater emphasis on the processes and controls in place to ensure good tax governance.
As a consequence, many large and owner managed businesses are increasing their focus on tax governance, ensuring robust processes and controls are in place; the emphasis is now on ‘how’ tax compliance is dealt with and making sure the right amount of tax is paid at the right time.
The on-going COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this process, as finance teams have been forced to proactively manage their cash flows, while also reassessing the robustness of their working practices, systems and controls. In some instances, processes and controls based around physical proximity of staff have been shown to be out of date and in need of re-designing.
Ensuring that there is tax integrity within your business is now critical and reflects the wider changing climate in which businesses and tax advisors now operate. Factors influencing this trend include:
- significant amounts of change in the tax regime, both domestically and internationally
- digitisation and new technologies leading to new business models and ways of selling goods and services to customers
- tax authorities focussing on the use of technology to provide real time reporting, for example Making Tax Digital for VAT and Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme claims to HMRC
- finance departments being tasked with providing certainty over the integrity of all taxes
- the implementation of the corporate criminal offence regime, which potentially carries an unlimited fine for all businesses that fail to implement reasonable procedures to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion
- the recent DAC 6 EU regulations requiring the reporting of tax schemes
Tax has also become a reputational risk to businesses. Organisations now operate in a world where tax is considered a moral issue and is front page news. Consequently, many boardrooms and owner managers are focused on ensuring that they do not face negative publicity from their tax affairs.
This trend is expected to continue with increased scrutiny by the media of the taxes paid and claims made by companies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the punitive measures being taken by HMRC to challenge tax evasion and difficult economic times.
Robust processes and controls can also make it easier for your business to adapt to change. This could be change within the business such as new supply chains or entering new markets, or it could be change driven by external factors, such as changes in tax legislation or events such as Brexit.
The impact of poor governance
Over the last few years HMRC’s powers have increased with the introduction of new information and data gathering powers and with the greater use of technology to identify those people and organisations who are understating and underpaying their tax liability.
As well as receiving information from overseas tax authorities, HMRC’s Connect Computer System, which is essentially a supercomputer, draws huge amounts of data and information from numerous sources including tax records, online platforms, social media information, government departments and websites, bank data and web browsing information to build up a complex ‘tax picture’ on organisations and individuals.
With such a rich source of data HMRC have the ability to evaluate and determine if there are inconsistencies in the tax information which is declared as part of return filings.
As a consequence, those businesses that have received HMRC enquiries over the last couple of years which lead to adjustments, enter into tax planning schemes or take a more aggressive approach to minimising their tax are generally considered to be of higher risk from a tax authority perspective.
Where an enquiry is opened this will typically lead to additional management time being required to justify to HMRC the tax positions taken. If HMRC are successful at arguing that tax adjustments are required then this could lead to the organisation suffering penalties and late payment interest.
We are consequently seeing an increasing number of businesses recognising the merits of keeping a “risk register” of known tax risks that the business is managing. This can help to mitigate or negate the risk of unexpected tax costs, as well as demonstrate to HMRC that the business is proactively assessing and complying with its tax obligations.
As HMRC’s internal machinery and enquiries in relation to corporate criminal offence start to further bite, this will become of increasing importance. Areas of particular focus may include those organisations which have overseas employees, operate in different countries, operate in high risk sectors, have sales teams with lots of discretion or have sales based reward structures.
Some recent examples
A starting point to undertaking a tax governance risk assessment is typically to assess the business’s overall tax risk covering a number of areas. These will typically consist of looking at the business’s: inherent, corporate, vat, employee and international tax risk, to build up an overview profile of the business’s main areas requiring further attention and consideration.
Over the last couple of years we have assisted a number of clients across various sectors with their governance, systems and processes reviews. Some examples of recent reviews include:
|Business overview||Steps and benefits|
|Vehicle equipment manufacturer
· Expanding rapidly in Europe and globally with 70% of the businesses sales from overseas.
· The rapid expansion led to some tax integrity concerns around the business’s VAT, corporate tax and employment tax obligations being able to keep pace with commercial expansion of the business.
|· A supply chain review was undertaken to identify and document where potential VAT supply chain problems existed so action could be taken.
· Identification and rectification of permanent establishment issues that had potentially been created.
· Business education programme on how to proactively identify and manage tax integrity matters for future expansion opportunities.
|Independent boarding and day school
· The school required an employer compliance review to get comfort that the organisation had appropriate processes and controls in place to correctly account for all employment taxes due.
|· Identification of risk areas and establishment of a remediation plan as to how the organisations processes and controls could be improved.|
· Had concerns over its UK VAT and employment taxes position.
· Required an independent review of their processes and controls to ensure the group was correctly accounting for the taxes due.
|· Identification of potential risk areas.
· Formulation of an implementation plan.
· Implementation of changes and submission of appropriate disclosures to HMRC.
What should I do now?
As all businesses are different and dynamic unfortunately there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing tax risk and the development of robust processes and controls. However, from our experience, here are few example areas for consideration to ensure your processes and controls are robust:
- Do you have a process in place to identify changes in the tax regime that are relevant to your business? Similarly, what is the process whereby the finance/ tax team find out about new developments within the business?
- What systems are used in your tax compliance and is the output provided ‘fit for purpose’ or does it require significant manual manipulation?
- How robust are your accounting and tax processes and procedures and where are the risk areas if the finance team is operating from home or remotely?
- Is remote working increasing your organisation’s vulnerability to cyber-crime?
- What training are the staff involved with taxes given? How often is their knowledge refreshed / kept up to date?
- Who has review and sign-off responsibilities for tax returns to ensure that the numbers to be submitted are accurate and that any payment due is made on time?
- What links are in place with the commercial teams that develop new products or win new business to ensure that new sources of revenue are treated correctly for tax purposes?
- New overseas activities can commonly lead to unexpected tax consequences. What processes are in place to consider the corporate tax, VAT and employment tax implications of undertaking activities abroad? This review should ideally be undertaken before the activities commence.
Clearly, these are just examples and in order to get a good overview of the tax risk areas across your business – a more thorough and detailed review is required.
A starting point is to consider the main tax areas of your business (these are typically corporate tax, VAT, employment tax and international matters) and to undertake a high level risk review of these areas. This can be done by way of a manual review or by the use of a technology tool, such as a Tax Integrity Scorecard, to provide an assessment of the level of tax risk from low – high in each tax area.
Crowe has developed a Tax Integrity Scorecard which can be used for this purpose. It can help businesses understand their UK tax risks and assist them in prioritising where to focus their resources to guard against unexpected tax costs, adverse publicity and to improve tax process efficiencies.
Tax administrations around the world were already going digital. The pandemic has only accelerated the trend.
By Emine Constantin, Global Head of Accoutning and Tax at TMF Group.
Why do tax administrations choose to go digital?
Among the many reasons, the most important one is the pressure to perform. Most governments complain that the tax revenues they collect are significantly lower than what should be collected. To increase the collection rate, tax authorities need better insight and access to detailed information.
Another key reason for tax digitisation is the need to address cross-border challenges and the issue of value creation.
“Where is the right place to tax cross-border transactions – is it the country of residence or the country of consumption?” has been a topic of discussion for some time. Adding another level of complexity, many cross-border transactions take place online. For tax authorities, the challenge is the lack of information about the users and the amount of payments made for the activities facilitated by the online platforms. Without such data, identifying the place of consumption is very challenging
Where is tax digitisation at?
Most tax administrations are currently implementing e-reporting (enabling the submission of tax information in an electronic format) and e-matching (correlating the data received from different sources: e.g. both customers and vendors submit information on sale and purchases and the two sources of information are checked and agreed to identify discrepancies). Through e-reporting, tax administrations are able to:
- Obtain real-time or near-real-time data submissions. Instead of waiting until the end of the month for summary tax information, each invoice is electronically communicated to tax authorities when it’s issued. This moves compliance upstream. Tax assessments are supported in real-time or close to it, instead of assessing transactions that have happened in the past. TMF Group’s research has found that 24% of countries surveyed globally require companies to issue tax invoices using technology and send them to tax authorities electronically, without any form of manual intervention. The percentage gets higher in the Americas (where more than 50% of countries have such requirements) and in APAC (where 36% of countries have no adopted this method).
- Share best practices and boost cooperation with other tax authorities. According to a recent OECD report, 15 of 16 tax authorities surveyed use data analytics to drive audit case selection. With national implementations of BEPS (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) and global tracking and monitoring, digital is a new focal point for the OECD. Tax administrators learned the value of such collaboration from previous projects and are putting that experience to good use by sharing approaches and leading practices.
- Increase the coverage of the tax audit. Tax authorities request more and more data and more and more details during tax audits. Such requirements are not limited to technology companies that may host a platform where their users trade with one another. In some cases, companies have been asked to provide data files. In others, they have even been asked to install tax authority software on their systems.
When it comes to digitisation, it’s important to understand local and regional trends because the level of maturity can be quite different.
In Europe, countries are increasingly adopting SAF-T (Standard Audit File for Tax) submission requirements — long described as the closest to a consistent approach for managing tax audits.
Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are just some of the countries where SAF-T submission is now mandatory.
Digitisation brings benefits but also challenges for companies. In Spain, VAT refunds are suspended until SII (Immediate Supply of Information) submission is fully compliant. In the Czech Republic, the introduction of VAT control statements has led to many formal and informal queries by tax authorities with a required response time of 5 working days. All these requests put pressure on taxpayers to provide accurate tax data to avoid further enquiries.
LATAM is the most mature region in terms of tax digitisation. Latin American countries have adopted a “layering” approach, splitting tax and accounting data into “slices,” each with its own submission schedule, scope and format. Brazil is one of the most advanced countries in this respect. Virtually all accounting and tax data is communicated electronically.
In APAC, China and India have also started their journey towards fully-fledged electronic reporting.
A positive shift
Digitisation makes the tax journey easier, not only for the tax authorities but also for the taxpayer. One obvious benefit is the reduced tax return filing burden. For example in Poland, the submission of the VAT return was replaced by the SAF-T submission.
Based on the amount of data collected, tax authorities in Spain and Australia have created virtual online assistants to help answer tax questions. In India, the authorities are looking at pre-populating the GST return, reducing the amount of time that taxpayers spend preparing it.
Implications for companies
When responding to the electronic requirements of tax authorities, companies have some key considerations.
Data requirements – what will companies need to report, and how? What we see in practice is that:
- Data sits in multiple places and companies need to either aggregate it automatically or reconcile it before extracting it manually.
- Data is inputted manually and – as such – is prone to errors, inaccuracies and incompatibilities.
- Some of the data needs to be manually adjusted outside the normal transactional cycle (e.g. output VAT on goods provided free of charge)
If a company faces any of the situations described above, the challenge will be to aggregate and validate the data before reporting it.
Processes – do current processes allow companies to collect all data that is needed? Often, the data collection processes do not allow for consistency or for storage of all relevant data. Processes might need to be adjusted to make sure that the right level of data is in place.
Technology – are the company’s current systems appropriate for reporting purposes? Existing software might not allow for accounting records to be digitally linked.
Tax reporting process – is the tax reporting process fit for purpose? As described above, tax resources need to be moved to the front-end of the accounting process: data needs to be accurate when entered into the system.
Companies that wish to mitigate these problems should follow these steps:
- Understand local requirements.
- Identify the required data sources and strive for a global standard. Looking for local solutions will not help you deal with the digitised world.
- Create a library of tests – it’s believed that 70% to 80% of national revenue authority requirements are similar.
- Prepare to respond to tax queries – as tax authority scrutiny and testing moves into real or near-real time, so must the response.
Digitisation is very much a global trend, more and more countries are introducing it, and it’s seen as a safe solution to reduce the tax gap. In the short-term digitisation may bring complexity, because it will affect how a company’s accounting and tax functions are organised. But in the long term, once processes are automated, it will save companies time and effort – and allow them to stay ahead of the demands of tax authorities.
The ever-changing representation of value
By Vadim Grigoryan, Partner, Lunu Solutions
Ask a selection of people about cryptocurrencies and you’ll likely receive a wide range of answers. Some will wax lyrical about the huge potential of the underlying infrastructure that supports them, while others will dismiss them as nothing more than a worthless speculative bubble.
Cryptocurrencies have often been described in this way, mainly because – according to their opponents – they aren’t backed by tangible value. This is an argument that could easily be dismissed as very short-sighted, particularly if we remind ourselves that our current currencies all rely on trust – not exactly the most tangible of assets.
As Kabir Sehgal, a bestselling author and former JP Morgan vice-president, said: “In order to deal in money, humans must be able to think symbolically”. Financial history teaches us that money, in its first intent, was almost never meant to have intrinsic value – but to be a representation of it. For example, the porcelain-like shell of the cowry circulated around the globe for 4,000 years – longer than any other currency in the history of money. And its value was perceived not on its intrinsic utility, but on its beauty. Indeed, intrinsic value has long stopped be a measure of the real value of money. Let us not forget that each individual banknote costs a fraction of what it’s worth to produce – a $100 bill costs around 12 cents.
Money first appeared from the original evolutionary need to eat and survive by exchanging energy with another. That is why money has become whatever represents that energy: first food commodities – such as barley, cacao beans or salt – and then the tools to cultivate them. The symbolic distancing of money from its real value has developed over the years into coins, paper currency and mobile payments. Since money is fundamentally a mental abstraction of symbolic representation of value, what money is and what it will be can be is limited only by human imagination. Could something as invisible and intangible as cryptocurrencies be the next step?
Building value through trust
Something that has value should check two boxes: scarcity and utility. Scarcity of cryptocurrencies is often guaranteed by their design, in terms of a finite or limited supply (e.g. Bitocoin has a set cap of 21 million coins). Their utility is already embedded in the divisible nature of cryptos (unlike gold, which is very difficult to use transactionally, you can buy a coffee, a ferrari or a house with bitcoins). As such, the potential of cryptos to be a more efficient currency than what we already have would further increase with the wider adoption of digital currencies in retail.
We know that the representation of value has changed over time and is a fast-moving one in our society. That’s one reason why the concept of ‘money’ is much more abstract and complicated than most people realise.
But one thing that has never changed throughout the long evolution of money is the importance of trust. The reason money works is because people trust in its value; this is a key rationale behind most currencies – including cryptos. In fact, one of the key selling points of cryptocurrency is that it is built specifically on trust.
Although they lack the legal and institutional backing of traditional financial services, cryptocurrencies provide trust through technology. Blockchain technology enables the use of a distributed and immutable ledger of records, providing total transparency and making every transaction tamperproof. Data is decentralised and encrypted so that it can’t be interfered with or changed retrospectively. The crypto sphere is also intrinsically democratic. There is no central authority and no individual entity can change the rules of the game, which protects against government interference and makes it almost impossible to lobby private interests.
So, with this in mind, why are cryptocurrencies still largely used as an asset rather than a means of payment? It’s mainly because the real-life economy is still lagging in terms of providing crypto-based payment solutions. Many stores still fear accepting cryptos as a means of payment – whether due to technical limitations or concerns around fees and exchange rates – creating a vicious circle reinforcing the speculative nature of cryptos as assets that are just bought and sold.
We believe it’s time to break this circle and move towards a new financial model that accepts cryptos as a means of payment. It’s time for cryptocurrencies to be appreciated for the value they provide.
Recognising crypto personas
Our research into the ever-growing crypto community has uncovered an ecosystem of global citizens that share a philosophy; one pegged to a thirst for freedom, equality, inclusion and global interaction. For example, they are actively involved in social causes and place a high value on social responsibility for individuals and companies.
We also identified several different persona groups within that ecosystem, all of which have varying degrees of influence in the community.
- Hamsters: this group is enthusiastic about cryptos, but lacks either the wealth or knowledge to shape the market or effectively navigate it.
- Geeks: comprised of tech-savvy specialists who expect others to be up to their level of technical expertise
- Cool cucumbers: a group of wealthier individuals focused on the investment opportunities and less emotionally involved with cryptos as a way of life
But the most powerful and engaged of the various user groups we identified, is the one containing individuals who have the financial capital and technical knowledge to drive and shape the future of the market – the Apostles. They are the community gurus, the public figures and the influencers who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions. Indeed, their minds have the power to drive widespread adoption of cryptos.
Over the coming years, this cohort of individuals will continue to grow and impose its expectations on retailers and stores. They understand the concept of money as a representation of value and recognise the role that secure, decentralised and globally connected cryptocurrencies can play in the existing economy.
If money is a symbol of value, this community appreciates the need for other symbols that represent other values in the world of tomorrow – such as transparency, empowerment and the end of the abuses of power that we have seen in the past.
Ultimately, although cryptocurrencies have been inching their way into the mainstream steadily since their introduction in 2009, the main stumbling block has been how to use them in everyday life. The good news is that we are during a transition. Trust is continuing to build, and the ‘value’ barrier is slowly being overcome. There is light at the end of the tunnel – driving cryptocurrencies and other forms of digital money forwards as the next step in money’s ongoing evolution.
Revolut Junior introduces Co-Parent – teach children about money together
- Premium and Metal customers can invite a team mate to jointly manage their child’s Revolut Junior account
- Setting Tasks, Goals and topping up up Allowances can also be done by a Co-Parent
- Lead and Co-Parents both have full visibility and oversight of the child’s account
Revolut has today announced that parents can now add a Co-Parent to supervise their child’s Revolut Junior account and make learning about money easy and fun together, because teamwork makes the dream work.
Those on paid plans (Premium and Metal) will benefit from the new Co-Parent feature at no extra cost. The lead parent can invite a Co-Parent to join Revolut on any plan, including a Standard plan. The Co-Parent can be another family member, carer or guardian who is responsible for the financial wellbeing of the kids.
Parents and guardians can use Revolut Junior to teach their little ones important lessons about finances and responsibility so they become more informed with each passing day. Both the lead and Co-Parent can use Tasks to teach children the value of money, Goals to help them learn to save and top up Allowances when they deserve a reward or just their weekly pocket money. Both will have full oversight of the child’s Revolut Junior account.
To add a Co-Parent to Revolut Junior, the lead parent can head to the Junior tab to find the Co-Parent invite link at the bottom of the screen.
Revolut Junior’s five top tips for parents/guardians to make learning about money fun
- The power of together: Utilise the power of your joint experience and arrange a time or schedule a regular monthly meeting to sit down as a family to answer any money questions your kids may have.
- Set your own Goals: Learning the usefulness of savings is a valuable life lesson that will benefit kids when they hit adulthood. So if your child has been begging for a new game or toy, then encourage them to create Goals to save up faster and more steadily. Parents can add to it or children can choose to fund it from their allowances or by completing tasks, giving them some financial independence, but with full parental oversight!
- Sharing is caring: Show your child your app and how you use it to manage money so they see how the ‘grown-ups’ do this. Perhaps take a look at Budgets, and explain your reason for using this.
- Cherish your belongings: Get your child to put their top 10 favourite possessions in front of them and ask them to tell you why they picked each one. Explain the importance of selecting items they really like instead of comparing them with what their friends have.
- Money matters: Inspire your child to take some time for themselves to go through their purchases and expenditures in-app and use this time to reflect on if they still use all these items or if the buys were a good use of money.
Felix Jamestin, Head of Premium Product at Revolut, said: “We have added the Co-Parent feature to Revolut Junior so parents, guardians and carers alike can come together to teach their kids valuable skills for life. We have made sure that those with unconventional or multigenerational families will also be able to use this, so not only parents but grandparents, carers or members of their wider family can also support their child through their financial education with Revolut Junior.”
Revolut Junior’s Co-Parent feature is currently available to all Revolut Premium and Metal users in the EEA and the UK. It’s designed for kids aged 7-17, providing an account for children to use, controlled by their parents or guardians. So far over 270,000 kids have signed up to Revolut Junior. Revolut Junior has just launched in Australia, and plans to launch the product in Singapore and Japan in the near future.
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