conducted by Philippe Mudry,
Agefi: A survey of our readers on the future of finance reveals deep scepticism about the nature of the benefits resulting from regulation and also about its possible contradictions. What do you think?
Jean-Claude TRICHET: Considering the gravity of the situation which the international community has had to face, the lingering scepticism in some areas is understandable. It is important to understand that we had to cope with a crisis of extraordinary severity in 2007 and in 2008 which intensified following the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Without the unwavering determination of the central banks on the one hand, and of governments on the other, and without significant exposure to budgetary risk, on both sides of the Atlantic and in all the developed countries, we would have faced a very deep depression and the worst financial crisis since the First World War! Our calculations at the European Central Bank and throughout the European System of Central Banks tell us that, in total, some 27 % of gross domestic product, in terms of risk to the taxpayer, had to be mobilised on both sides of the Atlantic in order to avoid the worst. Fortunately, of course, this risk was not converted into losses in the majority of cases, and many such cases have yielded profits; nonetheless, without this risk-taking we would have been facing a terrible disaster. The central banks as well as all the governments of the developed and the emerging countries have been very determined. Inasmuch as disaster has been averted, a number of partners, in the private sector essentially, feel that there is no point after all in making sweeping improvements to the rules and regulations governing the financial sector, in particular the prudential rules. This is not our view at all. The central banks all consider that it is absolutely essential to remain aware of the fragility of the financial system and to implement the reforms we need. We would be unable to address a situation as severe as the one in September 2008 a second time.
When you look at the path followed since 2007 in terms of financial regulation, what strikes you as being the main benefits, but also current limits, of the process prompted by the G20?
– The G20’s action follows two major pillars: financial regulation and the coordination of economic policies aimed primarily at reducing major imbalances. On financial regulation itself, we are halfway down that road. We managed to reach a global agreement in record time, not just between the industrialised countries, but also now with the systemically important emerging countries on new prudential regulations and fresh requirements in terms of own funds for all banks, with decisions that have far-reaching repercussions. Moreover, the decisions required a great deal of goodwill from all European and American partners, but also from those in China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia and all the other major emerging countries. I regard this as a notable success. It must not be called into question. Here and there I hear market participants, who are members of private financial institutions, saying that some decisions are too stringent and too demanding. The decisions taken must of course be implemented. In addition, there are still a lot of things to do, particularly as regards the so-called systemically important financial institutions. Equally, there is the “shadow banking” issue which is related to those financial institutions that do no fall under the scope of the regulatory framework for banks. Of course, there is also the issue of effectively implementing the prudential rules on liquidity. These are all examples of work in progress, and they are being examined by the G20, the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board.
Do you regard the convergence of national laws as satisfactory today?
– The rigorous implementation of the rules defined at the global level by each of the countries affected is absolutely essential. If there is uneven implementation, we immediately create extremely dangerous distortions in the functioning of the global financial system; we open the way for what is known as “regulatory arbitrage”, the aim of which is to attract to one’s own country the most financial activities possible by having more lenient and more limited regulation. All the conditions for a fresh disaster would then be in place. The same rules must be implemented by countries worldwide. This is especially true on both sides of the Atlantic. That’s why it is vital for the so-called ‘Basel III’ framework to be implemented rigorously, particularly by all the European countries of course as well as by the United States. We must not repeat the bad experiences of previous years, notably with ‘Basel II’, which was not implemented uniformly, particularly on the other side of the Atlantic. As central bankers, we continue to stress this fundamental aspect. If we fail to adhere to it, we will then have all the ingredients for further crises.
A number of the criticisms directed at re-regulation concern its contradictions, real or assumed. For example, some feel that the tightening of capital and liquidity ratios is too severe and risks adversely affecting the financing of economies. Does this criticism strike you as justified?
Jean-Claude TRICHET: In our view, the rules which have been defined for capital requirements are optimal. We reflected long and hard on them. Of course, there are arguments in both directions, but considering the drama resulting from a crisis in terms of lost growth and job creation, we gain a lot more by being reasonably demanding in terms of capital. Preventing further crises from occurring is a benefit that far outstrips the potential losses, if certain analyses are anything to go by. Let’s be clear one more time: these decisions, debated at length by those primarily responsible, have been evaluated at governor and ministerial level and adopted at the global level by heads of state and government. They must be implemented.
Another criticism: this tightening of the rules runs the risk of producing a concentration in the financial sector, and on the financial markets as well, which is even stronger than it is today.
Jean-Claude TRICHET: I do not believe so. We must be constantly and closely vigilant with regard to the structural changes to international finance. There are permanent risks that we must continue assessing, but I do not think the rules we have just defined, or those still being worked out, will lead to this hyper-concentration. On the contrary, I have to say that one of the main lessons of the present crisis is that there were very high risks associated with what I would call the “financial mammoths”.
Is too little attention being paid to the much-discussed area of “shadow finance”?
– The issue of the “non-banks”, of shadow finance, and of all the institutions or market participants not under the oversight of the banking supervisors, is very important. Over the last two decades we have witnessed a tremendous explosion in new financial institutions. I myself lived through a period during which all the institutions with high leverage, by the end of the 1980s, were managing capital worth something in the region of USD 100 billion. 17 years later, in 2007, the figure was USD 3,000 billion! Very significant financial services have been, and are being, rendered by these market participants, but the systemic risk which can be associated with them must be considered from every angle. Obviously it would be counterproductive if tighter regulations had the effect of pushing regulated finance into the unregulated area. This is a major topic which is being examined right now at the request of the entire international community, particularly at the level of the Financial Stability Board. I think I am expressing the feelings of all central bankers when I consider that there are crucial issues here in terms of transparency and appropriate regulation. We must be sure that these financial market participants do not create new systemic risks.
Are you satisfied with the rise of the organised markets compared with over-the-counter (OTC) transactions, with specific reference to centralised compensation?
– Here again, we are dealing with another core issue on which the entire international community is reflecting. The act of pushing activities which are very broadly disorganised towards clearing houses, towards organised markets, is a formidable undertaking. Of course, there will always be OTC contracts, but we have a major interest, in terms of regulation, financial stability and the removal of as much systemic risk as possible, in ensuring that these contracts, these derivative instruments, become as standardised as possible and can be traded through organised markets.
In more macroeconomic terms, how do you judge the actions of the G20 aimed at reducing global imbalances?
– The reasons for the crisis and the responsibilities are manifold, because there were multiple failures. It is unnecessary to dwell on finding a single scapegoat. However, one of the causes was certainly the prevailing complacency over a long period about very large international imbalances. One of the main lessons from the crisis is the need to have the right kind of coordination of macroeconomic policies, which is the international community’s responsibility. We have created integrated global finance and a globalised economy: there is a need to strenghten very considerably the governance of these. The International Monetary Fund is playing a leading role here by providing significant conceptual support for this strategy of the G20 and the entire international community. We have a lot of progress to make in this area as well. Everyone is well aware of the dangers associated with these major imbalances – surpluses on the one hand, deficits on the other – in a full-blown crisis. Then, as we emerge from it, as is the case, with a perceptible upturn that is getting stronger, some then start to question things. I’m rather shocked by the number of voices being raised to explain how we can, after all, easily live with major imbalances and that they can be economically justified. I do not believe this to be the case at all. I think we have to resolutely carry on and bolster the efforts being made in this area. From that viewpoint, the euro area as a whole does not have an external imbalance since our current account balance is broadly in equilibrium.
What importance do you ascribe to the debate on the international monetary system?
– I think that the points identified by the G20, from a long-term standpoint, particularly the issue of capital flows, special drawing rights and other topics associated with the international monetary system, are interesting. It is good to discuss them. Ultimately, though, we have two questions for the short to medium term. One of these involves the relationships between the major convertible currencies: the dollar, the euro, the yen, the pound Sterling, the Canadian dollar. For over 30 years we have had a system in which these important relationships have been monitored by the G7. From that viewpoint, these relationships have not been destabilised in the course of the crisis. We should congratulate ourselves on this, even though it calls for constant vigilance of course. Then there is a topic on which it seems to me that the international community also agrees, i.e. the ties between the currencies of the major emerging countries, which themselves have very large surpluses, and all the other currencies, including the major convertible currencies. The currencies of these major emerging countries with large surpluses must progressively become more flexible, i.e. appreciate in an orderly and progressive manner.
In Europe there are genuine concerns about the Union’s capacity to overcome the debt crisis facing the peripheral countries. The markets are highly sceptical. What can they be told in order to convince them of the relevance of the measures undertaken at the European level?
– On the issue of fiscal policies, I believe that the European Central Bank, through me, can reiterate certain points. Firstly, we always said that when there was a single currency but no political federation, there was a clear need for budgetary supervision. This was hotly disputed. I can remind you how in 2004 and 2005 major countries, notably France but also Germany and Italy, were telling us that we did not need this surveillance framework for fiscal policies. We had to fight very hard to preserve it. Today, this episode obviously seems totally outlandish, bearing in mind what has happened since. Some, moreover, said that the Stability and Growth Pact itself was “stupid”. We always said that the careful monitoring of fiscal policies was essential, as were healthy policies. This remains true today. However, one should add another pillar of governance, particularly within the euro area, in the form of monitoring competitiveness indicators, and unit production costs especially; the changes to these must also be tracked extremely carefully. For six years at least, we have been telling all European governments to monitor very closely changes to competitiveness indicators and imbalances within the euro area. We emphasise the three pillars necessary for European governance, all three of which must be improved substantially: supervision of fiscal policies, supervision of competitiveness indicators, and structural reforms. The central banks across the whole of the Eurosystem – the ECB and the national central banks, i.e. the Banque de France in France’s case, for instance – have a very clear message for governments: Europe’s governance must be improved decisively, and governments are not going far enough. We expect a great deal from the dialogue with Parliament in order to push governments towards taking a decisive step.
Copyright © for the entire content of this website: European Central Bank, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Lockdown 2.0 – Here’s how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room
suggests “the product you’re creating is not the camera, the lens or a webcam’s clever industrial design. It’s the subject, you, which is just on e part of the entire image they see. You want that image to convey quality, not convenience.”
Technology experts at Reincubate saw an opportunity in the rise of remote-working video calls and developed the app, Camo, to improve the video quality of our webcam calls. As part of this, they consulted the digital photography expert and author, Jeff Carlson, to reveal how we can look our best online.
It’s clear by now that COVID-19 has normalised remote working, but as part of this the importance of video calls has risen exponentially. While we’re all used to seeing the more casual sides of our colleagues (t-shirt and shorts, anyone?), poor webcam quality is slightly less forgivable.
But how can we improve how we look on video? We consulted Jeff Carlson for some top tips– here is what he had to say.
- Improve the picture quality of your call
The better your camera, the higher quality your webcam calls will be. Most webcams (as well as currently being hard to get hold of and expensive), are subpar. A DSLR setup will give you the best picture, but will cost $1,500+. You can also use your iPhone’s amazing camera as a webcam, using the new app from Reincubate, Camo.
Jeff’s comments “The iPhone’s camera system features dedicated coprocessors for evaluating and adjusting the image in real time. Apple has put a tremendous amount of work into its imaging software as a way to compensate for the necessarily small camera sensors. Although it all works in service of creating stills and video, you get the same benefits when using the iPhone as a webcam.”
Aidan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Reincubate explains why the team created Camo, “Earlier this year our team moved to working remotely, and in video calls everyone looked pretty bad, irrespective of whether they were on built-in Mac webcams or third-party ones. Thus began my journey to build Camo: an iPhone has one of the world’s best cameras in it, so could we make it work as a webcam? Category-leading webcams are noticeably worse than an iPhone 7. This makes sense: six weeks of Apple’s R&D spend tops Logitech’s annual gross revenue.”
- Place your camera at eye level
A video call will never quite be the same as a face-to-face conversation, but bringing your camera up to eye level is a good place to start. That can involve putting your laptop on a stand or pile of books, mounting a webcam to the top of your display screen, or even using a tripod to get the perfect position.
Jeff points out, “If the camera is looking down on you, you’ll appear minimized in the frame; if it’s looking up, you’re inviting people to focus on your chin, neck, or nostrils. Most important, positioning the camera off your eye level is a distraction. Look them in the eye, even if they’re miles or continents away.”
Low camera placement from a MacBook
- Make the most of natural lighting
Be aware of the lighting in the room and move yourself to face natural lighting if you can. Positioning the camera so any natural light is behind you takes the light away from your face, which can make it harder to see and read expressions on a call.
Jeff Carlson’s top tip: “If the light from outside is too harsh, diffuse it and create softer shadows by tacking up a white sheet or a stand-alone diffuser over the window.”
Backlit against a window Facing natural light
- Use supplementary lighting like ring lights
The downside to natural lighting is that you’re at the mercy of the elements: if it’s too bright you’ll have the sun in your eyes, if it’s too dark you won’t be well lit.
Jeff recommends adding supplementary lighting if you’re looking to really enhance your video calls. After all, it looks like remote working will be carrying on for quite some time.
“The light can be just as easy as a household or inexpensive work light. Angle the light so it’s bouncing off a wall or the ceiling, depending on your work area, which, again, diffuses the light and makes it more flattering.
Or, for a little money, use a softbox or a shoot-through umbrella with daylight bulbs (5500K temperature), or if space is tight, LED panels. Larger lights are better for distributing illumination– don’t be afraid to get them in close to you. Placement depends on the look you’re going after; start by positioning one at a 45-degree angle in front and to the side of you, which lights most of your face while retaining nice shadow detail.”
In some cases, a ring light may work best. LEDs are arranged in a circle, with space in the middle to put the camera’s lens and get direct illumination from the direction of the camera.
- Centre yourself in the frame
Make sure you’re getting the right angle and that you’re using the frame effectively.
“You should aim for people to see your head and part of your torso, not all the space between your hair and the ceiling. Leave a little space above your head so it’s not cut off, but not enough that someone’s eyes are going to drift there.”
- Be mindful of your backdrop
It’s not always easy to get the quiet space needed for video calls when working from home, but try as best you can to remove anything too distracting from your background.
“Get rid of clutter or anything that’s distracting or unprofessional, because you can bet that will be the second thing the viewers notice after they see you. (The Twitter account @RateMySkypeRoom is an amusing ongoing commentary on the environments people on television are connecting from.)”
A busy background as seen by a webcam
- Make the most of virtual backgrounds
If you’re really struggling with finding a background that looks professional, try using a virtual background.
Jeff suggests: “Some apps can identify your presence in the scene and create a live mask that enables you to use an entirely different image to cover the background. While it’s a fun feature, the quality of the masking is still rudimentary, even with a green screen background that makes this sort of keying more accurate.”
- Be aware of your audio settings
Our laptop webcams, cameras, and mobile phones all include microphones, but if it’s at all possible, use a separate microphone instead.
“That can be an inexpensive lavalier mic, a USB microphone, or a set of iPhone earbuds. You can also get wireless lavalier models if you’re moving around during a call, such as presenting at a whiteboard in the camera’s field of view.
The idea is to get the microphone closer to your mouth so it’s recording what you say, not other sounds or echoes in the room. If you type during meetings, mount the mic on an arm instead of resting it on the same surface as your keyboard.”
- Be wary of video app add-ons
Video apps like Zoom include a ‘Touch up your appearance’ option in the Video settings. This applies a skin-smoothing filter to your face, but more often than not, the end result looks artificially blurry instead of smooth.
“Zoom also includes settings for suppressing persistent and intermittent background noise, and echo cancellation. They’re all set to Auto by default, but you can choose how aggressive or not the feature is.”
- Be the best looking person in the virtual room
What’s important to remember about video calls at this point in time is that most people are new to what is, really, personal broadcasting. That means you can easily get an edge, just by adopting a few suggestions in this article. When your video and audio quality improves, people will take notice.
Bringing finance into the 21st Century – How COVID and collaboration are catalysing digital transformation
By Keith Phillips, CEO of TISATech
If just six or seven months ago someone had told you that in a matter of weeks people around the world would be locked down in their homes, trying to navigate modern work systems from a prehistoric laptop, bickering with family over who’s hogging the Wi-Fi, migrating online to manage all financial services digitally, all while washing their hands every five minutes in fear of a global pandemic… You’d think they had lost their mind. But this very quickly became the reality for huge swathes of the world and we’re about to go through that all over again as the UK government has asked that those who can work from home should.
Unsurprisingly, statistics show that lockdown restrictions introduced by the UK government in March, led to a sharp increase in people adopting digital services. Banks encouraged its customers to log onto online banking, as they limited (and eventually halted) services at branches. This forced many customers online as their primary means of managing personal finances for the first time.
If anyone had doubts before, the Covid-19 pandemic proved to us the importance of well-functioning, effective digital financial services platforms, for both financial institutions and the people using them.
But with this sudden mass online migration, it’s become clear that traditional banks have struggled to keep up with servicing clients virtually. Legacy banking systems have always stilted the digitisation of financial services, but the pandemic thrust this issue into the limelight. Fintech firms, which focus intently on digital and mobile services, knew it was only a matter of time before financial institutions’ reliance was to increase at an unprecedented rate.
For years, fintechs have been called upon by traditional players to find solutions to problems borne from those clunky legacy systems, like manual completion of account changes and money transfers. Now it is the demand for these services to be online coupled with the need for financial services firms to cut costs, since Covid-19 hit the economy.
Covid-19 has catalysed the urgent need to bring digital transformation to a wider pool of financial services businesses. Customers now have even higher expectations of larger institutions, demanding that they keep up with what the younger and more nimble challengers have to offer. Industry leaders realise that they must transform their businesses as soon as possible, by streamlining and digitising operations to compete and, ultimately, improve services for their customers.
The race for digital acceleration began far before the recent pandemic – in fact, following the 2008 financial crisis is likely more accurate. Since the credit crunch, there has been a wave of new fintech firms, full of young, bright techies looking to be the next big thing. Fintechs have marketed themselves hard at big conferences and expos or by hosting ‘hackathons’, trying to prove themselves as the fastest, most innovative or the most vital to the future of the industry.
However, even during this period where accelerating innovation in online financial services and legacy systems is crucial, the conditions brought about by the pandemic have not been conducive to this much-needed transformation.
The second issue, which again was clear far before the pandemic, is that fact that no matter how nimble or clever the fintechs’ solutions are, it is still hard to implement the solutions seamlessly, as the sector is highly fragmented with banks using extremely outdated systems populated with vast amounts of data.
With the significance of the pandemic becoming more and more clear, and the need for better digital products and services becoming more crucial to financial services firms and consumers by the day, the industry has finally come together to provide a solution.
The TISAtech project was launched last month by The Investing and Saving Alliance (TISA), a membership organisation in the UK with more than 200 leading financial institutions as members. TISA asked The Disruption House, a specialist benchmarking and data analytics business, to create a clearing house platform for the industry to help it more effectively integrate new financial technology. The project aims to enhance products and services while reducing friction and ultimately lowering costs which are passed on to the customers.
With nearly 4,000 fintechs from around the world participating, it will be the world’s largest marketplace dedicated to Open Finance, Savings, and Investment.
Not only will it provide a ‘matchmaking’ service between financial institutions an fintechs, it will also host a sandbox environment. Financial institutions can pose real problems with real data and the fintechs are given the space to race to the bottom – to find the most constructive, cost-effective solution.
Yes, there are other marketplaces, but they all seem to struggle to achieve a return on investment. There is a genuine need for the ‘Trivago’ of financial technology – a one stop shop, run by an independent body, which can do more than just matchmaking. It needs to go above and beyond to encompass the sandboxing, assessments, profiling of fintechs to separate the wheat from the chaff, and provide a space for true collaboration.
The pandemic has taught us that we are more effective if we work together. We need mass support and collaboration to find solutions to problems. Businesses and industries are no different. If fintechs and financial institutions can work together, there is a real chance that we can start to lessen the economic hit for many businesses and consumers by lowering costs and streamlining better services and products. And even if it is just making it that little bit easier to manage personal finances from home when fighting with your children for the Wi-Fi, we are making a difference.
What to Know Before You Expand Across Borders
By Sean King, Director of International Tax at McGuire Sponsel
The American retail giant, Target Corporation, has a market cap of $64 billion and access to seemingly limitless resources and advisors. So, when the company engaged in its first global expansion, how could anything possibly go wrong?
Less than two years after opening its first Canadian store in 2013, Target shut down all133 Canadian locations and terminated more than 17,000 Canadian employees.
Expansion of an operation to another country can create unique challenges that may impact the financial viability of the entire enterprise. If Target Corporation can colossally fail in its expansion to Canada, how might Mom ‘N’ Pop LLC fare when expanding into Switzerland, Singapore, or Australia?
Successful global expansion requires an understanding of multilayered taxes, regulatory hurdles, employment laws, and cultural nuances. Fortunately, with the right guidance, global expansion can be both possible and profitable for businesses of any size.
Any company with global ambitions must first consider whether the company’s expansion outside of the U.S. will give rise to a taxable presence in the local country. In the cross-border context, a “permanent establishment” can be created in a local country when the enterprise reaches a certain level of activity, which is problematic because it exposes the U.S. multinational to taxation in the foreign country.
Foreign entity incorporation
To avoid permanent establishment risk, many U.S. multinationals choose to operate overseas through a formal corporate subsidiary, which reduces the company’s foreign income tax exposure, though it may result in an additional level of foreign income tax on the subsidiary’s earnings. In most jurisdictions, multinationals can operate their business in the foreign country as a branch, a pass through (e.g., partnership,) or a corporation.
As a branch, the U.S. multinational does not create a subsidiary in the foreign country. It holds assets, employees, and bank accounts under its own name. With a pass through, the U.S. multinational creates a separate entity in the foreign country that is treated as a partnership under the tax law of the foreign country but not necessarily as a partnership under U.S. tax law.
U.S. multinationals can also create corporate subsidiaries in the foreign country treated as corporations under the tax law of both the foreign country and the U.S., with possibly two levels of income taxation in the foreign country plus U.S. income taxation of earnings repatriated to the U.S. as dividends.
Under U.S. entity classification rules, certain types of entities can “check the box” to elect their classification to be taxed as a corporation with two levels of tax, a partnership with pass-through taxation, or even be disregarded for U.S. federal income tax purposes. The check the box election allows U.S. multinationals to engage in more effective global tax planning.
Toll charges, transfer pricing and treaties
When establishing a foreign corporate subsidiary, the U.S. multinational will likely need to transfer certain assets to the new entity to make it fully operational. However, in many cases, the U.S. multinational cannot perform the transfer without recognizing taxable income. In the international context, the IRS imposes certain outbound “toll charges” on the transfer of appreciated property to a foreign entity, which are usually provided for in IRC Section 367 and subject to various exceptions and nuances.
Instead, the U.S. multinational may prefer to license intellectual property to the foreign subsidiary for a fee rather than transfer the property outright. However, licensing requires the company and foreign subsidiary to adhere to transfer pricing rules, as dictated by IRC Section 482. The U.S. multinational and the foreign subsidiary must interact in an arms-length manner regarding pricing and economic terms. Furthermore, any such arrangement may attract withholding taxes when royalties are paid across a border.
Are you GILTI?
Certain U.S. multinationals opt to focus on deferring the income recognition at the U.S. level. In doing so, they simply leave overseas profits overseas and delay repatriating any of the earnings to the U.S.
Despite the general merits of this form of planning, U.S. multinationals will be subject to certain IRS anti-deferral mechanisms, commonly known as “Subpart F” and GILTI. Essentially, U.S. shareholders of certain foreign corporations are forced to recognize their pro rata share of certain types of income generated by these foreign entities at the time the income is earned instead of waiting until the foreign entity formally repatriates the income to the U.S.
The end goal
Essentially, all effective international tax planning boils down to treasury management. Effective and early tax planning can properly allow a company to better achieve its initial goal: profitability.
If global expansion is on the horizon for your company, consult a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.
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