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Tax and accounting

Digital tax administration creates data management challenges for multinational companies

Sharon Rosiak  Solution Consulting Lead, Thomson Reuters

Sharon Rosiak  Solution Consulting Lead, Thomson Reuters

Government tax authorities worldwide are deploying digital methods to administer their tax regimes and many corporate tax departments are struggling to keep pace.

“Amid increasing demands for tax transparency by governments and supranational organizations, many tax authorities are building sophisticated data-gathering platforms that enable matching and sharing of taxpayer data,” EY recently reported. “They are then using analytics to mine this data to help increase tax collections, target compliance initiatives, and improve overall efficiency.”

About 30 countries have implemented some type of digital tax reporting or collection requirements, according to Forbes Insights. Most finance and IT executives responding to a Forbes survey said digital tax administration gives authorities more visibility into companies’ operations, including transfer pricing activity between subsidiaries, and will lead to more sophisticated tax audits.

“Overall, 87% of executives say all of this will have a dramatic impact on their industry,” the Forbes report says. “Host tax authorities will have remarkably detailed insight into intercompany domestic and cross-border transactions, as well as a view into entire value chains. The likelihood for more aggressive income assessments will surge.”

These digital demands are extremely challenging for many large multinational corporations, where the tax department is typically the largest consumer of data — but data required for tax compliance and reporting typically is not in an easy-to-use format, may be too summarized to be useful, and may not be tax sensitized or structured by separate legal entity (which is a key tax reporting requirement.)

Traditionally, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have not been implemented to meet the needs of tax compliance and reporting. As a result, tax department personnel can spend close to 80% of their time taking the available summarized data through financial reporting applications, breaking it down into its transactional components, organizing it by legal entity and jurisdiction, and tying it back to the summarized financial data before it can be trusted for statutory reporting.

These digital demands are extremely challenging for many large multinational corporations, where the tax department is typically the largest consumer of data.

Once the data has been prepared for use, it must be staged into a format that can be easily analyzed for tax applicability. This traditionally has been a manual keying-and-re-keying exercise. Once taxability is determined, data typically must be rearranged again for reporting on the tax form.

The data on the tax form, meanwhile, resides in the company’s tax software with no easy way to access it for analytics and strategic planning. To respond to queries from executive leadership, more manual work is required to key data from tax returns into Excel repositories for assessment. For many corporate tax departments, the manual cycle never ends — and neither does the bottom-line question from leadership: Why, in our high-tech environment, does it take so long to get an answer to seemingly simple questions?

More importantly, these systems and manual processes are wholly inadequate for complying with tax authorities’ increasing digital demands — and that creates significant risk.

“Companies are increasingly being asked to submit client invoices, statements of accounts, customs declarations, vendor invoices, and bank records, all in formats specified by the government — and on an accelerated schedule,” the EY report says. “Tax authorities are using real-time or near real-time data analytics engines to validate invoices and lag discrepancies, verify sales and purchase declarations, verify payroll and withholding declarations, and compare data across jurisdictions and taxpayers. Based on these analyses, tax authorities make determinations, including tax and audit assessments.”

As technical and regulatory demands grow, the risk of non-compliance rises — making it imperative for companies to improve their collection, storage, management, and analysis of tax data.

The process starts with communication and engagement. Tax professionals within a company must articulate the challenges and the risks to their colleagues in Finance, IT, and the C-suite in order to build support and reach a collaborative solution. This process starts with the company’s tax team members educating themselves thoroughly on their organization’s ERP systems and how data is structured — so they can expertly communicate their specific data requirements to IT.

More importantly, these systems and manual processes are wholly inadequate for complying with tax authorities’ increasing digital demands — and that creates significant risk.

Direct tax managers are accustomed to starting with financial data at a reporting level and drilling down manually to a lower reporting level, such as the data field level, to get what they need. They often are ill-equipped to describe the data they need, but it’s critical that they do so because this is how IT managers identify data and structure it into sources that can be accessed through digital tools.

Tax department leaders also need a “seat at the table” alongside IT, operations, and financial reporting for any and all discussions about replacing or upgrading the ERP, so tax needs are addressed. Ideally, the ERP would contain tax-sensitized data to support the regulatory compliance and reporting requirements for all tax reporting. This, however, could entail widespread changes to the ERP ecosystem that may be deemed cost-prohibitive. Alternatively, IT may propose working with the tax team to create reports, or data sources, after the fact. This isn’t ideal, but it can make more data sufficiently accessible to get the job done and fill the gap in the ERP without burdening the organization.

Tax departments are clamoring for relevant and reliable data coupled with tax technology solutions that allow them to efficiently collect, blend, stage, analyze, report, and report data and reuse it for analytics, dash-boarding, planning, and forecasting in real time.

It’s more important than ever for companies to deliberately move this way, because government tax authorities’ drive to go digital is not likely to slow down.

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