Value-added tax is a type of levy that is applied at each step of a transaction chain, from basic inputs to the final good or service. The amount assessed is based on the value added by an organization (hence the name) when a transaction occurs. VAT is used throughout the world because, historically, it has been harder to evade compared to income taxes. VAT is a common method of national taxation: Approximately 85% of countries impose it worldwide. A notable exception is the United States, where sales and use taxes are imposed at the state and local level and applied only to the price of the final good or service. As commerce has become global and cross-border sales have increased, traditional methods for calculating, applying and complying with VAT regimes has grown more complex. To achieve higher tax revenue while ensuring better compliance, governments are turning to technology to make collections more effective while making processes more efficient.
In 2013, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published a report titled “Action Plan on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting” (commonly referred to as “BEPS”), which describes the challenges national governments face in enforcing taxation in an increasingly global environment with a growing share of digital commerce. Country-by-country (CbC) Reporting has developed in response to the concerns raised in the report. To date, 65 countries (including all members of the European Union but not the United States) are signatories of the multilateral competent authority agreement establishing CbC reporting.
The imperative to transform the finance department to function in a more strategic, forward-looking and action-oriented fashion has been a consistent theme of practitioners, consultants and business journalists for two decades. In all that time, however, most finance and accounting departments have not changed much. In our benchmark research on the Office of Finance, nine out of 10 participants said that it’s important or very important for finance departments to take a strategic role in running their company. The research also shows a significant gap between this objective and how well most departments perform. A large majority (83%) said they perform the core finance functions of accounting, fiscal control, transaction management, financial reporting and internal auditing, but only 41 percent said they play an active role in their company’s management. Even fewer (25%) have implemented a high degree of automation in their core finance functions and actively promote process and analytical excellence.
Topics: Big Data, Planning, Predictive Analytics, Social Media, Governance, GRC, Human Capital, Mobile Technology, Office of Finance, Budgeting, close, Continuous Accounting, Continuous Planning, end-to-end, Tax, Tax-Datawarehouse, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Business Performance, CIO, Cloud Computing, Financial Performance, In-memory, Uncategorized, CFO, CPQ, Risk, CEO, Financial Performance Management, FPM
The steady march of technology’s ability to handle ever more complicated tasks has been a constant since the beginning of the information age in the 1950s. Initially, computers in business were used to automate simple clerical functions, but as systems have become more capable, information technology has been able to substitute for increasingly higher levels of human skill and experience. A turning point of sorts was reached in the 1990s when ERP, business intelligence and business process automation software reduced the need for middle managers. Increasingly, organizations used software to coordinate activities as well as communicate results and requirements up and down the organizational chart. Both were once the exclusive role of the middle manager. Consequently, almost every for-profit organization eliminated management layers so that today corporate structures are flatter than they once were. Technology automation also eliminated the need for administrative staff to perform routine reporting and analysis. Meanwhile, over the course of the 1990s, the cost of running the finance department measured as a percentage of sales was cut almost in half as a result of eliminating staff and because automation enabled companies to scale without adding headcount. During the last recession, companies in North America and Europe once again made deep reductions to their administrative staffs, relying on information technology to pick up the slack.
Topics: Sustainability, ERP, Governance, GRC, Human Capital, Office of Finance, audit, finance transformation, LongView, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Performance, Financial Performance, Oracle, CFO, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Vertex, FPM, Innovation Awards, Thomson-Reuters multinational
Workday Financial Management (which belongs in the broader ERP software category) appears to be gaining traction in the market, having matured sufficiently to be attractive to a large audience of buyers. It was built from the ground up as a cloud application. While that gives it the advantage of a fresh approach to structuring its data and process models for the cloud, the product has had to catch up to its rivals in functionality. The company’s ERP offering has matured considerably over the past three years and now is better positioned to grow its installed base. Workday recently added Aon, the insurance and professional services company, to its customer list (becoming its largest customer to date) and reported that its annual contract value (ACV - the annualized aggregate revenue value of all subscription contracts as of the end of a quarter) has doubled since the second quarter of this year, albeit from a low base. This is an important milestone because for years the company’s growth has come from the human capital management (HCM) portion of the business, not financials. Workday has around 160 customers for its financials (more than 90 of which are live) compared to more than 1,000 customers for HCM.
Topics: Microsoft, SAP, ERP, FP&A, Human Capital, NetSuite, Office of Finance, Reporting, close, Controller, dashboard, Tax, Operational Performance, Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Financial Performance, IBM, Oracle, Uncategorized, CFO, Data, Financial Performance Management, FPM, Intacct, Spreadsheets
Whatever Oracle’s cloud strategy had been the past, this year’s OpenWorld conference and trade show made it clear that the company is now all in. In his keynote address, co-CEO Mark Hurd presented predictions for the world of information technology in 2025, when the cloud will be central to companies’ IT environments. While his forecast that two (unnamed) companies will account for 80 percent of the cloud software market 10 years from now is highly improbable, it’s likely that there will be relentless consolidation, marginalization and extinction within the IT industry sector driven by cloud disruptions and the maturing of the software business. In practice, though, we expect the transition to the cloud to be slow and uneven.
Topics: Microsoft, Predictive Analytics, Sales Performance, SAP, Supply Chain Performance, ERP, Human Capital, Mobile Technology, NetSuite, Office of Finance, Reporting, close, closing, Controller, dashboard, Tax, Customer Performance, Operational Performance, Analytics, Business Collaboration, Business Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, IBM, Oracle, Business Performance Management (BPM), CFO, Data, finance, Financial Performance Management (FPM), Financial Performance Management, FPM, Intacct
Many senior finance executives say they want their department to play a more strategic role in the management and operations of their company. They want Finance to shift its focus from processing transactions to higher-value functions in order to make more substantial contributions to the success of the organization. I use the term “continuous accounting” to represent an approach to managing the accounting cycle that can facilitate the shift by improving the performance of the accounting function. Continuous accounting embraces three main principles:
Topics: ERP, Office of Finance, Reporting, close, closing, Controller, dashboard, Tax, Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Financial Performance, CFO, Data, finance, Financial Performance Management, FPM
Revenue recognition standards for companies that use contracts are in the process of changing, as I covered in an earlier perspective. As part of managing their transition to these standards, CFOs and controllers should initiate a full-scale review of their order-to-cash cycle. This should include examination of their company’s sales contracts and their contracting process. They also should examine how well their contracting processes are integrated with invoicing and billing and any other elements of their order-to-cash cycle, especially as these relate to revenue recognition. They must recognize that how their company structures, writes and modifies these contracts and handles the full order-to-cash cycle will have a direct impact on workloads in the finance and accounting department as well as on external audit costs. Companies that will be affected by the new standards also should investigate whether they can benefit from using software to automate contract management or in some cases an application that supports their configure, price and quote (CPQ) function by facilitating standardization and automation of their contracting processes.
For most of the past decade businesses that decided not to pay attention to proposed changes in revenue recognition rules have saved themselves time and frustration as the proponents’ timetables have slipped and roadmaps have changed. The new rules are the result of a convergence of US-GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles – the accounting standard used by U.S.-based companies) and IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards – the system used in much of the rest of the world). Now, however, it’s time for everyone to pay close attention. Last year the U.S.-based Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB, which manages US-GAAP) and the Brussels-based International Accounting Standards Board (IASB, which manages IFRS) issued “Topic 606” and “IFRS 15,” respectively, which express their harmonized approach to governing revenue recognition. A major objective of the new standards is to provide investors and other stakeholders with more accurate and consistent depictions of companies’ revenue across multiple types of business as well as make the standard consistent between the major accounting regimes.
Topics: Planning, Customer Experience, Governance, Office of Finance, Recurring Revenue, Reporting, Revenue Performance, Budgeting, Tax, Customer Performance, Business Performance, Financial Performance
One of the issues in handling the tax function in business, especially where it involves direct (income) taxes, is the technical expertise required. At the more senior levels, practitioners must be knowledgeable about accounting and tax law. In multinational corporations, understanding differences between accounting and legal structures in various localities and their effects on tax liabilities requires more knowledge. Yet when I began to study the structures of corporate tax departments, I was struck by the scarcity of senior-level titles in them. This may reflect the low profile of the department in most companies and the tactical nature of the work it has performed. Advances in information technology have the potential to automate most of the manual tasks tax professionals perform. This increase in efficiency will enable tax departments to fill a more strategic, important role in the companies they serve.
Topics: Big Data, ERP, Governance, GRC, Office of Finance, audit, finance transformation, LongView, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Performance, Financial Performance, Information Management, Oracle, CFO, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Vertex, FPM, Innovation Awards, Thomson-Reuters multinational
Last year Ventana Research released our Office of Finance benchmark research. One of the objectives of the project was to assess organizations’ progress in achieving “finance transformation.” This term denotes shifting the focus of CFOs and finance departments from transaction processing toward more strategic, higher-value functions. In the research nine out of 10 participants said that it’s important or very important for the department to take a more strategic role. This objective is both longstanding and elusive. It has been part of the conversation in financial management circles since the 1990s and has been a primary focus of my research practice since its inception 12 years ago. Yet our recent research shows that most finance organizations struggle with the basics and few companies are even close to achieving this desired transformation.
Topics: Big Data, Planning, Predictive Analytics, Governance, GRC, Office of Finance, Budgeting, close, end-to-end, Tax, Tax-Datawarehouse, Analytics, Business Performance, CIO, Financial Performance, In-memory, CFO, CPQ, Risk, CEO, Financial Performance Management, FPM
Our recently published Office of Finance benchmark research assesses a broad set of functions and capabilities of finance organizations. We asked research participants to identify the most important issues for a finance department to address in a dozen functional areas: accounting, budgeting, cost accounting, customer profitability management, external financial reporting, financial analysis, financial governance and internal audit, management accounting, product profitability management, strategic and long-range planning, tax management and treasury and cash management. Among the key findings is this: Not using the most capable software is an underlying cause, often unrecognized, of process, analytics and data issues.
Topics: Mobile, Planning, Predictive Analytics, ERP, FP&A, Office of Finance, Reporting, Self-service, Budgeting, close, closing, computing, Controller, dashboard, Tax, Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Financial Performance, CFO, Data, finance, Financial Performance Management, FPM, Microsoft Excel, Spreadsheets
Our recent Office of Finance benchmark research demonstrates the importance of using automation to execute finance department functions. Information technology systems do at least two things very well that make better use of people’s time, and both of them can substantially improve organizational performance. First, they eliminate the need for people to do repetitive tasks, which frees them to spend time on more valuable work that requires judgment and skill. IT systems also can be programmed to focus only on relevant information while eliminating the need to get immersed in detail. The latter capability supports a “management by exception” approach, which enables executives and managers to better allocate how and where they spend their time.
Topics: Big Data, Mobile, Planning, ERP, FP&A, Office of Finance, Reporting, Self-service, Budgeting, close, closing, computing, Controller, dashboard, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Financial Performance, CFO, Data, finance, Financial Performance Management, FPM, Microsoft Excel, Spreadsheets
Finance transformation” refers to a longstanding objective: shifting the focus of CFOs and finance departments from transaction processing to more strategic, higher-value functions. Our upcoming Office of Finance benchmark research confirms that most of organizations want their finance department to take a more strategic role in management of the company: nine in 10 participants said that it’s important or very important. (We are using “finance” in its broadest sense, including, for example, accounting, corporate finance, financial planning and analysis, treasury and tax functions.) Finance departments have the ability and at least an implicit mandate to improve business performance and enable a corporation to execute strategy more effectively. Yet the research shows that becoming strategic is a work in progress. Most departments handle the basics well, but half fall short in areas that can contribute significantly to the performance of their company. More than three-fourths of participants said they perform accounting, external financial reporting, financial analysis, budgeting and management accounting well or very well. But only half said that about their ability to do product and customer profitability management, strategic and long-range planning and business development.
Topics: Big Data, Mobile, Performance Management, Predictive Analytics, Social Media, ERP, FP&A, Office of Finance, Reporting, Management, close, closing, computing, Controller, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Business Performance, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Financial Performance, CFO, finance, Tagetik, FPM
Finance and accounting departments are staffed with numbers-oriented, naturally analytical people. Strong analytic skills are essential if a finance department is to deliver deep insights into performance and visibility into emerging opportunities and challenges. The conclusions of analyses enable fast, fully informed business decisions by executives and managers. Conversely, flawed analyses undermine the performance of a company. So it was good news that in our Office of Finance benchmark research 62 percent of participants rated the analytical skills of their finance organization as above average or excellent.
Topics: Big Data, Mobile, Planning, Predictive Analytics, ERP, FP&A, Office of Finance, Reporting, Self-service, Budgeting, close, closing, computing, Controller, dashboard, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Financial Performance, CFO, Data, finance, Tagetik, Financial Performance Management, FPM, Microsoft Excel, Spreadsheets
I’ve written before about the increasing importance of having a solid technology base for a company’s tax function, and it’s important enough for me to revisit the topic. Tax departments are entrusted with a highly sensitive and essential task in their companies. Taxes usually are the second largest corporate expense, after salaries and wages. Failure to understand this liability is expensive – either because taxes are overpaid or because of fines and interest levied for underpayment. Moreover, taxes remain a political issue, and corporations – especially larger ones – must be mindful of the reputational implications of their tax liabilities.
Topics: ERP, Governance, GRC, Office of Finance, audit, finance transformation, LongView, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, Financial Performance, Information Management, Oracle, CFO, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Vertex, FPM, Innovation Awards, Thomson-Reuters multinational
Longview Solutions has a longstanding presence in the financial performance management (FPM) software market and was rated a Hot vendor in our most recent FPM Value Index. Several years ago it began offering a tax provision and planning application. I think it’s worthwhile to focus on the tax category because it’s less well known than others in finance and is an engine of growth for Longview. We expect larger corporations increasingly to adopt software to manage direct (income) taxes to improve the quality and efficiency of what today in most companies is an inefficient, spreadsheet-driven process.
Topics: ERP, GRC, Office of Finance, audit, finance transformation, LongView, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Performance, Financial Performance, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), CFO, FPM, Innovation Awards
Our research consistently finds that data issues are a root cause of many problems encountered by modern corporations. One of the main causes of bad data is a lack of data stewardship – too often, nobody is responsible for taking care of data. Fixing inaccurate data is tedious, but creating IT environments that build quality into data is far from glamorous, so these sorts of projects are rarely demanded and funded. The magnitude of the problem grows with the company: Big companies have more data and bigger issues with it than midsize ones. But companies of all sizes ignore this at their peril: Data quality, which includes accuracy, timeliness, relevance and consistency, has a profound impact on the quality of work done, especially in analytics where the value of even brilliantly conceived models is degraded when the data that drives that model is inaccurate, inconsistent or not timely. That’s a key finding of our finance analytics benchmark research.
Topics: Big Data, Planning, Predictive Analytics, Governance, Office of Finance, Budgeting, close, Finance Analytics, Tax, Operational Performance, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, CIO, Financial Performance, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), In-memory, Information Applications, CFO, Risk, CEO, Financial Performance Management, FPM
Business computing has undergone a quiet revolution over the past two decades. As a result of having added, one-by-one, applications that automate all sorts of business processes, organizations now collect data from a wider and deeper array of sources than ever before. Advances in the tools for analyzing and reporting the data from such systems have made it possible to assess financial performance, process quality, operational status, risk and even governance and compliance in every aspect of a business. Against this background, however, our recently released benchmark research finds that finance organizations are slow to make use of the broader range of data and apply advanced analytics to it.
Topics: Big Data, Planning, Predictive Analytics, Governance, Office of Finance, Budgeting, close, Finance Analytics, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, CIO, Financial Performance, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), In-memory, Information Management, CFO, Risk, CEO, Financial Performance Management, FPM
A core objective of my research practice and agenda is to help the Office of Finance improve its performance by better utilizing information technology. As we kick off 2014, I see five initiatives that CFOs and controllers should adopt to improve their execution of core finance functions and free up time to concentrate on increasing their department’s strategic value. Finance organizations – especially those that need to improve performance – usually find it difficult to find the resources to invest in increasing their strategic value. However, any of the first three initiatives mentioned below will enable them to operate more efficiently as well as improve performance. These initiatives have been central to my focus for the past decade. The final two are relatively new and reflect the evolution of technology to enable finance departments to deliver better results. Every finance organization should adopt at least one of these five as a priority this year.
Topics: Big Data, Performance Management, Planning, Predictive Analytics, Sales Performance, Supply Chain Performance, Office of Finance, Budgeting, close, dashboard, PRO, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Business Performance, CIO, Customer & Contact Center, Financial Performance, In-memory, CFO, Supply Chain, CEO, demand management, Financial Performance Management, FPM, S&OP
Senior finance executives and finance organizations that want to improve their performance must recognize that technology is a key tool for doing high-quality work. To test this premise, imagine how smoothly your company would operate if all of its finance and administrative software and hardware were 25 years old. In almost all cases the company wouldn’t be able to compete at all or would be at a substantial disadvantage. Having the latest technology isn’t always necessary, but even though software doesn’t wear out in a physical sense, it has a useful life span, at the end of which it needs replacement. As an example, late in 2013 a major U.K. bank experienced two system-wide failures in rapid succession caused by its decades-old mainframe systems; these breakdowns followed a similarly costly failure in 2012. For years the cost and risk of replacing these legacy systems kept management from taking the plunge. What they didn’t consider were the cost and risk associated with keeping the existing systems going. Our new research agenda for the Office of Finance attempts to find a balance between the leading edge and the mainstream that will help businesses find practical solutions.
Topics: Big Data, Planning, Predictive Analytics, Governance, GRC, Office of Finance, Budgeting, close, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Collaboration, Business Performance, CIO, Cloud Computing, Financial Performance, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), In-memory, CFO, Risk, CEO, Financial Performance Management, FPM
Oracle continues to enrich the capabilities of its Hyperion suite of applications that support the finance function, but I wonder if that will be enough to sustain its market share and new generation of expectations. At the recent Oracle OpenWorld these new features were on display, and spokespeople described how the company will be transitioning its software to cloud deployment. Our 2013 Financial Performance Management Value (FPM) Index rates Oracle Hyperion a Warm vendor in my analysis, ranking eighth out of nine vendors. Our Value Index is informed by more than a decade of analysis of technology suppliers and their products and how well they satisfy specific business and IT needs. We perform a detailed evaluation of product functionality and suitability-to-task as well as the effectiveness of vendor support for the buying process and customer assurance. Our assessment reflects two disparate sets of factors. On one hand, the Hyperion FPM suite offers a broad set of software that automates, streamlines and supports a range of finance department functions. It includes sophisticated analytical applications. Used to full effect, Hyperion can eliminate many manual steps and speed execution of routine work. It also can enhance accuracy, ensure tasks are completed on a timely basis, foster coordination between Finance and the rest of the organization and generate insights into corporate performance. For this, the software gets high marks.
Topics: Big Data, Mobile, Planning, Social Media, ERP, Human Capital Management, Modeling, Office of Finance, Reporting, Budgeting, close, closing, Consolidation, Controller, driver-based, Finance Financial Applications Financial Close, Hyperion, IFRS, Tax, XBRL, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, CIO, Cloud Computing, Financial Performance, In-memory, Oracle, CFO, compliance, Data, benchmark, Financial Performance Management, financial reporting, FPM, GAAP, Integrated Business Planning, Price Optimization, Profitability, SEC Software
Technology for the Office of Finance can have transformative power. Although progress has been slow at times, today’s finance organizations are fundamentally different from those of 50 years ago. For one thing, they require far fewer resources (chiefly people) to perform basic accounting, treasury and corporate finance tasks. In addition, public corporations report results sooner – sometimes weeks sooner – than they could in the mid-20th century. And finance departments are able to harness substantially more data and a wider array of analytics to promote insight and support more agile decision-making.
Topics: ERP, GRC, Office of Finance, audit, finance transformation, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Business Performance, Financial Performance, CFO, Vertex, FPM, Innovation Awards
I’m wondering whether the rapid rise in earnings restatements by “accelerated filers” (companies that file their financial statements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that have a public float greater than $75 million) over the past three years is a significant trend or an interesting blip. According to a research firm, Audit Analytics, that number has grown from 153 restatements in 2009 to 245 in 2012, a 60 percent increase. What makes it a blip is that the total is still less than half the number that occurred in 2006 as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act began to take effect. As well, the number of companies restating is still less than one percent of the total. Yet it’s a blip worth paying attention to, since the consequences of a restatement pose a serious professional challenge to finance executives. The right software can help address some of the underlying causes that lead to the need to restate earnings.
Topics: Customer Experience, Governance, GRC, Office of Finance, Reporting, audit, close, Consolidation, Controller, Tax, XBRL, Business Performance, Financial Performance, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), CFO, compliance, FPM, SEC
Taxes – both indirect (sales or value added taxes, for example) and direct (income taxes) – are one the largest expense items on the corporate income statement. In recent years it has become common for large and even midsize companies to automate their indirect tax management process, but direct tax management has remained a bastion of manual processes built on a heap of desktop spreadsheets. In previous blog posts I discussed this issue and the role of the tax data warehouse as a necessary foundation for automating the direct tax process. Addressing an important need, Vertex is currently providing a limited release of its Enterprise offering, a single-platform approach to managing all types of taxes (direct and indirect) across the entire tax life cycle (from analysis through provisioning to audit defense) using a single data source.
Topics: ERP, GRC, Office of Finance, audit, finance transformation, Tax, Analytics, Business Analytics, Business Performance, Financial Performance, Governance, Risk & Compliance (GRC), Information Management, CFO, Vertex, FPM
One of the new products that Infor announced at its recent Inforum user conference (which I covered here) is Local.ly, which is designed to facilitate localization of its applications (that is, adapting them for languages, units of measure, statutory requirements, customary processes and other specific features of the places where they will be used). Local.ly is scheduled to be released in the third quarter of this year. Infor points out that among other tasks the software can be used to facilitate tax provisioning outside a corporation’s home country, thereby reducing the costs associated with determining tax liabilities. I think it also can be useful in calculating income taxes everywhere, especially for larger customers of Infor that have even a moderately complex corporate structure. Here’s how. The entity structure of a company affects its tax management processes. Our benchmark research finds that among companies with 100 or more employees, 43 percent have relatively complicated corporate structures, which is to say they have some combination of many legal entities and complex ownership configuration. This general finding masks a substantial disparity based on size. Relatively few (27%) midsize companies (those with between 100 and 999 employees) have complex corporate structures, large companies (those with between 1,000 and 9,999 employees) are split between simple and complex structures (56% and 44%, respectively), and almost all very large corporations (those with 10,000 or more employees; 88%) are overwhelmingly complex in their structure.
I recently had a briefing from Vertex on its tax data warehouse (TDW), a key component of its tax technology platform Vertex Enterprise. The TDW concept has been around for decades, but the earliest versions were custom-built and hampered by the technology limitations of their day. This made them expensive to deploy and maintain and constrained their ability to adapt to changing corporate requirements. The basic idea behind a TDW is straightforward: a data store that makes all tax data readily available and can be used to plan and provision a company’s taxes. But the complexity of tax-related data overwhelmed the ability of information technology to deliver on the concept. With today’s technological advances the basic idea is finally realizable in a practical sense.
Right after I posted my blog about the dearth of useful content for the line-of-business and finance audience at this year’s Oracle Open World, I attended a truly useful session. (Of course, it had been shunted to the next-to-last time slot on the final day of the event.) It was a case study presented by AT&T’s tax group, discussing its use of Oracle Hyperion Financial Management to manage the corporation’s tax data.
At first thought, it seems as if having a mountain of cash to manage is a problem most companies would like to have, but it’s a real problem nevertheless. To be sure, the large majority of companies are able to deal with their cash and short-term and longer-term monetary investments because the amounts are small enough to be manageable. Indeed, many companies, especially smaller ones, face the opposite problem and spend more time focused on their uncertain funding requirements. Still, over the past decade highly profitable companies have been generating more cash than they need to fund expanding operations and capital spending requirements (Apple and Oracle are two examples), and now they have to manage it. Larger companies may have portfolios in the tens of millions to billions of dollars in multiple currencies in multiple jurisdictions, so there’s a lot at stake.
The globalization of business is having a profound impact on corporate taxation worldwide, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who covers international tax laws. The impacts on corporations operating in multiple national jurisdictions (which today, especially in Europe, includes a large number of midsize companies) are both positive and negative. Positive in the sense that corporate tax rates, tax benefits, reporting and other aspects of tax regulation are subject to competitive moves by countries as a way of attracting businesses. Ireland, for example, long ago crafted the most aggressively company-friendly tax structure in Europe, but now the U.K. and other countries are reducing rates and providing tax incentives for investment and operations within their borders. Even the United States seems poised to overhaul its corporate tax structure. At the same time, there are negative trends in the sense that increasing government cooperation in areas such as transfer pricing reduces a company’s freedom to optimize its tax incidence by artfully managing revenue recognition.
Many companies have automated their sales and use tax processes to cut the effort required to execute them and to reduce the number of errors and their cost in dealing with a fiendishly complex set of rules and rates. This is one step in bringing tax into the mainstream of finance, which we advocate. Most people are familiar with sales tax; a “use tax” is a form of excise tax assessed on otherwise tax-free goods purchased by a resident of the assessing state regardless of where it was purchased. The use-tax rate is usually the same as the sales tax rate that would have been applied to an in-state purchase and is designed to serve the same purpose of generating revenue.
Taxes are a big expense for most companies, profitable or not. Many larger and midsize companies must traverse a complex and constantly shifting landscape of tax rules, rates, and jurisdictions. I’ve previously written about the need for corporations to manage their taxes more intelligently, and that that may require someone in the tax department who understands both the department’s functional requirements and what information technology can do to improve those functions. Today I am going to discuss some organizational changes that are required to transform the tax department from a poorly understood, isolated and tactically driven silo into a mainstream finance function that is tightly integrated with the rest of that organization.
To manage taxes more intelligently tax departments need to focus more on execution than compliance. I’ll confess that this observation is based on informal rather than rigorous research, so I’ll leave it up to individuals that work in these departments and in the finance function generally to consider whether this applies to their company.
I recently commented on why I believe companies must manage taxes more intelligently. One dimension of this is optimizing tax risk exposure. Most corporate tax codes are notoriously complex and at times ambiguous, leaving room for companies to interpret their application. These interpretations fall on a scale of “conservative” to “aggressive,” in which companies weigh the risk of penalties and other negative outcomes against that of paying more taxes than necessary. It strikes me that few of the companies that should be paying attention to these sorts of trade-offs are doing so. I suspect there are a couple of important reasons.