During these continuing challenging times we remain determined to keep like-minded professionals connected to one another. Rutherford Cross recently hosted its latest virtual Tax Forum in conjunction with RSM. Ross Stupart and Kal Sangha, Corporate Tax Partners at RSM in the Central Belt of Scotland led the discussion with our attendees, all tax professionals in industry or finance professionals with tax forming part of their remit.
As well as an engaging agenda, the discussion was supported with a live poll throughout the session with selected questions.
Many of us are currently working in remote teams, physically disconnected from colleagues and key stakeholders in the business. How have you found keeping tax on the radar for your business and Board?
- More difficult – 38%
- Less Difficult – 0%
- No real change – 63%
- Our board love a good chat on tax and are regularly on the phone to me – 0%
The Impact of Remote Working
The above results tied in nicely with our discussion around the visibility of the in-house tax function within a business. There has been a real challenge when working remotely, particularly for those in standalone tax roles to continue to raise profile and priorities in the business. Certain aspects of tax might be prioritised particularly where there is a cash impact but a lot of tax matters such as transfer pricing may have been categorised as “nice to haves” in the last year. It was generally agreed that in order for a tax function to understand how to meet the needs of their stakeholders, the tax team must continue to understand the business and it is easier to get that wholesome knowledge of an organisation through meeting people.
However, there have been occasions where accessibility has been easier through the extensive use of technology, particularly for global businesses. We had few attendees who were new to their in house tax roles, and although it was felt that there have been challenges, COVID and remote working has provided an ice breaker and it has encouraged more forward thinking behaviours.
No matter how you maintain tax on the agenda, it is imperative that leadership teams understand the importance of tax being involved at the planning and enabling stage of anything, not at the last minute.
There was a general feeling in our discussion that businesses are almost only just starting to realise that Brexit is happening. Brexit planning strategies are essential, particularly where your company has an international footprint. COVID has presented some issues in reaching overseas tax authorities and simple things are taking a lot longer than they ordinarily would.
What is the most important skill/attribute of an in-house tax adviser?
- Technical capability – 0%
- Ability to build relationships within the business – 44%
- Commercial mindset and understanding of the business – 56%
- None of the above – 0%
Understanding Your Business
It was felt that stakeholder relationships and understanding your business were the most important attributes of an in-house tax advisor. Our attendees agreed that you must be able to communicate in commercial and practical terms, and it was agreed that upon joining a new business, you need to focus a lot of your attention on understanding what they do, how they do it, what the objectives are, and then consider the tax issues and the opportunities that may arise. This way, you can find problems before they exist, and fix them before they happen. In house tax advisors also need to appreciate that it is impossible for them to know everything, and sometimes their role is to manage the solution, as opposed to solving it on every occasion.
What do you perceive as the key challenges or areas that will absorb the time of your in-house tax team in the foreseeable future?
- Just keeping up with the mountain of returns and compliance – 29%
- Managing expectations around the group tax burden if tax rates start to increase – 43%
- Finding suitable resource to add to the team and spread the workload – 14%
- OECD and BEPS 2.0 – 14%
- Something else – 0%
The results of this poll raised some questions around whether tax was more complex now than it used to be. There was a consensus that tax rates are going to increase and therefore there will be a huge emphasis on forecasting. It will be critical that the in-house tax advisor can help their Board to understand where and why taxes are increasing.
Our last poll asked the question as to whether our attendees found this session useful, and thankfully, everyone did! We will therefore be running this forum quarterly in 2021. To find out more about this event, or to discuss your tax recruitment needs, please contact [email protected].