Nearly two-thirds of corporate tax leaders are skeptical about the two-year timeline set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for curbing multinational tax avoidance, according to a new survey by KPMG.
The survey of 220 U.S. senior tax professionals found that 64 percent of respondents believe the OECD’s 24-month timetable doesn’t offer adequate time to accomplish the goals of the organization’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting, or BEPS, initiative, which aims to address how countries tax multinational corporations’ revenues and profits. The poll respondents believe the time is insufficient to address concerns about profit shifting or “double non-taxation” and provide a “level playing field” among tax systems and taxpayers. Only 21 percent were positive on the issue of timing.
The OECD launched its Action Plan on BEPS last July, identifying 15 specific actions needed in order to equip governments with the domestic and international tools to address the challenges identified by the initiative. The plan emphasizes the importance of addressing the digital economy and developing new approaches to prevent double non-taxation. The plan was fully endorsed by the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors at their July 2013 meeting in Moscow, as well as the G20 Heads of State at their meeting in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, last September.
KPMG advises that with the significant political demand for immediate action, the deadlines aren’t likely to change. Corporate tax departments need to engage with the OECD and policymakers on the specifics of the Action Plan, keep a sharp focus on the potential compliance implications, and anticipate the impact of likely changes on their global operations.
While the vast majority of respondents (82 percent) feel the BEPS Action Plan is an issue that has garnered the attention of their board and C-level management, only 11 percent believe these two groups have a high-level of understanding of the initiative, or are concerned about its implications on their companies.
“Tax leaders may not believe the OECD has adequate time to achieve all the objectives in the Action Plan, but with the significant political demand for immediate action, the deadlines are not likely to change,” said Manal Corwin, national leader of KPMG’s International Tax practice and principal-in-charge of International Tax Policy in the firm’s Washington National Tax practice, in a statement. “Corporate tax departments need to engage with the OECD and policymakers on the specifics, keep a sharp focus on the potential compliance implications, and anticipate the impact of likely changes on their global operations.”
Nearly half (48 percent) the tax executives polled by KPMG said their board and other C-level executives are having an ongoing dialogue on BEPS developments. Thirty-seven percent said these two groups understand the plan and are having some internal debate about it but are not concerned; and 24 percent said the groups are aware of the debate but are neither concerned about nor engaged in regular dialogue on it. Eleven percent said their board/C-level members are unaware of the project.
“The survey indicates that BEPS is definitely on the radar of boards and the C-Suite and is not exclusively the tax department’s domain,” said Corwin. “While senior management may not be fully focused on BEPS at the moment, as the project progresses and individual countries begin to take concrete action, we expect to see an increased focus across organizations, not only with planning for changes, but also with respect to managing tax risk and revisiting tax governance.”
When asked to pick their two top concerns about the OECD’s Action plan, most tax executive respondents cited tax information disclosure requirements (50 percent) and transfer pricing rule changes (47 percent), followed by changes to long-standing international tax norms, such as permanent establishment rules and ruling practices (36 percent).
In terms of the most significant steps they expect their company to take in response to the BEPS project, 56 percent of survey respondents pointed to determining that their documentation and compliance is adequate. In addition, 35 percent cited modeling the potential impact of the action plan on the company’s tax costs.
The survey also found that 56 percent of respondents “strongly agree” or “agree” that their company’s tax burden and reporting obligations in various jurisdictions will increase, assuming the OECD’s work on tax challenges of the digital economy will result in changes to the international standards for taxation and provide certainty needed in this area.
Nearly half of respondents (47 percent) with foreign intangible-property holding companies were either concerned or very concerned that the BEPS project would restrict or eliminate the structures. Only 11 percent of respondents were not concerned.
Thirty-seven percent said they were concerned that the BEPS project might restrict or eliminate the use of financing structures that incorporate hybrid instruments currently being used by their company. Fourteen percent felt it wouldn’t and 33 percent weren’t sure.
Survey respondents were mixed when asked if the BEPS project would cause them to reexamine their company’s transfer pricing protocols, with 41 percent responding affirmatively and 43 percent negatively.
A 53 percent majority of the poll respondents expect U.S. and/or foreign tax benefits derived from the use of disregarded entities will be restricted or eliminated as a result of the BEPS initiative.
“Executives throughout the organization need to appreciate that the Action Plan has already significantly increased the scrutiny of multinationals’ tax structures in a number of countries, even before its own deadline,” said Corwin. “More than ever before, it is important for multinational leaders to be fully aware of and comfortable with all of the facts supporting their tax profile.”