Avalara kicked off its Crush New Orleans conference in the Big Easy, discussing the latest trends in sales and use taxes, excise taxes, global tax compliance and technology.
“Technology is in our DNA,” said Avalara CEO Scott McFarlane. He pointed out how the company is always developing new technology for its users.
“Inertia is our enemy,” he said Tuesday. “Status quo is the enemy. Best practices means you’re just average. I want to be better than that. Let’s step out and create a world where people want to copy us, not that we’re copying other people. That’s what I want to challenge people today. If you’re not willing to live with change, you shouldn’t be at Avalara. We’re going to be disruptive. We’re always looking for the next thing. It’s great that you can do sales tax, but can you do landed cost now? Whatever it is, we’re always looking for the next thing that can help our customers.”
During one of the sessions, a pair of Avalara executives discussed recent trends in international communications taxation. Avalara director of tax research Karen Hassman noted that more countries in the Middle East are considering imposing value-added taxes. “VAT is really the pervasive scheme across the globe,” she said. “We are more familiar with the United States’ treatment of communications transactions, but VAT is actually the more common approach. The United States kind of stands alone with Greenland and part of the Middle East where they really don’t have VAT because the oil revenues are so rich that they have not needed to implement VAT, but given that the price of oil per barrel has gone down, there are new plans amongst the Middle Eastern countries to start considering having at least some kind of supplemental VAT so that they are prepared for the economic changes.”
While the U.S. does not have VAT taxes on communications, there are extra charges, she noted, such as for Emergency 911 service.
Avalara senior tax solutions consultant Sandra Thomas pointed out that Internet access is generally taxed abroad, although it isn’t in the U.S. Tax rates for communications are generally lower abroad in most other countries, with some exceptions. While the VAT has not made many inroads in the U.S. so far, she noted that Puerto Rico is considering imposing a VAT, which could happen this summer.
Hassman observed that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is working on harmonizing the various complex VAT rules across countries.
At a later session on agile businesses, Balraj Jutla, a solutions engineer at Shopify Plus, an Avalara partner, talked about how his company uses its blog to communicate with customers and educate them about e-commerce. Avalara vice president of product strategy Webb Stevens described how the product management process at Avalara has become more transparent as the company has grown in recent years from just a few hundred employees to over 1,000. Avalara uses online tools such as wikis to keep employees informed about the latest developments and gives them the opportunity to weigh in with their own input and suggestions on products.