This is the digital transformation of tax: a climate in which global tax authorities demand more e-invoicing and e-reporting—which will likely lead to more e-assessments and e-audits. Here, we explore the transformation and offer a clear path forward for business and technology leaders to tackle its challenges and leverage opportunities.
To date, about 30 countries have implemented some form of digital tax reporting or collection requirement—and many of those early movers are developing nations such as Brazil and Mexico. As Intra-European Organisation of Tax Administrations Executive Secretary Miguel Silva Pinto explains, a primary motivator moving developing countries toward digital processes is that “digitization is a highly effective means of countering fraud.”
But going forward, more nations—including developed economies—will up the ante on digital reporting requirements. Not only will the information collected swell to include more intimate details around corporate operations, it will also shift from taxpayer-submitted to government-issued returns.
“The rise of digital taxation turns the traditional tax collector-taxpayer relationship on its head,” says Carolyn Bailey, partner at Ernst & Young’s Tax Services. In a Forbes Insights survey of 250+ senior executives, majorities of cross-industry finance, tax and IT leaders report experiencing a variety of trends in digital taxation.
The switch to digital taxation introduces a variety of challenges, risks and costs: some are immediate and tactical, while others are longer-term and strategic.
Tax authorities will have a clearer window into a company’s tax operations
Advanced analytics and AI will monitor consistency, track compliance and more precisely choose audit targets
This unprecedented visibility means more intrusive controls, higher income assessments and the potential for tax controversy
Initially, companies will need to tweak or even overhaul their invoicing, payment, enterprise resource planning (ERP) or other financial systems. Challenges will multiply as individual jurisdictions implement and continuously update digital requirements and more nations join the fray.
Meeting multiple requirements on short timelines across a growing list of jurisdictions can lead to a patchwork of solutions amid a diversion of scarce local IT and tax resources. But failure to achieve compliance in real-time reporting of transactions impacting VAT and broader taxation leads to fines, business disruption and damaged reputations.
Digitization of taxation is part of an even larger trend—the shift to sharing more intimate information with tax authorities, a process accelerated by the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting initiative (BEPS).
Digitization of so much data “becomes tax disclosure on steroids,” says Bailey. Soon enough, there will be jurisdictions applying advanced analytics and AI to scrutinize enterprises in search of evidence that can be used to levy higher assessments.
“More nations will be collecting massive amounts of information about not only individual companies, but entire industries, giving authorities an unprecedented window into operations and profitability.”
Partner, EY Tax Services
Digital Tax Administration Services
The path forward can be daunting for business leaders: 57% say that responding to digital taxation represents a significant challenge for their company. Forbes Insights research findings and Bailey’s guidance can help business leaders create an explicit strategy.
“Take inventory of where you’re operating and where these requirements are being introduced,” recommends Bailey. It’s essential “to gain an understanding of the deadlines and to find out about penalties and enforcement.” Inventories should also take into account future investments.
83% of surveyed executives say they will be taking steps to move global taxation into a more centralized model. Greater centralization will eliminate the need for local IT patches and workarounds, in turn creating “opportunity for companies to achieve greater standardization,” says Bailey.
The shift to digital processes—and away from manual, paper-based and often error-prone single-country systems—presents an opportunity to reduce costs while improving quality and efficiency.
Executives are seeking assistance from specialists with expertise in digital VAT/GST operations around the world, as well as working more closely with ERP and other financial software providers. Most will be hiring additional IT and tax staff at headquarters and locally.
Perhaps the greatest necessity is to unite leaders across functions and processes. This begins with IT and tax, but also includes the broader finance, operations and strategic planning teams.
A comprehensive response is essential. Many companies need country-specific e-invoicing and related tax solutions, which requires a more systematic approach. And as tax authorities leverage their increased insight, companies must also prepare for more intrusive tax administration controls, tax controversy and intense scrutiny on transfer pricing. A coordinated response linking core business processes and ERP systems with new interfaces and improved solutions for reporting and compliance can significantly reduce costs and risks.
Greater standardization of information exchanged with tax administration platforms leads to vast new caches of mineable data. Tools like AI could help sift through detailed cost, revenue and related operational data, leading to more optimal decisions and strategies. Companies can also leverage the same data and tools to proactively scour their business models for tax efficiency and compliance—allowing for improved tax planning, contemporaneous documentation and justification of transfer pricing policies.