The Common Reporting Standard
In 2014, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) proposed a global initiative that focused on the exchange of information concerning tax matters. The premise being, the automatic exchange of information between governments should theoretically allow for more thorough scrutiny of information presented on taxpayer returns. Increased scrutiny would then act as a deterrent to tax avoidance.
To date, more than 90 countries have agreed to automatically exchange information provided to them by financial institutions operating within their borders. The Bahamas is on schedule to begin its CRS participation in 2018.
As a follow on from the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), the Common Reporting Standard or CRS is a definite game changer for the offshore financial services industry due to 3 main reasons:
• The cost of implementation.
• The attrition associated with implementation; and
• Offshore compliance fatigue by both clients and service providers.
After the mammoth FATCA review exercise that most offshore financial service providers conducted last year, it became very apparent that the cost associated with these types of reviews placed significant strain on the resources of some firms. Expenses were mostly associated with software upgrades, communication fees and temporary labour costs. It has been suggested that the cost of implementing FATCA, turned out to be ten times more than the revenue it generated due to compliance.
The fact of the matter is that financially, firms are not prepared to sustain yet another costly review of their client base and this has caused a paradigm shift in the way we expect to manage the introduction of the CRS.
There will always be inherent risks associated with any solution. However, in an attempt to minimize the expenses associated with a paper review, some firms have resorted to the terms and conditions by which they provide fiduciary services. Essentially, the “the devil is in the detail”. The principal contractual agreement between the client and the fiduciary service provider should allow for the disclosure of critical information to avoid noncompliance with the standard and at the same time, compel the client to self-certify that he or she has complied with all local tax regulations in their home country.
The CRS will no doubt reduce the volume of clients that maintain offshore trusts because the practical attributes usually associated with being offshore. I.e. Confidentiality, will no longer be available. Practitioners estimate that firms may lose up to 40% of business, with attrition focused on the directed, smaller, less sophisticated structures. Nonetheless, we will come out on the other end of the CRS with an industry that is smaller, more specialized, transparent and more costly for the client.
Clients receive a copious amount of correspondence concerning regulatory changes. At some point it begs the question, why maintain the structure? The first quarter volatility in the markets, coupled with administration expenses, erode the value of having an offshore structure especially if the assets under management are relatively small. With the “Base Erosion and Profit Sharing” or (BEPS) initiative on the horizon, it has now become debatable as to whether preferential treatment will continue for offshore holding companies that use W8-BEN Forms to defer withholding; All of which support good arguments for the repatriation of offshore funds and has spurned a resurgence in the insurance industry as an alternative to offshore investment wealth planning.
Ultimately, once the CRS is fully implemented, at the very least, you know that your local tax authority will seek to verify the accuracy and completeness of your tax returns. Whilst the current tax season is underway, now is a good time to have a discussion with your planner.