SBN Staff

Smart Business spoke to Mark Strippy, Executive Director, Payroll Services at Heartland Payment Systems, about how employers can achieve cost savings through electronic payment options.

If you’re like a growing number of businesses, you may find yourself in an all-too-familiar situation. You want to streamline the payroll process and increase your bottom line by participating in an electronic payments program, but not everyone in your company has a bank account or is eligible for direct deposit and so you continue to pay the costs associated with check printing, processing and in some instances, delivery. You’re not alone. Right now there are approximately 10 million households in the United States that don’t have a bank account — we call them the unbanked.

But there is a solution. Paycards offer a viable payment option that allows employers to electronically pay unbanked workers much like they would pay those participating in direct deposit. And, employers can achieve similar cost savings.

How it works

The structure of paycards is actually very simple. An employer establishes a banking relationship with a financial institution. Employers can set up individual accounts for each employee, or a single aggregate account with sub-accounts for each employee. Funds are deposited into the account each pay period. Employees are given a paycard, which allows them to access their wages using an ATM or by using the cash-back feature available at many point-of-sale terminals throughout the United States. Depending on the type of paycard, purchases may also be made using a PIN or signature.

Types of paycards

Different types of paycards can be set up for your employees. The first type is branded cards, which may also be referred to as “signature” cards because they can be used with a PIN or a signature. These cards typically have the Visa/MasterCard branded logo on them and are issued by their respective partner banks. As such, they follow the bank’s process and fee schedule.

Another type of paycard is the vendor branded card. These cards are issued under specific vendor logos and are subject to the vendor’s processes and fee schedules. Unlike branded cards, all transactions on these cards are PIN verified.

The far-reaching benefits of paycards

In addition to the obvious “green” benefits associated with switching over to a completely electronic payroll system, there are also many more advantages to paycards that are enjoyed by companies and employees alike.

Benefits to employers

  • Offers a cost-effective way to expand electronic pay to all employees, including unbanked workers

  • Reduces costs associated with check printing, processing, delivery, account reconciliation and stop payment fees
  • Increases the security and reliability of distributing wages even in the event of an office closure or natural disaster
  • Ensures compliance with legal requirements regarding termination pay
  • Uses standard ACH, so the hassles and costs associated with changing systems are not necessary
  • Meets obligation to pay workers wages “without discount” as required many state wage and hour laws

Benefits to employees

  • Requires no credit checks or bank accounts to participate
  • Offers peace of mind knowing wages are safely, promptly and accurately deposited onto paycard
  • Eliminates any check cashing, bank service charge or money order fees
  • Allows cardholders to make purchases, pay bills by phone, online or mail or use cards to make withdrawals at ATMs 24/7
  • Eliminates waiting for paychecks to arrive by mail, standing in long lines at the bank and special trips to pick up checks

How to start a paycard program at your company

  1. Choose a paycard program provider/vendor
  2. Choose the type of paycard you will offer
  3. Decide whether you want an individual account for each employee or an aggregate account with sub-accounts for each employee
  4. Put a plan in place for how and when it will roll out and how you will enroll employees. Make sure you have written policies and procedures and designated roles and responsibilities
  5. Get your employees excited and onboard by developing brochures, posters, etc.
  6. Launch your new paycard program

About Heartland Payment Systems

Heartland Payment Systems, Inc. (NYSE: HPY), the fifth largest payments processor in the United States, delivers credit/debit/prepaid card processing, gift marketing and loyalty programs, payroll and related business solutions to more than 250,000 business locations nationwide. A FORTUNE 1000 company, Heartland is the founding supporter of The Merchant Bill of Rights, a public advocacy initiative that educates merchants about fair credit and debit card processing practices. The company is also a leader in the development of end-to-end encryption technology designed to protect cardholder data, rendering it useless to cybercriminals. For more detailed information, visit HeartlandPaymentSystems.com or follow the company on Twitter @HeartlandHPY and Facebook at facebook.com/HeartlandHPY.

Insights Banking & Finance is brought to you by Heartland Payment Systems

When trying to learn information about an individual, many companies turn to online background checks to uncover or confirm information. However, doing so could prove a mistake if this is the primary step taken to understand an individual’s background, as relied upon information may not be fully verified.

Hiring a licensed investigator can not only help ensure high-quality information is obtained, it can also facilitate the analysis of this information to provide a complete picture of an individual, says Theresa Mack, CPA, CFF, CAMS, CFCI, PI, a senior manager with Cendrowski Corporate Advisors.

“A simple background check may provide an incomplete picture of an individual and overlook critical information,” says Mack. “By hiring a licensed investigator to conduct background due diligence, you can ensure that no stone is left unturned.”

Smart Business spoke with Mack about how a licensed investigator can help your business uncover the information you need and put it in an appropriate context.

Why should a company hire a licensed investigator to conduct background due diligence activities rather than perform an online background check?

Most online or database-driven background checks are actually ‘record checks.’ In other words, data from records is compiled and the quality of source information is not thoroughly verified.

For some purposes, this cursory check of public records may be sufficient. However, depending on the information found, the nature of the background check, the check’s intended use and the access to confidential/proprietary information that a potential employee may have, a complete background due diligence investigation may be warranted.

A background due diligence investigation, as performed by licensed investigators, is far from a cursory background check. No single record or method of search is generally employed; instead, an investigator uses multiple resources to verify data accuracy and corroborate information. Thus, background due diligence investigations help reduce the risk of client reliance on false information.

What process is employed by investigators to perform background due diligence activities?

An investigator generally works on a six-step methodology: prepare, inquire, analyze, query, document and report. This methodology is highly applicable to background investigations.

An accurate and comprehensive investigation is based upon existing, determined and verified information. Leaving no rock unturned and making every conceivable effort to locate all possible information is generally the objective of an investigator.

Investigators will tailor their activities to suit the needs of their clients, which typically include attorneys, businesses and individuals. Client needs will define both the records checked by the investigator and the type of documents that can be released to the investigator and the client.

Where will an investigator begin his or her research?

An investigator often begins the research process by examining open source information. In this instance, open source refers to sources that are overt and publicly available, as opposed to covert or classified sources; it is not related to open-source software or public intelligence.

Open source information includes public documents that are created over a person’s lifetime, allowing the investigator to follow a paper trail leading to a complete history of the individuals being searched. These may include court filings, property tax documents, vehicle registrations and social media sources, among others.

Open source intelligence is a form of intelligence collection management that involves finding, selecting and acquiring information from publicly available sources and analyzing it to produce actionable intelligence.

How does an investigator evaluate source information?

Any record that is kept or provided is only as good as the chain of events involved in its creation. While doing online record checks simply provides information on an individual, investigators are often tasked with evaluating the veracity of the source data.

Record maintenance, storage and dissemination procedures can often impact the accuracy of information. Typos, misprints and mistakes introduced by human error can also affect the accuracy of records. These latter items are often seen on personal credit reports, criminal convictions and even civil litigation histories, which, although they are official records can nonetheless contain errors.

Processes for updating records can also have an impact on the accuracy of information, as records are only as accurate as their frequency of update. Some records are never updated and may provide stale data if a user is unaware of this underlying issue.

Finally, the method data that warehouses employ for acquiring information critically impacts information integrity. For instance, the provider may have purchased information from a secondary source. In such an instance, it is essential that the provider have accurate retrieval processes and is knowledgeable about handling special data items.

Each of these issues is evaluated by an investigator over the course of conducting background due diligence activities.

Theresa Mack,CPA, CFF, CAMS, CFCI, PI, is a senior manager with Cendrowski Corporate Advisors. Reach her at (866) 717-1607 or tbm@cendsel.com.

Monday, 26 March 2012 13:31

Doing business in China

Historically known as a country for low-cost manufacturing and a restricted currency, China now provides a wealth of opportunities for foreign businesses, says Alfred Ho, Vice President and Global Financial Institutions Manager at FirstMerit Bank.

However, any business that has ever ventured onto unfamiliar turf understands that turning opportunity into success comes with challenges. Overcoming barriers inherent in such a move requires foresight, planning and, notably, well-informed advisors who already know the terrain.

Ho explains that FirstMerit has dedicated itself to helping clients grasp the ins and outs of doing business in China. With an eye to the future, FirstMerit has been actively engaged in bolstering its credibility in China, staying abreast of the country’s rapidly changing market, and learning firsthand from its clients who have established long-term operations there.

As one of the first regional banks to have a renminbi, or yuan, (China’s currency) account with a large indigenous Chinese bank, FirstMerit’s International team has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with the country’s financial institutions and businesses.

To foster this relationship and lay the groundwork for new opportunities for its clients, FirstMerit Corporation Chairman, President and CEO Paul Greig and David Goodall, Executive Vice President of Commercial Banking, recently travelled to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, where they met with senior officials at various Chinese banks and worked to set up dialogues and relationships.

FirstMerit believes that having such infrastructure in place is crucial to paving the way for assisting its clients looking to expand into China.

FirstMerit executives also spent time visiting the Chinese operations of some of its clients, gathering insights that will ultimately smooth the process for others planning to do business in or with the second-largest economy after the United States. Ho, who worked with the Hong Kong government as a senior information officer for 10 years, shares some important things to consider:

Chinese workforce. Given China’s population of 1.3 billion, or nearly 20 percent of the world’s population, the labor force is abundant. However, employers in China are facing rising wages and keen competitions for skilled workers. Many find that it is getting more difficult to retain good workers who tend to have little loyalty and would leave on a dime, Ho explains.

However, employment laws recently became stricter in an attempt to eradicate unfair employment practices and to give workers more benefits and protection. Due to changing employment environment and demands from workers, wages have increased by as much as 20 percent or more in coastal regions.

Non-native workforce. A foreign company can bring its own employees to work and live in China with proper permits. Ho says that foreign companies should consider bringing employees who are open minded because the culture is much different than American culture. He advises an American living in China to have a basic understanding of the language and customs and be adventurous about various types of food, as food is a culture among Chinese and they are proud of their own local cuisine. One of the easiest ways to insult a Chinese person is to insult his or her food, he says, and it should be avoided.

Middle class difference. China’s middle class, which numbers approximately 300 million, differs from the American middle class, Ho explains. China’s middle class is growing exponentially because income is increasing substantially. Many middle-class families have become seemingly “rich” overnight, Ho explains, and as a result, they spend it readily.

They also typically do not have confidence in Chinese brands (remember the baby milk powder contamination scare?) and seek to achieve status through western brands. Many would pay a premium for western goods like Gucci purses and Apple products or General Motors or BMW automobiles as opposed to local brands, Ho says. These products both represent status and quality.

The growing middle class presents an excellent opportunity for U.S. businesses to sell to this population – as much if not more than selling to the entire United States, Ho explains.

Hong Kong vs. China. Know the history. Hong Kong was under British rule for approximately 150 years until China resumed control in 1997. Even though Hong Kong falls under Chinese rule, it still operates on a “one-country, two-systems” concept. While China is a communist country, Hong Kong remains primarily capitalistic and has its own currency and legal and judicial systems, Ho explains. However, Hong Kong is slowly becoming more like China, and in time, Ho says, it will be fully assimilated into the Chinese system.

At this point, while Hong Kong is now part of China, it currently operates quite differently. Many companies conduct business in mainland China but have their headquarters or family located in Hong Kong because it is more similar to the United States, Ho says.

Currency. Historically, the renminbi was restricted, although its value was pegged to the U.S. dollar. This has changed over the years and the renminbi is now pegged to a “basket of currencies” instead. In the past, the renminbi’s value has been a point of contention because many argued that the restrictions kept the renminbi’s value low, giving Chinese exporters an unfair advantage, Ho explains. However, in the last 18 months, China has relaxed the restrictions so that foreign entities, under limited and changing restrictions, can do business in the renminbi. Non-China entities are also now allowed to open a bank account in Chinese currency, thus somewhat mitigating the “unfair advantage,” he says.

Taxes. China no longer offers many tax incentives because it doesn’t see the need given the huge marketplace it offers, Ho says. Corporate income tax for both foreign and domestic companies is of the same percentage, unless the company falls under the “hi-tech” category which will have a more favorable tax rate. In addition, companies face other taxes in China, such as withholding tax, value-added tax, consumption tax, customs duty, etc. It’s recommended that companies considering doing business in China consult a tax professional who is knowledgeable about China taxes to truly understand how this will affect them.

These insights into doing business in China offer only a glimpse of what companies should know before taking any steps to enter the market. Companies need to have an understanding of what they want to accomplish, Ho explains. The process may take some time because many questions must be answered – Does your company want to set up a location in China or operate from the United States? Will your company buy the materials it needs to make its product in China or import them? Will you hire employees within China or bring existing key employees from the United States?

Ho says that the worst thing a company can do is enter the Chinese market and wait to make decisions until it arrives in the country.

U.S. companies should partner with a trusted advisor, such as a banking professional, to help them narrow their goals before entering the market. It might make sense, although not always, for a business to partner with a Chinese company to learn the ropes and ease into the market. In fact, this used to be the only way foreign companies could enter the country, but China now allows wholly foreign-owned enterprises.

Partnering with an advisor such as FirstMerit also allows a business to make trusted connections within the country. Ho knows the pitfalls of not doing so, citing a business that trusted the wrong person in China and ended up in an industrial park completely inappropriate for that company and lost business and eventually had to close the facility.

“We are always willing to advise and consult with our clients and prospects so we can deliver our expertise and experience to help them do business the right way,” Ho says. “We’ve spent time there and have real-world experience to help our customers.”

For more information on doing business in China, contact Alfred Ho at alfred.ho@firstmerit.com or 330-996-8011.

FirstMerit International Services

Trade Finance

  • Export Business Support
  • Confirmation of Foreign Bank Letters of Credit
  • Cash Flow of Future Payments (B/A Financing)
  • Import Business Support
  • Letters of Credit
  • Collection Processing
  • B/A Finance
  • Standby Letters of Credit to support export sales & import purchases
  • Ex-Im Bank and SBA Working Capital Loan

Guarantee Program

  • FirstMerit is a Delegated Lender

International Treasury

  • Complete suite of foreign exchange transaction and hedging services
  • Outbound and inbound global funds transfers in US dollars or any unrestricted currency
  • Multi-currency account services in all major currencies
  • Foreign cash business trips
  • Foreign check processing

Other Services

  • Introduction to Foreign Banks
  • Foreign Business Advisory
  • FirstMerit is one of the only banks in the United States that has advisory services to assist in setting up foreign operations

Saturday, 31 March 2012 20:01

You’ve Got Leads. Now What?

Companies invest great amounts of time, effort and capital on building the right website to resonate with their target customers and convert those targets into leads for the business.  “Building and marketing a great website that generates volumes of leads often comes with the next-level challenge of efficiently managing those leads to quickly convert to sales,” advises says Kevin Hourigan, president and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions.

Smart Business spoke with Hourigan about how to connect the right technologies to effectively manage your leads and close sales faster.

What are the critical elements I need to manage my lead to sale process?

Standing alone, a business website typically processes a new lead from a quote request or a contact form submission by sending an email alert to someone, and perhaps storing those form submissions in the administrative back end of the website. Unless a lot of detailed, accurate and disciplined manual documentation is maintained about each lead, the ability to track them through to the sale and see key metrics such as best performing lead sources, campaigns, etc. is lost. Critical business decisions could then be made based on faulty information and opinion. The technology exists today to eliminate this risk, at investment levels that accommodate most sizes of businesses.

In order to stay competitive in today’s business climate, intelligence needs to be exchanged between marketing and sales that streamlines the progress of leads through your sales funnel and enables more, better and faster closed sales.  The way to enable this is by integrating your website with a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system and a Marketing Automation platform.

What does CRM and marketing automation do?

A CRM system is your repository of collected, and real-time information on all leads, customers and contacts related to your business. It acts as your marketing and sales process database and can categorize and segment your contacts on a wide variety of items for use in reporting, and grouping for specific action. CRM Systems can be proprietary and stored within a business’s IT infrastructure, or accessed via the ‘Cloud’ through a variety of providers. CRM can focus only on sales process aspects, or expand to cover end to end (marketing and lead gen through invoicing and collections) functions.

Each business applies customization to a CRM to serve their unique needs and procedures. In addition to housing your valuable prospect and client information and serving it up as needed, data from your CRM gives you objective insights to your marketing, sales and business performance.

Marketing automation grew out of campaign and email marketing beginnings, and has become the current standard of best practices. Today, enlisting just an email sending tool without using the advanced features of marketing automation is like driving blindfolded on a busy interstate: Your chances of getting to your destination (customer acquisition) without wrecking your brand integrity are extremely slim. The missing piece that marketing automation provides is the live, real time ‘sight’ into the ongoing actions of the target audiences interacting with your business.

Marketing automation allows you to communicate, evaluate and accelerate your leads through your sales funnel. Email (and even print) communications to your audiences with customized, relevant information, triggered from their ongoing behaviors are efficiently managed using marketing automation. This integration enables specific and more effective lead nurturing without requiring large amounts of time and staff that a stand-alone tool would.

Further, lead qualification and scoring is greatly enhanced with marketing automation’s ability to monitor your audiences’ ongoing interaction with your website. Specific characteristics and actions can be ‘scored’ to identify buying-stage and readiness for sales contact. Alerts and workflows can be triggered at any number of points in this progression. An immediate feedback stream of all this data to your CRM and to your marketing and sales team is a key benefit of marketing automation. They now know who is reading your messaging and can prioritize their responses based on the content you are sending that they are engaging with.

How does this integration help me sell better and faster?

In an integrated system, leads generated from your online properties are automatically fed into your CRM, with critical marketing data attached including: lead source, campaign info, keywords used, where the lead came from online, etc. Leads generated through outbound sales can also be entered directly into the CRM for a real-time and holistic view of your business’s sales pipeline. Live dashboards and reports on key performance indictors can be accessed immediately to assist sales management and communication.

The initially gathered data is augmented through your marketing automation platform with each lead’s specific ongoing engagement with your company including: web pages visited over time, emails received, opened and clicked on, articles and other content consumed, conversations and in-person touch points documented on the path of that lead becoming a customer. Post-sale relationship information is also kept including proposals presented, closed or lost – and why. This enables data-driven evaluation of sales initiatives, campaigns and tactics.

Consistent lead ‘scoring’ and tracking can trigger appropriate workflows and responses within your organization. Your sales reps can be alerted immediately of a lead’s sales conversation readiness in their specific area or product of interest. Sales can then intelligently focus on those ‘warmer’ leads, while marketing continues to nurture leads that are in earlier buy cycle stages and separate unqualified and non leads to maintain branding integrity, and save sales reps from activities that waste time and cause frustration.

An integrated lead management system of your website, CRM and marketing automation puts your sales team in position to connect with the right leads at the right time with the right information, thus closing sales faster, more easily and more often.

<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/about-bayshore-solutions/methodology.aspx

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or http://www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

Women-owned businesses are three-and-a-half times less likely to reach $1 million in annual revenue as businesses owned by men, according to an independent impact study released by Ernst & Young LLP, a professional services company.

The reason? Most women just don’t think big enough.

Here are five key points Ernst & Young recommends for scaling small companies into large ones:

  1. Think big and be bold
  2. Build a public profile
  3. Work on the business, rather than in it
  4. Establish key advisory networks
  5. Evaluate financing for expansion

To learn more, join us for “The POWER of Perseverance,” the 10th annual Perspectives: Women Who Excel Conference, presented by Anthem and sponsored by Smart Business, Cleveland Clinic and Colortone Staging & Rentals.

The April 13 event will feature a panel discussion with a dynamic group of leading women executives who will share their insights on what it takes to redefine and reinvigorate your leadership style in order to move a business forward.

Join us to discuss methods for promoting success for women-owned businesses in our region.

 

 

Transfer pricing refers to the pricing of goods, services or intangibles within a multinational organization, particularly in regard to cross-border transactions.

The vast majority of global trade occurs between related-party entities. As global trade increases, companies are confronted more and more with complex issues associated with intercompany pricing. This is compounded because many countries have specific transfer pricing legislation, and the tax authorities within those countries aggressively pursue transfer pricing adjustments. It is no wonder transfer pricing is often listed as the single most important international tax issue facing multinational companies.

Smart Business sat down with Will James and David Whitmer of BKD, LLP, to discuss transfer pricing and the following is their country-by-country breakdown.

Australia: Transfer Pricing Rule Changes Proposed

The Australian government has announced intent to reform its transfer pricing regime due to worries its regulations, issued in 1982, are outdated, leading to an eroding tax base and a less attractive business climate for investors. As part of the process, the Australian government issued a Consultation Paper on November 1, 2011, outlining potential changes in attempt to solicit comments. Comments on the Consultation Paper closed on November 30, 2011. The main point of the Consultation Paper was an attempt to modify Division 13 (Australia’s transfer pricing legislation) to better reflect the arm’s-length principle and line up more closely with the 2010 revised Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Transfer Pricing Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and Tax Administrations (OECD Guidelines).

The Consultation Paper suggests taxpayers are obliged to conduct intercompany business in an arm’s-length manner and maintain contemporaneous documentation; the paper also considers a statute of limitation for tax audits and adjustment periods. The Consultation Paper seeks to move away from looking at specific transfer prices, instead focusing on transaction outcomes. The Australian government also considered that there is some disconnection between its tax treaties and transfer pricing legislation and may apply clarifications retroactive to July 2004. Finally, the paper recognizes the differences between Australia’s approach of profit attribution to branches and the OECD’s “functionally separate enterprise” approach.

Canada: GE Capital Canada – Crown’s Appeal Dismissed

On December 15, 2010, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) dismissed the Crown’s appeal of the Tax Court of Canada (TCC) 2009 judgment in favor of the taxpayer, General Electric Capital Canada, Inc. (GECC). This concludes a landmark case regarding the treatment of intercompany financial guarantees. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) had disallowed GECC’s deductions of guarantee fees on the grounds that the explicit financial guarantee provided by General Electric U.S. (GEUS) did not provide a benefit to GECC. The CRA argued GEUS would have provided financial support to GECC with or without the explicit guarantee, asserting financial guarantees are implicit by nature.

Ultimately, the TCC determined and the FCA confirmed GEUS’ explicit guarantee did provide an incremental benefit to GECC and that the guarantee fee charged did not exceed an arm’s-length price. The TCC’s 2009 judgment relied on the “yield approach” (also commonly called the “interest-saved approach”) to determine the total benefit of the intercompany guarantee, i.e., the yield spread. The yield spread was calculated by comparing the actual cost of GECC’s third-party financing with an explicit guarantee to its estimated cost of financing without the explicit guarantee. This required a credit rating assessment of GECC to estimate GECC’s cost of finance without the explicit guarantee. The TCC determined and FCA confirmed implicit support would be considered by a third party when pricing an arm’s-length guarantee fee. As such, in applying the yield approach, the TCC estimated GECC’s cost of third-party finance without the explicit guarantee based on GECC’s credit rating inclusive of implicit support, rather than on a standalone basis.

With the GECC case serving as a precedent, analysis of intercompany guarantee fees should incorporate the concept of implicit support. Under this concept, the borrower’s credit rating would lie between its credit rating on a standalone basis and that of its parent. The yield approach provides an acceptable method to determine the benefit provided by the parent’s guarantee to its subsidiary, but it does not calculate the market price of intercompany guarantees. As the GECC case stopped short of determining an arm’s-length guarantee fee, the TCC and FCA have not yet suggested the preferred approaches to determine arm’s-length guarantee fees.

Estonia: Rule Revisions Require Documentation from More Multinationals

Estonia’s formal transfer pricing legislation (Article 53), which relies heavily upon the OECD Guidelines, has been effective as of January 1, 2007. Prior to the adoption of Article 53, the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (ETCB) rarely challenged Estonian taxpayers on transfer pricing matters. However, as the ETCB has built its transfer pricing expertise in recent years, it also increased its enforcement of transfer pricing regulations. According to KPMG’s Estonian entity, the number of transfer pricing audits conducted by the ETCB was expected to have doubled in 2010 compared to 2008 and 2009.

On January 1, 2011, new amendments to Estonia’s transfer pricing regulations took effect. The most significant change was the broadening of the previously limited definition of what constitutes related parties with respect to transaction participants in a business contract. Under the new amendment, entities now are to be considered related parties through common business interest or “dominant influence” of one of the partners over others. Presumably, with a broader definition of related parties, a greater number of Estonian business entities will be required to abide by the Estonian transfer pricing legislation, which includes certain documentation requirements.

Furthermore, the new amendments more clearly define the terms “transfer price” and “market price.” The term transfer price is now defined as the value of a transaction between related parties, while the term market price has been defined as the value of a business contract between unrelated parties.

France: Release of Guidance on 2010 Documentation Requirements

During January 2011, the French Tax Authorities (FTA) issued the final administrative guidelines regarding transfer pricing (Instruction 4 A-10-10). They are an interpretation of articles L13 AA and L13 AB of the French Tax Procedure Code (FTPC), which went into effect for tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2010. The revised rules apply to entities meeting any of the following requirements:

  • Gross annual revenues or gross assets equal to or exceeding €400 million (approximately $520 million)
  • The entity directly or indirectly owns at least 50 percent of companies meeting the €400 million criteria
  • More than 50 percent of the entity’s capital or voting rights are owned, directly or indirectly, by French or foreign entities meeting the €400 million criteria
  • The entity benefits from the regime of worldwide tax consolidation in France
  • The entity is in a consolidated tax group in France when at least one company of the group meets any of the above criteria

The new guidelines rely on the OECD Guidelines to define the arm’s-length standard and methods to prepare transfer pricing documentation. The French transfer pricing guidelines state transfer pricing documentation must be prepared contemporaneously and must be provided within 30 days of a written request by the FTA during an audit. French transfer pricing documentation can be prepared in any language, but the FTA may require translation into French. The FTA’s final administrative guidelines on transfer pricing allows for penalties of up to 5 percent of the transfer pricing adjustment for each audited year, with minimum penalty of €10,000. Companies with French affiliates need to evaluate French transfer pricing documentation needs annually.

Italy: Government Issues Revisions to the Relatively New Transfer Pricing Regime

On September 29, 2010, the Italian Revenue Agency (IRA) established a new transfer pricing documentation regime under Regulation 2010/137654, which provides penalty protection for taxpayers that have prepared and maintained sufficient documentation. In addition, the IRA introduced new transfer pricing guidelines under Circular No. 58/E on December 15, 2010. Circular No. 58/E updates Italy’s original guidelines, introduced in 1980, and provides further explanation of the documentation requirements under Regulation 2010/137654.

Regulation 2010/137654 specifies who is required to prepare transfer pricing documentation and what information is required to achieve penalty protection. Italian taxpayers meeting these documentation requirements may avoid administrative penalties of 100 percent to 200 percent of unpaid tax resulting from an IRA-imposed income adjustment. Italian entities that are holding or subholding companies are required to prepare a master file containing documents pertaining to the taxpayer’s worldwide group. In addition, a country-specific file is required that must provide items such as a description of the local entity’s business, industry and intercompany transactions, as well as provide a detailed discussion regarding the selection of transfer pricing method and comparability analysis related to the relevant intercompany transactions. Circular No. 58 implies cooperation with the IRA and good faith efforts to prepare documentation will be factored into decisions whether to impose transfer pricing penalties.

Under Circular No. 58/E, the transfer pricing rules have been revised to be consistent with the revised transfer pricing guidelines issued by the OECD on July 22, 2010. The original Italian guidelines exalted traditional methods above income-based methods. The updated Italian guidelines, in certain circumstances, eliminate this hierarchy and allow selection of the most appropriate method given the transaction circumstances.

Korea: Better Alignment of Customs & Transfer Pricing Rules

Multinational corporations with subsidiaries in Korea and Korean companies purchasing goods from foreign related parties often face difficulties due to differences between Korea’s transfer pricing rules under income tax law and customs valuation rules under customs law. For example, if during a transfer pricing audit, a Korean importer is determined to have underreported income due to an overstated transfer price, it is often difficult for the importer to receive a refund on the applicable customs duties. In contrast, if the transfer price paid by the importer is subsequently raised due to a transfer pricing audit, the Korean Customs Service (KCS) often charges the importer the additional customs duties as well as any related penalties.

To better align Korea’s tax and customs laws and increase cooperation between the Korean National Tax Service (NTS) and KCS, a task force was organized by the Korean Ministry of Strategy and Finance (MOSF) in early 2011. On September 7, the MOSF announced proposals based on the task force’s instructions that would amend the Law for Coordination of International Tax Affairs (LCITA) and the Customs Act. The amendment is expected to take effect January 1, 2012.

The most significant change in the proposal is the provision of correlative adjustments between transfer pricing and customs value for import transactions. If the NTS or KCS makes an adjustment on a related-party import transaction and the taxpayer files a refund request to the other authority, the other authority must make a correlative adjustment if it views the adjusted price as appropriate. If the KCS or NTS views the price adjustment made by the other authority as inappropriate, the two authorities must come to a compromise.

Other major amendments included in the proposal include:

  • Opportunity to present taxpayer’s opinion in determining customs value
  • Improvement on profit and general expense ratio under Method 4 of customs valuation
  • Exemption from penalties in relation to Advance Customs Valuation Arrangement
  • Establishment of a Customs Ruling Examination Committee
  • Establishment of a duty amendment system

The proposal represents a positive development in the Korean transfer pricing environment, as it reduces the possibility of a taxpayer being unfairly assessed additional customs or taxes in the event of an adjustment by either authority.

Luxembourg: Circular Issued on Advance Rulings for Finance Companies

A circular (Circular L.I.R. No. 164/2) affecting multinational enterprises with financing arrangements involving a Luxembourg entity was issued by the Luxembourg tax authorities on January 28, 2011. Luxembourg, like the Netherlands, has been a preferred jurisdiction for intercompany financing arrangements, and many multinationals have obtained informal rulings covering their intercompany financing arrangements.

The new requirements were a result of pressure from the European Union to harmonize the pricing approach for financing companies. The circular specifies companies wishing to obtain advance clearance on their intercompany financing arrangements must meet more stringent requirements in order to qualify. The rules necessitate the Luxembourg company must have significant substance in Luxembourg and must bear real economic risks related to its financing activities. The substance requirement necessitates:  the Luxembourg company’s board of directors be comprised of Luxembourg residents—or nonresidents with a professional activity in Luxembourg—who have decision-making ability; the key management decisions should be made in Luxembourg; the entity must not be considered a tax resident of another country; and the entity must have a Luxembourg bank account or a bank account with a Luxembourg bank with a foreign branch. A ruling, which is valid for five years, only will be granted if the above conditions are met and an OECD-compliant transfer pricing study, which includes a functional analysis, is prepared.

Malaysia: New Intercompany Disclosure Form Launched in Malaysia

In July 2011, the Inland Revenue Board’s (IRB) Multinational Tax Department (MTD) introduced Form MNE [1/2011] in an effort to increase transfer pricing compliance by multinational companies under section 140A of Malaysia’s Income Tax Act, 1967. While this form does not establish formal transfer pricing rules, it is regarded as a step toward prescribed transfer pricing regulation in Malaysia.

Form MNE [1/2011] is divided into four sections:  General Information, Related Party Transactions, Intercompany Financing and Other Information. The General Information section requests information related to the taxpayer’s legal entity structure and details regarding the taxpayer’s dealings with related parties. The Related Party Transactions section asks for information regarding intercompany transaction volumes in relation to tangible goods, intangible assets, services, interest and guarantee fees. The Intercompany Financing section requests disclosure and details of the financing arrangements between foreign related parties and information about whether this financial assistance is interest bearing or interest free. The Other Information section requests a functional characterization of the Malaysian entity and an indication of whether the company has prepared contemporaneous transfer pricing documentation for the current year; outdated transfer pricing documentation would need to be updated for a positive response to the latter request.

Company data from Form MNE [1/2011] will enable the MTD to target companies engaging in significant related-party transactions, consistently reporting losses or poor profits and lacking transfer pricing documentation for audit. The IRB has advised taxpayers to maintain current documentation or pursue advance pricing agreements to avoid uncertainty and potential costs related to transfer pricing audits.

People’s Republic of China: Assault Continues on Multinational Companies

China’s transfer pricing laws took effect January 1, 2008. There usually is a lag between the enactment of the new transfer pricing rules and vigorous enforcement. However, the State Administration of Taxation (SAT) has been aggressively auditing the transfer pricing arrangements for inbound multinational enterprises as part of a concerted enforcement effort.

In a recent turn of events, the SAT has started to compile information from its audits into a database. According to the Deputy Chief of SAT’s Anti-Avoidance Division, more than 1,000 audit cases will be added to the database. The information will be used as ‘secret comparables’ during the course of transfer pricing audits where publicly available data is not available or is not sufficient. The use of secret comparables is permissible in China. Taxpayers are at a distinct disadvantage when secret comparables are used as the basis of the tax authority’s position, as taxpayers have no ability to review the information to determine if it is on par.

According to an SAT official, a number of taxpayers are producing inadequate transfer pricing documentation. The SAT is working on a template to enable local tax inspectors to assess the transfer pricing documentation. Circular No. (2010) 323, issued in July 2010, requires local tax authorities to review and grade at least 10 percent of documentation.

Qatar: Transfer Pricing Principles Introduced

The introduction of self-assessment tax regime in Qatar also included some transfer pricing provisions. Companies registered in the Qatar Financial Center (QFC) must pay a flat corporate income tax of 10 percent. Companies operating in the QFC are largely in the banking, asset management, insurance and reinsurance sectors.

The new rules provide a definition of what constitutes related parties, i.e., control, introduce the arm’s-length principle and provide a process for advance rulings and relief from double taxation. The new rules enable tax authorities to adjust non-arm’s-length intercompany transactions for companies located in the QFC and outside of the QFC using arm’s-length principles. The new rules, retroactive to January 1, 2010, do not require taxpayers to maintain transfer pricing documentation.

Russia: New Rules Require Increased Transfer Pricing Documentation

With the introduction of Federal Law No. 227-FZ by the Russian Ministry of Finance in July 2011, Russia’s transfer pricing rules have been amended to include additional technical detail and increased consistency with OECD Guidelines.

Some of the noteworthy changes to the Russian transfer pricing regulations include:

  • The introduction of the arm’s-length principle as the standard for analyzing intercompany transactions
  • Augmentation of the number of accepted transfer pricing methodologies
  • A reduction in the list of transaction types subject to Russian transfer pricing regulations
  • An expanded definition of the term “related parties,” including an increase in the direct or indirect ownership threshold from 20 percent to 25 percent
  • Elimination of the safe harbor that previously allowed controlled prices to deviate by up to 20 percent from current arm’s-length market prices
  • An expanded list of approved sources from which data may be obtained for purposes of determining an arm’s-length transfer price

Also outlined in the 2012 regulations is the transfer pricing documentation requirements. Taxpayers will be required to prepare transfer documentation for related-party transactions in which the total income received by the taxpayer from all controlled transactions with the same related party exceeds RUB 100 million (USD $3.6 million) in 2012 and RUB 80 million (USD $2.9 million) in 2013. After 2013, documentation will be required for all related-party transactions.

The 2012 regulations also include details about penalties for Russian taxpayers who underpay taxes due to the use of non-arm’s-length transfer prices. However, the penalties will not go into effect until 2014. Between 2014 and 2016, a penalty of 20 percent of the additional tax payable may be imposed on noncompliant taxpayers. Beginning in 2017 and moving forward, the penalty will be increased to 40 percent of the additional tax payable.

Turkey: Documentation Requirements Increased

In November 2010, the Turkish Tax Authority (TTA) published guidelines that further clarify transfer pricing subjects covered in Article 13 of the Turkish Corporate Income Tax Law.

In 2007, the TTA published the General Communiqué Regarding Disguised Income Distribution via Transfer Pricing, which provided details and clarification of Turkey’s formal transfer pricing rules located in Article 13 of the Turkish Corporate Income Tax Law. The November 2010 publication by the TTA contained guidelines further clarifying subjects covered in the transfer pricing communiqué and outlining Turkey’s transfer pricing documentation requirements in greater detail.

The TTA’s guidelines maintain Turkish taxpayers should prepare transfer pricing documentation on an annual basis, covering all intercompany transactions regardless of materiality. The 2010 guidelines place further emphasis on the TTA’s preference for the use of internal comparables to determine an arm’s-length transfer price. However, for situations requiring third-party comparable searches, the TTA has indicated it may further investigate taxpayers with transfer pricing report draft dates substantially differs from the documented performance date of any comparable searches.

The guidelines also provide a sample transfer pricing report outlining what information should be included in each section of a complete transfer pricing report. To avoid future conflicts with taxpayers, the TTA has indicated it would like taxpayers to strictly follow the format of the provided sample transfer report when assembling their own documentation.

United Kingdom: OECD Guideline Revisions Formally Adopted into Law

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has issued a briefing about proposed revisions of its transfer pricing rules found in Schedule 28AA to the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988 (for accounting periods ending on or after July 1, 1999). As the OECD Guidelines were modified and finalized in July 2010, the HMRC wants to synchronize its transfer pricing rules with the 2010 revised OECD Guidelines. This should help mitigate double taxation risk for businesses with cross-border activities.

HMRC also is examining its stance on taxation of high-technology intangible property (IP) and its link to research and development. In particular, it has the idea of creating a Patent Box tax regime to locate high-technology jobs and IP in the U.K. In 2011, the HMRC consulted with corporations and other stakeholders for input on this idea.

United States: Recent IRS Transfer Pricing Developments

The IRS has continued efforts to enhance its international tax capabilities, with specific efforts to bolster its transfer pricing enforcement capability. The IRS intends to more effectively identify, examine and resolve transfer pricing cases through the recent reorganization of the Large & Mid-Sized Business (LMSB) division, the hiring of additional technical transfer pricing personnel and the addition of a transfer pricing director. With the expected increase in transfer pricing-focused audits, taxpayers increasingly will benefit from sensible transfer pricing documentation to justify their intercompany pricing.

In October 2010, the IRS reorganized the LMSB division into the Large Business & International (LB&I) division, signifying renewed attempts to integrate and coordinate international tax compliance efforts. The IRS’ international subdivision will add nearly 900 employees, including examiners, transfer pricing economists and technical staff, to the 600 employees in place at the end of 2010. New Transfer Pricing Director Samuel Maruca has been tasked with developing and managing the international subdivision’s transfer pricing strategy, training initiatives and operating policies, as well as the soon-to-be combined Advance Pricing Agreement (APA) and Competent Authority programs. To better coordinate the efforts of the transfer pricing national office and the field, the LB&I division intends to create a transfer pricing advisory group organized geographically, comprising 40 to 60 personnel.

According to Michael Danilack, the IRS Deputy Commissioner (International), there will be an enhanced focus on intercompany transactions of foreign-controlled U.S. corporations and U.S. branches of foreign corporations. With Japan reducing its statutory tax rate, the U.S. will soon have the highest statutory tax rate in the world, and the IRS will be dedicating resources to challenge intercompany transactions that avoid U.S. tax by inappropriately shifting income back to the taxpayer’s home country.

Vietnam

In 2010, Vietnam issued new transfer pricing guidelines outlined in Circular 66 (2010) to replace Circular 117 (2005), as a part of an initiative to enforce Vietnam’s transfer pricing regulations. Circular 66 introduced several changes that strengthened the country’s transfer pricing requirements. During 2011, the Vietnamese General Department of Taxation (VGDT) issued a report citing significant gains in tax revenues due to the release of the 2010 transfer pricing rules and increased audits resulting in transfer pricing assessments. The VGDT also announced it will conduct further audits of the 2008 to 2010 tax years; companies with losses or low profits automatically will be audited.

As part of the compliance initiative, the VGDT also issued surveys asking taxpayers to provide certain company data for 2006–2010, including financial indicators, transaction descriptions and transaction volumes. In addition, the VGDT inquired about the location of these related parties, transfer pricing methods adopted in connection with the surveyed transactions and each company’s compliance procedures implemented after the introduction of Circular 66.

To learn more about transfer pricing solutions or to discuss your company’s current transfer pricing positions, please contact Will James (wdjames@bkd.com), David Whitmer (dwhitmer@bkd.com) or your BKD advisor.

 

Article reprinted with permission from BKD, LLP, bkd.com.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012 19:02

How much for a good website?

There is a wide variety of opinion on what makes a solid business website, and what a business should expect to pay for one. “The evolving formats and functionalities in a Web presence can parallel a businesses’ growth from a small start up to a mega-corporation,” says Kevin Hourigan, President and CEO of Web design, Web development and online marketing agency, Bayshore Solutions, “A business’ needs will drive the complexity required for its website, and the budget to support it. But the key question to ask is ‘What is it costing your business to not have a web presence on par with the expectations of your target customers?’”

Smart Business spoke with Kevin about how to right-size your website expectations for your Web budget.

How much do I really need to spend on my website?

The real question to ask is: “What could the ‘right’ website produce over and above my current website.  If the answer is anything more that what you currently have, then you need to ensure that your website is developed in a manner that delivers the right digital results to help your business succeed now and as your business grows.

What’s the difference between a $10, $25k and a $50K website?

In a nutshell, as a price point on a website increases, so does feature functionality, control and strategic readiness.  Features include user interface items like site search, navigation options, applications integration to CRM, inventory management, marketing automation platforms, etc., financial transactions processing, and capacity for content variety (images, sound, video, downloads, etc.).

Control items include how easy it is to access and edit your website and interface with the information flow it holds. Hosting and IT access, a web content management system (CRM), SEO access, and data collection and export or synchronization with integrated applications are examples of these.

Strategic readiness of a website includes: dedicated aesthetics that enhance your brand, SEO friendliness of the site structure, interconnectivity with your other marketing initiatives, and flexibility of your website to scale as your business needs develop (for example:  if you need it to, can the site handle 10 orders in May, 10 thousand in June and 10 million by July?).

There are many relatively lower price point “template” website packages that a business can use, but this will be within a specific set of limited parameters in all of the above areas.  For small business start-ups these often might be a good initial choice for a first website.    With their low costs, they are affordable for small businesses and can act as a “billboard” for their company in its initial start up stage.

As companies grow, so do their customers’ expectations of the businesses’ Web presence. These expectations call for an online experience well beyond what most templates can cater to.   This is where companies must rely on specific, design elements exclusive to a brand, more dedicated control of technology, and the ability to access, edit and scale become necessary as a business grows.   At this point the templated web designs become like a toddler sized suit on a teenager.  They just cannot give your business the best fit or professional presentation.  Some businesses take time to reach this need-level. Others, in order to compete, need to accommodate an enterprise scale with their first website.

As your business grows and needs more than an elementary web design, the investment required increases in order to support custom programming, allow ecommerce and application integration, ensure the level of professionalism in user-interface and administrative functionality, as well as offer the features and integrity of a higher caliber website.  It is not uncommon for a website that is developed for enterprise business results to require a starting investment in the tens of thousands to multiples of six figures.

The focus needs to be on the return you are expecting for your web investment.   If your website and the results it brings are strategic to your business, then that website needs to be developed, maintained and supported accordingly.

How can I get the most for my money with my business website?

Here is a quick checklist of things to look for and consider when shopping for a website design or development partner:

  • First and foremost, determine your goals and results expectations of your website.  Use these in a measurable way to gage the promises and the performance of potential and ongoing web partners.
  • Use an experienced professional. Relatives and friends that aren’t tenured web professionals typically don’t deliver the results your business needs.
  • Ask for Case Studies. Portfolio examples alone of ‘Wow’ imagery and impressive visual design are one thing.  Tangible improved results to the business are the true measure of great design.
  • Ask what ongoing SEO-readiness is part of their normal website build process.  Are they aligned to building a site equipped for you to market it successfully after it is launched?
  • Ask for details on website hosting requirements and access. What are the downtime risks and recovery processes?
  • See a live demo of the site’s administrative editing and access proposed by potential web partners. How easy and quickly can you (not them) make changes, and what kinds of changes additions etc., can you make?
  • Compare apples to apples, and understand the options. This can be a complex process, and often a great approach is using a ‘consulting’ engagement to determine the best scope and needs for your website.  It can save you a lot down the road by helping you make fully informed decisions and asking the right questions at the start.

These insights will help you make the right-sized investment in your Web presence best suited to deliver ongoing success to your business.

<< For a snapshot of Bayshore Solutions Web marketing methodology, visit: http://www.bayshoresolutions.com/about-bayshore-solutions/methodology.aspx

Kevin Hourigan is the president and CEO of Bayshore Solutions. Reach him at (877) 535-4578 or www.BayshoreSolutions.com.

Does the idea of implementing or upgrading your HR system(s) worry you? If it does, you certainly are not alone. Most business leaders either have been a part of or have heard horror stories of cost overruns, missed deadlines and failure to realize the promised benefits when implementing a new system.

But the reality is that contemporary HR business systems play an irreplaceable role in the efficiency of business operations, and it’s something that businesses should consider, says Jim Torrence, practice leader of the Human Resource Management Systems Group at Sequent, Inc.

“A business owner who delays a technology upgrade may be depriving the business of efficiencies that would increase profits,” says Torrence. “Worse yet, a competitor that is an early adopter of powerful technology may leapfrog over you and gain a significant advantage in the marketplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Torrence about how to automate your integrated resources/payroll, 401(k) planning, time and attendance, learning management systems or performance management systems to gain an advantage for your business.

If a business is considering implementing an HR system or upgrading its current one, where should it start?

First, businesses need to be aware of some of the classic pitfalls that doom many system implementations. Too many companies proceed with a lack of methodology. The project management process should be defined early on to ensure a happy ending. System selection and implementation become more difficult, time-consuming and expensive if you don’t have a methodology guiding this complex undertaking.

System implementations often require cross-functional teams to work together closely, with several departments supplying resources to the project. This makes it especially important to have a sound methodology in place so that these matrixes operate as efficiently as possible.

The methodology should include how changes will be tested and rolled out, and how various versions of software are managed. Failure to do this blocking and tackling can torpedo your project, or ensure that it can never be properly supported post implementation.

A second pitfall that companies fall into is thinking of implementation as an IT project, rather than as a business project. Once you’ve made the decision that a systems upgrade is necessary, you can’t just assign the project to someone and then walk away. The new system has to support the business operations and help advance the strategy of the company, which means that IT cannot be working in a vacuum. An executive sponsor, such as the owner, president, CEO or COO of the company, should actively provide high-level oversight and support to the project team from start to finish.

What are some other pitfalls businesses face?

Too many companies work backward from an implementation date. Many project plans are determined by an ambitious project leader choosing an aggressive date and circling it on the calendar, with the expectation that it will be completed by that date.

As a result, all implementation requirements and timelines are then worked against this date. While this sounds good in theory, this approach often puts extreme pressure on implementation teams throughout the process. Instead of dictating timelines, the implementation teams should be involved in the process and questioned prior to implementation to determine what timelines are appropriate. That way, you don’t end up cutting a lot of corners so that you can quickly implement a system that doesn’t really support the business.

Adopting inflexible timetables can also cause an implementation to falter. Many projects fail because project managers and executive sponsors develop an emotional attachment to the deployment date. And if bonuses are tied to completion dates, the project managers will be tempted to sacrifice functionality in order to go live on the magic date to earn those bonuses.

If business priorities have changed over the course of the project, the right business decision may be to delay a project. The motto should be ‘Do it right,’ not ‘Do or die.’ Trying to fix a botched implementation after it has gone live causes pain throughout the organization, which can possibly last for years.

How can failing to take people into account cause the project to fail?

It’s easy to be so focused on the system changes that you forget the human element of implementation. With system changes come procedural changes for your employees, so don’t forget to include them in the implementation.

By appointing a team of well-respected employees to help lead the change, you can boost morale and, ultimately, the success of the project. Those employees, along with the company’s leaders and managers, should not only communicate the timing, goals and strategies surrounding the project, but they should also be change agents who help create positive buzz in the workplace around the changes.

Botched system implementations are unforgiving to your business and to your employees’ careers. Downtime, decreased efficiency and deteriorating internal/external customer service can be especially detrimental to a small or rapidly growing business.

By avoiding these pitfalls, you can significantly increase your probability of having a successful HR business system implementation.

Jim Torrence is practice leader of the Human Resource Management Systems Group at Sequent, Inc. Reach him at (888) 456-3627 or JTorrence@sequent.biz.

Establishing an efficient accounts receivable process is a critical step for most businesses, which can necessitate a major balancing act, says Jennifer Hall, senior vice president, middle market sales director, Commercial Deposits & Treasury Management, Associated Bank.

“You and your customer likely have different goals,” says Hall. “You want to receive payment as quickly as possible for the products and services you’ve delivered. Your customer, on the other hand, wants to delay payment as long as possible. You need to come up with solutions that are acceptable to valuable customers while minimizing the time you have to wait for payment and the risk of nonpayment.”

Smart Business spoke with Hall about how to strike a balance when it comes to accounts receivable.

Why is developing an efficient accounts receivable process so important?

How quickly receivables are paid directly affects your cash flow, and properly balanced cash flow is essential for stability. The faster you can collect outstanding receivables, the faster the cash can be spent to meet payroll and other expenses, pursue expansion and investment goals, or enhance company profits.

Collection delinquencies make it difficult to forecast cash flow and may mean the business has to create a bigger cash cushion than it otherwise would in order to deal with slow payments and still meet its obligations.

How can a business evaluate its risks?

First, run credit checks so that you can set up payment terms accordingly. A customer with less-than-stellar credit may need to pay more up front, whereas a reliable customer may earn an extended payment arrangement.

Second, anticipate and prevent late payments. Automatically monitor your receivables aging. Are there customers whose payments routinely lag? Do you have a goal for new customer collection periods? Perhaps you could negotiate discounts for early payment or institute a down payment plan so some cash comes in early. With new customers, set expectations for credit and collection terms up front and act swiftly to collect when a payment is past due.

Monitoring your accounts receivables closely allows you to quickly identify trends in payment behavior. If a customer routinely pays on time but has had months of late payments, this could be a red flag. Perhaps it is in financial trouble or is losing confidence in you as a supplier. Either way, it merits a call to see if there are steps that could prevent future problems.

Third, spread the risk. If your business is dependent on the payment timeliness of a few large clients, you are at greater risk than if receivables are more evenly spread across many smaller ones. If one large trading partner goes bankrupt or develops erratic payment habits, your ability to predict and efficiently manage your cash flows may be significantly affected.

Another risk occurs when you are a supplier to a major corporation with the clout to demand payment terms that involve not only deep discounting but also significantly extended payment timelines. Factor these payment arrangements into your cash flow planning.

How can a business manage its orders and minimize it receivables conversion cycle

Make it easy to buy. Ordering should be quick, easy and accurate. Expedite the purchasing process. Also provide immediate payment options and offer phone assistance. Having someone to answer questions can increase your order completion rate, and customer service representatives can suggest complementary products, resulting in incremental sales. Also discourage orders via traditional mail, which increases the receivables cycle. Finally, provide timely product shipments or service completion. The timely conversion of orders to cash can be sabotaged by internal inefficiencies or lack of precise knowledge of production metrics. Defining and measuring important targets allows you to prevent critical product or service shortages.

How can a company streamline receivables?

Strive to invoice within 24 hours of shipment because the customer won’t begin the payment process until the invoice is received.

Make invoices simple. They typically go to the accounting group, so superfluous information is a waste of time and money and can confuse the main point — the amount due. To speed payment, make it easy for the customer. Here are some treasury management products and services that may help.

* Electronic payments and deposit. Reducing paper transactions can speed payment. By using electronic solutions such as automated clearinghouse (ACH), wire payments and credit cards, the time between delivery of the product or service and payment is minimized.

* Lockbox services. For businesses that receive a large number of check payments or large dollar check payments, lockbox services can streamline the process and reduce the time from check receipt to deposit. Checks are sent directly to a remittance address owned by the bank and retrieved multiple times each day to expedite payment processing, minimizing mail, processing and information float while maximizing funds availability.

* Remote deposit capture. This accelerates paper check deposits into your business account. Scan checks at your location to create a digital file that is sent to the bank over a secure Internet connection. This reduces mail and check float and allows you to export data directly into your accounts receivable system.

* Online information reporting. Simple report statements, CD-ROMs containing lockbox images, both data and image transmission files that can be uploaded into your accounts receivable or ERP systems, and online and Web-based information delivery services can provide timely and convenient access to your account information.

No matter how healthy your sales, an inefficient or ineffective accounts receivable process can hinder growth. A treasury management expert can evaluate your receivables needs and suggest cash management solutions to streamline receivables processes and improve cash flow.

Associated Bank, N.A., is a Member FDIC and Associated Banc-Corp.

Jennifer Hall is senior vice president at Associated Bank. Reach her at (312) 565-5275 or Jennifer.Hall@associatedbank.com.

Patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, or intellectual property (IP), have become an increasingly important asset for today’s businesses.  In particular, IP provides strategic and financial advantages against competitors in the form of improved business and/or manufacturing processes and new product technology or designs.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) indicated the number of patents granted in 2011 (247,713) was the largest since 1963, and as of 2011, there were 1.75 million active trademark registrations.  Further, the U.S. Copyright Office indicated that between 1790 and 2009, approximately 33.65 million copyrights were registered.

“While we have seen the number of patent grants and the volume of trademark and copyright registrations increase, in my experience, companies are not appropriately identifying and managing their IP,” says Andrea Gonzalez, CPA, a senior manager at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors. “As a result, companies are missing valuable strategic and economic opportunities.”

Smart Business spoke with Gonzalez about the necessity for companies to identify and manage their IP.

Why it is important for a company to identify its IP?

It is important for a variety of reasons; in particular, it allows a company to fully understand its IP portfolio. Once a company identifies its IP portfolio, it is able to determine the development stage of in-process IP; determine the ongoing cost of its IP development, including whether the company should continue to fund development; assess and critically review the IP’s continuing value to the company; identify potential licensing in/out opportunities; identify potential IP purchasing needs or sales of nonperforming IP; comply with financial reporting requirements; and monitor for potential misappropriation or infringement of its IP.

How can a company identify and manage its IP?

A company can start by implementing a formal process of identifying and managing all IP assets within the company on an annual basis. The first step is to establish a standardized method for identifying specific IP by department or functional area, by the type of IP (e.g., patents, copyrights) and by the type of product it relates to or the process for which it applies. The categories of identification can vary by company depending on the depth and variety of IP assets.

The second step is to implement the formal IP identification process. The implementation begins by interviewing various employees. Employee interviews enable a company to identify all of its in-process and established IP and appropriately categorize by department, type and product/process.

Once all IP is identified and categorized, the company can easily manage its IP portfolio. Specifically, it can perform annual audits of its IP portfolio either internally or via outside IP consultants and implement computerized or automated audits. The audits enable a company to monitor the current status of in-process IP; estimate the useful life and use of its IP; determine its value for purposes of financial reporting, insurance or collateral; and identify potential business opportunities (e.g., licensing in/out, sales, purchases), among other items.

Don’t a company’s financial statement auditors perform this function?

Not necessarily. If IP is self-created, the costs of creating the property are expensed rather than capitalized. As such, there may not be an asset included in the balance sheet for the IP.

Is it also important for a company to safeguard its IP?

Safeguarding a company’s IP is important to maintaining the economic and business benefits previously discussed. It has also become increasingly important because the accessibility of information has never been easier than it is today.

Further, there is an increasing availability of tools capable of obtaining information maintained in electronic environments.   Therefore, it is crucial for a company to identify its various forms of IP and work to not only implement appropriate internal security measures but to also work with their legal counsel to ensure the appropriate IP protection afforded under U.S. laws are in place to protect the company’s IP assets. Enterprise risk management extends to IP, as well as ‘hard’ assets.

What if a company suspects its IP rights have been infringed or stolen?

The first step is to contact legal counsel.  If legal counsel determines there is an alleged infringement or misappropriation, financial and accounting professionals can be retained to determine the economic damages that may have resulted from the alleged unlawful acts prior to or after a formal complaint is filed with the court.

How are damages quantified if a company believes its IP has been infringed or misappropriated?

There are a number of different methods forensic accountants and valuation analysts use to quantify IP damages. Bearing in mind damage remedies available under the law vary based on the type of IP allegedly infringed or misappropriated, damages may be quantified by estimating a reasonable royalty rate, quantifying the profits the IP inventor would have earned but for the alleged infringement, or by quantifying the unjust enrichment the infringer earned as a result of their alleged misappropriation or infringement.

Andrea Gonzalez, CPA, is a senior manager at Cendrowski Corporate Advisors. Reach her at arg@cendsel.com.