Tag Archives: Ernst & Young

taxes

Tax reform aims to help small businesses

During the State of the Union address, President Obama said that tax reform is a key issue for small businesses today. Specifically, the president stressed that many small businesses are overwhelmed with administrative tasks associated with tax filing and deserve the opportunity to focus on strategic areas of their business that could help them grow and hire more workers.

“For many businesses, the complexity of the tax code is challenging,” said Ron Butler, partner at Ernst & Young in Phoenix. “Small businesses and entrepreneurs incur significant costs to interpret and apply federal tax rules and regulations and to produce the required information necessary to prepare accurate returns. They would benefit from a system that modernizes and simplifies their tax compliance and reporting obligations.”

According to the National Federation of Independent Business, tax compliance costs are 65 percent higher for small businesses than for big businesses, costing small business owners $18 billion to $19 billion per year.  In addition, nearly nine out of ten small businesses rely on outside tax preparers. With about half of the private sector workforce employed by a small business — a total of nearly 60 million Americans — these costs, along with tax rates as high as 44.6 percent, carry a heavy burden for small businesses.

“Record keeping and record retention are probably the most overwhelming administrative tasks (for small businesses),” said Donna Witherwax, tax partner at Grant Thornton in Phoenix. “Not only do they contribute to unproductive costs, they also divert attention from the more important tasks a small business owner should focus on. Small businesses often lack the resources to fully understand how the tax law affects their business.”

To put the need for reform succinctly: “Tax reform presents an opportunity to achieve tax code simplification and improve our nation’s present fiscal path,” Butler said.

To help put us on a better path, the House Ways and Means Committee released a set of proposals in March that are aimed at reforming tax laws for small businesses. As part of a broader, comprehensive tax reform package that would significantly lower rates for small businesses, the proposal would reform and try to simplify tax compliance for small businesses and provide certainty with respect to the ability of small businesses to recover certain costs immediately. These include widely supported reforms such as permanent Section 179 expensing and expansion of the “cash accounting” method, amongst other provisions.

“The most important thing for lawmakers to focus on in this tax reform is re-establishing rate equality,” Witherwax said. “That is, making sure that the current tax rate applied to income earned by an active small business that is organized as a partnership, S corporation or sole proprietorship is no higher than the rate applied to income earned by a normal C corporation. Normally, I would say they should focus on making it easier for small businesses to comply by providing simple and direct rules and additional safe harbors, as well as focusing on minimizing the record keeping burden. But this is not a normal tax reform process.”

Witherwax said the tax reform that is currently being discussed in Washington began as a quest to reduce the statutory corporate tax rate in order to address the disadvantage U.S multinationals face in competing with the multinationals of other nations as a result of the U.S. rate.

“There are good reasons to do that,” she said. “But reducing corporate rates alone would disadvantage those active small businesses that operate as partnerships, S corporations or sole proprietorships. Leaving their rate where it is while reducing the rate of their larger C corporation competitors would put these small businesses at a competitive disadvantage. A disadvantage that would be exacerbated  if the revenue lost by reducing the corporate rate is offset by changes that eliminate some of the business tax benefits that small businesses rely on. For these reasons, in this tax reform, rate equality is the most important thing.”

The good new is that the discussion draft released by the House Ways and Means Committee is designed to provide more uniform tax treatment for pass-through businesses such as sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations. The draft also includes proposals that would spur investment in equipment needed to grow business operations by providing permanent expensing of investments and property; would simplify tax and accounting practices by expanding the use of the simpler “cash accounting” method to businesses with gross receipts of $10 million or less; would provide relief for start-up and organizational costs by establishing a unified deduction for these expenses; and make tax compliance easier for partners and S corporation shareholders by reordering and simplifying the due dates of tax returns for partners and S corporations.

To create reform that’s going to work, experts say, it’s vital that they solicit first-hand feedback.

“Lawmakers should ask small business owners and their tax advisors what changes they want,” said John Hanson, a tax attorney with Sacks Tierney in Phoenix. “ They are best suited to propose worthwhile changes because they are dealing with these issues daily.”

Dave Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee that released the set of proposals aimed at reforming the tax laws for small businesses, said he encourages small business owners and stakeholders to review the discussion draft and to share feedback with their lawmakers and the Ways and Means Committee.

“More Americans get their paycheck from small businesses than any other type of business or government,” Camp said in a statement. “If we really want to strengthen our economy and put more money in the pockets of American workers, we must fix the Tax Code and how it treats small businesses. In addition to all the complexity these Main Street businesses face, Washington currently taxes them at top rates nearly 10 percentage points higher than their corporate counterparts. That’s simply unfair to small businesses … These are the businesses we see every day, where so many of our friends, family and neighbors work … They need and deserve a Tax Code that works for them.”

THE IMPACT OF REFORM

Ron Butler, partner, Ernst & Young: “A broader, comprehensive tax reform package that lowers rates and simplifies tax rules for individuals, small businesses and corporations could be a driving force for economic growth and job creation in the American economy.”
John Hanson, tax attorney, Sacks Tierney: “Tax reform that reduces the compliance burden on small business owners will allow them to invest more resources in their businesses, become more profitable and create more jobs.”
Donna Witherwax, tax partner, Grant Thornton: “It depends on the tax reform we get.  If business rate equivalency can be restored, and a more efficient tax code adopted, small business could be a winner.”

Curtis A. Hildt, tax managing partner, Deloitte Tax LLP: “Small businesses will be able to focus their efforts toward business operations instead of weaving their way through a complex tax system.”

Funding Startup Companies Jumpstart Economy

GPEC boosts state’s economy by attracting more foreign direct investment

The Greater Phoenix Economic Council’s California 50 program — which aimed to fly 50 Golden State CEOs to Phoenix for an opportunity to tour and explore the region’s business-friendly environment — proved to be so popular that they expanded it to 100 a week after its launch.

But it may be GPEC’s pitch to CEOs even farther away that makes the biggest impact on Arizona’s economy.

“GPEC is focused on a specific region in China, defined by Shanghai and 10 other cities connected by high-speed rail,” says Ron Butler, managing partner at Ernst & Young in Phoenix and co-chair of GPEC’s International Leadership Council. “This region (known as the ‘Z Corridor’) features China’s largest concentration of industries, including solar, medical device, IT, pharmaceuticals, high-tech manufacturing and chemicals. GPEC has made tremendous strides over the past several years in China, particularly with solar and renewable energy companies. Now, the organization is looking to leverage those relationships and expand into other, capital-intensive industries.”

GPEC’s effort is significant, Butler says, because export industries and foreign direct investment (FDI) drive economic growth, create wealth within the region, and tend to be capital-intensive operations that pay higher-than-average wages. Currently, FDI accounts for 73,000 jobs in Arizona and the state saw a 235 percent increase in FDI from 2005-2010, from just over $270 million to more than $904 million.

“By focusing on the Z corridor, a zone known for its solar, high-tech, bio-medical, and chemical industries, GPEC has identified a region that can appreciate what Arizona and — more importantly Arizona workers — can do well,” says Ilya A. Iussa, assistant professor of law at Phoenix School of Law.

But it’s not just investment from China that is giving Arizona an economic boost within the solar and renewable energy industries. In addition to China’s Suntech, the region has seen investments from Spain’s Rioglass and Abengoa, England’s Faist, Germany’s Solon, France’s Saint-Gobain, and Canada’s Cosma International.

“GPEC smartly targets the regions and countries that represent significant growth opportunities, like Canada, China and Western Europe, and works these markets with effective marketing and business development strategies,” Butler says. “Now, with a more concentrated effort underway in China and successful positioning as both a leader in the U.S. solar market and an on-the-record supporter of expanded free trade with China, the Greater Phoenix region is poised for amplified growth in FDI, particularly from China.”

Despite its success, experts says Arizona still has some work to do.

“Our neighboring states and biggest competitors far outrank us in national FDI and export-trade rankings,” Butler says. “California is first for FDI and second for exports, while Texas is second for FDI and first for exports. As such, we must continue evaluating our market for additional FDI and export industry opportunities, and look for ways to increase our competitiveness in these areas.”

Lawmakers have identified one area that needs to be addressed to gain a competitive edge on other states.

“One of the first things we should do is focus on developing a highly educated workforce that will attract companies and businesses looking to move their headquarters,” says Rep. Matt Salmon, R-5. “In addition, it is equally important for us to create a pro-business environment and that comes by reducing harmful regulations that hamper economic growth. Both would increase Arizona’s role in the global economy.”

In order to be increase its global presence and become more competitive with neighboring states like California and Texas, Butler says Arizona must increase the number of export industries operating in the state.

“We can increase our competitiveness for these types of investments,” he says, “with a targeted economic development program for export industries, similar to the Renewable Energy Tax Incentive Program (SB1403), which has brought significant investments to the region and the Qualified Facilities Tax Credit (HB2815), which expanded the successful renewable energy program to include qualified, export-based investments.”

Financial Statements

Momentum builds to soften accounting standards for private companies

Private companies say they need to stop being treated like public companies. And now the accounting world has begun to listen to their complaints.

The debate about whether to soften accounting standards for private companies has gone on for years, but this time it seems to be moving toward action, although slowly. But this past summer, the parent organization of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) created a new Private Company Council to discuss possible changes in the U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, better known as GAAP.

The theory behind the move is that the GAAP standards may not always be necessary for private companies, particularly small and medium-size businesses. The council will develop a framework for deciding whether the users of private company financial statements have unique needs and will look at ways to reduce the complexity and cost of preparing private company financial statements as is now the case under GAAP.

Private companies contend that since they don’t raise capital from the public, they shouldn’t have to meet the same expensive accounting standards that publicly traded companies do. In many cases, they are also much smaller than public companies.

Right now, the FASB is seeking feedback on possible changes that could be proposed by this new council.

“They’re only at the talking stage in these standards,” said Ralph Nefdt, managing partner in the Phoenix office of the accounting firm of Grant Thornton. “But it’s a very important debate for standard setters.”

At the same time, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants has issued its own proposed Financial Reporting Framework that small and medium-size privately held businesses could use to prepare their financial statements when U.S. GAAP is not required. The AICPA is seeking comments on this proposal and expects to finish this framework by 2013.

In the case of the AICPA, a company’s management would have to decide whether or not to use the framework, and the institute would not have authority to require its use, said Ron Butler, Arizona managing partner for Ernst & Young.

“Auditors’ reports for financial statements prepared under the proposed framework would indicate that they were prepared on a non-GAAP basis,” Butler said.

Among major concerns about softening standards for statements is that many companies might report a very different financial performance under the new framework. And whether lenders, creditors and other users of financial statements would accept statements prepared under the AICPA’s proposed framework remains to be seen. “Many contracts, regulations and laws require the use of U.S. GAAP,” Butler said.

In other words there might be risks for businesses in using the AICPA framework because banks and investors might not accept anything other than GAAP standards. Some accountants might also resist the change.

But the AICPA’s plans could bring changes sooner. “This new framework could speed up the processes where an accounting change could occur,” said Richard Goldenson, managing partner of CliftonLarsonAllen’s southwest region based in Phoenix.

He also said that the framework could simplify standards for small and medium-size businesses but not reduce them: “The accounting principles comprising the framework for small and medium-size entities are intended to be the most appropriate for the preparation of the financial statements based on the needs of the financial statement users. Financial institutions in many cases do not require GAAP-based statements.”

Many small and medium-size businesses could realize cost savings because often they do not have the resources and expert staff to implement complex accounting requirements.

Some of the other key features of the AICPA proposal:
    It would be a principles-based framework, available for incorporated businesses and unincorporated.
    It is based on accounting principles commonly used or previously used for financial reporting.
    Historical cost would be the primary measurement basis.
    Fewer disclosures would be required than under U.S. GAAP.
    Fewer adjustments may be needed to reconcile tax return income with book income.
    It is intended to be used regarding issues that face small and medium-size businesses.

If the framework moves ahead as proposed, accountants, companies and regulators would have to go through an education process so that financial reports would be carefully executed. A company that wants to use the framework would need substantial lead time to switch over.

GoGreen Conference '11

GoGreen Conference ’11 Emphasizes Sustainability Education, Patience

Whether it’s educating attendees of green and sustainability in the workplace or the speakers’ efforts to educate public and private entities of sustainability in their community, “education” was the buzzword and couldn’t have been stressed enough at the GoGreen Conference ’11 this past Tuesday, November 15. Well, that and a lot of patience.

“It’s not just about being and going green,” said Ed Fox, chief sustainability officer for APS.” It’s about educating and sustaining it.”

Dr. George Brooks, owner of Southwest Green and NxT Horizon Group, agreed: “There’s more to sustainability than solar panels,” he said. “If you want to make sustainability and its process sustainable, you need to make it useful.”

More than 50 speakers from all over the state were in attendance for the first GoGreen Conference ’11 held at the Phoenix Convention Center. Furniture IKEA donated to the panel discussions will be donated to the Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

This all-day conference held back-to-back panel sessions with leaders of sustainable business, who educated attendees on the latest sustainable practices for their respective businesses.

City of Phoenix Major Phil Gordon announced that this was possibly his last opportunity to speak as an elected official about his and the city’s green efforts. He said that although mayor elect Greg Stanton was unable to attend the GoGreen Conference, Stanton is committed to “help build Phoenix as the greenest city.”

Gordon also shared Phoenix-area, sustainability-related statistics and accomplishments over the years, including:

  • Phoenix is home to the only solar light rail stop (near the U.S. Airways Center) in the nation, “maybe in the world.”
  • The city has raised more than $1M in incentives to businesses and homeowners for their sustainability efforts.
  • Through Solar Phoenix, the Valley has more than 425 solar-installed homes. These homeowners have saved 10 percent on utility bills, on average.
  • By 2025, 15 percent of the city will be powered by fossil fuels. And also by 2025, 25 percent of the city will be shaded throughout with canopies and palm trees.

Maria Baier, commissioner of the Arizona State Land Department, provided opening remarks, emphasizing the importance of supporting universities and higher education seeking research dollars for its sustainability efforts. She continues to speak about how to not only go green, but also stay green.

“In order to go green and stay green, we need to keep our product legitimate,” Baier said. “We need to continue to defend it and improve reliability and dependability.”

Rounding out the first session of the conference was Al Halvorsen, senior director of environmental sustainability of Frito-Lay North America.

Halvorsen spoke about Frito-Lay and PepsiCo’s environmental sustain/ability journey — how they were able to confront their challenges (reducing its environmental impact), become an “embracer” of sustainability instead of a “cautious adapter,” and view sustainability as a competitive advantage — incorporating it into PepsiCo’s business with the following strategies:

  • Move Early: Over time, your business will evolve.
  • Balance Short/Long Term: Achieve near-term wins with long-term vision. Your business needs a foundation to help push longer-term envelopes.
  • Focus Top Down and Bottom Up: Track and monitor usage every day.
  • Measure Everything: By 2020, Frito-Lay predicts it will cut its diesel fuel usage in half.
  • Value Intangible Benefits
  • Be Authentic and Transparent: Share your business’s wins, losses and challenges.

“Sustainability for us is a journey and by no means are we there,” Halvorsen said. Jonce Walker, sustainability manager for Maricopa County agreed: “We are nowhere near done,” he said. “We still have so much left to do.”

Check back for part II of the GoGreen Conference ’11 coverage on AZNow.Biz.

For more information about the GoGreen Conference, visit www.gogreenconference.net.

 

Now’s The Time For Business To Streamline And Maximize Cash

Now’s The Time For Business To Streamline And Maximize Cash

How do strategic growth-oriented organizations find and exploit the opportunities inherent in any downturn? Recently, Ernst & Young surveyed 3,100 entrepreneurs around the world to discover the actions entrepreneur-led companies are taking to remain on course during the current economic times. Contrary to what you may think, the survey found that today’s economic environment has opened up space in local and global markets.

Strong business leaders are adapting to the difficulties in sourcing finance and maintaining liquidity, and understanding the pressures on their people, customers and suppliers. Change for everyone seems inevitable, and already some businesses are emerging as leaders in accelerating that change. What do market leaders need to do to be successful?

Despite the changes in the economic environment, net cash flow determines management’s focus. The dominant trend in the past six months has been an acceleration of management’s efforts to improve business performance. They are right to do so regardless of economic scenarios:

  • If the recession continues — or even worsens — then cash and access to credit will continue to be constrained and conditions will remain extremely difficult. The focus on relative performance will intensify.
  • If the rebound is already in sight — if there really are signs of “green shoots” — management needs to be prepared to act quickly. Typically, a rebound arrives with speed, giving management little time to respond.

Three elements are critical to an organization’s ability to react to future opportunities: an efficient operating model that maximizes your company’s strategic advantages, cost reductions that do not damage the organization’s strategy or customer’s experience, and a focus on cash forecasting.

A robust cash-forecasting process can create a “cash culture.” Improving cash awareness through internal procedures and policies drives an increase in accountability and responsibility. In addition, successful companies acknowledge financial concerns before they become a burden and make swift decisions when they need to be made.

Expand your customer base
A majority of entrepreneurs surveyed — 67 percent — are pursuing new market opportunities. But growth is only possible when companies have the required resources, and for now, this means cash. A strong liquidity position provides the basis for a wider array of financial choices to have available when business conditions improve, whether that means broadening a customer base, attracting and retaining people, acquiring strategic businesses or assets, or driving operational performance.

At the same time, entrepreneurs understand that some customers will probably fall away during tough times, and they reinforce procedures to manage these reductions or failures. When expanding your customer base, keep these three things in mind:

  • Understand whether your products or services are necessities or luxuries. Position yourself to help your clients through leaner times.
  • Focus on neglected or overlooked markets while building customer loyalty.
  • Manage your customers’ perceptions of your business.

Review tax position to uncover cash
Tax is between the third and the fifth largest expense for most companies, but only 23 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed review their tax strategies to reduce expenses and uncover cash. Government deficits and revenue needs are affecting global tax policy around the world. The recent fiscal stimulus package includes significant tax measures — in fact, tax measures comprise a larger share of the overall packages compared to spending measures, including:

  • Accelerated depreciation programs.
  • Carryforward and carryback provisions for net operating losses.
  • Adjustments to corporate income tax rates.
  • Enhancements to research and development tax credits.
  • Indirect tax changes.

While some opportunities are likely to arise from this, there are also many potential threats and a general tightening of enforcement and compliance efforts by tax authorities.

Focus on core skills
In being forced to reflect on the health of their businesses, entrepreneurs may initiate a transformation of their business model so it becomes significantly better adapted to tomorrow’s environment. They do this by identifying their core competencies and focusing on what they do best. Ancillary functions not aligned with key strategic goals can be considered as potential outsourcing targets, while divestment may be appropriate for service lines that are not aligned with the core business.

The survey of entrepreneurs suggests that, generally, there has been a pulling back of plans to outsource or to use shared service centers. Internal audit, tax and legal services and knowledge management are key exceptions where lack of in-house skills may force the decision. Companies may be reluctant to transfer responsibilities to a third party in today’s environment, preferring to retain control in-house. However, outsourcing may well provide the increased flexibility and cost reductions that business leaders are looking for. A credible case can be made for outsourcing non-core roles in order to safeguard the core, laying the foundations for a durable, flexible business model that will position an organization more strongly in a post-crisis environment of increased competition and tighter cost control.

Reshape your business
To broaden their customer base or enter new markets, many entrepreneurs see a marked increase in potential mergers and acquisitions at reduced prices. Their recipe: cautious raising of capital mixed with a renewed focus on having the right balance sheet and business model to capture acquisition opportunities. Their advice: Divest unprofitable units while seeking and investing in opportunities from the crisis.

These are times when new market leaders rise to the top. The economy is not a zero-sum game where one side must always lose to let the other win. Only if the majority of businesses improve will the economy turn around.

The views of the entrepreneurs surveyed reaffirm these messages and make one major addition — the need to act more quickly. Regardless of whether recovery is just around the corner or the clutches of recession risk are getting tighter, there is no time to delay improving your business. Accelerating the change is the only option.

Baby Boomer Bust

Baby Boomers Bust

Companies get ready as boomers start leaving the work force

The catchy term many are using to describe the impending exodus of baby boomers from the work force sounds like the title of a science-fiction film: “The Brain Drain.

But there’s nothing fictional about it. The oldest baby boomers, a group that includes more than 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, began qualifying for early Social Security benefits this year. Some may choose to work beyond the traditional retirement age and others could stay on for financial reasons, but the eventual departure of baby boomers will have a serious impact on corporate America.
This might be a particular concern in upper-management ranks, where positions are most likely manned by older, more experienced personnel and a talent pool of capable replacements is thin.

“The issue is simply that our population is getting older and the birth rates aren’t equal to the aging of the population,” says Angelo Kinicki, an Arizona State University management professor, author and consultant. “You’re going to have more people exiting than you will have entering (the work force).”

Despite this demographic shift, recent surveys from Ernst & Young and Monster Worldwide agree that few corporations are properly prepared for the challenges ahead.

“What’s going to happen here is as baby boomers retire, you’re going to have a lot of people who have knowledge that are leaving the work force,” Kinicki adds.

Kinicki says it’s vital to create systems for transferring knowledge from seasoned employees and senior executives down to lower levels through the organization.
“I’d say the more progressive companies are engaging in what we call knowledge-management programs,” Kinicki says.

But, according to a 2007 Monster study titled “Building and Securing an Organizational Brain Trust in an Age of Brain Drain,” few companies have taken such steps.

While trying to determine the level of awareness companies have of the coming brain drain and what they’re doing to prepare for it, Monster found that only 20 percent of firms had a formal strategy in place to manage and preserve organizational knowledge.

Monster concludes that “the absence of such planning leaves a valuable asset exposed to a competitive market. Firms must not only recognize the value of knowledge but actively manage and protect it.”

Kinicki says several companies in Arizona, such as Intel, APS and Honeywell, have taken a proactive approach.

One corporation that has been especially innovative is Avnet Inc., a Phoenix-based Fortune 500 company that is one of the world’s largest distributors of electronic components, computer products and technology services.

Lynn Monkelien, vice president of learning and development, says Avnet is very cognizant of the imminent retirement of baby boomers.

“(We) have started looking at all kinds of ways that we can start to manage this transition period,” she says.

Among those is a multiple-tiered program that uses top-level management to teach classes for those viewed as future leaders.

Consider the Global Organizational Leadership Development, or GOLD, program. It does more than just cover particular subjects. Managers are able to expose students to their own experiences, while studentsget a chance to build relationships with senior leaders, paving the way for future coaching and mentoring.

“I think the real benefit is going to come as we start to replace some of the oldguard with the new guard,” Monkelien says.

The company also places great importance on succession planning, according to Linda Biddle, Avnet’s vice president for talent development. Avnet’s goal is to create a steady flow of people at all levels of the organization ready to take on new roles.

“Avnet is always thinking ahead, trying to predict what things are going to impact our business from a technology standpoint, from a process standpoint and, also, from a people standpoint,” Biddle says. “What we’re trying to do is not be reactionary — we’re trying to be proactive.”

Arizona Business Magazine February 2008