Boon Or Bane for Foreign Financial Institutions?
Why are Foreign Financial Institutions (FFIs) spending so much time and energy on
Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA)? FATCA is a US regulation whose sole purpose is to recover owed tax revenue from previously unidentified assets and incomes domiciled outside of the US. FFI's non compliance with this regulation will be
met by significant withholding on any meaningful income generated from the USA. This method of enforcement is possible because the US is such an integral part of the the world financial economy and so it is easily understandable why FFIs are looking to comply
albeit reluctantly with FATCA. Most major FFIs I have spoken to are spending significant resources diligently understanding and planning for FATCA compliance.
However one major reality that gets lost in the narrative above is the fact that FATCA is not a market regulating act, nor does it provide any operational stability and it is certainly not designed to improve an FFI's business efficiency. In fact, outside
of obtaining a little more of your customer's US related background, there is very little business value added to each FFI by complying with FATCA. A good proof point is in the fact that most of the core FATCA required information - US Tax Identification Number,
W-8/9 forms, US Citizenship status etc- was never captured nor required until now.
As the focus of FATCA is not to provide operational benefits, it is not hard to conclude that blindly accepting FATCA will not provide any new positive impacts to a FFI's business model, if anything it will most likely have a negative impact, especially
from the customer service point of view. Both new clients, as well as existing clients, will be asked to share unwanted information and provide additional documents that will be inconvenient at the least. In some cases, they may be
restricted or denied services. This is the larger issue that all FFIs should be worried about. As a US citizen myself, it will be difficult for me to accept this type of restricted banking or insurance services if I were living outside of
the US. This is precisely why many US expatriates are seriously lobbying against the regulation. This coupled with the increased burden of extra taxation and loss of data privacy is leading many
expatriates to renounce their US citizenship. Given the impact to the US taxpayers, it is important for FFI's to understand
their challenges. FFIs that can offer the best customer experience to these "FATCA clients"will avoid significant attrition.
In order to comply with the requirements of FATCA, a new FFI needs to introduce new client and account on-boarding procedures, withholding calculations as well as new regulatory and client reporting. In other words FATCA cannot be fully satisfied by updating
one system in a financial architecture. The impact is spread throughout multiple departments, systems and procedures. A good proof to this in that there isn't one single department or team among FFIs that is leading their FATCA initiatives. We have seen various
owners ranging from Compliance, Legal and Customer Relations to TAX and Finance. While there is nothing wrong with this disparity in ownership the challenge is executing a solution that minimizes the negative impacts to all of the departments and their system
and procedures involved for now and in the future.
In summary, it will be short sighted for any FFI to only focus resources in minimal enhancements to address the requirements written in the 500+ pages of FATCA regulation. FATCA compliance should be focused on achieving three equal goals:
- Avoid Penalties by acquiring "Complaint" Status.
- Minimize impact to clients.
- Minimize long term resources in addressing FATCA requirement.
FFIs that are able to address these three goals equally, will undoubtedly make the best of the new world of FATCA and similar regulations to follow. I hope you will join me as I explore these three goals further in my future posts. Do let me have your thoughts
on what impact will FATCA have on your business.