Individuals and corporations with high net worth are known for taking full advantage of tax loopholes to save money. And a recent OECD survey found that tax officials overwhelmingly feel the Big Four accounting firms work to exploit these.
The Details of the Study
As a refresher, the Big Four are Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, and EY, named so for being the four largest professional services networks in the world. The study comes from the OECD, which surveyed 1,200 tax officials spread across 138 countries.
It specifically found that most tax officials think that the Big Four firms exploit those tax loopholes at least part of the time.
Only one-quarter of officials believed that the Big Four consistently followed the tax laws in spirit most of the time. Officials also said they thought that these Big Four encourage artificial tax planning. There were also a significant minority of officials who said the Big Four illegitimately use their lobbying power.
There is good news in the report, however. Most regions had more officials believing that the Big Four encouraged compliance than those who encouraged exploiting loopholes.
Variations by Region
Additionally, tax authorities said they thought the Big Four had a higher chance than local accounting firms of suggesting aggressive tax strategies. Specifically, 37% of officials in Latin America and the Caribbean believed this. Meanwhile, 26% in Asia agreed. The other regions fit between those figures.
The figures become even more interesting when you look at regions. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 45% of officials said the Big Four never or rarely followed “the spirit of the law.” Africa was only slightly better with 40% feeling the “spirit of the law” was never or rarely followed. It was 29% in Asia and 30% in OECD countries.
The OECD also asked about transparency when working with tax authorities. This was based on the idea that the Big Four provide all requested relevant information. The best opinions were in the OECD, where 31% of officials thought this was the case. It was lowest in Latin America and the Caribbean at just 18%.
What It Means
Overall, this OECD study highlights the major lack of trust between governments, specifically tax bodies, and these major accounting firms.
Interestingly, the results of the OECD study were not expected. Officials were typically thought of as being cooperative. As such, the fact that so many officials believe the Big Four are uncooperative at least part of the time is a surprise.
Why It Matters
The lack of trust between the major accounting firms and tax officials is crucial. This is especially true given the size of the Big Four and the amount of money they handle. In the most recent reports, the Big Four have a combined $37 billion in global revenues.
Recent Big Four Scrutiny
Recently, the scandals involving the Big Four were not necessarily related to taxes. Instead, they were concernED about the companies’ oligopoly power. There were also concerned about their audits’ quality. Those audit concerns were especially noteworthy after scandals with Carillion (UK), 1MDB (Malaysia), and Wirecard (Germany).
How the Big Four Responded
As expected, some of the Big Four had plenty to say about the report. PwC disagreed with the views of officials surveyed in the report. They also highlighted the importance of trust in taxes and the importance of public interest.
EY reinforced its commitment to comply with laws and regulations and meet the highest standards. They also confirmed they want to strengthen conversations between tax authorities and taxpayers and clear up misconceptions.
A recent OECD survey found that tax authorities don’t trust the Big Four accounting firms as much as previously thought. There are high rates of mistrust, with the belief that the Big Four encourage clients to use tax loopholes. Overall, however, most tax officials feel the Big Four follow the tax laws.
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