1:1 conversation between Remco Dewaerheijt, VATBox’s VP Tax & Product Strategy interviews Bas de Koning, EME Indirect Tax Manager at Bayer Crop Science
1st part of our ‘Thought Leaders reveals’ interview series 1:1 conversation between industry experts Remco Dewaerheijt and Bas de Koning as they discuss all things that relate to tax, technology and beyond.
As the EME Indirect Tax Manager at Bayer Crop Science, Bas de Koning has been involved in VAT and other Indirect Tax matters for more than 20 years. Initially, as an adviser with Ernst & Young in the Netherlands, and later as in-house VAT expert and manager, Bas has built up extensive experience with global indirect tax issues in day-to-day practice within multinational companies. Bas has also been a speaker and workshop leader at international events and seminars to share his experiences with and views on taxes.
Listen to the full interview
Why did you choose VAT as a profession?
When I first started doing VAT, I had my interview with a partner from EY at that time, and he asked me the same thing. He said, “why do you want to do VAT?” And before I could even answer, he said, “Just look outside and you see VAT”. At that moment I didn’t believe him, but now I really am glad that I chose VAT because now I do look outside and I do see VAT. It’s become a hobby of mine. It’s become a passion of mine.”
You’ve worked first with Ernst & Young and then made the decision to move into the business, as in-house tax expert or VAT expert, today at Monsanto. Which do you like better?
I like both, but I think I like in-house VAT specialism better. As an advisor, you see a lot of different businesses, but you only see a small part of each business. And what often happens is that you give advice, but then don’t hear anything more, which can be frustrating. If you are an in-house specialist, you are on the other side. You receive the advice, and you have to go into the business to implement it, to use it, and to make it happen. On the other side, as an in-house VAT specialist, you have to make decisions, which can be tough.
But in the end, I do really like being in business. And, as an in-house tax expert, you may have to implement a certain new process, or change processes, and work with the people on the ground.
So how do you deal with managing these processes?
On my first day at EY, I was sitting behind my desk, and the senior manager asked me, “can you please fill out this VAT return form?” I didn’t have a clue where to start, and that’s when the learning process actually started. I thought I learned something at the university, but no, you don’t. You have to talk to all the different departments, to all the different specialists. You have to understand what the business is doing, and see their viewpoint, whether it’s finance, whether it’s commerce, whether it’s the HR department.
And because VAT is so directly related to the business, you have to know exactly what type of transactions occur. So very often I don’t talk to the finance people, I go to the truck driver and ask him well, can you please show me the documents that you have? And I go to the gatekeeper and say, well, why do you let that guy out or in, and why can he pick up the stuff? Because that’s what VAT is. And that’s much nicer than just sitting behind your desk, filling in tax return forms.
You’ve been active in VAT for more than 20 years. What would you consider to be your biggest success in all those years?
I think that everybody gets better at doing what they like, and I really like what I’m doing. So real success is [being successful] at something that I’ve learned, and that I know that I’m good at.
In the last decade, there has been a strong influence and introduction of technology, in many parts of the business, but also on VAT. How do you see the impact of technology, how it is today compared to how you think it will be in the future? How it will affect your day-to-day work, or how the business operates?
If you look at businesses, if you look at commerce, if you look at e-commerce, at IT developments over the past 10, 20 years, there’s been so many changes, and VAT rules are trying to catch up. Ten years ago, nobody heard of SAF-T, nobody heard of e-invoicing, and now there’s now even talk in countries that well, in the future you won’t have to submit a tax return anymore. Now everything is submitted online electronically on an invoice-by-invoice basis. As is your VAT return. So I think in the future everything will be online real-time and directly accessible by the tax authorities.
And do you think then your role, your current day-to-day job, will change in the future, say 10, 15 years from now?
In the end, everything is still based on rules and somebody has to know these rules. So in that respect, I think that you still need people with knowledge and with experience, in order to understand what the rules are. But what I see as the main challenge, is that things will be much quicker, it will be much faster.
Tax authorities nowadays can do an audit by taking a USB stick and pulling the data from your system, and the next day you have the report on your desk. For businesses, it’s also expected that they come up with the information on a real-time basis, and immediately make decisions. So I think for a VAT manager, it’s also important that you are able to access data immediately, to understand it immediately, and to make decisions immediately, or at least much quicker than you do now.
You’re a regular speaker at different indirect tax conferences, and I know that you have certain areas of expertise within VAT that you really enjoy, one of those being a tax control framework or indirect tax control framework. Could you elaborate?
Simply said, a tax control framework is about mapping your own processes and identifying any risks. While a tax control framework sounds like a luxury, every company already has some type of tax control framework. It’s just a matter of how you use it, how you actually implement it. From my point of view, if you look at the VAT in a business, every part of the business makes VAT decisions. And a tax control framework is nothing more or less than mapping those decisions into different processes, and making sure that the right decisions are made by the right people based on the right knowledge, and with the right timing. And then you can train people if there’s a gap somewhere. You can accomplish this internally by having specific people or specific resources or specific tools in place, or you can outsource part of that.
And if I look specifically at VAT recovery, then it is possible to outsource that. That’s what VATBox can add. You can look at a specific process in your company where you want to have control, where you know that you are maybe not doing it right, or maybe your timing is off or whatever. And if you use VATBox, you know that it will be done correctly, It will be done on time. So by using VATBox, you can make sure that that part of your control framework actually has good control. That’s where the added value is.
So if you would start working with a new company, what would be the first thing you would look at?
I think there are three key elements that you have to look at if you go into any company, regardless of whether it’s an existing job, a new job or as an advisor. You should look at the processes, the transactions, and the risks. Risks are very similar for a lot of companies, they’re based on the transactions and the processes that you have. A gap analysis can determine where are the real risks, where your priorities should be placed and where you can spot opportunities. That gap analysis should be your starting point to set your priorities for the next year or the next years when you come into a company.
VAT is really about understanding a company, what they do, what they actually produce, which service they deliver. You need to really get into the DNA of the company, and fully get acquainted with all the processes. And then you can provide the best advice, such as what would be the best VAT partner for the company.
About the Author
Remco Dewaerheijt is VP Tax & Product Strategy at VATBox, responsible with his team to keep the VATBox systems fully up-to-date and design new features and solutions in the area of VAT, Benefits in Kind and Corporate Tax within the scope of the Travel Expense domain and part of the AP process. The mission is to develop those solutions that provide our clients with more insight and control over their tax relevant data and increase the level of compliance, using VATBox patented AI proprietary technology.