The changing tax compliance landscape and connected processes and automation

by Warren Dick
Tax Reporting and Innovation Leader

Key highlights

  • There is a convergence of processes and technology across the landscape of compliance, and many opportunities for automation 
  • There is no “one way” to implement your compliance strategy and process automation

We are often asked by clients “how is everyone else responding to the increased volume and complexity of tax compliance reporting obligations?”

We’re hearing from tax professionals that for most tax functions:

  • Reporting requirements are getting more complex, locally and globally
  • Tax department budgets are not increasing
  • Technology is used sporadically, at best, in most tax departments
  • ATO filing deadlines are not extending
  • ATO expectations on governance are increasing, as is their focus on review and assurance 
  • Many corporates are spending big on transformation and ERP cloud migration, but is tax involved?

When I started my career in tax, a corporate tax return was about 4 pages. Now, most corporate returns lodged are over 40 pages long.  You could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve been on a long slow walk back from a self assessment regime. Layer on a multitude of new reporting requirements and the likely introduction of e-invoicing and real time reporting to come, the challenge to tax functions remains “how to ensure all obligations are met on time, and still have capacity to be a strategic partner to the business”.  And that’s before the greatest data challenge tax departments have ever faced comes when Pillar 2 arrives.

These challenges are not going away in a hurry.

Decide on your model, build compliance practices from there

The first thing to be clear on is the target operating model for your tax function. They are all different. What are you good at that you should keep doing, how is your company’s technology and operating model changing and how should you adapt your team, and what is best to outsource to others?

We observe four key sourcing / operating models used in practice, two of these emerging in more recent times.

1. Insourcing

Insourcing involves the tax department undertaking all of the compliance obligation in-house. It can be well suited for larger tax teams and brings great control, but often involves little or unsophisticated technology, unless licenced from a third party.  

Even with an insourced model, the ATO is expecting more external review of governance controls and testing over tax processes. This is often the first thing the ATO asks to see when commencing a review. What do you have in place and what is your 3 year roadmap to extend and improve it?

2. Outsource

Covering everything on the spectrum from co-source to outsource to managed services, this is a wide field of play. It may involve as little as a high level review of an FBT return that was prepared in-house, to an outsource of a corporate tax return preparation, or even full accountability of the end to end process in a managed service.  

Where it is best for you to play across all of your obligations will depend on your target operating model.  

A couple of key things to keep in mind:

  • To avoid important obligations falling through the cracks, all processes should be connected.  
  • Many are consolidating external advisers to bring more connectedness to reporting responsibilities.
  • If you are using email as an integral part of your process, it is likely you already have, or will have a governance gap that leads to inefficiencies at best, and failures at worst.
  • Outsourcing can be efficient as the provider may be able to leverage lower cost, specialist labour, more technology and it relieves tax departments of employee managerial responsibilities like hiring, technical training and performance management.
3. Hybrid in a technology evolving corporate

Insource / Outsource have been the traditional sourcing models for tax compliance, but the bright line delineation around this is changing. We are now starting to see corporations invest heavily in new transformative technology as they migrate to a cloud ERP platform. Some are also implementing third party tools seeking more automation across certain taxes (see more below).

Where this is occurring, the sourcing / operating model for tax functions is being turned upside down. The question they pose is, “how can you assist us by leveraging our own broader technology investments, including being agile to change your delivery model to our company as we evolve?”. This requires new ways of thinking about old sourcing models. It’s more about systems configuration, ensuring content such as rules and rates is constantly updated, governance over data flows to third party tools and more analytics to understand trends and look for outliers.

All of this still needs to be connected in a way that those responsible for tax reporting gain comfort over positions taken and returns filed.

4. On System

We use this term to describe a future state, available when an organisation has decided to migrate to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) cloud software. This is becoming prolific, particularly in the US and UK who are a few years ahead of Australia, however some Australian companies have now started to explore on system opportunities for GST, withholding tax, fixed assets, operational transfer pricing, tax provision and tax return calculation as their companies migrate to the cloud. This could be the ultimate form of really “connected compliance”.

Follow our series as we  outline the current tax reporting capabilities of ERP systems and the opportunities that are available for tax functions now, and those opportunities which we see emerging in the short term.

Making the connection, sourcing and automation for different tax areas

If you are not about to embark on an ERP cloud migration, what are common ways to increase your level of governance and automation across Corporate income tax, GST, Transfer Pricing and FBT? Below are some observations based on our work across a wide sector of the Australian companies. 

  Current State Common Sourcing Automation possibility/payoff Common Technology/Automation tools
Corporate tax Largely insource for data management and initial calculation High for tax calculation if reasonable data sources. Supplemental data requirements makes forms automation difficult Alteryx or PowerQuery for ETL. Tax Calc Software for Provision and Tax Return (preferably on one linked platform)
GST Largely insource Very high with detailed transaction field mapping Tax Engine for calculation and BAS automation solution for reporting (many are available)
Operational TP Largely insource High  Alteryx/Power Query into calculations
TP reporting (Local File/CbC) Outsource led, highly manual Emerging Direct mapping to template for upload 
FBT Largely insource preparation with optional co-source  High for transactional analysis and employee declarations. Multiple data sources make end to end calculation automation difficult Alteryx/Power Query and Machine Learning.   Return Software for reporting and automating reportable fringe benefits. Survey tools for declarations.

One final thing to mention. Perhaps the largest governance issue we encounter is the wide use of Excel, especially when adapted or extended from the provision to return process.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with Excel in itself. It’s a robust, well tested and flexible tool.  

However, the issues start to emerge where companies use an Excel based “tax pack”, likely designed years ago by someone else, either globally or locally for provision reporting purposes, and this is then bridged to a local tax return calculation tool.

In such cases, we often find many shortcuts are taken, the “whole story” is only found in combining the two data sets, there are many mini calcs and “cut and paste” jobs from other systems and numbers can be hard coded, particularly in the tax return data set. No doubt the key preparer is fully across both sets of data at the time the return is prepared. No doubt. But if that person leaves, and the next person leaves, it becomes a process of following whatever was done last year. This is a big risk. And if all communication to collate data, interrogate and review calculations etc is done by email, then dial up the risk a little bit more.  

If this sounds like your team, then we recommend you consider alternatives to Excel or more governance over your tax working papers to ensure final positions are traceable, supported by evidence, easy to follow and to explain to other stakeholders. 

Woman looking at digital whiteboard

There is no “one best way” to execute on your tax compliance obligations. But there is a best way in the context of your target operating model, technology journey and risk appetite.

At PwC, we focus on connected compliance which is an approach that flexes in design, but is:

  • Connected across all taxes via one platform
  • Connected to a client’s internal operating model
  • Connected to a client’s tech journey

If you would like to hear more, please call one of your PwC contacts or contact myself or Daniel Levin.

Follow our series as we outline the current tax reporting capabilities of ERP systems and the opportunities that are available for tax functions now, and those opportunities which we see emerging in the short term, including the enormous opportunity for on-system compliance where your data structure is properly set up with all downstream compliance obligations in mind. 

Future articles in this series will focus on:

  • Introduction to ERP - what should a Tax leader know before a migration is announced? 
  • Tax capabilities on major ERP systems (SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics, Workday, etc).  The importance of optimising the data structure right from the start
  • Tax Operating models in a changing world - Hybrid and Full Cloud ERP

In the meantime, if you want to understand more about Tax and ERP, see my colleague Zac Correia’s article outlining the imperative of the CFO to include tax in planning which is published on the SAP community blog here.

Zac Correia

Partner, Tax Technology Consulting, Sydney, PwC Australia

+61 422 081 306


Warren Dick

Tax Reporting and Innovation Leader, Sydney, PwC Australia

+61 419 479 279


Daniel Levin

Managing Director, Tax Reporting and Innovation, Melbourne, PwC Australia

+61 3 8603 1398