Ensuring compliance for international business travellers: Sapient’s approach

Compliance consistently tops the global mobility and HR practitioners’ list of the most pressing problems facing the function and wider business.

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Increasingly diverse destinations, assignee profile and type, constantly shifting tax and immigration landscapes, plus a more global attitude to corporate strategy, are not only increasing mobility and HRs’ workload and its complexity, but also the appetite for oversight. A number of headline-making cases recently with heavy fines and corporate reputation at stake are raising the pressure further.Drilling down into managing the risks for the growing cadre of business travellers, Ezeibe Agomo, senior manager of global people movement at international financial and commodity technology, analytics and advisory company, Sapient, shared his expertise and practise from the field at the Worldwide ERC Global Workforce Summit 2015: Talent Mobility in EMEA in London this month.In a rigorous and realistic business-focused presentation, Mr Agomo described how Sapient’s approach was prompted by the recognition that increasing business travel, unchecked and unmeasured, could unwittingly put the company in breach of increasingly protectionist tax and immigration rules and the latest interpretations of current legislation. Corporate tax, employer/employee tax, corporate reputation and employee wellbeing are the general downsides of doing nothing, Mr Agomo explained.To address the issue and manage the risks, Mr Agomo started by acknowledging the difficulties inherent in identifying and classifying frequent short-term business travelers.“Traditionally, business travellers visit multiple locations and are notoriously hard to track,” he said. “It is very hard within Europe, for example, because [EU member state] passport holders can move about without visas. “You will find someone find someone for example who stay four days in a host country, three days home. And that sort of thing is common. At what point does that become a formal assignment, pinned down in the structures we have to ensure these people are being compliant?“We are talking about this because we have this whole population of people who are moving who sometimes don’t fit within a defined policy and can’t identify to put compliance structures in place.“Taking tax, a person may travel and cause no individual tax risk initially because we have in our head the 183-day rule,” continued Mr Agomo. “People can oftentimes be wrong. It’s not about what this one person has done; sometimes it’s about what the entire population has done from this person’s employing entity for example. This is one of the crucial things to make ourselves and our business aware of.”“We also can’t always rely on what we used to do. Folks need to understand if you are going into a new country, the rules may have changed or are open to interpretation. Over time regulatory environments have become harsher – we need to be aware of this and communicate the risks.”One of the keys to Sapient’s global mobility team’s approach is understanding the context of compliance for the business. “There are many conflicting pressures on the business,” acknowledged Mr Agomo. “A CEO might ask why they should put x amount of money towards solving something that might or might not be an issue? But some might say we will always be a company that moves around – that’s what we do.“But you have to learn to balance the risks and make judgment calls. It’s not always black and white; there are grey areas and that’s the key thing. Within mobility we have to understand the grey, and understand it very well. So that if we were giving advice to the business, we are able to help the business make the right decision, the right commercial evaluation: do not do this, it is against the law, versus this is a commercially reasonable decision. We have to help the business make the right decision, by for example working with tax authorities to get the most efficient way round, and all these things.”By recognising and balancing the risks and resources available, and the communication of that thought process, Mr Agomo’s team have implemented new mechanisms to capture and monitor business travel information.Sapient’s global mobility team is operating at a strategic level as a corporate business partner within a cross-disciplinary board that includes representatives from mobility, legal, corporate tax, financial and new business teams. This way Sapient can not only manage the risks around business travel, but also add value through data capture, potentially supporting new business at an early stage.“Coming from a place in the past where pretty much everyone did their own thing we’ve got to a place where if someone is doing this [short-term business travel], you’ve got to let everyone know. And that’s how can we stay compliant. We have electronic systems in place to track time. We ensure that there is a bucket added to time management logs that says ‘where?’ Not just how much time, but where, what city did you work in this week? Every day there is this option, including weekends.“We pull this information together as part of a cross-disciplinary board called the migration advisory group. We check patterns, share information and ensure the information presents no problems, and helps to increase visibility [of the issue].“Where we are now is having a conversation about taking this to the next level with technology,” Mr Agomo concluded. “Again, don’t assume you can do it all on your own. We have evaluated the risk and understand that it is a major area for the business and after years of ‘is it worth it?’, we know that it jolly well is worth it, because if we don’t do this, it’s going to be costly.”Articles you might also be interested in:Global thought leadership: recent trendsCompliance, housing and cost control: biggest concerns, but greater focus expectedData security and mobile technology to dominate 2015 business travel agenda: new survey

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