INSIDE THIS EDITION
Corporate governance for small
Court case - tax avoidance arrangement 2
Generation Z – our future workforce 3
Property sales - business premises
Wacky business ideas 4
Times are changing 4
Corporate governance for small businesses
Good corporate governance is often viewed as important for large companies with an established board of directors. However, the principles that underpin good corporate governance can benefit any organisation, irrespective of size.
Why is it then that the term governance often raises alarm bells with small business owners? Perhaps it’s the fear of losing control over their business, or the assumption that they must report to someone else. When in fact, good corporate governance should lead to business owners feeling more empowered, more supported and more equipped to make good quality decisions.
In a nutshell, governance is all about thinking strategically and taking a ‘big picture view’ as opposed to focusing on day-to-day operations. In the context of small businesses, owner-operators are often bogged down with the day-to-day running requirements of the business, leaving little time to devote to long-term strategy and sustainability. One of the key benefits of governance structures is the ability for small business owners to take time to work “on” the business as opposed to work “in” it. This subtle switching of ‘hats’ is one of the first steps toward building a governance structure.
However, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to governance; it will look different for each and every business. The approach will depend on the size and stage of the business, the operating environment, the risk profile and the key stakeholders. It is therefore crucial that all businesses take time to think about their governance practises. Broadly, governance structures typically fall into one of three categories: no formalised governance structure; an advisory board; or a full board. The idea of a full board may be overwhelming for SMEs or not appropriate given the size and scale of the business, but they may still benefit hugely from establishing an advisory board.
At one point or another, SME owners will inevitably need expert advice, that’s where an advisory board comes in. An advisory board is an informal group of business professionals who help advise owners on a number of business issues. Generally, an advisory board should have a legal advisor, an accountant, a marketing expert, a human resources expert, and a financial advisor.
The ability to draw on these different areas of expertise offers SMEs the benefit of a variety of different perspectives, knowledge, experience and most importantly support. Opting for an advisory board also ensures overall decision making authority remains with the owner, removing any apprehension owners may have about loss of control.
As entities progress through the business life-cycle, they may eventually find that their advisory board grows into a full board. There is an abundance of resources available that outline the composition and responsibilities of boards, including guidance issued by the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) which includes eight key principles that underpin best practice. The topics include areas such as ethical standards, board composition and performance, risk management, and reporting and disclosure. Whilst it is unlikely that all of the principles will be relevant for small businesses, they provide sound guidance on the fundamental areas and help simplify the underlying objectives of governance.
Court case – tax avoidance arrangement
Two recent (connected) cases at the Taxation Review Authority (TRA) demonstrate that unnecessarily complex transactions can raise a red flag for IRD.
Both cases related to a taxpayer referred to as Mr Brown, who acquired a 2/3 interest in a joint venture known as the NPN Partnership (NPN) back in 1981. NPN held several residential property investments, of which a 2/3 share was transferred into one of Mr Brown’s family trusts.
Over a period spanning 20 plus years, the income rights to the rental income derived by NPN were sold from one of Mr Brown’s family trusts to another on three separate occasions. Although each transaction was slightly different, broadly, on each occasion the trust acquiring the income rights funded the purchase by way of vendor loan, with the interest capitalised and not payable until the expiry of the loan.
Close to the end date of each loan, the trust would sell the income rights to a newly settled family trust for a price equivalent to the outstanding loan with accumulated interest. In effect, each of these sales from trust to trust created a new loan. On each occasion, the new loan gave rise to an interest expense which the trust claimed as tax deductible, offsetting the rental income derived from NPN such that no tax was paid.
The Commissioner contended that the arrangements constituted a tax avoidance arrangement pursuant to BG 1 of the Income Tax Act, and sought to deny the interest deductions whilst reconstructing the income derived by NPN onto Mr Brown. The Commissioner contended that during the time the income rights were held in trust, the rental income was used my Mr Brown for his personal and family expenses. The taxpayer contended that the transactions were all standard commercial transactions, and there was no artificiality in the trusts obtaining the interest deductions.
However, the TRA supported the Commissioner, ruling that the transactions were driven with a tax motive in mind, with no commercial reality, given that the loans resulted in no economic cost to the trusts. The structure was artificial and contrived.
In sentencing, the TRA allowed IRD to impose re-assessments dating back to 2001, as they considered Mr Brown’s tax returns to be wilfully misleading. As a further sting in the tail, it was deemed that the Trustees of the family trusts had failed to meet their tax obligations, hence the income was taxable at the ‘non-complying trust rate’ of 45%.
A good reminder that whilst all taxpayers are entitled to arrange their affairs in a tax efficient manner, tax should not be the main motive for a transaction with no commercial substance.
Generation Z – our future workforce
The rise of Generation Z (‘Gen Z’) is imminent in today’s workforce. Comprised of those born between mid-1990s and early-2000s, Gen Z has grown up in a world with technology at their fingertips. Common traits include: confidence, desire to succeed, thriving on recognition, being adaptable and tech-savvy. However, their most valuable aspect is they represent an organisation’s future.