In many trade journals today you will see articles discussing the complexities of managing your business traveller constituency – but how do you go about doing that ? Here are 7 tips for organising your programme to ensure you remain compliant in this increasingly complex environment.
Take ownership of the issue within your organisation
For too long responsibility for business travellers has fallen between many stools. In larger companies a travel manager deals with the travel booking process and is focussed on travellers using the right tools and travel products.Smaller companies usually implement a travel policy – setting limits on class of travel or spending limits on hotels. These travellers choose various means of travel and are difficult to track. Travel managers rarely have an interest in the immigration or taxation implications of the trip. For travel managers ’Compliance’ means – are you booking Marriott when you should be booking Hilton? When incidents occur, the resolution comes back to HR or Mobility to fix – remove this loop of unknown data by taking responsibility internally.Involve Legal, Tax and Travel in your team and you will be better equipped to deal with incidents as they arise.
Develop a process to monitor and track travellers for the three key areas of Taxation, Immigration and Duty of Care.
Any one of these three key areas can produce an incident – having a single process for monitoring and managing these incidents is critical to ensure an efficient and accurate response.Many companies focus on the ‘hot spots’ but the programme has to be universal. A simple business trip where a traveller overstays on a Visa Waiver could create an immigration breach or Permanent Establishment or Corporate Nexus risk. That same traveller could break a leg in a car accident in Manhattan and trigger duty of care responsibilities. Your programme must cover all such incidents.Have a single process – if your organisation works in silos the traveller could be hit with a process from the Tax team, a separate one from Immigration and others from Travel or HR. Having multiple processes will ensure that none of them is followed fully. Travellers will rapidly get ‘App fatigue’ if they have too many buttons to press or too many Excel forms to fill in.
Use the Base Erosion and Profits Shifting project (BEPS) implementation as a ‘top down’ catalyst for change.
The world of global tax is changing rapidly and corporate tax departments will take a much closer look at where their business travellers are. More importantly they will want to know ‘what’ they are doing in the country. The BEPS issue is a C-Suite responsibility so use this project to drive a reorganisation of your current business traveller programme. Talk to your Tax or Legal colleagues and find out how your programme can give them the necessary data to avoid Permanent Establishment issues with business travel. Don’t listen to the response ‘it has always been OK’ – the rules are changing so use this as a catalyst. Business travel is now a corporate tax problem – no longer solely an individual income tax or withholding issue.
Use technology to gather the necessary data
Excel is not a viable solution for managing business travellers. There is a wide variety of data so go to the one constant in the process – the business traveller and their smartphone. There are a wide variety of products on the market such as Weichert’s Global Organizer, BDO’s QuickTrip service, Orion Mobility’s GEM Business Traveller product or the Santa Fe and Blick Rothenberg business travel tools. These Apps gather necessary data to serve all internal stakeholders in a simplistic fashion.Ensure the App you choose has a minimal interface and will allow for travellers to enter data quickly and easily – as they sit in the airport or waiting for the hire car.
Involve the traveller and highlight their personal responsibilities.
Many companies look to manage the tax affairs of business travellers without relying on the traveller to assist with necessary data collection. Tax issues, such as Withholding or Gross up issues can have personal consequences for travellers so make sure they know of the long-term implications of their travel. Tax or Immigration impacts can arise many years later – even after the traveller has left the organisation so having the data available to resolve these issues can make them easier to handle.The annual tax return compilation can be a time consuming and frustrating experience. Many travellers procrastinate on this issue and there can often be a rush to seek out expense data, travel records and even sign in and out sheets to complete a true record of actual travel. Accumulating the data as time progresses allows for the final tax event to be a simple execution only process with the tax advisor. Convince your travellers that using an App as they go along will make that year end process much easier for all involved.
Embrace duty of care – 24/7
Recent surveys point out that many companies don’t have an accurate process for locating travellers in times of natural disaster or security threat. Using travel agency data can be problematic as it may not have all the necessary up to the minute information you will require. Use a smartphone based service to go directly to the traveller’s device as soon as an incident occurs. You will need instant access to a safety portal to fully manage incidents as they occur. Having a process that is tied up in a corporate LAN based 9-5 system will leave you at a disadvantage.
Lead with data
By implementing a robust process that covers all three key areas you will have data that allows you to become a more strategic advisor to the business. Being able to advise project teams about individual travellers upcoming tax or immigration thresholds will remove Mobility and HR teams from the reactive firefighting roles they are often placed in. Highly trained HR professionals should be analysing data and providing advice – not building spreadsheets. Good luck in organising your programme!