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Case Studies: Client Accounting Services

BY DANIELLE LEE

Of all the professional developments made possible by the Internet, the ability to interact with your clients and their systems in real time, no matter where you are, has to offer some of the greatest opportunities for accountants.

This power has led to new forms of outsourced CFO and client accounting services, with firms leveraging the speed and constant integration of cloud-based accounting platforms to help clients run their businesses better. We spoke to five firms that are exploring this new type of relationship to see how it's working for them and their clients.

Keeping the Wheels On

Firm : KBL, LLP

Size : 12 staff, 3 partners

Product : GrowthForce

Commencement date : 2014

On record :Partner Richard Levychin

Challenge/objective : Providing CFO support and controller-level services to rapid-growth companies that need growth management beyond pure accounting.

Process : KBL has been offering outsourced accounting services for roughly three years, but using GrowthForce for online CFO-level services for about 18 months. While KBL currently serves as the front office, offering advisory and client-facing work, "what we're looking to do is front office and back office, outsourcing GrowthForce on a white label," said Levychin.

Currently, "We're getting companies that are growing rapidly. ... Their accounting and finance platform was not managing their growth and the wheels were going to come off - they were going to grow themselves out of business," he explained.

KBL's first step in meeting with prospects is conducting a technical assessment engagement outlining the problems they observe in their accounting processes. "What that does is create a written roadmap that serves as a starting point for issues that are in the company's finance or accounting department," Levychin explained. "We usually capture a minimum of 70 percent of the issues . While working through the engagement another 30 percent come flushing out."

If the client chooses to engage after the assessment, KBL gets to work "re-engineering the company," Levychin said. The firm offers different models based on client needs, ranging from bringing in another CPA to handle QuickBooks integrations (as that isn't KBL's specialty) to hiring the client's auditors and then managing the entire audit process. On the outsourcing front, the firm provides GrowthForce for CFO support services and Insperity for outsourced HR.

KBL currently has eight clients on GrowthForce, with most using the full platform to fulfill their CFO and controller-level needs.

Results : KBL has been happy with the success of the current model. Though the firm is exploring offering back-office services through a white-label solution with GrowthForce, "You should always position yourself as the front office," Levychin said. "When it's just the front office, it's a more high-profile and a profitable area. You can identify issues and billable projects at a higher rate."

Labor constraints also cut into margins, he added. "The thing is, we're in New York City - we're not going to get the same labor rates GrowthForce is getting in Texas."

KBL has been able to scale up its services dramatitcally with the outsourced model. "We, as a firm, are 15 people. ... We can't do CFO services and controller services as economically and as well as GrowthForce can."

Next steps : KBL is in the process of mapping out what a white-label CFO and controller platform would look like with GrowthForce. "The client doesn't care if you're giving a part of it away to someone else, as long as you're telling them how to use it," Levychin said.

 

 
 
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IRS audits of businesses have dropped in 2016 to just 0.49% of all business tax returns, the lowest level since 2004. IRS audits of large corporations have also dropped. The IRS audited 6,458 large corporations, which are entities with assets exceeding $10 million. Four years ago, the IRS audited over 10,000.

Tax audits of individual by the IRS declined for the fifth straight year in 2016. The IRS audited just 0.7% of tax returns, which represents 1 in every 143 individual tax returns, down from 1 in 90 back in 2000. In 2016, the IRS audited 5.83% of high-income households, which is defined as returns with income over $1 million, down from 9.55% in 2015, which represents the lowest audit rate for that income group since 2008.

The above drop in audit rates are a result of budgets cuts at the IRS, which has lost 30% of its enforcement staffing since 2010. Expect Republicans to continue cutting the agency’s budget as part of broader spending cuts and the continued lowering of IRS audit rates.

The rules for the collection of New York State sales tax as it relates to computer software are quite complex.  In this article we look to explain how sales tax applies to sales of computer software and related services.

Prewritten computer software is taxable as tangible personal property, whether it is sold as part of a package or as a separate component, regardless of how the software is conveyed to the purchaser. Therefore, prewritten computer software is taxable whether sold:

  • on a disk or other physical medium;
  • by electronic transmission; or
  • by remote access.

Prewritten computer software includes any computer software that is not designed and developed to the specifications of a particular purchaser. This includes software created by combining two or more prewritten programs or portions of prewritten programs.

Custom software is not subject to tax provided it is designed and developed to the specifications of a particular purchaser. If the custom software is sold or otherwise transferred to someone other than the person for whom it was originally designed and developed, it becomes subject to tax.

Prewritten software that is modified or enhanced to the specifications of a particular purchaser is subject to tax. However, if the charge for the custom modification or enhancement is reasonable and separately stated on the invoice, then the charge for the modification or enhancement is not subject to tax.

Computer software services

Many services related to computer software are exempt. Examples of these services include:

  • training
  • consulting
  • instruction
  • troubleshooting
  • installing
  • programming
  • systems analysis
  • repairing
  • maintaining
  • servicing

However, when these otherwise exempt services are provided in conjunction with the sale of prewritten software, the charge for the service is exempt from tax only when the charge for the service is reasonable and separately stated on the invoice or billing statement given to the customer.

Sales of software upgrades

Generally, the sale of a revision or upgrade of prewritten software is subject to tax as the sale of prewritten software. If, however, the software upgrade is designed and developed to the specifications of a particular purchaser, its sale to that specific purchaser is exempt as a sale of custom software.

Remotely accessed software

A sale of computer software includes any transfer of title or possession or both, including a license to use.

When a purchaser remotely accesses software over the Internet, the seller has transferred possession of the software because the purchaser gains constructive possession of the software and the right to use or control the software.

Accordingly, the sale to a purchaser in New York of a license to remotely access software is subject to state and local sales tax. The situs of the sale for purposes of determining the proper local tax rate and jurisdiction is the location from which the purchaser uses or directs the use of the software, not the location of the code embodying the software. Therefore, if a purchaser has employees who use the software located both in and outside of New York State, the seller of the software should collect tax based on the portion of the receipt attributable to the users located in New York.

Software maintenance agreements

Separately stated and reasonable charges for maintaining, servicing, or repairing software are exempt from sales tax. However, if a software maintenance agreement provides for the sale of both taxable elements (such as upgrades to prewritten software) and nontaxable elements, the charge for the entire maintenance agreement is subject to tax unless the charges for the nontaxable elements are:

  • reasonable and separately stated in the maintenance agreement, and
  • billed separately on the invoice or other document of sale given to the purchaser.

Exempt sales for production or research and development

Prewritten computer software used or consumed directly and predominantly in the production of tangible personal property for sale, or directly and predominantly in research and development, is exempt from tax. The purchaser must provide the seller with a properly completed Form ST-121, New York State and Local Sales and Use Tax Exempt Use Certificate. See Tax Bulletins Exempt Use Certificate (TB-ST-235) and Research and Development (TB-ST-773).

Exempt sales to corporations and partnerships

Custom software is exempt from tax when resold or transferred directly or indirectly by the purchaser of the software to either:

  • a corporation that is a member of an affiliated group of corporations that includes the original purchaser of the custom software; or
  • a partnership in which the original purchaser of the custom software and other members of the affiliated group have at least a 50% interest in capital or profits.

However, the exemption does not apply if the sale or transfer of the custom software is part of a plan having as its principal purpose the avoidance or evasion of tax, or if the sale is prewritten software that is available to be sold to customers in the ordinary course of business.

 

As more companies in the manufacturing industry are becoming involved in foreign transactions, particularly exporting, they need to be aware that they can reduce their U. S. tax liability using an Interest-Charge Domestic International Sales Corporation, more commonly known as an IC-DISC.  The IC-DISC is a federal tax export incentive entity structuring available for U. S. companies that export goods and services to foreign countries.  An IC-DISC creates the opportunity to tax a portion of export related to profits at lower tax rates, and to potentially defer export related income to future years. 

The IC-DISC allows certain U. S. exporters to reduce their overall tax liability through a commission mechanism.  The exporter manufacturing company pays a tax deductible commission, based on qualified export sales, to a newly created corporation that makes an IRS election to be an IC-DISC.  By design, IC-DISCs are exempt from federal tax, and therefore do not pay tax on the commission received.  The IC-DISC then distributes the commission income to the shareholder as a qualified dividend subject to tax at reduced capital gains tax rates.

The IC-DISC entity can be created by the shareholders of the exporter manufacturing company as a brother-sister configuration, typically used when the exporter manufacturing company is a regular corporation for tax purposes.  Or, the IC-DISC can be established by the exporter manufacturing company as a parent-subsidiary configuration when the parent exporter manufacturing company is a pass-through type tax entity.

In either case, the benefit received from utilizing an IC-DISC structuring is dependent on the tax structuring and the effective tax rates of the taxpayers involved in the commission transactions.  The IC-DISC is not required to distribute its accumulated earnings, allowing for the dividend income to be deferred into future years. 

Export sales must meet the following requirements in order to qualify for the IC-DISC benefit:

  1.  Export property must be manufactured in the U. S.
  2.  Export property must be sold for direct use outside the U. S.
  3.  Less than 50 percent of the export property’s sale price must be attributable to imported

In addition to export sales of manufactured property, the following transactions may also qualify for IC-DISC treatment:

  1.  Leasing U. S. manufactured property for use outside of the U. S.
  2.  Export sales of property that is extracted, produced, or grown in the U. S., including crops and 
  3.  Engineering and architectural services provided for construction projects located outside the U. S.

 

 

The Research and Development Tax Credit Program, or RTCP, was introduced into the Internal Revenue Code to encourage businesses to invest in significant research and development efforts with the high expectation that such an advantageous tax incentive program would help stimulate economic growth and investment throughout the United States and prevent further jobs from being outsourced to other countries.

In December 2015 the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015, or PATH Act, made the RTCP a permanent tax incentive within the Code and considerably restructured the program to allow eligible “small businesses” (i.e., $50 million or less in gross receipts) to claim the RTC against the Alternative Minimum Tax for tax years beginning on January 1, 2016.

Businesses with average annual gross receipts of less than $50 million for the three taxable year period preceding the current taxable year are now eligible to offset both their regular income tax and their AMT with RTCs. Before the enactment of the PATH Act, businesses in AMT positions were unable to utilize their RTCs to offset their tax liability. Regardless, it is important to point out that RTCs can generally be either carried back 2 years or carried forward up to 20 years before the RTCs could expire unutilized

In addition, PATH allows eligible “start-up companies”, which is defined in this section of the Code as companies with less than $5 million in gross receipts in the current taxable year and that have no gross receipts for any taxable year prior to the five taxable year period ending with the current taxable year, to claim up to $250,000 of the RTC against the company’s federal payroll tax for tax years beginning on January 1, 2016.