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Finding Resources for International Expansion Might Be Easier Than You Think

The Information hosted an event, Fintech: Women in Tech Leadership Forum, to explore trends and developments in the financial services sector as it’s been transformed by technology. In partnership with Singapore Economic Development Board, the event integrated fireside chats, live Q&A and breakout masterclass sessions to maximize viewer understanding of how technology has disrupted and streamlined the way consumers and businesses utilize financial services.

Moderated by Sarah Krouse, reporter for The Information, the Expanding Internationally with Purpose breakout connected Jillian Lim, EVP and Chief Digital Officer of Singapore Economic Development Board, Kristen Nordlof, Global Head of Tax and Statutory Reporting and Vice President of Uber, and Ameeta Patel, Vice President and Head of Global Tax at PayPal to discuss the complex ecosystem of international taxation and business collaboration, as well as mechanisms incoming employees can utilize to augment international job opportunities.

The enticing potential for a new customer base combined with additional revenue opportunities has compelled countless businesses to seek global expansion; however, navigating the nuances of countries’ taxation protocols can be daunting without thorough preparation. With over a decade's worth of experience in tax administration, Patel offered pertinent advice on approaching international tax management.

“When we look at entering into a new country and potentially pursuing some of these potential options, we do a cost-benefit analysis first,” Patel said.  “Usually, we do a little bit of due diligence and homework before approaching an economic development office. In general, the benefits that we’ve gotten out of these relationships are mutually beneficial. They include cost savings and expanded talent pools, and oftentimes the jurisdictions we choose have existing infrastructure that truly helps facilitate business and economic activity.”

As more US companies extend operations overseas, various receiving countries have begun establishing support systems considering the mutual benefits of a cross-border business partnership. With this in mind, Nordolf emphasizes the advantages of early collaboration suitable for the intended operating country.

“There are really great partnerships you can have with different governments,” Nordolf said. “For example, they might help you find the talent pool needed to operate in that jurisdiction. Or they can partner you with universities to offer certain training that upscales the talent you need to find in that region. Or they can help you connect with other businesses who are there to learn the pros and cons. I really think that economic development boards can be really helpful in getting through. The earlier you engage with them, the more it helps you and your learning curve develop quickly.”

When determining the appropriate business partner in another country, it is also vital to pay mind to the existing range of tax implications, Nordolf said. A core consideration when pursuing expansion is ensuring robust economic risk management systems are in place, particularly when determining the responsibilities parent companies hold for varied taxes.

When engaging in foreign activities, one main area of concern is double taxation, when income may be taxed in the country where it is earned and then again when it is repatriated in the home country. Nordolf notes the benefits of ensuring countries employ taxation treaties before developing business relationships to ameliorate double taxation in both areas of operation.

“If there is a taxation treaty, you can use some procedures called competent authority where the two governments will talk and decide who gets the tax on that particular stream of income so that you don’t get a double tax,” Nordolf said.

Another way foreign businesses are incentivizing cross-border collaboration is through business-friendly visa plans. Specifically, Lim touches on her experience with Singapore’s expanding economic presence, which has given her a unique perspective on mechanisms that enable productive global business collaboration.

“For Singapore, there are two different programs for business-friendly environments. One is a visa program. We call tech at SG, which provides a fast track with work visa applications so that companies thinking of setting up in Singapore or expanding their operations can quickly get certainty around their employment pass or visa applications for their new employees,” Lim said. “The other type is when we think about the innovation ecosystem we want to develop in Singapore. I think the ingredient is the entrepreneurs that aren’t necessarily immediately tied to a particular company. We have a form of a work visa that is flexible for working in Singapore.”

As the lead government agency for economic competitiveness strategy, Singapore EDB's priority is seeking out growth opportunities in Asia and the world while also facilitating incoming foreign business journeys.

“EDB can come into work with companies to provide that added advice or, perhaps from our experience, offer the kind of support network that companies typically want to tap. Once the company has already set foot in Singapore and Southeast Asia, the relationship is actually a long-term one. We continue to provide the link and linkages to the ecosystem and make sure that we actually put in place the necessary business environment conducive to companies to continue to thrive,” Lim said.

Apart from discussing the intimate details of the fintech ecosystem, the trio also touched on routes employees can take to operationalize their skills and appeal to the international marketplace. Holding a global managing position, Nordlof provided insight into the attractive employee qualities managerial staff look for when appointing international positions.

“I think speaking about your goals and speaking about your skills and seeing where there are gaps and talking really freely and openly about how you’re closing those gaps to get that opportunity. I think conversation often is the best way to grow your career because often you don’t even know what options you might have,” Nordlof said.

Ultimately, as countries emerge from the global pandemic, they are reminded of how inter-connected the world is. Although the risk associated with expanding one’s business beyond the domestic market is formidable, Patel underscores its value in business strategy while still remaining candid on its realities.

“New markets are like a box of chocolates,” Patel said. “You never know what you’re going to get. You can prepare and prepare and prepare, and the tables can flip at you at any moment because tax regulatory and business considerations can change right as you plan to enter into a new market. We go in recognizing we aren’t going to know everything, but we try and be prepared as we can be with the information that’s available.”

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