With the objective of learning from the rich experiences and lessons that other countries have gained from small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) export assistance programs, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada presents a new research report series, “Going Global.” To read the entire report, please jump to the blue download tab at the end of this piece.
One of the many barriers stopping committed German businesses from successfully operating abroad is the difficulty in navigating local accounting practices and tax laws. To this end, Germany’s Chambers of Commerce (AHK) seeks to help German firms that have committed to an investment entry mode (sales, manufacturing, or wholly integrated subsidiary) in a foreign market by offering these firms a full suite of accounting services: operational accounting, invoicing, financial accounting, payroll, and related accounting services. The accounting service offered by AHK includes internal (services related to monthly, quarterly, or annual profit-and-loss statements, etc.) as well as external (filing of tax returns, payroll taxes, treasury management, etc.) reporting. As well, AHK offers services related to the legal environment around these services, particularly with regard to employment and labour laws. This service offering is particularly designed for companies that are utilizing more advanced market-entry modes. These modes require not only stronger financial commitment from headquarters, but also trigger a shift of management activities from headquarters to subsidiaries. These activities necessitate a local workforce that is highly knowledgeable about the local legal, tax, and regulatory environment, and that understands the German market context in these matters. As German companies outsource accounting services to AHK, they are able to tap into a ready and trustworthy administrative resource that they would otherwise have to build themselves.
OBJECTIVES OF THE PROGRAM
The accounting service is designed to assist companies in their development from low-intensity market-entry modes, such as indirect or direct exports, to market-entry modes that require more commitment via the employment of local personnel or investments in local corporate infrastructure. The accounting service enables companies to focus on primary activities such as business development by providing a way to outsource non-productive activities to a trusted partner such as AHK. It also helps companies to overcome their competitive disadvantage as a foreign small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) and to engage in continuous learning. The details of the services offered under this initiative differ from location to location and can include the following:
- Employer registration
- Monthly payroll
- Travel reimbursements
- Payroll and social security taxes
- Financial accounting
- Daily management of accounts and payments
- Monthly, quarterly, and annual reporting
- Complete accounting
- Tax accounting
- Tax advisory
- Monthly, quarterly, and annual tax returns
- Administration of bank accounts
- Collection services
AHK is part of a network of institutions that include bilateral chambers of international commerce, permanent trade delegations, and representatives of German businesses. These institutions have 130 different locations in 90 countries worldwide. It is in these locations that AHK’s accounting service is offered; it appears under different names in different locations, including “accounting services,” “corporate services,” and “administrative services.”
The accounting service is accessible to all industries. Given the nature of this service, however, clients using the service are usually those that have significant in-country operations such as employing personnel, having sales subsidiaries, production subsidiaries, wholly integrated facilities, or other operations. Also, the service is typically used by mid-sized companies, as accounting services for larger companies are frequently in-sourced.
In principle, the service is offered worldwide. However, the service is currently available at roughly 40% of the approximately 130 different locations in 90 countries. Where the service is offered is not necessarily based on strategic considerations, but is mainly determined by demand and availability of local, qualified resources.
Depending on the location, accounting services are either offered by the local accounting staff of the AHK office or by external partners. Often, basic accounting services are offered by AHK staff while higher-order services (e.g. auditing) are provided by qualified local partners. Although this service can be accessed by any German company, it is primarily offered to those companies that are in the process of setting up a subsidiary abroad. The initial step in accessing this service is for companies to become a member at the local AHK office that offers accounting services. Membership fees at the local AHK office vary with the size of the company. Current annual rates are as follows:
- Fewer than 20 employees: €350;
- Between 21 and 100 employees: €650; and
- More than 100 employees: €950.
In order to start accessing the services, the local AHK office and the German company develop a detailed understanding of the service request, expectations, and mutual responsibilities. Although the AHK offices prefer an initial service term of one year, contracts are not usually long term. Often, however, the AHK office and the German company agree on a notice period for termination of the contract.
The fees for the actual accounting service vary depending on the location and the type of services provided. Generally, fees are either one-time service (e.g. registration of a company) flat fees (cost-plus) or hourly rates (e.g. €115/hour) for ongoing services (e.g. payroll accounting). For long-term arrangements, the AHK offices sometimes also offer flat rates for ongoing services.
OUTCOMES ATTRIBUTABLE TO THE PROGRAM
In 2015, approximately 10% of all AHK clients stated that they have used the accounting service. This 10% client uptake should be understood in the context of the quantity of AHK offices offering accounting services (38%) and the client for which the service is ideally suited (SMEs at an advanced state of internationalization). Of all AHK clients, 68% assessed the utility of accounting services as “highly effective” and an additional 20% gave it a rating of “effective.”
In addition, most of the companies that used the accounting services of local AHK offices ranked this service very highly. In 2015, 78% of all companies ranked the service as “highly satisfactory” (which makes it the service with the highest satisfaction among all services offered) and approximately another 10% as “satisfactory.”
An additional point of interest about the accounting service offered by AHK is its profitability. While the accounting service generates about 9% of AHK’s total foreign office revenue (surpassed only by the “office-in-office” and “training and development” services), it only accounts for 5% of the cost of foreign AHK offices. This leaves the AHK with a significant gross margin of approximately €2M annually (again, surpassed only by the “office-in-office” and “training and development” services).
APPLICATION TO CANADA
Similar to the German economy, the Canadian economy has companies in all stages of international expansion. For those progressing from a simple “export mode,” under which goods and services are marketed over a distance via a foreign sales subsidiary or a wholly owned subsidiary, the opportunity to access highly sophisticated, localized administrative services such as accounting services can be a critical success factor – particularly in target markets whose legal and tax environment differs from the Canadian context.
AHK – Deutsche Auslandshandelskammern (2016). https://www.ahk.de.
Canadian-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce (2016). Administrative and HR Services, http://kanada.ahk.de/en/services/administrative-hr-services/.
Delegations of German Industry and Commerce (2016). Corporate Services, http://china.ahk.de/services/corporate-services/.
Deutsch-Bulgarische Industrie- und Handelskammer (2016). Buchhaltungsservice, http://bulgarien.ahk.de/dienstleistungen/buchhaltungsservice/.
Deutsch-Daenische Handelskammer (2016). Buchhaltungsservice, http://www.handelskammer.dk/dienstleistungen/buchhaltung-fuer-dritte0/.
Hauser, C., et. al. 2015. Evaluierung der Bundeszuwendungen an die deutschen Auslandshandelskammern, Delegationen und Repraesentanzen (AHKs). Schlussbericht, Hochschule fuer Technik und Wirtschaft Chur, Schweizerisches Institut fuer Entrepreneurship.
Repraesentanz der Deutschen Wirtschaft in Mazedonien (2016). Kundenbuchhaltung, http://mazedonien.ahk.de/dienstleistungen/steuerauskuenfte/buchhaltungsservice/.