Navigating intercompany financing in 2024

April 2024
6 min read

An update on the new transfer pricing regulations


In January 2022, the OECD incorporated Chapter X to the latest edition of their Transfer Pricing Guidelines, a pivotal step in regulating financial transactions globally. This addition aimed to set a global standard for transfer pricing of intercompany financial transactions, an area long scrutinized for its potential for profit shifting and tax avoidance. In the years since, we have seen various jurisdictions explicitly incorporating these principles and providing further guidance in this area. Notably, in the last year, we saw new guidance in South Africa, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), while the Swiss and American tax authorities offered more explanations on this topic. In this article we will take you through the most important updates for the coming years.

Finding the right comparable

The arm's length principle established in the OECD Transfer Pricing Guidelines stipulates that the price applied in any intra-group transaction should be as if the parties were independent.1 This principle applies equally to financial transactions: every intra-group loan, guarantee, and cash pool should be priced in a manner that would be reasonable for independent market participants. Chapter X of the OECD Guidelines provided for the first time a detailed guidance on applying the arm's length principle to financial transactions. Since its publication, achieving arm's length pricing for financial transactions has become a significant regulatory challenge for many multinational corporations. At the same time the increased interest rates have encouraged tax authorities to pay increased attention to the topic – strengthened with the guidelines from Chapter X. 

To determine the arm’s length price of an intra-group financial transaction, the most common methodology is to search for comparable market transactions that share the characteristics of the internal transaction under analysis. For example, in terms of credit risk, maturity, currency or the presence of embedded options. In the case of financial transactions, these comparable market transactions are often loans, traded bonds, or publicly available deposit facilities. Using these comparable observations, an estimate is made on the appropriate price of a transaction as a compensation for the risk taken by either party in a transaction. The risk-adjusted rate of return incorporates the impact of the borrower’s credit rating, any security present, the time to maturity of the transaction, and any other features that are deemed relevant. This methodology has been explicitly incorporated in many publications including in the guidance from the South African Revenue Service (SARS)2 and the Administrative Principles 2023 from the German Federal Ministry of Finance.3

The recently published Corporate Tax Guide of the UAE also implements OECD Chapter X, but does not explicitly mention a preference for market instruments. Instead, the tax guide prefers the use of “comparable debt instruments” without offering examples of appropriate instruments. This nuance requires taxpayers to describe and defend their selection of instruments for each type of transaction. Although the regulation allows for comparability adjustments for differences in terms and conditions, the added complexity poses an additional challenge for many taxpayers. 

A special case of financial transaction for transfer pricing are cash pooling structures. Due to the multilateral nature of cash pools, a single benchmark study might be insufficient. OECD Chapter X introduced the principle of synergy allocation in a cash pool, where the benefits of the pool are shared between its leader and the participants of the pool based on the functions performed and risks assumed. This synergy allocation approach is also found in the recent guidance of SARS, but not in the German Administrative Principles. Instead, the German authorities suggest a cost-plus compensation for a leader of a cash pool with limited risks and functionality. Surprisingly, approaches for complex cash pooling structures such as an in-house bank are not described by the new German Administrative Principles.  

Moving towards new credit rating analyses

Before pricing an intra-group financial transaction, it is paramount to determine the credit risks attached to the transaction under analysis. This can be a challenging exercise, as the borrowing entity is rarely a stand-alone entity which has public debt outstanding or a public credit rating. As a result, corporates typically rely on a top-down or bottom-up rating analysis to estimate the appropriate credit risk in a transaction. In a top-down analysis, the credit rating is largely based on the strength of the group: the subsidiary credit rating is derived by downgrading the group rating by one or two notches. An alternative approach is the bottom-up analysis, where the stand-alone creditworthiness of the borrower is first assessed through its financial statements. Afterwards, the stand-alone credit rating is adjusted with the group’s credit rating based on the level of support that the subsidiary can derive from the group. 

The group support assessment is an important consideration in the credit rating assessment of subsidiaries. Although explicit guarantees or formal support between an entity and the group are often absent, it should still be assessed whether the entity benefits from association with the group: implicit group support. Authorities in the United States, Switzerland, and Germany have provided more insight into their views on the role of the implicit group support, all of them recognizing it as a significant factor that needs to be considered in the credit rating analysis. For instance, the American Internal Revenue Service emphasized the impact of passive association of an entity with the group in the memorandum issued in December 2023.4

The Swiss tax authorities have also stressed the importance of implicit support for rating analyses in the Q&A released in February 2024.5 In this guidance, the authorities did not only emphasize the importance of factoring the implicit group support, but also expressed a preference for the bottom-up approach. This contrasts with the top-down approach followed by many multinationals in the past, which are now encouraged to adopt a more comprehensive method aligned with the bottom-up approach.

Standardization for success

Although the standards set by the OECD have been explicitly adopted by numerous jurisdictions, the additional guidance further develops the requirements in complex transfer pricing areas. Navigating such a complex and demanding environment under increasing interest rates is a challenge for many multinational corporations. Perhaps the best advice is found in the German publication: in its Administrative Principles, it is stressed that the transfer price determination should occur before completion of the transaction and the guidelines prefer a standardized methodology. To get a head start, it is important to put in place an easy to execute process for intra-group financial transactions with comprehensive transfer pricing documentation.  

Despite the complexity of the topic involved, such a standardized method will always be easier to defend. One thing is for certain: the details of transfer pricing studies for financial transactions, such as the analysis of ratings and the debt market, will continue to be a part of every transfer pricing and tax manager agenda for 2024.

For more information on Mastering Financial Transaction Transfer Pricing, download our white paper.

  1. Chapter X, transfer pricing guidance on financial transactions, was published in February 2020 and incorporated in the 2022 edition of the OECD TP Guidelines. ↩︎
  2. Interpretation Note 127 issued in 17 January 2023 by the South African Revenue Service.  ↩︎
  3. Administrative Principles on Transfer Pricing issued by the German Ministry of Finance, published on 6 June 2023.  ↩︎
  4. Memorandum (AM 2023-008) issued on 19 December 2023 by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Deputy Associate Chief Counsel on Effect of Group membership on Financial Transactions under Section 482 and Treas. Reg. § 1.482-2(a). ↩︎
  5. Practical Q&A Guidance published on 23 February 2024 by the Swiss Federal Tax Authorities.   ↩︎

BKR – Towards the optimal registration period of credit registrations

Preventing problematic debt situations or increase access to finance after default recovery?


In countries worldwide, associations of credit information providers play a crucial role in registering consumer-related credits. They are mandated by regulation, operate under local law and their primary aim is consumer protection. The Dutch Central Credit Registration Agency, Stichting Bureau Krediet Registratie (BKR), has reviewed the validity of the credit registration period, especially with regards to the recurrence of payment problems after the completion of debt restructuring and counseling. Since 2017, Zanders and BKR are cooperating in quantitative research and modeling projects and they joined forces for this specific research.

In the current Dutch public discourse, diverse opinions regarding the retention period after finishing debt settlements exist and discussions have started to reduce the duration of such registrations. In December 2022, the four biggest municipalities in the Netherlands announced their independent initiative to prematurely remove registrations of debt restructuring and/or counseling from BKR six months after finalization. Secondly, on 21 June 2023, the Minister of Finance of the Netherlands published a proposal for a Credit Registration System Act for consultation, including a proposition to shorten the retention period in the credit register from five to three years. This proposition will also apply to credit registrations that have undergone a debt rescheduling.

The Dutch Central Credit Registration Agency, Stichting Bureau Krediet Registratie (BKR) receives and manages credit registrations and payment arrears of individuals in the Netherlands. By law, a lender in the Netherlands must verify whether an applicant already has an existing loan when applying for a new one. Additionally, lenders are obligated to report every loan granted to a credit registration agency, necessitating a connection with BKR. Besides managing credit data, BKR is dedicated to gathering information to prevent problematic debt situations, prevent fraud, and minimize financial risks associated with credit provision. As a non-profit foundation, BKR operates with a focus on keeping the Dutch credit market transparent and available for all.

BKR recognizes that the matter concerning the retention period of registrations for debt restructuring and counseling is fundamentally of societal nature. Many stakeholders are concerned with the current discussions, including municipalities, lenders and policymakers. To foster public debate on this matter, BKR is committed to conducting an objective investigation using credit registration data and literature sources and has thus engaged Zanders for this purpose. By combining expertise in financial credit risk with data analysis, Zanders offers unbiased insights into this issue. These data-driven insights are valuable for BKR, lawmakers, lenders, and municipalities concerning retention periods, payment issues, and debt settlements.

Problem Statement

The Dutch Central Credit Registration Agency, Stichting Bureau Krediet Registratie (BKR) receives and manages credit registrations and payment arrears of individuals in the Netherlands. By law, a lender in the Netherlands must verify whether an applicant already has an existing loan when applying for a new one. Additionally, lenders are obligated to report every loan granted to a credit registration agency, necessitating a connection with BKR. Besides managing credit data, BKR is dedicated to gathering information to prevent problematic debt situations, prevent fraud, and minimize financial risks associated with credit provision. As a non-profit foundation, BKR operates with a focus on keeping the Dutch credit market transparent and available for all.

The research aims to gain a deeper understanding of the recurrence of payment issues following the completion of restructuring credits (recidivism). The information gathered will aid in shaping thoughts about an appropriate retention period for the registration of finished debt settlements. The research includes both qualitative and quantitative investigations. The qualitative aspect involves a literature study, leading to an overview of benchmarking, key findings and conclusions from prior studies on this subject. The quantitative research comprises data analyses on information from BKR's credit register.

External International Qualitative Research

The literature review encompassed several Dutch and international sources that discuss debt settlements, credit registrations, and recidivism. There is limited research published on recidivism, but there are some actual cases where retention period are materially shortened or credit information is deleted to increase access to financial markets for borrowers. Removing information increases information asymmetry, meaning that borrower and lender do not have the same insights limiting lenders to make well-informed decisions during the credit application process. The cases in which the retention period was shortened or negative credit registrations were removed demonstrate significant consequences for both consumers and lenders. Such actions led to higher default rates, reduced credit availability, and increased credit costs, also for private individuals without any prior payment issues.

In the literature it is described that historical credit information serves as predictive variable for payment issues, emphasizing the added value of credit registrations in credit reports, showing that this mitigates the risk of overindebtedness for both borrowers and lenders.

Quantitative Research with Challenges and Solutions

BKR maintains a large data set with information regarding credits, payment issues, and debt settlements. For this research, data from over 2.5 million individuals spanning over 14 years were analyzed. Transforming this vast amount of data into a usable format to understand the payment and credit behavior of individuals posed a challenge.

The historical credit registration data has been assessed to (i) gain deeper insights into the relationship between the length of retention periods after debt restructuring and counseling and new payment issues and (ii) determine whether a shorter retention period after the resolution of payment issues negatively impacts the prevention of new payment issues, thus contributing to debt prevention to a lesser extent.

The premature removal of individuals from the system of BKR presented an additional challenge. Once a person’s information is removed from the system, their future payment behavior can no longer be studied. Additionally, the group subject to premature removal (e.g. six months to a year) after a debt settlement registration constitutes only a small portion of the population, making research on this group challenging. To overcome these challenges, the methodology was adapted to assess the outflow of individuals over time, such that conclusions about this group could still be made.

Conclusion

The research provided BKR with several interesting conclusions. The data supported the literature that there is difference in risk for payment issues between lenders with and without debt settlement history. Literature shows that reducing the retention period increases the access to the financial markets for those finishing a debt restructuring or counseling. It also increases the risk in the financial system due to the increased information asymmetry between lender and borrower, with several real-life occasions with

increased costs and reduced access to lending for all private individuals. The main observation of the quantitative research is that individuals who have completed a debt rescheduling or debt counseling face a higher risk of relapsing into payment issues compared to those without debt restructuring or counseling history. An outline of the research report is available on the website of BKR.

The collaboration between BKR and Zanders has fostered a synergy between BKR's knowledge, data, and commitment to research and Zanders' business experience and quantitative data analytical skills. The research provides an objective view and quantitative and qualitative insights to come to a well informed decision about the optimal registration period for the credit register. It is up to the stakeholders to discuss and decide on the way forward.

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