Andreas joined MME in 2014. Before that he was at KPMG as tax partner, head of international markets, head of the Swiss Centre in New York, member of the EU Tax Centre think tank and expert adviser to the Swiss Tax Reform. His background has given him a profound knowledge of tax, an extensive international network, and the ability to develop creative, tailored solutions. As MME tax partner he has successfully closed major disputes with the Swiss tax authorities and advised on many projects, including the relocation of a medtech client from Asia to Switzerland, and an inversion of the top holding in Liechtenstein. He acts for companies, entrepreneurs and high-net-worth individuals.
What distinguishes MME from other firms in Switzerland?
MME is an interdisciplinary firm covering all legal, tax and compliance matters for entrepreneurs and companies. We combine a law firm with a full-fledged tax and compliance boutique, and are fully independent. We currently have more than 100 employees and we are still following a focused growth plan. All MME partners have specialised expert knowledge. We strive for collaboration between experts to achieve the best result for our clients, rather than single-handed client support. In our firm it is not only lawyers that find a career but also tax experts with a degree in economics, or engineers. We have the critical size to handle various large-scale projects, and all our experts have international experience and/or education. Our credo is to turn ideas and plans into actions.
You previously worked at a Big Four firm. In what ways is your practice different at MME?
MME has a manageable number of partners, and range of services and key topics. I know all my partner colleagues and I know what they do. Our MME partners are not only technical expert advisers but also entrepreneurs. I see this when I collaborate with them on multidisciplinary projects. Collaboration is a natural consequence of our entrepreneurship and focus on the client’s benefit. In short: less politics, more focus on the client’s needs. Big Four companies must cover their substantial costs, which leads to a high revenue pressure on partners. MME maintains a lean organisation to ensure our commitment to all projects being partner-led.
Surprisingly, not having access to a Big Four network has not been a disadvantage. In fact, I consider it equally easy or difficult to handle a project with advisers from different firms as within a Big Four network. The key advantage is the flexibility in selecting changing advisers. During my Big Four time I was obliged to use the fixed network, although I knew that the support in specific countries was weak. Now I am free to determine, together with my client, what is the best global team.
What are the main challenges you face when handling the tax aspects of major intercontinental relocation projects?
The times of quick and easy wins are over. More than ever it is crucial that tax follows business, and a well-thought-out defence strategy must be set up with a clear determination of all affected business processes. The entire organisation must be informed and consistent documentation of relevant tax aspects put in place.
All relocation projects lead to changing-management issues. The shift of roles and responsibilities regarding people, legal entities and regions need immediate attention. Transformation must be well planned, communicated and, most importantly, implemented consistently and in due time.
Compared to the past, relocations are more often accompanied by substantial upheaval and a long-term commitment to a country/city. Factors such as infrastructure, stability, predictability, safety, good national and economic standing, education, capacity for innovation, talent-pool access and ease of doing business, etc, are therefore of greater relevance. Relocation projects must be a top priority of the board, and C-level and new structures must be reflected top-down in the organisation, starting with corporate governance and ending with a consistent internal and external group communication.
To what extent do law firms require a global presence to practise law globally?
There are two different viewpoints. As an entrepreneur I believe that a global presence is economically interesting. Naturally, it increases the number of referrals – which is of course good for the adviser’s business, but is of less importance to the clients. However, other than a globally active audit firm that depends on a global network for audit services, it is my experience that for legal, tax and compliance advice a global presence does not in itself ensure best service. From my experience with MME a global presence has not been crucial to handle the client’s needs appropriately. Rather it is important that MME has the relevant resources, experience and skills in-house.
For the successful management of an interdisciplinary cross-border project the following criteria are relevant. First, an internationally experienced project lead partner who can define, with the client, the project phases and the project management. In general, I recommend seeking a lead partner located in the relevant destination. Second, the client must make clear who the lead adviser is. Third, the lead adviser must have internationally experienced and well-connected expert resources in the areas of international tax, transfer pricing, VAT, customs, labour/immigration/social security law, corporate law, trade and regulatory compliance.
In Swiss tax law how do the approaches of cantonal authorities differ from those of the federal authorities?
To understand the different approaches, it is important to understand the federal system in Switzerland. The cantons and the federation have by constitution different revenue sources. The cantons’ main revenue source is income tax, and many cantons are known for their tax-friendly environment. This encapsulates not primarily a low tax rate, but rather efficient and taxpayer-friendly treatment by the cantonal authorities. In addition, cantons have always been in competition to each other. On the other hand, the major income sources on a federal level are stamp duties, withholding taxes and VAT. These federal tax authorities do not stand in competition and their mindset is not always pro-business. Thus, many of my clients are surprised by the disparate treatment they experienced. The consequence of this is that the federal tax aspects must be properly analysed in advance and either covered with a binding tax ruling or – nowadays, even more important – protected by an adequate defence documentation (including TP) and the client must be well prepared for stringent tax audits.
What will be the impact of the OECD’s BEPS Actions upon transfer pricing in Switzerland?
The OECD’s BEPS Actions have and will have a strong impact upon transfer pricing in Switzerland. In particular, BEPS action 13 – which is designed as a minimum standard, at least with regard to the country-by-country report (CbCR) – creates an explicit transfer price-related documentation requirement for Swiss taxpayers for the first time. Notwithstanding that the threshold for the preparation of the CbCR is high (consolidated turnover 900 million francs), approximately 200 multinational corporations in Switzerland will be affected, according to federal estimates. As a result of increasing transparency, a rise in the number of disputes over the appropriate allocation of profits and an increase of mutual agreement procedures is to be expected. This will affect Switzerland in particular, as it remains one of the most attractive locations in Europe. Despite the fact that Switzerland has not implemented the requirements for master files and local files, Swiss companies will be affected, because many Swiss multinationals have subsidiaries in jurisdictions that have implemented all BEPS action 13 transfer pricing documentation requirements.
Under BEPS action 5, information is exchanged on tax rulings dealing with applicable transfer prices for payments between affiliated companies. Such rulings are very common in Switzerland. I expect many aspects that have been covered by a simple tax ruling in the past will be covered by a defence strategy that includes a proper transfer pricing documentation in future.
Important not to forget in this context is BEPS action 12, which requires taxpayers and advisers to disclose aggressive tax planning arrangements. With the adoption of Council Directive (EU) 2018/822 by EU member states, there has been a significant uptake in jurisdictions that now have mandatory disclosure rules. This directive will result in the reporting of cross-border aggressive tax-planning, offshore structures, and Common Reporting Standard avoidance schemes to EU tax authorities. As almost all Swiss multinational companies are operating in the EU such disclosure obligations will affect them as well.
Finally, BEPS action 7 deals with the issue of permanent establishments and considerably broadens the concept of permanent establishments compared to the previous deﬁnition in the OECD Model Convention and at the same time restricts the catalogue of exceptions. This will lead to more double taxation disputes in the future.
How is the generational shift changing legal practice at your firm? What do younger lawyers do differently?
Younger lawyers, and tax and compliance experts, do have a natural approach to technology and are using it intuitively. Technology has always been one of MME’s key competences. To have a young technology-savvy workforce is important to us and our clients.
For our young workforce, their work-life balance is important and career goals are defined differently from in the past. MME’s culture is “performance and fun”. We work in a goal-oriented manner, and if needed we work long hours in order to deliver results in a timely manner. “Fun” means that all partners support a culture of equal and fair treatment of everybody irrespective of their title, a culture of collaboration in teams and a culture of celebrating our achievements. That’s why MME is attractive to a talented young workforce, and has a high retention rate.
How do you anticipate the Swiss legal market changing in the next five years? How might this affect your practice?
Artificial intelligence, as well as platform-supported advice, will be the challenge of the future. The challenge is to integrate such software-based tools into the daily advisory practice. MME has started with several pilot projects, such as www.kyc.ch and www.daura.ch, and there are more to come.