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Week in Insights: Don’t Be Afraid to Step Over the Line (1)

Nov. 6, 2022, 3:00 PMUpdated: Nov. 7, 2022, 10:19 AM

This time last week, I was in Zurich, Switzerland. It’s a wonderful city with great food and beautiful buildings. We spent several days popping down random small streets and walking along the Limmat River—the weather was gorgeous.

Most days were bookended with things to do, except for one. That day, my husband, an international lawyer with clients in Europe, had meetings to attend, leaving my son and me to our own devices. So, that morning, we headed to the train with no particular destination in mind.

The Zurich train station is the largest in Switzerland. With nearly 3,000 trains leaving the station daily, it’s also one of the busiest, making it a little intimidating to figure out on the fly.

After a few tries at the ticket kiosks—and some questions for attendants on the platform—we had tickets in hand for Sargans. A small town with a castle, Sargans is located about an hour and a half southeast of Zurich. It was lovely, but it wasn’t our ultimate destination—that would require another trip, this time by local bus.

About two hours later, we hopped off a bus stuffed with commuters and schoolchildren and peered up at the mountains. We were in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein.

Pedestrians walk along a sidewalk near Vaduz castle, the official residence of Hereditary Prince Alois of Liechtenstein, in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, on May 20, 2013.
Photographer: Valentin Flauraud/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Vaduz is small. It has about 6,000 residents—including the prince of Liechtenstein, who resides in a castle on the mountain.

I expected the capital to be overrun with tourists. As it turns out, it’s not very touristy at all: just 58,400 tourists visited the entire country in 2020.

We ate a fantastic early lunch and hiked up the side of the mountain to see the castle. We strolled through the main square and popped into the museum in search of a Liechtenstein soccer jersey—a soccer fanatic, my son likes to collect jerseys from around the world.

There was no fanfare when we crossed the border, since Liechtenstein and Switzerland—despite not being EU countries—are both part of the Schengen area which allows for visa-free travel. But we learned that the official boundary was marked on the Alte Rheinbrücke—literally, old Rhine Bridge. And with Google Maps as our guide, we set out to find it.

The bridge is the only covered wooden bridge that remains in the Rhine Valley. It’s quite pretty, entirely made of Swiss timbers. It spans the river, measuring 443 feet long by 20 feet wide.

Just over halfway in, there’s a sign marking the border between the two countries. Since we had the place to ourselves, we did the obligatory shots, including each of us taking a picture of each other from a different country. And of course, we stepped over the border several times, snapping photos all the way.

Alte Rheinbrucke
Photographer: Kelly Phillips Erb

As we clicked away under the shadow of the mountains, I was struck by how our world has changed—you can walk across the border to another country without documents, cameras, or checkpoints. That’s something that has only been possible for a decade or so. Today, to get to another country, you simply step over the line.

That day was my favorite part of the trip. And that’s no slight to Switzerland, which I enjoyed immensely. But while I didn’t know what I expected to find when we bought those tickets, I’m so glad we did. Sometimes, the best things happen when you take a chance and just step over the line.

This week, I hope you’ll take some chances and maybe step over that line. At Bloomberg Tax, we aim to make it easy for you to try something new. Our experts offer great commentary and insightful analysis on federal, state, and international tax issues to keep you informed on what’s happening in the world—making sure that your only surprises are the good ones.

The Exchange… It’s where great ideas intersect.

Kelly Phillips Erb

Quick Trivia

At 160 sq. km., Liechtenstein is tiny, but it’s not the smallest country in Europe—it sits at #4. Which three European countries are smaller?
Answer at the bottom.

State Insights

While sports betting is bringing in unprecedented revenue for states that allow it, sports betting operators are working with narrow profit margins. Operators will have to compare different states’ approaches to taxation for the foreseeable future to determine their best bet, say Akerman attorneys Stefi George and Tamara Savin Malvin.

Federal Insights

Eliminating the stretch IRA has been problematic, but other tax and estate planning strategies can offset the impact. Daniel Gilham of Farther looks at converting to a Roth IRA, using taxable assets in retirement, or naming a donor advised fund as an IRA beneficiary.

While the IRS figures out how to use part of its $80 billion in new funding to modernize its operations, existing software and strategies can help prevent taxpayers and their representatives from being left in the dark, says Innovation Refunds’ Howard Makler.

The Employee Retention Credit can greatly benefit companies, but beware of credit mills looking to abuse the system. Armanino LLP’s Jenn McCabe shares how advisers can help clients determine ERC eligibility.

The gambling industry seems to prevail even in times of rising inflation and uncertain global economics. As sports betting soars with the US football season’s kickoff every September, tax practitioners should expect to see more clients with gambling-related tax questions, says AICPA’s Susan Allen.

The IRS should use some of the $80 billion allocated from the Inflation Reduction Act to help small and medium-sized businesses learn about their rights as taxpayers and about available business credits and incentives in the tax code, alliantgroup’s Eric Hylton says.

As investors and policymakers push for greater transparency into business practices, accountants have a professional obligation to drive ethical practices that protect the public’s interest, says James Brackens of the AICPA.

Global Insights

Aditya Singh Chandel and Suhail Bansal of AZB & Partners consider a landmark legal verdict on permanent establishment that is significant for organizers of international sporting events hosted in India.

Nuria Redondo Martinez and Ed Capel of EY explore the emergence of environmental, social, and governance reporting for business and the increasing inclusion of corporate tax information. They outline the potential impact for companies and how businesses can build an effective approach to increasing tax transparency demands in the context of ESG reporting.

Anthony Assassa and Elie Sawaya describe the history of the most promising digital project in the Democratic Republic of Congo—the Single Window. They discuss the genesis and development of the project until it was hampered by a lack of institutional design, particularly in terms of human resources.

Commentary

The US shouldn’t shy away from protecting Americans from unfair trade practices. A tax on Chinese e-commerce sellers in the US would be a reputational cost of doing business with years of protection failures, says the Coalition for a Prosperous America’s David Morse.

Reader Responses

At The Exchange, we welcome responses from our readers and encourage diversity and civil discussion. We are especially interested in responses that add to the conversation, or introduce a different point of view. If you have a response to one of our published Insights, we’d love to hear from you.

A Closer Look

Nonfungible tokens hold intrinsic value due to their digital properties and traits. In this edition of “A Closer Look,” Stout’s Fotis Konstantinidis looks at the challenges of valuing NFTs, as well as the methods and data used for valuation.

Columnists

Any windfall tax applied to the fossil fuel industry is not going to help anyone displaced by climate change or harmed by rising food and fuel costs, writes Andrew Leahey. A better bet, he says, is to finance renewable energy right now, and to do so as though our lives depend on it—because they do.

It’s election season. Do you know what a tax-exempt organization is allowed to talk about or share with potential voters? This week, I took a quick look at what 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations can—and can’t—do this election cycle.

News

It’s been a busy week in tax news from state capitals to Washington. Here are some stories you might have missed from our Bloomberg Tax news team.
*Note: Your Bloomberg Tax login will be required to access Tax News.

  • An IRS pilot program to expedite private letter ruling procedures has proven effective, an agency official said at an American Institute of CPAs conference.
  • Mississippi lawmakers approved $246 million in incentives to finalize a plan for a flat-rolled aluminum mill in what Gov. Tate Reeves (R) has called the largest economic development deal in state history.
  • An investment firm asked Canada’s top court to restrict the application of an anti-avoidance law the company claims has been given too broad a scope by a lower court ruling.

Career Moves

Gabriël van Gelder joined VanLoman Tax Lawyers as a partner, according to the firm.

Seven tax attorneys were among 42 lawyers who have been promoted by McDermott Will & Emery, the firm announced.

Proskauer Rose LLP promoted two lawyers to partner and one to senior counsel in the tax department, according to a news release.

Shofiq Miah has joined Stephenson Harwood LLP as a partner in the corporate tax practice in London, the firm said.

If you are changing jobs or being promoted, let us know. You can email your submission to TaxMoves@bloombergindustry.com for consideration.

Spotlight

Our Spotlight series highlights the careers and lives of tax professionals around the world. This week’s Spotlight is on Diego Almeida Guzmán, the senior and technical partner of Almeida Guzmán & Asociados, a tax boutique law firm in Quito, Ecuador.

Quick Trivia Answer

The three smallest countries in Europe are:

  1. Vatican City (.44 sq. km)
  2. Monaco (1.95 sq. km.)
  3. San Marino (61 sq. km.)

Our Team

We talk about tax a lot. But there’s a lot more that you might hear us talking about if you popped into one of our Teams meetings. Here’s a quick look at what some of us are watching, reading, and listening to this week:

Watching:

  • Kelly Phillips Erb (Team Lead, Insights and Commentary, Bloomberg Tax): When I’m not watching Philly sports, I’m rewatching “Only Murders in the Building.” It’s such a clever premise and the cast—Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez—is top notch.
  • Alison Lake (Team Lead, Insights and Commentary, Bloomberg Law): “Al Hayba,” an interesting drama series on Netflix about a crime family in the mountains of Lebanon.
  • Don Griswold (Columnist, Bloomberg Tax): “Extraordinary Attorney Woo"—a great South Korean TV series about an autistic savant with whom the world should fall in love.

Reading:

  • Rachael Daigle (News Director, Bloomberg Tax): I read a fun little novel while traveling called “Counterfeit” by Kristen Chen, but it’s notable for this purpose because the main character was a tax lawyer. (There’s always a tax angle!)
  • Rebecca Baker (Editor at Large, Insights and Commentary, Bloomberg Tax): “The Lottery and Other Stories” by Shirley Jackson.

Listening:

  • Melanie Cohen (Editor, Insights and Commentary, Bloomberg Tax): One of my favorite podcasts, Ali on the Run! Host Ali Feller interviews runners (professional and not). I love Feller’s show because she gets at the human side of running and doesn’t just focus on the stats.
  • Andrew Leahey (Columnist, Bloomberg Tax): I’m making my way through the Napoleon episodes of the podcast “Real Dictators"—always excellent, and filling in some (major) gaps in my knowledge of European history.

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What Did You Think?

Your feedback and suggestions are important to us, so don’t hesitate to reach out on social or email me directly at kerb@bloombergindustry.com.

(Adds explanation of Schengen area in 9th paragraph of Nov. 6 article. An earlier version incorrectly referenced EU membership. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Kelly Phillips Erb in Washington at kerb@bloombergindustry.com