Reflections on 30 Years of US tax abroad
2016 marked the 30 years since I launched US Tax & Financial Services in London. We celebrated this milestone with parties in London and Zurich. It was wonderful catching up with old friends while meeting some new ones too.
I have seen a lot of changes since 1986, not only in US tax compliance but in business generally as well. When I founded USTAXFS, there was no Internet, for example…imagine…
I moved to London from Texas in the 1980s and was surprised at how difficult it was to find good advice for Americans living abroad. There were very few alternatives outside the then Big 8 and none that brought together tax, legal, financial planning and estate planning all in one place. I started USTAXFS in 1986 and immediately starting co-hosting seminars, that incorporated all of those disciplines in one place, with industry colleagues in London. It was unique at the time!
A large part of our practice involved voluntary disclosures. Even though now it is a standard topic, back in the 80s and 90s it was not at all common. Expats who wanted to move back to the US often found out that they were not compliant and needed to get back into the tax system. At that time the American Embassy in London had an outstanding IRS representative who helped us with treaty claims and to support our clients in the best possible way. Since then, life has become much more complicated.
During the early 2000s I began making frequent trips to Switzerland as our clients within the Swiss banking and trust companies were beginning to be concerned about the US tax issues that many account holders faced. It became clear in a very short period of time, that many of these accounts were undisclosed for US tax purposes. This was highlighted in 2008 with the UBS tax evasion scandel which opened the door for the disclosure of many previously hidden US-owned accounts and the prosecution of banks and bankers.
With the first of the various IRS voluntary disclosure programs in 2009, we opened our office in Switzerland. Since then our offices in London, Zurich and Geneva have worked closely with banks, individuals and trust companies, not only in Switzerland but throughout Europe, to bring thousands of US taxpayers into compliance.
The 2009 recession combined with the Swiss banking disclosures led to Congress passing the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010. FATCA set the ground work for information exchanges between governments worldwide about their taxpayers and the accounts they hold throughout the world. The age of transparency had begun.
The IRS voluntary disclosure programs have been hailed a success for raising billions in tax revenue. We can expect similar results in other countries with the implementation of the Common Reporting Standard when its full impact takes effect.
It has certainly been an incredible journey and we are busier than ever! We are continuing to expand with our new collaboration in Sweden, increasing work in Asia and our growth with the European tech industries as they expand to the US. But as I reflect back to the beginning, our core remains the same – to passionately advocate for our clients and to help them integrate all aspects of their financial life.