From a more critical standpoint, the ability to analyze data and to use systems proactively – at the fund level and at many of the portfolio companies – is often found lacking. Many firms are only at the beginning stages of automating the data from a tax and finance perspective. As such, they have a lot of data but don’t have the systems to do anything meaningful with it.
Battling a skills shortage
Amid the increases in regulatory reporting and the need to focus on technology and data, PE firms face greater difficulties than most companies to find the required talent to meet these challenges.
Indeed, 70% of PE firms struggle to attract and retain skilled talent for their tax and finance functions (against 39% of all respondents), while 72% face difficulties in providing new responsibilities and career advancement for their existing tax and finance personnel (compared with 45% in the overall sample). Subsequently, the cost to hire and retain talent is becoming challenging for PE firms.
This is arguably because of how PE firms tend to structure their tax teams as, for the most part, they’re not looking to expand the tax group. At both the fund level and the portfolio company level, PE firms typically run a very lean model. They often won’t bring people in unless necessary because of the cost implications. PE houses have long turned to trusted advisors and to either co-source or outsource because of infrastructure or budget limitations.
An added dimension to this is when people from the PE firm use a solution from a third-party provider that involves internal staff moving over to the external team – reducing headcount further in the process. As Caspar Noble, International Tax and Transaction Services Partner, Ernst & Young LLP, points out, “This can be a very practical solution and one that has proved popular in the US, not least because of the complex K-1 reporting for investors.”
“The dynamic is slightly different in Europe, however. While tech transformation of the tax function is definitely gathering momentum, the shift in headcount isn’t as prevalent because European tax departments are typically smaller to begin with.”
Refining the sourcing model
Taking into account this complex picture, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that PE firms are increasingly turning to co-sourcing to meet the increased demand for transparency and reporting from LPs and regulatory bodies, focus on their core competencies, and achieve cost efficiency. Indeed, 91% of PE companies say they are more likely than not to co-source over the next two years – much higher than 73% of the overall sample. This holds particularly true for relatively young and small general partners (GPs) who have limited operational infrastructure and capabilities.