What characterises the business environment in Slovakia? What was the most challenging project in which the Slovak branch of the ASB Group participated last year? These and other questions were answered by Zuzana Kolárová, Managing Director of ASB Slovakia.
You have been managing the Slovak branch of the ASB Group for more than 5 years. Why did you decide on the ASB Group, and what is your professional background?
I don’t like the word 'management’. It sounds too dictatorial to me. I see my role at ASB rather as an advisor and mentor; I try to support my colleagues and clients and guide them to find the best solution. I am a tax advisor. I’ve been dedicated to taxes my whole professional life. I joined ASB at a time when I needed a change after years in consultancy. I was impressed by the story of ASB, which grew from a local consultant to a modern and successful regional company. After meeting the other partners in person, I told myself that I wanted to work with these people.
How do you regard the activities of ASB Slovakia in the context of the development of the local market and economic indicators?
I think we’ve managed to follow up the positive macroeconomic development of Slovakia in recent years. Along with the growth of our clients, we have gradually grown too. In the last 5 years, we’ve managed to triple the company’s size; this has been measurable not only in the revenues obtained and the profit rate but also in the size of our team. While there were seven of us at the time of my arrival, the company has over 20 employees today. We are gradually strengthening our position in very specific areas such as tax consultancy and transaction services. I consider the composition and stability of the whole team to be successful since we’ve managed to put together a group of people who complement each other both as professionals and as people. At a time of zero unemployment, we have almost no staff turnover.
Do you work for both Slovak and foreign clients, as well as other branches of the ASB Group?
Our clients are mostly foreign. I dare say that the proportion is more than 90 percent. Our task is to fully cover their businesses in Slovakia for them so that they are not without a local team. We have a few Slovak clients, but I am very glad that their number is gradually increasing.
Which countries are your clients from and which business areas do they operate in?
Today, it’s really hard to say where a client is from, especially for multinational corporations. Most clients come from the Czech Republic, but there are also less typical countries such as those from Scandinavia, Israel, Thailand and Australia. As for the industry, most clients operate in real estate rental, retail or services. In our portfolio, we also provide services to a bank, insurance company and virtual currency firm.
What is the range of services you provide?
Under the ASB brand, we provide the same range of services in Slovakia as in neighbouring countries. From corporate and accounting services to payroll processing up to complicated tax and transaction consultancy. We approach our clients individually and offer them a unique mix of services tailored to their needs. We do not have a problem if a part of our portfolio services is internally provided by the client, or if it cooperates with several providers. We also work very well with partners who are our direct competitors.
How do you rate the business environment in Slovakia?
From a macroeconomic perspective, there is no reason to find fault with Slovakia. We are a stable part of the eurozone with sufficient economic growth, low inflation and unemployment. Compared to other countries in the region, of course, we are limited by our size and therefore by a relatively small domestic market. There is still room for improving the business environment in terms of bureaucratic burdens, an administratively complex business set-up, inadequate electronic communication with the state authorities and law enforcement. At present in practice, we are having the most problems with delays in business register proceedings and rapidly growing salaries, especially in the Bratislava region.
Are there any unique legislative requirements in Slovakia that are not in other European countries?
Compared to the neighbouring countries, our accounting legislation is closest to the IFRS. We have adopted a number of the IFRS principles into local standards, for example, the concept of economic ownership for leases and reporting of reserves. In the area of taxation, Slovakia is overly active in implementing all the latest trends – no matter whether from the OECD or the EU Directive. We are often the first in this respect despite the guaranteed transition period, and we are not able to check the implementation practices in other countries when not certain. The specifications of the Slovak legislation are measures that are mostly part of the pre-election political campaigns, such as holiday vouchers for employees, a 15 per cent corporate income tax rate for micro tax payers with an income up to EUR 100,000, company accommodation and such nonsense.
What was the most challenging project you worked on last year, and what did it involve?
I think the most challenging project last year was to acquire a portfolio of logistics halls for one of our clients. We were working on the project for almost a year, dealing with rather complicated tax problems as a part of due diligence, which were followed by negotiations with the seller regarding the purchase price up to commenting on the purchase contract.
What other transactions were you in charge of? Have you calculated the volume that you assisted in Slovakia?
I haven’t calculated the financial volume of the transactions in which we cooperated. I often find exceptional those cases that are interesting because of a parameter other than their financial expression. For example, a specialised problem, negotiating with a counter-party or the “product” itself, a start-up, an asset. Personally, I enjoyed working on designing a dividend policy for a client and on projection of its future cash flows, due diligence in wage and labour laws, or on projects of various business combinations - mergers and divisions, non-cash deposits and sales of businesses. I am delighted that we’ve recently received tax assignments in air transport (delivery and leasing of aircraft, aircraft engine rental and component approach), this is close to my heart.
In your field, we keep hearing terms like artificial intelligence, automation, robotisation, what do you think about them? Or have you been already using any of these in your daily activities?
I welcome digitisation in our business. There is certainly room to eliminate manual accounting in software with technologies, thus saving the team's capacity for more sophisticated tasks and reducing the risk of human error. We actively use data import wherever possible, for example, for electronic bank statements and issued invoices from various billing systems. We deal with electronic attendance for clients’ employees and its import into the payroll software. We use scanning technologies with pre-set accounting of recurring documents. We share remote access to accounting databases with clients and so on. Similarly, we approach the export of data and outputs that we prepare for our clients, whether they are outputs from payroll accounting to the accounting or the personnel system, export of payment orders to the bank.
Among ASB Slovakia’s twenty employees, the vast majority are women, and they all hold managerial positions too. Is it easy for you to manage such a team, and what specific characteristics does it entail?
I wasn’t keen on working in a women's team very much. You know there are lots of horrific stories about this topic. But I must admit that I was very wrong. My colleagues are amazingly capable women and managers. We get along with each other both in work matters and personally. We fully trust each other, and we quickly reach a compromise and agreement. In this respect, I had to fight with my former male colleagues and their egos much more. At the same time, we have also won respect and established authority among our male clients. I think we consider each other a fully equal partner.
Zuzana Kolárová as the Managing Director ASB Slovakia leads a team of accountants, payroll accountants and trust managers. She has been a registered tax advisor since 2006. She gained her previous experience especially during her work at KPMG Slovakia, where she held the position of tax advisor focusing mainly on tax services for financial markets, pharmaceutical but also energy network industries (gas and electricity distribution). She participated in many consulting projects including M&A, due diligence, corporate restructuring and contract assessment. Zuzana also has experience in tax compliance and representing clients in tax proceedings and litigation against the Slovak Republic.