An E-invoicing Refresher Course

An over-the-shoulder view of a senior IT manager, dressed in yellow. They are working at their laptop, plugged into a monitor behind it, and looking at raw data for tax insights.

Is e-invoicing the same as digital invoicing? 

If you don’t have an immediate and accurate response to that question, you’re hardly alone. Just a few years ago, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that one-quarter of tax administration officials were not clear on the differences between a digital document vs an image of a paper document vs an electronic invoice (e-invoice). 

Tax professionals within companies that do not conduct business in countries with e-invoicing requirements – such as Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, Italyand India – should consider familiarizing themselves with the fundamentals as more countries move to adopt new e-invoicing regulations. The European Union’s VAT in the Digital Age (ViDA) proposal features an e-invoicing mandate as one of its three pillars, as my colleague Peter Boerhof, Director of VAT for Vertex, reported earlier this year.  

How e-invoices differ from digital invoices

As all tax pros know, paper invoices contain key data (product amounts, descriptions, and quantities) on a printed paper that is read manually. The physical nature of the paper invoice requires the invoice to be manually sent by the supplier and manually received by the buyer. 

Digital invoices, contained in PDFs and other digital formats, replace the physical form of paper invoices with digital images. While this enables digital invoices to be managed and stored in more efficient ways, this form still requires manual interventions. Sending and receiving processes are partly automated and partly manual and the buyer must manually read and enter a digital invoice’s data into an accounts payable (AP) system. 

E-invoices enable a more automated exchange. A structured e-invoice contains data from the supplier in a machine-readable format that can be automatically imported to the buyer’s AP system without manual intervention. This transmission does not include a visual representation of the invoice data. The primary objective is accuracy and efficiency as opposed to viewing the invoices (which can be performed when certain instances make manual reviews necessary). 

Although their specific rules vary, the primary regulatory objective of e-invoicing requirements is for tax jurisdictions to gain immediate (or close to it) access to tax-relevant data on the invoices. This approach increases tax administration efficiency, helps ensure compliance accuracy and reduces tax fraud. Tax authorities tend to emphasize these benefits when proposing new e-invoicing rules. 

E-invoicing rules and requirements

For companies and their tax groups, e-invoicing requirements are a mixed bag. Potential benefits include increased digitization; opportunities to advance accounts receivable (AR) and accounts payable (AP) automation; greater certainty concerning VAT deductions; and less burdensome tax compliance audits. Disadvantages include inserting tax authorities’ processes and requirements into the sales cycle upfront; following up on credit notes and debit notes; implementation and maintenance costs; and the fact that any errors become immediately visible to tax authorities.

Indirect tax groups whose companies operate in jurisdictions that have e-invoicing requirements planned (or already on the books) should deepen their knowledge of the compliance implications.  

On that count, one more high-level point is essential to get right. In his recent International Tax Review (ITR) article, The Domino Effect of E-invoicing, Peter stresses that compliance with these rules represents a strategic business priority that extends beyond the scope of a technology project or a technology-enabled tax initiative. E-invoicing, Peter emphasizes, “should be considered as a strategic issue for every company as it is imperative to invest in a system that supports multiple models because e-invoicing is core for revenue collection and procurement.” 

For those seeking to learn more about e-invoicing and what the future may hold, I suggest reading my recent article in ITR, Reimagining invoices for the 2020s. Stay tuned for future thought leadership content on this trending and evolving topic.

Blog Author

Gunjan Tripathi Headshot

Gunjan Tripathi

EMEA Director, Product Marketing

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Gunjan Tripathi is a Director of Solutions Marketing for Vertex. In her role, she helps shape the strategic messaging and course for Vertex's Indirect Tax offerings. She is an experienced Chartered Tax Advisor, specialising in European VAT. Her tax career experiences comprise of consulting with EY, leading compliance at European Shared Service Centre for SC Johnson, Global VAT manager for Endeavor and VAT proposition lead at Thomson Reuters. She holds a Bachelor of Honours in Economics from the University of Delhi, India and a Master of Science in Development Studies from School of Oriental & African Studies from the University of London. She is an Executive MBA scholar at the Warwick Business School and member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation.

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