In Ukraine, even accountants have to be news junkies
Yulia Zubova has a morning ritual: she sits down at her work computer, logs onto several news sites and starts reading.
“Every day, I go on there for 20 minutes in the morning to see what’s happening,” she says.
But Zubova isn’t a journalist, politician, or a political risk consultant; she’s an accountant in a software company. And the news sites she’s reading aren’t about the latest political developments; rather, they explain changes in Ukrainian legislation and the tax code.
Zubova is not alone. Most Ukrainian accountants regularly turn to these sites to understand their country’s abstruse legislation, several accounting professionals told the Kyiv Post. And accountancy news and analysis sites represent a small, if surprisingly important segment of the country’s media.
Some are free, while others are subscription-only. They have names like: Debet-Kredit, Buhgalter 911, Liga: Zakon, and iFaktor. They boast articles reporting on tax regulations, expert opinions interpreting the laws, and discussion forums. Some have chat rooms where accountants discuss and troubleshoot their problems in real time. Many even have paid hotlines where working accountants can get expert consultations.
It’s a helpful adaptation to a specifically Ukrainian condition: laws that are constantly in flux.
“God is with us.” That’s one of the slogans on the cover of “Everything About Accounting,” a black-andwhite magazine with a monthly print run of over 93,000.
If accountants need God on their side, it might be because no one else is — not the laws, not the State Fiscal Service, and sometimes not even their employers.
Many companies economize on accounting, several accountants told the Kyiv Post. Accountants even joke that they “are loss-making,” says Zubova, who has 20 years of experience in a variety of companies. “The manager turns a profit through sales, the janitor picks up so everything is clean, but the accountant constantly (is saying) ‘give me money, give me money’ and ‘you need to pay your taxes.’”
Ukrainian accountants also face a heavy workload and are responsible for documentation that is critically important for a company’s legal standing. Yet many companies do not pay the kind of salaries that would allow accountants to continue raising their qualifications, says Valeriy Limanov, the founder of the Akhtung Zvit accounting firm.
Meanwhile, accountants face a challenging task: keeping abreast of the latest tax legislation, which is constantly morphing.
“Our homeland frequently changes the rules of the game. The parliamentarians try to make sure life isn’t boring for us,” Limanov jokes.
In this environment, accounting newspapers and sites — especially free ones — are not just useful. Often, an accountant’s job is barely doable without them.
That is no secret to Olha Samsonenko. After spending ten years as an accountant, in 2008 she became the director of the site Debet-Kredit. With around a million visitors a month, 60,000 readers a day, and 150 employees spread across Ukraine, it is the largest online accounting portal in Ukraine.
It offers both free and subscription-based publications and services, and its forums, Facebook group, and expert consultations are a top source of solutions and advice for Ukrainian accountants.
This assistance not only helps accountants do their jobs better; it is also an important defense in a hostile tax environment.
Ukrainian tax legislation doesn’t just exist so individuals and firms pay their legally mandated tax burden. In some cases, the laws exist “so that the tax inspector comes to your company and finds a reason to punish you,” Samsonenko says.
Limanov agrees. There is “no presumption of innocence for the taxpayer,” and the tax office uses all nuances of the law in its own interest, he says.
He offers a simple example he recently encountered: an employee of a company purchased some office supplies with his own money. He was then reimbursed by his employer. But the tax office decided that the money was income and wanted to tax it.
“This is the dumbest example, but there are much more serious ones,” Limanov says. And accountants have to address problems ranging from this to unfair tax inspections and corporate raiding.
For this reason, when accountants call Debet-Kredit’s hotline in tears, Samsonenko understands that it’s often a psychological release from the stresses of their job.
Staying abreast of legal changes is part of being an accountant in any country. But few places’ accountants must handle the constant flow of new legislation, new interpretations of existing laws, and new procedures that Ukrainians face.
Ukraine’s move to overhaul its approach to calculating income tax in 2015 posed a particularly significant challenge to the country’s accountants, according to Oksana Kochmarska, director of tax and legal services at KPMG Ukraine. And between 2015 and 2018, the country has seen 45 editions of the tax code and hundreds of other normative acts, she says.
But not a single accounting pro- fessional interviewed by the Kyiv Post could point out a specific period when they felt the country experienced a peak in changes to its tax legislation. All stressed that legal change is a constant in Ukraine.
As a result, Ukrainian accounting is largely oriented on paying a company’s taxes and trying to minimize the risk of fines.
“The statistics speak for themselves: an accountant in Ukraine spends an average of 327.5 hours per year preparing tax reporting, while an accountant in Europe spends 161 hours,” Kochmarska told the Kyiv Post in an email. “And the average accountant in the world spends 240 hours a year.”
Many are unhappy with this situation. Samsonenko believes accounting should be much broader than taxes and focus on determining the real results of a company’s work. This myopic focus on calculating tax is one of the field’s biggest problems, she says.
Nonetheless, Samsonenko is convinced that Ukrainian accountants are “the most advanced in the world.”
“I have trouble imagining a British or American accountant who could… deal with so many changes in the laws,” she says.
Samsonenko hopes that a time will come when Ukraine’s tax legislation will be more stable and predictable, even if that undermines demand for Debet-Kredit’s services. She believes that as entrepreneurship develops in Ukraine, there will be a greater demand for more holistic accountants — people who will help companies manage money flows and analyze a company’s profitability, not just calculate taxes.
But until that day comes, accountants like Yulia Zubova will keep reading Debet-Kredit and other publications.
“I have relatives abroad in Israel, and they don’t have the crazy legal changes that we do,” Zubova says. “You have to systematically sit (and read the news), because some form or something else is constantly changing.”
Olha Samsonenko, director of the Debet-Kredit accounting news portal, speaks with the Kyiv Post in her office on Oct. 3. She says Ukraine's accountants are the world's "most advanced" due to their experience in handling tax legislation that is constantly in flux. (Volodymyr Petrov)