Welcome to the latest in our series of Sales Tax Institute faculty member profiles! I recently sat down to chat with Charles Maniace, Director of Regulatory Analysis at Sovos.
Charles is one of our newest faculty members, but he has quickly established himself, having taught at our 2018 Basics of Sales and Use Tax course and several webinars, covering topics such as Value Added Tax (VAT) and taxation of software and the cloud.
We’re excited to have Charles join us as a faculty member for the 2019 Basics of Sales and Use Tax course in Chicago.
I chatted with Charles about his career path, his experiences teaching with the Sales Tax Institute, and much more. He has some fascinating insights into the future of sales tax, so make sure to check out what he has to say below!
Tell us a little about yourself and how your career path led you to working with sales tax.
Sales tax sort of crept up on me. I am an attorney by training, and like every attorney, I had aspirations of working for a white shoe law firm in the big city (well, Boston at least!). However, I learned quickly from my fellow classmates that the traditional legal practice is not all it was cracked up to be.
About 15 years ago, I found myself between employment opportunities. A former colleague of mine mentioned that he was working for a sales tax software provider called Sovos and asked if I would be interested in an open job in their legal department. Long story short, I applied for the position and was summarily rejected. A few months later, I applied for a position at Sovos as a Tax Research Counsel in the Regulatory Analysis department, where I am now the Director.
What do you find most compelling about working with sales tax?
Obviously, it’s all the gripping stories I can share at cocktail parties! Actually, sales tax is a pretty great discipline. Tax practitioners who are not sales tax specialists view it as a “third rail” – meaning that sales tax is incredibly complex and nuanced and that they better stay away unless they really know what they are talking about! This makes those of us “in the know” all the more important in helping companies ensure that they are continually compliant.
What is your area of expertise and what sales tax topic are you most passionate about teaching?
For my entire career in tax, I have worked for Sovos. Sovos is a software solution provider that aspires to “Solve Modern Tax for Good” for our customers. So, my expertise lies in taking sales tax rules and turning them into logic that can be incorporated into computer software.
In terms of teaching, one of the responsibilities I enjoy most at Sovos is teaching everyone in the company about the complexity of sales tax and the value that we bring to our customers through our solutions.
Do you remember your first time teaching a Sales Tax Institute course? What do you recall about the experience?
Sovos has co-hosted a number of webinars with the Sales Tax Institute over the years, but the first time I taught live was at the 2018 Basics of Sales and Use Tax course. What made it memorable was the fact that the South Dakota v. Wayfair decision was literally handed down while we were sitting in the classroom! While we had to pause for a minute to read the decision, my fellow instructors and I had the opportunity to have an impromptu deep-dive into the meaning of the decision with the attendees.
Why do you teach for the Sales Tax Institute?
I have an undergraduate degree, legal degree, and a master’s legal degree in taxation. During all that classroom time, I had only experienced one course that discussed indirect tax, and that was a course in Value Added Tax.
The only way that the next generation of tax professionals can learn the tools of the trade is through their colleagues. While it’s always great to learn from other people within your organization, being able to learn from the faculty at the Sales Tax Institute expands your perspective in that the faculty includes consultants, automation professionals (like myself) as well as people that work in-house.
What advice do you have for professionals who are just getting started in sales tax?
Whenever anyone joins my team, on their very first day I tell them something I learned when I first started – and it’s the need to ask questions! Since there are no nifty textbooks on sales tax and no undergraduate or graduate programs specializing in sales tax, the people that you need to learn from are your colleagues.
To learn what you need to know from them, you need to ask a lot of questions. Here’s how I explain it to new hires: Unless you are asking so many questions that you think you might be driving your co-workers crazy, you are probably not asking enough questions!
What do you see for the future of sales tax?
I think we are in for some pretty radical changes. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. With just about every state modifying their nexus rules to capture sales by remote sellers, states will need to re-think how they monitor and enforce compliance. What this means is that the traditional tax audit as we know it today may be coming to an end.
When it comes to tax enforcement, much of the rest of the world has embraced the benefits of technology. They receive transactional data for buyers and sellers in real-time (or near real-time) and compare that data to the information contained on their periodic tax returns. If there is an anomaly, they investigate.
This model first sprang up in Brazil where it improved tax compliance to the tune of $58 billion dollars! Since then, real-time compliance has become prevalent throughout most of Latin America and is now taking root in Europe. It’s only a matter of time before this hits the shores of the U.S.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Free time is at a premium these days! When I can find the time, I ride my bicycle, read (mostly fiction) dine out, and watch movies. I love to travel and I’ve also become one of those annoying craft beer guys.
Many thanks to Charles for taking the time to sit down and share his sales tax knowledge with us. If you’d like to see Charles in action, join us at this year’s Basics of Sales and Use Tax course, taking place June 19-21, 2019 in Chicago.