What is transfer pricing? A guide to understanding opportunities and risks

What is transfer pricing? A guide to understanding opportunities and risks

Transfer pricing is a fundamental financial strategy for multinational companies operating across various jurisdictions. Over the years, countries around the world, including Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China, have established specific documentation requirements for transfer pricing to prevent tax evasion and ensure compliance.

In simple terms, transfer pricing is used to determine the fair pricing of goods, services or intellectual property exchanged between related entities in the same enterprise. Understanding what transfer pricing is and how it can be used to optimise tax liabilities is an important strategy. However, businesses have to be mindful of navigating complex regulatory frameworks. Tax authorities have sharpened their focus on transfer pricing arrangements, especially in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, where compliance is vital.

Singapore’s tax authority demands meticulous documentation and adherence to the arm’s length principle, which ensures that transacting businesses are on equal footing. This not only ensures regulatory compliance but also fosters fair profit allocation across borders, which also enhances tax efficiency.

In this article, we explore the complexities of transfer pricing and the essential guidelines businesses must grasp to navigate these challenges effectively.

The purpose of transfer pricing: A key business strategy

Effective transfer pricing plays a pivotal role in audit management, global tax efficiency and risk management for multinational enterprises (MNEs). To leverage transfer pricing strategies effectively, MNEs must ensure their records are up to date to navigate complex tax landscapes and mitigate risks effectively.

Compliance and risk mitigation
Effective transfer pricing requires comprehensive documentation to demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements. It provides a clear record of how transfer prices are determined, how they align with the arm’s length principle, and how they are substantiated by economic analysis. This practice is crucial for audit management as it provides evidence of compliance but also mitigates the risk of penalties and disputes with tax authorities.
Tax efficiency
Strategic transfer pricing reporting allows companies to optimise their global tax positions. By documenting transfer pricing policies, the methodology employed and its rationale, a business in Singapore can justify its tax position and allocate profits in a manner that maximises tax efficiency. This strategic approach to tax planning helps to reduce tax liabilities while ensuring business objectives and regulatory obligations are met.
Staying ahead of changes
Businesses need to stay on top of ever-changing regulations and market dynamics, especially when they operate internationally across multiple jurisdictions. Staying ahead of changes can be daunting, but MNEs can enhance their transfer pricing strategies by actively monitoring and analysing shifts in regulations, industry trends and economic conditions. Taking a proactive approach allows businesses to adjust transfer pricing strategies accordingly, maintain compliance and capitalise on tax optimisation and risk management opportunities.

Because transfer pricing reporting combines compliance with proactive risk management and tax-efficiency strategies, for many global businesses, it’s a cornerstone of their corporate governance strategies.

The key to successful transfer pricing in international business

In today’s interconnected business landscape, MNEs face the challenge of optimising transfer pricing strategies across diverse jurisdictions while ensuring compliance with various regulations and tax rates.

As BoardRoom’s Managing Director Asia, Tax, Eunice Hooi understands the compliance pressures faced by MNEs in the region. To navigate this complex terrain effectively, Eunice advises MNEs to adopt a proactive approach to transfer pricing, where the policies align with their overall business functions and value chains.

MNEs must understand how each business segment contributes to the creation of value across the entire chain. Monitoring and adjusting strategies in response to evolving business dynamics is also crucial. This requires regular reviews of transfer prices to ensure alignment with regulatory changes and economic circumstances.

Navigating regulatory challenges

A significant challenge when introducing transfer pricing strategies lies in navigating diverse regulatory landscapes and tax obligations across countries of operation. Each jurisdiction may impose different compliance regulations and tax rates. This means it is essential for companies to stay informed and adapt their strategies accordingly.

The high-tax countries typically have more comprehensive and strict transfer pricing regulations, preventing MNCs from manipulating their related party transactions to artificially shift profits to low-tax jurisdictions, leading to erosion of taxable income in the higher-tax jurisdictions. These transfer pricing regulations aim to align the pricing of transactions between related parties with what would be expected in an open market between unrelated parties.

In contrast, low-tax countries may have less stringent transfer pricing regulations with the aim to attract foreign investments. These jurisdictions generally offer favourable tax environments to encourage businesses to establish their operations within their borders.

To effectively manage these challenges and ensure compliance, many businesses adopt proactive approaches, such as employing advanced pricing agreements and conducting regular risk assessments. Additionally, developing a robust and consistent transfer pricing policy and methodology is crucial. This helps companies not only manage regulatory challenges successfully, but also maximise profitability by optimising transfer prices according to market conditions and tax implications.

Navigating regulatory challenges

Transfer pricing in Singapore: Case study of company in Asia

Consider the case of a business that operates globally with headquarters in Singapore and operational footprints in Hong Kong, Malaysia and China. The organisation’s diverse structure includes a HR Shared Services Centre in Malaysia, a Treasury Service Centre in Hong Kong, manufacturing facilities in China, and a strategic supply chain hub in Singapore. Given its diverse group of companies, this multinational company faces intricate transfer pricing challenges.

The challenge

The main challenge for this company is accurately assessing the economic value of intercompany transactions across its various jurisdictions. Because each subsidiary contributes distinctly to the value chain, it needs to be able to accurately capture the true value creation arising from the related party transactions.

A strategic approach

The multinational company adopted a value-chain approach to transfer pricing, conducting a detailed analysis of functions, assets and risks for each operational function. This approach allowed for the establishment of transfer prices that truly reflect the economic value of goods and services exchanged between the entities, from manufacturing in China to distribution from Singapore.

The key benefits achieved:

Through the value-chain approach, three distinct benefits were achieved for the company:

  1. Strategic decision-making: the company could make strategic decisions regarding resource allocation and business expansion plans based on a more accurate assessment of where economic value is actually being created within the group of companies.
  2. Risk management: by aligning transfer pricing practices with actual economic activities, the company minimised its compliance risks. This tailored approach provided a robust defence in transfer pricing audits, reducing the likelihood of disputes and penalties.
  3. Tax optimisation: profits were allocated according to the value contributed at each stage of operations, ensuring compliance and optimising tax liabilities. This strategic allocation not only adhered to regulatory requirements but also maximised tax efficiency for the company.

The impact:

This case showcases how a tailored transfer pricing strategy can significantly benefit multinational operations. By adopting a comprehensive transfer pricing strategy rooted in the value-chain approach, the company can enhance its operational efficiency, reduce costs and drive top and bottom-line growth in today’s dynamic global business environment.

Expert advice on transfer pricing in Asia

To navigate the complexities of transfer pricing in Asia, Singapore MNEs can turn to specialised tax advisors. By partnering with an expert in the field, MNEs can be confident that they’ll meet their regulatory obligations in the jurisdictions they operate in while optimising their tax positions.

“We act as strategic tax advisors, guiding our clients through the complexities of transfer pricing,” says Eunice. “Our approach involves understanding their entire business processes, operations and legal structure, including IP ownership if applicable.”

As experts on transfer pricing guidelines, BoardRoom works with clients to conduct a thorough review and assessment of every aspect of business operations, spanning procurement, production and distribution. This allows our team to identify key value drivers, cost centres and profit contributors in the business’s value chain. With a deep understanding of these intricacies, we provide personalised guidance.

Once we have a comprehensive understanding of the business, we collaborate with clients to develop a tailored transfer pricing strategy that aligns with their needs and objectives. This strategy includes both the conceptual framework and the necessary documentation, ensuring a robust and compliant approach to transfer pricing management.

Because the BoardRoom team assesses all areas of the business and what’s important for a business’ strategic direction, we offer a level of detail that many other tax advisors don’t.

“Many advisors focus solely on explaining rules and regulations to their clients based on their reading of the guidelines,” says Eunice. “They can articulate the requirements for a transfer pricing strategy and documentation. However, they often lack the practical commercial experience to help their client implement these strategies.

Setting rules is one thing, but the crucial question is how to implement the transfer pricing strategy effectively.”

Implementation is where the real challenge lies, and this requires a deep understanding of business operations, dynamics and practical solutions that align with regulatory compliance and strategic objectives.

Through a client-centric approach, we offer a suite of transfer pricing services:

Value chain analysis
At the core of our transfer pricing services is a comprehensive analysis of our clients’ value chains. We review and assess each stage of their operations, from procurement to production to distribution, to identify value drivers, cost centres and profit contributors. By understanding the intricacies of their value chain, we can assist the clients in optimising their transfer pricing strategies to enhance efficiency, minimise tax risks and maximise profitability.
Ex-ante price setting
One of the key components of our transfer pricing services is assisting clients in setting appropriate transfer prices before transactions occur. Through market analysis, benchmarking studies, and economic modelling, we assist clients in setting the prices for intercompany transactions at arm’s length and complying with relevant regulations.
By establishing clear and defensible pricing policies upfront, we help clients mitigate the risk of transfer pricing adjustments, penalties and disputes with tax authorities.
Ex-post price testing
In addition to proactive ex-ante price setting, our transfer pricing services encompass ex-post price testing to validate the arm’s length nature of intercompany transactions. We employ statistical techniques, such as comparable profits methods and transactional net margin methods, to assess the accuracy and reliability of transfer prices.
We assist clients in conducting regular transfer pricing reviews, giving the clients the assurance that their transfer pricing policies withstand scrutiny and align with best practices, thus minimising the risk of non-compliance and potential financial consequences.
Transfer pricing partner in Singapore

Your transfer pricing partner in Singapore

At BoardRoom, we play an important role in helping businesses understand the intricacies of transfer pricing, its meaning and its importance in their overall strategic activities in Asia, including Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and China. Through guidance, meticulous analysis and proactive implementation, we help our MNE clients navigate the complexities of transfer pricing regulations and optimise their tax positions.

Enterprises seeking guidance on everything to do with transfer pricing in Asia, come to us because they want a partner who can capitalise on opportunities and ensure compliance. Please contact us today to discover what our team can do for you.

Contact BoardRoom for more information:


Eunice Hooi

Managing Director Asia, Tax

E: [email protected]

T: +65 6536 5355

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