Markus Meinzer, Moran Harari ■ Transforming our flagship indexes to be even more responsive and timely
We’re excited to share the news today that the Tax Justice Network is embarking on our most ambitious update yet of our flagship indexes, the Financial Secrecy Index and Corporate Tax Haven Index. The update will pivot our indexes to a rolling-update approach that will allow the indexes to capture countries’ regulatory changes in a more responsive and timely fashion.
This will be a shift from the approach we’ve been using since 2009, which has seen us update the indexes once every two years. With tax justice policies now at the top of fast-moving national and global agendas, we want to make sure our indexes can serve even better as responsive monitoring and troubleshooting tools for countries’ regulatory frameworks.
The updates to our indexes, however, will require us to push back the next update of the Corporate Tax Haven Index from 2023 to 2024, from which point both indexes will be published under the new rolling approach.
15 years of researching tax havens
The first edition of our Financial Secrecy Index was published in 2009. Its primary aim was to counter the false narrative that financial secrecy, and all the harm it enables, was a problem restricted to “corrupt” lower income countries and the global south. It wasn’t uncommon at the time to pin the blame for the glaring global inequalities and colonial legacies lower income countries suffer to their high levels of perceived corruption. We wanted to show that this corruption, and illicit financial flows more widely, was made possible – and was being mirrored, profited on and exacerbated – by rich countries pointing fingers.
The Financial Secrecy Index has undeniably been very successful in this effort. Rich global north countries like the US, Switzerland and Luxembourg are now widely recognised as the world’s biggest enablers of financial secrecy.
The Corporate Tax Haven Index, running since 2019, has similarly been successful in building awareness of the fact that the greatest enablers of corporate tax abuse are not islands on the peripheries of the global economy but a handful of economic heavyweights at the heart of the global economy that make up the membership of the OECD.
Over the years, the indexes grew from comparative tools initially meant to tell evidence-based stories with to the world’s most comprehensive database on countries’ laws and regulations on financial transparency and tax. The indexes are now widely used by governments, tax authorities, academics, campaigners and journalists to monitor, evaluate and advocate policymaking at national, regional and global levels.
When our first index launched – seven years before the Panama Papers – not many people, and even fewer governments, would have considered financial secrecy and global tax abuse to be a problem serious enough to warrant attention. The shift of the Financial Secrecy Index from a campaigning tool in 2009 to convince governments that these issues are a huge, harmful problem that needs fixing, to a policy troubleshooting tool today that people and governments are using to make address these issues just shows how far tax justice has come.
With the convincing now done, we want our indexes to better support the problem solving underway.
The future is rolling
Up until now, each update of an index would see us publish new data all at once for all of the 20 indicators used by the index to evaluate countries. Indicators have sub-indicators, and for each sub-indicator we conduct detailed investigative assessments and painstakingly collect evidence on each country’s legal framework. This is a huge, time-consuming job.
Once published, the data held under each of the index’s indicators won’t be updated again until the next edition of the index in two years’ time. This has meant each edition of the index is a snapshot in time of countries’ performance on financial secrecy and global tax abuse. Snapshots are very useful for highlighting problems, unearthing patterns and communicating stories.
But with governments now prioritising and moving faster on tax justice policies, both at home and in the international arena, desire has grown for an approach that offers more frequent snapshots that more responsively capture change.
Under our new rolling approach, an index’s indicators will be updated in batches over the course of an index’s regular cycle. So rather than publishing new data for all 20 indicators all at once every two years, we will publish new data for small sets of indicators multiple times a year, making our way through all 20 indicators over the course of two to three years.
Each update will see us collect and publish new data on the set of indicators next in queue in the cycle, but any changes a country makes that we are alerted to or indirectly come across that relate to indicators that are not in queue will still be included in the update. This will allow us to capture regulatory developments closer to when they occur and provide a more dynamic assessment of countries’ complicity in financial secrecy and global tax abuse.
What these improvements all mean is a steady stream of new data that captures change more responsively throughout the course of the year. This responsive spacing out of updates will help better spotlight steps forward – as well as steps backwards – on financial secrecy and global tax abuse that would otherwise go unnoticed. We believe this can make for more opportunities to advocate and celebrate positive policy change, and to scrutinise and hold governments accountable where policy regresses.
The rolling approach also gives us the flexibility to prioritise and release new data faster on indicators that relate to urgent policy developments, allowing us to more rapidly equip policymakers in national contexts and country representatives in international arenas with the data they need to evaluate policy change.
Improved IT infrastructure
As part of the transition to a rolling updates of our indexes, we are also working on updating our underlying IT infrastructure and data systems. Our aim is to further improve access to and usability of the extensive data our indexes hold. We want to make it easier for stakeholders to navigate and harness the trove of information our indexes provide.
A more sustainable work environment for our team
By embracing these reforms, we also aim to create a more sustainable work environment for our dedicated team of researchers and analysts. The demanding nature of the research required for our indexes necessitates balancing accuracy, thoroughness, comparability, fairness and keeping up with rapidly changing policies. The rolling update system will alleviate the intense workload associated with our previous biennial one-push updates, enabling our team to work more efficiently and maintain a sustainable pace, while continuing to produce high-quality analysis.
As we kick off this new exciting chapter for the Tax Justice Network’s flagship indexes, we remain committed to our mission of promoting tax justice. We’ll share more updates in the coming months, including information on when you can expect rolling updates of both the Corporate Tax Haven and the Financial Secrecy Index to be published. Together, we can continue to expose and address the policies that perpetuate financial secrecy and tax havenry, and fosterer a fairer global tax system.