2.6 Characteristics of the accounting-related internal control and risk management system and explanatory report of the Management Board
METRO’s accounting-related internal control and risk management system employs coordinated instruments and measures for the prevention, early detection, assessment and management of risks. The Corporate Accounting department of METRO AG is responsible for the group-wide implementation of these instruments and measures.
Overarching responsibility for all processes related to the preparation of the consolidated and individual annual financial statements as well as the combined management report of METRO AG rests with the Board department headed by the Chief Financial Officer of METRO AG, Mr Christian Baier. The actual preparation of the financial statements as well as the combined management report, however, is the legal responsibility of the Management Board of METRO AG. The consolidated and individual annual financial statements as well as the combined management report are audited and approved by the auditor during and after their preparation. They are then discussed and reviewed by the Supervisory Board of METRO AG. The auditor attends this Supervisory Board meeting. The auditor reports on the key findings of his audit and is available for additional questions. Provided that the Supervisory Board has no objections, it approves the annual financial statements and the combined management report. The annual financial statements of METRO AG are adopted once the Supervisory Board has issued its approval.
Building on the ‘Internal Control – Integrated Framework’ concept of the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO), the Group Governance department within the Corporate Accounting department of METRO AG has defined group-wide minimum requirements regarding the design of the accounting-related internal control system of METRO AG, the sales lines and the major service companies. With these requirements, the company particularly wants to ensure adherence to the relevant accounting standards and the respective internal guidelines (for example the IFRS accounting guideline).
Among others, these requirements cover the design and implementation of controls, monitoring the effectiveness of controls and reporting on effectiveness analyses.
- Design of controls: Taking a top-down approach, the company has identified the risk of material errors relating to the financial reporting for significant financial and accounting-related processes. In addition, the Corporate Accounting department has stipulated binding group-wide control objectives which the group companies must meet by employing company-specific control activities.
- Implementation of controls: The group companies must keep records of the implementation of these controls.
- Effectiveness of controls: The major group companies are obligated to evaluate the effectiveness of controls at the end of each financial year (self-evaluation). In the process, they must apply the uniform, group-wide method stipulated by the Corporate Accounting department. In addition, the effectiveness of controls is reviewed as part of the risk-oriented, independent audits conducted by the Group Internal Audit department.
- Reporting: The results of the self-evaluations must be reported to the Corporate Accounting department using a standardised reporting format. The companies’ individual reports are validated by the Corporate Accounting department and compiled in an overall report on METRO’s accounting-related internal control system. This is reported to the Governance, Risk and Compliance Committee (GRCC) as well as the Management Board of METRO AG.
The key requirements (for example the IFRS accounting guideline), accounting processes, individual controls and independent review by the Group Internal Audit department and the auditor are described in detail below.
IFRS accounting guideline
The interim consolidated financial statements and the consolidated financial statements of METRO AG are prepared in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as applicable in the European Union. A group-wide IFRS accounting guideline that is compulsory for all companies included in the consolidated financial statements ensures the uniform METRO group-wide application of accounting procedures in accordance with IFRS. To monitor compliance with the IFRS accounting guideline, the management of each major group company is obligated to confirm compliance by means of a letter of representation. The IFRS accounting guideline covers all IFRS relevant to METRO AG. Amendments to IFRS are continually updated in the IFRS accounting guideline and communicated to all companies included in the consolidated financial statements.
Accounting processes of companies included in the consolidated financial statements
The preparation of the individual financial statements of consolidated companies according to IFRS for consolidation purposes is principally carried out in SAP-based accounting systems (SAP FI). The organisational separation of central and subledger accounting, such as fixed asset, receivables and payables accounting, provides for clear assignments of individual tasks related to the preparation of the financial statements. It also provides for a functional separation that ensures the efficacy of control processes, such as the 4-eye principle. Many group companies prepare their individual financial statements in these accounting systems on the basis of a centrally managed table of accounts using uniform accounting rules.
Aside from failure to comply with accounting rules, risks can also arise from failure to observe formal deadlines. An online planning tool was introduced to help avoid these risks and document the obligatory processes required as part of the preparation of individual and consolidated financial statements under IFRS, their chronological order and the responsible persons. The online planning tool can be used to monitor the workflows for preparing individual and consolidated financial statements in accordance with IFRS in terms of content and time. The planning tool divides the process of preparing the individual financial statements into key milestones, which in turn are divided into individual activities. In terms of content, these milestones and activities are geared towards METRO’s IFRS accounting guideline and thus reflect its implemented state. The scheduling and monitoring of the milestones and activities required to achieve these group milestones in the preparation of individual financial statements are part of the responsibilities of the respective company’s management.
The consolidation of accounting-related data for the purpose of group reporting is performed by a centralised consolidation system (CCH Tagetik). Without exception, all consolidated METRO companies must work within this system. It provides a uniform accounts table to be used by all consolidated companies in accordance with the IFRS accounting guideline. Once they have been transmitted from the separate financial statements to the consolidation system, the financial data are subjected to an automated plausibility review in relation to accounting-specific contexts and dependencies. Any errors or warning messages generated by the system during this validation process must be addressed by the person responsible for the individual financial statements before the data are transmitted to the consolidation facility.
An additional control instrument is the report comparing the most significant balance sheet and income statement positions against the previous period’s figures. This report must be submitted to METRO AG by all major group companies at the time of preparing their individual financial statements and must also provide comments on any considerable deviations.
To warrant the security of the group’s information technology systems (IT), access to the accounting-related IT systems (SAP FI) is regulated. Each company included in the consolidated financial statements is subject to the regulations concerning IT security. These regulations are summarised in an IT security guideline, with group-wide compliance being monitored by the Group Internal Audit department of METRO AG. This ensures that users only have access to the information and systems needed to fulfil their specific tasks.
Accounting processes for consolidation purposes
The processes and controls in connection with preparation of the consolidated financial statements comprise all activities related to the preparation of the consolidated financial statements. This includes the completeness check of the consolidation group, verification of punctual, complete and correct data submission, avoidance of undesirable data changes, a complete and error-free execution of typical consolidation steps such as the elimination of interim results, the elimination of sales, expenses, income and liabilities, as well as capital consolidation.
The group also relies on external service providers to handle support activities related to the preparation of the consolidated financial statements. These services essentially relate to the valuation of real estate assets, pension obligations and share-based remuneration.
The consolidation measures required for the preparation of the consolidated financial statements are subject to various systematic and manual controls. The automated plausibility reviews (validations) used in separate financial statements data also apply to the consolidation measures. A 2-signature principle supported by the consolidation system was implemented for manual postings. In the end, reviews are carried out to ensure that the information in the annual report is complete and error-free.
The control measures are documented in a central documentation system.
Using the central consolidation system, compliance with deadlines and milestones that are centrally provided for the purpose of structuring and coordinating the preparation of the consolidated financial statements is monitored by METRO AG’s Corporate Accounting department. Additional monitoring mechanisms at group level include target-performance comparisons as well as analyses dealing with the composition and movements of individual items in the balance sheet and the income statement. An annual self-assessment is used to verify whether internal controls for the preparation and booking process are adhered to during the preparation of the consolidated financial statements.
Access regulations for the consolidation system are implemented to ensure adherence to IT security regulations (write/read authorisations). Access authorisations to use the consolidation system are centrally managed and are subject to customary approval mechanisms. They are reviewed annually by Corporate Accounting to ensure that users only have access to the data they need to perform their tasks.
The Group Internal Audit department of METRO AG provides independent and objective auditing and consulting services within METRO and supports the Management Board of METRO AG and the management of the group companies in reaching their goals by subjecting the key management and business processes to a potential-oriented evaluation. In coordination with the Management Board and the group companies, Group Internal Audit develops a risk-oriented audit and project plan every 3 years, which is updated annually as needed.
Based on the described principles, the Group Internal Audit department carries out independent audits of the controls monitoring the process of preparing the consolidated financial statements, the implementation of the IFRS accounting guideline and group accounting processes within METRO. For this purpose, focal topics are defined as part of risk-oriented planning for the annual audit.