Internal control and risk management systems in relation to the preparation of the consolidated financial statements
The following description of Bekaert’s internal control and risk management systems is based on the Internal Control Integrated Framework (1992) and the Enterprise Risk Management Framework (2004) published by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (“COSO”).
The Board of Directors has approved a framework of internal control and risk management for the Company and the Group set up by the BGE, and monitors the implementation thereof. The Audit and Finance Committee monitors the effectiveness of the internal control and risk management systems, with a view to ensuring that the main risks are properly identified, managed and disclosed according to the framework adopted by the Board of Directors. The Audit and Finance Committee also makes recommendations to the Board of Directors in this respect.
The accounting and control organization consists of three levels: (i) the accounting team in the different legal entities or shared service centers, responsible for the preparation and reporting of the financial information, (ii) the controllers at the different levels in the organization (such as plant and region), responsible inter alia for the review of the financial information in their area of responsibility, and (iii) the Group Finance Department, responsible for the final review of the financial information of the different legal entities and for the preparation of the consolidated financial statements.
Next to the structured controls outlined above, the Internal Audit Department conducts a risk based audit program to validate the internal control effectiveness in the different processes at legal entity level to assure a reliable financial reporting.
Bekaert’s consolidated financial statements are prepared in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), which have been endorsed by the European Union. These financial statements are also in compliance with the IFRS as issued by the International Accounting Standards Board.
All IFRS accounting principles, guidelines and interpretations, to be applied by all legal entities, are grouped in the Bekaert Accounting Manual, which is available on the Bekaert intranet to all employees involved in financial reporting. Such manual is regularly updated by Group Finance in the case of relevant changes in IFRS, or interpretations thereof, and the users are informed of any such changes. IFRS trainings take place in the different regions when deemed necessary or appropriate. E-learning modules on IFRS are also made available by Group Finance to accommodate individual training.
The vast majority of the Group companies use Bekaert’s global enterprise resource planning (“ERP”) system, and the accounting transactions are registered in a common operating chart of accounts, whereby accounting manuals describe the standard way of booking of the most relevant transactions. Such accounting manuals are explained to the users during training sessions, and are available on the Bekaert intranet.
All Group companies use the same software to report the financial data for consolidation and external reporting purposes. A reporting manual is available on the Bekaert intranet and trainings take place when deemed necessary or appropriate.
Appropriate measures are taken to assure a timely and qualitative reporting and to reduce the potential risks related to the financial reporting process, including: (i) proper coordination between the Corporate Communication Department and Group Finance, (ii) careful planning of all activities, including owners and timings, (iii) guidelines which are distributed by Group Finance to the owners prior to the quarterly reporting, including relevant points of attention, and (iv) follow-up and feedback of the timeliness, quality and lessons learned in order to strive for continuous improvement.
A quarterly review takes place of the financial results, findings by the Internal Audit Department, and other important control events, the results of which are discussed with the Statutory Auditor.
Material changes to the IFRS accounting principles are coordinated by Group Finance, reviewed by the Statutory Auditor, reported to the Audit and Finance Committee, and acknowledged by the Board of Directors of the Company.
Material changes to the statutory accounting principles of a Group company are approved by its Board of Directors.
The proper application by the legal entities of the accounting principles as described in the Bekaert Accounting Manual, as well as the accuracy, consistency and completeness of the reported information, is reviewed on an ongoing basis by the control organization (as described above).
In addition, all relevant entities are controlled by the Internal Audit Department on a periodic basis. Policies and procedures are in place for the most important underlying processes (sales, procurement, investments, treasury, etc.), and are subject to (i) an evaluation by the respective management teams using a self-assessment tool, and (ii) control by the Internal Audit Department on a rotating basis.
A close monitoring of potential segregation of duties conflicts in the ERP system is carried out.
Information and communication
Bekaert has deployed in the majority of the Group companies a global ERP system platform to support the efficient processing of business transactions and provide its management with transparent and reliable management information to monitor, control and direct its business operations.
The provision of information technology services to run, maintain and develop those systems is to large extent outsourced to professional IT service delivery organizations, which are directed and controlled through appropriate IT governance structures and monitored on their delivery performance through comprehensive service level agreements.
Together with its IT providers, Bekaert has implemented adequate management processes to assure that appropriate measures are taken on a daily basis to sustain the performance, availability and integrity of its IT systems. At regular intervals the adequacy of those procedures is reviewed and audited and where needed further optimized.
Proper assignment of responsibilities, and coordination between the pertinent departments, assures an efficient and timely communication process of periodic financial information to the market. In the first and third quarters, a trading update is released, whereas at midyear and year-end all relevant financial information is disclosed. Prior to the external reporting, the sales and financial information is subject to (i) the appropriate controls by the above-mentioned control organization, (ii) review by the Audit and Finance Committee, and (iii) approval by the Board of Directors of the Company.
Any significant change of the IFRS accounting principles as applied by Bekaert is subject to review by the Audit and Finance Committee and approval by the Company’s Board of Directors.
On a periodic basis, the members of the Board of Directors are updated on the evolution and important changes in the underlying IFRS standards. All relevant financial information is presented to the Audit and Finance Committee and the Board of Directors to enable them to analyze the financial statements. All related press releases are approved prior to communication to the market.
Relevant findings by the Internal Audit Department and/or the Statutory Auditor on the application of the accounting principles, as well as the adequacy of the policies and procedures, and segregation of duties, are reported to the Audit and Finance Committee.
In addition, a periodic treasury update is submitted to the Audit and Finance Committee.
A procedure is in place to convene the appropriate governing body of the Company on short notice if and when circumstances so dictate.
General internal control and ERM
The Board of Directors has approved the Bekaert Code of Conduct, which was first issued on 1 December 2004 and last updated in November 2019. The Code of Conduct sets forth the Bekaert mission and values as well as the basic principles of how Bekaert wants to do business.
Implementation of the Code of Conduct is mandatory for all companies of the Group. The Code of Conduct is included in the Bekaert Corporate Governance Charter as Appendix 3 and available at www.bekaert.com.
More detailed policies and guidelines are developed as considered necessary to ensure consistent implementation of the Code of Conduct throughout the Group.
Bekaert’s internal control framework consists of a set of group policies for the main business processes, and applies Group-wide. Bekaert has different tools in place to constantly monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of the design and the operation of the internal control framework.
The Internal Audit Department monitors the internal control performance based on the global framework and reports to the Audit and Finance Committee at each of its meetings. The Governance, Risk and Compliance Department reports to the Audit and Finance Committee at each of its meetings on risk and compliance matters.
The BGE regularly evaluates the Group’s exposure to risk, the potential financial impact thereof and the actions to monitor, mitigate and control the exposure.
At the request of the Board of Directors and the Audit and Finance Committee, management has developed a permanent global enterprise risk management (“ERM”) framework to assist the Group in managing uncertainty in Bekaert’s value creation process.
The framework consists of the identification, assessment and prioritization of the major risks confronting Bekaert, and of the continuous reporting and monitoring of those major risks (including the development and implementation of risk mitigation plans).
The risks are identified in five risk categories: strategic, operational, legal, financial, and country risks. The identified risks are classified on two axes: probability and impact or consequence.
Decisions are made and action plans defined to mitigate the identified risks. Also the risk sensitivity evolution (decrease, increase, stable) is evaluated.
Below are the main risks included in Bekaert’s 2019 ERM report, which has been reported to the Audit and Finance Committee and the Board of Directors.
- Like many global companies, Bekaert is exposed to risks arising from global economic trends. Strategically, Bekaert defends itself against economical and cyclical risks by being active in different regions and different sectors. Bekaert operates manufacturing sites and offices in 44 countries and its markets can be clustered in seven sectors. This sectorial spread is an advantage as it makes Bekaert less sensitive to sector-specific trends. Nevertheless, a global economic crisis can impact the most important sectors in which Bekaert is active, i.e., tire and automotive, energy and utilities, and construction.
For example, in tire and automotive and construction markets, a global recession can lead to a significant demand decline driven by weak consumer confidence and postponed investments. The resulting upstream and downstream overcapacity can lead to price erosion across the supply chain. In oil and gas markets, the oil price level and trend has an influence on demand for Bekaert’s products related to those markets. Most important for Bekaert’s flat and shaped wire activity and for Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group’s offshore steel ropes activity are the actual investments in offshore oil extraction. Such investments have been postponed or put on hold as a result of the steep oil price drop in 2015. Although the Company is in process of making the activities less oil-dependent and better aligned with the market reality (restructuring in flat and shaped activity at Bekaert Bradford, UK and restructuring in the ropes footprint of Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group in Brazil) and although, Bekaert will be ready to seize opportunities from a reactivation of investments in oil extraction in the future, it cannot be excluded that the current oil price level will continue to have an influence on the demand for Bekaert’s products and hence on its results.
- Wire rod price volatility may result in further margin erosion
Wire rod, Bekaert’s main raw material, is purchased from steel mills from all over the world. Wire rod represents about 45% of the cost of sales. In principle, price movements are passed on in the selling prices as soon as possible, through contractually agreed pricing mechanisms or through individual negotiation. If Bekaert is unsuccessful in passing on cost increases to the customers in due time, this may negatively influence the profit margins of Bekaert. Also the opposite price trend entails profit risks: if raw materials prices drop significantly and Bekaert has higher priced material in stock, then the profitability may be hit by (non-cash) inventory valuation corrections at the balance sheet date of a reporting period.
- Globalizing competition could have an adverse impact on the results of Bekaert
The competitive landscape consists of international, regional and local actors, which can be integrated or independent and active in several sectors or in one specific product/market segment. Local actors becoming global competitors can have a negative impact on Bekaert’s profit margins. In some markets, customers or suppliers can also be competitors. Previously local steel cord competitors like Xingda (China) and Hyosung (South Korea) have become active on the international market through investments in steel cord production capacity abroad. Examples of other competitors are: KIS-Wire (South Korea, internationally active in steel cord, bead wire, hose reinforcement wire and steel ropes); WireCo (ropes) and Teufelberger who acquired Redaelli in 2017 (ropes); Davis Wire (USA: galvanized steel wire for industrial needs and spring wire); Keystone Steel & Wire (USA, integrated steel mill (wire rod producer) and steel wire maker: fencing products, PC strand, welded mesh); and Gerdau (Americas: integrated player: wire rod, vineyard wire, galvanized wire, …). To face the future and ever-stronger competition, Bekaert invests significantly in Research and Development (R&D) for an amount of around € 65-70 million each year.
- Bekaert is exposed to certain labor market risks
A competitive labor market can increase costs for Bekaert and as such decrease profitability. The success of Bekaert depends mainly on its capacity to hire and to retain talent at all levels. Bekaert competes with other companies on its markets for hiring people. A shortage of qualified people could force Bekaert to increase wages or other benefits in order to be effectively competitive when hiring or retaining qualified employees or retaining expensive temporary employees. An increasingly mobile, young population in emerging markets further enhances the people continuity risk. It is uncertain that higher labor cost can be compensated by efforts to increase effectiveness in other activity areas of Bekaert.
- Adverse business performances or changes in underlying economic climate may result in impairment of assets
In accordance with the International Accounting Standards regarding the impairment of assets (i.e. IAS36), an asset must not be carried in a company’s financial statements at more than the highest recoverable amount (i.e. by selling or using the asset). In the event the carrying amount (i.e. book value) exceeds the recoverable amount, the asset is impaired.
Bekaert regularly examines its groups of assets that do not generate cash flows individually (i.e. Cash Generating Units (CGUs)) and more specifically CGUs to which goodwill is allocated. Nevertheless, Bekaert may also be required to recognize impairment losses on other assets due to (external) unexpected adverse events that may have an impact on its expected performance. Although impairment charges do not have an impact on Bekaert’s cash position, impairment losses are indicators of a potential shortfall in Bekaert’s (expected) business plan, which might have an indirect impact on the expected profit generating capability of Bekaert.
For further information on Bekaert’s goodwill on the balance sheet (and impairment losses relating thereto), please refer to the note 6.2 (Goodwill) of this Report. More specifically, this note describes in more detail the impairment testing findings on goodwill arising from the Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group business combination, which represents the majority of the goodwill amount carried at the balance sheet. A strict execution and implementation of the various initiatives included in the Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group profit restoration plan is key to not incurring an impairment loss.
- Source dependency might impact Bekaert’s business activities and profitability
Trade policy changes in the US have forced Bekaert to turn to alternative sourcing for all of its US wire rod needs that cannot be sourced locally in the US (in particular wire rod for rubber reinforcement products, as this quality is not available in the US), corresponding to approximately half of the wire rod needs of the Group in the US, which represents about 7% of the Group’s total wire rod needs. While this risk has been mitigated in 2019 (as Bekaert can source duty-free from Brazil again and has received exemptions from all other, relevant countries), the US has increased the import tariff (to 25 per cent.) on finished (tire cord) product imported from China. Further escalation of the US China trade war may lead to even higher import duties.
On 1 July 2019, the second year of safeguard measures by the EU on imported steel products started. These safeguard measures include a risk of duties when tax free volume quota are reached. This entails a risk of higher raw material costs for Bekaert, if and when the quota are surpassed. Bekaert imported about 3% of its wire rod needs in the EU in 2018-2019. This represents 1 per cent of the total wire rod purchases of the Group, on a consolidated basis. This share may increase in the case of higher market demand and of Brexit (since British Steel is one of Bekaert’s suppliers in the EU).
- Failure to adequately protect the Bekaert’s intellectual property could substantially harm its business and operating result
Bekaert is a global technology leader in steel wire transformation and coatings and invests intensively in continued innovation. It considers its technological leadership as a differentiator versus the competition. Consequently, intellectual property protection is a key concern and risk. Intellectual property leakages can harm Bekaert and help the competition, both in terms of product development, process innovation and machine engineering. By the end of 2019, Bekaert (including Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group) had a portfolio of 1,795 patent rights. Bekaert also initiates patent infringement proceedings against competitors in the case infringements are observed. Bekaert cannot assure that its intellectual property will not be objected to, infringed upon or circumvented by third parties. Furthermore, Bekaert may fail to successfully obtain patent authorization, complete patent registration or protect such patents, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial position, results of operations and prospects.
- Bekaert is subject to stringent environmental laws
Bekaert is subject to environmental laws, regulations and decrees. Those laws, regulations and decrees (which are becoming more stringent all over the world) could force Bekaert to pay for cleaning up and for damages at sites where the soil is contaminated. Under the environmental laws, Bekaert can be liable for repairing the environmental damage and be subject to related costs in its production sites, warehouses and offices as well as the soil on which they are located, irrespective of the fact that Bekaert owns, rents or sublets those production sites, warehouses and offices and irrespective of whether the environmental damage was caused by Bekaert or by a previous owner or tenant.
Costs for research, repair or removal of environmental damage can be substantial and adversely affect the Group’s business, financial condition and results of operations. It is Bekaert’s practice to recognize provisions (per entity) for potential environmental liabilities
Prevention and risk management play an important role in Bekaert’s environmental policy. This includes measures against soil and ground water contamination, responsible use of water and worldwide ISO14001 certification. Bekaert’s global procedure to ensure precautionary measures against soil and ground water contamination (ProSoil) is continuously monitored in relation to regulations, best practices and actual implementation. Responsible use of water is also an ongoing priority. Bekaert constantly monitors its water consumption and has implemented programs that aim to reduce water usage in the long term. 93.7% of the Bekaert plants worldwide are ISO 14001 certified. ISO 14001 is part of the ISO 14000 internationally recognized standards providing practical tools to companies who wish to manage their environmental responsibilities. ISO 14001 focuses on environmental systems.
Bekaert’s full worldwide certification is an ongoing goal; it is an element in the integration process of newly acquired entities and of companies that are added to the consolidation perimeter. Bekaert also received a group-wide certification for ISO 14001 and ISO 9001. The ISO 9000 family addresses various aspects of quality management. Bekaert complies with the European RoHS regulation on hazardous substances
- Bekaert is subject to cyber security risks
Many operational activities of Bekaert depend on IT systems, developed and maintained by internal and external experts. A cyber attack in one of these IT systems could interrupt Bekaert’s activities, which could result in a negative influence on its sales and profitability.
- Bekaert is exposed to regulatory and compliance risks
As a global company, Bekaert is subject to many laws and regulations across all of the countries where it is active. Such laws and regulations are becoming more complex, more stringent and change faster and more frequently than before. These numerous laws and regulations include, among others, data privacy requirements (such as the European General Data Protection Regulation), intellectual property laws, labour relation laws, tax laws, anti-competition regulations, import and trade restrictions (for example the trade policies in the US and the EU), exchange laws, anti-bribery and anti-corruption regulations. Compliance with those laws and regulations could lead to additional costs or capital expenditures, which could negatively impact the possibilities of Bekaert to develop its activities. In addition, given the high level of complexity of these laws, there is also the risk that Bekaert may inadvertently breach some provisions. Violations of these laws and regulations could result in fines, criminal sanctions against Bekaert, cessation of business activities in sanctioned countries, implementation of compliance programs and prohibitions on the conduct of Bekaert’s business.
Bekaert has developed a GRC framework (Governance, Risk, Control) to anticipate and cope with different aspects of compliance. Bekaert is also training the organization in legal awareness and a Central Compliance Committee and Compliance Workgroup monitor and steer the actions that are needed to ensure compliance. Bekaert has a Code of Conduct in place. Management and white collars worldwide go through an annual mandatory acceptance process with the principles of the Code of Conduct. Bekaert could further also become subject to government investigations (including by tax authorities). Such investigations have in the recent years become much more regular in the emerging markets such as China and India and could require significant expenditures and result in liabilities or governmental orders that could have a material adverse effect on Bekaert’s business, operating results and financial condition. It is Bekaert’s practice to recognize provisions (per entity) for certain identified regulatory and compliance risks
- Bekaert is exposed to a currency exchange risk which could materially impact its results and financial position
Bekaert’s assets, income, earnings and cash flows are influenced by movements in exchange rates of several currencies. The Group’s currency risk can be split into two categories: translational and transactional currency risk. A translational currency risk arises when the financial data of foreign subsidiaries are converted into the Group’s presentation currency, the euro. The main currencies are Chinese renminbi, US dollar, Czech koruna, Brazilian real, Chilean peso, Russian ruble, Indian rupee and pound sterling. The Group is further exposed to transactional currency risks resulting from its investing (the acquisition and disposal of investments in foreign companies), financing (financial liabilities in foreign currencies) and operating (commercial activities with sales and purchases in foreign currencies). Bekaert has a hedging policy in place to limit the impact of currency exchange risks.
- Bekaert is exposed to tax risks, in particular by virtue of the international nature of its activities in a rapidly changing international tax environment
As an international group operating in multiple jurisdictions, Bekaert is subject to tax laws in many countries throughout the world. Bekaert structures and conducts its business globally in light of diverse regulatory requirements and Bekaert’s commercial, financial and tax objectives. As a general rule, Bekaert seeks to structure its operations in a tax efficient manner, while complying with the applicable tax laws and regulations. Although it is anticipated that these are likely to achieve their desired effect, if any of them were successfully challenged by the relevant tax authorities, Bekaert and its subsidiaries could incur additional tax liabilities, which could adversely affect its effective tax rate, results of operations and financial condition. Furthermore, given that tax laws and regulations in the various jurisdictions in which Bekaert operates often do not provide clear-cut or definitive guidance, Bekaert and its subsidiaries’ structure, business conduct and tax regime is based on Bekaert’s interpretations of the tax laws and regulations in Belgium and the other jurisdictions in which Bekaert and its subsidiaries operate.
Although supported by tax consultants and specialists, Bekaert cannot guarantee that such interpretations will not be questioned by the relevant tax authorities or that the relevant tax and export laws and regulations in some of these countries will not be subject to change (in particular in the context of the rapidly changing international tax environment), varying interpretations and inconsistent enforcement, which could adversely affect Bekaert’s effective tax rate, results of operations and financial condition. It is Bekaert’s practice to recognize provisions (per entity) for certain potential tax liabilities.
- Bekaert is exposed to a credit risk on its contractual and trading counterparties
Bekaert is subject to the risk that the counterparties with whom it conducts its business (including in particular its customers) and who have to make payments to Bekaert are unable to make such payment in a timely manner or at all. While Bekaert has determined a credit policy which takes into account the risk profiles of the customers and the markets to which they belong, this policy can only limit some of its credit risks. If amounts that are due to Bekaert are not paid or not paid in a timely manner, this may not only impact its current trading and cash-flow position but also its financial and commercial position. Bekaert has a credit insurance policy in place to limit such risks.
- Bekaert faces asset and profit concentration risks in China
While Bekaert is a truly global company with a global network of manufacturing platforms and sales and distribution offices, reducing the asset and profit concentration to a minimum, it still faces a risk of asset and profit concentration in certain locations (such as Jiangyin, China). In the case another risk would materialize, such as a political, social or pandemic risk, or an environmental risk with major damage, then the risk of asset and profit concentration could materialize. As part of a business continuity plan, Bekaert has measures in place to reduce this risk through back-up scenarios and delivery approvals from other locations. For example, in highly regulated sectors such as the automotive sector, Bekaert aims to have more than one production plant approved to supply the tire makers.
- Bekaert is exposed to the political and economical instability in Venezuela
In Venezuela, Bekaert’s activities have been affected in the past years due to shortages of raw material, power supply, and the extreme devaluation of the currency. Bekaert has over the past years downsized the business in Venezuela and the assets on Venezuelan soil have been impaired since 2010 in order to minimize any outstanding risk.
In spite of the political and monetary instability, management was able to keep the company operational and hence concluded that it is still in control. At year-end 2019, the cumulative translation adjustments amount to € -59.7 million, which - in the case of loss of control - would be recycled to income statement.
An effective internal control and ERM framework is necessary to reach a reasonable level of assurance related to Bekaert’s financial reports and in order to prevent fraud. Internal control on financial reporting cannot prevent or trace all errors due to limits peculiar for control, such as possible human errors, misleading or circumventing controls, or fraud. That is why an effective internal control only generates reasonable assurance for the preparation and the fair presentation of the financial information. Failure to pick up an error due to human errors, misleading or circumventing controls, or fraud could negatively impact Bekaert’s reputation and financial results.
This may also result in Bekaert failing to comply with its ongoing disclosure obligations.