Operation of malus following irregularities in Italian business, directors’ remuneration

BT Group plc – Annual report – 31 March 2017

Industry: telecoms

Review of the year (extract)

Our investigation into our Italian business

What we found

In the summer of 2016 we received a whistle-blower report of inappropriate behaviours in our Italian business. We instigated an investigation, which included an independent review by KPMG LLP, with support and oversight from our Legal, Governance & Compliance function and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, reporting directly to both the chair of the Audit & Risk Committee and BT Group chairman, and our own comprehensive balance sheet review, which revealed improper accounting practices and a complex set of improper sales, purchase, factoring and leasing transactions in our Italian business. The investigation identified collusion, circumvention and override of controls within our Italian business that was not identified by our monitoring controls thereby resulting in the misstatement of results going undetected for a number of years.

These activities resulted in the overstatement of profits amounting to £268m in our Italian business over a number of years. We concluded that the errors were not individually material to any of the group’s previously issued financial statements; however, we did conclude that the correction of the full £268m in the current year would materially misstate the current year. To avoid this we corrected the errors by revising prior year income statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements. The effect of these revisions is set out in note 1 to the financial statements.

The findings from the investigation in Italy led us to review the carrying value of the assets and liabilities on the balance sheet, taking into account changes in facts or circumstances since 31 March 2016 and whether additional exposures had arisen due to events in the current year. This exercise required a level of judgement, in many cases taking a more cautious view based on our current understanding of circumstances surrounding each item. This exercise concluded that it was appropriate to write-down the value of our balance sheet assets and increase our balance sheet liabilities. The resulting charge of £245m is presented as a specific item in the current year.

Changes in facts or circumstance of items arising in the current year have been recorded in Global Services’ current year trading results.

How we responded

The inappropriate behaviour in our Italian business is an extremely serious matter. It has no place in BT and we took immediate steps to improve the financial processes and controls in that business. We suspended a number of BT Italy’s senior management team who have now left the business. The president of our European operations has also left the business.

We have appointed a new president of our European operations and a new CEO and CFO of BT Italy, from outside the Italian executive management team, and they are working hard to reposition and restructure the business for the future including implementing improvements to the governance, compliance and control culture and the capabilities of our people in the organisation.

To ensure independence, KPMG and our internal investigation team, with support and oversight from the Legal, Governance & Compliance function and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, reporting directly to both the chair of the Audit & Risk Committee and BT Group chairman, conducted an investigation of the systems and controls relating to our Italian business. We also conducted a broader review of financial processes, systems and controls across the group. We are acting on both the recommendations of KPMG and our own observations and have taken steps to improve our controls within Italy. We have also taken steps to enhance the wider controls that monitor our overseas operations in our shared service centres, Global Services and at a group level.

Beyond Italy, we have completed detailed balance sheet reviews in seven selected country operations in Global Services outside of the UK. These thorough reviews were supported by EY. Together with the investigation in Italy these covered around two-thirds by asset value of the operations outside the UK, representing 4% of the group’s total assets. Our review did not identify any similar issues or areas of concern elsewhere giving us comfort that the inappropriate behaviours were isolated to Italy. This along with other additional substantive assurance activities that we have undertaken enables us to conclude that the financial results and balance sheet as of 31 March 2017 position give a true and fair view of the group.

As a result of our US listing we are required to make certain assessments of our controls as of 31 March 2017 for the purposes of the US Sarbanes-Oxley Act 2002 (Sarbanes-Oxley). Despite the remediation steps we took, the controls had not operated for sufficient time to allow assurance testing to confirm their effectiveness under Sarbanes-Oxley. We have therefore concluded for these purposes that our controls were ineffective as of 31 March 2017 due to a material weakness with regards to our Italian business.

The BT Group Remuneration Committee has also considered the wider implications of the BT Italy investigation; see page 122 for further details.

What we will do going forward

While we have taken steps to improve our control environment, we recognise we have more to do. We will continue to take steps to improve further our control, governance and compliance environment. These steps include increasing the resources and improving the capabilities of the controlling function and the audit function outside the UK, and further developing our integrated risk and assurance reporting processes. We are also enhancing our controls and compliance programme to strengthen awareness of the standards we expect, the capabilities of our people, and to reinforce the importance of doing business in an ethical, disciplined and standardised way.

The new CEO and CFO of BT Italy will continue to review the Italian management and finance teams and work with BT Group Ethics and Compliance to improve the governance, compliance and financial safeguards. Going forward, we will also continue to rotate senior management among countries to ensure an independently governed and rigorously controlled organisation throughout all parts of Global Services.

 

Report on Directors’ Remuneration (extract 1 page 122)

Application of malus due to Italian issues: In January we published revised results for 2014/15 and 2015/16 after our investigations into accounting irregularities in our Italian business. The committee has recalculated the annual bonuses for the years in question and the outcome of vesting for the 2013 ISP to reflect the revised results. This clearly showed that the payouts based on the revised results would have been lower than those actually paid at the time.

The committee has therefore decided to exercise its discretion and apply the malus provisions in the Deferred Bonus Plan to reduce the number of shares under award, for the executive directors, plus the Operating Committee members who received payments under the bonus arrangements and/or the ISP, and for the company secretary. This action ensures the restitution of overpayments to these recipients and places them in the same position they would otherwise have been in had the awards been based on the revised results. Further details are shown on page 133.

The committee will keep under active review whether any additional employees’ awards should be adjusted. In addition, where employees have been dismissed or resigned as a result of our investigations into the issues in Italy, shares and incentives have been lapsed in full as a result.

Report on Directors’ Remuneration (extract 2 page 133)

Implementation of Remuneration Policy in 2017/18 (extract)

Clawback and malus

The clawback provisions introduced in 2015/16 will continue for annual bonus payments relating to the 2017/18 financial year, and for the ISP awards that are expected to be made in June 2017.

The annual bonus clawback will apply for one year following payment. The ISP clawback arrangements may be enforced by the committee in the two year period post-vesting of any awards.

In January 2017 we published revised results for 2014/15 and 2015/16 as a result of our investigations into improper accounting practices in BT’s Italian business. The committee has recalculated the annual bonuses for the years in question and the outcome of the 2013 ISP award vesting to reflect the revised results. This showed that the payouts based on the revised results would have been lower than those actually paid at the time.

The committee has therefore decided to exercise its discretion and apply the malus provisions in the Deferred Bonus Plan (DBP) to reduce the number of shares under award in recompense for payments and awards otherwise due under the annual bonus arrangements (for both cash and the deferred share element) and (where relevant) the ISP. These malus provisions will be applied in 2017/18 to previous awards made to the executive directors, plus the other Operating Committee members who received payments under the bonus arrangements and/or the ISP, and for the company secretary. This action ensures full restitution of the overpayments for the annual bonus (for the cash and the deferred share elements) and for the 2013 ISP award through the enforcement of the malus provisions in the DBP. This places the recipients in the same position they would otherwise have been in had the annual bonus and the ISP award been based on the revised results. The application of the malus provisions are calculated based on the share price at the original grant. For the cash element of the annual bonus, the calculation is based on the share price of the corresponding deferred share award.

The committee will keep under active review whether any additional employees’ awards should be adjusted. In addition, where employees have been dismissed or resigned due to the outcome of our investigations into the issues in Italy, shares and incentives have lapsed in full as a result.

The table below sets out the number of shares under the relevant DBP awards following the application of malus as explained above and as agreed by the committee. These shares will normally be transferred to participants at the end of the three-year deferred period if those participants are still employed by BT. Simon Lowth joined on 12 July 2016 and did not receive a bonus in 2016/17 for the 2015/16 financial year.

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a The value of the shares lapsed following the application of malus has been calculated using the are price at the time of grant.

b The grant price is calculated using the average middle market price of a BT share for the three days prior to grant.

 

 

 

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