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Risk Management and Control

1 Risk culture

Taking risks has always been inherent in any entrepreneurial activity. As a globally active company, the Würth Group is constantly exposed to risks that can arise both as a result of its own actions or failure to act and as a result of external actors. The conscious and systematic approach to addressing opportunities and risks is inextricably linked to the Würth Group’s entrepreneurial activities.

The decentralised structure of the Würth Group represents a great advantage, especially given that the individual countries in which Würth operates vary so greatly in their economic performance. However, as a result of the internationalisation of its business activities, the Würth Group is exposed to the political risks of each economic region. Due to restrictive legal standards applying to national and international transactions involving goods, services, payments, capital, technology, software and other types of intellectual property, compliance risks have also gained in importance. The Würth Group always seeks to comply with all regulations and administrative requirements for its business, both nationally and internationally. This applies when dealing with Würth’s clients and suppliers, employees, competitors, other business partners and public authorities.

Against this background, systematic risk management for achieving corporate goals has become of central importance. The Würth Group’s policy on risk and opportunities is aimed at meeting the medium-term financial objectives and at ensuring sustainable, long-term growth. To achieve this, the Würth Group has a system that identifies entrepreneurial opportunities and risks, assesses them using a standardised system, weighs them against each other and communicates them.

The Central Managing Board of the Würth Group holds overall responsibility for the Group-wide risk management process and defines the principles of the Würth Group’s risk policy and strategy. The Management of each Group company is responsible for establishing a functioning and efficient risk management system in its entity. They are supported by the Würth Group risk manager, who reports directly to the Central Managing Board and coordinates the risk management process at Würth Group level. The risk manager remains in close contact with the risk controller of the Advisory Board, who reports directly to the Chairwoman of the Würth Group.

The Würth Group actively promotes a strong risk culture, and the Central Managing Board or the responsible persons in the areas of compliance, controlling, information security, IT security and data protection regularly communicate the expectations of the risk culture. Employees are also encouraged to take responsibility for identifying and escalating risks and rejecting inappropriate measures. Internal control systems, instructions and training courses ensure that employees are informed about the current status of legislation and also support them in identifying and dealing with risks.

2 Risk governance framework

2.1 Governance

The Würth Group’s risk governance framework makes use of the three lines of defence model for a functioning control and monitoring system, in which three independent levels serve to manage corporate risks and ensure that risk and control processes function appropriately.

The first line of defence consists of all the functions associated with the implementation of day-to-day business. As the risk owners, they are responsible for identifying and analysing risks in the business processes, implementing appropriate controls on the management of the risks and testing their effectiveness. This first line of defence is intended to prevent or discover and correct at an early stage all risks that are inherent in the operational activities.

In contrast to the first line, the second line of defence primarily serves to control and monitor the first line of defence. It takes on various tasks in supervising and controlling operating risk management, ensuring that this works properly. Responsibility for the second line of defence is assigned to control functions such as compliance and controlling.

The third line of defence is the independent auditing body responsible for internal auditing. It carries out risk-oriented audits on behalf of the Supervisory Body and is independent of the first two lines of defence and the entity’s management team. This allows the third line of defence to understand the processes and risks at the first and second lines of defence and to objectively assess the internal control mechanisms.

2.2 Framework

Mutual trust, predictability, honesty and straightforwardness, directed both internally and externally, are fundamental principles that are deeply ingrained in Würth’s corporate culture and in the corporate philosophy. This does not just entail adhering to all applicable laws and inhouse regulations, but also means ensuring that employees maintain the proper mindset, which is key to the sustainable corporate success of the Würth Group. Extensive internal guidelines, known as the Policies and Procedures Manual, operationalise these fundamental principles in the form of descriptions of the structural and process organisation, as well as setting out specific rules and codes of conduct.

Using the Group-wide Würth Information System, an integral component of the internal control and risk management system of the Würth Group, all key performance indicators required to steer the Würth Group are presented in a timely manner and are available for further evaluation by the Central Managing Board and Executive Vice Presidents, based on standardised monthly reporting.

Würth’s Group-wide, system-based control mechanisms, such as validation and cross-checks, optimise the quality of the information used as a basis for decision-making. A Group-wide online record for the Würth Group entities’ financial statements is not only efficient, but also avoids carry-over errors, safeguards the uniform provision of information and includes numerous plausibility checks, without which the information cannot be forwarded. This platform also ensures that financial reporting changes are implemented in a uniform manner across the Würth Group. Data is protected against changes by using check digits and a system of IT access rights. Standard software is used for consolidation. Changes in the system settings are logged centrally. The monthly and annual financial statements of Würth Group companies are subject to regular automated assessment mechanisms, as are the consolidated financial statements. Moreover, Würth’s Policies and Procedures Manual contains internal procedural instructions.

Internal publications and training include detailed rules on financial reporting. Compliance with these rules is regularly reviewed by the central auditing department. External specialists are consulted to clarify the accounting implications of legal and tax issues. External actuaries calculate pension and similar obligations. Central and local training courses for those in charge of finance departments also ensure that all employees involved in the financial reporting process are up to date on the latest legislation and information of relevance to them.

Embedded in the Würth Group, Würth Finance International B.V. has access to the aforementioned Group-wide risk management system. It is exposed to a large number of risks that are directly linked with the divisional activities of its Inhouse Banking and External Financial Services divisions. The Group’s most important risk types are credit risks (including default risks), liquidity risks, market risks (including exchange rate, interest rate and securities price risks) and operational risks.

Most of the Würth Group’s financial risks are measured, monitored and controlled centrally by Würth Finance International B.V. It pursues a conservative risk policy as part of its risk-oriented company management. It refrains from transactions with imponderable risks and only enters into quantifiable risks within clearly defined limits. This principle forms the basis of the risk policy and provides guidelines for business decisions. The general goal is not to eliminate all risk, but to achieve a balanced relationship between risk and return.

Principles and methods for measuring financial risks, limits and permissible instruments for managing financial risks, and the design of an effective information and reporting system are set out in separate financial risk management regulations, and all financial transactions must comply with these. This framework contains a detailed list of the maximum risk exposure approved by the Board of Directors of Würth Finance International B.V. A core aspect of the framework is a system of defined, binding limits and permissible financial instruments.

The Würth Finance Group (WFG) maintains an internal control system. The self-imposed obligation to check certain processes, routines and functions at predetermined intervals and to monitor the elimination of identified sources of error allows the WFG to protect itself in advance against financial losses or liability risks. The internal control system is in place to ensure the correctness and reliability of accounting. It contains principles, procedures and measures to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of accounting. The main objective of the internal control system is to ensure that all business transactions are recorded, processed and documented correctly and in full, in accordance with statutory regulations and standards as well as other internal guidelines.  

The principles for handling operational risk are anchored in a comprehensive set of guidelines and procedures that define how employees should carry out their activities. The strategic objective of a balanced relationship between risk and return is always pursued, applying a cost/benefit analysis. Each business area takes responsibility for its operational and compliance risks and for having adequate procedures in place to manage those risks. Entities are supported by designated second line of defence operational risk and compliance teams that are responsible for independent risk oversight.

3 Financial risk and opportunities

Further information on the risks arising from financial instruments and their management can be found specifically in note 18 and in the notes to the separate financial report (see Downloads).

3.1 Credit risk

Credit risk is defined as the risk of a financial loss caused by a counterparty failing to meet its financial obligations or by a deterioration in the credit quality of the counterparty. In the event of a default, the WFG incurs a loss equal to the amount owed by the debtor, less any recoveries. The maximum credit risk corresponds to the value of all financial assets, contingent liabilities and unused irrevocably guaranteed lending commitments reported in the Financial Statements.

Given the nature of its core business activities, the WFG monitors the counterparty default risk for all its major riskrelated activities.

The WFG aims to minimise the credit risk and has defined its risk appetite in only entering business relationships with firstclass external counterparties. Binding counterparty limits are defined for each rating level, but the aim is to enter into business relationships only with banks with a Standard & Poor’s minimum rating of “BBB” (equivalent to a rating of “Baa” from Moody’s and “BBB” from Fitch). The creditworthiness of all the Würth Group’s banking relationships is controlled by daily monitoring of ratings and outlook changes. A rating downgrade leads to a reduction in the credit limits and to immediate reduction or closure and transfer of open transactions to other banks. During 2020 there were four rating downgrades which did not affect the open positions at the counterparties.

With all external counterparties for financial derivatives transactions, the WFG has concluded ISDA agreements, including a Credit Support Annex that ensures the periodic net present value cash settlement of the outstanding transactions. The counterparty risks relating to delcredere business are transferred in full to insurance companies.

Every Würth Group company is granted a credit limit by the Würth Group’s Central Managing Board. Würth Finance International B.V. monitors compliance with these limits on a monthly basis. In the event of a continuous credit limit breach, the Würth Group’s Central Managing Board is obliged to grant a new credit limit. Such credit limit breaches were repeated in 2020. The Central Managing Board subsequently adjusted the credit limits. Any credit risk relating to loans to individual Würth Group companies with negative equity as at the reporting date are secured by letters of comfort from the superordinate parent company.

3.2. Liquidity risk

The WFG defines liquidity risk as the risk of being unable to meet due payment obligations in full or on time. In addition, there is the risk that refinancing means cannot be procured or can only be procured at higher market rates (liquidity protection or refinancing risk).

In its function as the main financing company of the Würth Group, the WFG manages the liquidity risks on the basis of the Central Managing Board’s recorded strategic guidelines for action and optimises the financial result through the targeted exploitation of market opportunities.

The overriding goal of the Würth Group and the associated risk appetite is the ability to meet its payment obligations at all times, even in extraordinary situations.

The high international creditworthiness of the Würth Group (Standard & Poor’s has awarded its non-current liabilities an “A” rating) allows the WFG to raise funds in the international capital markets on favourable terms. To cover any liquidity needs that may arise even in extraordinary circumstances, the WFG also has credit lines granted by various banks. The annual financial requirements plan of the Würth Group serves as a basis for the size and the management of such liquidity reserves.

To measure, analyse, monitor and report on liquidity risk, the WFG prepares liquidity overviews on a daily basis and reports the liquidity and debt status of the whole Würth Group to the Würth Group Management on a monthly basis.

In the current reporting period under review all financial requirements were met.

3.3 Market risk

A large part of the WFG’s business activities is subject to market risk, defined as the possibility of changes in the fair values of the trading and investment positions. Risks may arise from changes in exchange rates, interest rates and securities prices.

One of the main objectives in dealing with market risks is to ensure that the risk corresponds with the approved risk appetite and is appropriate to the defined strategy.

Both on-balance-sheet and off-balance-sheet financial instruments are used to manage market price risks. Before concluding new transactions, compliance with the prescribed limits and the permissibility of derivative financial instruments must be checked. Compliance with the limits is monitored on a daily basis.

The defined limits were not exceeded in the current reporting period under review.

3.3.1 Exchange rate risk

By exchange rate risks, the WFG means the loss risk on the net assets resulting from exchange rate fluctuations between the transaction currency and the applicable functional currency.

Inhouse Banking’s business is exposed to exchange rate risk; the insurance brokerage business is only subject to translation risk from the conversion of business transactions in Swiss francs into the consolidation currency, which is the euro.

Individual limits are set for each currency or currency group to manage exchange rate risks. The limits are to be regarded as open net positions towards the balance sheet currency. The positions are valued and monitored on a daily basis.

In assessing exchange rate risks, the absolute amount of open foreign currency positions and changes in their earnings development are taken into account. For this purpose, all positions are valued on a daily basis at market rates (marked to market) and should not exceed the total amount of EUR 50 million.

In order to control the exposure to exchange rate risk, the WFG enters into FX spot transactions, forwards, cross-currency swaps and currency options with external counterparties.

The defined limits were not exceeded in the current reporting period under review.

3.3.2 Interest rate risk

Interest rate risk is the risk of loss arising from changes in interest rates in all currencies. Interest rate risk arises from balance sheet positions such as loans, financial assets at fair value, payables to related parties and banks, and derivatives, including those used for hedge accounting purposes. These positions may affect other comprehensive income or the income statement, depending on their accounting treatment. A significant proportion of the loans to Würth Group companies are refinanced by fixed-interest bonds with partially similar interest and maturity structures.

In order to hedge interest rate risks, the use of derivatives such as forward rate agreements, interest rate swaps, swaptions, caps/floors and cross-currency swaps is permitted in addition to any balance sheet structure measure. The limit for these derivative financial instruments is set at a notional amount of EUR 700 million, which was not breached in the current reporting period under review.

Interest rate risks are measured using gap and sensitivity analyses, key rate duration analyses and present value calculations.

The WFG’s appetite for interest rate risks is defined by the net present value sensitivity of all on-balance-sheet and off-balance-sheet exposures to adverse changes in interest rates by 100 basis points, expressed as a percentage of equity capital.

The defined limits set by the Board of Directors were not exceeded in the current reporting period under review.

3.3.3 Securities price risk

Securities price risk is the risk of financial loss resulting from changes in the price of (publicly traded) securities. To assess securities price risks, the absolute amount of the securities position and its earnings performance are considered. All positions are valued at market prices (marked to market).

The WFG pursues a conservative investment policy which allows investment in bonds and money market paper (investment and sub-investment grade) and shares on regulated stock exchanges and capital markets. In addition to a defined benchmark strategy with strategic equity exposure, securities price risk is countered through diversification of the investment portfolio. Limits per asset class have also been defined to limit securities price risk, including an automatic equity position reduction mechanism which is triggered at a negative YTD return of the equity portfolio of EUR 750 thousand, maximising the total negative return of the equity portfolio at EUR 6 million per financial year.

In the current reporting period under review this automatic position reduction mechanism was not activated.

4 Operational risk

Operational risk is the risk of losses resulting from inadequate or failed internal processes or systems, human error or external events.

4.1 Legal and compliance risk

By legal and compliance risk, the WFG means the risk of possible, unintentional non-compliance with laws, regulations or standards which could have a negative impact on the business and its business relationships and, in the worst case, could result in the imposition of payments for damages, fines, penalties or other forms of liability.

Meeting regulatory requirements is challenging for providers of financial and insurance services. Among other things, this entails rules on dealing with employees, with clients and business partners, with data and with authorities. It goes without saying that the WFG endeavours to observe and adhere to all rules and regulations applying to its business. It has the necessary critical mass and the organisational set-up to ensure effective and efficient compliance management and thus to meet the increasing regulatory requirements in the finance and insurance brokerage business. Due to the increasing legal complexity, the Würth Group has inhouse experts and consults renowned external consultants on a case-by-case basis.

Training and education within and outside the (Würth) Group are carried out regularly to promote awareness of legal and compliance risks among employees.

Furthermore, a Group-wide whistleblowing system exists that can be used not only by employees but also by clients, suppliers and other individuals to anonymously report suspicions of compliance breaches.

For tax compliance, the WFG is structured in the manner that it needs to comply with both Swiss and Dutch tax legislation and has embedded operating policies and procedures to ensure compliance with these tax legislations. The WFG complied with the Swiss and Dutch tax legislation during 2020.

4.2 Technological risk

As the Würth Group’s “payment factory”, the WFG handles large payment volumes, which rely on high-performance IT systems and networks. Consequently, the IT systems and IT security are continually enhanced and monitored via an information security management system. The WFG, in collaboration with cyber security experts, works to counter the constantly growing and evolving threat from attacks on information and communications technology. It does so by extending technical and organisational protection measures and by conducting awareness training for employees. In addition, the WFG has a business disaster recovery system. The ICT infrastructure is highly scalable, enabling additional business volumes to be dealt with cost-effectively and with a high level of processing quality.

4.3 Personal risk

The success of the WFG depends to a large extent on its employees and their know-how. Through their ideas and suggestions, the employees are deeply involved in particular activities and work processes and thus make a significant contribution every day to the WFG’s continued existence, ongoing improvement and innovations. Personnel risks will continue to influence the WFG in the coming years, as competition for highly qualified employees remains intense. Future success will depend, among other factors, on the extent to which the WFG succeeds in recruiting, integrating and retaining skilled employees in the long term.

Staff turnover is documented and analysed across all hierarchy levels. Regular employee surveys conducted by independent institutions and monthly monitoring of staff turnover are key tools that allow the WFG to identify unfavourable developments, analyse their impact on staff recruitment and combat these effects using targeted measures.

The bottleneck risk arising from current demographic trends, among other considerations, can be countered by attractive employment conditions, a modern and competitive working environment and training tailored to individual roles. Employee training can be internal or external. One focus of personnel management is the targeted continuing professional development and training of employees. Up-and-coming management talents attend courses to prepare them for various levels of management within the Group, via the MC Würth, High Potential and Top Potential training programmes. These programmes give employees targeted training that is tailored to suit their particular ambitions and skills, to prepare them for further management duties within the Group. Independently of the inhouse training programmes, both the Würth Group and the WFG itself support any employee training as promoting lifelong learning.

5 Sustainability

5.1 Foundation

Sustainability is becoming increasingly relevant to society. This is leading to a heightened awareness for concerns such as climate change, social injustice and corporate misconduct. As a result, the market environment is changing rapidly across all industries. In addition, the inclusion of sustainability criteria in decision-making by investors and by banks granting loans has led to an expansion and tightening of the associated requirements for corporate governance and risk management at companies.

Thus, sustainability risks, also known as environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks, also influence the level of capital costs and insurance costs as well as the creditworthiness of the Würth Group and its business partners. This challenge is being met through active sustainability management at strategic and operational level and the expansion of associated reporting, including at the WFG.

Sustainability risks relate to the potential impact that a company, its stakeholders and the environment or society can have on each other. They are based on a triangular relationship where each nodal point acts in both directions. ESG risks can have a positive or negative impact on a company’s assets, business models and reputation. They have a complex cause-and-effect relationship with the risk framework and all other risk factors. Considering sustainability risks therefore requires their systematic integration along the three lines of defence in the company’s risk framework. The basis for this is reliable and transparent information.

To ensure this transparency, the Würth Group has undertaken to publish a Group-wide consolidated sustainability report for the first time in 2022. This will be based on the guidelines and standards of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) with a view to recording the diverse social, economic and environmental activities of the Würth Group. Derived from this and based on consistent data and metrics, the WFG also intends to establish its own sustainability reporting. The aim is to create a system that makes the progress achieved with regard to sustainability-oriented corporate governance transparent and comparable.

The WFG also sees opportunities to take greater account of sustainability aspects in the design of its own products and services. The WFG has identified initial starting points and will specify them in coordination with the Würth Group’s sustainability strategy.

5.2 Environmental protection and climate change

Environmental risks arise from the effects of climate change and efforts to mitigate or contain it. They are divided into two categories: Physical risks include the direct impact of weather and climate changes on the economy. Transition risks result from the societal changes brought about by the shift to a carbon- neutral economy.

The WFG intends to support an environmentally friendly corporate governance of the Würth Group and its business partners. That includes promoting and funding projects that help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment. The first step in this direction is the disclosure and reporting of quantitative metrics on the current situation and the creation of incentives for positive sustainability development. To this end, metrics have been put in place in line with the standards of the GRI and initial data collected. At the same time, the work of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) will be kept under review and the latest developments in IFRS standards will be followed. The WFG sees the integration of environmental and climate goals into the design of financial and insurance solutions as an opportunity and is examining appropriate adjustments.

5.3 Social responsibility

In the context of ESG, social risks relate to the consequences of a company’s failure to meet its social responsibilities in its role as an employer, customer, service provider and stakeholder in society. For the Würth Group and the WFG, it has always been self-evident that they need to behave in a socially responsible manner towards all stakeholders and to give high priority to the relevant values when designing and developing the company’s social architecture.

With regard to employees, the WFG’s commitment is not limited to health and safety. It wishes to support its employees in their activities and work experience. The WFG strives to attract and foster a broad range of talented employees at all levels of the company; it is eager to promote workforce diversity and regards a fair remuneration system as a selfevident requirement.

Based on the values of the Würth Group, the WFG supports local social projects and organisations in the Netherlands and Switzerland. These are often linked to volunteering work by employees, for example as part of Special Olympics, an organisation that provides training and competition in sports for people with intellectual disabilities, or with NLdoet, the largest volunteering scheme in the Netherlands.

5.4 Governance

The third element in ESG relates to the factors of good corporate governance. The guiding principles in this area are accountability, fairness, transparency and responsibility. It must be taken into account that the specific institutional and cultural context significantly influences the way a company is set up and monitored.

The WFG has suitable and effective structures, management and decision-making systems, procedures and processes as well as competent staffing of management and supervisory bodies, as important elements in ensuring good corporate governance. This is complemented by a solid financial position, a comprehensive and effective risk control system and performance- related remuneration structures.

The WFG’s corporate governance is geared towards complying with the relevant legal and regulatory requirements, avoiding infringements wherever possible and thus protecting the company’s good reputation. An institutionalised whistleblowing system helps in the identification and reporting of any infringements. The WFG works closely with the authorities in the clarification of conduct that does not comply with the law and standards.

The decentralised structure of the Würth Group and short decision-making paths enable the WFG to respond quickly to changes with regard to the shaping of corporate governance and thus support long-term, sustainable growth.

6 COVID-19

A sustainable containment of the COVID-19 pandemic has not yet been achieved. Global health systems are overburdened and there is a continuing need for far-reaching protective measures that severely restrict people’s freedom. These measures will continue to place a heavy burden on the global economy in the coming quarters. The restrictions only can be lifted and an economic recovery can be expected, when the majority of the population has been vaccinated against the virus. In view of the existence of pent-up demand in various sectors, this may well turn out to be a very dynamic recovery.

Until then, there may be effects on operations and on the WFG’s consolidated Financial Statements that will not be recorded until the subsequent reporting period. These may, for example, relate to the valuation of current and non-current receivables from related parties, securities and other assets. Weak investment markets, a fall in premium income in insurance brokerage, declining payment volumes in the Payment Factory department and a potential increase in lending volumes will have direct and partially offsetting effects on revenue and thus on the operating result, possibly in the double-digit percentage range.

In view of the existing uncertainties regarding income, the WFG’s Management has various packages of measures that can be implemented depending on developments. These include postponing or cancelling discretionary spending, limiting non-essential capital expenditure, imposing short-time working and a hiring freeze. The financial position of the WFG and the Würth Group is good. The company has sufficiently high liquidity reserves to meet its financial obligations in the coming months and can raise new funds on the capital market if necessary thanks to its high credit rating.

The WFG’s Management has concluded that there are no material uncertainties that might cast significant doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.

Basic principals of our risk management system

  • The Management bears the responsibility for all risks incurred as a result of the company’s business activities and seeks to achieve a healthy balance between risk and returns.

  • An independent control process forms an integral part of the corporate structure.

  • Employees are familiar with and alert to the principal risks specific to their area of activity. A central element of risk control is the comprehensive, transparent and objective disclosure of risks to the Group and company management, owners, supervisory authorities and other stakeholders.

  • Revenue is protected on the basis of risk tolerance – i.e. the maximum risk that the Würth Finance Group can bear given its financial and earning power.

  • Ultimately, the Würth Finance Group’s reputation depends on effective risk management and control.