integrated analytics
ComplianceFinanceTax & AccountingNovember 04, 2021

Maus Frères & TeamMate+ Audit with Integrated Analytics

How TeamMate+ and Integrated Analytics Helps Maus Frères Fulfill Their Mission

Maus Frères is a company with a long history in the retail sector, focusing on quality products, client comfort and satisfaction, and always looking forward. Internal audit is no exception, explains Frédéric Cottens who heads the small internal audit team.

Trend spotters

Fashion has to move fast to stay ahead of trends, so it is no surprise that the small internal audit team at retail group Maus Frères constantly strives to develop its service to keep up with the pace of change in the business and its global environment. The group, which includes international brands such as Lacoste, Gant, Aigle and The Kooples, as well as supermarkets, restaurants and department stores, is run by descendants of those who founded it in 1902. However, its systems and processes are very much 21st century.

“I inherited a small, but nimble team that used an in-house internal audit tool,” explains Frédéric Cottens, who joined the team in 2015 and has led it since 2018. It was a forward-thinking function and already employed a data scientist in addition to Cottens and four internal auditors. The team is quite closely aligned with their business colleagues and was aware that their legacy tools would not allow them to keep pace with the needs of a global organization.

“The system worked well for a long time, but lacked agility,” Cottens explains. “We had the challenge of keeping up with a rapidly changing business and our auditees’ expectations, as well as the increasing speed with which internal audit practice is evolving, with a tool that functioned, but was static. It also didn’t support communication with auditees, so much of this was done by email, which made extra work for both sides.”

The need for speed

Cottens realised that they would struggle to meet this challenge with their existing tool. “Our business is agile in its mindset and in the way it reacts quickly and effectively to emerging issues,” he says. “Our team is open, responsive and flexible, but the tool we were using didn’t optimise this responsive attitude or our desire to change, to adopt new ways and to meet emerging risks. So, the team was ready, but we didn’t have a tool that enabled us to move on to the next level.”

In particular, he needed to find a solution that would facilitate communication from planning and risk assessment down to gathering audit intelligence and reporting and following up actions. After conducting an annual risk assessment and planning process, Cottens revises this plan continuously in response to emerging needs, so he is in regular contact with senior management and constantly monitors shifting risks. This requires close personal relationships with the management.

“It’s vitally important to know senior management’s view of the business and the risks they are concerned about as well as the ones that we think are important,” Cottens says. “They are the ones actually working out there and their perception of risks and the business environment is crucial for us.”

When organisations around the world locked down in response to Covid-19, Cottens seized this opportunity. He asked the team’s newest recruit, who was experienced with IT, to research the internal audit solutions available and draw up a list, so that he could review the options and establish his requirements.

One of the most important issues was that the new system had to be scalable: it needed to work across multinational, disparate brands with different IT systems in multiple jurisdictions, however it also had to be operated easily by a small team with limited resources and without specialist IT experience. This narrowed the field.

Cottens considered eight solutions that ranged from packages devised for small internal audit teams to those providing fully automated systems for global conglomerates. “I found that many large solutions couldn’t be implemented across all our group entities because we used a variety of IT systems, while the smallest tools were not suitable to support a large organization,” he says.

Once the team identified TeamMate+ as their preferred option, he had to create a business case. “I could see that it had the capabilities we needed but could be set up with minimal input and was highly scalable. This was essential, because we had our normal jobs to do, and the implementation could not impose too heavy a burden on a small team.”

Rapid response

The team began work on the implementation in December 2020 and went live in January 2021. Cottens says it went well and adds that when he had queries or snags their contact at Wolters Kluwer TeamMate went out of their way to sort issues out quickly and find answers.

“I appreciated that we could have frank conversations after the initial implementation about what didn’t quite work for us in practice and we got help and could discuss ways to improve how the system works in future,” he says.

The basic implementation was straightforward, and it was easy to scale down to the initial needs of our team so that we could become confident before developing the way we use it further.
Frédéric Cottens, Head of Internal Audit at Maus Frères

The initial configuration was carried out in workshops with a consultant. Cottens and a colleague then tested it to see how it worked in practice and found they could easily configure the settings when they discovered an element that didn’t apply to their practices.

“After the consultant set it up, we made our own refinements. It didn’t feel ‘heavy’ or overwhelming and we don’t have layers of management to consult, so we could agree and adapt it quickly,” Cottens says. “A few months on, we still have a few queries, but not many, and the team really appreciates the new system.”

The auditors have found it easy to use, even though the implementation took place at a busy time of year and was interrupted by Christmas holidays. In addition, the fact that the system is hosted on the cloud means they no longer have issues synchronising data from different users, which Cottens says was a problem in the past.

Clear view

The system now has over 200 business users across the group and Cottens says that it has been well adopted and very few needed support. “In the past, managers never saw our system, but now they see what we see on the screen. It’s increased transparency and improved our communications with stakeholders who can view their reports and recommendations – we no longer rely on auditees to manage their own actions or track their progress,” he says. “It’s early but I believe this visibility will increase accountability and ownership of issues.”

Data driven

When adopting TeamMate+, Cottens also took on TeamMate Analytics. His team already employs a data scientist to analyse complex data and support specific audits, but he believes that analytics can be a powerful aid to all auditors to help them build a richer picture.

“My aim is to go in the direction of continuous auditing – we’re not there yet, but we are starting,” he says. “In the past, internal audit data analytics sometimes meant huge amounts of work for limited output.”

TeamMate Analytics is easy to use because you have pre-defined controls, so you can prepare the programme you intend to do and send out a request for the data you need. Once you get it, it’s easy to do.
Frédéric Cottens, Head of Internal Audit at Maus Frères

“I then use Expert Analyzer for running checks on the TeamMate system. I export closed findings and closed recommendations and then I create a workflow in Expert Analyzer. When I started doing this it took me 15-30 minutes, but now I just click and it takes 30 seconds.”

He adds that he was pleased to see that Wolters Kluwer TeamMate plans to develop the analytics capabilities and he is keen to see what he will be able to do with this tool as it evolves. “It’s still quite basic at the moment, but the good ease of use means that I think it will help to motivate internal auditors to work more with data and then we can scale it up.”

Guardians of repute

Another element that he may explore in future is combined assurance using TeamMate Controls. Maus Frères is a private company and does not fall under the stringent regulations common in sectors such as financial services, so in the past this has not been a huge concern. This, Cottens believes, is changing. Not only are the regulations governing areas such as anti-money-laundering policies and corporate social responsibility (in particular, the environment) developing rapidly, but reputational risk is becoming a serious concern for customers and employees.

There is increasing awareness in savvy consumer brands that customers wish to do business with socially responsible brands. Reputational risk is a real concern in retail and consumer brands and social responsibility is an issue for employees, as well as for consumers – internal audit, like other functions, competes to attract and retain the best talent.

Cottens, therefore, sees the benefits of a combined assurance programme that includes the controls group and will help to ensure that business practices continue to be aligned with stated corporate aims of being socially, environmentally and fiscally responsible.

Maus Frères has a global network of businesses with strong market connections based on quality, customer satisfaction and a keen eye on the future. Their internal audit department has found a partner in Wolters Kluwer TeamMate which can help them to deliver the insight and foresight they need to continue that successful model. 

“These risks will become critical in future and my colleagues in the business are working to standardise processes and controls, so one day they will need a tool to manage these,” he says. “When they do, I need to know what TeamMate Controls can do and to discuss this with them, because it’s generally simpler to use the same tool if you want them to work well together.”

The fashion buyers are clearly not the only people at Maus Frères tracking emerging trends. Cottens points out that internal auditors need to demonstrate their value as a partner to the business and this involves thinking about solutions and offering pragmatic support as much as pointing out risks and weaknesses.

“It’s important that the process of internal audit builds, rather than kills, the relationship with the business,” he says. At Maus Frères, the new internal audit system is supporting this relationship with better communication tools and easier access to insights, but Cottens has already set his sights on where he can take it next.

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