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Nexia Ebner Stolz


Compliance – Hot Topics for SMEs

Companies have to cope with more stringent regulations. This applies equally to large corporations and to SMEs. The topic of compliance has also long since reached SMEs, as shown in the first part of our study "Compliance – Handlungsoptionen im Mittelstand" published in the autumn of 2016.

But what are the cur­rent hot topics in com­p­li­ance for SMEs? That is pre­ci­sely the sub­ject of the second part of our recently pub­lis­hed study "Com­p­li­ance - Brenn­punkte im Mit­tel­stand", which we again pub­lis­hed in con­junc­tion with the Insti­tut der Frank­fur­ter All­ge­meine Zei­tung (F. A. Z.-Insti­tut).

Compliance – Hot Topics for SMEs© Thinkstock

One in five com­pa­nies has been invol­ved in com­p­li­ance vio­la­ti­ons over the past two years. The con­s­i­de­ra­ble amo­unts of dama­ges are sobe­ring. Accor­ding to the empi­ri­cal sur­vey con­duc­ted in the first part of the study, which invol­ved 447 deci­sion-makers from large and medium-sized enter­pri­ses, 42% of the com­pa­nies invol­ved suf­fe­red damage of more than EUR 100,000, and almost half of them suf­fe­red damage of more than EUR 50,000 as a result of com­p­li­ance vio­la­ti­ons.

99% of the large com­pa­nies sur­veyed and 80% of medium-sized com­pa­nies iden­ti­fied com­p­li­ance risks as essen­tial. IT secu­rity and data pro­tec­tion remain among the top ten com­p­li­ance risks (94% and 95% respec­ti­vely). The com­p­li­ance risks iden­ti­fied in this area are being spur­red on by the Basic Data Pro­tec­tion Ordi­nance, which will go into force on 25 May 2018.

Con­s­i­de­ra­ble risk poten­tial is also attri­bu­ted to tax law: In the autumn of 2016, 82% of the com­pa­nies sur­veyed iden­ti­fied tax law as an important area of com­p­li­ance action; and the figure has now risen to 85% - the grea­test risks are still seen in the area of trans­fer pri­cing and value added tax. In parti­cu­lar, since the BMF's report of 23 May 2016 on Sec­tion 153 of the Ger­man Tax Code, com­pa­nies need to take imme­diate action. In that report, the tax aut­ho­ri­ties state that an inter­nal tax con­trol sys­tem can exo­ne­rate com­pa­nies from an accu­sa­tion of neg­li­gent tax eva­sion in indi­vi­dual cases.

And the pres­sure to act con­ti­nues to inc­rease, espe­cially in the inter­na­tio­nal arena: regis­te­red com­pa­nies can enjoy pro­ce­du­ral advan­ta­ges in connec­tion with the reform of the VAT Direc­tive if they have imp­le­men­ted a sys­tem. In addi­tion, with effect from 30 Sep­tem­ber 2017, a new Cri­mi­nal Finan­ces Act 2017 has ente­red into force in the Uni­ted King­dom, which can also have a sig­ni­fi­cant impact on Ger­man com­pa­nies. This impact can only be avo­i­ded if pre­ven­tive mea­su­res are imp­le­men­ted that essen­tially cor­res­pond to the basic ele­ments of a com­p­li­ance mana­ge­ment sys­tem in accor­dance with the spe­ci­fi­ca­ti­ons of the Ger­man Insti­tute of Pub­lic Acco­un­t­ants (IDW PS 980).

More than half of the large com­pa­nies already have a tax com­p­li­ance mana­ge­ment sys­tem in place; howe­ver, there is an urgent need to catch up in medium-sized com­pa­nies: only 6% have already imp­le­men­ted one. Howe­ver, once com­pa­nies have loo­ked into the mat­ter, the study shows that the urgency to take appro­priate com­p­li­ance mea­su­res is then recog­ni­zed. In practice, Ebner Stolz can assist affec­ted com­pa­nies with a spe­cially deve­lo­ped tax com­p­li­ance tool to iden­tify, weight and mini­mize risks in the tax area.

It is rather rare for SMEs to have their own com­p­li­ance depart­ments. Only 45% of the com­pa­nies sur­veyed in this seg­ment have one. As a result, SMEs gene­rally lag sig­ni­fi­cantly behind in the imp­le­men­ta­tion of com­p­li­ance mea­su­res. While around 91% of large com­pa­nies have already intro­du­ced com­p­li­ance gui­de­li­nes, only 66% of small and medium-sized com­pa­nies have a set of regu­la­ti­ons in place. 73% of the large com­pa­nies have intro­du­ced an enter­prise-wide com­p­li­ance mana­ge­ment sys­tem, com­pa­red with only 27% in the SME seg­ment. Small and medium-sized com­pa­nies often lack only one small step: often there are already effec­tive struc­tu­res on a small scale that can only be adap­ted, inte­g­ra­ted or upda­ted. More­o­ver, a com­pre­hen­sive com­p­li­ance mana­ge­ment sys­tem is not neces­sa­rily requi­red for every SME; appro­priate struc­tu­res in depart­ments with high risk poten­tial, such as the tax depart­ment or pro­cu­re­ment, may suf­fice.


Com­p­li­ance pre­cau­ti­ons not only help to mini­mize risks; they also pro­vide effi­ci­ency advan­ta­ges in com­pa­nies - and help them to build a bet­ter repu­ta­tion.

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