Marks & Spencer chief financial officer Helen Weir told the Financial Times last week she was shocked after discovering that a spreadsheet summing error forced the retailer to issue a correction to its quarterly trading statement.
The original statement issued at 7am reported group sales had grown 1.3%. But at 1:31pm a correction was released showing that group sales had in fact fallen 0.4%.
Only the percentages were reported in the two statements, not actual sales figures.
The reporting mishap added to the company’s gloom as like-for-like sales declined 8.9% on the previous quarter. Chief executive Steve Rowe pointed to weakening consumer confidence in the run up to the EU referendum and its immediate aftermath.
Weir put the mistake down to double-counting in a spreadsheet used to compile the quarterly statement. One of her colleagues started to question the accuracy of the original figure during a conversation with an analyst and as soon as the error was diagnosed, M&S issued the correction.
The company would not go into further detail about the circumstances leading up to the correction. "It was a clerical error," an M&S spokesman said. "The important thing was that we spotted it and corrected it immediately."
The company confirmed that it was reviewing its reporting procedures in light of the mistake, but that it was too soon to report any conclusions from either the company or its auditor, Deloitte.
It’s not the first time a spreadsheet error has embarrassed a listed UK company. SuperGroup experienced a similar issue in 2012 and in the previous year Mouchel was struck by an £8.6m error attributed to a miscalculation in an actuary’s spreadsheet.
These kinds of bungles are less prevalent in the US, where auditors have targeted spreadsheet-based reporting systems as major risks for listed companies subject to the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.