FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

September 12, 2014

The FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report

If you have not done so, I hope that you might go over to my podcast site, the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report,  to check out some of my recent podcasts. The episodes are between 20-30 minutes long and they are available for download on iTunes so you can listen to them on your commute to work or when working out at the gym.

Internal Controls

I have begun a series on internal controls in a best practices FCPA compliance program with noted internal controls expert Henry Mixon. In Parts I & II, Mixon and I discuss the basics of what are internal controls. These podcasts supplement some of my recent blogs on internal controls.

Episode 85-What Are Internal Controls, Part I

Episode 87-What Are Internal Controls, Part II

HR and Compliance

One of the best allies for the compliance function in any company is the Human Resources department. I explore how HR can assist compliance in a myriad of components of any best practices compliance program.

Episode 86-Use of HR in a Compliance Program

Continuous Improvement of a Compliance Program

In the FCPA Guidance and in almost every speech I have heard by a Department of Justice official, they talk about how your compliance program should evolve to meet new compliance risks, changes in best practices, geographic markets where your company does business and new product/service offerings. You can do this by continuous improvement of your compliance program.

Episode 84-Continuous Improvement of Your Compliance Program

The Compliance EcoSystem

Jon Rydberg is the Founder and CEO of Orchid Advisors. He is also the former CCO of Smith & Wesson and was at the company when it navigated it way through a FCPA investigation and enforcement proceeding. From these experiences, Rydberg has developed a holistic approach to compliance which he has trademarked as the “Compliance EcoSystem”. I explore his ideas on an fully integrated approach to compliance

Episode 83-Interview with Jon Rydberg

Use of Interviews in Your Compliance Program

Brian Ching is the most famous player in the history of the Houston Dynamos soccer club. Ching recently retired and moved into the front office as the General Manager of the Houston Dash, the Houston professional women’s soccer club. I interviewed Ching on his transition to management and how the Dash use the face-to-face interview process to not only assess the non-soccer skills that the team requires of its players but also to communicate the team’s expectations. There are some very significant insights about how a company can communicate its expectations regarding ethical business practices.

Episode 79-Interview with Brian Ching

The FCPA Professor

Finally and last but certainly not least, I bring back the FCPA Professor for a two-part podcast on his new book The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act In a New Era.

Episode 80, Interview with the FCPA Professor, Part I

Episode 81-Interview with the FCPA Professor, Part II

A good weekend to all.

September 8, 2014

Board of Directors and FCPA Oversight – An Internal Control Under SOX, Part II

Circle DiagramIn Part I of this two-part post regarding a Board of Director’s Role in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) oversight from the internal controls perspective, I reviewed how a Board might have independent liability for its failure to act as an appropriate internal control as required by Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX). Today I will review what internal controls are and what a Board’s role is within the context of internal controls.

Beginning on Tuesday, in conjunction with this two-part blog, my colleague Henry Mixon, Principal of Mixon Consulting, and myself are recording a podcast series on internal controls, which can be found on FCPA Compliance and Ethics Report. We are discussing the following areas: what are internal controls; how a company might use them and how they can be implemented? In the first of the podcast series I asked Mixon what are internal controls? He began with the textbook definition, which he said was “Internal controls are systematic measures (such as reviews, checks and balances, methods and procedures) instituted by an organization to:

  • conduct its business in an orderly and efficient manner,
  • safeguard its assets and resources,
  • deter and detect errors, fraud, and theft,
  • ensure accuracy and completeness of its accounting data,
  • produce reliable and timely financial and management information, and
  • Ensure adherence to its policies and plans.

Mixon noted that internal controls should be instituted entity wide, not simply limited to those functions used or reviewed by accountants and auditors. For an anti-corruption compliance regime such as the FCPA or UK Bribery Act, internal controls are measures to provide reasonable assurances that any assets or resources of a company (not limited to cash) cannot be used to pay a bribe. This definition includes diversion of company assets (such as by unauthorized sales discounts or receivables write-offs) as well as the distribution of assets.

Mixon noted that the basic framework for internal controls is derived from the COSO Model developed by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission in 1992 (COSO). This model has become the standard for an internal control framework and provides a structure to ensure companies address the key elements that should result in an effective system of internal controls. Using the COSO Model, as modified in 2013, provides a very supportable approach when adversarial third parties challenge whether a company has effective internal controls. The COSO Model defines internal controls in a pyramid, from bottom to top, as follows: (a) Control environment, (b) Risk assessment, (c) Control activities, (d) Information and communication, and (e) Monitoring.

In the 2013 update the basic framework was retained with substantial support from user companies, and 3 specific objectives were added: (I) Operations Objectives – effectiveness and efficiency of operations, including safeguarding assets against loss; (II) Reporting objectives – internal and external financial reporting; and (III) Compliance objectives – adherence to laws and regulations to which the entity is subject. According to the guidance in the 2013 update, the system of internal controls can be considered effective only if it provides reasonable assurance the organization, among other things, complies with applicable laws, rules, regulations and external standards. With the addition of those specific objectives, the COSO framework now specifically includes the need for controls to address compliance with laws and regulations.

We then turned to the question of which internal controls does a company need to institute? Mixon said that each company defines its internal controls to fit its business by determining what the Company wishes to protect and what type of control environment does it want to have in place. This means that they can be less formal in smaller companies but still effective if the focus is on the right risks. Based upon FCPA guidance, the most common control needs have been identified as follows: (i) Dealings with third parties; (ii) Gifts and entertainment, and (iii) Charitable donations. Yet even within those categories, a wide range of risks exists, depending on a company’s business practices. Mixon emphasized that a Top Down ‘Check-the-box’ generic set of policies will not likely result in effective controls.

The process to determine which internal controls are needed will be of some familiarity to the compliance professional. It all starts with a risk assessment to establish the corporate policies which are applicable, tailored to the company, and sufficiently specific. The risk assessment will also help to identify the types of transactions across the company which should be addressed (gifts and entertainment, maintenance of bank accounts and movement of cash, dealings with third parties, etc.). The next step is to prepare a set of documents which define the control objectives to be in place for each type of transaction – example: “Controls will be in place to ensure no vendor has been added to the vendor master file until complete due diligence has been completed and the vendor has been approved in accordance with Corporate policies. Thereafter, you will need to document how the controls will be performed and how they will be evidenced and then incorporate the control procedures into applicable work instructions and job descriptions.” Mixon cautioned that for each business location, determine the specific controls needed to accomplish each control objective. In many companies, a disparity of operating practices and accounting systems will result in different controls being needed. He ended by emphasizing that while this assignment may seem overwhelming it can be done in reasonable stages, pursuant to a specific implementation plan – it does not have to be done all at once for the entire company.

As you will recall from Part I, I believe, as gleaned from Jim Doty’s remarks, that a Board must not only have a corporate compliance program in place it must also actively oversee that function. This led me to conclude that failure to perform these functions may lead to independent liability of a Board for its failure to perform its allotted tasks in an effective compliance program. Doty’s remarks drove home one of the roles that a Board performs, which fulfills those tasks. Internal controls work together with compliance policies and procedures as stated by Aaron Murphy, a partner at Akin Gump, in his book “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”, as “an interrelated set of compliance mechanisms.” Murphy went on to say that, “Internal controls are policies, procedures, monitoring and training that are designed to ensure that company assets are used properly, with proper approval and that transactions are properly recorded in the books and records. While it is theoretically possible to have good controls but bad books and records (and vice versa), the two generally go hand in hand – where there are record-keeping violations, an internal controls failure is almost presumed because the records would have been accurate had the controls been adequate.”

Murphy breaks down internal controls into five concepts, which I have adapted for a Board or Board subcommittee role for compliance:

  1. Corporate Compliance Policy and Code of Conduct – A Board should have an overall governance document which will inform the company, its employees, stakeholders and third parties of the conduct the company expects from an employee. If the company is global/multi-national, this document should be translated into the relevant languages as appropriate.
  2. Risk Assessment – A Board should assess the compliance risks associated with its business.
  3. Implementing Procedures – A Board should determine if the company has a written set of procedures in place that instructs employees on the details of how to comply with the company’s compliance policy.
  4. Training – There are two levels of Board training. The first should be that the Board has a general understanding of what the FCPA is and it should also understand its role in an effective compliance program.
  5. Monitor Compliance – A Board should independently test, assess and audit to determine if its compliance policies and procedures are a ‘living and breathing program’ and not just a paper tiger.

There have been several FCPA enforcement actions where the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) discuss the failure of internal controls as a basis for FCPA liability. The Smith & Wesson enforcement action is but the latest. With the questions about the Walmart Board of Directors and their failure to act in the face of allegations of bribery and corruption in the company’s Mexico subsidiary, or contrasting failing to even be aware of the allegations; there may soon be an independent basis for an FCPA violation for a Board’s failure to perform its internal controls function in a best practices compliance program.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

September 5, 2014

Board of Directors and FCPA Oversight – An Internal Control Under SOX, Part I

Sam HoustonToday we begin by honoring the political process and a politician extraordinaire for on this day in 1836, Sam Houston was elected as the first President of the Republic of Texas. One of the most interesting characters from the early-to-mid-19th century, Houston was born in Virginia in 1793, moved with his family to rural Tennessee as a teenager and later ran away and lived for several years with the Cherokee tribe. Houston served in the War of 1812. He practiced law in Nashville and from 1823 to 1827 served as a US congressman before being elected governor of Tennessee in 1827. He was extensively interviewed for Alex De Tocqueville’s seminal work Democracy in America.

A failed marriage led Houston to resign from office and live again with the Cherokee who officially adopted him. In 1832, President Andrew Jackson sent him to Texas to negotiate treaties with local Native Americans for protection of border traders. Houston arrived in Texas during a time of rising tensions between US settlers and Mexican authorities and soon emerged as a leader among the settlers. In 1835, Texans formed a provisional government, which issued a declaration of independence from Mexico the following year. Houston was appointed military commander of the Texas army.

Houston served as the Republic of Texas President until 1838, then again from 1841 to 1844. Houston helped Texas win admission to the United States in 1845 and was elected as one of the state’s first two senators. He served three terms in the Senate and ran successfully for Texas’ governorship in 1859. As the Civil War loomed, Houston argued unsuccessfully against secession, and was deposed from office in March 1861 after refusing to swear allegiance to the Confederacy. He died of pneumonia in 1863.

This political process angle informs your anti-corruption compliance program through the passage of Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX). Yesterday, I was at a presentation, where James Doty, Commissioner of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) spoke. One of the questions was put to him was regarding the function of a Board of Directors under SOX, which I thought had some significant implications for Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance. He was asked if the Board or its sub-committee which handles audits was a part of a company’s internal financial controls. He answered that yes, he believed that was one of the roles of an Audit Committee or full Board. I had never thought of the Board as an internal control but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was an important insight for any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner.

In the FCPA Guidance, in the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program, there are two specific references to the obligations of a Board. The first in Hallmark No. 1 , which states, “Within a business organization, compliance begins with the board of directors and senior executives setting the proper tone for the rest of the company.” The second is found under Hallmark No. 3, entitled “Oversight, Autonomy and Resources”, where it discusses that the CCO should have “direct access to an organization’s governing authority, such as the board of directors and committees of the board of directors (e.g., the audit committee).” Further, under the US Sentencing Guidelines, the Board must exercise reasonable oversight on the effectiveness of a company’s compliance program. The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Prosecution Standards posed the following queries: (1) Do the Directors exercise independent review of a company’s compliance program? and (2) Are Directors provided information sufficient to enable the exercise of independent judgment? Doty’s remarks drove home to me the absolute requirement for Board participation in any best practices or even effective anti-corruption compliance program.

Board liability for its failure to perform its assigned function in any compliance program is well known. David Stuart, an attorney with Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP, noted that FCPA compliance issues can lead to personal liability for directors, as both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and DOJ have been “very vocal about their interest in identifying the highest-level individuals within the organization who are responsible for the tone, culture, or weak internal controls that may contribute to, or at least fail to prevent, bribery and corruption”. He added that based upon the SEC’s enforcement action against two senior executives at Nature’s Sunshine Products, “Under certain circumstances, I could see the SEC invoking the same provisions against audit committee members—for instance, for failing to oversee implementation of a compliance program to mitigate risk of bribery”. It would not be too far a next step for the SEC to invoke the same provisions against audit committee members who do not actively exercise oversight of an ongoing compliance program.

Further, the SEC has made clear that it believes a Board should take a more active role in overseeing the management of risk within a company. The SEC has promulgated Regulation SK 407 under which each company must make a disclosure regarding the Board’s role in risk oversight which “may enable investors to better evaluate whether the board is exercising appropriate oversight of risk.” If this disclosure is not made, it could be a securities law violation and subject the company, which fails to make it, to fines, penalties or profit disgorgement.

I believe that a Board must not only have a corporate compliance program in place but actively oversee that function. Further, if a company’s business plan includes a high-risk proposition, there should be additional oversight. In other words, there is an affirmative duty to ask the tough questions. But it is more than simply having a compliance program in place. The Board must exercise appropriate oversight of the compliance program and indeed the compliance function. The Board needs to ask the hard questions and be fully informed of the company’s overall compliance strategy going forward.

Lawyers often speak to and advise Boards on their legal obligations and duties. However the insight I received from the Q&A with James Doty drove home a different, yet very valuable point to me. If a Board’s oversight is part of effective financial controls, then the failure to do so may result in something far worse than bad governance. It may directly lead to a FCPA violation and could even form the basis of an independent FCPA violation.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

September 3, 2014

Language as a Long Term Compliance Strategy

LangaugeI constantly rely on Jay Rosen and his team at Merrill Brink for translation and other language related services in the compliance portion of my work. (Yes I do practice law and compliance for a living; I blog for gratis.) For not only am I required to help evaluate documents in a foreign language which need to translated into English but often I need a foreign language version of compliance related documents that I create, from third party questionnaires to contracts to Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) training materials. While I still tend to think of language as a tactical issue, Jay has long striven to have me see it as part of a businesses overall strategy.

I think I may have finally seen the light that Jay has been preaching to me over the past few years when I read an article in the September issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), entitled “What’s Your Language Strategy?” by Tsedal Neely and Robert Steven Kaplan. The authors posit that language should bind not only your company’s global talent pool but also your company’s vision. After concluding the article, I now understand how language is a strategy to help inform your compliance program as well. This is because just as “Language pervades every aspect of organizational life” the authors believe that companies “often pay too little attention to it in their approach to talent management.” I would add that is also true in the compliance function.

The authors believe that problems revolve around potential “blind spots regarding language.” They write that company leaders pay too little attention to the role of language when “hiring, training, assessing and promoting employees. This can lead to miscommunication and friction, especially among team members who collaborate across borders.” While the authors point that a company’s competitiveness that may suffer, I would suggest that a company’s compliance function could also suffer. The authors believe that a company should align its language strategy with its overarching priorities. Further, by building “language skills and cultural awareness throughout your organization in order to acquire and develop the kind of talent you need to compete globally and locally.” The authors believe that by paying attention to this issue, your company can potentially turn “vulnerability into a competitive strength.”

The authors identify five key points which a company should evaluate regarding language. I would also add they relate directly to any international company’s anti-corruption compliance function whether under the FCPA; UK Bribery Act or other anti-bribery regime.

Hiring and Training

Here companies need to understand how candidates might come across in the interview or other pre-employment evaluation process. While a candidate with multiple language fluency may overshadow deficits in other critical areas, it may also be a problem because as an evaluator, “you may need to accept some limitations on language capabilities and be prepared to provide training to meet both global and local language needs.” But even if you get pass this first hurdle the authors identify a follow up problem in this area; that is, after hiring and/or promotion. They state, “Another blind spot is a tendency to over rely on external lateral hires with a certain degree of language skill to fill midlevel roles rather than hiring and grooming outstanding junior candidates with the capacity and motivation to learn new languages. While the latter approach may initially take more time, companies often find that entry-level hires ultimately become their best leaders, because they have been trained from an early stage in company culture and practices. Defaulting to lateral hires can make it more difficult to build a cohesive culture—those recruits have been trained elsewhere and may have trouble assimilating.”

Evaluating Talent Accurately

Even if your company does improve its entry level hiring practices and provide training to assist new employees in their language skills, you still need to make accurate performance evaluations. Here companies may get into trouble because “Language agility does not necessarily spell high performance.” The authors point to the need for a robust process to assess skills and attributes which allows a company to “look beyond verbal agility when gauging performance. It’s a reality check, a way to make sure that you and other leaders are not unduly swayed by fluency.”

Rethinking the Role of Expatriates

One of the key areas in the compliance field is to develop local compliance talent and expertise. This is not only because “expatriates may not be familiar with the local language, culture, and business practices, they can bring knowledge of organizational culture along with an understanding of the company’s products, processes, and systems.” One of the roles of any compliance manager, particularly an ex-pat is “to focus on developing local talent and ensuring that indigenous professionals begin to play leadership roles in the local businesses.” Equally important is to “think about the people you’re choosing to send abroad. To build a strong team of local leaders, it’s critical to give expatriate assignments to your best people—not just to solid contributors who happen to have the right language skills and are more easily dispensed with at home. Otherwise, you may find that your firm’s global offices fail to attract, develop, and retain the strong indigenous talent they need for high performance.”

Managing Communications on a Global Team

Most of the company’s I have worked at hold all their communications in English-language on a company wide basis. Of course I thought this was great. But the authors note that “managers often unwittingly position native speakers of a lingua franca as “winners” within the firm; consequently, nonnative speakers experience a substantial loss of power and status. If companies don’t take such issues into account, they can cause otherwise talented and engaged professionals to underperform and even withdraw.”

The authors believe that managers need to understand which of their employees are comfortable with the second-language proficiency and those who may not be so comfortable. They provide specific guidance as follows, “Global managers must deal directly with such issues to promote productive global cooperation. They must be sensitive to how employees of varying language proficiency are interacting. The goal is to make it easier for native and nonnative speakers to establish trust and communicate effectively. Managers’ observations should include the following: Who attends meetings? Who speaks up? Are the best employees contributing, or is language getting in the way? It’s then important to facilitate meetings and calls so that nonnative and native speakers get equal airtime. Often this means coaching primary-language people to speak less and second-language people to speak more. It also involves setting clear agendas up front, considering the mode of communication, and thinking through meeting choreography in advance.”

Building Cultural Awareness

The authors conclude by reminding us that language fluency does not always equate to cultural fluency, as “too often leaders underperform because they fail to adapt their management styles and practices to fit a multicultural environment. For them, understanding the cultural background of each team member, the role of the company, its products and services, and the customers it serves within various cultural and regional contexts is as essential as learning to conjugate new verbs.” They believe that “Managers should be held accountable that language and cultural skills are developed throughout their organization.”

The authors’ piece is chock full of ideas, insights and issues for a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner. Any company doing business internationally is going to have the issues that the authors discuss in their article. The compliance function has all of these issues in spades because if you need to consider the FCPA, it is because you are doing business internationally.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

August 28, 2014

Risk Assessments-the Cornerstone of Your Compliance Program, Part III

7K0A0129Today, I conclude a three-part series on risk assessments in your Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act anti-corruption compliance program. I previously reviewed some of the risks that you need to assess and how you might go about assessing them. Today I want to consider some thoughts on how to use your risk assessment going forward.

Mike Volkov has advised that you should prepare a risk matrix detailing the specific risks you have identified and relevant mitigating controls. From this you can create a new control or prepare an enhanced control to remediate the gap between specific risk and control. Finally, through this risk matrix you should be able to assess relative remediation requirements.

A manner in which to put into practice some of Volkov’s suggestions was explored by Tammy Whitehouse, in an article entitled “Improving Risk Assessments and Audit Operations”. Her article focused on the how Timken Company, assesses and then evaluates the risks the company has assessed. Once risks are identified, they are then rated according to their significance and likelihood of occurring, and then plotted on a heat map to determine their priority. The most significant risks with the greatest likelihood of occurring are deemed the priority risks, which become the focus of the audit/monitoring plan, she said. A variety of solutions and tools can be used to manage these risks going forward but the key step is to evaluate and rate these risks. 

LIKELIHOOD 

Likelihood Rating Assessment Evaluation Criteria
1 Almost Certain High likely, this event is expected to occur
2 Likely Strong possibility that an event will occur and there is sufficient historical incidence to support it
3 Possible Event may occur at some point, typically there is a history to support it
4 Unlikely Not expected but there’s a slight possibility that it may occur
5 Rare Highly unlikely, but may occur in unique circumstances

‘Likelihood’ factors to consider: The existence of controls, written policies and procedures designed to mitigate risk capable of leadership to recognize and prevent a compliance breakdown; Compliance failures or near misses; Training and awareness programs.

PRIORITY 

Priority Rating Assessment Evaluation Criteria
1-2 Severe Immediate action is required to address the risk, in addition to inclusion in training and education and audit and monitoring plans
3-4 High Should be proactively monitored and mitigated through inclusion in training and education and audit and monitoring plans
5-7 Significant
8-14 Moderate
15-1920-25 LowTrivial Risks at this level should be monitored but do not necessarily pose any serious threat to the organization at the present time.

Priority Rating: Product of ‘likelihood’ and significance ratings reflects the significance of particular risk universe. It is not a measure of compliance effectiveness or to compare efforts, controls or programs against peer groups.

At Timken, the most significant risks with the greatest likelihood of occurring are deemed to be the priority risks. These “Severe” risks become the focus of the audit monitoring plan going forward. A variety of tools can be used, such as continuous controls monitoring with tools like those provided by Visual RiskIQ, a relationship-analysis based software such as Catelas or other analytical based tools. But you should not forget the human factor. At Timken, one of the methods used by the compliance group to manage such risk is by providing employees with substantive training to guard against the most significant risks coming to pass and to keep the key messages fresh and top of mind. The company also produces a risk control summary that succinctly documents the nature of the risk and the actions taken to mitigate it.

The key to the Timken approach is the action steps prescribed by their analysis. This is another way of saying that the risk assessment informs the compliance program, not vice versa. This is the method set forth by the DOJ in its FCPA Guidance and in the UK Bribery Act’s Adequate Procedures. I believe that the DOJ wants to see a reasoned approach with regards to the actions a company takes in the compliance arena. The model set forth by Timken certainly is a reasoned approach and can provide the articulation needed to explain which steps were taken.

In an article in Compliance Week Magazine, entitled, “Lessons on Risk Assessments from Winnie The Pooh” Jason Medford articulated that a key use of a risk assessment is to assist the internal audit function in developing their internal audit plan. He cited to the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) standard 2010.A1, which states “The internal audit activity’s plan of engagements must be based on a documented risk assessment, undertaken at least annually.” He went on to note that “In order to have a truly integrated GRC capability it is necessary for internal auditors to work with other GRC professionals in their organization. They must align their annual audit plan with the organization’s objectives, strategies, and initiatives of the other GRC professionals. They must collaborate, coordinate, and align their audit activities with other GRC professionals to increase visibility, improve efficiency, accountability and collaboration.

Carol Saint, Vice President of Internal Audit for 7-Eleven, who was interview by OCEG President Carol Switzer for the same article said that “We start with a risk assessment, beginning with business units because this is how the organization has designed accountability.  We decompose business units into the processes and sub-processes they own and execute. We evaluate how sub-processes align to achievement of strategic objectives: How do they affect the company’s value drivers? Next, we map financial statement lines to the sub-processes to help prioritize from that lens. Finally, for each sub-process we consider specific risks that could hinder achievement of strategic objectives, as well as fraud risks, significant accounting estimates, benchmarking/ hot topics, and ERM risks. We created an “intensity rating” that measures how often a process/sub-process was mentioned in our stakeholder interviews as a risk to the company. And we also considered how cross-functional a process is so that the element of complexity—a risk accelerator—could help determine audit plan priorities. This year’s plan development process was quite intense, but I think we did a good job of creating a baseline so that future risk assessments are more efficient.”

I hope that you have found this series on risk assessments useful. If you have any questions or better yet would like me to work on a risk assessment for your organization, please contact me.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

August 27, 2014

Risk Assessments-the Cornerstone of Your Compliance Program, Part II

7K0A0501Ed. Note-Today, I continue my three-part posts on risk assessments. Today I take a look at some different ideas on how you might go about assessing your risks.

One of the questions that I hear most often is how does one actually perform a risk assessment? Mike Volkov has suggested a couple of different approaches in his article “Practical Suggestions for Conducting Risk Assessments.” In it Volkov differentiates between smaller companies which might use some basic tools such as “personal or telephone interviews of key employees; surveys and questionnaires of employees; and review of historical compliance information such as due diligence files for third parties and mergers and acquisitions, as well as internal audits of key offices” from larger companies. Such larger companies may use these basic techniques but may also include a deeper dive into high risk countries or high risk business areas. If your company’s sales model uses third party representatives, you may also wish to visit with those parties or persons to help evaluate their risks for bribery and corruption that might well be attributed to your company.

Another noted compliance practitioner, William Athanas, in an article entitled “Rethinking FCPA Compliance Strategies in a New Era of Enforcement”, took a different look at risk assessments when he posited that companies assume that FCPA violations follow a “bell-curve distribution, where the majority of employees are responsible for the majority of violations.” However Athanas believed that the distribution pattern more closely follows a “hockey-stick distribution, where a select few…commit virtually all violations.” Athanas suggests assessing those individuals with the opportunity to interact with foreign officials have the greatest chance to commit FCPA violations. Diving down from that group, certain individuals also possess the necessary inclination, whether a personal financial incentive linked to the transaction or the inability to recognize the significant risks attendant to bribery.

To assess these risks, Athanas suggested an initial determination of the touch-points where the operations of manufacturing companies “intersect with foreign officials vested with discretionary authority.” This will lead to an understanding of the individuals who hold these roles within a company. This means that a simple geographic analysis is but a first step in a risk analysis. Thereafter companies should also focus on “those who authorize and record disbursements, as well as those who represent the company in situations where they may be solicited for payments.” The next step is to determine those company employees who may have the incentive “to pay bribes on the Company’s behalf.” This incentive can come from a variety of forms; such as a company compensation plan, which rewards high producers; employees who do not understand the risk they place the company (and themselves) in by engaging in tactics which violate the FCPA; and, finally, those employees who seek to place their individual interests above those of the company.

Athanas concludes by noting that this limited group of employees, or what he terms the “shaft of the hockey-stick”, is where a company should devote the majority of its compliance resources. With a proper risk assessment, a company can then focus its compliance efforts on “intensive training sessions or focused analysis of key financial transactions — on those individuals with the opportunity and potential inclination to violate the statute.” This focus will provide companies the greatest “financial value and practical worth of compliance efforts.”

Lawler suggests that you combine the scores or analysis you obtain from the corruption markers you review; whether it is the DOJ list or those markers under the UK Bribery Act. From there, create a “rudimentary risk-scoring system that ranks the things to review using risk indicators of potential bribery.” This ensures that high-risk exposures are done first and/or given more time. As with all populations of this type, there is likely to be a normal or ‘bell curve’ distribution of risks around the mean. So 10-15% of exposure falls into the relative low-risk category; the vast majority (70-80%) into the moderate-risk category; and the final 10-15% would be high risk.

Earlier this week I wrote a piece about the Desktop Risk Assessment. I will not repeat the entire blog post here but only use some of the areas you could assess as a starting point for discussion. If you do not have the time, resources or support to conduct a worldwide risk assessment annually, you can take a different approach. You might try assessing other areas annually through a more limited focused risk assessment, which a colleague of mine calls the Desktop Risk Assessment. Some of the areas that such a Desktop Risk Assessment could inquire into might be the following:

  • Are resources adequate to sustain a culture of compliance?
  • How are the risks in the C-Suite and the Boardroom being addressed?
  • What are the FCPA risks related to the supply chain?
  • How is risk being examined and due diligence performed at the vendor/agent level? How is such risk being managed?
  • Is the documentation adequate to support the program for regulatory purposes?
  • Is culture, attitude (tone from the top), and knowledge measured? If yes, can we use the information enhance the program?
  • Disciplinary guidelines – Do they exist and has anyone been terminated or disciplined for a violating policy?
  • Communication of information and findings – Are escalation protocols appropriate?
  • What are the opportunities to improve compliance?

There are a variety of materials that you can review from or at a company that can facilitate such a Desktop Risk Assessment. You can review your company’s policies and written guidelines by reviewing anti-corruption compliance policies, guidelines, and procedures to ensure that compliance programs are tailored to address specific risks such as gifts, hospitality and entertainment, travel, political and charitable donations, and promotional activities.

This list is not intended to be a complete list of items, you can pick and choose to form some type of Desktop Risk Assessment but hopefully you can see some of the things areas you can assess and deliver any remedial action which may be warranted. Further, if you aim to perform an annual Desktop Risk Assessment with a full worldwide risk assessment every two years or so, you should be in a good position to keep abreast of compliance issues that may change and need more or greater risk management. And do not forget the that the FCPA Guidance ends its section on risk with, “When assessing a company’s compliance program, DOJ and SEC take into account whether and to what degree a company analyzes and addresses the particular risks it faces.”

A completely different approach was articulated by Leonard Shen, Vice President (VP) and Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) at PayPal, in a presentation to Compliance Week. His approach is not the right approach for every company but for those initiating their compliance journey, or a company considering a significant upgrade due to some systemic issue; this approach may be a more effective approach than the traditional risk assessment where a team of lawyers, CPAs and internal auditors assess a company’s compliance environment.

In a company which is initiating its compliance program, it can be perceived as a sea change of culture. However, Shen indicated that he had used an approach which worked to alleviate those types of concerns which also provided enough information to perform a robust assessment which could be used to form the basis of an effective compliance program. He termed this type of approach as one to “engage and educate.” While the approach had a two word name, it actually had three purposes; (1) to engage the employees in what would form the basis for an enhanced compliance program; (2) to educate the employees generally in compliance and ethical behavior; and (3) through the engagement of employees, to gather information which could be used to form the basis of a risk assessment.

Shen and his compliance team traveled to multiple company locations, across the globe, to meet with as many employees as possible. A large number these meetings were town hall settings, and key employee leaders, key stakeholders and employees identified as high risk, due to interaction with foreign governmental official touch-points, were met with individually or in smaller groups. Shen and his team listened to their compliance concerns and more importantly took their compliance ideas back to the home office.

From this engagement, the team received several thousand-employee suggestions regarding enhancements to the company’s compliance program. After returning to the US, Shen and his team winnowed down this large number to a more manageable number, somewhere in the range of a couple of hundred. These formed the basis of a large core of the enhancements to the existing company compliance program. After the enhanced compliance program was rolled out formal training began. During the training, the team was able to give specific examples of how employee input led to the changes in the enhanced program. This engaged the employees and made them feel like they were a part of, and had a vested interest in, the company’s compliance program. This employee engagement led to employee buy-in.

During the town hall meetings, and the smaller more informal group meetings, Shen and his team were doing more than simply listening, they were also training. However, the training was not on specific compliance provisions; it was more generally on overall ethics and how the employees could use compliance as a business tool. Most ethical standards of a company are not found in an existing compliance program, they are found in the general anti-discrimination guidelines and ethical business practices such anti-competitiveness and use of customer confidential information prohibitions. Often these general concepts can be found in a company’s overall Code of Conduct or similar statement of business ethics; workplace anti-discrimination and anti-harassment guidelines can be found in Human Resource policies and procedures.

Concepts such as anti-competitiveness and use of customer and competitor’s illegally obtained confidential information may be found in anti-trust or other business practice focused guidelines.

Shen and his team’s aim on the education component of “engage and educate” was to have the company employee’s start thinking about doing business the ethical way. It was ethical concept based training designed to be in contrast to a rules based approach, where employees believe they are taught the rules, and then try to see how close they can get to the line of violating the compliance rule without actually stepping over the line. Moreover, by having this general ethical business training, it laid the groundwork for the enhancement of the company’s compliance program and the training that would occur when the enhancement was rolled out.

A third key component of the “engage and educate” program is the risk assessment component. Shen’s approach here was not the traditional control-testing model, where documents are pulled and tested against a standard. Shen and his team listened, listened and listened. They listened to their employees concerns and they listened to the compliance issues they raised. As they were listening they began to ask questions about what was done and why. The questioning was not in an adversarial, interrogation mode but ferreting out the employees concerns while having the employees educate the team on the actual procedures that were used in several areas identified as key high risk areas.

Shen emphasized that this was an assessment and not an audit so no detailed forensic work was needed or used. However, by listening, and gently questioning, Shen and his team were able to garner enough information to create a risk assessment profile which informed and became the basis of their compliance program enhancement. Shen and his team did not identify to the company employees that they were engaged in a formal risk assessment. He believed that in many ways, he and his team were able to garner more useful information with which to inform their compliance program enhancement.

Shen’s “engage and educate” approach worked for his company at that point in time. It may not work for other companies as a traditional risk assessment but it does provide a different model if your company is beginning to create their compliance program, or is looking into a major enhancement.

Tomorrow, I will look at how you might use a risk assessment going forward.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

 

August 26, 2014

Risk Assessments-the Cornerstone of Your Compliance Program, Part I

7K0A0079Yesterday, I blogged about the Desktop Risk Assessment. I received so many comments and views about the post, I was inspired to put together a longer post on the topic of risk assessments more generally. Of course I got carried away so today, I will begin a three-part series on risk assessments. In today’s post I will review the legal and conceptual underpinnings of a risk assessment. Over the next couple of days, I will review the techniques you can use to perform a risk assessment and end with a discussion of what to do with the information that you have gleaned in a risk assessment for your compliance program going forward.

One cannot really say enough about risk assessments in the context of anti-corruption programs. Since at least 1999, in the Metcalf & Eddy enforcement action, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has said that risk assessments that measure the likelihood and severity of possible Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations identifies how you should direct your resources to manage these risks. The FCPA Guidance stated it succinctly when it said, “Assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program, and is another factor DOJ and SEC evaluate when assessing a company’s compliance program.” The UK Bribery Act has a similar view. In Principal I of the Six Principals of an Adequate Compliance program, it states, “The commercial organisation regularly and comprehensively assesses the nature and extent of the risks relating to bribery to which it is exposed.” In other words, risk assessments have been around and even mandated for a long time and their use has not lessened in importance. The British have a way with words, even when discussing compliance, and Principal I of the Six Principals of an Adequate Compliance program says that your risk assessment should inform your compliance program.

Jonathan Marks, a partner in the firm of Crowe Horwath LLP, said the following about risk assessments in his 13-step FCPA Compliance Action Plan, “A comprehensive assessment of the potential bribery and corruption risks – both existing and emerging risks – associated with a company’s products and services, customers, third-party business partners, and geographic locations can serve as the basis for the compliance program. The risk assessment determines the areas at greatest risk for FCPA violations among all types of international business transactions and operations, the business culture of each country in which these activities occur, and the integrity and reputation of third parties engaged on behalf of the company.”

The simple reason is straightforward; one cannot define, plan for, or design an effective compliance program to prevent bribery and corruption unless you can measure the risks you face. Both the both the US Sentencing Guidelines, the UK Bribery Act’s Consultative Guidance list Risk Assessment as the initial step in creating an effective anti-corruption and anti-bribery program.

What Should You Assess?

In 2011, the DOJ concluded three FCPA enforcement actions which specified factors which a company should review when making a Risk Assessment. The three enforcement actions, involving the companies Alcatel-Lucent SA, Maxwell Technologies Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. all had common areas that the DOJ indicated were FCPA compliance risk areas which should be evaluated for a minimum best practices FCPA compliance program. Both the Alcatel-Lucent and Maxwell Technologies Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) listed the seven following areas of risk to be assessed.

  1. Geography-where does your Company do business.
  2. Interaction with types and levels of Governments.
  3. Industrial Sector of Operations.
  4. Involvement with Joint Ventures.
  5. Licenses and Permits in Operations.
  6. Degree of Government Oversight.
  7. Volume and Importance of Goods and Personnel Going Through Customs and Immigration.

All of these factors were reiterated in the FCPA Guidance which stated, “Factors to consider, for instance, include risks presented by: the country and industry sector, the business opportunity, potential business partners, level of involvement with governments, amount of government regulation and oversight, and exposure to customs and immigration in conducting business affairs.”

These factors provide guidance into some of the key areas that the DOJ apparently believes can put a company at higher FCPA risk. These factors supplement those listed in the UK Bribery Consultative Guidance states, “Risk Assessment – The commercial organization regularly and comprehensively assesses the nature and extent of the risks relating to bribery to which it is exposed.” The Guidance points towards several key risks which should be evaluated in this process. These risk areas include:

  1. Internal Risk – this could include deficiencies in
  • employee knowledge of a company’s business profile and understanding of associated bribery and corruption risks;
  • employee training or skills sets; and
  • the company’s compensation structure or lack of clarity in the policy on gifts, entertaining and travel expenses.
  1. Country risk – this type of risk could include:

(a) perceived high levels of corruption as highlighted by corruption league tables published by reputable Non-Governmental Organizations such as Transparency International;

(b) factors such as absence of anti-bribery legislation and implementation and a perceived lack of capacity of the government, media, local business community and civil society to effectively promote transparent procurement and investment policies; and

(c) a culture which does not punish those who seeks bribes or make other extortion attempts.

  1. Transaction Risk – this could entail items such as transactions involving charitable or political contributions, the obtaining of licenses and permits, public procurement, high value or projects with many contractors or involvement of intermediaries or agents.
  2. Partnership risks – this risk could include those involving foreign business partners located in higher-risk jurisdictions, associations with prominent public office holders, insufficient knowledge or transparency of third party processes and controls.

Another approach was detailed by David Lawler, in his book “Frequently Asked Questions in Anti-Bribery and Corruption”. He broke the risk areas to evaluate down into the following categories: (1) Company Risk, (2) Country Risk, (3) Sector Risk, (4) Transaction Risk and (5) Business Partnership Risk. He further detailed these categories as follows:

  1. Company Risk-Lawyer believes this is “only to be likely to be relevant when assessing a number of different companies – either when managing a portfolio of companies from the perspective of a head office of a conglomerate or private equity house.” High risk companies involve, some of the following characteristics:
  • Private companies with a close shareholder group;
  • Large, diverse and complex groups with a decentralized management structure;
  • An autocratic top management;
  • A previous history of compliance issues; and/or
  • Poor marketplace perception.
  1. Country Risk-this area involves countries which have a high reported level or perception of corruption, have failed to enact effective anti-corruption legislation and have a failure to be transparent in procurement and investment policies. Obviously the most recent, annual Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index can be a good starting point. Other indices you might consider are the Worldwide Governance Indicators and the Global Integrity index.
  2. Sector Risk-these involve areas which require a significant amount of government licensing or permitting to do business in a country. It includes the usual suspects of:
  • Extractive industries;
  • Oil and gas services;
  • Large scale infrastructure areas;
  • Telecoms;
  • Pharmaceutical, medical device and health care;
  • Financial services.
  1. Transaction Risk-Lawyer says that this risk “first and foremost identifies and analyses the financial aspects of a payment or deal. This means that it is necessary to think about where your money is ending up”. Indicia of transaction risk include:
  • High reward projects;
  • Involve many contractor or other third party intermediaries; and/or
  • Do not appear to have a clear legitimate object.
  1. Business Partnership Risk-this prong recognizes that certain manners of doing business present more corruption risk than others. It may include:
  • Use of third party representatives in transactions with foreign government officials;
  • A number of consortium partners or joint ventures partners; and/or
  • Relationships with politically exposed persons (PEPs).

There are a number of ways you can slice and dice your basic inquiry. As with almost all FCPA compliance, it is important that your protocol be well thought out. If you use one, some or all of the above as your basic inquiries into your risk analysis, it should be acceptable for your starting point.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

August 25, 2014

Trying Something Different – the Desktop Risk Assessment

IMG_0774How many among you out there are sushi fans? Conversely, how many out there consider the idea of eating raw fish right up there with going into to the dentist’s office for some long overdue remedial work? One’s love or distaste for sushi was used as an interesting metaphor for leadership in this week’s Corner Office section of the New York Times (NYT) by Adam Bryant, in an article entitled “Eat Your Sushi, and Expand Your Horizon”, where he profiled Julie Myers Wood, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Guidepost Solutions, a security, compliance and risk management firm. Wood said her sushi experience relates to advice she gives college students now, “One thing I always say is “eat the sushi.” When I had just graduated from college, I went with my mom to Japan. We had a wonderful time, but I refused to eat the sushi. Later, when I moved to New York, I tried some sushi and loved it. The point is to be willing to try things that are unfamiliar.”

I thought about sushi and trying something different in the context of risk assessments recently. I think that most compliance practitioners understand the need for risk assessments. The FCPA Guidance could not have been clearer when it stated, “Assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program, and is another factor DOJ and SEC evaluate when assessing a company’s compliance program.” Many compliance practitioners have difficulty getting their collective arms about what is required for a risk assessment and then how precisely to use it. The FCPA Guidance makes clear there is no ‘one size fits all’ for about anything in an effective compliance program.

One type of risk assessment can consist of a full-blown, worldwide exercise, where teams of lawyers and fiscal consultants travel around the globe, interviewing and auditing. However if there is one thing that I learned as a lawyer, which also applies to the compliance field, is that you are only limited by your imagination. So using the FCPA Guidance that ‘on one size fits all’ proscription, I would submit that is also true for risk assessments.

As with Wood’s admonition that you might want to try sushi even if you think you may not like it. I think that there are several different types of risk assessments that can be used to help to advance your compliance regime going forward. This means that if you do not have the time, resources or support to conduct a worldwide risk assessment annually, you can take a different approach. You might try assessing other areas annually through a more limited focused risk assessment, which a colleague of mine calls the Desktop Risk Assessment.

Some of the areas that such a Desktop Risk Assessment could inquire into might be the following:

  • Are resources adequate to sustain a culture of compliance?
  • How are the risks in the C-Suite and the Boardroom being addressed?
  • What are the FCPA risks related to the supply chain?
  • How is risk being examined and due diligence performed at the vendor/agent level? How is such risk being managed?
  • Is the documentation adequate to support the program for regulatory purposes?
  • Is culture, attitude (tone from the top), and knowledge measured? If yes, can we use the information enhance the program?
  • Disciplinary guidelines – Do they exist and has anyone been terminated or disciplined for a violating policy?
  • Communication of information and findings – Are escalation protocols appropriate?
  • What are the opportunities to improve compliance?

There are a variety of materials that you can review from or at a company that can facilitate such a Desktop Risk Assessment. You can review your company’s policies and written guidelines by reviewing anti-corruption compliance policies, guidelines, and procedures to ensure that compliance programs are tailored to address specific risks such as gifts, hospitality and entertainment, travel, political and charitable donations, and promotional activities.

You could assess your company’s senior management support for your compliance efforts through interviews of high-level personnel such as the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), General Counsel (GC), Head of Sales, CEO and Board Audit or Compliance Committee members to assess “tone from the top”. You can examine resources dedicated to compliance and also seek to understand the compliance expectations that top management is communicating to its employee base. Finally, you can gauge operational responsibilities for compliance.

Such a review would lead to the next level of assessment, which would be generally labeled communications within an organization regarding compliance. You can do this by assessing compliance policy communication to company personnel but even more so by reviewing such materials as compliance training and certifications that employees might have in their files. If you did not yet do so, you should also take a look at statements by senior management regarding compliance, such as actions relating to terminating employees who do business in compliance but do not make their quarterly, semi-annual or annual numbers set in budget projections.

A key element of any best practices compliance program is internal and anonymous reporting. This means that you need to review mechanisms on reporting suspected compliance violations and then actions taken on any internal reports, including follow-ups to the reporting employees. You should also assess whether those employees who are seeking guidance on compliance for their day-to-day business dealings are receiving not only adequate but timely responses.

I do not think there is any dispute that third parties represent the highest risk to most companies under the FCPA, so a review of your due diligence program is certainly something that should be a part of any risk assessment. But more than simply a review of procedures for due diligence on third party intermediaries, you should also consider the compliance procedures in place for your company’s mergers and acquisitions (M&A) team; focusing on the pre-acquisition phase.

One area that I do not think gets enough play, whether in the FCPA Inc. commentary or in day-to-day practice is looking at what might be called employee commitment to your company’s compliance regime. So here you may want to review your compliance policies regarding employee incentives for compliance. But just as you look at the carrots to achieve compliance with your program, you should also look at the stick, in the form of disciplinary procedures for violations. This means you should see if there have been any disciplinary actions for employee compliance violations and then determine if such discipline has been applied uniformly. If you discipline top sales people in Brazil, you have to discipline your top sales folks in the US for the same or similar violations.

This list is not intended to be a complete list of items, you can pick and choose to form some type of Desktop Risk Assessment but hopefully you can see some of the things areas you can assess. In his article on Ms. Woods, Bryant quoted her for the following key trait she observed from successful leaders, “They were able to identify and focus on core things. When you go into an agency or a company, there are a million things you could fix. But you can’t fix everything, so you make a decision about your priorities, and then you act on them.” A Desktop Risk Assessment may well help you to do so.

If you aim to perform an annual Desktop Risk Assessment with a full worldwide risk assessment every two years or so, you should be in a good position to keep abreast of compliance issues that may change and need more or greater risk management. And do not forget the that the FCPA Guidance ends its section on risk with, “When assessing a company’s compliance program, DOJ and SEC take into account whether and to what degree a company analyzes and addresses the particular risks it faces.” Finally, if you never have tried sushi, I urge you to do so as it not only tastes good but its good for you as well.

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On Tuesday, August 26th I will be co-presenting with Marie Patterson VP Marketing for Hiperos on a webinar focusing on GSK in China-One Year Later. I will review the continued saga of the GSK corruption investigation in China, the Humphreys’ and Wu convictions and what it means for your compliance program going forward. The event is free and begins at 1 PM EDT. I hope that you can join us. For details and Registration, click here.

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This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

August 21, 2014

What Can You Do When Risk Changes in a Third Party Relationship?

RiskThe GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) corruption matter in China continues to reverberate throughout the international business community, inside and outside China. The more I think about the related trial of Peter Humphrey and his wife, Yu Yingzeng for violating China’s privacy laws regarding their investigation of who filmed the head of GSK’s China unit head in flagrante delicto with his Chinese girlfriend, the more I ponder the issue of risk in the management of third parties under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). In an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “Chinese Case Lays Business Tripwires”, reporters James T. Areddy and Laurie Burkitt explored some of the problems brought about by the investigators convictions.

They quoted Manuel Maisog, chief China representative for the law firm Hunton & Williams LLP, who summed up the problem regarding background due diligence investigations as “How can I do that in China?” Maisog went on to say, “The verdict created new uncertainties for doing business in China since the case hinged on the couple’s admissions that they purchased personal information about Chinese citizens on behalf of clients. Companies in China may need to adjust how they assess future merger partners, supplier proposals or whether employees are involved in bribery.”

I had pondered what that meant for a company that wanted to do business in China, through some type of third party relationship, from a sales representative to distributor to a joint venture (JV). What if you cannot get such information? How can you still have a best practices compliance program around third parties representatives if you cannot get information such as ultimate beneficial ownership? At a recent SCCE event, I put that question to a Department of Justice (DOJ) representative. Paraphrasing his response, he said that companies still need to ask the question in a due diligence questionnaire or other format. What if a third party refuses to answer, citing some national law against disclosure? His response was that a company needs to very closely weigh the risk of doing business with a party that refuses to identify its ownership.

The more that I thought about that answer the more I became convinced that it was not only the right answer under any type of FCPA compliance program but also the right response from a business perspective. A company must know who it is doing business with, for a wide variety of reasons. The current situation in China and even the convictions of Humphrey and Yu do not change this basic premise. You can ask the question. If a party does not want to disclose its ownership, you should consider this in any business relationship going forward.

The Humphrey and Yu conviction do not prevent you from asking the question about ownership. Their convictions mean that you may not be able to verify that information through what many people thought was publicly available information, at least publicly available in the west. I was struck by one line in the Areddy and Burkitt article, “It’s not just that the tactical business practices need to change; it’s the mind set” quoting again from Maisog.

I breakdown the management of third parties under the FCPA into five steps, which are:

  1. Business Justification and Business Sponsor;
  2. Questionnaire to Third Party;
  3. Due Diligence on Third Party;
  4. Compliance Terms and Conditions, including payment terms; and
  5. Management and Oversight of Third Parties After Contract Signing.

The due diligence step is but one of these five. Further due diligence is performed in large part to verify the information that you receive back from a proposed third party. So what if you can longer use avenues previously open to you in markets such as China? Perhaps there are other ways to manage this issue. Areddy and Burkitt also interviewed Jerry Ling, a partner at Jones Day, for the following “companies will need to analyze Chinese accounting documents themselves and conduct more in-person interviews with anyone they want to know more about in China.”

Ling’s point dovetails directly into what I heard from the DOJ representative. There is nothing about the Chinese law, or any other country’s law, which prevents you from asking some basic questions that are found in the Step 2 Questionnaire cited above. You can always ask who the owners of a company are, whether they are direct or beneficial. You can always ask if a company, its owners or its senior management have been involved in any incidents involving bribery and corruption and you can always ask if the company has a Code of Conduct and/or compliance program and whether its owners or senior management are aware of the FCPA and have had training on it.

Assuming the company will answer your questionnaire, the difficulty you may find yourself in now is verifying the information that you receive. In Ronald Reagan parlance, you may trust but you may not be able to verify it. Ling said in the WSJ article that “The challenge now for clients is that it’s hard to get good information.”

However, due diligence is but one step in the management of any third party in a FCPA compliance program. Just as when risk goes up and you increase your management around that risk, the situation is similar in here. Putting it another way, if you cannot obtain private information such as personal identification numbers during the due diligence process, you can put greater management around the other steps that you can take. Further, there has been nothing reported which would suggest that publicly filed corporate licenses or other information that might show ownership can no longer be accessed. Court records and public media searches also seem to still be available.

But what if you simply cannot determine if the information you are provided regarding ownership is accurate or even truthful? You can still work to manage the relationship through your commercial terms by setting your commission or other pay rates at a reasonable amount of scale. If you are dealing with a commissioned sales representative, you can probably manage this area of the relationship by setting the commission in the range of 5%. You can also manage the relationship by reviewing invoices to make sure there is an adequate description of the services provided so that they justify whatever compensation the third party is entitled to receive under the contract. You may also want to schedule such a third party for an audit ahead of other parties to help ensure adherence to your compliance terms and conditions.

There may be times when you cannot verify the true or ultimate beneficial owner of a third party. That does not have to be the end of the analysis. If that situation arises, you may want to see if there are other risk mitigation tools at your disposal. Put another way, if such a red flag arises, can it be cleared? Can it be managed? If your company is looking a major deal for multi-millions and your agent will receive a six or seven figure commission, the risk of not knowing with certainty may be too great because in such a case, an unknown owner could be a government official who has awarded the contract. But if your agent receives a considerably smaller commission and hence there is a considerably small amount of money to constitute a bribe, you may be able to manage that risk through a close and effective relationship management process.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

August 13, 2014

Thinking Through Risk Rankings of Third Parties

7K0A0014-2One question often posed to me is how to think through some of the relationships a company has with its various third parties in order to reasonably risk rank them. Initially I would break this down into sales and supply chain to begin any such analysis. Anecdotally, it is said that over 95% of all Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement actions involve third parties so this is one area where companies need to put some thoughtful consideration. However, the key is that if you employ a “check-the-box” approach it may not only be inefficient but more importantly, ineffective. The reason for this is because each compliance program should be tailored to an organization’s specific needs, risks and challenges. The information provided below should not be considered a substitute for a company’s own assessment of the corporate compliance program most appropriate for that particular business organization. In the end, if designed carefully, implemented earnestly, and enforced fairly, a company’s compliance program—no matter how large or small the organization—will allow the company, generally, to prevent violations, detect those that do occur, and remediate them promptly and appropriately.

Sales Side

I tend to view things in a straightforward manner when it comes to representatives on the sales side of your business. I believe that third party representatives you might have, whatever you might call them, i.e. sales reps, sales agents, sales agents, commissioned sales agents, or anything else, are high risk and therefore they should receive your highest level of scrutiny. This is also true with any party that might be called, charitably or not, ‘a partner’ whether that is a joint venture (JV) partner, plain old partner, Teaming Partner or another monickered ‘partner’. However, under this approach you should also consider the perception of corruption in the geographic area that you will use the third party. I recognize that you can overlay a financial threshold but the reality is that if a sales representative generates such a small amount of money for your business you probably do not need them as representative.

At least with distributors, I have seen merit in more sophisticated approaches such as that set out by David Simon, a partner at Foley & Lardner LLP, who advocates a risk analysis should more appropriately based on the nature of a company’s relationships with their distributors. The goal should be to determine which distributors are the most likely to qualify as agents; for whose acts the company would likely to be held responsible.  He argues that it is a continuum of risk; that is, on the low-risk end are distributors that are really nothing more than re-sellers with little actual affiliation with the supplier company. On the high-risk end are distributors who are very closely tied to the supplier company, who effectively represent the company in the market and end up looking more like a quasi-subsidiary than a customer.

Simon looks at agency principles to guide his analysis of whether a distributor qualifies as an agent for FCPA purposes. He argues that factors to consider include:

  • The volume of sales made to the distributor;
  • The percentage of total sales of the distributor’s total business the principal’s product represents;
  • Whether the distributor represents the principal in the market, including whether it can (and does) use the company trademarks and logos in its business; and

Whether the principal company is involved in the running of the distributor’s business (such as by training the distributor’s sales agents, imposing performance goals and objectives, or providing reimbursement for sales activity).

Once a company segregates out the high-risk distributors that likely qualify as agents and potentially subject the company to FCPA liability from those that are mere re-sellers and pose less FCPA risk, FCPA compliance procedures can be tailored appropriately. For those distributors that qualify as “agents” and also pose FCPA risk, full FCPA due diligence, certifications, training and contract language are imperative. For those that do not, more limited compliance measures that reflect the risk-adjusted potential liability are perfectly appropriate.

Supply Chain

This determination of the level of due diligence and categorization of a supplier should depend on a variety of factors, including, but not limited to, whether the supplier is (1) located, or will operate, in a high risk country; (2) associated with, or recommended or required by, a government official or his or her representative; (3) currently under investigation, the subject of criminal charges, or was recently convicted of criminal violations, including any form of corruption; (4) a multinational publicly traded corporation with a recognized exemplary system of compliance and internal controls, that has not been recently investigated or convicted of any corruption offense or that has taken appropriate corrective action to remedy such conduct; or (5) a provider of widely available services and products that are not industry specific, are offered to the public at large and do not fall under the definition of Minimal-Risk Supplier detailed below.

A High-Risk Supplier is an individual or an entity that is engaged to provide non-project specific goods or services to a company. It presents a higher level of compliance risk because of the presence of one or more of the following factors: (a) It is based or operates in a country (including the supply of goods or services to a company) that poses a high risk for corruption, money laundering, or commercial bribery; (b) It supplies goods or services to a company from a high-risk country; (c) It has a reputation in the business community for questionable business practices or ethics; or (d) It has been convicted of, or is alleged to have been involved in, illegal conduct and has failed to undertake effective remedial actions. Finally, it presents one or more of the following factors,: (1) It is located in a country that has inadequate regulatory oversight of its activities; (2) it is in an unregulated business; (3) its ultimate or beneficial ownership is difficult to determine; (4) the company has an annual spend of more than $100,000 with the supplier; (5) it was established or registered in a jurisdiction where ownership is not transparent or that permits ownership in the form of bearer shares; (6) it is registered or conducts business in a jurisdiction that does not have anti-corruption, anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism laws comparable to those of the United States and the United Kingdom; or (7) it lacks a discernable and substantial business history.

A Low-Risk Supplier is an individual or a non-publicly held entity that conducts business such as a sole proprietorship, partnership or privately held corporation, located in a Low-Risk Country. Some indicia include that it (1) supplies goods, equipment or services directly to a company in a Low-Risk Country; (2) a company has an annual spend of less than $100,000 with the supplier; and (3) the supplier has no involvement with any foreign government, government entity, or Government Official. However, if the supplier has other indicia of lower risk such that it is a publicly-held company, it may be considered a Low-Risk Supplier because it is subject to the highest disclosure and auditing and reporting standards such as those under the US Securities Exchange Act of 1934, including those publicly traded on a reputable and highly regulated stock exchange, such as the New York or London exchanges, and are, therefore, subject to oversight by highly regarded regulatory agencies.

Below the high and low risk categories I would add the category of ‘Minimal-Risk Suppliers’ who generally provide to a company goods and services that are non-specific to a particular project and the value of the transaction is $25,000 or less. Some examples might be for the routine purchase of fungible items and services, including, among others: Office supplies, such as paper, furniture, computers, copiers, and printers; Industrial or factory supplies, including cleaning materials, solvents, safety clothing and off-the-shelf equipment and parts; Crating and other standard materials for packing products for shipping; Leasing and rental of company cars and other equipment; and Airline or other travel tickets or services. This category would also include those third parties that provide widely available services and products that are not industry specific, are offered to the public at large. Here you might think of periodicals, florists, daily limousine and taxi, airline and food delivery (including coffee shops, pizza parlors and take out) services.

Last, but certainly not least, is the category of Government Service Providers, which includes entities that generally come into a company through the supply chain, who interact with a foreign government on behalf of your company. Examples might be customs brokers, providers who obtain and process business permits, licenses, visas, work permits and necessary clearances or waivers from government agencies; perform lobbying services; obtain regulatory approvals; negotiate with government agencies regarding the payment of taxes, tax claims, and tax audits. These third parties present some of your highest risks so they need to have not only the highest level of scrutiny but post contract-signing management as well.

The risk ranking of third parties is one of the areas that seems to continue to cause confusion, if not outright bewilderment. The manner in which the articulated risk rankings presented herein is not to be the ‘be-all and end-all’. As the FCPA Guidance reminds us, “An effective compliance program promotes “an orga­nizational culture that encourages ethical conduct and a commitment to compliance with the law.”…A well-constructed, thought­fully implemented, and consistently enforced compliance and ethics program helps prevent, detect, remediate, and report misconduct, including FCPA violations.” If you think through your risk rankings and can articulate a reasonable basis for doing so followed by documentation, I think your own risk ranking system will survive regulatory scrutiny.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

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