FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

March 18, 2015

The Blue Geranium – SEC Enforcement of the FCPA – Part III

Blue GeraniumIn Christie’s The Blue Geranium a difficult and cantankerous semi-invalid wife is looked after by a succession of nurses. They changed regularly, unable to cope with their patient, with one exception Nurse Copling who somehow managed the tantrums and complaints better than others of her calling. The wife had a predilection for fortunetellers and one announced that the wallpaper in the wife’s room was evil; pronouncing she should “Beware of the Full Moon. The Blue Primrose means warning; the Blue Hollyhock means danger; the Blue Geranium means death.” Four days later, one of the primroses in the pattern of the wallpaper in the wife’s room changed color to blue in the middle of the night, when there had been a full moon.

On the morning after the next full moon, the wife was found dead in her bed with only her smelling salts beside her. Once again Miss Marple has the solution remembering that potassium cyanide resembled smelling salts in odor. The wife took what she thought were smelling salts but was in reality potassium cyanide. The flowers on the wallpaper had been treated with litmus paper which the turned the geranium in question blue, which unmasked the killer.

I found this story to be an interesting way to introduce the topic of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC’s) damage remedies. While some are obvious, such as the fines and penalties which are listed in the text of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), another one, that being profit disgorgement must be seen through the lens of multiple legislations.

Monetary Fines

The damages that are available to the SEC differ in some significant aspects from those available to the Department of Justice (DOJ) in its enforcement of the criminal side of the FCPA. According to the FCPA Guidance, “For violations of the anti-bribery provisions, cor­porations and other business entities are subject to a civil penalty of up to $16,000 per violation. Individuals, including officers, directors, stockholders, and agents of companies, are similarly subject to a civil penalty of up to $16,000 per violation, which may not be paid by their employer or principal. For violations of the accounting provisions, SEC may obtain a civil penalty not to exceed the greater of (a) the gross amount of the pecuniary gain to the defendant as a result of the violations or (b) a specified dollar limitation. The specified dollar limitations are based on the egregious­ness of the violation, ranging from $7,500 to $150,000 for an individual and $75,000 to $725,000 for a company.”

As straightforward as these monetary amounts may seem, the totals can become very large very quickly. As noted by Russ Ryan in a guest post on the FCPA Professor’s blog, entitled “Former SEC Enforcement Official Throws The Red Challenge Flag, the SEC significantly multiplied those amounts in a default judgment context against former Siemens executives by claiming that “four alleged bribes should be triple-counted as three separate securities law violations – once as a bribe, again as a books-and-records violation, and yet again as an internal-controls violation – thus artificially multiplying four violations to create twelve.” Further, under the specific books-and-records and internal-controls allegations “the SEC was super aggressive, taking the position that these classically non-fraud violations involved “reckless disregard” of a regulatory requirement, thus allowing the SEC to demand the maximum $60,000 per violation in “second-tier” penalties rather than the $6,000 per violation in the “first-tier” penalties ordinarily associated with non-fraud violations.”

Profit Disgorgement

In addition to the above statutory fines and penalties, “SEC can obtain the equitable relief of disgorgement of ill-gotten gains and pre-judgment interest and can also obtain civil money penalties pursuant to Sections 21(d)(3) and 32(c) of the Exchange Act. SEC may also seek ancillary relief (such as an accounting from a defendant). Pursuant to Section 21(d)(5), SEC also may seek, and any federal court may grant, any other equitable relief that may be appropriate or necessary for the benefit of investors, such as enhanced remedial measures or the retention of an independent compliance consultant or monitor.” These remedies can be sought in a federal district court of through the SEC administrative process.

As explained by Marc Alain Bohn, in a blog post on the FCPA Blog entitled “What Exactly is Disgorgement?” profit “Disgorgement is an equitable remedy authorized by the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 that is used to deprive wrong-doers of their ill-gotten gains and deter violations of federal securities law. The Act gives the SEC the authority to enter an order “requiring accounting and disgorgement,” including reasonable interest, as part of administrative or cease and desist proceedings”. In another article Bohn co-authored with Sasha Kalb, entitled “Disgorgement – the Devil You Don’t Know” published in Corporate Compliance Insights (CCI), they set out how such damages are calculated. They said, “In calculating disgorgement, the SEC is required to distinguish between legally and illegally obtained profits. The first step in such calculations is to identify the causal link between the unlawful activity and the profit to be disgorged. Once this causal link is established, the SEC may assert its right to disgorge illicit profits that stem from this wrong-doing. Because calculations like these often prove difficult, courts tend to give the SEC considerable discretion in determining what constitutes an ill-gotten gain by requiring only a reasonable approximation of the profits which are causally connected to the violation.”

However if you read the FCPA quite closely you will not find any language regarding profit disgorgement as a remedy. Nevertheless a simple reading of the statute does not limit our inquiry as to this remedy. In a Note, published in the University of Michigan Journal of International Law, entitled “The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, SEC Disgorgement of Profits and the Evolving International Bribery Regime: Weighing Proportionality, Retribution and Deterrence”, author David C. Weiss explained the development of the remedy of profit disgorgement. As noted by Bohn, profit disgorgement was always available to the SEC from the very beginning of its existence, through the enabling legislation of 1934. But as explained by Weiss, in the completely unrelated legislation entitled The Penny Stock Reform Act of 1990, profit disgorgement was “authorized by statute [as a remedy to the SEC] without a limitation to the FCPA.”

Finally, and what many compliance practitioners do not focus on for SEC enforcement of the FCPA, was the enactment of Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOX). Weiss said, “The most recent change to the way in which the SEC enforces the FCPA—and a critical development to consider—is SOX, which affects virtually all of the SEC’s prosecutions, including those under the FCPA. When assessing penalties, the SEC draws on SOX to provide great latitude in determining the types of penalties it enforces. While SOX did not amend the FCPA itself, it did amend both civil and criminal securities laws relating to compliance, internal controls, and penalties for violations of the Exchange Act. Since the enactment of SOX, the SEC has possessed the power to designate how a particular penalty that it assesses will be classified.” [citations omitted]

There has been criticism of the SEC using profit disgorgement as a remedy. As far back as 2010, the FCPA Professor criticized this development in his article “The Façade of FCPA Enforcement” where he found fault with the remedy of profit disgorgement for books and records violations or internal controls violations only, where there is no corresponding “enforcement action charging violations of the anti-bribery provisions.” He wrote “It is difficult to see how a disgorgement remedy premised solely on an FCPA books and records and internal controls case is not punitive. It is further difficult to see how the mis-recording of a payment (a payment that the SEC does not allege violated the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions) can properly give rise to a disgorgement remedy.”

Bohn and Kalb said, “Over the last six years, disgorgement has served to significantly increase the financial loss that companies are exposed to in FCPA enforcement matters. In addition to the considerable civil penalties often imposed by the SEC as part of FCPA settlements, the SEC has made clear that it will not hesitate to seek recovery of large sums through disgorgement provided they are reasonably related to the alleged misconduct. Yet the methodology used by the SEC to support the amounts it seeks to disgorge has not been much discussed.  In the absence of adequate guidance as to how these sums are calculated, disgorgement poses an even greater risk in the current aggressive FCPA enforcement climate.” I would only add to their conclusion that profit disgorgement is here to stay.

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, 2015

March 17, 2015

The Companion and SEC Enforcement of the FCPA – Part II

The CompanionI will use Agatha Christie’s short story The Companion as the introduction to today’s blog post. This story, related by one of the Tuesday story-telling group of detective aficionados, Dr. Lloyd, and is about two people who are related yet take different paths. It involves the death of a woman while on vacation on the Island of Gran Canaria. The deceased was named Mary Barton and she died while trying to save her companion, one Amy Durrant, from drowning. Sometime later Miss Durrant was deemed missing and presumed drowned off the coast of Cornwall. However there was a double crime as Durrant had actually drowned Barton in Gran Canaria and then faked her own death in Cornwall, however she had returned home to Australia where she actually died within a month of returning. It turned out that Durrant was a cousin to Barton and her only living relation. Since both women were now dead, Barton’s not inconsiderable estate passed on to Durrant’s children, which was her plan all along.

All of which informs today’s topic that being the difference in Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement resolution tools from those used by the Department of Justice (DOJ). While both the SEC and DOJ use Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) and Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs); there are other tools in the SEC arsenal, which the DOJ does not use. These revolve around the fact that in FCPA enforcement, the DOJ handles criminal prosecution and the SEC handles things on the civil side of FCPA enforcement.

Traditionally the SEC obtains a Cease and Desist order by going to a federal district court. The FCPA Guidance states, “In a civil injunctive action, SEC seeks a court order compelling the defendant to obey the law in the future. Violating such an order can result in civil or criminal contempt proceedings. Civil contempt sanctions, brought by SEC, are remedial rather than punitive in nature and serve one of two purposes: to compensate the party injured as a result of the violation of the injunction or force compliance with the terms of the injunction.”

In most cases the defendant does not contest these Orders and there are no admissions made by the defendant regarding conduct that may have violated the FCPA. While there has been significant criticism of ‘No Admission’ settlements entered into by the SEC, these types of settlements are not expected to change where there is no corresponding criminal action. In a 2013 speech, SEC Chair Mary Jo White announced an expansion of the “admit” policy, and explained that while “neither admit nor deny” settlements would remain the norm, the SEC would now require defendants to admit wrongdoing “in certain cases where heightened accountability or acceptance of responsibility through the defendant’s admission of misconduct may be appropriate”. SEC enforcement chief, Andrew Ceresney, has added that defendants may be required to admit violations in cases of “egregious misconduct,” such as cases involving obstruction of the SEC’s investigation or harm to large numbers of investors.

However the past year or so, the SEC has moved to handle FCPA enforcement actions through an administrative process. As explained in the FCPA Guidance, “SEC has the ability to institute various types of administrative proceedings against a person or an entity that it believes has violated the law. This type of enforcement action is brought by SEC’s Enforcement Division and is litigated before an SEC administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ’s decision is subject to appeal directly to the Securities and Exchange Commission itself, and the Commission’s decision is in turn subject to review by a U.S. Court of Appeals.”

In a post on the FCPA Blog, entitled “Are Administrative Proceedings the New Civil Complaints?” Marc Alain Bohn explored this expanded use of administrative law proceedings in SEC enforcement of the FCPA, by noting, “which was facilitated in part by a 2010 Dodd-Frank amendment to the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 that enables the SEC to collect civil penalties through administrative proceedings.” Moreover, Bohn noted a couple of significant differences in going through a federal district court to obtain a Cease and Desist Order and going through the SEC administrative process. He said, “FCPA cases resolved via administrative proceeding require no judicial approval, as opposed to the settlement of formal civil complaints. This distinction is important because district court judges have complicated several SEC prosecutions in recent years by demanding changes to negotiated settlements or dismissing charges or otherwise limiting claims. In addition, the imposition of a cease-and-desist order under an administrative proceeding requires only that the SEC establish a likelihood that a defendant will violate federal securities law, in contrast with the “reasonable likelihood” required by a court-ordered injunction.” [citations omitted]

The FCPA Professor has been unremitting in his criticism of this administrative settlement process, citing a complete lack of transparency in the process, among other criticisms. Mike Volkov, perhaps more charitably, wrote, “The SEC’s “new” use of administrative proceedings for FCPA cases demonstrates its unwillingness to face judicial scrutiny and undermines the effectiveness of its enforcement program. The SEC likes to play on its home turf and for some reason feels that going to court is not as important.” Whatever your view on the use of the administrative process might be I would only say that it is here to stay so you had better be ready to participate in it if you find yourself in a SEC FCPA enforcement action.

Another criticism of this process is what might be called the home court advantage. In an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “Firms oppose SEC’s internal enforcement process”, reporter Hazel Bradford quoted Terry Weiss, an attorney with Greenberg Traurig LLP in Atlanta, for the following “I have no problem with fairness when (a case) is brought in a federal District Court and when it is overseen by a federal District Court judge who is appointed by the president of the United States and approved by the U.S. Senate. I have a significant problem when you have (administrative law judges) who are picked by the SEC.” The problem with this argument is that ALJ’s have been a part of the federal enforcement process for a wide variety of agencies, department and issues since the 1930s. To say the SEC is using an approved administrative process that violates the Constitution seems to me to be a stretch.

Another area the SEC has in common with the DOJ in FCPA enforcement is that they both sometimes decline to bring enforcement actions. The FCPA Guidance cites back to the SEC Enforcement Manual for the “guiding principles” in determining whether the Commission will bring a FCPA enforcement action. The factors the SEC will determine, which are the same for enforcement actions against entities or individuals., are listed as follows:

  • the seriousness of the conduct and potential violations;
  • the resources available to SEC staff to pursue the investigation;
  • the sufficiency and strength of the evidence;
  • the extent of potential investor harm if an action is not commenced; and
  • the age of the conduct underlying the potential violations.

It is important to understand these differences in resolution vehicles and tactics used by the SEC, separate and apart from the DOJ. The civil jurisdiction of FCPA enforcement entails some differences in approach by the SEC. It is important that any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner understand these differences in the event their company goes through a FCPA investigation or enforcement action. We saw three significant FCPA enforcement actions last fall, Smith & Wesson, Layne Christensen and Bio-Rad, where there was no corresponding DOJ FPCA enforcement action brought jointly with the SEC enforcement action. As anti-corruption compliance programs mature, it may well be that this could portend the future. Just as with The Companion simply because it appears that two are together, they may have their own separate callings. Tomorrow I review some of the unique damages available to the SEC in a FCPA enforcement action.

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, 2015

March 16, 2015

Miss Marple Short Stories and SEC Enforcement of the FCPA, Part I

Miss Marple Short StoriesI am a huge Agatha Christie fan. I have read most of the Poriot novels and many of the Jane Marple novels as well. However, I was not aware of Christie’s work in the short story format until I recently read a volume entitled Miss Marple Short Stories. This volume included 13 short stories first published in 1932. In many ways reading them was like revisiting an old friend, who had new stories to tell me that I had not previously heard. So in honor of my love of Agatha Christie and her short stories, I will theme my blog posts this week around one of her original short stories, published as The Thirteen Problems.

The first story was called The Tuesday Night Club and introduced Miss Marple and her cast of characters around these stories. Each was asked to relate some mystery and the others would try and solve the mystery. As with most of Christie’s writing, there were the stories and the characters who were, in many ways, stories themselves so there was a double layer of intersection. In this story a wife died of poisoning and her husband was the prime suspect. However Miss Marple deduced that the couple’s longtime housekeeper who has gotten “into trouble” through a liaison with the husband had poisoned the wife in hope’s of marrying the now widow. The group around Miss Marple was astounded when her deduction was confirmed by the storyteller when he related the housekeeper’s own deathbed confession.

Just as many readers may not have focused on Agatha Christie’s work in the short story format, many Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) practitioners tend to focus on Department of Justice (DOJ) FCPA enforcement actions. However, just as Christie aficionados who did not focus on her short stories, many FPCA compliance practitioners do not tend to focus on FCPA enforcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). To help address this, over the next week I will discuss issues relating to SEC enforcements.

Today, I begin with reviewing some jurisdictional issues unique to the SEC; commonly referred to as the FCPA accounting provisions, they consist of the books and records provisions which, as set out in the FCPA Guidance, requires that “issuers must make and keep books, records, and accounts that, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect an issuer’s transactions and dispositions of an issuer’s assets and internal controls requirements.” Under the internal controls provisions, “issuers must devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to assure management’s control, authority, and responsibility over the firm’s assets.”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the ‘accounting provisions’ under the FCPA as stated in the FCPA Guidance, is as follows: , “Although the accounting provisions were originally enacted as part of the FCPA, they do not apply only to bribery-related violations. Rather, the accounting provisions ensure that all public companies account for all of their assets and liabilities accurately and in reasonable detail”. [emphasis supplied] This means there can be strict liability for stand alone violations of these provisions, with no ties back to the corrupt intent or elements of a FCPA violation are present.

Who is covered under SEC enforcement of the FCPA? 

The SEC prosecutes ‘issuers’ who are defined as a company “that has a class of securities registered pursuant to Section 12 of the Exchange Act or that is required to file annual or other period reports pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Exchange Act.” The SEC also enforces the FCPA against companies “whose securities trade on a national securities exchange in the United States, including foreign issuers with exchange traded American Depository Receipts” and trade in over-the counter markets. While the SEC does not bring enforcement actions against private companies, private companies are also subject to the FCPA, just as public companies for bribing a foreign government official, in violation of the FCPA.

Accounting Provisions

Consistent with the concern that bribe payments are often disguised as other types of payments in a company’s books and records, “requires issuers to “make and keep books, records, and accounts, which, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of the assets of the issuer.”” The “in reasonable detail” qualification was adopted by Congress “in light of the concern that such a standard, if unqualified, might connote a degree of exactitude and precision which is unrealistic.” The addition of this phrase was intended to make clear “that the issuer’s records should reflect transactions in conformity with accepted methods of recording economic events and effectively prevent off-the-books slush funds and payments of bribes.”

The Guidance goes on to give several examples of SEC enforcement actions of the books and record provisions where bribes were mischaracterized in a company’s books and records. Such examples include bribes paid out in the guise of commissions, royalties or consulting fees. Another prominent example includes reimbursement for sales and marketing or miscellaneous expenses where no such activity occurred. A favorite has been mischaracterized travel and entertainment expenses. Finally, a large group of often over-looked expenses include free goods for demonstration products, intercompany accounts, vendor payments and customer write-offs.

A key distinction of FCPA enforcement by the SEC from other types of accounting fraud is that there is no materiality requirement under the FCPA. Typically, internal audit, external audit or even forensic accounting, only review material transactions. Obviously for a large multi-national company subject to the FCPA, materiality could be millions of dollars or multiplies thereof. However we have seen FCPA enforcement actions with corrupt payments made in the low thousands of dollars.

Internal Controls Provisions

The FCPA says that internal controls requires issuers to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls sufficient to provide reasonable assurances that—

(i) transactions are executed in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization;

(ii) transactions are recorded as necessary (I) to permit preparation of financial statements in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles or any other criteria applicable to such statements, and (II) to maintain accountability for assets;

(iii) access to assets is permitted only in accordance with management’s general or specific authorization; and

(iv) the recorded accountability for assets is compared with the existing assets at reasonable intervals and appropriate action is taken with respect to any differences.

As further explained in the FCPA Guidance, “the Act defines “reasonable assurances” as “such level of detail and degree of assurance as would satisfy prudent officials in the conduct of their own affairs.” Neither the FCPA nor the FCPA Guidance specifies a particular set of controls that companies are required to implement. However the FCPA Guidance does note, “the internal controls provision gives companies the flexibility to develop and maintain a system of controls that is appropriate to their particular needs and circumstances.”

Moreover, the FCPA Guidance recognizes that “An effective compliance program is a critical component of an issuer’s internal controls.” To do so, a company needs to access its risk and then design and implement a system of internal controls to “account the operational realities and risks attendant to the company’s business.” The FCPA Guidance suggests some of these areas should include “the nature of its products or services; how the products or services get to market; the nature of its work force; the degree of regulation; the extent of its government interaction; and the degree to which it has operations in countries with a high risk of corruption”. But the over-riding key is to assess your company’s FCPA compliance risks and set up a set of internal controls to help manage those risks effectively.

Other SEC Enforcement Areas Relating to FCPA Compliance 

In addition to the accounting provisions there are other laws and regulations that the SEC enforces and ties into FCPA enforcement. As noted in the FCPA Guidance, “Issuers have reporting obligations under Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act, which requires issuers to file an annual report that contains comprehensive information about the issuer. Failure to properly disclose material information about the issuer’s business, including material revenue, expenses, profits, assets, or liabilities related to bribery of foreign government officials, may give rise to anti-fraud and reporting violations under Sections 10(b) and 13(a) of the Exchange Act.”

There are also several sections under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) that have FCPA implications. These include SOX §302 that requires the principle officers of a company “take responsibility for and certify the integrity of these company’s financial reports on a quarterly basis.” Under SOX §404 companies must present annually their conclusion “regarding the effectiveness of the company’s internal controls over accounting.” Finally, SOX §802 prohibits “altering, destroying, mutilating, concealing or falsifying records, documents or tangible objects” with the intent to obstruct or influence a federal investigation, such as the FCPA.

The remainder of this week I will tie another Miss Marple short story to another SEC FCPA enforcement issue. I hope that you will tune in for the next installment.

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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, 2015

March 9, 2015

Who is Responsible for Complying with the FCPA?

7K0A0014-2The Department of Justice (DOJ) still faces criticism over its Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement strategy. Some decry that it is too aggressive, that the DOJ has moved into waters Congress never intended the DOJ to navigate into regarding the FCPA. Others worry that the DOJ, through its use of settlement mechanisms such as Deferred Prosecution and Non-Prosecution Agreements (DPAs and NPAs), let corporations off to easily with fines and other monetary penalties being the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. Yet another school of thought says that it is up to the DOJ to tell companies how not to engage in bribery and corruption by specifying precisely what type of anti-corruption compliance program to put into effect.

One thing these commentariat all have in common is that they generally do not look to those responsible for obeying the law, i.e. companies and persons who are subject to the FCPA, for their responsibility of complying with the law. Such failure seems to me to be sadly misplaced. But it is not simply Mike Volkov’s FCPA Paparazzi who fail to assess a corporation’s role in their failure to comply with the law; unfortunately it is also company leaders themselves.

We recently were treated to another such display of ‘What Me Worry?’ mentality by HSBC Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Stuart Gulliver when he said, “Can I know what every one of 257,000 people is doing?” Leaving aside the issue of whether a corporate CEO who has signed one of the largest DPAs in the history of the world (for money-laundering, not FCPA violations); should admit he (1) he doesn’t care or (2) his company is too unwieldy for it to obey the laws that you and I follow everyday; Gulliver inadvertently hit upon one of the key concepts of a best practices compliance program. That concept is a well-rounded program that assures compliance, not some all knowing, all seeing narcissist at the top.

In a Financial Times (FT) article entitled “Too big to manage”, Andrew Hill blasted Gulliver’s statement as “disingenuous” but went on to state, “Knowing what every employee is doing is not the leader’s responsibility. But by using a combination of the right structure, the latest technology and, above all, by imbuing a company with the correct culture and reinforcing regular communication with visits to the shop floor, he or she should be able to limit the chance of a major scandal.” Hill quoted management thinker Henry Mintzberg for the following, ““You can’t excuse [scandals] by saying we have so many employees. You . . . have got to be on the ground to have a sense of what your organisation is all about.””

This means a CEO is not required to know everything but he does need to have an overall sense of whether his company is moving in a direction to do things such as follow the law. I would say this is even truer when you have promised (yet again) in a DPA that your company will follow the law. It also means that the leader sets the tone. If your leader takes the position that he or she cannot know what everyone is doing; that tone will be communicated down to the field troops but the message will be that said maximum leader does not care what the middle and lower levels are doing. Hence the DOJ would say that it all starts with Tone at the Top. Sadly Gulliver does not seem to acknowledge, let alone understand, that issue.

But more than simply having a leader that cares and is engaged; Gulliver’s statement belies other aspects of a best practices compliance program. Technology provides a mechanism for oversight of a compliance regime. Under the FCPA Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program, monitor is recognized as a key element so your company should establish a regular monitoring system to spot issues and address them. Effective monitoring means applying a consistent set of protocols, checks and controls tailored to your company’s risks to detect and remediate compliance problems on an ongoing basis. To address this, your compliance team should be checking in routinely with the finance departments in your foreign offices to ask if they’ve noticed recent accounting irregularities. Regional directors should be required to keep tabs on potential improper activity in the countries they manage. Additionally, the global compliance committee should meet or communicate as often as every month to discuss issues as they arise. These ongoing efforts demonstrate your company is serious about compliance.

In addition to monitoring, structural controls are recognized as an important element. Hill said that large companies “must use structural means to maintain control.” One of the best explanations of the use of internal controls as a structural component of any best practices compliance program comes from Aaron Murphy, a partner at Foley and Lardner in San Francisco, in his book entitled “Foreign Corrupt Practices Act”, where he said, “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.”

I would advocate that it is the interplay of the right message, tools in place to communicate and enforce the message and then oversight to ensure compliance with the message that allows a 250,000 plus employee base company to have a chance to operate in compliance with their legal obligations. Echoing this maxim, Hill quoted Rick Goings, Chairman and CEO of Tupperware Brands Corporation, for the following, “Wars are won not by generals, but by non-commissioned officers. If you have the right kind of structure…and behind that a value system, I think you can do it.”

HSBC continues to be the poster child for compliance lessons learned, whether intentional or not. Hill concluded his piece with the following, “The lesson may be that, irrespective of the size of the company, executives who lose touch with how their staff are using the culture they preach are courting embarrassment and scandal. The trend towards large companies operating through smaller units, with more autonomy and accountability for their actions, does not absolve leaders from meeting their traditional responsibilities to know what is happening on the frontline. As Prof Fischer suggests, they should manage according to the old Russian proverb that Ronald Reagan adopted when dealing with the Soviet Union in the 1980s: trust, but verify.”

There is a plethora of compliance regimes that companies can look to in order to create a best practices compliance program. Simply put, it is a relatively straightforward exercise; perhaps not easy but certainly there are well-articulated compliance programs that companies can follow. To continue to criticize the DOJ (and Securities and Exchange Commission) for failing to communicate what they wish to see in a best practices compliance program, simply fails to take into account the responsibility that corporations have in complying with US laws. The information is out there in abundance. Even a weekend article in the FT lays it out for you.

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, 2015

March 2, 2015

Farewell to Mr. Spock and Risk Assessment Under COSO

Mr. SpockLeonard Nimoy died last Friday. He will be forever associated with the role of Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek television show which premiered in 1966. The original series ran for only three years but had a full life in syndication up through this day. He also reprised the role in six movies featuring the crew of the original series and in the recent reboot.

Mr. Spock was about a personal character for me as I ever saw on television. For a boy going through the insanity of adolescence and the early teen years, I found Mr. Spock and his focus on logic as a way to think about things. He pursued this path while dealing with his half human side, which compelled emotions. This focus also led me to explore Mediations by Marcus Aurelius. But more than simply logic and being a tortured soul, Mr. Spock and his way looking at things and Star Trek with its reach for the stars ethos inspired me when it came out and still does to this day.

Mr. Spock and his pursuit of logic inform today’s blog post. Every compliance practitioner is aware of the need for a risk assessment in any best practices compliance program; whether that program is based on the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or some other compliance law or regime. While the category of risk assessment is listed as Number 3 in the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program in the FCPA Guidance, both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) intone that your compliance journey begins with a risk assessment for two basic reasons. The first is that you must know the corruption risks your company faces and second, a risk assessment is your road map going forward to manage those risks.

Interestingly Risk Assessment is the second objective in the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) Cube. In its volume entitled “Internal Control – Integrated Framework”, herein ‘the Framework Volume’, it recognizes that “every entity faces a variety of risks from external and internal sources.” This objective is designed to provide a company with a “dynamic and iterative process for identifying and assessing risks.” For the compliance practitioner none of this will sound new or even insightful, however the COSO Framework requires a component of management input and oversight that was perhaps not as well understood. The Framework Volume says that “Management specifies objectives within the category relating to operations, reporting and compliance with such clarity to be able to identify and analyze risks to those objectives.” But management’s role continues throughout the process as it must consider both internal and external changes which can effect or change risk “that may render internal controls ineffective.” This final requirement is also important for any anti-corruption compliance internal control. Changes are coming quite quickly in the realm of anti-corruption laws and their enforcement. Management needs to be cognizant of these changes and changes that its business model may make in the delivery of goods or services which could increase risk of running afoul of these laws.

The objective of Risk Assessment consists of four principles. They are:

Principle 6 – “The organization specifies objectives with sufficient clarity to enable the identification and assessment of risks relating to the objectives.”

Principle 7 – “The organization identifies risks to the achievement of its objectives across the entity and analyzes risks as a basis for determining how the risks should be managed.”

Principle 8 – “The organization considers the potential for fraud in assessment risks to the achievement of objectives.”

Principle 9 – “The organization identifies and assesses changes that could significantly impact the system of internal control.”

Principle 6 – Suitable Objectives 

Your risk analysis should always relate to stated objectives. As noted in the Framework Volume, it is management who is responsible for setting the objectives. Rittenberg explained, “Too often, an organization starts with a list of risks instead of considering what objectives are threatened by the risk, and then what control activities or other actions it needs to take.” In other words your objectives should form the basis on which your risk assessments are approached.

Principle 7 – Identifies and Analyzes Risk 

Risk identification should be an ongoing process. While it should begin at senior management, Rittenberg believes that even though a risk assessment may originate at the top of an organization or even in an operating function, “the key is that an overall process exists to determine how risks are identified and managed across the entity.” You need to avoid siloed risks at all costs. The Framework Volume cautions that “Risk identification must be comprehensive.”

Principle 8 – Fraud Risk 

Every compliance practitioner should understand that fraud exists in every organization. Moreover, the monies that must be generated to pay bribes can come from what may be characterized as traditional fraud schemes, such as employee expense account fraud, fraudulent third party contracting and payments and even fraudulent over-charging and pocketing of the differences in sales price. This means that is should be considered as an important risk analysis. It is important that any company follow the flow of money and if the Fraud Triangle is present, management be placed around such risk.

Principle 9 – Identifies and Analyzes Significant Change

It really is true that if there is one constant in business, it is that there will always be change. The Framework Volume states, “every entity will require a process to identify and assess those internal and external factors that significantly affect its ability to achieve its objectives. Rittenberg intones that companies “should have a formal process to identify significant changes, both internal and external, and assess the risks and approaches to mitigate the risk” in a timely manner.

Today’s blog post is a tribute to Mr. Spock as he, Star Trek and its characters continue to teach us lessons which we can apply in business going forward. It is the process of compliance which informs your program going forward. A risk assessment is recognized by sources as diverse as the DOJ, SEC and COSO as a necessary step. Just as Mr. Spock, the Science Officer onboard the Enterprise, was required to assess the risk to the ship and crew from a scientific perspective, a risk assessment can give you the tools to not only assess the corruption compliance risk to your company but a road map to managing that risk. So farewell to my long time friend Mr. Spock, you gave to me more than I ever gave back to you. I can think of no more fitting tribute to Spock than to say Live Long and Prosper.

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, 2015

February 25, 2015

Doing Less with Less and the Unification of Germany

Sqeezed Piggy BankI am attending the SCCE Utilities and Energy Conference in Houston this week. As usual, the SCCE has put on a great event for the compliance practitioner. This year there is live blogging by Kortney Nordum so there should be much about the conference up on the SCCE blogsite, this week and into the future. Lizza Catalano has put together a first rate program for compliance practitioners of many stripes. As an added benefit, SCCE Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Roy Snell has brought some cold weather down to Houston for the event for our late February enjoyment. While it was 80 on Saturday, today is was a balmy 36 courtesy of our Minnesotan guests.

As you might guess the current economic downturn is on everyone’s mind and a subject of much conversation. Last week I wrote a post about the depression of oil and gas prices in the energy space and some of the increased Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or other anti-corruption risks that might well arise from this economic downturn. Over the next couple of days, I want to explore how a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner might think through responses to this increased compliance risk. Today I will focus on doing less with less. Tomorrow I will suggest some technological solutions.

I have been around long enough to see more than one of these economic events in the energy space. While not suggesting that we Texans never learn not to repeat our mistakes, they do seem to have a pattern. Prices drop precipitously, companies who are overstocked, over-leverage or generally over-panic; over-react and cut head count and spending dramatically to some level that is not based on rational economic analysis. Then they get some handle on where the numbers might be heading and the cuts start to flatten out and some type of equilibrium is reached.

Right now, in the energy space, we are in the cutting phase. That means loss of personnel (head count) and loss of resources even if it was calculated last year based on a summer or fall 2014 economic projection in your annual budgeting process. This means one thing you will need get for a quarter or two will be financial resources to place the personnel your compliance function may have lost. This means that you will have to figure out a way to accomplish more with fewer resources. While I often advocate that the compliance function can and should draw on other disciplines such as Human Resources (HR), IT, Internal Audit and Marketing for support; those functions have most probably been ‘right-sized’ as well so they may not be able to assist the compliance function as much they could have previously.

Now would be a very good time to put into practice what Dresser-Rand CCO Jan Farley often says, “Don’t sweat the small (compliance) stuff.” Farley often speaks about the need not to waste your scarce compliance resources on areas or matters that are low compliance risks. But to do this, you need to understand what are your highest compliance risks. Since you will not have additional resources to perform such an analysis, I would suggest now would be a very good time for you to assess your compliance program and your business model to see what are your highest risks. If you believe there are several, you can fprioritize them. This exercise will give you the basis to deliver your ever-scarcer compliance resources to your highest risk areas.

While I do not believe the Department of Justice (DOJ) or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will be sympathetic to some unsubstantiated claim along the lines of ‘I did my best with what I had’; they also made clear in the FCPA Guidance that “An effective compliance program promotes “an orga­nizational culture that encourages ethical conduct and a commitment to compliance with the law.” Such a program protects a company’s reputation, ensures investor value and confidence, reduces uncertainty in business transactions, and secures a company’s assets. A well-constructed, thought­fully implemented, and consistently enforced compliance and ethics program helps prevent, detect, remediate, and report misconduct, including FCPA violations.” (emphasis supplied)

So while the DOJ and SEC will not accept you bald-faced claims that our company simply did not have the money to spend on compliance, they will most-probably consider a compliance program where you have looked at your risks, in the context of this economic downturn, and delivered the compliance resources you do have to those risks. But the key is Document, Document, and Document your decision-making calculus and your implementation. (Stephen Martin would probably add here that if your annual spend on Yellow Post-It Notes is a factor of 10X your compliance spend, this approach would not be deemed credible.)

In her On work column in the Financial Times (FT), Lucy Kellaway wrote about this the concept of doing less with less for the corporate executive personally, in an article entitled, “No need to ‘lean in’ when laziness can be just as effective”. She cited to the Prussian General Helmuth von Moltke for “devising one of the world’s fist management matrices” when he assessed his officers on two scales: “clever v. dim and lazy v. energetic.” From this he came up with four permutations:

  • Dim and lazy – Good at executing orders.
  • Dim and energetic – Very dangerous, as they take the wrong decisions.
  • Clever and energetic – Excellent staff officers.
  • Clever and lazy – Top field commanders as they get results.

The point of Kellaway’s article has direct implications for the CCO or compliance practitioner currently facing an economic downturn, “It is only by being lazy that we become truly efficient, and come to see what is important and what is not.” Kellaway cautioned “the sort of laziness to encourage is not the slobbish variety that means you do bad work. That is not laziness: it is stupidity. Instead, we need the clever version that comes from knowing there is an opportunity cost to every minute we spend working, so we must use our time wisely.”

From the compliance perspective, this translates directly into using your compliance resources wisely. So whether you want to cite the Prussian general who unified Germany, columnist Kellaway, Dresser-Rand CCO Farley or this article’s theme of doing less with less, I would suggest to you there is a manner to maintain “A well-constructed, thought­fully implemented, and consistently enforced compliance and ethics program helps prevent, detect, remediate, and report misconduct, including FCPA violations” even in an economic downturn.

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, 2015

 

February 20, 2015

Assessing Internal Compliance Controls – Part II

Assessing Internal Controls IIn this blog post I continue my exploration of how you should assess your compliance internal controls using the Committee of Sponsoring Organization of the Treadway Organization (COSO), publication “Internal Controls – Integrated Framework, Illustrative Tools for Assessing Effectiveness of a System of Internal Controls” (herein ‘the Illustrative Guide’), as a starting point and basis for discussion. You will recall from my series on compliance internal controls under the COSO 2013 Framework there are five objectives: (1) Control Environment; (2) Risk Assessment; (3) Control Activities; (4) Information and Communication; and (5) Monitoring Activities. Today I will review issues around compliance internal control assessments on Control Environment and Risk Assessments.

First are some general definitions that you need to consider in your evaluation. A compliance internal control must be both present and functioning. A control is present if the “components and relevant principles exist in the design and implementation of the system of [compliance] internal control to achieve the specified objective.” A compliance internal control is functioning if the “components and relevant principles continue to exist in the conduct of the system of [compliance] internal controls to achieve specified objectives.”

I. Control Environment

Under the objective of Control Environment there are five principles which you will need to assess. The five principles are:

  1. The organization demonstrates a commitment to integrity and ethical values. Here you can look to see if there is a training program to help make employees cognizant of the importance of doing business ethically and in compliance with the standard’s of your company’s Code of Conduct. Also is there specific training on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or other relevant anti-corruption/anti-bribery legislation which may govern your organization? Next does your company have in place any process to evaluate “individuals against published integrity and ethics policy”? Finally, do you have in place any process to “identify and address deviations in the organization”?
  2. The board of directors demonstrates independence from management and exercises oversight of the development and performance of internal control. Under this Principle you must DOCUMENT the active involvement of your company’s Board of Directors. So not only must risk assessments be performed and evaluated by senior management, they must also be evaluated by the Board, separate and apart from senior management. A Board must also document its review of any remediation plans and monitoring activities.
  3. Management establishes, with board oversight, structures, reporting lines and appropriate authorities and responsibility in pursuit of the objectives. This Principle deals primarily with reporting lines and structures so you will need to consider not only the structure of your business but also whether or not both clear and sufficient reporting lines have been established throughout the company. The next analysis is to move down the chain to see if there definitions and assignments for your compliance function. Lastly you need to assess whether there are sufficient parameters around the responsibilities of the compliance function and if there are limitations which should be addressed.
  4. The organization demonstrates a commitment to attract, develop and retain competent individuals in alignment with the objectives. Under this Principle you will need to review the policies and procedures to make sure you have the minimum required under a best practices compliance program and then evaluate and address any shortcomings. This Principle also has a more personnel focus by requiring you to consider whether your organization attracts, develops and retains sufficient compliance personnel and is there an appropriate succession plan in place if someone ‘wins the lottery’ on the way to work.
  5. The organization holds individuals accountable for their internal control responsibilities in the pursuit of the objective. Under this Principle review is required to determine whether the Board established and communicated the mechanisms to hold employees accountable for your compliance internal controls. As suggested in the FCPA Guidance, there should be both a carrot and stick approach, so for the carrot is there some type of Board, senior management or employee compensation based on whether they did their assignments in compliance with your Code of Conduct or are bonuses based strictly on a sales formulation? For the stick, have any employees ever been disciplined under your compliance regimes?

II. Risk Assessment

This objective has four Principles that require assessment. They are (numbers follow the COSO Framework):

  1. The organization specifies objectives with sufficient clarity to enable the identification and assessment of risks relating to objectives which include Operations Objectives, External Financial Reporting Objectives, External Non-Financial Reporting Objectives, Internal Reporting Objectives and Compliance Objectives. Here I think the key is the documentation of several different topics and issues relating to your company and how it operations. This means you will need to assess such diverse concepts as what are your senior management’s choices for business and compliance? You will need to consider and assess tolerances for risk as demonstrated by such issues as operations and financial performance goals. Finally, it can be used as a basis for committing of compliance resources going forward.
  2. The organization identifies risks to the achievement of its objectives across the entity and analyzes risks as a basis for determining how the risks should be managed. This Principle requires you to take a look at not only your compliance organization but also your business structure including entity, subsidiary, division, operating unit, and functional levels. You should assess the involvement of your compliance function at each point identified and the appropriate levels of management therein. Finally, from the compliance perspective, you should attempt to estimate not only the significance of compliance risks identified in the risk assessment but also determine how to respond to such identified compliance risks.
  3. The organization considers the potential for fraud in assessing risks to the achievement of objectives. Bribery and corruption can be categorized as forms of fraud. Rather than being fraud against the company to obtain personal benefits it can be fraud in the form of bribery and corruption of foreign government officials. For the compliance internal control assessment around this Principle I would urge you to ‘follow the money’ in your organization and consider the mechanisms by which employees can generate the funds sufficient to pay bribes. Many of these are simply fraud schemes so you should consider this within the compliance context and assess incentive and pressures on employees to make their numbers or be fired. You should also assess your employees’ attitudes and rationalizations regarding same.
  4. The organization identifies and assesses changes that could significantly impact the system of internal control. This Principle speaks to the need of your organization to maintain personnel competent to use the risk assessment going forward. But it also requires you to assesses changes in the external environment, assess changes in the business model or other significant business changes and, finally, to consider any changes in compliance leadership and how that would impact this Principle.

I often say that good compliance is simply good business. These COSO objectives are not only important from the compliance perspective but they also speak to the issue of overall process in your organization. The more you can burn these activities into the DNA of your company, the better run your organization will be going forward. Auditing against the COSO standards will provide your management with greater information on the health of your organization and satisfy your legal requirements under the FCPA.

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, 2015

February 17, 2015

Gary Owens, Laugh-In and Accountability in Your Compliance Program

Gary OwensIf you were alive at all during the 1960s, you will recall that one of the cultural phenomenon’s was NBC’s television show Laugh-In. It was brought to you from the NBC studios in beautiful downtown Burbank and featured one very droll player, who always played himself, Gary Owens, as the show’s announcer – Gary Owens. Owens died last week and I was surprised but pleased to learn in reading his obituary in the New York Times (NYT) that he was also the voice for several cartoon characters in the Jay Ward stable (home of Rocky and Bullwinkle) and he was the voice of Space Ghost which had a renaissance during the early years of the Cartoon Network.

I thought about Owens’ role on Laugh-In not only as the straight man but also the character, who in many ways brought accountability to the manic show when I read this week’s article by Adam Bryant in his NYT Corner Office column, entitled “Making a Habit of Accountability”, which featured his interview of Natarajan Chandrasekaran, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tata Consulting Services. Chandrasekaran was raised on a farm and one of the things that he learned early on from his farmer father was “the value of money and the value of time. So he made us account for things. It wasn’t that there was a right or wrong way, but he wanted us to be accountable for what we did.”

I considered this concept of accountability in your best practices anti-corruption compliance program, whether based upon the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or other program. With the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent pronouncements that it will more aggressively prosecute individuals for FCPA violations, perhaps companies should emphasize accountability more in their compliance programs. By doing so, perhaps employees might understand that there really is their personal liberty on the line when they engage in something which might even approach a FCPA violation. Further, by emphasizing personal accountability, companies could demonstrate more pro-active approaches to compliance that the DOJ wants to see going forward.

Chandrasekaran’s remarks went beyond simply emphasizing personal accountability. He also spoke about accountability in the context of a company’s overall culture. In particular I found his thoughts about accountability, learning and culture quite insightful. He said, “Learning cannot be achieved by mandate. It has to be achieved by culture.” He added, “In our executive team meetings, we share experiences and case studies about failures and successes.”

But beyond simply this insight there should also be accountability for helping others achieve the company’s overall goals. While he did not limit it to compliance, I still found it applicable to a best practice compliance regime when he said, “Everybody has to take some accountability for other people, and look for ways to make small contributions to help others. Looking after people has to become everybody’s responsibility. Innovation and caring for people are cultures; they are not departments.” He did admit that such a change would not happen overnight and indeed he has been emphasizing this message for five years at Tata because “It takes time to build that culture.”

Chandrasekaran also had an insight into compliance through his views on company structure. Tata is a flat organization, with multiple business units. He did this so the largest number of employees would feel empowered to make decisions and work collaboratively. While I recognize that such views might be antithetical to US based companies with a more ‘command and control’ approach, Chandrasekaran explained that the leaders of those units are expected “to work together. We said the power of our company will be driven by how well they work together. In some of our bigger monthly meetings, we will start with people presenting examples of their collaborations.”

I considered all of the above in the greater context of a best practices anti-corruption compliance program. One of the things that the FCPA Guidance emphasized was the inter-relatedness of each component of your compliance program. While you might have greater risk in the area of third parties or doing business in certain areas of the world where there are higher perceptions of corruption, you should not pick and choose what prongs of a compliance program you implement. Each step builds upon one another and should all point to accountability for your actions in decision-making calculus for business decisions and their implementations.

However the concept of accountability is not one that is spelled out in the FCPA Guidance or in any formulation of a best practices compliance regime. Yet it is clear that accountability is something that underlies what a compliance program is trying to achieve. Just as Chandrasekaran learned early on there is a value to things; there is a value to time and there is a value to money. So they should be accounted for in the way you do business.

This might best be described as oversight of your compliance program. The issue your company should focus on here is whether employees are accountable within the ambit of your compliance program. Even after all the important ethical messages from management have been communicated to the appropriate audiences and key standards and controls are in place, there should still be a question of whether the company’s employees are accountable to the compliance program.

Two mechanisms to do so are through the techniques of monitoring, which is a commitment to reviewing and detecting compliance programs in real time and then reacting quickly to remediate them. A primary goal of monitoring is to identify and address gaps in your program on a regular and consistent basis. A second tool is auditing, which is generally viewed as a more limited review that targets a specific business component, region or market sector during a particular timeframe in order to uncover and/or evaluate certain risks, particularly as seen in financial records. However, you should not assume that because your company conducts audits that it is effectively monitoring. A robust program should include separate functions for auditing and monitoring. While unique in protocol, however, the two functions are related and can operate in tandem. Monitoring activities can sometimes lead to audits. For instance if you notice a trend of suspicious payments in recent monitoring reports from Indonesia, it may be time to conduct an audit of those operations to further investigate the issue.

Your company should establish a regular monitoring system to hold employees accountable to doing business under your compliance regime and Code of Conduct. Effective monitoring means applying a consistent set of protocols, checks and controls tailored to your company’s risks to detect and remediate compliance problems on an ongoing basis. While it may seem that accountability means looking over every employees shoulder, it should not simply be seen as the workplace equivalent of parental oversight. Chandrasekaran explained that how you conduct yourself at work can have a huge impact on other employees. He said, “it’s sometimes very hard to imagine, early in your career, how much impact you can have. If you’re in a job and in an organization, the impact you can make is huge, because it’s all about being part of a group that’s driving impact. So look for those opportunities.” If you look for ways to demonstrate accountability you can influence a wide variety of others 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, 2015

February 16, 2015

Economic Downturns and Increased Compliance Risk

Oil PricesOil is hovering around $50 per barrel. For most of the US economy this drop in oil price has provided a much-needed economic boost. One piece on the NPR website, entitled “Oil Price Dip, Global Slowdown Create Crosscurrents For U.S.”, said “economists have suggested the big drop in oil prices is a gift to consumers that will propel the economy.” Liz Ann Sonders, who is the chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, was quoted as saying “The U.S. economy is 68 percent consumer spending, so right there you know that falling oil prices is a benefit.” Another economist said the positive effects could be “worth $400 billion” for the US economy as a whole.

But in the energy space, particularly in the city of Houston, Texas, this plunge has been devastating. It is so bad that in this past week’s issue of the Houston Business Journal (HBJ), it provided a ‘Box Score’ for energy company lay-offs. And that was before Halliburton announced a 10%-15% reduction and Hercules Offshore announced that it had laid off some 30% of its work force since last October. Nationally, for the energy industry, it will be just as bad. In the NPR piece, David R. Kotok, of Cumberland Advisors, said, “cuts in production and energy company payrolls will cost the U.S. economy up to $150 billion.” The Houston Chronicle headlined it was a “Bloodbath”.

I thought about what this plunge in the price of oil could mean for the compliance function in energy and energy related companies going forward. Many Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs) and compliance practitioners struggle with metrics to demonstrate revenue generation. Most of the time, such functions are simply viewed as non-revenue generating cost drags on business. This may lead to compliance functions being severely reduced in this downturn. However I believe such cuts would be far from short-sighted; they would actually cost energy companies far more in the short and long term.

Almost any energy company of any size has gone through a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) investigation, whether internal or formal by the Department of Justice (DOJ) or Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Many had gone through enforcement actions. The risk profiles of these companies did not change because of the drop in oil prices. Extractive resources are still located largely in countries with a high perception of corruption. In others, the inherent compliance risks that currently exist for energy companies will certainly not lessen. Unfortunately they may well increase.

At this point I see two increasing compliance risks for energy companies. The first is that companies will attempt to reduce their costs by cutting their compliance personnel. A tangent but equally important component of this will be that companies that do not invest the monies needed to beef up their oversight through monitoring or other mechanisms are setting themselves up for serious compliance failures.

Moreover, what will be the pressure on the business folks of such companies to ‘get the deal done’ with this slashing of oil prices? Further, if there is a 10% to 30% overall employee reduction, what additional pressures will be on those employees remaining to make their numbers or face the same consequences as their former co-workers?

I think both of these scenarios are fraught with increased compliance risks. For companies to engage in behaviors as I have outlined above would certainly bring them into conflict with the Ten Hallmarks of an effective compliance program as set out in the FCPA Guidance. For instance on resources, the FCPA Guidance does not say in a time of less income, when your compliance risk remains the same or increases, you should cut your compliance function or the resources to support it. Indeed it intones the opposite, when stating, “Those individuals must have appropriate authority within the organization, adequate autonomy from management, and sufficient resources to ensure that the company’s compliance program is implemented effectively.” Moreover, the FCPA Guidance adds, “Moreover, the amount of resources devoted to compliance will depend on the company’s size, complex­ity, industry, geographical reach, and risks associated with the business. In assessing whether a company has reasonable internal controls, DOJ and SEC typically consider whether the company devoted adequate staffing and resources to the compliance program given the size, structure, and risk pro­file of the business.” So the resource issues is stated in reference to the risk profile of the business and not the current or fleeting economic issues of the day.

Also note that the FCPA Guidance speaks to an analysis from the DOJ side, which would presumably be a criminal side review. For instance, if a company cuts its compliance staff while its risk profile has not decreased, does this provide the required intent to commit a criminal act under the FCPA? Moreover, who would be the guilty party under such an analysis? Would it be the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who ultimately decides we need a fixed percentage cut of employees or simply a raw number to be laid off? How about the department head (as in the CCO) who is told to cut your staff 10% or we will make the cuts for you? Or is it a company’s Human Resources (HR) department who delivers the dreaded knock on a compliance practitioner’s door (I’m from HR and could you come with me). What if a company’s decision-making authority is so decentralized that there is no one person who can be held accountable?

You should also note the SEC role in FCPA enforcement, as alluded to in the quote from the FCPA Guidance. There will be an assessment of internal controls. Now that the COSO 2013 Framework has become effective, will companies delay plans to implement the new Framework and to begin to audit against it? If so, would that be a per se FCPA violation?

But there is a second reason that I believe that energy companies risk profiles will increase in this industry-specific downturn. Unfortunately it will come from those employees who survive the lay offs. They will be under increased pressure to do the jobs of the laid-off folks so there will be a greater chance that something could slip through the cracks. If you are already working full time at one job and one, two or three other employees in your department are laid-off, which job is going to get priority? Will you only be able to put out fires or will you be able to accomplish what most business folks think is an administrative task?

But more than the extra work the survivors will have laid upon them will be the implicit message that some companies senior management may well lay down, that being Get the Deal Done. If economic times are tough, senior management will be looking even more closely at the sales numbers of employees. The sales incentives could very well move from a question of what will my bonus be if I close this transaction to one of will I be fired if I do not close this transaction. If senior management makes clear that it is bring in more business or the highway, employees will get that message.

Once again, where would the DOJ look for to find intent? Would it be the person out in the field who believed he was told that he or she either brought in twice as much work since there were half as many employees left after lay-offs? Would it be the middle manager who is more closely reviewing the sales numbers and sending out email reminders that if sales do not increase, there may well have to be more cuts? What about the CEO who simply raises one eyebrow and says we need to hunker down and get the job done?

What might be the DOJ or SEC reaction to the downsizing of compliance in the face of such increased compliance risk? The energy industry has not gone through this type of economic downsizing in the new age of FCPA prosecutions, largely since 2004, so there is no relevant time frame of FCPA enforcement to reflect from. However, the financial industry did go through such a contraction in the 2007-2010 time frame. We have seen the DOJ and other financial industry regulators draw huge penalties for a series of anti-money laundering (AML) and LIBOR scandals. My guess is that the DOJ and SEC will not allow companies to use economic arguments in the face of known and recognized increase in compliance risks. Indeed they may focus on some of these points as reasons for increased compliance vigilance in an energy company’s compliance function 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, 2015

February 6, 2015

Arsenale and Incentivizing Compliance

ArsenaleI continue with a Venice themed blog post today by focusing on the Arsenale. No this is no a precursor to that famous north London football club, the Arsenal Gunners, but the district in Venice where one of the main commercial enterprises of the city took place, that being ship building and ship repair. At one point, the Arsenale employed almost 10% of the city’s workforce or 12,000 people. This was in the mid 1200s to the 1400s when Venice was at or near the height of its trading and financial power. The Arsenale developed the first production line for the building of ships, when, of course, it was all done by hand. The equipment developed to drag ships up on shore and repair was simply amazing. Appropriately, the Arsenale is now an Italian naval facility.

But I also picked up some interesting compliance insights in learning more about the Arsenale. The ship building techniques were of such a high level and importance to the city that they were viewed as state secrets. To protect against the loss of such valuable intellectual property, the Venetian city fathers put in a series of incentives and punishments that can help inform your best practices compliance program up to this day. First, and foremost, Venice forbade any skilled worker from leaving the city to go to work at a neighboring or rival city; the first non-compete and still widely used by corporate America today. Second was the punishment that if you were caught passing secret, you were summarily executed only after excruciating torture; while these techniques are not as widely used by corporate America today I am sure there are some non-enlightened corporate leaders who might like to re-institute one or both practices.

However over on the incentive side there were several mechanisms the City of Venice used to help make the Arsenale work force more loyal and desirous to stay in their jobs, all for the betterment of themselves and their city. The first was job security. The Arsenale was so busy for so many years that lay-offs were unheard of. Even if someone lost their job, through injury, mishap or worse; they received enough of compensation that they could live in the city. Finally, when a worker died, the company provided not only funeral expenses but would assist in taking care of the family through stipends or finding other work for family members.

This dual focus on keeping the state secrets of ship building and repair within the City of Venice reminded me of one of the points that representatives of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) continually remind compliance practitioners about when discussing any best practices compliance program; whether based on the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program, as articulated in their jointly released FCPA Guidance, or some other articulation such as in a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) Attachment C. They continually remind Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs) and compliance practitioners that any best practices compliance program should have both incentives and discipline as a part of the program.

Regarding disincentives for violating the Foreign Corruption Practices Act (FCPA), the Guidance is clear in stating, “DOJ and SEC will thus consider whether, when enforcing a compliance program, a company has appropri­ate and clear disciplinary procedures, whether those proce­dures are applied reliably and promptly, and whether they are commensurate with the violation. Many companies have found that publicizing disciplinary actions internally, where appropriate under local law, can have an important deterrent effect, demonstrating that unethical and unlawful actions have swift and sure consequences.”

However, the Guidance is equally clear that there should be incentives for not only following your own company’s internal Code of Conduct but also doing business the right way, i.e. not engaging in bribery and corruption. On incentives, the Guidance says, “DOJ and SEC recognize that positive incentives can also drive compliant behavior. These incentives can take many forms such as personnel evaluations and promotions, rewards for improving and developing a company’s compliance pro­gram, and rewards for ethics and compliance leadership. Some organizations, for example, have made adherence to compliance a significant metric for management’s bonuses so that compliance becomes an integral part of management’s everyday concern.” But the Guidance also recognizes that incentives need not only be limited to financial rewards as sometime simply acknowledging employees for doing the right thing can be a powerful tool as well.

All of this was neatly summed up in the Guidance with a quote from a speech given in 2004 by Stephen M. Cutler, the then Director, Division of Enforcement, SEC, entitled, “Tone at the Top: Getting It Right”, to the Second Annual General Counsel Roundtable, where Director Cutler said the following:

[M]ake integrity, ethics and compliance part of the promotion, compensation and evaluation processes as well. For at the end of the day, the most effective way to communicate that “doing the right thing” is a priority, is to reward it. Conversely, if employees are led to believe that, when it comes to compensation and career advancement, all that counts is short-term profitability, and that cutting ethical corners is an ac­ceptable way of getting there, they’ll perform to that measure. To cite an example from a different walk of life: a college football coach can be told that the graduation rates of his players are what matters, but he’ll know differently if the sole focus of his contract extension talks or the decision to fire him is his win-loss record.

All of this demonstrates that incentives can take a wide range of avenues. At the recently held ACI FCPA Bootcamp in Houston, TX, one of the speakers said that the Houston based company Weatherford, annually awards cash bonuses of $10,000 for employees who go above and beyond in the area of ethics and compliance for the company. While some might intone that is to be expected from a company that only recently concluded a multi-year and multi-million dollar enforcement action; as the speaker said if you want emphasize a change on culture, not much says so more loudly than awarding that kind of money to an employee.

While I am sure that being handed a check for $10,000 is quite a nice prize, you can also consider much more mundane methods to incentivize compliance. You can make a compliance evaluation a part of any employee’s overall evaluation for some type of year end discretionary bonus payment. It can be 5%, 10% or even up to 20%. But once you put it in writing, you need to actually follow it.

But incentives can be burned into the DNA of a company through the hiring and promotion processes. There should be a compliance component to all senior management hires and promotions up to those august ranks within a company. Your Human Resources (HR) function can be a great aid to your cause in driving the right type of behavior through the design and implementation of such structures. Employees know who gets promoted and why. If someone who is only known for hitting their numbers continually is promoted, however they accomplished this feat will certainly be observed by his or her co-workers.

Just as the fathers of Venice viewed the workers of the Arsenale as critical to the well-being of their city, senior managers need to understand the same about their work force. In places like Texas, employees typically are incentivized with some enlightened remark along the lines of “You should just be happy you even have a job.” Fortunately there are real world examples of how corporate incentives can work into a compliance regime. The City of Venice long ago showed how such incentives could help it maintain a commercial advantage. Fortunately the DOJ and SEC still understand those valuable lessons and continue to talk about them as well.

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, 2015

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