FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

March 4, 2015

Minnie Minoso Broke Barriers; Goodyear Pushes Compliance Forward

Minnie MinosoYesterday we celebrated the hard-nosed playing style of Anthony Mason, who recently passed away. Today we honor a true pioneer in professional baseball, Minnie Minoso, or Mr. White Sox. Minoso was the first black Cuban to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) when he debuted for the Cleveland Indians in 1949. In 1951, he was traded to the Chicago White Sox and he became a southside fixture for the rest of the decade. While his numbers were less than 2000 hits and 200 home runs, he was a fearless and speedy base runner and a nine-time All Star. Similarly to Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, the Chicago White Sox erected a statue in tribute to Mr. White Sox outside their ballpark. Even President Obama was moved to release a statement about Minoso saying in part, “Minnie may have been passed over by the Baseball Hall of Fame during his lifetime, but for me and for generations of black and Latino young people, Minnie’s quintessentially American story embodies far more than a plaque ever could.”

The contribution of Minoso in the exorable march of MLB towards integration informed part of my reading of the recent Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (Goodyear) Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) enforcement strategy of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This enforcement action was a solo effort by the SEC; there was no corresponding Department of Justice (DOJ) criminal enforcement action. So following this past fall’s triumvirate of SEC enforcement actions involving Smith & Wesson, Layne Christenen and Bio-Rad, the SEC continues to bring enforcement actions based upon the books and records and internal controls civil requirements of the FCPA. Therefore the Goodyear enforcement action is one which provides many lessons to be learned by the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner going forward and should be studied quite carefully by anyone in the compliance field.

The Bribery Schemes

As set out in the SEC Cease and Desist Order (the Order), Goodyear used several different bribery schemes in different countries, all violating the FCPA. In Kenya, Goodyear became a minority owner in a locally owned business which apparently paid bribes the old-fashioned way, in cash to the tune of over $1.5MM, yet falsely recorded the cash bribe payments as “promotional expenses.” In Angola, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the company paid approximately $1.6MM in bribes by falsely marking up invoices with “phony freight and customs clearing costs.” The subsidiary made the payments in cash and through wire transfers to various government officials. Finally, the subsidiary apparently cross-referenced the bribes it paid as follows, “As bribes were paid, the amounts were debited from the balance sheet account, and falsely recorded as payments to vendors for freight and clearing costs.” In other words a complete, total and utter failure of internal controls to forestall any of the foregoing.

Internal Controls Violations

The Order set out the section of the FCPA that the company violated. Regarding the internal controls, the Order stated, “Under Section 13(b)(2)(B) of the Exchange Act issuers are required 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.”

The Comeback

Equally important for the CCO or compliance practitioner are the specific steps that Goodyear took to remediate the situation it found itself in through these illegal payments. When the company received the initial reports about “the bribes, Goodyear promptly halted the improper payments and reported the matter to Commission staff.” Moreover, the company also cooperated extensively with the SEC. As noted in the Order, “Goodyear also provided significant cooperation with the Commission’s investigation. This included voluntarily producing documents and reports and other information from the company’s internal investigation, and promptly responding to Commission staff’s requests for information and documents. These efforts assisted the Commission in efficiently collecting evidence including information that may not have been otherwise available to the staff.”

In the area of internal remediation, regarding the entity in Kenya, where Goodyear was a minority owner in a local business, the company got rid of its from its corrupt partners by divesting its interest and ceasing all business dealings with the company. Goodyear is also divesting itself of its Angolan subsidiary. The Order also noted that Goodyear had lost its largest customer in Angola when it halted its illegal payment scheme. The company also took decisive disciplinary action against company employees “including executives of its Europe, Middle East and Africa region who had oversight responsibility, for failing to ensure adequate FCPA compliance training and controls were in place at the company’s subsidiaries in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Finally, in a long paragraph, the SEC detailed some of the more specific steps Goodyear took in the area of remediation. These steps included:

  • Improvements to the company’s compliance function not only in sub-Saharan Africa but also world-wide;
  • In Africa, both online and in person training was beefed up for “subsidiary management, sales and finance personnel”;
  • Regular audits were instituted by the company’s internal audit function, which “specifically focused on corruption risks”;
  • Quarterly self-assessment questionnaires were required of each subsidiary regarding business with government-affiliated customers;
  • For each subsidiary, there were management certifications required on a quarterly basis that required, “among other things controls over financial reporting; and annual testing of internal controls”;
  • Goodyear put in a “new regional management structure, and added new compliance, accounting, and audit positions”;
  • The company made technological improvements to allow the company to “electronically link subsidiaries in sub-Saharan Africa to its global network”;

However these changes were not limited to improvement of Goodyear’s compliance function in Africa only. At the corporate headquarters, Goodyear created the new position of “Vice President of Compliance and Ethics, which further elevated the compliance function within the company”. There was expanded online and in-person training at the corporate headquarters and other company subsidiaries. Finally, the company instituted a new “Integrity Hotline Web Portal, which enhanced users’ ability to file anonymous online reports to its hotline system. With that system, Goodyear is also implementing a new case management system for legal, compliance and internal audit to document and track complaints, investigations and remediation.”

The specific listing of the compliance initiatives or enhancements that Goodyear pushed after its illegal conduct came to light is certainly a welcomed addition to SEC advice about what it might consider some of the best practices a company may engage in around its compliance function. Moreover, this specific information can provide audit and information to the compliance practitioner of strategies that he or she might use to measure a company’s compliance program going forward. The continued message of cooperation and remediation as a way to lessen your overall fine and penalty continues to resonate from the SEC. Finally, just as Minoso helped move forward the integration of baseball and civil rights in general, the Goodyear FCPA enforcement action demonstrates that the SEC will continue to prosecute cases around the failure of or lack of internal controls. The clear import is that a company must have an appropriate compliance internal control regime in place. We are moving towards a strict liability standard under the FCPA around internal controls, which I will have much more to say about later but for now – you have been warned.

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 27, 2015

Gulliver’s Travels, Truth or Fiction?

Gulliver's TravelsThere was once a man named Gulliver who traveled widely and wrote a book about his adventures called Gulliver’s Tales. During his first voyage, Gulliver is washed ashore after a shipwreck and finds himself a prisoner of a race of little people, who live in the country of Lilliput. After giving assurances of his good behavior, Gulliver becomes a resident in Lilliput and becomes a favorite of the court. From there, the book follows Gulliver’s observations on the Court of Lilliput. He is also given the permission to roam around the city on a condition that he must not harm their subjects and otherwise engage in illegal, immoral or unethical conduct.

I am continually amazed at how life imitates art because if I told you the following tale you might accuse me of simply making up things to write about. Imagine there is a corporate banking Chief Executive Officer (CEO), whose company signed one of the largest Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPA) ever a little over two years ago giving assurances of good behavior going forward. Now imagine I tell you that the same CEO has been hiding money for years in a Swiss bank account through a shell corporation for ‘his privacy’ (IE., Hiding money from the Lilliputians of this world). Unfortunately for the real Stuart Gulliver, the CEO at the banking giant HSBC, these facts are true. While his company is in yet another scandal involving its illegal conduct, while under a DPA for its past sins, it turns out the CEO was hiding approximately $7.7MM in a Swiss bank account. To compound this effort to conceal his monies, he did so through a shell Panamanian company.

Yet, just like the fictional Gulliver, the real Gulliver has a very simply explanation for this practice. According to Jenny Anderson, in an article in the New York Times (NYT) entitled “HSBC Chief Defends Swiss Bank Account Worth $7.7 Million”, Gulliver said “This has an everyday explanation to it” and said the explanation was that he was trying to hide the money so his co-workers would not know he much money he made. Or as Anderson wrote, “In an effort to protect his privacy — he was the bank’s top earner — he put the money in Switzerland to hide it from the prying eyes of his Hong Kong colleagues. But he then had to hide it from his curious Swiss colleagues, so he created an anonymous Panamanian company.”

So it turns out that Gulliver was not only trying to hide his money from his co-workers but also from the Swiss by creating a shell corporation to launder the money into before depositing it in Switzerland. Similar to those pesky Lilliputians, who might want to find out something about him that he did not want them to know, as when the fictional Gulliver agreed to not violate the law or engage in otherwise unethical conduct. Of course the real Gulliver has protested that such arrangements were not illegal at the time he engaged in them, side-stepping the question of whether his conduct was unethical (Ethical bankers, does that topic belong in the fiction section?).

Gulliver also went on a charm offensive essentially claiming that not only him but the entire banking industry in general was being picked on. Channeling his inner Mother Theresa, Gulliver was quoted in an article in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “Standards for bankers higher than for bishops, claims HSBC chief Gulliver” by Martin Arnold and George Parker, as saying “It seems to me that we are holding large corporations to higher standards than the military, the church or civil service.” While I am not quite certain as to the pay scale of UK church leaders, I am relatively certain that those in the civil service and military do not have an extra $7.7MM laying around that they need to launder through a Panamanian corporation to hide in a Swiss bank account.

The real Gulliver should have just channeled his fictional Gulliver and said that when in the land of Lilliput, you do not have to tell the Lilliputians the truth, even if you have sworn in a pesky DPA to do so. From the real Gulliver’s statement about bankers being held to higher standards, he obviously thinks that the church, military and civil service (and probably the rest of us mere mortals) have Lilliputian ethical obligations compared to him.

What does all this mean for prosecuting HSBC in the newly erupted money laundering through its Swiss subsidiary scandal? Well it is great to know your CEO has first hand knowledge of the mechanics of such activities. The appropriate UK authorities or even the US Department of Justice (DOJ) could interview the real Gulliver as a subject matter expert (SME) on not only how to hide money from your fellow employees, but also from the Swiss and even gain insight into such machinations to hide money from your own national tax authorities. The real Gulliver may be a real find for the DOJ as an expert witness, at the trial of his company for breach its DPA.

Further, just think of the credibility the real Gulliver would have in negotiations with the DOJ on whether HSBC broke its promises to do business in compliance with US anti-money laundering (AML) laws when it signed its DPA back in 2012. He could go right into the meeting and say, “Lads, let me dispel any misconceptions you might have about Swiss bank accounts. They exist to hide money. At least that is how I use them personally.” He could then walk the lowly civil servants who work in the DOJ Fraud Section and who have lower standards than the whiter-than-white bankers through how the real world of money laundering works, or at least the real world of multi-millionaires who, for some reason, want to protect their own privacy.

The real Gulliver could answer yet another rhetorical question that he posed, and was reported in the FT article, when he asked, “Can I know what every one of 257,000 people is doing? Clearly, I can’t. If you want to ask the question could it ever happen again – that is not reasonable.” The real Gulliver could then go on to respond to this rhetorical flourish along the lines of the following, But I can tell you what is reasonable, to ask me if I know what I am doing and how I am doing it. I am hiding money in my Swiss bank account through a shell Panamanian company. He might even add, How brilliant is that?

Since the fictional Gulliver lived and traveled over 300 years ago, he may be distantly related to the real Gulliver of HSBC today. Nevertheless for a bank CEO to have laundered his own money through a shell corporation into a Swiss bank account ‘for privacy’ is one of those convergences where truth surely is stranger than fiction.

TexasBarToday_TopTen_Badge_Large

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 24, 2015

Victory or Death: William Barret Travis and the Obligations of a CCO

William Barret TravisToday in 1836, Alamo commander William Barret Travis issued his famous ‘Victory or Death’ plea for reinforcements. It was short so I quote it in full:

To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World:

Fellow citizens & compatriots—I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna—I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken—I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch—The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily & will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible & die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country—Victory or Death.

William Barret Travis

Lt. Col. Comdt

While Thermopylae will always go down as the greatest ‘Last Stand’ battle in history, the Alamo is right up there in contention for Number 2. Like all such battles sometimes the myth becomes the legend and the legend becomes the reality. In Thermopylae, the myth is that 300 Spartans stood against the entire 10,000 man Persian Army. However there was also a force of 700 Thespians (not actors; but citizens from the City-State of Thespi) and a contingent of 400 Thebans who fought and died alongside the 300 Spartans. Somehow, their sacrifice has been lost to history.

Likewise, the legend that lifts the battle of the Alamo to the land of myth is the line in the sand. The story goes that William Barret Travis, on the day before the final attack, when it was clear that no reinforcements would arrive in time and everyone who stayed would perish; called all his men into the plaza of the compound. He then pulled out his saber and drew a line in the ground. He said that they were surrounded and would all likely die if they stayed. Any man who wanted to stay and die for Texas should cross the line and stand with him. Only one man, Moses Rose, declined to cross the line. The immediate survivors of the battle did not relate this story after they were rescued and this line in the sand tale did not appear until the 1880s.

But the thing about ‘last stand’ battles is they generally turn out badly for the losers.  Very badly. I thought about this when the former head of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) unit at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Chuck Duross, said at Compliance Week a couple of years ago that he viewed anti-corruption compliance officials as “The Alamo” in terms of the last line of defense in the context of preventing violations of the FCPA. I gingerly raised my hand and acknowledged his tribute to the great state of Texas but pointed out that all the defenders were slaughtered, so perhaps another analogy was appropriate. Everyone had a good laugh back then at the conference. But in reflecting on the history of my state and what the Alamo means to us all; I have wondered if my initial response too facile?

What happens to a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner when they have to make a stand? Do they make the ultimate corporate sacrifice? Will they receive the equivalent of a corporate execution as the defenders of the Alamo received? This worrisome issue has certainly occurred even if the person ‘resigned to pursue other opportunities.’ My fellow FCPA Blog Contributing Editor Michael Scher has been a leading voice for the protection of compliance officers, as have Donna Boehme and Michael Volkov. In a post entitled “Michael Scher Talks to the Feds” he said, “a compliance officer (CO) working in Asia asked for recognition and protection: “A CO will not stand up against the huge pressure to maintain compliance standards if he does not get sufficient protection under law. Most COs working in overseas operations of U.S. companies are not U.S. citizens, but they usually are first to find the violations. Since the FCPA deals with foreign corruption, how could the DOJ and SEC not protect these COs?”” In the same post, he asked the following of the DOJ and SEC “Wal-Mart’s compliance officers and professionals allegedly were intentionally obstructed by senior executives from conducting a compliance review and subjected to career-ending retaliation. If confirmed, will the DOJ and SEC’s settlement demonstrate that such harassment of compliance professionals is not condoned? Will the DOJ and SEC also make it clear that compliance officers working for multi-national companies like Wal-Mart in countries outside of America will receive the same protections as those working in America?”

Writing about the MF Global scandal in the New York Times (NYT) in an article entitled “Another View: MF Global’s Corporate Governance Lesson” Michael Peregrine stated that the “compliance officer is the equivalent of a “protected class” for governance purposes, and the sooner leadership gets that, the better.” Particularly in the post Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) world, a company’s CCO is a “linchpin in organizational efforts to comply with applicable law.” When a company fires, or asks him/her to resign, it is a significant decision for all involved in corporate governance and should not be solely done at the discretion of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Jonathan Marks has long advocated that the departure of a CCO from a company is such a material event that it should be disclosed by public companies.

In the area of anti-money laundering (AML) compliance professionals, Reuters, in an article entitled “Bankers anxious over anti-money-laundering push to go after individuals”, reported that at the Securities Industry Financial Markets Association conference, John Davidson, E*Trade Financial’s global head of AML, said that the “new push by regulators and lawmakers to hold individuals, rather than just institutions, accountable for regulatory violations involving money laundering is spooking members of the U.S. financial industry.” He further said that this aggressive trend and a new vigorous AML bill, introduced in Congress by Representative Maxine Waters entitled “Holding Individuals Accountable and Deterring Money Laundering Act”, were all “a little scary.” He found the movement towards more AML enforcement against individuals “an incredibly disturbing trend.” The reason it is so scary, an un-named top level compliance officer said, is “that compliance officers at the largest Wall Street institutions were feeling especially nervous because the power structures in those institutions sometimes did not give compliance officers enough authority to act.”

Upon further reflection I now believe the Alamo reference appropriate for compliance officers. It is because sometimes we have to draw a line in the sand to management. And when we do, we have to cross that line to get on the right side of the issue, the consequences be damned. This means that while you not only have to make hard decisions you may have accept employment separation if your company disregards your advice and engages in illegal activity. I do not pretend that to be a easy decision or one lightly made but CCOs have a different role in a corporation from that of a General Counsel (GC) and no amount of pining about attorney ethical obligations will change that dynamic.

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 23, 2015

Assessing Internal Controls, Part III

Assessing Internal Controls IIn this blog post I conclude 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 Activities and Information and Communication.

One of the things the Illustrated Guide makes clear is the inter-related nature of internal controls. Simply because there may be a deficiency in one specific Principle or even if controls are not present around such a Principle, a company can consider its overall internal controls to effect the principles. For the compliance practitioner I think this is significant because you may have one Principle present and function in the context of another Principle. An example from the Illustrated Guide is the situation where Principle 8, Assessing Fraud Risk is not present yet if other Principles such as Principle 3 Establishing Structure, Authority and Responsibility and Principle 5, Enforcing Accountability adequately address the issue from a control perspective then a deficiency is handled. At the end of the day, unless a major deficiency is noted, it is up to senior management to assess the “severity of an internal control deficiency or combination of deficiencies, in determining whether components and relevant principles are present and functioning, and the components are operating together, and ultimately in determining the effectiveness of the entity’s system of internal control.” So this would also be true from the compliance internal control perspective.

I.     Control Activity

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

Principle 10 states that “The organization selects and develops control activities that contribute to the mitigation of risks to the achievement of objectives to acceptable levels.” Your entity must demonstrate that it integrates its compliance function around its risk assessment. You must demonstrate more than simply an ‘out of the box’ compliance solution but that your company has considered specific factors to it, including its relevant business processes, an evaluation of a mix of control activity types and consideration of at what level such compliance controls are applied. Finally there must be evidence that your company has addressed segregation of duties from the compliance perspective.

Principle 11 states that “The organization selects and develops general control activities over technology to support the achievement of the objectives.” Here a company must determine the dependency between the use of technology in business process and technology general controls. Then there must be evidence that it has established relevant technology acquisition, development, and maintenance process control activities over this technology. There must be evidence of the establishment of relevant technology infrastructure control activities and relevant security management process control activities.

Principle 12 states that “The organization deploys control activities through policies that establish what is expected and procedures to put policies into action.” This Principle management to put sufficient compliance policies and procedures in place to support the company’s anti-corruption compliance mandates and requires training of employees on these compliance policies and procedures with testing to determine the adequacy of such compliance training. It also requires evidence that sufficient incentives have been put in place for employees to follow the compliance regime with timely discipline administered for those employees who failed to do so. Finally it requires evidence of period re-assessments of the policies and procedures.

II.    Information and Communication 

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

Principle 13 states that “The organization obtains (or generates) and uses relevant, quality information to support the functioning of internal control.” This means that from the compliance perspective you must identify information requirements for your compliance program and then capture that data via internal and external sources. If you cannot do so you must explain why you cannot do so. You must process the information and use it in your compliance function going forward and document that use.

Principle 14 states that “The organization internally communicates information, including objectives and responsibilities for internal control, necessary to support the functioning of internal control.” Under this Principle you must be able to demonstrate that your company communicates compliance internal control information with not only senior management but also appropriate employees and your board of directors. It re-emphasizes the need for separate lines of communications and there is documented consideration to show the reason for selection of the relevant method of communication.

Principle 15 states that “The organization communicates with external parties regarding matters affecting the functioning of internal control.” This Principle relates to your communications to third parties so you will need to demonstrate internal controls around your compliance communications with parties external to your company. You will also be required to show compliance internal controls inbound to your organization from third parties.

III.   Monitoring Activities

The Monitoring Activities objective consists of two principles that require assessment. They are (numbers follow the COSO Framework):

Principle 16 states that an “organization selects, develops and performs ongoing and/or separate evaluations to ascertain whether the components of internal control are present and functioning.” This requires you to have employees knowledgeable in your business processes who can review it on an ongoing basis. You must show that there is a compliance internal controls which, in an objective manner evaluates rates of compliance changes, with an understanding of the baseline and projected business changes. All of this must be integrated with business processes with appropriate adjustments in scope and frequency.

Principle 17 – “The organization evaluates and communicates internal control deficiencies timely to those parties responsible for taking corrective action, including senior management and the board of directors, as appropriate.” Under this Principle you must be able to demonstrate that from the compliance perspective your results were assessed, any deficiencies were communicated to the appropriate parties and finally there was corrective action which was appropriately monitored.

I regularly say that the three most important about FCPA compliance is Document Document Document. I believe the COSO 2013 Framework puts that point into practice, particularly with the auditing requirement. As Ron Kral noted in his article, “Implementing COSO’s 2013 Framework: 10 Questions that Need to be Answeredyou must “Verify the adequacy of your documentation and alignment of controls to the 17 principles with the external auditors at key junctions and decision points. Also, consider involving your internal audit function in answering this question. Not only do you want assurance that your documentation of control design is adequately aligned, but also that the controls are operating effectively.”

The auditing process should also work to determine not only if your compliance internal controls are are properly designed, operating effectively but also that the five components are operating together. Kral believes that “This is the essence of any sound internal control evaluation. It’s not merely a matter of satisfying documentation and compliance requirements, but rather a matter of protecting the interests of shareholders.” To which I agree. By going through the auditing exercise, you will have created a framework to operate, assess and update your compliance internal controls to meet the ever-evolving nature of FCPA and other anti-corruption compliance programs.

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 19, 2015

Assessing Compliance Internal Controls – Part I

Assessing Internal Controls II have recently detailed the COSO 2013 Framework in the context of a best practices compliance regime. However there is one additional step you will need to take after you design and implement your internal controls. That step is that you will need to assess against your internal controls to determine if they are working.

In its Illustrative Guide, the Committee of Sponsoring Organization of the Treadway Organization (COSO), entitled “Internal Controls – Integrated Framework, Illustrative Tools for Assessing Effectiveness of a System of Internal Controls” (herein ‘the Illustrative Guide’), laid out its views on “how to assess the effectiveness of its internal controls”. It went on to note, “An effective system of internal controls provides reasonable assurance of achievement of the entity’s objectives, relating to operations, reporting and compliance.” Moreover, there are two over-arching requirements which can only be met through such a structured post. First, each of the five components are present and function. Second, are the five components “operating together in an integrated approach”? Over the next couple of posts I will lay out what COSO itself says about assessing the effectiveness of your internal controls and tie it to your compliance related internal controls.

As the COSO Framework is designed to apply to a wider variety of corporate entities, your audit should be designed to test your internal controls. This means that if you have a multi-country or business unit organization, you need to determine how your compliance internal controls are inter-related up and down the organization. The Illustrative Guide also realizes that smaller companies may have less formal structures in place throughout the organization. Your auditing can and should reflect this business reality. Finally, if your company relies heavily on technology for your compliance function, you can leverage that technology to “support the ongoing assessment and evaluation” program going forward.

The Illustrative Guide suggests using a four-pronged approach in your assessment. (1) Make an overall assessment of your company’s system of internal controls. This should include an analysis of “whether each of the components and relevant principles is present and functioning and the components are operating together in an integrated manner.” (2) There should be a component evaluation. Here you need to more deeply evaluate any deficiencies which you may turn up and whether or not there are any compensating internal controls. (3) Assess whether each principle is present and functioning. As the COSO Framework does not prescribe “specific controls that must be selected, developed and deployed” your task here is to look at the main characteristics of each principle, as further defined in the points of focus, and then determine if a deficiency exists and it so what is the severity of the deficiency. (4) Finally, you should summarize all your internal control deficiencies in a log so they are addressed on a structured basis.

Another way to think through the approach could be along the following lines. A Principle Evaluation should consider “the controls to effect the principle” and would allow internal control deficiencies to be “identified along with an initial severity determination.” A Component Evaluation would “roll up the results of the component’s principle evaluations” and would allow a re-evaluation of the severity of any deficiency in the context of compensating controls. Lastly, an overall Effectiveness Assessment which would look at whether the controls were “operating together in an integrated manner by evaluating any internal control deficiencies aggregate to a major deficiency.” This type of process would then lend itself to an ongoing evaluation so that if business models, laws, regulations or other situations changed, you could assess if your internal controls were up to the new situations or needed adjustment.

The Illustrative Guide spent a fair amount of time discussing deficiencies. Initially it defined ‘internal control deficiency’ as a “shortcoming in a component or components and relevant principle(s) that reduces the likelihood of an entity achieving its objectives.” It went onto define ‘major deficiency’ as an “internal control deficiency or combination of deficiencies that severely reduces the likelihood that an entity can achieve its objectives.” Having a major deficiency is a significant issue because “When a major deficiency exists, the organization cannot conclude that it has met the requirements for an effective system of internal control.” Moreover, unlike deficiencies, “a major deficiency in one component cannot be mitigated to an acceptable level by the presence and functioning of another component.”

Under a compliance regime, you may be faced with known or relevant criteria to classify any deficiency. For example, if written policies do not have at a minimum the categories of policies laid out in the FCPA Guidance Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program, which states “the nature and extent of transactions with foreign governments, including payments to foreign officials; use of third parties; gifts, travel, and entertainment expenses; charitable and political donations; and facilitating and expediting payments”, also formulated in the Illustrative Guide, such a finding would preclude management from “concluding that the entity has met the requirements for effective internal controls in accordance with the Framework.”

However, if there are no objective criteria, as laid out in the FCPA Guidance, to evaluate your company’s compliance internal controls, what steps should you take? The Illustrative Guide says that a business’ senior management, with appropriate board oversight, “may establish objective criteria for evaluating internal control deficiencies and for how deficiencies should be reported to those responsible for achieving those objectives.” Together with appropriate auditing boundaries set by either established law, regulation or standard, or through management exercising its judgment, you can then make a full determination of “whether each of the components and relevant principles is present and functioning and components are operating together, and ultimately in concluding on the effectiveness of the entity’s system of internal control.”

The Illustrative Guide has a useful set of templates that can serve as the basis for your reporting results. They are specifically designed to “support an assessment of the effectiveness of a system of internal control and help document such an assessment.” The Document, Document, and Document feature is critical in any best practices anti-corruption or anti-bribery compliance program whether based upon the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act or some other regulation. With the Illustrative Guide of these Illustrative Tools, COSO has given the compliance practitioner a very useful road map to begin an analysis into your company’s internal compliance controls. When the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) comes knocking this is precisely the type of evidence they will be looking for to evaluate if your company has met its obligations under the FCPA’s internal controls provisions. In subsequent blog posts I will take a look at how you might audit your compliance internal controls.

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

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