FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog

July 7, 2015

The Sioux at Little Bighorn and Using Risk Going Forward

Scaling the WallI recently wrote about the stupidity of General Custer and the defeat of his Calvary at Little Bighorn as a lead in for the failure to adequately assess and then manage risks in a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program. I received the following comment from a reader:

As a military history buff, I note that your comments on risk assessment reflect a very limited view of the battle. The Sioux made superb use of reconnaissance, fire and maneuver. The cavalry’s underestimation of the military skills of their Indian enemies were immediately assessed and dealt with aplomb and considerable skill. The great lesson to be learned from the Battle of the Little Big Horn is that there is great opportunity in exploiting the tactical stupidity of the overconfident. Reminds me of Napoleon and Prince Alexander at the Platzen Heights of Austerlitz. 

This comment made an excellent point that risk assessment and risk management are not simply to be viewed as negatives or a drag on business. These concepts are also valid in aiding companies to do business by exploitation of strategic risk. This point was driven home most clearly in the recent book by well-known risk management guru Norman Marks, entitled World-Class Risk Management. 

Marks’ thesis on this issue is that “It is essential that management take enough risk! If they take no risk, the organization will fail. So risk management is about taking the right risks for the organization at the desired levels, balancing the opportunities on the upside and the potential for harm on the downside” [emphasis in original]. I once heard former Chairman of Citigroup, John Reed say the reason a car has brakes is not to make it safer but so that you can drive faster. It is the same concept. FCPA compliance programs are often viewed as brakes on doing business. At best they slow things down and at worst the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) is Dr. No from the Land of No.

However, as Marks points out in his chapter entitled “What is Risk and Why is Risk Management Important?”, it is a serious flaw to only see risk as a negative and indeed to limit risk management to the negative. He wrote, “Treating risk as only negative and overlooking the idea that organizations need to take risks in pursuit of their objectives. Effective risk management enables an organization to exploit opportunities and take on additional risk while staying in control and thereby, creating and preserving value.” He goes on to explain that a company should “understand the uncertainty between where we are and where we want to go so that we can take the right risks and optimize outcomes”.

These outcomes should be determined through an organization determining its risk appetite. Here Marks commented on the definition found in the COSO 2013 Framework for risk appetite by saying it is “the amount of risk, on a broad level, an organization is willing to accept in pursuit of value. Each organization pursues various objectives to add value and should broadly understand the risk it is willing to undertake in doing so.” As pointed out by the comment to my blog post on risk assessment and risk management, I focused on risks that were not properly assessed and not properly managed, leading to catastrophic results. But the comment pointed out that when properly used a risk assessment can lead to better management of risk and allow a company to take greater risk because it can manage the scenario more effectively. Marks stated this concept as “think of risk as a range: the low end is the minimum level of risk you are willing to take because you have the ability to accept risk, and recognize that taking the risk is essential to achieving your objective. The high end is the maximum level of risk you can afford to take.”

In the FCPA context, I think this is most clearly seen in the area of third party risk management. There are five steps to the lifecycle of third party management: (1) business justification; (2) questionnaire; (3) due diligence and its evaluation; (4) contract with compliance terms and conditions; and (5) post-contract management. If circumstances are such that you cannot fully perform all five steps to your satisfaction, this puts pressure on the remaining steps. In other words, while your risk may go up if one cannot be fully performed, it may well be that the additional risk can be mediated in another step.

The robustness of your third party risk management program can give you the ability to move forward and use third parties for a business advantage. Say you want to hire a royal family member from a certain foreign country as a third party representative. While at first blush this might seem to be prohibited under the FCPA, there are two Opinion Releases that hold that the mere hiring of a royal family member does not violate the FCPA. In Opinion Release 10-03 the Department of Justice (DOJ) reviewed the following factors of whether a Royal Family Member is a foreign governmental official, the factors were: “(i) how much control or influence the individual has over the levers of governmental power, execution, administration, finances, and the like; (ii) whether a foreign government characterizes an individual or entity as having governmental power; and (iii) whether and under what circumstances an individual (or entity) may act on behalf of, or bind, a government.”

Then in Opinion Release 12-01, the DOJ went further and added a duties test to what was believe to be a status test only. After initially noting that “A person’s mere membership in the royal family of the Foreign Country, by itself, does not automatically qualify that person as a “foreign official”” the DOJ goes on to reiterate its long held position that each question must turn on a “fact-intensive, case-by-case analysis” for resolution. The DOJ follows with a list of factors that should be considered. They include:

  1. The structure and distribution of power within a country’s government;
  2. A royal family’s current and historical legal status and powers;
  3. The individual’s position within the royal family; an individual’s present and past positions within the government;
  4. The mechanisms by which an individual could come to hold a position with governmental authority or responsibilities (such as, for example, royal succession);
  5. The likelihood that an individual would come to hold such a position;
  6. An individual’s ability, directly or indirectly, to affect governmental decision-making; and the (ubiquitous)
  7. Numerous other factors.

Additionally the DOJ recognized some of the risk management techniques that had been put into place by the company requesting the Opinion. These risk management techniques were having a robust anti-corruption compliance program and requiring one from the third party that had employed the royal family member. There was full transparency by the US Company in hiring the royal family member. The compensation was disclosed, was within a reasonable range and was appropriate for the services delivered to the company and the contract between the parties had appropriate FCPA compliance terms and conditions.

I had initially thought that the import of Opinion Release 12-01 was creative lawyering to create a new test around the hiring of royal family member and foreign government officials. However re-reading it in light of the comment to my earlier blog post and of Marks’ book, it can also be seen as an example of how using risk management can be a positive for a business going forward. I would posit to CCOs or compliance practitioners there may be ways to do business in compliance with the FCPA if you think of using your FCPA compliance program as a way to better manage risk to do business rather than simply saying something will violate your compliance program without thinking through how such a compliance risk could be managed effectively.

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

June 25, 2015

Custer’s Last Stand and Risk Management

Custer's Last StandOn this day in 1876 one of the greatest failures in risk management took place when Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and his entire 7th Cavalry were wiped out at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Custer had split his command into three wings and he took his battalion of 200 or so men down the center of what he thought would be little resistance. Instead he found that he was facing a far superior force of 3000 largely Sioux warriors who quickly overwhelmed and defeated Custer’s command, with all US troops being killed. There is now some debate on whether all the cavalrymen were actually killed by the Native Americans or took their own lives, saving the last bullet for themselves, in western parlance.

Historians have debated over time the reason for Custer’s defeat. Was it arrogance; bad intelligence; faulty command, just plain stupidity or even a wish for martyrdom by Custer? Whichever the cause, it was the worse defeat of the US Army by Native Americans in the Western campaigns of the later 1800s. Today, it might be termed as a faulty assessment and management of the risks involved.

I thought about Custer and his defeat when I read a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), entitled “Strategy How to Live With Risks. It presented risk, risk assessments and risk management in a new light, a key acumen being that risk management should be used as a “protection shield, not an action stopper.” It was based upon a research paper by the CEB, entitled “Reducing Risk Management’s Organizational Drag”, which I thought it had some interesting insights for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner.

The first insight is that, in many instances, companies are assessing risks that are in the rear-view mirror. The author pointed to the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) Act, passed in response to the Enron and Worldcom accounting scandals in noting, “In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis many large banks changed their business models, and other companies implemented systems to better manage credit risks or eliminate overreliance on mathematical models.” This type of mentality can lead to what the author says, is “a variation on what military historians call “fighting the last war.” As memories of the recession fade, leaders worry that risk management policies are impeding growth and profits without much gain.” The author went on to quote Matt Shinkman of CEB, a member based advisory company, for the following insight “Firms are questioning whether the models they put in place after the financial crisis are working—and more fundamentally questioning the role of risk management in their organizations.”

This retrospective look back is coupled with what the author says is a decision making process which “is too slow, in part because of an excessive focus on preventing risk” and not managing risk; in other words, companies were slowed down even further by something termed “organizational drag”. Companies need to find new mechanisms to assess and manage risk going forward. The best way to do so, many companies have indicated, is through reorganizing or reprioritizing risk management and the article presented “three best practices” in doing so.

Strike the Right Balance Between Risk and Reward

Recognizing that risk management is often simply ‘just saying no’, the HBR articcle suggests that “Today’s risk managers see their role as helping firms determine and clarify their appetite for risk and communicate it across the company to guide decision making. In some cases this means helping line managers reduce their risk aversion.” The interesting insight I found here is that if an asset is low performing it may be because the management is so risk averse. This may present a CCO or compliance practitioner with an opportunity to increase growth through other risk management solutions that they could implement.

Focus on decisions, not process

This insight is one that CCO and compliance practitioners should think about and try and implement. Recognizing that risk assessments are important, the author believes that risk managers should focus more on decisions concerning risk rather than the process of determining risk. This means, “In addition to relying on paperwork or process, risk managers are turning to tools (such as dashboards that show risks in real time) and training that help employees assess risk. They are also helping companies factor a better understanding of risk into their decision making.”

By having a seat at the senior management’s table, a CCO or compliance practitioner can help identify risk issues early on in planning. This allows a COO to help craft a risk management solution, or even better yet show colleagues how to “spot potential problems and managers see how their projects fit into the company’s overall portfolio of projects, each with its own set of risks.” The author again quoted Shinkman, “This is less about listing risks from a backward-looking perspective and more about picking the right portfolio of risky projects.”

Make employees the first line of defense

The author channels his inner Howard Sklar (water is wet) by stating, “Decisions don’t make themselves, people make them”. However from that insight, the author believes that “smart companies work to improve employees ability to incorporate appropriate levels of risk when making choices.” But this means you must not only adequately train your employees to spot the appropriate risk but you, as CCO must provide them with tools to manage the risk. The author wrote, “Companies are also trying to identify which types of jobs or departments face a disproportionate share of high-risk decisions so that they can aim their training at the right people. They’re focusing that training less on risk awareness and more on simulations or scenarios that let employees practice decision making in risky situations. Finally, risk managers are becoming more involved in employee exit interviews, because people leaving an organization often identify risks that others aren’t able or willing to discuss.”

The article ends by noting that the goal is “to transform risk management from a peripheral function to one with a voice integrated into the day-to-day management” of an organization. That is also viewed as a component of CCO 2.0 and a more mature model of improvement. By focusing on training employees on how to spot Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance risks and then providing them with the tools to adequately manage that risk, CCOs can deliver greater value.

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

May 27, 2015

Economic Downturn Week, Part III – The Desktop Risk Assessment

Economic DownturnI continue my exploration of actions you can take to improve your compliance program during an economic downturn with a review of what my colleague Jan Farley, the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) at Dresser-Rand, called the ‘Desktop Risk Assessment’. Both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) make clear the need for a risk assessment to inform your compliance program. I believe that most, if not all CCOs and compliance practitioners understand this well articulated need. The FCPA Guidance could not have been clearer when it stated, “Assessment of risk is fundamental to developing a strong compliance program, and is another factor DOJ and SEC evaluate when assessing a company’s compliance program.” While many compliance practitioners have difficulty getting their collective arms about what is required for a risk assessment and then how precisely to use it; the FCPA Guidance makes clear there is no ‘one size fits all’ for about anything in an effective compliance program.

One type of risk assessment can consist of a full-blown, worldwide exercise, where teams of lawyers and fiscal consultants travel around the globe, interviewing and auditing. Of course this can be a notoriously expense exercise and if you are in Houston, the energy industry or any sector in the economic doldrums about now, this may be something you can even seek funding for at this time. Moreover, you may also be constrained by reduced compliance personnel so that you can not even perform a full-blown risk assessment with internal resources.

However if there is one thing that I learned as a lawyer, which also applies to the compliance field, it is that you are only limited by your imagination. So using the FCPA Guidance’s no ‘one size fits all’ proscription, I would submit that is also true for risk assessments. You might try assessing other areas annually, through a more limited focused risk assessment, literally while staying at your desk and not traveling away from your corporate headquarters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This list is not intended to be a complete list of items, you can pick and choose to form some type of Desktop Risk Assessment but hopefully you can see some of the areas you can assess. My suggestion is that you try identifying and focusing on core compliance components in your organization. Obviously there are probably a million things you could fix. However, you cannot fix everything, so you must make a decision about your primacies, and then act on them. A Desktop Risk Assessment may well help you to do so.

As with the other suggestions I have put forward during the Economic Downturn Week series, if you perform an annual Desktop Risk Assessment with a full worldwide risk assessment every two years or so, you should be in a good position to keep abreast of compliance issues that may change and need more or greater risk management. Moreover, when funds and resources do become available to you and the compliance function, you will have a stronger program and one which move towards best-in-class. Finally, do not forget that the FCPA Guidance ends its section on risk with the following, “When assessing a company’s compliance program, DOJ and SEC take into account whether and to what degree a company analyzes and addresses the particular risks it faces.” By using the Desktop Risk Assessment during an economic downturn, you can answer any regulator who asks what have you done to manage the risks in your company, by using the resources and tools that were available to 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 5, 2015

Selfie-Sticks and Risk Assessments

Selfie-StickGreetings from Venice and a big thanks to Joe Oringel at Visual Risk IQ for allowing my to post his five tips on working with data analytics while I was on holiday in this most beautiful, haunting and romantic of cities. While my wife and I have come here several times, we somehow managed to arrive on the first weekend of Carnivale, without knowing when it began. On this first weekend, the crowds were not too bad and it was more of a local’s scene than the full all out tourist scene.

As usual, Venice provides several insights for the anti-corruption compliance practitioner, whether you harbor under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), UK Bribery Act, both, or some other such law. One of the first things I noticed in Venice was the large number of selfie-sticks and their use by (obviously) tourists. But the thing that struck me was the street vendors who previously sold all manner of knock-off and counterfeit purses, wallets and otherwise fake leather goods had now moved exclusively to market these selfie-sticks. Clearly these street vendors were responding to a market need and have moved quickly to fill this niche.

While the economics, inventory, bureaucracy, market-responsiveness of such businesses may be a bit more nimble than the more traditional US entity doing business overseas it does bring up a very good lesson for the compliance practitioner. A risk assessment is a tool for a variety of purposes. Certainly moving into a new geographic area is an important reason to perform a risk assessment. However, it can also be used for a new product offering, such as a selfie-stick. As stated in the FCPA Guidance, “As a company’s risk for FCPA violations increases, that business should consider increasing its compliance procedures, including due diligence and periodic internal audits. The degree of appropriate due diligence is fact-specific and should vary based on industry, country, size, and nature of the transaction, and the method and amount of third-party compensation. Factors to consider, for instance, include risks presented by: the country and industry sector, the business opportunity, potential business partners, level of involvement with governments, amount of government regulation and oversight, and exposure to customs and immigration in conducting business affairs. When assessing a company’s compliance program, DOJ and SEC take into account whether and to what degree a company analyzes and addresses the particular risks it faces.”

So what if your company comes to market with a new product or, in the case of the Venetian street merchants, move to sell a product for the first time even if the product is not exactly ‘new’. Obviously you will need to consider all government touch points that could bring you into potential violation under the FCPA. You should determine not only what licenses you will need but also how you will obtain them. Avon has come to over $500MM in FCPA grief by paying bribes to obtain licenses (and then doubling down by going full Watergate in its cover-up). Wal-Mart is alleged to have gotten into hot water in Mexico for paying bribes to obtain permits to do business in that country. So will your company obtain these licenses directly or use a third party to obtain them?

What about continued quality control of your new product? If you are in the food product industry this will mean continued inspections of your products to assure they meet government standards. Make sure that you have a hiring process in place to weed out the wives, sons or daughters of any food service inspectors. Of course, do not hire such inspectors for jobs directly either, especially if they do not have to show up or perform any duties to get paid by your company.

If you are not going to manufacture your selfie-stick equivalent in the country where these new products will be sold, how will you import them? Who will be interfacing with the foreign government on tax issues for importing of products? Will they be there permanently or on a temporary basis? All questions that have gotten US companies into FCPA trouble when they paid bribes to answer, assuage or grease some or all of the answers.

It turns out the compliance practitioner can learn quite a bit from the selfie-stick; not all of it is simple self-indulgence. Your compliance program must respond to your business initiatives. To do so, you also need to have a seat that the big boy table where such initiatives are discussed. But that is another lesson from Venice for a different day. Until then, ciao.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

September 4, 2014

Pro Football and the FCPA Professor

FootballFor those of us lucky enough to enjoy AAA (or perhaps AA) baseball, disguised as a major league team in our city, today brings harbingers of elation. No the Houston Astros are not moving to a city near you but the National Football League (NFL) begins its 95th season tonight with a match up of Seattle and Green Bay. I do not care if the Houston Texans are in the toilet again or my beloved Dallas Cowboys will stomp to yet another 8-8 season under the egotistical owner Jerry Jones. I love watching pro football. So for all you pro football aficionados out there, here’s to us!

With the upcoming season now only hours away, I was interested to receive the FCPA Professor’s latest article (as opposed to his latest book The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act In A New Era) entitled “How a Successful Football Organization Can Inform Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Compliance in a Business Organization”. As readers of this blog will know, I often use sports to discuss the nuts and bolts of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance. So it was gratifying to see the FCPA Professor use sports in some of his writings. Further, since he is much better known for his basketball prowess (he went to college on a basketball scholarship), I was particularly gratified when he harkened back to my primary sport of football for his latest paper by stating, “In the spirit of the season, this article highlights four attributes of a successful football organization that can also elevate FCPA compliance in a business organization.” The four attributes are:

Understanding the playbook

While beginning with the proffer that any successful team has playbook that is effectively communicated, the FCPA Professor noted, “understanding the playbook and effectively communicating its contents are essential first steps in managing and minimizing FCPA risk in a business organization. Yet as simple as this sounds, many business organizations fail to take adequate steps to ensure that everyone is actually on the same page when it comes to FCPA compliance.” From this he moves into some thoughts on training.

The Professor cautions against over-complicating your FCPA training. I tell the folks that I train on the FCPA that the one thing I want them to take away is that if their stomach tells them something is wrong or the hair on the back of their neck stands up, just raise your hand and ask for help. The Professor phrases it another way by stating, “Toward this end, the goal of FCPA training should not be to make each participant an expert on the FCPA’s specific elements but rather to provide all participants a pair of FCPA goggles so they can approach their specific job functions able to recognize FCPA risk and report it to the appropriate experts within the business organization.” He concludes this section by stating, “In short, and just as in football, success in the field is best accomplished by an FCPA compliance playbook that engages employees and motivates them to spot risk, which is then effectively communicated to all members of the organization in a language they can actually understand.”

Execution by all team members

Here the Professor makes an interesting observation, which is too often overlooked in the compliance arena. In football there are skill positions such as those people who handle the football. Quarterbacks, running backs and receivers generally are the most well known and well paid. However the Professor notes, “success on the field is more often dependent on execution by the so-called ‘‘grunt players,’’ such as a successful snap by the center, the ability of the offensive line to protect the quarterback and the ability of the defensive line to pressure the quarterback. Indeed, key to building a successful football organization is drafting and cultivating such ‘‘grunt’’ players as evidenced by the frequency in which offensive or defensive linemen are selected in the NFL draft ahead of various ‘‘skilled positions.’’”

In the compliance world, there are skilled players at the top, such as the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and various Board members who may be involved with a company’s compliance function. However many FCPA violations arise out of what the Professor calls the ‘grunt work’ of doing business. To be sure, there was the KBR $148 million bribe paid through its joint venture (JV) for work in Nigeria. But more often it is the spade work of doing business which can lead to a FCPA violation, as the Professor notes, “tax, import/export and securing licenses, permits, certifications and the like—are actionable under the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions.”

He further notes that compliance must be viewed as a corporate wide function. It is not and should not be viewed as strictly a legal function as “it is also a finance and auditing issue and thus a function that is best achieved holistically throughout a business organization.” I agree with his observations and would urge compliance practitioners to take a look at your compliance program through the eyes of your field team or international business representatives. Moreover by getting these folks to ‘raise their hands’ and get information in your hands, you may be able to stop a compliance issue before it becomes a full FCPA violation.

A flexible playbook

Here the Professor channels his inner FCPA Guidance by noting that a team’s playbook “is uniquely tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of the team based upon its current roster.” In the business world, this means that you need to assess your company’s compliance risks and manage your risks, not those of some other entity. The Professor suggests some basic questions you should start with to make this determination.

  • Where does your company do business? What are those countries reputations for corruption?
  • Who are your potential customers? Are they foreign governments or state owned enterprises?
  • What is your sales model? Do you use third parties in the sales cycle in foreign countries?
  • How do get your products into foreign countries? Do you use freight forwarders or customs brokers? How about visa processors for your company personnel?
  • How does your company obtain the necessary licenses, permits, certifications and other necessary paperwork to do business in foreign countries?

Your risk level will depend in large part on answers to these questions. The Professor ends this section with the following, “just like a football playbook that is uniquely tailored to the strengths and weaknesses of the current roster and adjusted throughout the season to incorporate specific opponents, an FCPA compliance playbook that is consistent, yet flexible enough to incorporate specific realities in different countries, can best minimize FCPA scrutiny and enforcement.”

Playing hard, but not too aggressively

In football players certainly want to play hard but face penalties for playing too aggressively. I would add that sometimes there are grey areas in the rules that can get players into trouble. Moreover, just as each football team will have its own risk tolerance, businesses will as well. The Professor states, “The same is true for FCPA compliance. Business organizations, particularly those accountable to shareholders to increase value, should aggressively compete in the global marketplace to gain a competitive edge over competitors. Yet the practical reality is that much of what happens in the global marketplace can also fall into a gray area given the FCPA’s provisions, which have frequently been found to be vague and ambiguous when subjected to judicial scrutiny. The potential of a business organization to find itself on the wrong end of enforcement agency discretion is further compounded if employees seek to justify their conduct under the FCPA’s facilitating-payments exception and affirmative defenses.”

I would guess that the FCPA Professor had fun writing this article. I certainly enjoyed reading it. For any fan of football, I would speculate that you would too. Even if you are not a football fan, I believe that you will gain new and additional insights into some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of FCPA compliance by reading this article.

You can down the Professor’s article by clicking here.

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

August 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

LIKELIHOOD 

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

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

PRIORITY 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

August 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

 

August 26, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

What Should You Assess?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

August 25, 2014

Trying Something Different – the Desktop Risk Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

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