Alexandra Almy, Certification Manager at ETHIC Intelligence, recently participated in a round table discussion with other experts on benchmarking corporate anti-corruption processes and best practices following the growth of the industry. – Alexandra is joined by Philippa Foster Back, CBE and Director of the Institute of Business Ethics, Marc Compton, Scott Killingsworth, Klaus Moosmayer and Anthony Smith-Meyer all of whom are Editorial Board members of the Business Compliance Journal.
Since the financial crisis of 2008/09, and to some extent before, there has been a plethora of wise persons and well-meaning institutions producing advice, benchmarks and standards of best practice in the field of governance, compliance and ethics. We have a number of articles on the subject presented in this Journal, even in this current issue. Some time has now past since the crisis, and still new standards are appearing – why is this? Is there a sense that no-one is listening? Is there an aversion to over-codification? How far can we go in meaningful guidance as to how businesses should govern themselves, take decisions and manage their risks? To consider these questions and more, we assembled our own panel of wise persons to get some in-depth perspective on the matter.
Anthony Smith-Meyer: Welcome to the panel, and thank you for being willing to share your opinions on what is slowly becoming a contentious issue. We see guidelines and standards appearing from so many sources. At what point does good advice become counterproductive? Or is it a case of the more the merrier?
Mark Compton: Good advice is never counterproductive. Advice is something that you can take or leave; something that can be assessed and applied as necessary, or to the extent it is relevant to your business. The problem arises not with advice, but when you are faced with an ever increasing range of standards that require compliance or claim to evidence compliance with particular rules and – in particular – where those standards and rules overlap and conflict.
Philippa Foster Back: I agree Mark, I do not believe good advice can be counterproductive as there is always an opportunity to learn and improve, but the emphasis must be on ‘good’ advice, received from those whom you trust. To that end it is probably not a case of ‘the more the merrier!’
Alexandra Almy: The compliance and ethics community is indeed facing a plethora of guidance, recommendations and best practices on the issue, which can be quite understandably overwhelming. Ideally, I think that the more good advice available to compliance officers, the more they have to choose from – which is ultimately a good thing. The key for them is to know how to approach the mass of information and how to choose what fits best their organization. As has been said, not all of the good advice will be applicable or useful to their specific situation.
Scott Killingsworth: I think you allude to a valid point, Alexandra. Good particular advice is always welcome. Good general advice can be helpful, but it risks being correct but useless; the trick is how or when, exactly, to follow it.
Alexandra Almy: Exactly! Compliance officers can make the best out of the good advice by first identifying their organization’s particular needs and corruption risks. With this information, they’ll then be able to more clearly recognize what good advice is applicable to them.
Anthony Smith-Meyer: So this is great as far as it goes. If we share our experience and ideas in the form of guidelines, on a take-it or leave-it basis, it seems an end-of-discussion conclusion – the more advice from qualified sources, to Philippa’s point, the merrier. But it rarely stops there, does it Klaus? Why do “best practice” guidelines scare managers so?
Klaus Moosmayer: It is all about the intention behind the giving of – solicited or unsolicited – “good advice”. If your intention is to sell a compliance standard by creating an atmosphere of fear, it is certainly counter-productive. I remember quite well the sales pitch of many advisory companies after the UK Bribery Act was out. It was often much more about “The SFO will get you if you do not comply” instead of a professional discussion about the importance of having a sound compliance system in place based on the useful guidance provided within the Act.
Alexandra Almy: An important aspect to consider is that much of the guidance and recommendations so far published – from the US to the OECD and more – share the same core principles. One might hope that those impacted are not just reactionary to the sales pitches of consultants, but that the way companies take this body of guidance and recommendations into account is in the context of their specific corruption risks. This is why we can’t evaluate programs against one fixed standard. They have to be evaluated against both the company’s specificities and the body of guidance, recommendations and best practices issued to date. I’d like to point out here that I fully agree with Klaus on the reasons for building a compliance program. Compliance standards are meant to help companies effectively mitigate the risk of corruption in their business, not to provide them with a way of “buying their way out of jail”.