During my most recent class on corruption prevention which I give every year at the Cergy Pontoise School of Law in Paris, a student asked me to define a compliance officer’s mission. I started by mentioning respect for the law, a clear understanding of stakeholder expectations, risk assessment, identification of best practices in corruption prevention and the design and implementation of appropriate procedures…. At the end of this shopping list I concluded by saying that the essential mission of a compliance officer is to create confidence.
I believe that this definition most accurately encapsulates the diversity of a compliance officer’s tasks all of which in one way or another are designed to create confidence: the confidence of clients, staff, third parties, authorities and, finally, of the shareholders and the Chief Executive.
Compliance to retain client confidence
There are no companies without clients and there will be no clients unless individuals have confidence in the goods and services they buy. A client’s confidence in a company grows when the goods and services purchased match the company’s promises and meet the client’s expectations. Any acts of corruption or fraud committed by the company put the integrity of the entire organization at risk. Compliance is not just respect for the law but also respect for clients and their expectations vis-à-vis the company’s products and services. Because compliance contributes to retaining clients’ confidence, compliance contributes directly to secure the company’s reputation and sustainable growth.
Compliance to inspire confidence with staff
When an individual decides to join a company after a successful recruitment process, it is an act of confidence in the viability and integrity of the company whose success will from then on be closely linked to that of the individual. Similarly, when a company hires a new employee it is a mark of faith that the individual will be committed professionally as well as ethically. The internal rules defined by the company to comply with both its legal obligations as well as the expectations of its various stakeholders are part of the pact into which both the employer and employee enter as part of the new relationship. Talented staff will not join a company whose reputation is in doubt. It is therefore in the interest of the company to use compliance to inspire confidence and solidify the relationship with employees and managers.
Compliance to develop confidence with third parties
Companies always rely on a network of third parties: suppliers, service providers, distributors, business partners, etc. The quality of these third parties impacts directly on the quality of the company’s products and services and thus on its sustainable growth. A company which demonstrates a strong commitment to compliance will attract the best third parties, i.e. those who understand that any risk to the reputation of their contractor would have a detrimental impact on their own success. Compliance allows the development of confidence between parties which will promote a long-term, mutually beneficial business relationship.
Compliance to ensure the confidence of authorities
Authorities expect companies to respect the law when conducting their business. Unfortunately, no company is immune from a rogue employee carrying out an illegal act and putting the company at risk. A compliance program’s objective is to minimize this risk as much as possible but it can never fully eliminate the possibility. A strong compliance program demonstrates that any act of corruption will be conducted in strict violation of the company’s principles and procedures. This commitment to compliance will help to establish or reinforce confidence with judicial authorities.
Compliance to retain the confidence of shareholders and the CEO
An important objective of a strong compliance program is to reassure shareholders and the CEO that the company has minimized its risk of a corruption investigation which would have undoubtedly included significant costs in fines and investigation fees not to mention the costs of a damaged reputation. A strong compliance program does not just indicate that the risk of corruption has been managed and minimized, it also demonstrates that the company’s growth is due to innovation and competitiveness and not corrupt business practices. A compliance program reinforces confidence not only in current business activities but reassures potential investors that future development will be sustainable.
Communicate on compliance
A compliance officer’s first task is to prevent the risk of corruption effectively. But his or her role is not limited to designing and implementing procedures. If the objective of compliance is to generate confidence in the company’s activity and future development, the compliance officer must communicate actively on the program. It would be a shame if - through a lack of appropriate communication - a company which had invested in compliance did not benefit from the advantages such a program brings to clients, employees, third parties, authorities and shareholders by demonstrating that they were right to believe in the company’s sustainable growth based on ethical business practices.
ISO 37001 certification: a strong way to communicate
ISO 37001 certification demonstrates that a company’s anti-bribery management system is appropriate to its specific risks and operations, is constantly being improved and is adapted to changing business realities while meeting legal requirements and stakeholder expectations. ISO 37001 certification responds directly to the need to communicate on compliance and ensures the confidence of all relevant stakeholders.
An ISO 37001 certification ensures confidence amongst the organization’s stakeholders and compliance officers should take advantage of this fact!