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

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