Under Hallmark Nine of Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program as articulated in the 2012 FCPA Guidance, it stated, “Finally, a good compliance program should constantly evolve.” This insight was carried forward in the Department of Justice’s 2017 Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs which listed three types of continuous improvement: (1) internal audit, (2) control testing, and (3) evolving updates; each was category further refined with multiple attendant questions. Your program must demonstrate continually improvement.
Internal Audit – What types of audits would have identified issues relevant to the misconduct? Did those audits occur and what were the findings? What types of relevant audit findings and remediation progress have been reported to management and the board on a regular basis? How have management and the board followed up? How often has internal audit generally conducted assessments in high-risk areas?
Control Testing – Has the company reviewed and audited its compliance program in the area relating to the misconduct, including testing of relevant controls, collection and analysis of compliance data, and interviews of employees and third-parties? How are the results reported and action items tracked? What control testing has the company generally undertaken?
Evolving Updates – How often has the company updated its risk assessments and reviewed its compliance policies, procedures, and practices? What steps has the company taken to determine whether policies/procedures/practices make sense for particular business segments/subsidiaries?
Continuous improvement requires that you not only audit but also monitor whether employees are staying with the compliance program. In addition to the language set out in the 2012 FCPA Guidance, two of the seven compliance elements in the US Sentencing Guidelines call for companies to monitor, audit, and respond quickly to allegations of misconduct. These three activities are key components enforcement officials look for when determining whether companies maintain adequate oversight of their compliance programs.
One tool that is extremely useful in the continuous improvement cycle, yet is often misused or misunderstood, is ongoing monitoring. This can come from the confusion about the differences between monitoring and auditing. Monitoring is a commitment to reviewing and detecting compliance variances in real time and then reacting quickly to remediate them. A primary goal of monitoring is to identify and address gaps in your program on a regular and consistent basis across a wide spectrum of data and information.
Auditing is a more limited review that targets a specific business component, region, or market sector during a particular timeframe to uncover and/or evaluate certain risks, particularly as seen in financial records. However, you should not assume that because your company conducts audits that it is effectively monitoring. A robust program should include separate functions for auditing and monitoring. Although unique in protocol, however, the two functions are related and can operate in tandem. Monitoring activities can sometimes lead to audits. For instance, if you notice a trend of suspicious payments in recent monitoring reports from Indonesia, it may be time to conduct an audit of those operations to further investigate the issue.
Continuous improvement through continuous monitoring or other techniques will help keep your compliance program abreast of any changes in your business model’s compliance risks and allow growth based upon new and updated best practices specified by regulators. A compliance program is in many ways a continuously evolving organism, just as your company is.
Three Key Takeaways
- Your compliance program should be continually evolving.
- Monitoring and auditing are different, yet complimentary tools for continuous improvement.
- DOJ and SEC will give meaningful credit to thoughtful efforts to create a sustainable compliance program if a problem is later discovered.
The DOJ has long mandated your compliance program must be continually updating and improving.Click to tweet
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